Review by Oakland September 17, 2006 (5 of 6 found this review helpful)
|The Philip's SACD Surround Sound Reference Disc is a *must have* tool, in my opinion, along with a sound pressure level meter, for setting up a SACD multi-channel system. Otherwise I believe set up of a SACD multi-channel system is a crap shoot with only a smidgen of a chance of getting your system set up correctly. You have to be exceedingly lucky to get things balanced without a reference disc. But reading remarks of numerous audiophiles and music lovers (most who interchangeably swap/confuse “home theater” and “ SACD multi-channel music) who have invested in multi-channel systems vary rarely is a set up disc mentioned.
The Philip's SACD Surround Sound Reference Disc has tracks specifically for multi-channel SACD (*not* home theater) setup. The disc has 93 tracks. Most of these tracks are of only passing interest to me, such as “Harrier Jump Jet”, “ A Big V8”, “Motorbikes”, “The Sailors Hornpipe” from Oldfields’s “Tubular Bells”, etc. I’m sure these tracks (and many others on the disc) can be helpful in fine tuning a multi-channel environment, but the raison d’etre for this disc are the 5 tracks with pink noise, that are needed for multi-channel calibration. (Pink noise contains equal energy per octave, so it is readily distinguishable from “white noise”, that contains unequal or random energy across the audio spectrum).
The Philip's SACD Surround Sound Reference Disc is very straightforward to use. The great thing is that you need not be “technically minded” (I’m certainly not) to use it effectively. I put my sound pressure level meter on a tripod at the listening position and at ear level. The five pink noise tracks are for each of the five speakers. You point the sound pressure level meter at each speaker as the track emits pink noise just for that speaker (the other speakers are silent) and raise the volume to, say 75 db. The task is to make sure that each speaker reads the same db from the listening position, not more, not less. (This assumes, of course, that the speakers are all equal distant from the listening position).
For most discs that I have encountered the front speakers will most always (but not always) play louder and the surround speaker will provide the "ambience". But for setup purposes all speakers should be on a level playing field. That is, all speakers should be calibrated to be equally loud. During real world playback the SACD disc itself (the engineers of the disc) determines how the volume levels are distributed to each speaker. If a listener arbitrarily lowers the surround speaker in set up for a particular disc or discs, as some tend to do, the front speakers can have excessive domination.
Many, if not most, multi-channel systems exist with notable variations and compromises with respect to set up. The 54 page booklet that accompanies the Philips disc is replete with fundalmental tips on multi-channel set up and how to best use the disc with commonly encountered situations, including, for example, bass management. After you have used the disc a couple of times, level setting can be completed in less than five minutes. Of course, after set up is completed many listeners for any number of very valid reasons will choose to deviate for the settings derived as a result of using the reference disc, just as you would for a two-channel system. But the key is to start with an accurate reference then make further adjustments from there.
I got my Philip's SACD Surround Sound Reference Disc with my player (EMM Labs). It is not entirely certain that the Philip’s disc is still available or what the price is. But Telarc’s “1812 Overture” SACD, and other discs also contain the pink noise tracks. Money *well* spent.
Robert C. Lang
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