No two home theaters are created equal. Nor should they be. It’s the one space where home systems integrators have the creative liberty to break away from a home’s predefined design scheme to devise an entertainment destination that’s unique in style and in performance.
Unfortunately, everything from the dimensions of the room, the placement of the furniture and equipment, and the application of decorative elements can throw a monkey wrench into the sonic quality of an audio system. Factor in a growing demand by consumers for higher resolution audio, and it’s no wonder calibration has become an increasingly important part of a home system integrator’s skill set. And thankfully, manufacturers have responded to the need by integrating calibration and equalization technologies into their professionally installed audio products.
One of the pioneers of audio optimization, Phase Technology has long recognized the importance of predictable, accurate audio reproduction in high-caliber home theater environments. Its revolutionary dARTS (Digital Audio Reference Theater Systems), commercially available since 2005, offers home systems integrators a complete suite of digital equipment that could be custom to overcome the sonic anomalies of a home theater space.
“We designed it at MSE Audio (the parent company of Phase Technology) as a solution that would provide control over the entire audio chain,” explains Ken Hecht, MSE Audio vice president of research and development. “From the digital amplifiers, all the way down to the bi-amped and tri-amped speakers, the audio is accurate and repeatable.”
The solution didn’t come to fruition overnight, however. In fact, it took years to refine, according to Hecht, and dealing with some early missteps along the way.
“In our first forays the processing speeds were so slow that our first digitally controlled amp took two seconds from when the signal traveled into the amp to when it ended up at the speakers,” he recalls. But firmly standing behind the belief that home theater audio should sound pristine, accurate, and seamless, the engineers at Phase Technology continued to refine the dARTS technology, eventually landing on a solution that makes good on the promise of predictable, reference-grade audio through calibration, equalization, and optimization prior to amplification–features that are unique from other home theater audio systems.
Here’s what CE Pro uncovered during a recent interview with Hecht when we asked him to elaborate:
Q: What makes dARTS unique from other professional calibration technologies and systems currently on the market? How do these features help home systems integrators sell and install home theater audio systems?
A: There are two steps in the calibration process of a dARTS system. We have to start by explaining how a dARTS system is built: The calibration process is first performed during production. Our spec for dARTS is a very tight +-0.5 dB when compared to our reference speakers. To accomplish this we designed new soft dome tweeters and woofers made from a three-layer composite of glass/Nomex honeycomb/glass to reproduce the input signal with extreme accuracy. Then we take each speaker into our anechoic chamber and write custom software for every driver to calibrate it to within the 0.5 dB spec.
These custom files are uploaded into the DP4000 IA digital processor, which then becomes a unique part of the total system. All 16 (250 watts each) channels are directly coupled to each driver using DSP to create the custom crossovers, EQ, and time correction. These bi-amped and tri-amped speakers are a customized, calibrated package. This makes each dARTS system the most precisely matched speaker package available.
Once a speaker system is installed in a customer’s home, the room imposes its own sonic signature on the sound. This is where the second step of the calibration process comes into play. When we designed the dARTS system, we worked with Audyssey engineers to create proprietary filters that perfectly matched our speakers. This calibration process ensures the system sounds the way we originally intended. This makes dARTS one of the only systems on the market that has repeatable and predictable results in real-world installation environments.
Q: How can a dealer best relay the benefits of these features to his or her clients?
A: By showing them that there will be no noticeable transition of sound between speakers—that the audio will move throughout the room seamlessly. This benefit becomes even more important when incorporating Dolby Atmos and other object-oriented audio systems into a home theater. To maintain the level of realism intended of these technologies, sound must travel seamlessly from speaker to speaker. The ability to set precise parameters for the audio, results in a listening experience where the speakers disappear from your consciousness; it gives the consumer a precise, realistic home theater experience.
Also, unlike some home audio systems that have been engineered to create a “sweet spot,” dARTS, through its precision processing and custom Audyssey calibration, is able to ensure that every person, no matter where they are seated in a theater, receives the same listening experience. Each dARTS system is designed to play at 105 dB from the front row to the back row. All of this is demonstrable, but the dARTS technician can always switch the room correction on and off to provide the client a direct A/B comparison between a calibrated system and a non-calibrated system.
The most important part of the demonstration, though, is reinforcing that what a client hears in the showroom is what they will hear in their home.
Q: Besides offering unique calibration and room correction solutions for theater environments, how can dARTS benefit home systems integrators when they are working on multi-purpose media room environments?
A: Unlike dedicated theaters, which are somewhat similar in shape and acoustic properties, multi-purpose rooms can be vastly different from one another. This makes the acoustic properties of each room varied and unpredictable. This magnifies the importance of taking as many variables out of the equation as possible. Having a very well matched speaker system, combined with in-room custom calibration means there is only one variable left: the room. All processing power is then directed at the room, giving the installer the ability to make all of these varied environments sound virtually the same.
Q: How does MSE apply audio optimization to its other product lines, specifically whole-house audio systems and outdoor audio systems?
A: Built into our Phase Technology speakers for traditional, analog whole-house audio applications are absolute phase crossovers. This technology was originally developed for home theater applications as a way to keep audio from the left, right, and center channel speakers in phase. But in addition to keeping audio acoustically and electrically in phase, the technology also allows a speaker to have as wide an on-axis response horizontally as it does vertically. This feature is particularly helpful in whole-house audio scenarios by ensuring that the audio sounds powerful and accurate no matter where you’re sitting or standing in a room—seated below where the speaker is mounted or off axis
Q: And what about outdoor speakers? How have these been engineered by MSE to ensure a pleasing listening experience in outdoor entertainment areas?
A: We offer outdoor speakers in our Rockustics and Phase Technology lines in many different versions that go from producing audio for low-level background listening for casual entertainment environments to high-level controlled dispersion for outdoor home theater applications. Bass is often a component that’s overlooked in outdoor audio, but it’s so important considering the large coverage area. We’ve elevated the bass specifically for this reason in the outdoor Phase Technology speaker. The bass it provides would be overkill for an interior space, but for the challenging acoustics of an outdoor space, the amount of bass is just right.