The Difference Between Music Speakers And Home Theater Speakers.

Music vs Home Theater Speakers

A question we're often asked goes something like, "I see that your speakers are top rated for home theater use, but I listen to a lot of music. How good are they for music?"

The question implies that there is a difference between a great home theater speaker and a great music speaker. Here is how we typically answer this question:

When RSL started making speakers in 1970, home theater didn't really exist. Our speakers were designed specifically for stereo. When we developed our current speakers, our goal was to make the ultimate, but affordable stereo music speaker system. All of the design work and refinements over the years led us to the concept of a 2.1 system, where there would be 2 smaller satellite speakers and a subwoofer. This concept has numerous advantages over large floorstanding speakers, which we covered in an earlier blog.

Once we finished the stereo design, we figured that it would be nice if people had the option of using these speakers for home theater. So, we added a center channel. That way, people could use 4 of our satellites, the center channel, and the subwoofer for a 5.1 system (or 6 satellites for a 7.1 system).

Although the system wasn't specifically designed for home theater, we decided to submit it to the home theater magazines, just for fun. They went bananas over the system and gave us top ratings including "Top Picks of The Year." This proves that building a reference quality speaker that offers extreme clarity and accuracy is just as relevant for music as it is for home theater.

If I had to point out any difference between music speakers and home theater speakers, I would say that the difference is often in the bass range. Movie soundtracks, with their explosions, crashes, etc. produce large amounts of the very lowest frequencies; some you hear and some you feel. Most music doesn't contain as much of this low frequency content, the possible exceptions being pipe organs and synthesizers. Many subwoofers that are capable of handling the low frequency content of movies don't do a good job on music due to their sloppy response. The RSL Speedwoofer 10 will not only handle the lowest bass frequencies in movies, but its Compression Guide tuning provides the type bass clarity for music that's usually only found in the most expensive high end subwoofers.

Bottom line: There really shouldn't be any difference between a home theater and a music speaker.

How To Listen To Stereo Music Over Home Theater Systems

Listening to stereo over HT

In addition to watching movies, most of our customers use their home theater systems for music as well. The source of music can be CDs, music over the Internet, iPhones, tablets, etc. Here are some of the ways to listen:

 Direct mode - some A/V receivers have a direct mode, which bypasses a lot of the circuitry in an attempt to provide the purest possible sound. This can be good for stereo listening provided that the subwoofer is not disabled (which some receivers do in direct mode).

Regular stereo - some receivers will allow you to just use your front left and right speakers along with your subwoofer for listening to stereo music, which is fine.

All channel stereo - some receivers offer and all channel stereo mode. In this situation, all of the music that would normally go to your left speaker will also go to your left side and rear speakers if you have them. Likewise, all of the music that would go to your right speaker will go to all of the speakers on the right half of your room. This mode is OK, but sometimes makes the imaging of individual instruments difficult to discern.

Synthesized DSP modes - many receivers offer synthetic surround modes, such as nightclub, Stadium, churches, concert Hall, etc. I don't know why they include these. Nobody I've spoken to has ever liked the sound of these and we recommend that you do not use these artificial sounding modes.

Dolby Pro Logic - this is a method of extracting surround information from a two channel stereo source. It is not really synthesized and it can be useful. Many two channel recordings have out of phase information hidden within the recording. Dolby Pro Logic can retrieve this information and use it to provide a convincing surround experience. This is a mode that you should experiment with as some stereo recordings will benefit from it and others won't. Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon CD is an example of a recording that will can sound amazing with Dolby Pro Logic.

As always, if you have any questions, please either contact us or give us a call at 800-905-5485

The Important Role Of Acoustics In Your Home Theater

Audyssey

The importance of your room's acoustic cannot be overemphasized! In college, I was working part time as a DJ at a local radio station. The studio walls and ceiling were covered in white acoustical tiles with little holes in them. You may have seen them in photos of radio and TV studios of the past. The sound system in this studio was not nearly as good as the one I had in my dorm room. I couldn't figure out why. The dorm room was not carpeted and in combination with the bare walls sound pretty echoey. One day I brought my speakers into the studio and hooked them up. The difference was night and day!

Since that time I have heard mediocre audio systems in rooms with great acoustical properties and high end systems in terrible acoustical environments. I would always prefer the sound of the mediocre system in the room with better acoustics.

To generalize, items that help a room's acoustical properties include carpeting, stuffed furniture, wall treatments such as drapes and any other items that absorb sound and keep it from bouncing from wall to wall or ceiling to floor. The shape of the room will also have an effect on acoustics. Parallel walls will increase reverberation.

In the past the only way to improve a room's acoustics was to change its shape or the way it is furnished or decorated, which for many people wasn't practical. There really hasn't been any electronic gadget that could tame a room's reverberation until now. With the introduction of Audyssey room correction, all that's changed.

We recently had an unusual situation where a home theater system didn't sound good due to the room's bad acoustics. This was a giant room with almost no furniture, a hardwood floor, thin window treatments and a vaulted ceiling. The room opened into another room with similar characteristics. We hooked up an AV receiver that had one of the best versions of Audyssey room correction (This one was an Integra, but Audyssey can be found in several popular brands of AVRs). Our jaws dropped! All of a sudden, this was a great sounding system. It sounded full and three-dimensional.

A good room correction circuit can make all the difference in the world when it comes to sound. There are different brands of room correction that come with different A/V receivers. So far, our favorite has been the Audyssey. Audyssey makes different levels of room correction circuits. Obviously, the more expensive receivers have the better versions. If your room acoustics are very challenging you should consider an AV receiver with a better Audyssey room correction circuit. If you'd like to discuss your acoustics, give us a call at 800-905-5485.

How Much Should You Spend On A Blu-Ray Player?

 

Blu-Ray Players

The prices of Blu-ray players can range from under $100 to well over $1,000. I think there is a lot of miss-information out there. How much should you spend?

When you play a high definition Blu-ray disc on an inexpensive player, the video quality will probably be very close to that of an expensive player. Honestly, there isn't that much difference. Regular DVDs aren't high definition and will be upscaled to better quality by the Blu-ray player. Upscaling circuitry is found in all Blu-ray players and will vary in quality depending on the cost of the player. Upscaling circuitry can also be found in most audio/video receivers and flat panel televisions. If you have a better upscaler in your AVR or TV, you can usually bypass the upscaler that came with your Blu-ray player through it's settings menu. This isn't a critical issue with inexpensive players. If you have a 3D capable TV, you'll need a 3D capable Blu-ray player, but these are also inexpensive.

Audio quality is a different story. All Blu-ray players have the ability to decode the surround sound tracks such as Dolby True HD, DTS Master HD, Dolby Digital, and DTS on Blu-ray and DVD discs with pretty good sound quality. In addition, most audio/video receivers of the past few years can also decode these formats. So, you have a choice of whether to use your Blu-ray player or your receiver to decode the audio. With most high quality audio/video receivers, you'd want to use the AVR to handle the audio and not the inexpensive Blu-ray player. You can do this through the settings menu by choosing the digital bitstream output. If you choose the digital PCM output, the blu-ray player will decode these formats and send the decoded audio to your receiver. This feature is handy if you have an older receiver that doesn't handle the latest surround formats of Dolby True HD and DTS Master HD. The bottom line: for many of you, a reasonably-priced Blu-ray player may be all you need.

Many people who purchase top rated Blu-ray players such as the Oppo feel that they will automatically get better sound. They hook it up to their audio/video receiver just like any other Blu-ray player, with an HDMI cable. This bypasses the expensive audio decoding circuitry of this high end Blu-ray player and sends it to the audio/video receiver for decoding with its built-in circuitry. If you want to take full advantage of the superior sound of these high end players, you'll need an analog connection (RCA cable) for each of your 5 or 7 channels and subwoofer. A high end Blu-ray player is also capable of delivering better sound when playing CDs as long as you use analog connections mentioned above.

Another advantage of a higher end player is the ability to play high definition music files that are downloaded to a flash drive or burned to a DVD disc.

Many homes do not have a wired network connection available for their Blu-ray player. If you don't, then look for a player with wi-fi built in. This is important for firmware updates to keep you player current as well as being able to work with Internet movie players such as Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu.

Netflix Instant Movies

Netflix

If you're fortunate enough to have high speed internet without strict data limits, you owe it to yourself to check out Netflix's instant viewing service. Netflix is the company that K.O.'d Blockbuster and other video rental places. Can you remember the days where you had to jump in your car, fight the traffic to get to your video rental store. Then, after making your selection, which you hoped they'd have in stock, you'd make your way to the checkout line. Hopefully, the required paperwork would be in order and finally you'd check out as the person handed you the video as you were about to exit. Then after watching the movie, came the stress of getting it back in time to avoid late fees.

So along came Netflix (I wish I had bought their stock back then) and their red envelopes. Choose a movie online and most of the time you got it within 48 hours. When you sent it back, it almost seemed like they acknowledge receiving it before you sent it (I wonder if they were using wormholes). Even with all this convenience and no late fees, I still had unwatched movies sitting around for weeks at a time.

Enter Netflix instant viewing. At about 8 bucks a month, this is one of the best bargains going. No movies to send back. No trips to the video store. Their selection is good and getting better all time. All you need is a high speed internet connection and a Netflix player. Virtually all smart TVs have a Netflix player built in. If your TV doesn't have one, you can get an inexpensive Blu-ray player that does. Also Sony's PS3s have Netflix players.

Depending on your Internet speed, the video quality can be quite good, even approaching HD quality. The faster the connection, the better the video. If possible use a wired network connection. I personally use it with a fast wireless connection and it works pretty well. Sound isn't bad either with some shows available with Dolby surround. If your movie isn't available in Dolby surround, using the Dolby Pro Logic (DPLII) function in your receiver can give you a pretty convincing surround experience.

Tips for Installing Outdoor Speakers

Outsider Both

In case you missed last week's newsletter, we announced the introduction of the new RSL Outsider II indoor/outdoor speakers. After the newsletter went out, we received a number of questions about installing them. So, we thought we give you a few pointers in this newsletter. The owners manual that comes with the Outsider IIs contains a lot of useful info as well. We'd be happy to email a copy to you. Just let us know.

1. Powering your speakers - Many home theater receivers offer zone 2 capability. Using the 2nd zone is very convenient and it often lets you control the volume independently of the main system in your home. As different brands handle the other zones differently, we suggest consulting your owners manual. Another way of powering the speakers is with a stereo receiver or integrated amplifier. Often these can power speakers inside your home and have a speaker B selector that can power the Outsiders.

2. Speaker wire - If the wire is going to be exposed to the elements, we recommend getting wire specifically designed for outdoor use. It will have UV protection that will help the insulation last.  Most home improvement stores carry this type of wire. It doesn't specifically have to be speaker wire. However, we suggest getting a thicker, multi-stranded wire like 12 gauge, especially if you need to do long runs.

3. Mounting - As you may know, the Outsider IIs come with speaker brackets. When mounting to the wall, use a wall anchor that is rated to hold the weight of the speakers. Also, be sure you know what is in the wall behind the speakers so you don't drill into electrical, gas, or plumbing lines!

4. Positioning - The Outsider IIs can be mounted vertically or horizontally. Generally, the large expanse of the outdoors tends to absorb bass. If possible, position the speakers to maximize bass. The more wall surfaces adjacent to the speakers, the more bass. The most bass can be obtained by mounting the speakers on walls, in corners and near the ceiling (when applicable).

If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact us.

We created the RSL Outsider II so you could get rich, high-end sound outdoors. Almost 35 years ago, RSL introduced the very first high fidelity outdoor speaker, The Outsider. Up until then, outdoor speakers were mainly metal or plastic horns that sounded horrible, like an airport P.A. system. The original Outsider was a huge success and the start of a revolution.

The next generation Outsider II is an audiophile speaker that's good enough to be used indoors. It combines our decades of speaker experience with our factory-direct pricing. We know that good outdoor speakers already exist (you can find them at local audio/video boutiques for typically between $400 and $750 a pair. And let's not forget that the Outsider IIs come with mounting brackets, free shipping to the 48 states, and our 100% satisfaction guarantee.

 

Start having more fun outside. Order your set today!

Study Shows: Great Speakers Outside = 4X More Fun!

(Based upon an imaginary survey by RSL Speaker Systems)

Outsider Both

Many of you already enjoy rich, high-end sound in your home. Wouldn't it be nice to enjoy that same level of sound outside (without having to open your windows)? We know a good portable speaker can "get the job done," but can it ever compare to the sound you enjoy inside? We think you sound outside should be as good as your sound inside. That's why we created the RSL Outsider II.

Almost 35 years ago RSL introduced the very first high fidelity outdoor speaker, The Outsider. Up until then outdoor speakers were mainly metal or plastic horns that sounded horrible, like an airport P.A. system. The original Outsider was a huge success and the start of a revolution.

The next generation, Outsider II, is an audiophile outdoor speaker that's good enough to be used indoors. It combines our decades of speaker experience with our factory pricing. We know that good outdoor already exist (you can find them at local audio/video boutiques, typically for between $400 and $750 a pair). But save your money, because the Outsider II delivers the same quality for only $250 a pair. And let's not forget that the Outsider IIs come with mounting brackets, free shipping to the 48 states, and our 100% satisfaction guarantee.

 

Start having more fun outside.

Order your set today!

How To Get Music That’s Even Higher Quality Than CDs

Hi-Rez Downloads

There are some who may read this and say, "that's easy, just play vinyl record albums. After all, doesn't analog always sound better?" That's not always the case as I've written in an earlier newsletter.

We're not knocking the sound of CDs. They can sound fine and usually much better than compressed music such as MP3s and iTunes songs for example. However, the CD format is not perfect. When music is converted to digital for a CD, it is sliced up into 44 thousand segments every second. These segments will vary in loudness by 65,536 different voltage levels (16 bits-2 to the 16th power). Then when played, the device will reassemble these digital signals back into analog, where the amplifier makes it loud enough for it to be played over the speakers.

CD music files are pretty large, which is why compressed music formats such as MP3 are so popular. However, thanks to high speed internet it is possible to purchase and download music that has the potential to sound even better than CDs. For this newsletter, we'll focus on two popular sites: www.hdtracks.com and www.acousticsounds.com . Both of these sites offer downloads of popular albums in higher sampling rates of up to 192 KHz. Vs CDs 44 KHz and 24 bits instead of CD's 16 bits. There are many who maintain that when you get to this level that the sound will be as good as analog. These websites do this by obtaining the master when the album was recorded and digitizing it at the higher quality.

To really enjoy the full potential of the improved sound, you'll need good equipment capable of playing back the higher resolution files and revealing speakers, such as our RSLs (shamless plug).

These high resolution downloads are usually available in FLAC format. This is a lossless format that helps to minimize the file size without any compromise in sound quality. One way of playing the files back is to copy them to a USB flash drive. There are home theater receivers and DVD players (such as the Oppo) that are capable of playing them back as well as separate outboard DACs (digital analog converter).

 This has been a brief overview of high resolution music. Obviously, if you're interested in finding out more there are many websites that are dedicated to this subject including www.audiostream.com .

The Importance of Choosing The Right Surround Mode

Surround Modes

 Today's audio/video receivers come with a mind-boggling amount of features and thick owners manuals, which can be intimidating. Few people I know have the patience to read these cover to cover. Personally, I'd rather read a 4 year old magazine in a doctor's waiting room. One section that is worthwhile to read is the one that covers the different surround sound modes. Choosing the correct surround mode for your movie or TV show is important for unlocking the potential of your home theater system.

 When you play a DVD or Blu-Ray disc, you'll often have a choice of surround mode in the audio setup menu of the disc. Some people just skip going into the audio setup and just play the movie. Sometimes this deprives them of getting true surround. It's important to choose the right surround mode. Although this is no substitute for your particular receiver's owner's manual, here is some basic info on some of the surround modes:

 Synthesized modes eg. Concert Hall, nigh club, stadium, etc.

These are not true surround modes but are synthesized inside you're A/V receiver. To our ears, none of them sound good and should be avoided.

 All channel stereo

This takes the stereo signal from a stereo music source, such as CD, radio, or stereo TV and uses all the speakers in your system. If the music sources doesn't have true surround, this can sometimes be useful.

 DolbyTM PLII

If your movie or TV track is stereo only and not surround, this can often provide a very convincing surround effect. Dolby Pro Logic takes real information from the tracks and sends some of it to the rear speakers. Whenever I watch a movie that is in stereo, I use this. For music, it often works well. However, you'll need to experiment.

Dolby Digital Surround

Dolby Digital Surround, originally called AC3, made its debut with DVDs. This is a true surround mode with 5 discrete channels, which utilize compression. This is a good choice when watching movies. Besides DVDs, Dolby Digital surround tracks can also be found on cable and satellite channels for movies and TV shows. Even though Dolby Digital isn't the latest surround format, it can still sound excellent.

DTS

DTS was also introduced with DVDs and is a competitor to Dolby Digital Surround. Often, it can sound a bit better than Dolby Digital surround due to its higher bit rate. If you get a choice of either Dolby Digital surround or DTS, we recommend using DTS.

Dolby True HD

This surround format for either 5 or 7 channels is currently only available on Blu-ray discs. It is the same quality as CD. As such, it offers best surround audio quality currently available.

DTS Master HD

This is the competition to Dolby True HD and also offers spectacular sound. Usually, a blu-ray disc will offer one or the other.

We have listed some of the surround formats in order of quality with the last ones being the best. If you'd like to discuss this further, feel to give us a call.

Does Live Always Sound Better Than Your Home Theater System?

Linkin Park

To answer this, I'd like to relate an experience we about a year and half ago. We are fans of the group Linkin Park. When the opportunity arose to see them live, we jumped. Got the best seats we could for sonic wonderfulness - dead center. There is nothing quite like experiencing live music: the excitement of witnessing your favorite musicians' performance, seeing their facial expressions, hearing your favorite songs, the thrill of being caught up in the crowd's energy. So we were pumped up for the concert. We've been enjoying a Linkin Park Live Concert Blu-ray, running the audio through our RSL 5.1 Theater System.  However, we experienced a big disappointment. Not the band itself. They put on a great show. But the sound system was a non starter. The band's signature subtleties, keyboard themes, big drums and gritty guitar licks seemed to get lost in a jumble of distortion. There was no ability to distinguish each of the band's components.  We were hearing a big wash and roar, but little differentiation.  Was it the quality of the PA system? Was the sound engineer overdriving the amps? Any way, we were disappointed.
 
To weigh in on the classic argument of the superiority of live versus recorded audio, after experiencing Linkin Park live and listening to them through my audio system, I would have to say that, I much preferred the RSL system. No contest. Why? We can hear not only a superbly defined sound field - front-to-back and overall sound stage and ambiance (you felt immersed in the concert), but surprisingly, I hear vertical imaging, which not common in a system within this price range. I can hear the sound of the instruments as they are being played, down to the small details like the impact of drum sticks on the drums. To sum it up, in this case the Linkin Park Blu-ray sounded much better than the live performance. When considering the cost of the tickets, transportation, and hotel (we had to travel to San Diego), it doesn't take too many of these "live" performance to pay for an entire RSL 5.1 system. I'm just sayin'.