I’m an audioholic, by birth. My ears tend to be analytical of the sound it is hearing. So I simply lose interest in music unless I’m in a real concert or the audio is being reproduced by a good system. A small stereo system or even the typical consumer Home Theater in a Box setup would not satisfy me. I’d rather not listen to music at all if those are the only sound sources that I could get.
My dad was like that as well. in my early years I grew up listening to a Sonodyne Uranus hand-equalized by my dad. That was the best he could afford at that time and it was a decent beast. It came with a dual cassette deck, an AM/FM Tuner, a discrete 12-band graphic equalizer and an integrated pre-power amp with the output stage driven by two STK 4131 II power mosfets. It also had an optional turntable which we did not go for. There were 2-way ported (bass – reflex) stereo speakers which could handle 50W RMS each. However the mosfets could only deliver 20W RMS per channel. At that day and age it was good enough for us. Stereo nirvana in fact. I plugged in a CD player much later.
After enjoying with that for more than 8 years we had to dispose of it. It had aged and required constant maintenance. Then many life changes happened to me and I could not get my hands on a decent setup, for one reason or the other that would also include lack of budget at the right time. Finally moving into a new house provided the right opportunity. Luckily I managed to allocate some surplus funds. In addition my timing was just right to land a deal with the 3-day ProFx anniversary sale. A 25% discount on the package plus freebies. This is what I grabbed:
- KEF Q-series 5.1 spkr system: Q700 Floorstanders, Q200c Center Channel, Q400b Sub and Q800ds dipole surrounds.
- Denon AVR 2313 receiver.
- 33M speaker cable free gift box.
- Free installation.
- A pair of Denon Urban Raver earphones via a lucky draw.
I already have a PS3 as my primary media player which I readily hooked onto the AVR. The discount and the effective market price of the KEFs in India meant that I paid for the speakers and got the Denon for peanuts. Yes the AVR 2131 model has been phased out and replaced with the new AVRX series. However Denon, with AVRX, has actually consolidated it’s lineup and reduced the wide range of models on offer to reduce customer confusion along with a few technical improvements. So I did not lose much by going with an older model. In fact who cares when I get it for peanuts. The Denon comes with this awesome Audyssey MultiEQ XT feature which can compensate (equalize) for room imperfections to a good extent.
As I mentioned before, I’m an audioholic but not an excruciatingly technical one. I’d not get into aspects of acoustical engineering to setup this system in my living room. I just wanted something that would sound good to me. Whether it is a good measured audio frequency response or not I’d not really bother (though I’d be curious to find out). As usual, the installer did a basic setup and did not spend too much time. There were several problems with the installation and the room:
- The floorstanders were too close to the walls. Possibly because he was trying to match speaker separation to listening distance and get an equilateral triangle for good imaging. I wanted to avoid wall reflections and compromise a bit on imaging.
- The room is rectangular with 9’1” height, 11’2” width and 16’2” length. The listening position is lengthwise. So keeping the floorstanders away from the walls meant I could only get an isoceles triangle with respect to the listening position. Moving the rear sofa forward would upset the room decor and badly upset the entire family!
- I have a coffee table made of pre-laminated particle board.
- The Sub’s volume was at 80% and not the recommended 50%.
- The Sub’s crossover knob was set at 80Hz while recommendation is to set it at max (150Hz) and let the AVR decide on the exact crossover values.
- I made him run Audyssey but the environment was bad: Some nearby drill machine came on at the wrong time, a dog barked, neighbour’s car went past arrgh!
- He did not have a MIC stand with boom. So he placed the Audyssey MIC on the sofa back to do measurements which is crap.
- My room has walls on 3 sides the back of the listening side is open with a stariway, followed by dining and kitchen space.
- Seen from the listening side, the left side wall ends 3.5ft shorter than the right side wall to allow walking space and access to a guest bedroom.
- My TV is a Sony 37-in, HD-ready, flat panel, 6 yrs old. I do not have the budget to go in for a new TV at this time.
In addition to this the room has wooden look flooring made of MDF. The MDF boards rest on two layers of foam which in turn rests on the concrete floor below. Since the floor is not hardwood and it rests on foam, I decided not to go for mats in front of the floorstanders. The coffee table rested on a central carpet in any case.
Initially the sound lacked depth and the bass was missing. I do not like boomy bass but the earth-shattering explosion in Skyline seemed like a tinny Diwali firecracker. Dialogues were too loud. Floorstanders seemed to do a lot of work at the low end leaving the sub idle. Treble seemed analytical. Lastly the sound imaging seemed to be converging at a point a couple of feet above my head!
Eventually it took me a month of playing with speaker positioning and Audyssey and a wild goose chase due to a HDMI weirdness on my old TV to finally get something I like really like listening to. Some aspects of my adventure in summary are below:
- Move floorstanders away from wall by upto 2’1”. Move subwoofer from left to right. Left side was being blocked by the larger sofa impairing the subwoofer’s bass.
- Cover the darned, but aesthetically and practically required coffee table with a mat to absorb reflections. Looks good as well.
- Fix the dipole surrounds to the side walls with screws and two small aluminium brackets. They are not exactly aligned due to the different wall lengths. I could not place them at the rear, on stands, due to aesthetic and practical problems. One of the speakers will then come within the common walking area and if children bump into it, my hard-earned money goes down the drain!
- The right side wall has a large window with two – layered curtains which prevents reflections. The right wall was empty, so I placed a decorative grid-design shelf in the middle. Looks good and diffuses reflections somewhat.
- Build a boom stand for the Audyssey MIC with some leftover MDF pieces from my modular furniture construction. This kind of a MIC stand is generally considered not good but I did some improvising to get fairly good results.
- I made the stand short (about 27” tall) and rested it on the sofa, rather than the ground to avoid transmitting vibrations from the ground to the MIC.
- I set the ear level height to 23”.
- Covered the base plank of the stand with sofa cushions during measurement to avoid unwanted reflections.
- I did the Audyssey measurements during midnight 1AM so there will be pin-drop silence. The only sound is from an UPS fan.
- I followed the following guide, though not down to the letter: http://www.hometheatershack.com/forums/audio-processing/68407-audyssey-multeq-faq-setup-guide.html
- I had to re-run Audyssey about five times as I kept making small mistakes, tweaking the speaker placements and trying a couple of MIC patterns. Five times being a night owl, much to the consternation of my wife and being groggy at office the next day.
- I noted down the furniture positioning measurements. This is so that when the furniture is moved for cleaning I can recreate the exact layout that was used to run Audyssey, accurate to the inch.
- The HDMI Control (CEC) would not work reliably with my old Sony Bravia. This would result in sound only coming from the TV, not the KEFs!! Imagine my frustration playing movies and music on the PS3 with the expensive KEFs sitting and watching idly. It would work intermittently. I tried to change HDMI cables, update firmware on PS3 and the Denon, reset settings to no avail. After a wild cursing chase I managed to figure this out. Turning off HDMI control fixed the problem. It however, prevented automatic HDMI switching from the DTH set-top box to TV when the AVR is switched off. Luckily my set-top box has component video and stereo audio out which I could directly connect to equivalent inputs on the TV. In any case component video is more than enough for the family to watch standard-definition TV channels. If I want to watch something like NatGeo HD I’d switch on the AVR.
- I want to add front height speakers later on, so did not go for bi-amping the fronts. I know I’d have to re-run Audyssey … arrgh.
- I set the front crossover points to 60Hz for the front towers and 80Hz for the center. Audyssey had set them all to 40Hz.
- Increased the Subwoofer level from -0.5db to 0db.
- I switched off Dynamic EQ and Dynamic Volume.
Finally, after all this circus, I have something that I look forward to listen to and watch. The great thing is that the last Audyssey round was just perfect for my ears that I do not have to mess with the tone control or the speaker levels(except for the slight sub tweak). All I did was to increase the Dialogue level a bit while watching Ender’s Game. Turning up the volume while watching the explosion in Skyline makes one look around to ensure that it is not his living room items that are breaking.
Stereo music sounds equally good with deep thudding, not booming bass and clear treble. The imaging could be better but is not too bad either. I cannot change my living room! Boney-M and the Love At First Sight CD just come to life. Sultans of Swing is smooth. All the instruments in Classic Rock are rendered crystal clear; I can make them out. Kishore Kumar and Hemant Kumar seem sitting right in front of me! The KEFs are truly glorious.