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Frequently asked questions  



1.  Why would I spend over $3000 on a headphone system? Surely this would buy me an excellent 5.1- or 7.1-channel loudspeaker system.

The Realiser can precisely emulate sound systems of any size and value, and such setups can cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Further, good sound is not just about amplifiers and loudspeakers, but also room acoustics.  The room is often the most important factor in sound quality, and room design and treatment can cost further tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.  The Realiser precisely emulates all of it:  electronics, speakers, and the room.  Even better, the Realiser can place the listener in any number of expensive rooms containing all manner of superb equipment at the touch of a button.  (And some headphone systems cost more than $3000 without a Realiser processor.)

2.   People who have heard the Realiser say it is unbelievable. Isn’t that a problem for you – it is hard to believe unless you have actually heard it?

Yes, people tend not to believe it till they have heard it, which is a challenge for us! In particular, many people who have heard non-personalised surround sound virtualisers associate a mediocre result with the whole notion of virtual rooms and speaker systems. As more people hear the Realiser, that prejudice may subside.

3.  So maybe the Realiser is good for surround, but how well does it reproduce regular stereo?

Just fine, and we have customers who use the Realiser for stereo. It sounds like you are hearing two speakers out in the room, rather than sound in your head, and of course there are many outstanding stereo systems which one would like to have in one’s collection.

4.  Let’s be honest, does the Realiser emulation really match the measured room and equipment exactly?

We consider it essential that the listener compare the real room and speaker system with the Realiser emulation while the listener is still in the captured room, to certify in his or her own mind that the emulation is accurate. The Realiser makes such an A/B comparison very easy:  it can be set to switch between the headphones and the loudspeakers as the user puts the headphones on and takes them off. The listener typically says the emulation is identical or extremely close to the real speakers and room.

5.  Is personalisation really necessary? What happens if I were to use someone else’s measurement?  How would it sound?

Listeners tell us that a Realiser emulation via someone else’s measurement is much superior to surround virtualisers they have heard.  Still, using your own measurement represents a further large step in realism.  Using another person’s measurement typically will sound brighter or duller than the real room; and spatialization, while still clearly representative of room size and speaker locations, is less precise and, especially in the front, less out-of-head.

6.  Is head tracking really necessary? Will I get the same experience if I don’t use it?

Head tracking can be enabled or disabled at the touch of a button. We consider it an important part of the sense of not wearing headphones. Remember that the typical headphone effect of having the sonic image move with your head is highly unnatural, whereas the tracked, stationary image is what we hear in everyday life.

We sometimes hear that someone is concerned about head tracking because he is worried about head position. Head tracking exists precisely so that you do not have to worry about head position.

7.  I read that part of the personalisation procedure is to equalise the headphones.  Does this mean any old headphone can be compensated?  How does the quality of the headphone effect the virtual presentation?

There is a brief procedure in which the headphones are measured while on the listener’s head. This accounts for the interaction of the particular headphone earcup with the listener’s individual pinnae (outer ears). The Realiser will also attempt to linearise the headphone response to a degree which is user-definable. In this sense, any headphones can be used. But just as an equaliser cannot turn a poor speaker system into something good, the Realiser’s compensations are not a substitute for good headphones. Consider also that the headphones are used to reproduce a virtual sound field that itself describes a loudspeaker-room characteristic. Neutrality of the headphone is therefore essential if it is this characteristic we wish to enjoy and not that of the headphones. It follows that the more neutral the headphones, the closer the Realiser emulation gets to the real thing. It is for this reason that we bundle the Realiser with Stax electrostatic headphones.  Anyone wishing to use a different model headphone can certainly do so, with the benefit of the Realiser’s headphone EQ.

8.  It would seem that Beyerdynamic’s 5.1-channel Headzone product is not unlike the Realiser. Should I not expect similar performance?

Actually they are not very similar. The Realiser emulates specific rooms and specific sound systems as heard by a specific person’s ears, the personalisation being a key factor in realism.  Headzone creates a synthetic room which is heard through a generalised representation of ears.  Also the characteristics of the Smyth and Beyer head trackers are noticeably different.

9.  What if I don’t have any loudspeakers to measure? Does the Realiser come with any factory default sound rooms?

The Realiser is shipped with a default emulation which is simply a staffer’s measurement in the sound room at our laboratory. We do not consider this a reference-quality room, and of course the emulation is not personalised to the purchaser. Even so, most listeners find it far preferable to the surround virtualisers they have heard. While we urge you to make your own personalised measurements, the factory default emulation allows the Realiser to work right out of the box, and can be enjoyed while you are considering what personalised measurements to make.

10.  Is there anywhere I can pay to make a measurement?

Our U.S. laboratory is located in the Los Angeles area, and we have made arrangements with several locations here: a DVD/Blu-Ray mastering studio (Mi Casa in Hollywood), an audiophile surround-sound music label (AIX in West Los Angeles), and a large cinema (the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood).  Smyth staffers conduct the measurements.

At these places, we know the rooms and equipment are good, the systems are 5.1 and/or 7.1, and negotiated rates apply. But Realiser owners can certainly make their own arrangements in that most studios will admit anyone willing to pay standard rates; and other opportunities may exist such as audio retailer demonstration rooms, friends’ living rooms, etc.

11.  I have only two full-range speakers. Would my personalised sound room be limited to just two speakers?

No. The Realiser provides simple procedures to create five- and seven-channel virtual speaker systems using only one or two real speakers, and a method of handling bass if you do not have a subwoofer.

12.  My AV receiver supports Audyssey room equalisation and I intend to personalise my room with the EQ in circuit. Are there any problems with this?

Not at all. We have used the Realiser in conjunction with both Audyssey and Trinnov room equalization hardware to great effect.

13.  If I were to purchase the Realiser is there any way of hearing the effect on my iPod/MP3 player?

Yes, the Realiser has a digital output which carries the processed two-channel headphone signal. You can capture this stream into a file for iPod listening with full multichannel spatialization.

14.  Body-conducted bass cannot be reproduced over headphones. What do you suggest to improve the realism in this sense?

Tactile transducers, or shakers, can restore much of this lost effect. The transducers typically sit under the listeners chair or sofa and vibrate in sympathy with the low frequencies in the recording. For example, we have used Crowson tactile transducers for many years in our own demonstrations with excellent results. Shakers are not exact substitutes for subwoofers, but if the level is set correctly, they can provide a very satisfying experience coupled with headphones. The Realiser provides tactile outputs which are highly configurable by the user.

15.  I prefer listening to stereo over headphones rather than over loudspeakers. What would motivate me to buy the Realiser?

Since the Realiser goes to great lengths to emulate the sound of loudspeakers in a room, then if you dislike listening to loudspeakers, this may not be the product for you. However, you may wish to consider:

1) Your preference may have come about because of not having the best loudspeakers and room acoustics.

2) The Realiser can, as an option, present loudspeakers with zero room reverberation, thereby retaining much of the direct headphone detail but with the sound field outside of one’s head.

3) There is no way to listen to surround sound over headphones other than with some type of virtualization.  Just about all current movies and many television shows have surround soundtracks, as do a large number of films of the past.

16.  Movies are supposed to be heard at a calibrated level of 85 dB SPL. Can I tell what the SPL is over the Realiser headphones?

Yes, the the Realiser can be calibrated to display dB SPL on the front-panel screen.

17.  I have come across many headphone amplifiers that utilise cross-feed techniques in an attempt to create the illusion of speakers. How different is the Realiser?

The Realiser is fundamentally different in that it creates not a partial and generalised effect, but a very precise emulation of how the listener hears specific speakers in a specific room. Listeners say the real and emulated systems sound identical, which would never be said comparing a real room with any generalised processing.

18.  How big a room can the Realiser capture?

The Realiser can capture reverberation up to 850 milliseconds. Most rooms will be under 200.  The largest room we have captured so far is the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, which is a fairly reverberant “movie palace” whose reverb tail decays into the noise floor at about 625 milliseconds. The Realiser is well able to capture any room the user is likely to encounter, with the exception of Gothic cathedrals.

19.  I prefer dry listening rooms for watching movies. Can the Realiser alter the reverberation time?

The Realiser can limit the reverberation time to a variety of settings. The Realiser also allows you to adjust the proportion of direct and reflected sound.

20.  How sensitive is the Realiser to the type of loudspeakers used in the sound room personalisation measurement?

Completely sensitive.  The Realiser will emulate the performance of those specific loudspeakers in that specific room.

21.  The loudspeaker placement in my sound room is not optimal due to the design. Is there anything the Realiser can do to improve this?

You could reposition the speakers temporarily for a better measurement. For example, in most situations the centre channel is above or below a screen. The centre channel speaker might be placed in front of the screen for the measurement, so that when listening to the emulation the centre channel sounds will seem to come out of the screen.  This is one of the great advantages of virtual loudspeakers:  their positions are not limited by the listening environment.

22.  The Realiser manual often mentions traditional speaker locations. Is the Realiser limited to these specific positions?

Not at all. The Realiser will emulate up to eight speakers in any locations, including azimuth and elevation.

23.  I am interested in using two Realisers to simulate a sixteen-speaker sound room. Is this possible?

Yes, two or even more Realisers can be used together for systems with more than eight channels.

24.  I read that the personalisation is separate for loudspeakers and headphones. Why is that?

Different ears and different headphone models interact differently and that interaction plus the headphone’s own response is superimposed upon the room emulation. Therefore the Realiser provides a measurement with the headphones on, which must be separate from the room measurement with the headphones off. See also the answer to Question 7.

25.  Can the Realiser decode multi-channel bit streams such as Dolby or DTS?

No, the streams must be decoded before they are input to the Realiser.

26.  If I wanted to mate the Realiser to a high quality multi-channel audio DVD or Blu-ray player, which players would you recommend?

It is not our policy to recommend specific brands or models. If the player has internal decoders and multichannel analogue outputs, it can be connected directly to the Realiser with no preamp or receiver in the chain. The Realiser provides volume controls for both the headphone output and the pass-through to loudspeakers. The correct LFE gain is typically not available from a player, but the Realiser can be set to compensate for this.

27.  If I just wanted to connect the Realiser directly to my DVD or Blu-ray player, what bass management features are supported?

The Realiser provides full bass management for one or two subwoofers, including redirection and LFE gain.

28.  You bundle Stax headphones with the Realiser. Is there any particular reason for this and will other headphones work also?

We bundle them to ensure that the listener gets a satisfactory result, but other headphones can work. Please see the answer to Question 7.

29.  Can two people use the Realiser at the same time?

Yes, the Realiser can support two listeners with separate personalized files and simultaneous independent head tracking.

30.  What if the subwoofer in the system to be measured is not that good, or what if there is no subwoofer?

The Realiser allows you to mix direct low frequency sound into the headphone outputs instead of measuring a subwoofer. You have control over whether this would be the LFE channel only, or would also include the low end of the main channels. Such direct low frequency mixing addresses not only lesser-quality or missing subwoofers, but also room modes which are highly problematic in many if not most rooms.

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