“Our biggest and most popular video on our Youtube Channel is our video on where to put Surround Sound speakers. What we’ve discovered is that the reason that video is so popular is because most of the people watching it are consumers with regular home systems who have no idea where to put their speakers. If you look at the comments you’ll see what I mean. One of the biggest responses we get is “nobody has a room where you can put the speakers exactly the same distance from the listener as you describe.” Well, in a home, I can certainly see that. I certainly don’t have my surround speakers anywhere near the same distance to me in my living room as the LCRs are – but then again, I like having the surrounds closer, because it helps me figure out what the mixer’s of my favorite shows and movies are really doing back there.
Most folks rant about “just use the built in [enter automated system here] on the amp that figures all that out for you…” and while many modern amps do have some kind of system for using a mic and an analysis sweep to discover the frequency patterns and distances of the speakers its driving, it still doesn’t solve the issues which come up when speakers aren’t the same distance from the listener.
But here’s the thing: delays are a band aid. Worse, delays are a band aid which insures that the wound never heals – to take the analogy farther than it should go. Why won’t the wound heal?
Inverse Square Law states that the decibel is the square of the distance. This means if you have a magic triangle of 48″ and the center speaker is 6″ closer (which is really usual given that most people think that having LCR in a straight line means they’re all in the magic triangle), and the sound from the LR speakers is 80 dB, then you’ve got the Center channel blasting at you at LR + 46% power or another 2.76 dB – which means the LR channels are going to sound really quiet compared to the Center. But what makes this worse is that the sound of the Center channel will be hitting your face roughly 650 microseconds earlier – which further increases the perceived loudness of Center to your brain.
If we delay the center speaker those 650 microseconds and turn it down 2.76 dB, theoretically you’d have the same equivalent experience to the brain as if the speaker were in the magic triangle. Right?
In a vacuum, that would be correct. But in a live room with reflective walls, mismatched positions, a giant flat, reflective screen and who knows what else in the listening environment of a home, the horrific comb filtering, phase cancellation and primary/secondary/tertiary reflections associated with delaying a sound make the true result much less acceptable than what most people think. In fact, you’re probably getting more weird issues coming from your room than anything else, and the delay only exacerbates them. Are delays a good stop-gap? Absolutely. Of course. I guess I’m just ranting, because I’m tired of hearing people telling us that “just use the auto-figure-it-out-for-stupid-people setting on the amp. Everybody knows that” answer and responses we’re getting. Enjoy your ridiculous and badly phase cancelled “cinematic experience.”
And if you don’t know what I’m talking about for any of this I’d strongly recommend you watch the Workspace Volume of the Cinema Sound Education as soon as possible, so you can start to truly experience what the Hollywood mixers meant in their programs – and you can join me in calling out posers in the surround sound space.”
Mark Edward Lewis
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