Disarming Big Audio Dynamite Page 3


From DRC to Souped-Up Headphones

Regardless of your individual domicile setup, one common sound-reduction feature familiar to many an A/V receiver is Dynamic Range Control (commonly known as "Night Listening Mode"). "With DRC, the dynamic range is reduced about 20 or 30 dB, so loud stuff is not as loud relative to soft stuff," Pohlmann notes. "These DRC modes typically shrink the dynamic range so everything evens out," adds McKenna. "What these features essentially do is raise the lower volume elements and lower the high volume elements to more closely match the level of the dialogue. The upside is you probably won't irritate your neighbors so much. The downside is that some parts of the soundtrack and dialogue may seem muffled or unnatural."

Dolby recently got ahead of this fluctuating, booming sound problem with its newest technology, Dolby Volume. By Dolby's own description, the algorithm constantly monitors all channel and levels of audio for Blu-Ray, standard DVD, music, video games, etc. While systems using night-listening techniques rely generally on audio compression, Dolby Volume controls the different EQ levels and adjusts them on the fly according to audio content. Alan Seefeldt, the senior engineer who developed Dolby Volume, says Dolby considers the system to be "the world's best dynamic range control for all content. Music, movies, television - basically anything - works with the system. It preserves the sound of the audio control at the different levels - dynamically adjusting the different content. So, you can turn your audio system way down and still get the surround sound system effect. An advanced leveling-amount algorithm tells the system how consistent it wants to make the loudness. And, a cognitive engine is always looking to pick out the elements a human ear would find appropriate" Seefeldt is confident that Dolby Volume does a better job than night-mode listening -and will replace the older technology completely. And, Dolby's new system will make the movie and TV studios' mixing jobs easier. Pohlmann and Seefeldt confirm that the studios mix their Blu-ray releases to function with optimum audio levels of surround sound formats. Different discs can pack different audio level extremes - forcing apartment or condo dwellers to adjust their volume and EQ levels. Dolby Volume will make those adjustments unnecessary, working with any DVD or Blu-ray. The first TVs to feature Dolby Volume are now available in Japan - the Toshiba Regza ZH500 and ZV500 series LCD HDTVs. The same models should be available in the U.S. soon with a steady stream of up-to-date new audio equipment.

Until Dolby Volume lands here, there's another way to go: the all-in-one surround speaker. Sony, for one, offers the HT-CT100 Sound Bar Home Theater System, an entry-level buy at about $300. Its S-Force PRO Front Surround Sound technology generates high resolution surround sound without the need for rear speakers. And since it relies on fewer speakers and projects more simulated surround sound via a central channel Sound Bar, it compacts and controls noise. Keep in mind, though, that Sony's hardly the only manufacturer with a worthy soundbar: Check out 7 Soundbars; Simple to Luxe.

Of course, the easiest, no-brainer way to spare your friends, relatives, or neighbors from the roar of jet fighters and proton torpedo blasts is to pump that sound directly into your ears. For surround sound systems, Sony offers the S-Air wireless audio transmission system, which includes a headphone connection - enabling the viewer to keep his phones near the couch or bed for convenient listening. "S-Air lets you plug in the headphones, shut down the speakers, and listen while our system simulates surround sound in your headphones," explains Levine. The S-Air technology is included in Sony's various Bravia Theatre Systems.

And if you don't mind the wired life, you can go with a different system: Any brand of headphone connected to a source with Dolby Headphone Technology. The beauty here is that you'll get a 5.1 surround-sound simulation through those two cans on your ears.

So, whether you choose to rearrange your sound system to spare the sanity of your more sensitive neighbors, or if you take the truly altruistic course and turn to the self-contained universe of headphones, the audio experts, designers, and manufacturers are way ahead of your, "Turn that down, for #&$%'s sake!" needs.