How To: DIY Audio Measurement

Do you trust your ears? I don’t. By that I mean I don’t trust my ears. Frankly, though, I don’t trust anybody’s. I’ve heard laymen enthuse about systems that had little more to offer than a few notes of booming bass. I’ve heard audio veterans trash impeccably engineered speakers — and praise speakers that showed glaring technical flaws. I’ve even caught myself thinking that a speaker had excellent detail when it really just had excessive treble. Or being impressed by a subwoofer’s power, only to realize later that it had nothing much to speak of happening below 50 Hz. Of course, we can’t enjoy an audio system unless it pleases our senses, so on some level, we have to trust our ears. But there’s also value in knowing that your system is performing as it should, that you’re getting something close to what the musicians or filmmakers intended. In other words, you want to trust, but verify.

Thanks to the ubiquity of computers and today’s ample supply of inexpensive but incontestably impressive electronics, audio enthusiasts can now perform measurements that will confirm (or cast doubt upon) what their ears tell them. Using these measurements, you can find out what your system’s doing and optimize it.

No, I’m not recommending you don a lab coat and undertake the same sorts of comprehensive product measurements we do here at Sound+Vision. That level of testing is costly, requires specialized knowledge and equipment, and will get you spurned at parties when you tell people what you do. I’m suggesting you test what’s most important to you: the sound you hear when you’re sitting on your couch. Fortunately, that kind of testing is cheap and relatively easy to pull off, and it requires so little time and effort that no one need know you’re geeking out. (Come to think of it, though, the lab coat might make a cool accessory.)

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