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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