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Audio Systems/Need advice for home theater audio problems


QUESTION: I've been having volume issues with my current setup, that is making me think it might be necessary to replace my receiver with something of higher quality. I've been looking at refurbished Marantz or Denon receivers in the $300 - $400 range. But I just wanted to make sure this is what I should do, before I make any blind purchases.

Att Uverse STB hooked up to Onkyo HT-R380 via HDMI
PSB Image Series L, R, C and Sub channel speakers w/ Auvio L, R surrounds

What I find happening, is that the volume can change drastically from loud to soft from one channel/show/commercial to another, which leaves me to adjust the volume manually. I've messed with all the settings, such as turning on/off & toggling through all the Audyssey controls, to adjusting the db levels for each speaker on the receiver.

Nothing has helped, so I just left each speaker at it's lowest db level and even then the dynamic volume is still an issue. Regardless of settings, I've always found the system to sound loud even at low volumes. The only thing I haven't done is use a mic to calibrate the system. The HTIB unit didn't come with one, so I didn't know if it was necessary to do.

I wanted to mention my house has ceramic tiled flooring, which I'm sure comes into play here as well.

What would be your best recommendations? Thank you.

ANSWER: Recommendation #1:  Don't buy refurbished receivers of any brand.  It is too risky as the refurbishing task is usually done by unqualified techs.  From experience, I would never buy a refurbished consumer product over $50 in value.

Recommendation #2:  It is possible the level difference is coming from the program source out of the cable box.  Various stations have different audio level settings.  Please contact your cable company and see if they can offer some reason why the audio difference is so great coming from their set top box.

Recommendation #3:  You should be able to alter the loudness lever at the remote control.  Have you tried that?  It may be a good solution.  Using a mic to calibrate the system is not going to help you with the variations in loudness from channel to channel unless your interface has channel to channel balance capability - which I doubt.

Hope this will give you some assistance in sorting it through for a viable solution.  Let me know if you need more thoughts to consider.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.  It's very much appreciated.

So if I were to buy a new receiver at the price range I mentioned, do you think buying new is the only way to go?  Also, considering if I were to buy a higher quality unit, do you think there would be a drastic improvement in sound from the receiver I have now?  I've never liked the sound from any speaker hooked up to this system but am not sure what this is the result of exactly.

I am going to contact ATT but I don't think they will be of much help.  In the past when I've spoken to their tech support team, they just seem to offer advice on issues that are really out of their control.  I'm willing to try at least though.

Are you saying to alter the volume level from the remote control?  If so, I'm really trying to avoid having to "babysit" it, just to get the job done.

I will keep you posted with my results.  Thank you again.

ANSWER: The speakers are almost always the weakest link in sound quality as electronics is more near perfect in comparison .
For a receiver the most significant factor is audio power and power requirements are a function of speaker sensitivity and room size/acoustics.

If your present rcvr is running out of power you'll hear them going into distortion at higher volume levels.

But speakers are nonlinear and to double sound level requires about 9 times in amp power!

Can you provide the sensitivity of your speakers and rough room size?

Let me know what you're thinking and we can go another iteration towards a solution.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: My apologies in the delay.  Here is the info you requested.  Thanks again.

Speaker sensitivity:

center: 92db
front left & right: 92db
left & right surrounds: 86dbdb @ 1W/M

I got these specs from the PSB website and a manual for the Auvio surrounds, which I believe to be the same model.  The PSB website just said "self powered" for the sub.

Approximate room size:

side to side of wall : 22'
side to side of opposite wall: 12.5'
from floor to ceiling (highest point): 10.5'
from floor to ceiling (lowest point): 9'

The TV & speakers sit along the longer wall and the left side of the living room is open to a hallway and a front entrance room of the house.

Left and right surrounds are 6 db less sensitive than the front speakers which means they need considerably more power in order to put out similar loudness.  At least twice as much power.  During loud passages the surrounds my need more power than is available.  

Room size is okey and not unusual in any sense.  With 92db sensitivity the front speakers are about average for home use.  But, sound quality is up to your taste. If you don't like the sound they are producing then you may want to replace them with better sounding ones.

But, we still haven't solved the imbalance in loudness levels when switching from one channel to another.  I think you should check everything in the system for proper setup and cabling to make sure it is working as designed.  If the sound level difference is more than what sounds like twice as loud between channels in worst case that is too much.  The difference in audio levels is usually only 3 or 4 db.  If you are getting 2 to 1 difference that represents more like 9 to 10 db difference which to me means something is wrong with the setup and needs evaluation as above.

Best wishes.  

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