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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Audio & Video System Expectations

It's been quite some time since I've written to the blog. This year summer & fall had a way of running amok due to household projects, yard work, working overtime at my job, ect. While I may not had had time to spend working or enjoying my entertainment system as much as I'd like, my mind is still abuzz with where it's going with respects to future upgrades and it's direction. Having said that today I'll write a little about my system expectations.

Most audio enthusiasts are typically in one of two camps. The 2-channel music lover and the multichannel channel movie lover. A lot of folks aim for the best of both worlds, which is sometimes a compromise and sometimes very successful. Myself, I am a music fan. I have somewhat different goals than a movie fan might have. I always hesitate to call my room a "Home Theater". Actually I think the moniker is a complete misnomer. "Home Cinema" is a much more accurate description. Still I prefer to think of my room as a media room or entertainment center. Most movies I'll watch once or twice, but a good concert is enjoyed over and over again. Bluray delivers that experience with a high quality lossless multichannel sound track and 1080p picture, so it's suited for both movies and music playback. Bluray is my format of choice - but times are changing!

My video system was built with a 2.05:1 constant image area screen utilizing the maximum height I felt comfortable with. This means 16:9 video is shown as large as practically possible in my room, yet I also get to horizontally expand the picture to a wider CinemaScope 2.35:1 in order to maximize a movie if desired. Since most concert footage is 16:9 format, I've got the biggest picture for that application and still a really wide screen for the occasional movie flick. The traditional downside to a constant image area screen is that you have black bars on the horizontal or vertical image edges depending on which ratio video you are projecting. I've thought about implementing  some manual masking in the future, but the superb black levels of the JVC D-ILA technology in the RS40 projector make for black bars that are very undestracting. For now I'm pretty happy the way it is. I'm already thinking about the next generation DIY screen, so this might be it for the time being.

Now let's talk about the audio side. I've come to the conclusion that my ideal audio system must be capable of two different modes of operation. 

First and most important is the exact reproduction of what is recorded on the source material. This is typically everyone's goal. Flat frequency response, low distortion, good behavior in the time domain, ect. While these are respectable goals, they can fall short in the entertainment factor. Let me explain. Not all recordings are high quality and when faithfully reproduced can sound quite hideous. Such recordings that come to mind are mass produced rock music from the 80's and 90's, most streaming services, poorly digitized lossy MP3s and other bandwidth limited distribution methods such as Sirus/XM. Satellite radio music is so poor and compressed they it is often unlistenable even in my car! Fact is there are more recordings I'm interested in that cannot be sourced in high fidelity or high definition.  I won't NOT watch or listen to something I'm interested in, so what can I do about this?

The second goal of my ideal audio system is to modify the signal in an attempt to add back some of the lost pizzaz. One can alter the frequency response via equalization, add back in lost fundamentals with a subharmonic synthesizer, restore dynamics with range expanders, ect. The purist audiophile will poo-poo at this but if it's not enjoyable, what's the point? I'd much rather be absorbed into an enhanced performance than being distracted by a lousy faithful reproduction. The problem lies in the fact that it's not the media type that defines audio quality, but the work that goes into putting it there isn't always done with the best efforts. Even modern media can be poorly mixed or mastered. Streaming however is slowly catching up in quality and has an exciting future, with services like Netflix, Quello and YouTube. Yes I said YouTube! There are more and more high quality 1080p videos with well recorded sound out there. There are even a few 4K videos posted for those of us with capable displays. There are also products from companies like Darbee Visual Presence that are able to enhance video in ways that don't subtract details or add artifacts to the picture while increasing the viewing pleasure. 

My next few posts will be about my next level of system upgrades which support these ideas.

I'll end this post with a 720p YouTube video that has well recorded sound. This is Tool's 46 and 2 performed by the students of Aaron Okeefe's Music Instruction at The Tracking Room studio in Nashville, TN. It gives me goosebumps to see these talented young kids nail down this song!

1 comment:

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