Do manufacturers listen to their home theatre receivers?

I’ve just drafted yet another review of yet another home theatre receiver which, goddam it, buggers up the sound!

The reason? Supposedly clever sound processors from third party suppliers. With this one it was Dolby Volume. With another couple I’ve dealt with recently, it has been Audyssey Dynamic EQ.

Both of these screw around with the sound, supposedly on the basis of adjusting frequency balance and revealing detail that would be missed because one is supposedly playing the music at less than some supposed optimal level. Here’s what I wrote about a receiver using Audyssey:

Audyssey has been with us for years and began by offering automatic speaker calibration (level, distance, size and so on), and EQ. Let me stress, it then did and still does all that stuff very well. The two newer processes offered by Audyssey are ‘Dynamic Volume’ and ‘Dynamic EQ’. The first of these adjusts the dynamic range of the sound according to the volume level you are listening at. The idea is that if you have the volume down low, the quieter bits will be brought up in level so that you can still hear them. It’s more complicated than that, but that’s the idea.

Dynamic EQ also adjusts for lower volume levels. The sensitivity of your ears to different frequencies varies according to volume levels. The lower the level, the quicker you lose the treble and the bass. Dynamic EQ adjusts the tonal balance to account for this.

When you run the auto calibration process on this receiver (including when it is run as part of the startup wizard), its final step is to ask you whether you want Dynamic Volume switched on. Actually, it recommends that you have it on. I switch it off. It is in effect a dynamic compressor, and I don’t want the sound compressed. You can adjust the degree of effect by changing the ‘Reference level’. Play with it if you like. You can switch it on and off later.

After finishing the auto calibration, though, I still found I didn’t like the sound. It was brash and with a rather lumpy bass, and seemed to excessively emphasise the really deep stuff. It was tolerable with movies, but not what I’d expect from Denon. With music, it was awful.

So I went exploring and found the culprit in the menu system under Audio/Video Adjust|Audio Adjust|Audyssey Settings. It was Dynamic EQ, which was switched on by default. I switched it off and after a minute the system resumed the customary sweetness I expect from Denon. (Why after a minute? Initially it sounded a little dead after the artificial pizzazz previously inflicted on the sound. It takes a while for your ears and brain to adjust.)

When I was a youngster, just about every stereo amplifier review I read in ‘Australian HI-FI’ had a passage bemoaning the presence of a ‘Loudness’ control, which was conceptually the same kind of thing, at a far less developed level, as Dynamic EQ. But at least that always had an obvious button or switch on the front panel.

My problem isn’t that Dynamic EQ is provided on this receiver. It is that it is applied without any notification. It damages the sound, and unless you’re prepared to go exploring (or have read this review), you won’t know why your receiver doesn’t sound anywhere near as good as it should. And some less confident in their own judgement might actually think that that’s how things are supposed to sound!

Oh, and be prepared to switch it off from each input, one by one. It operates independently for each.

That horrid thing eliminated, this receiver sounded wonderful.

Dolby Volume, I now discover, does something similar. Even when playing MP3 a receiver sounds much, much better with this switched off. And once again, it was on without any notification. Aggghhh! Why do they do such things?

Do not the makers of home theatre receivers at Denon, Marantz and Harman Kardon listen to their units?

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19 Responses to Do manufacturers listen to their home theatre receivers?

  1. treblid says:

    Have you tried (Audyssey FAQ)? Had to do it several times but it worked for me (Denon 3808A). Works pretty good for movies…

    Had a interesting run last weekend trying to convert my HT setup into a karaoke system. Took me the whole weekend to realise it’s Audyssey that turned my crappy voice into something much much worse… :p

    I’m guessing Audyssey made some assumptions with it’s EQ algo and things can go wrong if the audio signal is something outside those assumptions?

    (Link fixed at Treblid’s request.)

  2. The reason for my outrage, which I perhaps did not make sufficiently clear in this post, wasn’t the existence of the processor (nor the Dolby Volume one). It was that in a number of different receivers these processes are switched on by default. You aren’t given an option, or even a warning. You have to go looking through the setup menus to find them and switch them off.

    This isn’t Audyssey’s fault, nor Dolby’s. It’s the fault of the likes of Denon, Marantz and Harman Kardon who are releasing their receivers in this condition.

  3. treblid says:

    I get what you’re saying. Any modern receivers that do a first time setup wizard when the user first power it on?

    TVs, mobile phones and new computers have setup wizards, even video processors from DVDo Edge.

    Will be good if new receivers have a setup wizard, and then include a final question – do you want to turn DSP on/off?

    At least it will help first time users a lot. I remember the trouble I had with my Denon 3808 when I first got it. The UI was really complicated and unintuitive. The manual is very verbose, and very unhelpful.

    Not really looking for a new receiver at this stage, but if there is a right one out there, may be tempted.

  4. alebonau says:

    Bit surprised in the comments, audyssey do recommend dynamic eq if want to contain eq profile if want to listen below reference. been using audyssey on denon avr and processor last 5 years. Not ever noticed what are mentioning, infact feel dynamic eq is best thing since sliced bread hehe. Denon even let you adjust how much impact it has now. Worth contacting Chris from audyssey as has always found him very approachable and helpfull.

    Re dynamic volume, I only use it for tv viewing and only on the day time setting. I find that pretty usefull too for evening viewing as can quite happily listen at astoundingly low volume levels and still maintain clarity of vocals. Was running audyssey on a friends denon 4311 last weekend and it definitely asked at end of the process if wanted to use audyssey dynamic volume. So perhaps it asks on some avrs and not on others.

    The business of saving it on all inputs is really handy. As it allows you separate settings for each input. For me, I use dyn eq only for blu-ray/dvd movies. And both dynamic eq and dyn vol for tv. And these are selected automatically when select DVD/blu-day or tv inputs. So a handy thing for me that it does this. But sounds like something you obviously found annoying !

  5. Yes, both Marantz and Denon receivers from last year ask whether you want Audyssey Dynamic Volume on at the conclusion of setup. (If I recall correctly, they suggest that it be switched on.) But they do not ask if you want Audyssey Dynamic EQ on. They just do it.

    I think you can make a case that this is a wonderful innovation and that it makes things sound better. I don’t agree. I was sorely troubled by the quality of the sound, which is what sent me searching in the first place, leading me to find Dynamic EQ. I switched it off, and both receivers sounded much better to me for having done so.

    This could be simply because I am used to listening to sound at lower than optimal levels without Dynamic EQ switched on, so it sounded ‘different’, and I merely interpreted it as worse. That’s a perfectly legitimate argument.

    Nonetheless, no process to adjust the sound should be applied without at least notification, and preferably an ability to choose. There was none.

    It is the Harman Kardon receiver that applies a different process, Dolby Volume, without any kind of permission or even notification. Once again, something sounded wrong so I went searching.

  6. Aiden . M says:

    Has your opinion changed regarding Audyssey since June 11th 2012?

    This is my experience and I agree with everything written. I will admit i’ve been using an Onkyo TX-NR809 amplifier for the past 8-9 months. Its considered mid brand from there top of the line models. It features Audyssey MultEQ XT. (1 step under there MultEQ XT32 top model and 2 above the basic Audyssey). I love the amplifier! and its my first HDMI out driven amplifier since my non- HDMI out Sony ES system.

    Audio is my hobby , and threw college i’ve set up multiple systems, helping in building home theater rooms and sold them in place’s like audio advisers which around here, is considered high end home sound and installation.

    These are the few things that I have a problem with regarding Audyssey and i’ve read everything about them including official threads responded by Chris. (One of the top guys from Audyssey) and user threads in various websites.The sound is sloppy with Dynamic EQ after measuring with a microphone. Bass also takes a hit and all my Klipsch speakers get reduced to -12, Surrounds -9 and including the sub woofer +0.5. At start up, the microphone ask you to reduce the sub to -75 (which is -27 on the sub itself on my end) after the readings, it boost the sub on the amplifier side to +0.5 while still holding onto the subs -27 on the hardware side, they expect you to keep the sub and settings to the microphones configurations so it can apply calibrations.

    They claim Audyssey does not control bass management, than why have it on the set up screen? Most people would think that is how the sound its suppose to be. Im aware its to get a general idea of the bass. I would have to crank up to level 75 to 80 on the volume side and the amplifier lights up as refrence to even get some decent bass but punch and pure deep bass is missing. The Onkyo is 7.2 amplifier ,135 watts x 7 , matching reference Klipsch speakers middle of the high end line not there low end Bestbuy store sold ones, also a matching new 12′ subwoofer with 350 watts RMS and 850 watts dynamic power.

    Dynamic Volume on, I would not use this because like you stated, its a dynamic compressor. In there own website it says the same (volume leveler along with the idea to prevent spikes and enhance lower volume listening). If I needed to, id use Dolby Volume which according to research is limited to higher end amplifiers. Which Audyssey seems to be in everything including $300 systems.When you turn on Dynamic Volume, it auto turns on Dynamic EQ. Using the microphone settings along with light, medium and heavy settings on the compression side. Which is equal to day, afternoon and midnight settings on other amplifiers.

    Dynamic EQ For every day use is very annoying and time consuming to switch back and forth. In my system, I have tell it in 3 sub menus if i’m listening to music, jazz, classic and movie. It doesn’t auto-detect and switch by itself. After entering the sub menu, I have to set it 15db for music, 0db for movies, classical 5db and 10db for jazz. I can turn on Dynamic EQ in the first Audio menu but not specify the sound curve. If I played a movie, shut off the system, when I return to listen to music or play games, I have to turn on Dynamic EQ than enter 3 sub menus to find the sound stage.

    Even if everything was located in the first menu, the switching back and forth would get annoying. I have to constantly tell it what i’m listening to to get a minor improvement which is not very noticeable. A pro kit is $2500 which I heard is excellent. Realistically its not option for everyone.

    The other strange thing I noticed is Audyssey sets speakers (ill use mine for example) as f 40,c 70,S 60 hertz. Which contributes to the missing bass effect on top of the lower volume levels. What is interesting, is the Audyssey official response is set everything to 80 hertz THX setting. For something that has no control over bass, and meant to help the sound with correct speaker and sound settings you now have to change the hertz set up , after the microphone sweep. There response is the same, blaming the speaker manufactures when the set up detects hertz frequency and assigns itself to the amplifier. They say should turn up the bass if needed BUT this changes initial setup. Even switching to 80 hertz which they say might improve bass but the speakers are taking a hit because they are lower at negative. Not even just my speakers , but I’ve run into multiple setups that have everything reduced to -12.

    Audyssey may help some users but cripples others. The point of my whole post is to show how much work goes into using Audyssey with minimal improvement. The back and forth switching and turning on and specifying sound curve etc is ridiculous. A regular user would have no clue what to do and get burnt out quickly.

    Audyssey claims that changing the initial set up made by the microphone will throw off the calibration. So any fiddling around to get it to a users personal preference will render it pointless and throw off the filters. I’m aware they spent 6 million in 6 years, but you can see why many of there statements conflict. I shouldn’t have to do heavy searching to run into non official responses that klipsch speakers are “brighter” so Audyssey sets them back more and changing to half of the original set up helps. EVen the distance is off saying my speakers are farther away than they actually are. The non official response by users is “it does this to compensate”. this can also causer a lot of user issues because some might be tempted to switch it to correct distance and throwing off the filters.

    My personal preference has been Audyssey and Dynamic Volume and Dynamic EQ off. Using one turns on the other and just like you, I found out by looking around the amplifier menu. Even turning on Dynamic volume for night listening uses the Audyssey readings to make adjustments. Its simpler to just adjust your own speakers levels by hand than get involved with constant back and forth that Audyssey tends to do.

  7. Albedo says:

    Great post Stephen, and Aiden as well. I’m equally disappointed with Audyssey and can’t seem to get decent sound from my amplifier (Denon 4308), either for music or hc.

    Have you both fiddle with YPAO and MCACC ? How much control do you keep with those ?

  8. Yamaha’s EQ can be manually adjusted, and perhaps Pioneer’s as well. But the problem is that unless you have some pretty decent measuring equipment, it is very difficult to know what you’re adjusting towards. That’s why I typically rely on the auto EQ (whether Audyssey, YPAO, MCACC or some other).

    But the purpose of that is to correct for problems in your speakers and room. Audyssey Dynamic Volume and Dynamic EQ and Dolby/THX Volume are intended to ‘correct’ for the differences in sensitivities in our ears at different volume levels. Which it trying to fix a problem which isn’t really there.

    You see, our ears ‘expect’ those different sensitivities at different levels. If the music or movie is being played back 15dB lower than full loudness, then it will sound strange to our ears if the frequency balance in particular is adjusted so that the bass and treble maintain the same subjective relative level as the mid frequencies.

    In the real world, if something is quieter, its frequency balance changes (subjectively). That’s what we’re used to. Mucking around with that makes things sound artificial and forced.

  9. Albedo says:

    Dynamic EQ and Volume have indeed a detrimental effect on the sound, it’s muffled and artificial. On the other hand the dynamic range limitation is somewhat useful : if you want to understand the dialogue during the quiet moments in a movie you have to choose a sound level which makes the loud moments way too loud (in an apartment anyway). So, I’m conflicted as fuck 😉

    I hope that Yamaha (or Pioneer) could solve this conundrum in a more satisfactory way than Audyssey but I guess I’ll be disappointed. Like you said it’s meant to be played at full loudness.

    At least maybe I’ll get back some naturalness with music.

  10. D Bone says:

    Wow, lots of misunderstanding in this blog. Aiden’s post is full of them. I agree with the opinion that Audyssey should ask at the end of the setup procedure if the user wants to enable both DEG & DV (on the Onkyo 709 it does both, but not my Denon). On my HK 2700 Dolby Volume is enabled on all inputs by default, and in different levels to boot, again bad, I agree.

    After using Audyssey’s DEQ & DV for a couple of years now, I wouldn’t own a receiver without it again. My system is living room based and used 24/7 for everything from gaming, to news casts to BDs. The loudest we ever listen is -10db, and usually far lower than that and both DEQ & DV work great in this atmosphere.

    If I had a dedicated, treated room where we listened at reference 100% of the time, then I would feel different, but I don’t.

  11. Joseph Trumeye says:

    I have a a Marantz SR7005, Klispch RF63 and Velodyne SPL Ultra 1200. I have pissed farted with this Audyssey crap with mike etc for over 2 years and read volumes of stuff. I always found that my other system a 20 year old Yamaha AVR Klispch KG 1.5 and Yamaha sub 320 sounded much better. Then I found out why. I turned off this Audyssey crap last night and Voila!!!!! I have been listening again to all my CDs and watching my movies again like a drug addict. I never thought the Marantz SR 7005 and those Klipsch RF63 sounded so good. Thank you, Paul. Salaam Audyssey.

  12. Josh Truneye says:

    As an addendum to my previous post, please note that I referred back t the Marantz SR 7005 manual and also change the settings to Speakers Large all round ( I have all large Klispch RC and RS) and LFE plus Main. Sweet Mary! Keep it Simple Stupid. I should have followed my instincts and my ears and not be mislead by Internet 2 bob experts.

  13. Joseph Trumeye says:

    When you turn Audyssey off eg Audyssey Multi Eq Etc you must also turn equalizer back to flat as well. Do this by changing Multi eq to Manual, then return then manual equ to speakers to all and select default. Otherwise the speakers level will be all over the place. Happy listening.

  14. Joseph Trumeye says:

    Also following from my above comments, you must reset equalizer to Default setting or the sound will be unbalanced. Do that by going into Multieq, change it to manual from off, press return , go to manual eq and click default, then go back and set multieq to off again. Enjoy

  15. Will says:

    The comments by Joseph above are all incorrect. I can understand his confusion. Been there, done that. You need Audyssey for movies otherwise you cannot hear dialogue well unless you turn the volume up then down during loud passages. No good. When listening to music you can turn Audyssey off with your remote. I am talking about a Marantz SR7005. Just press Multiequ off or on and nothing else. After many experimentations, I have discovered that Marantz and Audyssey were right re: all loudspeakers being set to Small and LFE (not LFE plus Main) if you use a subwoofer. This activates bass management. So much better. The best is to set all speakers frequency at 80 hz and sub at 120 hz. What a difference!! No boominess. And so realistic. Remember, no two program source sounds the same . Some sounds flat others don’t. I have Velodyne spl 1200 and for myself I prefer the Rock preset for all music (p2). Cheers. Finally it is a good idea to turn the volume down when changing menus or cds. Also in the AvR menu, go to volume setting and set it to nil (—) so that next time when you switch on you don’t get blasted. Limit volume to -20db or -10 db. Cheers

  16. Doug says:

    I follwed Will’s advice above. He is correct on using audyssey for movies but found with speakers settings at small, crossover at 80hz for all and 120 hz for sub LPF is not as good with my floorstanders Klispch RF63, etc. Like most people I have exerimented but I have found that the best setting for my gear for good natural bass on all sources and good sound stage presence is to set all speakers to large, all speaker crossover to 80hz including subwoofer LPF and LFE plus main on my Marantz sr7005 and select 180 ( reverse) on sub. Best setup for movies and stereo for music.

  17. Gertjan says:

    ADSY works fine, but you have to know what you are doing. Some people here clearly have no clue (sorry don’t mean to be harsh, but it is true).

    I am a HT enthusiastic for over 15 years and I have a Denon 4311 for a few years now and use its ADSY XT32 settings in combi with a 7.2 speakers system. My basics are as follows:

    1) don’t touch music
    2) touch movies
    3) use a sound measurement kit (UMIK-1 and REW)

    ad 1)
    Music is not mixed with standardized levels/mastering techniques so ADSY cannot be used there. Make sure ADSY is turned off for music or at best make use of the ADSY bypass L/R setting to make sure the fronts are untouched.

    I use the “direct” function for all 2ch stereo sources (CD, flac, mp3, tuner, etc). I have it setup that the fronts are set to Large (standard with ‘direct’) and subs are ON. subwoofer levels are determined with a standard SPL/dB meter (Radioshack, Velleman) and adjusted by ear if necessary. Crossover is 60 Hz. No ADSY setting active here (so also no subwoofer EQ, works good for me as I setup my dual subs very good, so it doesn’t really need EQ for music to me). 2ch sources are auto-detected by the Denon, no need for pressing knobs all the time. Works great.

    ad 2)
    Movies/surround is mixed with standardized mastering and level techniques. Here you can use ADSY to your advantage, but you have to make sure that after a proper ADSY calibration (note: read the internet about how to properly perform ADSY calibrations):

    a) All speakers are set to SMALL and crossover points are appropiate, but preferably around 80 Hz at minimum. No speakers must be set to Large, I don’t care if these are 5 feet high towers.
    b) Dynamic Volume off
    c) Dynamic EQ on

    This is the basic. This should give you a good start, especially if you don’t listen to reference levels (0 dB on the receiver).

    ad 3)
    If you want to know what is really happening to the sound, you should buy a UMIK-1 microphone and download REW software. If you take sound measurements with this kit, it will show you a ruler-flat response when ADSY is activated. Especially in the bass when dynamic EQ is off, your subs will be truly flat. To compensate for loss of hearing in the subwoofer range when levels are lower than reference, the dynamic EQ must be engaged. Depending on the level this brings the subwoofer(s) much more alive.

    The only problem I have with the standard ADSY settings in the bass is that truly flat bass sounds …. really flat. Even when dynEQ is activated. So for me personally I upped the subs a few db, but I leave the ADSY settings active. So including the dynEQ setting activated.

    We are always watching movies around -20 dB on the receiver. At this sound-level the dynEQ is still adding some extra bass boost to the LFE content and make the surround-stage very lively. With the mentioned settings and the little tweaks to the bass I find the sound-stage extremely engaging with tight nice deep bass-rumble and marvelous surround sound. This sounds very close to the best IMAX and Atmos theaters found locally and way better than standard movie theaters.

    I have this all setup in a way that the Denon picks this up automatically, so if a 2ch source is detected, it will put the ‘direct’ mode on as said before. When surround is detected, the ADSY settings with the bells / whistles will be turned on automatically.

    Been watching Harry Potter series last week with these ADSY settings and really sounds amazing!

  18. Hi Gertjan, good comment. I don’t agree with it all — I hate Dynamic EQ, indeed, all volume dependent EQ systems, and have a forthcoming article in Australian HI-FI to explain why. But, heck, you’re the one using your system and if you like it, good for you.

    In any case, as you say music is best delivered ‘Direct’. There’s a great deal more flexibility with movies.

  19. Jim B says:

    Gertjan, ADSY should be used for everything….movies, music, etc.

    ADSY simply equalizes the frequency output of your speakers in combination with the room they are in, to be as flat as possible.

    Now, if you have perfect speakers (flat frequency response) and a perfectly tuned room, ADSY would not be needed, but who has those? Not me. Nor, I suspect, do you.

    Mastering standards/levels etc. have nothing to do with that.

    “Features” of ADSY that do have to do with mastering levels and that you may or may not want to use are Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume.

    These features (which can be turned ‘off’ while leaving the main ADSY equalization ‘on’) do alter volume and frequencies, which can bugger up the sound.

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