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Acoustics, the best upgrade?

Discussion in 'Home Cinema Speakers' started by uncle eric, Dec 30, 2002.

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  1. uncle eric

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    Many of us spend a great deal of time and money constantly upgrading our hardware in order to achieve the peak of audio nirvana.

    Some of the audiophiles among us spend much time worrying about our hardware distortion figures and very little time worrying about something that can (and does) have the same if not worse derogatory effect on the overall sound quality of their systems.

    "Acoustic Distortion" is a much overlooked and misunderstood subject. Some see it as a black art when in fact it is not. A basic understanding of the types of acoustic distortion will go a long way into opening the door to this subject.

    1) Speaker Boundary Interference.
    This is the direct and in-direct interaction of the early reflections from your room boundarys. Floor, ceiling, walls etc.

    2) Comb Filtering
    These are the constructive and destructive interference between direct sound and early reflected sound.

    3) Poor Diffusion
    This comes from sparse spatial and temporal reflection patterns due to mid and late arriving reflections

    4) Modal Coupling
    The sonic coupling (or partnership) between the loudspeakers and listener with the rooms pressure variations (or room modes)

    As mentioned before, the lower down the frequency spectrum, the more obvious problems become. For this reason, the rooms acoustical signature is very much characterized by its low frequency modal response and speaker boundary interference such as hefty early reflections from hard surfaces.
    When sound from speakers or subwoofers hit the room boundaries, a very complex series of reflections occur. As its very difficult to isolate direct sound (and you wouldn't want to isolate all of it anyway) these reflections interact amongst themselves to produce a huge range of effects many of which are largely derogatory to the overall sound quality of the given system.

    So much so that even when spending tens of thousands of pounds on equipment, this sonic distortion will prevent the listener from hearing the full potential of those expensive amps, processors, and more importantly speakers and subwoofers.

    Room Modes,
    Sound waves produced in rooms coherently interfere as they reflect back and forth between hard walls. This interference results in resonances at frequencies determined by the room. As mentioned in an earlier thread, axial modes between two opposing boundarys is not difficult to calculate.
    To save my typing finger, I'll quote my earlier post,
    One of the reasons why the 2/3/5 ratio is popular is that the dimensional ratio's that uniformly space the modal pressures are easier to deal with.


    Speaker boundary interference response room modes happen because quite simply, reflected sound interferes with itself. This type of acoustic distortion occurs because of interference between the direct sound from the speaker/subwoofer and the reflections of the room. In particular the corner imediately surrounding it. *Note* As mentioned, although this "distortion" occurs right through the frequency range, it is more significant at lower frequencies. FOR THIS REASON ALONE, WHERE POSSIBLE, SUBWOOFERS SHOULD NOT BE PLACED IN CORNERS.***

    Secondly, the rooms boundaries act as a mirror for the speakers causing virtual images of sound. When these reflections combine with the speakers direct sound, they will either enhance or cancel it to differing degrees depending on the phase relationships between the direct sound at the listening position. When the sound is "enhanced" this is known as a peak. When cacellation occurs, the sound "dips" thus a given frequency spectrum on a graph can be full of dips and peaks. This irregular pattern can be addressed to some extent by equalization. Many such systems exist, the Beringer and TACT systems are just two. However, purists will tell you this is adding more rubbish into the chain. In particular, electronically compensating for deep nulls or dips is not seen as good practice.



    Lets take a brief look at what is probably the most talked about acoustic problem. Poor diffusion!

    Many Home Cinema fans try to aspire to the very best mulitplex Cinemas by trying to create the diffuse, enveloping surround soundfields of these cinemas by using dipole speakers.

    In order to understand why, lets take a look at how the Leicester Square Odeons of this world acheive their all involving, enveloping surround.
    Very simply, they use what is in effect multiple arrays of monopole speakers and in best examples correct diffusion treatment. Thats it.
    Well, not quite, in the top cinemas there is a great degree of equalization that takes place which involves the use of very sophisticated and specialized equipement. Why the 'backwards' correction, why not design a cinema that is acousticly optimum in size and shape in the first place so they dont have to re-correct.

    Firstly, we must remember that in the days when some cinemas were built, sound was still in its infancy. In fact many of the very first cinemas were theaters or concert/music halls that had been converted. In later years when the Muliplex idea was born from the USA (where else) apart from building new complex's, these 'old' cinemas were once again redesigned and need I say wrecked, internally and acousticly.
    Usually, and as is the case of the Barnet Odeon which I visited for the first time last year, the circle upstairs would be 'cut off' and used as the biggest "screen 1". This would invariably leave the lower and larger stall areas which were split into a further two or even three smaller screens. If the Barnet Odeon cinema experience is anything to go by, I would rather be poked in the ears (and eyes) with a sharp stick!

    The old concert halls that were not tampered with, were believe it or not, acousticly the best sounding. Why. They already had acoustic treatments in place many decades before treatments were taken seriously at all.
    Many of these concert halls had design orientated space rather than the squeeze every bum onto as many seats as possible concept that is todays money driven world.

    These spaces were like mini areana's that were made up of fancy semi circular spaces, multi-tier shapes and even viewing box's at the sides for the upper classes. The result being the reduction of unwanted parellel surfaces to a minimum which basicly killed off any boundary interference.
    More importantly, the elaborate, ornate mouldings and other surface relief that was on virtually every wall and corner of the halls acted as superb 'natural' diffusers. Fantastic. Just imagine, perfect diffusion 100 years ago.

    A note here* By perfect diffusion I dont mean that each listener in the hall hears the same total loudness. Direct sound decreases as the distance between the sound source increases. BUT, by acheiving EVEN reflected energy around the hall or room, the problems caused by too little or to much reflected sound is to a great degree avoided.
    Anyone who has visited the Royal Albert Hall for example will no doubt testify to the incredible acoustical properties of this great place which are mainly due to the reasons I have outlined above.
    You can sit ANYWHERE in this areana of sound and still be rewarded with amazing sonics. Yes, there was surround sound before Luca$........

    Getting back to our home cinemas, I regard the use of di-pole speakers a backward step most situations.
    The fact that these speakers are designed to actually produce a diffuse sound is suspect enough.
    Dipoles in effect try to achieve the diffused sound that results from proper reflective surface dispertion by trying to replicate these diffusive qualitys.
    Indeed you can say that they try to pre-empt these effects with their own diffusion. This diffusive sound that is produced is very far from ideal and by the time these 'diffused' soundwaves bounce around the room and into each other, you basicly have a mushy, incoherent mess, with or without treatments!
    Di-poles were a little more acceptable in the days when Pro-Logic and the limited mono rear channel with its even more limited frequency limits ruled. IMO this is a 'compromise' design.
    Diffusion should be achieved AFTER it has left the sound source be it singer, band, or home cinema system, not during.
    Having said that, di-poles do have their uses in smaller rooms and living room environments where, for various reasons, enough diffusion via the correct methods does not take place.
    However, in dedicated rooms where options are much wider and correct diffusion can be achieved, I always advise against the use of di-poles.

    Part 2 to follow.
     
  2. Dangerous

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    Interesting Eric
    Especially as I am toying with the idea of putting some shag pile carpet on my walls to stop all that sound bouncing about.

    Dave

    PS
    Can't wait for part 2
     
  3. Ian J

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  4. Guest

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    Good stuff Uncle.

    Although, i think you should be writing more stuff about 'Pecan pie @ Sainsburys' or 'bored @ work'......threads

    Much more interesting than this rubbish:eek:

    Adam.

    PS...Have a good New Year celebration!

    I will be!;)
     
  5. uncle eric

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    Dr Peter D'Antonio of RPG is one of the leading experts in this field and was largely responsible for the acoustic design of Gary Rebers (WSR) Holosonic Lab.
    Also of special interest is "The Master Handbook of Acoustics" by F. Alton
     
  6. uncle eric

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    Adam,
    :eek: :eek: Ian will probably tell you, puddings are where my real interests lie :D So in fact, you're not far out :rolleyes:
    Hmmmm, I smell a nice apple pie being cooked. Bye bye
     
  7. alexs2

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    Outstanding stuff,uncle eric...an interesting addition to this is the number of both HiFi and AV processors offering digital correction of room/speaker interactions and in some cases speaker phase change with frequency....a good example is the Perpetual Technologies P1-A digital processor for stereo use which in it's base form offers upsampling and interpolation for CD's,and can be upgraded via the net for the other processing algorithms mentioned above.

    Certainly,having digital correction of room frequency modes etc is very useful.....there are also companies such as ASC(www.tubetrap.com) which produce room acoustic treatments to absorb similar problems....most of the digital approaches seem cheaper and potentially easier to tailor to an individual room.

    For those interested,there is a room mode calculator on the following page
    www.guidetohometheater.com/shownews.cgi?388
     
  8. Geoffrey Shrek

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    I agree with Adzman. Lets talk Pecan pie :D
     
  9. bowenjones

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    Well Eric,
    I've learned more in this thread and the speakers and room
    acoustics thread than in any home cinema mag thanks to
    everybody's excellent input especially yours.
    Looking forward to reading part 2.
    Regards,
    Stu.
     
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    Eric, fine post as ever, and a good time to point out the importance of the room acoustics.

    I would take issue with you bracketing Behringer and Tact together. We both know that the Tact system works in both the time and frequency domains, which makes it a totally different beast. The tact will remove the medium and late reflections from the equation then correct in the frequency domain for the direct sound. This is far more accurate, as the reflected sound is coloured by both the dispersion characteristics of the speakers and the acoustic properties of the room boudaries responsible for the reflection. Thus equalisation in the frequency domain alone is inherrantly flawed.

    I would also suggest that any reflection is a bad reflection, colouring the sound and stamping the listening room acoustics on the perceived result. The example of the Royal Albert Hall is a good one. If we listen to a recording, well miked at that venue, we will usually not hear that hall's acoustics but the listening room's, due to the boundary reflections spectral anomies. If we listen simply to the spectral content direct sound, we should get an accurate reproduction of the original acoustic, as recorded by the engineer.

    Now interestingly, this can be very different to what most of us are used to, and takes some getting used to. I am however sure of it's inherent superiority in terms of accuracy. If you rely on boundary reflections, you will never recreate the auditiorium experience, unless your living room is equally enormous.

    I am a convert although I agree that you cannot digitally boost large nulls due to the demands this would place on yor power amplification. The answer is to cross over to the subs just above the null (which will always be in the lower regions), and position the subs so that they are not affected by the null.

    Best Regards and happy new year

    Michael
     
  11. Lowrider

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    Michael,

    Something puzzles me, how can the Tact, or any other, eliminate the reflections out of the signal, they are not there, they are generated by the walls, afterwards... :confused:

    All they can do is attenuate the frequencies, in the signal, that might be boosted by those walls... :rolleyes:
     
  12. alexs2

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    Quite right,Lowrider...all that devices like the TACT or Perpetual Technologies room correction upgrades will do is to analyse the room response to a frequency sweep,calculate(in the case of Perpetual Technologies)MLSSA decays for the room,and apply digital correction to the incoming signal as calculated from the above.
    It certainly wont remove reflections(you need things like the Tube Traps for that)but it will even out a lot of the low frequency addition/cancellation effects,and correct for speaker phase shifts with frequency.
     
  13. Lowrider

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    Good, I thought I was missing something there... :blush:

    Now, "correct for speaker phase shifts with frequency"... I find that very, very, very difficult to believe... each driver, from each speakers will be somewhat out, in not phase corrected speakers, not to mention the combination of all the speakers and subwoofers...

    How can you analyse it at all, not to mention correct it... :eek:
     
  14. The Nightfly

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    Poda,

    I'm interested but I would also like to know how the TACT system elliminates the problems of reflection. Also, if it reduces output level at the frequency of room modes and uses that resonance to effectively replace the missing output does it somehow deal with the fact the room resonances build and decay relatively slowly and will therefore be 'out-of-time' with the main signal ?

    Do you have a link to references and independent reviews ? As I say, I'm very interested but it would mean ditching a rather expensive Naim CD player, chosen for its very particular musical qualities. I wouldn't want to gain in one area only to lose in another.

    Allan
     
  15. alexs2

    alexs2
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    Good question,Lowrider....the best I can do is to point you to Perpetual technologies website/distributor (www.av123.com) and see if you can get into the maths better than I can!...suffice it to say,even without the correction algorithms enabled,this processor and it's associated DAC equals some of the upper level Levinson DACs,and comes very close to the dCS Elgar at about £10k,so even if you aren't sold on the correction,the sound quality at the price is superb....and that's from comparing it to Levinson/dCS/Chord gear before buying.
     
  16. uncle eric

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    Happy new year to you also Michael. And happy new year to all.
    Would you believe I was called out as a client rang me saying his centre speaker suddenly stopped working????
    Unlucky for me, he lives 15 minutes away so I had to go :(
    Turns out that he managed to cancel his centre channel and was running psuedo centre :confused:
    Not clever when you've spent £1400 on the centre speaker.
    Of course this took minutes to figure out but his JW Blue Label whisky took a little longer :cool: to sort out.

    I want to reply to everyones post at length as I don't think this subject can be skimped. However, I will have to do it in a few days time.
    Working tomorrow, celebrating tomorrow night :cool: , sobering up and working New Years day.
    *Edit* Due to excessive workload part 2 ASAP**.
    Once again, happy new year to everyone and keep the input coming.
    Eric
     
  17. uncle eric

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    Not so Michael. I will explain later.
     
  18. Audionyx

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    Room accoustics has proved to be a superb thread - many thanks again to Uncle Eric et al for qualified input.

    Reading about TACT digital correction systems, helmholtz resonators and 'concert hall' room dimensions is fascinating. However for those of us on more modest budgets with our fixed room dimensions, a slightly more practical aproach is the feasible option!

    Each room's signature by tendancy of design is unique to every home so is there such a thing as the 'perfect speaker'? I am certain that speaker reviews are conducted in the same acoustic environment - therefore certain transducers will perform 'better' than others, due to suitability to THAT PARTICULAR room's sonic signature. My hypothesis is such that £100 speakers should not be overlooked whilst extolling the virtues of a £10k design. It just might be the case that those budget models may work sonic magic in your room!

    Wishing everyone a fun filled and intoxicated annual transition!!

    Regards

    Darren
     
  19. stranger

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    surely not correct, reflections are neccessary for breaking up standing waves one example-I have to place two of my subs in rear corners so fire them diagonally forwards at the side walls (they are f/firing) this breaks up any standing wave problems and works for me, also if all reflections are bad there wouldnn't be be much point in placing bookcases etc. to reflect reflections. if I am missing something please feel free to correct me.
     
  20. The Nightfly

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    Darren,

    I've tried many speakers in my room (Naim IBLs, Naim SBLs, Naim DBLs, Shaihinian Compass, Linn Katans, Neat Petites) with varying degrees of success. Finally I now have two pairs of speakers that I really like and actually work in this room: Linn Mk I Kans and Epos ES11s. (Not at the same time, I like to swap the speakers over on occasion just for a change.)

    My favorite speakers in this room are the ES11s which I picked up second hand for £140 which I am using on the end of £10,000 worth of electronics.

    Basically, the low end frequency response of this room is a mess. (Its a consequence of solid wall construction). Absorptive room treatments, IMO, render the room incapable of holding a tune. So I'm painted into a corner where I'm limited to small bookshelf/standmount speakers. There are some superb £2k to £3k speakers out there that I would love to have but unfortunately they end up sounding worse then the Kans or ES11s in my room.

    Hence the interest in the TacT approach (but not at the expense of a bland, uninteresting rendition of music).

    Allan
     
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    Hi Lowrider,

    Sorry for the delay in replying but it appears that alexs2 has had a go.

    Anyway his explanation may be correct for the very limited PT efforts but is some way short of the mark when it comes to TACT.

    The tact RCS is the outcome of wave propagation research by Boz , that has been ongoing for the past thirty years. whilst the theory has been around for a long time, it is only recently with the availability of powerful DSP's that a product like the Tact and Sigtech have become possible.

    It works like this. It measures how the system and room reproduce test signals. It then determines the differences in both time and frequency domains, between the original test signals and the measured ones. Finally it develops and applies a corrective algorithm to the incoming music signals that compensates for the errors wrought by the hardware and the acoustics.

    What makes this different is that it does this in both the frequency and time domains. Contrary to someone's earlier comments, these measurements are not taken using a frequency sweep but instead a series of varying length pulses are emitted. A short pulse for the bass response is followed by even shorter ones for the mid and treble. Imagine clicks. this routine is also carried out for your subs, assuring perfect integration and time alignment.

    A steady state signal, like a sine wave, would not allow you to differentiate between direct and reflected sound indeed anything using just frequency sweeps and sine waves is not producing any time domain measurements. Mid and high frequency medum and farfield reflections are delayed relative to the direct sound. The Tact measures in the time domain to an accuracy of 0.01ms so it can easily identify these reflections. It can then create an algorithm to correct for their effects. So yes, to all intents and purposes, the affects of these boundary reflections are minimalised. Because the Tact can differentiate between the direct and reflected sound during the measurement process, it can allow for this in correction.

    I can then apply any target curve I like, say flat 20hz to 20khz, and the RCS will develop the correction algorithm to acheive this. I can store up to 9 seperate curves. All correction filters are achieved using minimum phase. As most speakers room interactions result in phase irregularities, this also has the effect of improving the phase accuracy of the speaker array.

    The percieved result of all this is vastly improved soundstaging and detail, more realism and stunning transparency. that's not to say it's for everyone. You may like some of the colourations that are introduced by your room or system, some people feel they lose something which is of course true. You lose the influence of your room, for better or worse.

    The PT effort is gallant enough but severely limited in it's implementation, but probably worth a go if Tact and Sigtech are out of reach. The only real issue is that you really can play forever with settings and with the removal of some of the rooms energy, the maximum level will drop by about 5db. My system will play up to 97db at the listening seat, that's ok for me!

    At the end of the day you have to hear the affects for yourself. In my room, the difference is night and day, at the listening position I have a stereo image the like of which I have never heard before from any high end demo. Without the RCS the room acoustic results in the system being unlistenable. as I say keep an open mind, you can order on SOR. Try visiting http://www.tactaudio.com

    Best Regards

    Michael
     
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    Allan

    To be honest I very much doubt that the Tact approach would suit your needs. The major gains with the system are in audiophile areas such as soundstage depth and timbre. Yes the bass is tight as hell and punchy but no part of the audio spectrum is highlighted so the PRAT thing is not there.

    The fact that I love this setup but consider Linn and Amps that shall remain Naimless coloured and brittle sounding suggests that we have different agendas! As you are happy with the Linn/Naim house sound, you are probably better off sticking with the devil you know!

    Best regards

    Michael
     
  23. The Nightfly

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    Poda,

    Be honest now - what does the system sound like with the room correction turned off ?

    I've been doing a bit of searching around for opinions on the TacT stuff and get the impression that without the room correction algorithms in place its no great shakes compared to very good conventional equipment. Basically it's the room correction algorithms that are impressive, not the underlying equipment.

    This rings alarm bells. My gut feeling is that short-term the system will sound impressive but longer term the wow-factor will wear off. Terms like 'soundstage', 'imaging' ,'transparency' and so on are just descriptions for sonic fireworks, not music. Been there, done that. You start listening to the system just to be impressed by the sound. It gets boring after a while.

    However, how would I get to hear this stuff, there doesn't appear to be any UK dealers mentioned on the Tact website.

    Allan

    Edit - Poda, we've just cross-posted, didn't see your reply to me when I wrote this
     
  24. Lowrider

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    Yesterday I took my equalizer/analiser, (I used it when I had floor-standers) to a friend´s house, he has Meridien 508.24, Plinius 8150 and is desperatly looking for speakers that sound good in his living room, he loves them in the showroom, (with his equipment), and they sound lousy home, at the moment he was testing Totem Hawk...

    The sound was terrible, much worst than midfi, and he had lots of room around the speakers, but it is an old house, we tested and found out there was a peak around 60hz and another around 1khz, corrected it, minus a bit on the upper end, the room is quite bright...

    The system became listenable, but the EQ took a lot of the transparency of it too, I know Tact would be much better, but still some trade-offs...

    Then I looked around, and sujested he turn everything 90 degrees, to the next wall... Bingo, almost perfect, without any equalisation, tight bass, lots of detail, good stage, even some height, flat before, the only problem remaining was that we could still ear the speakers a bit, nothing that a bit more fiddling and some furniture wont correct...

    My point is that, unless you use large speakers, you can always get a good sound, and IMHO it sounds better without more processing...

    I do agree that processing digitally the very low bass can be very useful, but everything else is better treated with good speaker positioning, and room treatment, wich can be very well done with normal furniture and curtains...

    Also, I don´t like the sound of "dead" rooms...
     
  25. Lowrider

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    And have a great 2003 all of you... :D
     
  26. Guest

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    Allan

    Spoken like a true flattie;)

    I agree there are more than one way to skin a cat, one man's meat etc...

    Now if you like FE kit, the Tact in bypass will sound very different. In this mode we basically have a 3K dac/preamp with crossovers for your subs. Used as such it would compare very favourably with most mainstream kit at the same price ( MF, PT, chord etc.) The dac is very good, but my Dcs was superior. But not by much and look at the price difference!

    Even in bypass the unit represents good value for money, but it is a different presentation to the typical Flat Earth performance. It's sonic virtues are more akin to Mark Levinson, Chord and dCS, more than holding it's own against some of that kit.

    The difference using the correction is not subtle and, as Eric hinted at the beginning of this thread, a 5K system in a good acoustic will comfortably outperform a 20K rig in a poor room. The use of the RCS2.2X elevates the performance of my round earth system way beyond it's cost. Indeed visitors from the HFC forum compared it to systems they had heard costing 5 times as much. But the Flatties were not that impressed, the audiophiles simply loved it. As I said, horses for courses (and cliches for cliche's sake!!)

    Happy new year to all

    Michael

    PS. No there will not be any dealers as Tact prefer to sell direct as the software is very complex and not the province of your typical dealer. The customer support is exceptional, Peter Lyngdorf, the company owner and previous owner of Nad, Snell and others, actually flew over from Denmark to listen to my system and help with set up:eek: Don't get that from some UK companies do you!!
     
  27. uncle eric

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    Happy new year all.
    Some of you may have heard of Gary Reber, editor and owner of Widescreen Review (WSR) one of the best publications on the planet.
    Gary is currently guesting over at AVS. I asked Gary what his feelings were for electronic equalization and in particular the TACT system. His feelings basically sum up my own. That is to say, acoustical equalization should come before electronic manipulation every time. I will write on this in detail on thursday. I will be interested to see WSR's views when Peter Lyndorf finally sucumbs and sets up the TACT at the holosonic lab.

    http://www.widescreenreview.com
     
  28. Guest

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    Interesting Eric,

    I'm sure the delay is due to the iminent release of the new Tact TCS, due sometime in February.

    The old TCS has been around a while now and features none of the technology found in the RCS2.2X. The new unit will feature all current algorithms plus firewire connectivity. Tact are a small company and believe in an upgrade policy similar to Tag/Mclaren. Delays are inevitable unfortunately.

    With regard to the comment that acoustical equalisation should be first priority, maybe it would be better for Gary to make that statement after using the Tact, and not without the experience to back it up. It also presumes that the usr will be happy to fill the room with bass traps, diffuser panels and other acoustic treatments. Whilst possible in a dedicated cinema room, this is not an option for most of us. Cost can be prohibitive too. Knowing Gary, he is unlikely to be talking about a few book cases!!

    Interestingly, Kal Rubinson, another respected reviewer from Stereophile Magazine, had a listening room with all the acoustic treatments in place prior to auditioning the Tact (the older RCS2.0). He still owns one, the product was awarded Stereophile Product of the Year by the reviewers, but he got rid of the room treatments;) Maybe that helps to address Gary's comments.

    Review is athttp://www.stereophile.com/showarchives.cgi?437

    Regards

    Michael
     
  29. uncle eric

    uncle eric
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    Good point of course. Which is why my reply was......

     
  30. GaryG

    GaryG
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    As the TACT works in the digital domain it could be working with a standard delay to all signals, like a frame buffer in the broadcast industry, then after a calibration sweep it may selectively not apply a delay or a smaller delay to the troublesome reflection frequencies.
     
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