Dirac Live Room Correction Suite Page 2

Corrected Listening
My first filter, which was the default Dirac Optimized filter, did a number of very obvious things to the sound of my music. First off, it was easier to locate sound sources in space. Instruments were better defined and more solidly took up residence in my room. Listening without the Dirac filter made things a bit more diffuse. There was also a tightening of bass response which made bass sound more full and tuneful. You could hear more of what the bass player was doing and how he/she was doing it. Overall you could picture these changes like looking through a camera lens and turning it so things come into focus. So far so good.

On the down side, music seemed to lose some dynamic impact. The overall presentation sounded a tad compressed as if some of the vibrancy was gone. Switching the Dirac filter in and out is as simple as a mouse click so I clicked it in and out many times over many songs. This compression was more pronounced on some recordings than others but I found I preferred the sound without the Dirac filter for the majority of recordings especially in terms of tonal balance and dynamic impact. Overall while there was a clear improvement in terms of spatial information and bass response, dynamics and tone seemed to suffer.

So I went back into the Calibration Tool to try a new filter. Instead of just going with the default settings, I clicked and dragged the recommended settings to where I thought they would better match my listening preferences. Mainly I bumped up the mid and upper frequencies a few db. While this filter was more to my liking, that sense of dynamic compression remained. I also noticed that off-axis response was notably worsened with any of the Dirac filters engaged as compared to raw unfiltered playback. While seated in my listening area things were as described but standing up or a few feet in any direction away from the listening chair things sounded muffled and closed in.

To sum up, I'd say that the sound of my system without the Dirac software is a bit wild and wooly but exciting, whereas with the Dirac filter engaged it was more focused and restrained. My ideal setting would be to maintain the Dirac's improved spatial response while keeping the overall tonal character, dynamic impact, and the larger sweet spot of my unfiltered system sound.

Time Tweaking
Dirac says, "The technology is unique in that it corrects not only the frequency response but also the all important impulse response." So to translate my listening impressions into more technical terms, I'd say that I was enjoying the improved Impulse Response of my system with the Dirac filter engaged which helped to localize sounds in space. The frequency response changes, not so much since here it seemed as if some of the life and energy was zapped from my music. Looking at my room's frequency response pre-correction, you can see that it is elevated by nearly as much as 10db around 500kHz which clearly helps account for this meaty and rich presentation. Technically we'd call this response and related sound colored. I will also mention that I repeated the entire calibration process paying careful attention to microphone placement and got that frequency graph to look better but not perfect.

It's also worth noting that there are other software and hardware-based room correction options available and I bet we'll be seeing more DSP-based options over time. At The Show 2013, I sat through a brief demo of Audionet's free Java-based Carma software that allows you to save EQ settings on the fly to compatible Audionet components including some of their preamps and DACs. There's also the DSPeaker AntiMode 2.0 ($1,099) loudspeaker optimization system which combines optimization software/bass EQ with a DAC and preamp. And then there are some free room analysis software packages like the popular REW Room EQ Wizard the results of which can be used in conjunction with a parametric equalizer. And of course you can always add traditional room treatments if you don't mind their appearance.

But wait there's more...

More Time Tweaking
I was pretty much ready to wrap up the review at this stage and sent off a draft to Dirac Research's Christoffer Ahlén for fact check purposes. In a very understanding and well-worded response, Christoffer brought up a few interesting points based on my listening impressions. The most important question he raised was, "Did you ever try measuring in a larger sweet-spot?" And my answer was "No, but I will now!" So off I went, back to the drawing board, and selected "Sofa" instead of "Chair" in the Dirac Live Calibration Tool, measured a larger sweet-spot, and created a new filter based on the Dirac recommendation and called it "Sofa1". Very original, I know.

Gone was that obvious sense of dynamic shrinkage, the shut-in off-axis response, gone also was that loss of virility in the tone department but, happily, all of the pluses I enjoyed in the "Chair" measurements remained—improved spatial specificity, improved bass response, and now I was even hearing into the recording in a very pleasant and musically engaging way. It was, in a word, all good.

I spent some real time listening through the "Sofa1" filter. Albums worth of time before switching the filter off. And here it was clear that my preference for the most part was for "Sofa1" engaged. There may have been the slightest hint of that dynamic compression I talked about earlier and at times, on certain recordings, I missed that extra energy that my admittedly tipped up unfiltered presentation offered, but all of the other pluses helped to even out these minor minuses.

Speaking of minuses, I view the 24/96 limit to be a real limitation but happily Christoffer shared that Dirac will be adding 24/192 support within a few months. I also thought it would be very interesting to re-calibrate my room with the Calibration Tool using my "Sofa1" filter to see if the results resembled the "Optimized" setting I employed. Unfortunately this is not possible at present due to "driver conflicts" but Dirac is working on a solution.

Corrected: A Sweet Spot Can Never Be Too Big
If I can offer any useful advice regarding the Dirac Live Room Correction Suite it is to simply share the advice I received from Christoffer Ahlén—measure in a larger sweet-spot. This is a much more effective way of getting better results from the Dirac software as opposed to measuring too small a sweet spot and trying to adjust the frequency response to get back those things you lose. I'd recommend Dirac change their "Chair" mic placement guide to cover more ground since I can imagine other users finding themselves coming up with similarly disappointing results and possibly giving up (I admit common sense should have led me to try widening my target but when dealing with room correction, I can get obstinate).

It's also worth mentioning that in terms of the order of events for getting good sound in one's room, it is wise to first spend time getting speaker placement optimized before embarking on room correction. It's also beneficial to employ room treatments, where possible. After you have taken care of the physical world, then attack the virtual. And I would offer a word of warning which is I can see how some people may obsess over these kinds of changes, falling into the (room) trap of never feeling as if their sound is correct. That's just one reason I prefer to focus on enjoyment.

Since room/system correction (or should we call it room/system enjoyment?) is obviously room and system dependent, its difficult to say whether or not the Dirac Live Room Correction Suite will provide you with sonic benefits equal to the price of admission. I can say the Dirac software is very sophisticated, very easy to use, and makes what can otherwise be a complex and laborious process rather...fun. Thankfully you can download a free trail version of the Dirac Live Room Correction software and try it out for yourself. Just remember—A sweet-spot can be too small but never too big.

Associated Equipment

AJvR's picture

Good review but I wonder if you also tried a more conventional setup? I mean the way you have placed your speakers is not possible for everyone, just like the room treatments. I think this kind of software is even more useful in situations where speaker placement possibilities are restricted and room treatments are not possible (WAF).

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I think making use of the free trial version is advisable since each room/system will present its own unique set of issues.

Microbiology's picture

Hey ML,

Nice review, as always.  Couple questions...so this software installs directly onto your MBPro, so it only affects computer based audio?  Also, did this software perform better than the DSpeaker Anti-mode 2.0?  Its almost the same price and doesnt include DAC or preamp functions...so if the 2.0 gets close for $200 more and they throw in a bunch of pretty decent hardware...you see where I'm going here?

Or do DACs like the Meridian explorer or $100 Schiit level that playing field?

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Yes - the Dirac software only affects what comes out of the computer its loaded on.

I have not had the DSpeaker Anti-mode here for review so I cannot really comment on it. I would think the people from Dirac will point out that their software also takes impulse response into account whereas the Anti-mode just deals with frequency response. And the people from DSpeaker would point out that you can connect multiple devices to it and it can function as a digital preamp/DAC.

Or do DACs like the Meridian explorer or $100 Schiit level that playing field?

Interesting. I think what you're saying is can you get performance equal to the DSpeaker Anti-mode by combining a less expensive DAC with the Dirac software? I would say yes in theory and you do have more flexibility with the Dirac software since you can couple it with any DAC and the overall presentation of that DAC will certainly affect what you end up with.

russ_777's picture

Thanks for the review; I've been waiting to see someone review this product.  Why did you not show a plot of the corrected frequency response?  Comparing that to the uncorrected response would be the single most informative thing to see.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I also thought it would be very interesting to re-calibrate my room with the Calibration Tool using my "Sofa1" filter to see if the results resembled the "Optimized" setting I employed. Unfortunately this is not possible at present due to "driver conflicts" but Dirac is working on a solution.

It is not possible to run the Dirac calibration tool with a Dirac filter. I could have run before and after plots using other software but I felt that the listening impressions were of greater interest.

russ_777's picture

Fair enough....just a difference in philosophies.  REW plots of both could have confirmed what you thought you heard.  Thanks again for the review.

Pale Rider's picture

I reached out to Dirac to see if they had a timetable on high-res input support. That's fairly important to me, as I have a lot of stuff about 96k, and the last thing I want to do is watch it evaporate. I have heard both Dirac and DSpeaker, and both can make a noticeable improvement, though I conceptually prefer the Dirac approach. Last thing I want to do, or so I thought, is insert another box into my system. Having said that, though, this article reminded me that on my list is one of the DSpeaker subwoofer correction boxes, the Anti-Mode 8033S-II Subwoofer EQ, and that is now winging its way to my listening room.

Thanks for the review.