Two things a room correction product must do
My research has led me the conclusion that there are a number of basic functional elements that ALL room correction devices should possess. These conclusions derive from a room acoustics viewpoint rather than a sound quality perspective. It is interesting that there are many devices on the market that do not meet these two basic criteria…
1. Must not apply correction filters above the transition frequency OR must allow the user to switch off room correction above the transition frequency
When a measurement microphone is placed at the listening position(s) and the source is a reasonable distance away (e.g. 8ft) what we see on a frequency response chart above around 300Hz (the transition frequency) is a combination of the direct sound from the speakers and the reflected sound from the surfaces of our room. The contribution of the reflected sound from the room to the measured frequency response can be as much as 60%. The measured response, as seen on the chart, is often termed the ‘power response’ of our speakers. The shape of the line normally ‘droops’ towards high frequencies; this is due to the increasing directivity of our tweeters as 20kHz is approached.
Above the transition frequency room correction products are actually correcting the power response of our speakers i.e. they are applying speaker correction. In some cases this can be a good thing, for example with lower quality speakers that possess variable on-axis frequency response. In most cases however, and especially with audiophile quality speakers, one should be hesitant about allowing a room correction product free reign to determine and apply correction filters above the transition frequency. Some reasons for this are listed below:
- Equalizing the power response will typically cause the direct frequency response to rise towards 20kHz; your nice speakers that measure flat on-axis at 1m will now exhibit a rising frequency response!
- Many speaker designers purposely engineer in some minor deviations in the frequency response. This is often a subjective voicing of the sound but is also sometimes required to control the sound quality impact of a driver breakup mode. An example of this is the BBC or ‘Gundry’ dip** (see here).
These examples illustrate why any room correction product should either:
- Only apply correction to bass frequencies like Meridian.
- Allow the end user to select which the frequency range to which room correction is applied like TacT.
2. Must allow the user to choose a target frequency response:
Room correction devices aim to fit the measured frequency response to a nominal target frequency response by applying correction filters. There is an element of preference in the shape of the target curve, some people preferring a ruler flat response whilst others prefer a rising response in the bass which adds a little more weight to music. To some extent this preference is informed by the volume at which a person listens to music and the sound level dependent nature of our hearing. Those who listen at lower volumes (e.g. 70dB) may prefer a lift of up to 10dB at 30Hz. See this information on the Fletcher Munson curves for more information.
In any event any room correction device should either:
- Allow the user a wide choice of target frequency responses
- Allow the user to manually ‘draw’ their target frequency response. Any system that requires the user to specify the correction filters (e.g. Rives Audio PARC, Z-Systems RDP-1) is effectively providing a limited version of this capability.
There are three additional criteria that a room correction product should have: not performing a needless analog to digital conversion, providing measurement capabilities and providing filter generation capabilities. These will be covered in a future blog post.
Do you think there are any other functional criteria that a room correction product MUST HAVE? Let me know through the comments!