Volume Controls

Shhh…People are Sleeping! Dynamic Range Compression and Your Receiver


You bought the big speakers, the massive subwoofers, and the huge screen. You’ve got yourself a home theater! And when you want to, you can rock the house! Most cinemas have nothing on your home setup. But you can’t always turn it up as loud as you want. You might want to feel every explosion, but your family is just in the other room sleeping. You could turn it down, but do you have to? Is there another solution? Well, yes. It’s time to talk about dynamic range compression and your AV receiver.

What is Dynamic Range Compression?

The dynamic range of any content is the difference between the softest and loudest sounds. Where you experience this most dramatically is between the TV shows and the commercials. Commercials are often much louder than the show you are watching. This isn’t legal (as per the FCC) but we still have to live with these overly loud commercials. In a movie, you might go from a whispered conversation to a gunfight. While a large swing in volume might make sense in a movie, it can have you rushing to the remote if you are trying not to disturb others.

Dynamic range compression essentially takes all the audio coming out of your receiver and tries to make it a similar volume. So if someone is whispering, it makes that scene louder. If an explosion happens or there is a commercial, it makes those sounds quieter. How aggressively it does this dynamic range compression can usually be adjusted within the receiver settings.

How to Enable Dynamic Range Compression in Your Receiver

As you might expect, there are different names for dynamic range compression in each of the receiver manufacturers out there. One that isn’t as common anymore, but can be found in multiple receiver makes, is Dolby Volume. This is a proprietary Dolby solution for dynamic range compression. It didn’t see widespread adoption and has mostly disappeared. If you have an older receiver, you might see it in the settings. As for the other receivers:

  • Denon/Marantz: Audyssey Dynamic Volume and Audyssey LFC
  • Yamaha: YPAO Adaptive DRC
  • Pioneer: Dynamic Range Control or Midnight Mode
  • Onkyo: Late Night Mode

Once you start poking through the menus of your receiver, you should stumble across the dynamic range compression controls we’ve listed above. Some only have an “Off/On” setting but most have different levels. This adjusts how aggressively they apply the compression.

Some Caveats

The Pioneer and Onkyo settings often only lift the softest sounds and not cut the loudest. This allows you to adjust the volume down without losing the ability to hear the softest sounds. Also, with Onkyo and Pioneer you’ll find that they don’t work with all sound formats. Check out your manual for specifics.

We’ve listed two settings for Pioneer because different models have different solutions. Just search for “Loudness Management” in the manual and it should send you toward the dynamic range control settings in your receiver. With Denon and Marantz, we’ve also listed two different settings. In this case, all the receivers have both and the two settings do something a little different.

With Audyssey Dynamic Volume, you get your typical dynamic range compression control. The LFC control, however, is different. LFC, or Low Frequency Containment, essentially cuts the lowest bass completely. This is to stop bass from traveling to other rooms. It will still play the upper harmonics giving you some of the bass, but the lowest notes will be essentially gone. When dynamic range compression isn’t enough, you can activate LFC in your receiver for even greater control.

Manual Control

Couldn’t you just adjust the volume yourself and achieve the same effects? Perhaps. You’d have to physically turn off your subwoofers, lower the volume on your receiver, and then adjust the trim level on your center up to compensate. This won’t cut any extraordinarily loud scenes, but it will likely help. You’ll have to remember to turn your subwoofers back on and to adjust your center channel trim level back to its calibrated setting. It certainly isn’t as easy as enabling one of the dynamic range compression modes and isn’t likely to be as effective.

Just remember that you can’t really go into your receiver settings and change your settings too much. For example, if you were to go into your speaker setup and switch the subwoofers to “None,” you’d actually disable your room correction at the same time. Adjusting the trim levels and manually unplugging or depowering your speakers is about all you can do manually.

Conclusion

As you might expect, we don’t often use these dynamic range compression modes on our receivers. We want to hear all the sounds at the proper volume. But there are times when they are a real help. In particular when we are trying to nap. Turning on your dynamic range compression ensures you won’t be awoken by a cartoon screaming at you about laundry detergent or car insurance.


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