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Strikingly good results with Dirac Live digital processing

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Strikingly good results with Dirac Live digital processing

Postby Lauwerk » Sat Feb 21, 2015 10:56 pm

Details concerning my DIY instrument and the room it now inhabits can be found at viewtopic.php?f=21&t=13444.

About two years ago, when my HW instrument was still located in a typical living room, the various Forum and personal communications of Jan Loosman and Patrick (pat17) helped me to greatly improve the amplified sound of my organ through the incorporation of ARC2 digital room correction. I also noted at the time Patrick’s report concerning the Dirac Live alternative for digital correction to computer sound output.

After moving my HW organ to a much larger space early in 2014, I struggled to establish an ARC2 correction that was genuinely satisfying. The struggle was exacerbated when I replaced one 12” subwoofer with a pair of 15” Rythmik units. In late December, 2014, I decided to take advantage of the Dirac Live 30-day free trial offer to see how it would perform. As in the past, Martin Dyde kindly played a key role (on 26 December, no less!) in pointing me toward using ASIO4All as the internal multichannel driver that I needed in order to connect all 6 of my HW audio outputs to the Dirac Audio Processor.

The first step in using either ARC2 or Dirac Live is to take measurements of the computer’s audio system output through a microphone connected to the computer. It took three very different microphone placement layouts for me to find a successful scheme for taking measurements for Dirac processing for my space. I admit that I never used the final, successful Dirac microphone placement scheme in taking ARC2 measurements, which may explain a portion of the huge improvement in sound that I have obtained using Dirac Live instead of ARC2. During my efforts with Dirac measurements, I was surprised to learn that the Dirac Live “auditorium” measurement mode only takes one set of speaker readings, which approach turned out to be woefully inadequate. In the end, though, I am thrilled with the results that I have obtained using Dirac Live:

1. Frequency response (Dirac’s term: “Magnitude response”):
In the past, ARC2 definitely improved the evenness and clarity of bass response, but particularly for some 16’ stops in some sample sets (especially for “round,” fundamental-dominant stops), a residual, excessive boominess frequently remained around 50Hz, usually being most noticeable on one or more of the notes G through B of the 16’ octave. This was true in both the typical living room setting and, to a lesser extent, in the larger room. I have not experienced any such boominess with the Dirac correction that I now have, regardless of stop or sample set. In fact, the note-to-note balance and color of sound from the loudspeakers is, for the first time, so close to what I hear through high-quality headphones that I am not certain which is the superior representation. I suspect that eliminating every aspect of the potential for boominess required the phase correction that Dirac accomplishes (point 2, below). Note: in order to work with Dirac Live, I purchased a USB microphone, UMIK-1, through CSA Acoustics, who for a modest surcharge provided a custom calibration curve for the microphone, spanning 5Hz to 25kHz, that could be loaded into and applied by the Dirac Measurement Tool.

2. Stereo image, impulse response, phasing, speaker delay:
The Dirac measurements resulted in very fine level adjustment between the output of the six channels (3 stereo pairs) that I employ: the “quietest” channel is unchanged by the Dirac processor, and the other five are variably reduced by a small amount (each less than 2db) to match it. This Dirac adjustment successfully takes place despite the fact that the three stereo output pairs are very different in frequency response. This fine balance of loudness helps stereo imaging.
Undoubtedly the more potent enhancement of imaging comes from controlling the time relationships between the channels, including between the subs and the other loudspeakers. As I understand it, two levels of adjustment are made. First, some channels are delayed in order to correct and clarify the apparent center of stage. Second, the phasing of sound between channels is adjusted with some dependence on frequency (perhaps in frequency bands), which Dirac refers to as “mixed phase” correction. I can state that the results that I obtained have been profoundly beneficial. The sound imaging is so clear that the speakers essentially disappear as discrete sound sources, beginning at a very modest distance away from them. What emerges in space is a broad but detailed “stage-full” of sound. The improvement in phase relationships even enhances apparent dynamic range and “body,” not just clarity or position. Plenae and Tutti are more robust and “present.”
One unexpected – but in retrospect quite logical – improvement first emerged among the tremulants of PAB Gravissimo. I am not an avid tremulant aficionado, but it always seemed to me (especially after moving to the larger space) that the tremulant effects in PAB Gravissimo were too understated, to the extent of being essentially inaudible on some flues. With the Dirac Live mixed-phase correction, these PAB tremulants have “come to life” in a way that is very real and appealing. Since this initial PAB finding, I have learned that all HW-modeled tremulants have benefitted in realism and appeal. I wonder how much of the disappointment sometimes voiced in the Forum concerning modeled tremulants actually reflects a need for better output phasing?
It is also noteworthy that the sound of old sample sets benefits greatly from the Dirac Live correction, being sometimes improved to the point of approaching more recent ones in sound quality.

3. List of claims from the Dirac Live user guide, with comments:
•Improve the imaging of your sound system [I strongly agree.]
•Improve the clarity of the music [I agree, from single rank to full chorus.]
•Make voices more intelligible [I “agree,” though Dirac’s claim may actually mean human voices.]
•Produce a tighter bass [I agree.]
•Reduce listening fatigue [I agree, and to a surprising extent! – also, see Appendix, below.]
•Improve the timbre [I definitely agree.]
•Remove resonances and room modes [no specific knowledge/opinion]
•Reduce early reflections [no specific knowledge/opinion]

4. Miscellaneous improvements over ARC2:
A. Reduced latency: with my previous ARC2/Reaper ReaRoute setup, Hauptwerk measured “Sound delay” as 11.4ms (at 48kHz sampling), but with Dirac Live in my system the HW “Sound delay” is 6.0ms.
B. Convenience #1: with Dirac, all six channel corrections are contained in one file for the system-startup Dirac Live app which is automatically “on” for audio output from the computer, though the Dirac corrections can easily be disabled for headphone use. In contrast, for each organ session with ARC2, I had to start Reaper and then manage the ARC2 correction files for each of three stereo tracks. (Among varied attempts, I never succeeded in “teaching” my ARC2/Reaper setup to remember and automatically apply the three different correction file assignments; instead, all three Reaper tracks always booted with a single repeated ARC2 file, and I had to manually reassign 2 of the 3 the files upon each Reaper startup – and not always the same 2.)
C. Convenience #2: the entire digital chain now automatically adjusts to whichever sampling frequency (44.1kHz or 48kHz) is requested by HW. With ARC2/Reaper ReaRoute, I had to reset Reaper manually.

5. Summary:
Conversion to Dirac Live processing did cost (with the additional microphone) the equivalent of a relatively high-end sample set, but for me it has made ALL sample sets sound magnificently higher-end.

6. Appendix:
I followed with some interest the HW Forum discussion regarding perceived variability in the loudness of HW output from one startup to another (viewtopic.php?f=17&t=12967&p=96328&hilit=loudness#p96328). Before moving into the larger space (and therefore before the “loudness” topic thread was opened), I too had experienced such apparent variability, to the point that I sometimes changed and later reversed sample set gain settings. I agreed with various comments that some or all of this effect may be psychological, but I also wondered about my personal experience that the “variability” in sound that I perceived included not only apparent changes in loudness, but also subtle changes in “satisfaction” from one occasion to another, sometimes even suggesting a variably present, vague “harshness.” This in turn made me think about changeable phasing between channels, perhaps dependent upon different computer startups.
I have now been using a successful Dirac Live correction for nearly two months. Whatever the perceptions or realities were that I experienced prior to Dirac Live – with or without ARC2 – I can unreservedly report that with a correctly measured Dirac Live processing template in place, I have perceived NO such occasional “harshness” or slight dissatisfaction, and no variability in loudness. Perhaps the perception vs. absence of a subtly harsh patina corresponds to at least some of the Dirac claim of “Reduce listening fatigue.”
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Re: Strikingly good results with Dirac Live digital processi

Postby engrssc » Sun Feb 22, 2015 9:40 am

Thanks, Don for the excellent report. It's worth looking into further for me.

Rgds,
Ed
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Re: Strikingly good results with Dirac Live digital processi

Postby Jan Loosman » Sun Feb 22, 2015 5:56 pm

Hello Don

Thanks for the exellent revieuw of Dirac.
It is obvious that arc isn't performing very well in larger spaces, like your new room. It is designed for studios so that might be the reason causing the lesser results in your situation. An advantage of Arc is the price. Dirac + mic is about twice the price compared to Arc. Al other other things you mentioned are in favour of Dirac. Sonically the results of Dirac are a bit better then Arc and also Dirac is more convenient to use because it is a standalone solution, so you don't have to use Reaper anymore. Also the latency is better in your situation. In my situation with my smaller room Arc is still performing very well, but the eas of use of Dirac and the better results you experienced in your setup are tempting me to try Dirac in my situation. I can try the trial version, i only have to order a mic. With a calibration file.
One thing is very clear to me after reading your revieuw that if you want your Hauptwerk setup perform better then an average setup you have to use some form of room correction, Arc or even better with Dirac.

Regards Jan
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Re: Strikingly good results with Dirac Live digital processi

Postby Lauwerk » Mon Feb 23, 2015 11:19 am

Dear Jan,

Again, thanks for your help in the past.

Maybe I should offer the opinion that I am using Dirac as a "system correction" rather than as a "room correction." In attempting to take measurements with the Dirac Measurement Tool, I began by designing microphone layouts that emphasized the room, its size, and the most likely location of any listeners (in the middle of the room.) The results all indicated that I was not collecting the right detail of information. For the final, truly successful measurement, I restricted the microphone placements to the third of the room near the organ itself, largely ignoring the existence of the rest of the room. This worked wonderfully. I have had a HW friend visit, and while he played I walked around the room and determined that the benefits of Dirac correction were equally real throughout the space. Of course, it is an unusual space for a home.

With respect to the microphone and correction curve, I should mention that the manufacturer of UMIK-1 does make a correction file available online. The curve that you can download from them is delivered according to the serial number of your microphone. It covers 10Hz to 20kHz with perhaps a third as many points as I received per file from CSA Acoustics. (The CSA data included separate files for different microphone axes.) I do not know how specific the downloaded file from UMIK-1 is to any individual microphone or manufacture run. The only "disadvantage" to the CSA correction files is that they are provided in a format (".frd") that Dirac cannot recognize. I had to import the CSA file that I wanted to use into a spreadsheet and remove the column of phase response characters (all zero -- not really measured by CSA). Then I saved the result as .txt (tab-delimited). In the end, it all worked out fine. For you, of course, dealing with CSA Acoustics would be trans-Atlantic. Perhaps a similar service would be available to you closer to your home, though I can certainly recommend the quality of CSA's work and attention.

Best wishes!

Don
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Re: Strikingly good results with Dirac Live digital processi

Postby Doug S. » Fri Feb 27, 2015 4:19 pm

Is the mike supplied with ARC 2 compatible with Dirac?
Thanks,
Doug
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Re: Strikingly good results with Dirac Live digital processi

Postby Lauwerk » Sat Feb 28, 2015 1:40 am

Dear Doug,

That is a good question (re. ARC2 microphone use for Dirac). When I began contemplating an “audition” of Dirac Live, I did envision using my ARC2 microphone, along with the preamp I had bought for it, to take the Dirac measurements. As things turned out, I never did use the ARC2 microphone with Dirac, but not for any reason directly related to Dirac itself.

1. With ARC2, I necessarily measured each pair of stereo outputs separately, so I never needed to connect all of my six amplifier channels plus the ARC2 microphone at the same time. Two of the stereo outputs (4 analog channels) from my computer are provided by a D/A slave board associated with the main RME sound card I installed, so these four outputs were always readily available and could be swapped between amplifiers as needed for taking ARC2 measurements. However, the third stereo output emerges from a breakout cable attached to the main RME board itself. I have both versions of the RME breakout for this board (only one can be attached at a time). One of them includes the balanced microphone input I needed for the ARC2 measurements, but it does not include unbalanced outputs for the third stereo amplifier – for that amplifier, I use the other breakout cable. The difference in pin connections between the two breakout cables, etc., suggested that obtaining unbalanced outputs through the breakout version that has the balanced mic input was not as straightforward as obtaining unbalanced outputs from the slave card had been. Because of this, I began looking into USB microphones. Using a USB microphone would allow me to leave all amplifier connections unaltered from their normal use mode and to run them all simultaneously while taking Dirac measurements.

2. I learned that Cross-Spectrum Acoustics (CSA) sells individually calibrated microphones, including the USB microphone UMIK-1 which is mentioned in the Dirac user guide. I also learned that in 2006, CSA happily began selling calibrated copies of the inexpensive Behringer ECM8000 microphone ($50 uncalibrated), but that in 2013 they discontinued doing so because “The quality of ECM8000 microphones has deteriorated to the point that we can no longer justify the effort in dealing with non-functioning units or mics with extremely abnormal frequency responses.” From other items that I ran across thereafter (but did not retain), I suspect that the ECM8000 is highly equivalent to the ARC2 microphones, perhaps even as production siblings.

Short answer: I know of no reason that an ARC2-supplied microphone could not be used to take Dirac measurements as long as your hardware and system can accommodate its proper connection. I encountered two issues (my own hardware limitations and some concern over the ARC2 microphone itself) that led me in a different direction.

I hope this helps!

Don

P.S. Perhaps I was being too fussy: I even upgraded the cable that came with the UMIK-1 (too short for my needs) with a TetherPro A/B USB cable and active extension.
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Re: Strikingly good results with Dirac Live digital processi

Postby Jan Loosman » Sat Feb 28, 2015 6:48 am

Hello Doug

If you want to do correct measurments with Dirac, you need a calibrated mic. This means you need a mic. and a calibration file. The calibration file contains the frequency characteristics of the mic. The calibration file of the Arc mic is built in, in the Arc software. I checked on the internet for calibration files of the Arc. Mic. But i could'nt find it.
So i think you will need a dedicated measurment mic. with the supplied calibration file. Using the Arc mic. Without calibration can give wrong measurments.

Regards Jan
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Re: Strikingly good results with Dirac Live digital processi

Postby pat17 » Mon Mar 02, 2015 5:05 am

Doug S. wrote:Is the mike supplied with ARC 2 compatible with Dirac?
Thanks,
Doug


Hell Doug,

I doubt it would work well... From what I would read on the net, Arc 2 is tweaking the mikes it sells with its program. You can think it is to make sure the two of them are matching perfectly. You may also think it is a way to oblige the customer to get the mike with the software...
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Re: Strikingly good results with Dirac Live digital processi

Postby NickNelson » Mon Mar 02, 2015 5:50 am

If you already have a decent measurement microphone, but no calibration curve for it, it would almost certainly be cheaper to send it away to be individually calibrated than to buy a new one.

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Re: Strikingly good results with Dirac Live digital processi

Postby Doug S. » Mon Mar 09, 2015 5:44 pm

Well,
I received the mic and downloaded the calibration text file.
It appears Dirac has reduced the trial period from thirty days to fourteen. I don't like being feeling rushed, especially considering their policy of not granting extensions.
Thanks,
Doug
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Re: Strikingly good results with Dirac Live digital processi

Postby 1961TC4ME » Tue Mar 10, 2015 12:40 am

Don't take any of this wrong and I don't mean to be a "negative Ned" here, but more so write this just to throw in my 2 cents worth and propose another angle to look at things. I've been in the background on this subject so far only reading the posts (with great interest I might add), but at this point now I guess a couple of questions come up for me. First, this Dirac approach seems to go directly against what most professional audiophiles recommend for sound correction which instead of software to do the job involves "room correction" first which involves bass traps and other room treatments to make your space more audio friendly, in fact I just read another article today involving physical things to do to a room for better audio results that these so called professionals insist be done or you're just kidding yourself and I tend to be in their camp. I have no doubt the Dirac software is good stuff, but it makes me wonder if it's really nothing more than an expensive (yes $708 in change is expensive) EQ program that does the job for you instead of you doing it yourself, something more or less a person in the know could achieve on their own with the proper audio components #1, good judgment of placement #2, and a good pair of ears #3. My belief has always been you have to start with the room first, if it's a bad room you have to correct it or live with the best you can get out of it through proper placement and adjustment. Determining the best components and their placement for your desired outcome comes first, then "calibrating" those components with both experience and again a good pair of ears comes next, then making physical room corrections comes after that. Fancy and expensive software is great, but I wonder if it is only a "good enough for now" fix to cover for a bad room no matter how great it is claimed to be, and again if it is nothing but an expensive "do it for you" EQ that will never truly overcome the deficiency of a room and make things sound as good as they really could.

Where am I going wrong here? :wink:

Marc
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Re: Strikingly good results with Dirac Live digital processi

Postby Lauwerk » Tue Mar 10, 2015 12:21 pm

Dear Marc –

First and foremost, I do not know for a fact that you are “going wrong.” You are among the many from whom I have learned by perusing the Forum. I began this topic to try to contribute, as accurately as I am able, my observations – and perhaps to some extent my beliefs – concerning the addition of Dirac to my HW system. I admit that my current situation is unusual. I estimate that the immediate space that I have for my instrument is somewhat greater than 700 cubic meters, with significant open connections to additional spaces. There are deliciously varied angles, particularly in the ceiling. The building materials (thick wallboard, wood flooring throughout, some glass and a little brick) offer a mixture of reflection and resonance. I am fully aware that I have needed to learn some things about “managing” this space for and with my HW instrument. As I suggested in my first post, this learning curve might be at partial fault for my failing to find a satisfactory solution with ARC2.

1. Phase accuracy.
In 1988 I spent several days and drove over 500 miles to audition replacement speakers for my HiFi. (The following year I selected and bought a small new car in less than an hour.) I could not afford to be an audiophile just for the sake of being an audiophile, but I was in search of an upgrade. I took with me a set of CDs with known spots of experimental interest. Among my sampling, the speaker system that towered over all others in sound quality was the Dahlquist DQ20, with their “phased array” positioning of the three driver elements. An example of the results: with several speaker systems I could hear a pleasantly bright, clear, undistorted representation of a treble anvil being struck, but in dazzling contrast, with the DQ20s I could immediately swear that I was looking at the scratches in the anvil itself. (The DQ20s also effortlessly gurgled out a low Hindemith organ triad that made a different set of speakers literally bounce around the floor at the same loudness.) I still have and love the DQ20s, though I have upgraded some of their innards using parts (including fabulous handmade capacitors) from Regnar, the engineers that originally designed them. It has always meant something to me that years after the DQ20s went out of production I saw a full page ad in the NY Times for rare leftovers.
The points of this publicly dreary nostalgia are i) that I have been sensitive to and convinced of the power of correct phasing for decades, and ii) that this powerful phase improvement is what I experience with Dirac – and I would say it is the most important Dirac benefit. The DQ20s were designed to accomplish phase improvement by physical arrangement (plus driver selection and crossover designs), and it works to a strongly convincing extent. It is possible that the Dirac mixed-phase digital approach is more comprehensively successful, especially when coupled with the detailed smoothing of frequency-dependent magnitude response.

2. Room effects.
As you are aware, this is not my expertise. My only relevant observation is what I reported earlier. After I incorporated Dirac correction, a friend came and played my organ for a while. This gave me the opportunity to sample the sound in various locations in the room. This experience confirmed for me that the most important aspect of the sound from my organ is that it is phase-corrected at the time it enters the space. I cannot guarantee that the space itself had no further effect, but whatever effect it did have was (subconsciously?) “understood” as affecting a relatively real instrument, not a set of speakers. I am not aware of room treatments that can offer phase correction.
Since that visit, I have improved the approach I take to balancing gain settings within my various amplification chains (another aspect of learning the room), so that the sound from the organ actually fills the room much better than ever before. Technically, I suppose I should take new Dirac measurements, but the scaling-up was done carefully in a way that mitigates this need.

3. Inverse Dirac confirmation
A couple of years ago, I obtained a brand new AKG K702 65th Anniversary Edition headphone set for half-price when the innerly identical K712’s were released. I use these heaphones (adequately amplified) whenever it is inappropriate to “light up” the entire house. One night when I began a Hauptwerk headphone session, I wondered why the organ’s sound was so odd, even annoying. Then I realized that I had neglected to disable Dirac (two simple on-screen switches). At least in my case, the processing that Dirac accomplishes for room amplification is not acceptable for headphone use. This makes sense.

4. Gratitude the deceiver?
My entire experience playing a real pipe organ (other than one semester with a painful practice room unit instrument and some scattered experiences with the humorous pneumatic in the Hershey Theater) boils down to about 10 luscious hours in 1970, spread out over a couple of months, spent with a small modern Walcker tracker in Wien. Think of the Melcer concert hall sample set without reeds. I was beside myself with ecstasy when I learned, during my first months of being aware of Hauptwerk, that I could essentially start out with sample sets of both Cappel and Stade, my boyhood recorded favorites. My lack of experience in playing the real thing undoubtedly heightens (but I think does not exaggerate) my gratitude for Hauptwerk and what it has injected into my life. It has also pressed me toward getting everything I can out of Hauptwerk – which is a tremendous amount! My point is that I have more than proven to myself that for me, the Dirac cost/benefit consideration turned out to be an ineluctable, “Yes!” I fully understand and respect that the same may not be true for others.

Best regards,
Don
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Re: Strikingly good results with Dirac Live digital processi

Postby Doug S. » Tue Mar 10, 2015 1:06 pm

Well said. I also care not to become an acoustic expert, nor do I have the opportunity for optimum placement as my speakers mainly coexist with my pipework in the organ case, with the pedal pair and sub speaking through the open rear of the casework. This is hardly a typical situation. Dirac may not cope in such a situation, however, I'm intrigued enough to try it out. I don't expect or feel the need for improvement beyond a desire for cleaner bass.
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Re: Strikingly good results with Dirac Live digital processi

Postby HeAu » Tue Mar 10, 2015 1:27 pm

If my interpretation of the specifications is correct, Dirac is not suitable for Win XP. True?
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Re: Strikingly good results with Dirac Live digital processi

Postby 1961TC4ME » Tue Mar 10, 2015 1:55 pm

Hi Don,

Thanks much for your very detailed reply, I've found your posts very informative as well. I too try to be as detailed as possible, especially when it comes to describing my sound experimentation for anyone who's interested. I'm certainly not out to poke holes in anyone's reports and observations in things they've tried and I know you didn't take it the wrong way anyways, I just threw out my above post more as the flip side or what I guess most would consider the conventional approach. In some cases I can see where Dirac would be of great benefit and perhaps along with room corrections it would provide even a further benefit. But, I realize there are those circumstances such as yours where you're kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place and room treatment is just not a viable option, and thus Dirac is the answer. Me, I'm in a smallish 12' x 12' space with plenty of things to throw off the sound as well, but a very large room like yours or a church install is an entirely different animal where certain things just can't be done, or you have to work within a confined area and can't just start throwing equipment all over the place such as is Doug's situation. I'd be very interested in trying Dirac myself, but unfortunately the $708 entry fee takes it off the table for me. As we all know, this seems to be a never ending hobby of "things I need to get or do next" and I'm going to end up living in a cathedral with a real organ (and financed to the hilt!) if I don't quit pretty soon and just run with what I brung. :wink:

Keep up the good work and reports, always interested to see new info and what everyone is doing!

Marc
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