Entertainment Without Boundaries

Standing waves and dips wreak havoc with uniform bass response throughout the listening area, and walls and furnishings create major reflections and absorptions to destroy the focus, clarity and detail of the sound. The reality of most people’s listening environments is that “state-of-the-décor trumps state-of-the-art.”

It is also well known that the speaker is the weakest link in any entertainment system. Modern amplifiers, preamps, and source components have reduced their distortion levels to a vanishingly low point, and can be made to operate in a very linear fashion. Customers find speaker systems they like and take them home expecting something akin to what they heard in the showroom. But some of the variables come into play as they sit down to enjoy an evening of music or the latest DVD blockbuster. Are the vertical and horizontal dispersion characteristics of the speakers appropriate for the room, will they get a good enveloping sound field at more than one or two listening positions, is the amplifier sufficiently powerful enough to handle dynamic program material, how will the room’s furnishings impact each speaker’s output? And what about that pesky subwoofer? How will it blend with the other speakers and the room itself?

For today’s custom electronics systems contractor, their clients’ individual speaker and equipment tastes coupled with the different room environments they work in have made it difficult at best to attain superior, guaranteed sound performance across the board. As you can see, historically speaking, the variables of room acoustics, speaker choices and placement, system integration and home furnishings have never come together in one big, happy, easy to address fashion. That is all about to change.

What’s the Solution?

The most elegant solution available would be to design an entire purpose-built system from the ground up, allowing speaker design, amplifier design, and room acoustic measurement and correction parameters to all work together as a seamless whole. This allows all speakers to be matched to each other in frequency response, dispersion and sensitivity, yielding a perfect blend as sound moves from one channel to another. The multi-channel amplifiers would be designed to precisely meet the needs of the speakers, with the proper amount of power applied to each individual driver, and frequency contouring to offset the natural response of each. The subwoofer would be designed to provide not only ample output, but to match the speed and articulation of the other speakers, and blend perfectly as it crosses over. Very powerful digital room analysis and correction software, previously only available at the top end of the professional industry, would be incorporated.

Who’s got the solution?

Phase Technology of Jacksonville, Florida has developed a unique, groundbreaking application combining several state-of-the-art technologies to produce an audio system that sounds fantastic regardless of the room or room furnishings. Working closely with D2 Audio and Audyssey Laboratories, we have engineered an integrated music and theater sound system that consistently achieves stunning performance. Whether your client’s needs are for stereo reproduction or any of the many surround sound implementations, whether the room is large or small, Phase Technology’s Digital Audio Reference Theater System—dARTS—provides the perfect solution.

With 50 years of experience behind us in speaker design, manufacturing and assembly here in the United States, we felt that Phase Tech was perfectly positioned to undertake a new and revolutionary approach to true system integration. We knew we would have to design proprietary new drivers and a cross-blend of speakers that could be used in a variety of environments. Some integrators might want free standing speakers in front, on-wall speakers on the sidewalls and in-wall speakers across the rear.

Once Phase Tech began researching the feasibility of developing a completely integrated audio system, we began discussions with D2Audio of Austin, Texas. D2Audio is the leader in development and production of digital amplifier modules for many applications. Phase Technology worked in concert with D2Audio to custom-design a specific amplifier module for the Digital Reference Theater Systems, matched to our speaker drivers, and incorporating powerful digital processing to set up crossover points, time-align all drivers, and correct the frequency response of each speaker to match a desired target curve. No matter how well the amplifier/speaker package can be made to perform on a laboratory test bench or in an anechoic chamber, we knew its performance would ultimately be limited by the interactions with the room in which it is placed.

Knowing what was being done in the professional audio and music world, we contacted Audyssey Laboratories in Los Angeles, a spin-off of the University of Southern California’s Immersive Audio Lab, which was founded in 1996 by Tomlinson Holman (inventor of THX and Professor of Film Sound at USC) and Chris Kyriakakis (a Professor in the USC Viterbi School of Engineering). The company was born when Tom and Chris came together to create a system that more easily calibrates and equalizes theaters.

Audyssey Laboratories’ first product was Audyssey MultEQ, an innovative set of patent-pending technologies that address the numerous problems of calibration and room acoustical correction in the home, automotive, and professional audio markets. We worked closely with them to integrate a more powerful application of their groundbreaking acoustic analyzing technology into dARTS.

What exactly have we created?

We began with the most visible component, the speaker system. Every room is unique and every client has unique tastes. Phase Technology recognized this fact and decided to offer high performance speakers in several modular configurations. Free standing speakers that are aesthetically pleasing and deliver superior sound, a complete set of speakers that can be either mounted in cabinetry or behind a perforated screen, and a series of in-wall speakers that include their own dedicated, damped, in-wall enclosure. These utilize Phase Technology’s patented Positive Clamping System to assure optimal performance regardless of the wall’s construction.

Of course, there is a matching powered subwoofer featuring two of Phase Technology’s acclaimed 10″ long-throw drivers, coupled to a 500-watt amplifier. The subwoofer’s cabinet is the same width as the front speaker, so it can be used as a stand for a speaker. A beautiful free-standing subwoofer is also available, containing a new 12″ long-throw, high-output driver and the same 500-watt amplifier.

All models are designed using the same drivers, and voiced identically, so they can be used interchangeably in any position in the system, no matter if that system is stereo, 5.1-channel, 6.1-channel, 7.1-channel, or any other future format. If more bass impact is needed, multiple subwoofers can be used. Systems can be stacked to provide adequate volume levels in even very large spaces. Phase Technology will even work with clients and their A/V installer to design custom systems with larger speakers and custom-designed software to match. Add to that the magic of the digital processing power of the amplifier’s setup modes, and the Audyssey MultEQ XT room calibration package, and stunning realism, involving effects, and dynamic power are assured in any listening environment. Never before has this much effort been expended to produce a simple, yet highly advanced, entertainment system, where the whole is so much greater than the sum of its parts, and is many orders of magnitude beyond the traditional methods of system design.

How does it work?

Phase Technology, D2Audio and Audyssey Laboratories have come up with an innovative solution to the dilemma of making everything work as a synergistic whole in any environment. The heart of this breakthrough is the multi-channel amplifier and processor, which manage the entire system and all of its parameters.

The Phase Technology DP-2000 was custom-designed and tailored for our speakers in collaboration with D2Audio. The amplifier offers sixteen channels of power, with up to 250 watts per channel, for complete flexibility in biamping or triamping each speaker. Volume levels to balance drivers within a speaker are adjustable to within incredible small tolerances (+/- 0.1dB) for a perfect blend. The crossover parameters for each driver can be precisely specified, so that each driver works only in its most linear range. Completely flexible equalization is available, at any frequency, to provide an inverse curve to the speaker driver’s inherent output, yielding flat response for the entire system. Sophisticated phase- and time-alignment are also accomplished in the digital domain, making practical the ability to match drivers to each other in a variety of cabinets to suit a variety of purposes. This incredible level of precision in matching drivers within speakers, and complete speakers within systems, has been completely impossible until now, and Phase Technology is the first supplier to offer it to the consumer market.

To use the Audyssey MultEQ XT system, the installer will connect a calibrated instrumentation microphone to a high quality multi-channel digital audio interface. The output from the interface will connect via FireWire to the installer’s laptop. The computer will also be connected to the DP-2000 via a USB cable. A series of test tones will be generated through the system, from which Audyssey MultEQ XT does the following: (1) automatically measures the speakers’ and room’s contribution to the sound, (2) tells the installer where to set the individual channel delays and levels in the client’s surround processor, (3) corrects any anomalies, (4) creates the necessary room correction filters, which match the sound to a carefully-selected frequency response curve that is most appropriate for the room’s size and characteristics.

The test patterns at each listening location are fed to the Audyssey MultEQ XT, which begins to recognize response patterns in the room. It then uses a fuzzy-logic based clustering approach to weight and combines the response at each seat, and then begins to develop its correction curves. The system takes 8,000 samples over a 200-millisecond window at each measurement point.

This is the first audio application of clustering; using mathematical “fuzzy logic” to combine measured results to derive a response curve that dramatically improves the sound quality in an entire room. Each of the sixteen channels in the DP-2000 amplifier/processor has this software capability individually, residing in memory allocated by the D2Audio firmware.

Once the calibration and correction process is completed, the installer unplugs his laptop from the USB port, and burns a copy of the client’s correction program on a CD. If the room’s furnishings or layout changes, it will be a simple matter to reload the program in the installer’s laptop, recalibrate the room to its new layout, and then resave the program—an elegant and future-proof solution.

Phase Technology, in partnership with D2Audio and Audyssey Laboratories, has introduced an applications-based digital home entertainment system that offers the product variety and flexibility to fit easily into any room, truly offering “Entertainment Without Boundaries.” Its performance surpasses virtually all other systems at reproducing music and movies in a lifelike manner, with precise localization of events, seamless blending between all speakers and subwoofers, perfect tonal balance and detailed alignment of frequency response and phase/time relationships. The Digital Audio Reference Theater System is available as a separate franchise for qualified system contractors who will undergo extensive training and become certified on the system. The complete dARTS system ranges from $14,500 to $17,500 based on variable speaker configurations, or can be custom-designed to meet a specific client’s need.

Tony Weber is an industry veteran with over thirty-three years of experience in the consumer electronics industry. He serves as Director of Sales & Marketing for Phase Technology, an innovative speaker manufacturer based in Jacksonville, FL. He can be reached at tweber@phasetech.com.