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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I bought an SPL meter from Radio Shack last weekend and tuned up all the channels in my setup. I had the center matched to the surrounds and the sub. That night I popped in a DVD and noticed that I was having a hard time hearing the voices. If I jacked up the sound I could hear the voices, but was blown away by the sub and surround effects.


So, my question is, how do you guys fell about increasing the output on the center channel by 4 or 5 dB above the other channels in the setup? I did this and I like the sound on movie tracks better. Am I crazy?


For reference:

B&W DM303's and LCR3 center

hsu vtf-2 sub

JVC DD/DTS receiver ( i know i need an upgrade here!)


-Pete
 

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I've had that problem, and it seems to be a fairly frequent one. It's obvious that jacking up the center volume risks narrowing the soundstage in front, so that's something to listen for. You could try fiddling with the placement of the center speaker, angling it more directly toward your listening position. It's probably a timbre matching problem.
 

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I have found the best results having my center channel slightly louder than

the other front speakers. Otherwise it can be difficult to hear all conversations in certain DVD's.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Good point Greg. My center is probably pointed a bit too high. I'll try fiddling with and see what kind of results I get...
 

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I read-but have not done this yet- but plan too- is from a tweaking forum. Is get a pair of- door stoper- this can angle down your center speaker.

Mine pass over my head. I stand up and i can hear the voices better. I also have the center .5dbs lounder.

DAB
 

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pcold,

I just posted this reply to another member with your exact same issue:


I had your exact same problem, I could hardly hear the dialogue and even went as far as boosting the center channel volume to over compensate.


Then I moved the speakers around, not much, just a little. This made a huge difference. I originally had the center ON the floor pointing up. Thanks to my friend Tom and his years of expertise, we raised the center channel up about 10" OFF the floor, still pointing up and it made a world of difference.


Don't be afraid of moving your speakers. It may be a two person job. Since it is your theater, you can do all the hard work and sit there in one spot and simply listen. Then have your helper do all the grunt work and move the speakers around. It may help if your eyes are closed during this process. Don't let your eyes fool your brain into thinking a certain spot may sound better. Close your eyes and LISTEN. In my case moving the speakers only a few inches made a big difference.
 

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Go to the Tweaks forum and check out Center Speaker thread.
 

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You mentioned in your post needing an upgrade for your processor/receiver. The pre-amp I'm using (Sony TAE-9000ES) has a dialog trim feature that helps in boosting the sound of voices in the center channel. I had a problem with hearing dialogue in my CC until I adjusted this up slightly(particularly in low volume listening). Voices come in louder, but gunshots and other dynamic sounds seem to blend well with the L/R mains.(at least I perceive it that way) When you upgrade, you may want to consider a receiver that allows this.
 

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I have been through this ‘centre speaker’ issue myself to a great extent and I have learnt from it.


The centre speaker is one hell of an important speaker. Not only for Pro Logic but for DD and DTS decoding as well. But clear dialogue also follows back to the amp/processor as well and this needs to be equally as good at reproducing clear dialogue. Therefore, we firstly have two needs. A good centre speaker and good power and processing.


We must also take into account that Dolby Digital does has this kind of ‘feature’ on some of its films. I have recently seen both the new James Bond ‘Die Another Day’ film and ‘Lord of the Rings II’ and have noticed something rather significant about the theatre/ODEON DD or DTS mix. The speech is at a very comfortable listening level, but the sound effects are blistering loud and ear shattering. Does this ring any bells at home?


Hopefully it does. The cinema calibrates its movie to reference level giving noise levels upto 105db/115db. This makes speech sound clear, precise and just the right level for hearing. Obviously, when something thunderous happens it gets even louder. You can perform this experiment at home. You can have your system up very loud and be able to hear the speech at a wonderfully normal level but then, the special effects will cause enormously loud explosions in your room and sound distorted or over-bearing.


So get to the point, Brad. :D


There are four factors to take into account. I will try and briefly deal with all these in a paragraph below the list.


1. Positioning of Centre Speaker

2. Quality of Centre Speaker

3. Proper amplification of Centre Speaker

4. The mix of DD/DTS DVD's


1. Place a small vanity mirror (with some non abrasive adhesive like blue tac - do not damage/destroy the speaker!!) onto the centre speaker. Sit in your listening position and move the centre speaker until you can see your face in it. This means that the speaker is pointing directly at your head and not the floor or the ceiling. You should also do this for your fronts if you want proper line of site alignment. Bear in mind, that if possible, keeping your front three speakers equidistant from the listening position will help.


2. Don’t’ skimp on your centre speaker (or front three for that matter). It is important and a cheap nasty speaker can only degrade your speech clarity.


3. Good amplification and quality amplification especially in regards to the centre speaker are also important. Voice tones need to be produced realistically as possible and good mid range will be an important factor in the amplification process.


4. Accept that some DD/DTS mixes are taken almost straight from the theatre auditorium and are not adjusted greatly for the home market. Thus you have the same effect as a cinema but at home; this means vocals will be a lot quieter then the rest of the soundtrack. You’ll want to turn the volume up for the vocals but down for the Special FX.


I have a fairly decent mid-range set-up consisting of Denon, Power-amps, M&K speakers and a Pioneer DVD player. I have all this wonderful equipment in a room that is only 800 Cubic Feet. You can imagine that at around –20db below reference level my room starts to rock and roll in a large way!


However, whilst watching ‘Resident Evil’ on DVD last night, I noticed this same 'speech' issue happening. The speech was the exact right volume but the sound effects just blew my ears off. Listening to ‘Gladiator’ or ‘U-571’, however, does not have this effect and that seems like it was re-mixed slightly for the home audience…..


I hope my post makes sense and helps someone out there……:)
 

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Two more things about clarity of dialogue that have worked for me:


Try changing the receiver's distance setting for the center. I decreased the setting for my center by a foot, and it helped a lot. Why, I don't know -- something involving phase and cancellation, I guess.


Test for a mid-frequency suck out, that is, a lowered frequncy response that makes voices sound hollow. Just listen to some dialogue and judge whether the voices sound like they're right in the room with you. If they sound distant or as if they're in a small echoing space, look for some way to boost some mid frequncies. My center, an old JBL pro-type, has a "presence" control that I can turn up.
 

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You definitely do NOT want to adjust the center speaker 3 or 4 dB louder than the other speakers to "fix" dialog problems. Particularly with a matched set of speakers such as the B&Ws cited at the top of this thread.


Minor tweaks that make sense are positioning and aiming the center channel, maybe a 1 dB adjustment in volume levels, maybe a 1 foot adjustment in delay.


However, here's the issue:


Dolby Digital has a system call "dialog normalization" that is part and parcel of the entire system of calibrated playback levels. The whole point of the official Dolby reference level playback is to ensure that dialog is exactly the volume level so that it is intelligible and so that it sounds natural (at the level it would be if the actors were standing in your room). There are recording and playback parameters in the Dolby Digital system that ensure this will happen, if you playback at Dolby reference levels.


Having said that, official Dolby reference levels are TOO loud in a home theater. You don't need the dialog to be extra loud to overcome the sound of 500 people rustling in their seats and eating popcorn. But, you need to be within 6 to 8 dB of Dolby reference levels in order to have good dialog intelligibility, even in a quiet living room.


This playback level can still make dynamic peaks in the soundtrack very, very loud. The first thing to check is to make sure that your subwoofer levels are not set too high -- most are, even when using the Radio Shack meter. This can make loud dynamic scenes unbearable. When calibrating with a Radio Shack meter, Dolby recommends setting the subwoofer approximately 3 or 4 dB below the nominal 75 dB reading on the meter -- to compensate for known errors the RS meter produces with subwoofers. Try this. Not having the subwoofer play even louder than it is supposed to makes a big difference.


If you still need to go lower on the volume to keep loud scenes from being excessive, then you should use Dolby's compression feature for soundtrack playback. This will allow you to adjust the volume for good dialog intelligibility, but cut the loudest dynamic peaks by up to 10dB. Dolby's compression feature is EXTREMELY sophisticated, relying on digital compression instructions actually inserted in the digital datastream in the encoding process. The system was designed to address this SPECIFIC problem and, frankly, it appears that Dolby expects the moderate compression scheme to be the normal setting for most home movie viewing. Try the compression settting on the receiver. It's a good thing that allows you to hear all the dialog without peeling the paint on the explosions.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Good points made by all.


Brad- I like the mirror idea. I'm always looking at my speakers and thinking, 'is it really poiting at me?' I hadn't thought to use a small mirror.


Greg- My receiver doesn't have a distance setting. It does however have a center channel delay option. I think this is the same thing. I've messed around with it a bit, but usually it just causes A/V sync issues...


hwc- Do all receivers allow you to mess with the Dolby compression settings? I don't think mine does.
 

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Quote:
Originally posted by pcold


hwc- Do all receivers allow you to mess with the Dolby compression settings? I don't think mine does.
Yes. It's built into the Cyrus Logic chips that are used in virtually every A/V receiver. I believe that it is also a requirement for Dolby certification, since there is no way you could run with no compression on a "home-theater-in-a-box" grade system.


Dolby A/V receivers offer at least the moderate compression mode, which might be labeled as "midnight mode" or "dynamic range" or some such lingo on your particular receiver. Dolby refers to it as "line" mode because gives you about the same dynamic range as a VHS-HiFi recorded connected to the analog line inputs. Typically, it provides up to a max 10dB reduction of peak levels and a corresponding boost of extreme low-level signals. It's all done in the digital domain.


Some receivers let you adjust the amount of compression, so you could dial in something less than the standard max of 10dB -- all based on scaling of digital bits in the datastream. On these receivers, you might have three settings: no compression, standard compression, and a third setting halfway in between (perhaps labeled "mild compresion"). The cool thing is that the compression system is all driven by instructions inserted in the original datastream at the Dolby encoder. The instuctions effectively tell your Dolby Digital decoder, "watch out, I'm about to get real loud and here's how much I want you to compress me." The system does not alter the level of normal dialog at all, so it's really a very sophisticated way of automatically limiting peak output while preserving the balance of the soundtrack, implemented in the incoming digital datastream.


Set-top boxes and other components that may be used with an RF antenna cable to feed a TV set are required to have a more draconian compression mode that limits total dynamic range to 35 dB, or about the same as an old-fashioned NTSC television broadcast. Dolby refers to this mode as "RF mode" since any higher signal level would overload the RF modulators. I don't believe this one is on any A/V receivers I've looked at since they aren't used to output a signal with a RF modulator.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
very intersting. i will check this out tonight. Since this is a Dolby feature, I gather that all bets are off for DTS tracks? or does DTS have a similar compression scheme?
 

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Quote:
Originally posted by pcold
Greg- My receiver doesn't have a distance setting. It does however have a center channel delay option. I think this is the same thing. I've messed around with it a bit, but usually it just causes A/V sync issues..
Yes, delay is the same. Someone else told me that increasing the delay setting cause an A/V sync problem, but I have a hard time believing this. I just don't think a delay of a few milliseconds would ever be perceptible. Besides, for my receiver anyway, the default is 10ms delay, and I decreased the delay by 1ms.
 

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Quote:
Originally posted by GregLee
Someone else told me that increasing the delay setting cause an A/V sync problem, but I have a hard time believing this. I just don't think a delay of a few milliseconds would ever be perceptible. Besides, for my receiver anyway, the default is 10ms delay, and I decreased the delay by 1ms.
The delay settings are intended to compensate for speakers that are closer or farther from the listening position. For example, if you sit 8 feet from the front speakers and 3 feet from the surround speakers, you would want 5 ms of delay (1ms equals approx one foot) so that the the surround speakers SOUND farther away in terms of when the sound reaches your ear.


It would be very unusual to have more than a 1 or 2 ms delay on the center channel RELATIVE to the delay on the front speakers. If your front speakers have no delay at all a 10 ms delay on the center channel would be way too much and would make it sound distant and indistinct, I would think. Again, with no delay on your front speakers I would try 0 ms, 1 ms, or maybe 2 ms delay tops on the center channel.
 

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Quote:
Originally posted by hwc
... It would be very unusual to have more than a 1 or 2 ms delay on the center channel RELATIVE to the delay on the front speakers. If your front speakers have no delay at all a 10 ms delay on the center channel would be way too much and would make it sound distant and indistinct, I would think. Again, with no delay on your front speakers I would try 0 ms, 1 ms, or maybe 2 ms delay tops on the center channel.
The default delay is 10ms for all speakers; that is, 0 relative delay. I changed the delay for my center speaker to 9, making a relative delay of -1 with respect to the other speakers. Am I being clear now?


But I was commenting on this supposed A/V sync problem. If anyone believes he can really perceive a delay of a few milliseconds of the sound versus the picture, it would make sense to set all the speaker delays to 0 absolute, not relative.
 

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Quote:
Originally posted by GregLee
The default delay is 10ms for all speakers; that is, 0 relative delay. I changed the delay for my center speaker to 9, making a relative delay of -1 with respect to the other speakers. Am I being clear now?
Yes. And that sounds like a good setting to me. You might try going the other direction, to 11 ms for the center, since it is probably closer to you than the front speakers. However, I've played around just a bit with making 1 ms adjustments to the center channel. I'm not sure that I have been able to draw any firm conclusions.

Quote:


But I was commenting on this supposed A/V sync problem. If anyone believes he can really perceive a delay of a few milliseconds of the sound versus the picture, it would make sense to set all the speaker delays to 0 absolute, not relative.
You're right. That delay is way too short to cause any video sync problems. However, I know the new Rotel processor has a cool feature. It lets you listen to one source while watching another -- so, for example, you could listen to the local radio broadcast of an NFL game instead of putting up with McGuire and Theisman on ESPN. However, you can get some serious sync problems by the time the TV picture bounces around off three or four satellites. So this unit has a "group delay" setting that delays the input signal to ALL the speakers by an adjustable amount. But, this would probably be more on the order of 500 ms.
 

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Don't be afraid to use Dolby's dynamic range compression feature. Turn up the volume so that dialog is comfortable and intelligible, or dial up to your pre-determined reference level (you'll probably need to have used a calibration disc to determine this). At this level, sound effects can be extremely loud. That's why dynamic range compression is built into DD. Most receivers let you tune-in the level of compression. Start at about 0.5 (of the "standard" level), and determine whether the sound effects (or other peaks) are too loud or soft. If too loud, go up to 0.6 or more; if too soft, go down to 0.4 or less. Rinse and repeat. You'll find a level that is suitable for your environment, speakers, and ears. Unfortunately, it is not likely to be the same for all DVDs, so you'll have to experiment a little.
 
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