Category Archives: Home Theater

Has the home theater market helped or hindered high end music quality?

The answer is both.  The advent of Blu-ray has finally introduced uncompressed audio on home movies.  That said Home Theatre (HT) lovers are not sitting down and listening to movies.  They are sitting down and watching them and the audio quality is mostly for dialogue and special effects.  While the sound effects have certainly improved, Blu-ray as a dedicated musical audio medium was a complete fail (though I have several albums that were released as such on my music server).

I think that there are some home theatre people out there that are beginning to explore the audio quality their elaborate systems are capable of, which can be an easy step since most universal players support SACD.  Granted, most won’t know better and use an HDMI interconnect (Just say “no” to HDMI) which is a big “face palm” for audiophiles, but this is still a giant step in a direction that brings audio quality back to the main stream.

Then there is the chicken and egg analogy.  The only reason people buy dedicated SACD players (which are expensive since they use an entirely different data sampling method and two lasers) are for their sound quality and to listen to music only.  These players don’t even play movies.  As such the SACD format stands on sound quality alone, so SACD is certainly not relying on the HT market for it’s existence.  Rather, it is relying upon people who like to listen to music and are willing to pay extra for better quality.  The SACD market is not built on HT, it is built in spite of it.  It is built because people are going back to listening to music and not just sound effects.  For what it’s worth, there are no movies that offer SACD quality sound.  Doesn’t exist.  Doesn’t matter.

Back in the early 1990s I gave up and  finally sold my Martin Logan Sequel IIs and Adcom 555’s to drive them since it just didn’t make sense to own that system for playing regular quality CDs.  What’s interesting is that I didn’t become interested in digital audio again until nearly 15 years later when I installed a descent Home Theatre and started to experiment by listening to SACDs and DVD-Audio discs on it.  I immediately knew these sounded far better than CDs and figured it was time to investigate further (The pecking order of high end audio source formats).  So ironically it was the HT system to led me back down the path to sitting down and listening to music again.  And… I also fell in love with some of the stunning 5.1 channel mixes (Quadrophonic Sound… Realized.), but that’s a different story.

All dedicated SACD players out there are for the audio market only and most are only 2 ch at that.  The exception is a “Universal” player such as many Denon’s, Oppo’s and others.  But SACD audiophiles would more likely stick to the 2 ch versions w/o the video circuitry, which can do bad things to audio signal paths.  The benefit of the crossover for those who have 5.1 already in place for their HT is that they can play the 5.1 surround mixes that some of the SACDs offer.

Then there’s the MTV generation that got everyone listening to music from their TVs for years.  Certainly that did not help audiophiles in any meaningful way I can think of.  But…  there is still the occasional HT guy that happens to have an Universal player (and probably didn’t even know it plays SACDs when he bought it) and buys an SACD and sits down in front of his HT system (with the video off) and, lo and behold, actually just listens to music again.  This convert might be so appreciative of the sound quality their system is capable of that they are… like, I think I’ll get some more of these SACDs and just sit down and listen to music more often.  And that’s great!  The more the better in fact, it will keep the format alive.

What is Dolby Digital and why does it matter?

very good summary here.

one thing i like… DD 7.1 and blu-ray quality audio go hand in hand.  time for me to give 7.1 a listen again.  native, on your home theatre!

THX – is only mentioned in passing as collaborating with DD to create their standards, also good 🙂

the only reference to THX surround sound in home theatre i can find is…  DD “EX”

so… that’s a good thing as well.  DD is doing a fine job already, if the folks at THX have something to add all the better.

but it still begs the question.  what does THX think it’s adding by putting their name on other peoples Blu-ray movies, all 5?!

7.1 or 5.1 Surround Sound

First, let me preface by mentioning that 7.1 surround sound is intended for home theater applications only.

from HK’s web site (what they do with non-native 7.1 sources):

“HARMAN Logic 7 technology transforms a stereo input into full 7.1-channel surround sound, courtesy of proprietary algorithms that make any audio source – HDMI, analog, component, composite or computer-based audio from a USB connection – truly spectacular. The result is optimal quality and a superior, enveloping experience that engulfs you in a 360-degree soundscape.”

my translation after listening to it.  “we can turn any high quality analog signal, be it 2 ch or 5.1, do an AtoD conversion, then a DtoA conversion, both unnecessary, and guess where to put extra sound w/o having any idea of what is in the content of a movie, and make it sound like crap.”

like i said, every AVR receiver will have it’s own flavour, but they will all involve A2D and D2A conversions and there isn’t much hope that HK (or Onkyo) can sell a AVR with 7.1 channels of amplification, all those other whistles and bells, and good quality DACs at an MSRP of under $1K (of course they sell for far less than that, almost half)

even with 7.1 native sources, you are stuck with your AVR doing the DACs, rather than your Oppo which has the good ones.  personally, i’d stick with the “quality over quantity”  approach of the Oppo’s 5.1 analog signal path, even for movies.  see p. 115 for a very good quantity over quality analogy to speakers, which i’ve seen (very negatively by my taste) effect peoples purchase approach to them.  (obviously not the case here, just a good analogy)

also see p. 73, para 3: “A key feature of a high-end A/V controller is the ability to pass analog input signals to the output without converting the signal to digital and then back to analog.”  what he fails to mention is that this is the sole domain of 2 ch and 5.1 ch audio for movies…

listening tests vs. test measurements

this is funny, cause i just read it after sending the email of tech vs. musical audiophiles.

any (musical) audiophile would never.  i repeat never use an HDMI signal path vs. an analog one:

“We utilized the industries most advanced HDMI Audio Analyzer”

so… these guys are obviously of the techy variety.  there’s a lot of that going around.

given the chance, i always do listening tests over technical ones, like i have for the past couple days.

you get the irony of this, right?…

Oppo has gone to great lengths to improve the analog audio (i.e. RCA jacks… 6 of them) signal path on both the 83SE and the 95 models (after the DACs)

yet… this review grabs the digi signal off the HDMI output and tries to say it sucks.  Oppo knows it sucks, ALL HDMI signals suck for all players, that’s why Oppo made the effort to not only offer but also to improve their analog outputs.  I would venture to say that Oppo also knows HDMI sucks for video, but they are stuck with that one 🙁

heck, their analyzed signal path is only 192 kHz vs. the 2.8224 MHz that SACDs offer.

these guys are idiots who plug in instruments to inferior signal paths then try to tell you how things are gonna sound, w/o ever listening to music.  if they did listen to music, they wouldn’t be discussing an HDMI signal path (and theoretically discussing an analog one that they didn’t even plug into to test, let alone listen to) in the first place.

Classic of what I’ve been saying all along.  Techy (i.e. incredible in my way of thinking) guy meets music oriented (highly credible by way way of thinking) audiophile.

it’s very clear who listens to music and who talks about specs and what’s proven or not proven technically here.

i had the same reaction and comments that both Harley and Lynn had when i listened to music played on CDs.  the debate ends at the listening chair, not with the osiliscope or other arguments.  both Lynn and Harley consistently  point out that specs don’t tell the story, listening does.  that’s what i’ve been saying all along and why i warned about paying heed to THD and WPC from day one.   i actually emailed Lynn after i sent the link.  would be fun to get in touch and see if he remembers me, the kid doing final assembly and packing of CC-2 amps.