Great Sound Needs Dynamic Range

Sitting in friends house recently he was complaining about his TV looking washed out in the day and to bright at night. He asked why my System didn’t do that. The short explanation is simply dynamic range. The puzzled look on his face led to short class on dynamic range.

In one sentence: Dynamic range is the difference between the loudest sound and quietest sound you are trying to listen to. This is why you feel like you you are yelling all the time when on an airplane or wearing earplugs. The dynamic range in a room can also apply to video in the sense that it compares the darkest light you can see against the brightest light you can see.

Think about this, if you are watching TV and someone is running the dishwasher, the sound has to be turned up so you can hear people talk right?. In fact in order to hear the quietest sounds, the volume has to get very high, or you miss out. Sound Studios, better quality movie theaters, sound stages spend countless hours insuring that the room is as quiet as possible so there can be more dynamic range available to have more drama in the speech, music or whatever the entertainment is. Some sound rooms are so quiet that you can hear your own heartbeat.

When designing home theaters or media rooms, taking in to account the natural acoustics of the room based on its size is just one step. Looking at the furniture, décor and finishing of the room is critical also. During the design process the bottom line goal is to find a dynamic range that makes the music and movies as “natural” as possible. Closing your eyes in a well designed room should have the same “feel” as sitting on a lake in the snow. One of natures quietest locations is a lake in the snow due to the “openness” of the water and dampening of the snow.

In “hard” or reflective rooms with tile floors that open to kitchens with more hard surfaces design is even more important. Proper use of speakers with limited range and the addition of soft absorptive surfaces will help to make the room more natural.

Video design has similar issues in different ways. If there is to much light in a room, seeing very dark scenes becomes difficult. At the opposite end of the spectrum is a very dark room with the screen way to bright. The outdoor scenes are washed out and blurry to most people. Dedicated theaters actually use lighting control systems to insure that the lighting level is always the same so the screen can be set to the perfect setting. Some Screens or projectors will have two settings, day and night. My TV has a sensor to make a minor adjustment automatically based on the light in the room.

When considering a room for family entertainment, sound, light and video are all critical. The furniture and finish will actually change the room. The Phillips TV with the colored backlight attempts to control this environment. The success of the technique is better left to those who chose it. For me I will take a well designed room.

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