Room Acoustics

I Switched From Audyssey to Dirac and I Wish I Hadn’t

Room correction is (one of) the shiny new things. You know what I’m talking about. A new feature or tech that gets all the nerds excited. They spew about it all over the ‘net, basically making it sound like it is indispensable. You MUST have it! Dirac Live is that for home theater right now. But I’m here to tell you, I switched from Audyssey to Dirac, and I wish I hadn’t! Here’s why!

Why I Switched

So let’s get this out there, I didn’t switch because I NEEDED to get Dirac. It just worked out that way. The TL:DR version is that my Denon X3600 died, and warranty work was estimated to take four to six months! Of course, I didn’t see myself waiting up to six months for a new AV receiver. I was able to get an Onkyo TX-NR7100 right away and pulled the trigger.

Don’t get me wrong, I was completely excited to get my hands on an HDMI 2.1 AV receiver, plus it had Dirac Live. I had read many articles and forum posts that said Dirac Live made a massive difference in their system and was significantly better than Audyssey.

Once my Onkyo arrived, I could barely wait to get it set up and see the massive difference that Dirac was about to bring me. But in the end, it turns out that I switched from Audyssey to Dirac, and I wish I hadn’t.

What I Didn’t Like

So Dirac is not bad; it’s just different. But there were a few things that I didn’t like, and it made me wonder why I switched from Audyssey to Dirac.

It’s MUCH Harder To Use

You will know I am no stranger to AV if you read my byline. I pride myself on being able to hook up and operate almost any new gear without looking at the manual. So with supreme arrogance, I downloaded the Dirac app on my smartphone, hooked up the included mic, and proceeded to start the process. After all, Audyssey was plug-and-play and walked me through the process. Surely Dirac would be as simple?

How wrong I was. First, Dirac forces the user to set the output level of the test tones sent to your speakers and measured by the mic. This is problematic for a couple of reasons. First, I don’t have an SPL meter to set the output, so I am guessing at best. Secondly, the output is one-size-fits-all. So if the output is too loud for the mic, it clips, and you have to start over!

But wait, I can get a USB mic (like the calibrated UMIK-1 we often recommend) and use the computer software. That’s gotta be easier, right? Nope! There are more layers involved with computer software. You need to load the calibration file, set the output level for each speaker (I like that part), and then you need to start the measuring process. But unlike Audyssey, you need to know each step, how to complete it, and move to the next. The only good part of all this is that I am not the only one lost leading to many great tutorials on YouTube.

I hope you like a challenge!

This added complexity is one of the main reasons I wish I hadn’t switched from Audyssey to Dirac. Let me be clear (and I will repeat this), I may be an AV enthusiast, but I am a lazy AV enthusiast. I’ve spent years tweaking every aspect of my system. I’ve bought and sold tons of equipment. After endlessly annoying my wife with on-the-fly calibration, I have realized that close enough is almost as good a “perfect”!

No Curves of Equal Loudness

So without going down into a full-blown science lesson, humans perceive “loudness” differently at different frequencies. To simplify it, if you played two different frequencies at the same volume, say 50Hz and 10kHz, the 10kHz tone will sound subjectively louder. You can correct this by adding EQ to the lower frequencies to be objectively louder so that those frequencies sound subjectively the same. The problem is that, as you decrease the volume, the lower frequencies sound like they are getting softer faster. Curves of equal loudness are designed to combat this phenomenon. Still confused? Ok, let’s make it even easier. Have you ever turned down the volume knob on your AV receiver because someone was in bed? You can still hear the dialogue and music (10kHz), but there is no bass (50Hz).

To combat this, Audyssey uses a feature called Dynamic EQ. It applies a proprietary curve that ensures that bass and treble remain relative, regardless of the volume. Dirac does not have the same built-in feature. Sure, I can download or create curves, but they only work at one specific volume setting. They don’t apply differently as I change the volume. Remember when I said that Dirac was MUCH harder to use? I meant that. That’s one of the main reasons that I wish I hadn’t switched from Audyssey to Dirac.

And before you tell me that Onkyo has THX Loudness, you are correct. But enabling any THX mode DISABLES Dirac! So…not very helpful.

Can Be More Powerful…But It Isn’t Yet

So, of all the things that bother me, this tops the list. Many people online talk about Dirac’s power, but the versions we get are hamstrung. For example, my Onkyo allows me to set up subwoofers, but I don’t get the Dirac Bass management feature. And I can’t upgrade to it. Denon and Marantz? They are pay-to-play for Dirac Live, and bass management is still a pipe dream.

Dirac is getting close; but not quite there.

I get it. This is the first time Dirac has been offered in these AV receivers. We should be patient and see what the next iteration will be. But that’s not how this hobby works! We want the best, we want it now, and we want it cheap! Oh, and make it easy to use!

I will admit that Dirac gives you much more control over your system. You can easily play with curves, tweak your system and upload them to your AV receiver. But to get the most out of Dirac, you should grab Room EQ Wizzard (REW) and do many before and after measurements. That’s a lot of extra work I didn’t sign up for.

Subjectively, There Is No Difference

So here is where I will lose people, but let’s fight! Subjectively, there is no real difference between the two room correction software. Nothing jumped out at me as different or better. And no, I didn’t do any before and after measurements for Audyssey and Dirac. Why? We have established I am lazy and don’t have the time or inclination to go that far. This is my hobby, not my obsession.

And that’s the thing; your ears are the best judge of changes. The treble has not changed. The bass is not punchier or tighter. I have a well-treated room and the correct placement for all my speakers. If any room can benefit from room correction, it is mine. If Dirac is the world changer many claim, then I would be a prime candidate to hear its affects. And I can’t.

Did you hear a change?

Granted, I moved from the top tier of Audyssey to Dirac Live, so maybe if I had gone from a less capable Audyssey, I might have noticed. But that’s not what people online say. They say Dirac is a gamechanger. I say it is just another version of the same game.

My Take

I admit it, I love new stuff like anyone else. I wasn’t sad that I got to check out Dirac and have some bragging rights over the cavemen forced to use Audyssey. But I quickly discovered that the grass isn’t greener on the other side. Dirac Live is “fine” but not life-altering. So when I say that I switched from Audyssey to Dirac, and I wish I hadn’t, I mean it. My level of laziness is now in danger because of Dirac!

And if you are in the market for a new AV receiver, and there is no significant price difference to get Dirac Live, go for it. Just know that it won’t be transformative if you room correction before. Plus, it will be much harder to use.

Before you upgrade to get the next big thing, take a fraction of that cash, treat your room, properly place your speakers and then re-run your correction software. I bet that you won’t be quick to rush out and spend that extra cash.

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