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  • JBL MSC1/LSR-Series Speakers: Room Mode Correction System

    This is going to be interesting.

    Unless you're sitting in an acoustically-treated room - and have tweaked your setup to work within it, if needed - you can't really be sure you're hearing what you're supposed to be hearing. One solution is tuning your room with EQ, but...

    I've never been a fan of room tuning. There, I've said it. I always felt that if you couldn't treat the room, it was better to learn the anomalies and work within those constraints rather than introduce more variables with EQ that may or may be accurate, and may or may not produce a "sweet spot" so narrow that if you move your head a couple millimeters one way or the other, the tuning falls apart.

    However, room tuning isn't what it used to be, because we have computers now. My first experience with room-tuning-that-didn't-suck was IK Multimedia's ARC system. They asked me if I wanted to review it, and I said I'd be willing to do that, but they would just have to accept the fact that I'd most likely say it sucked. Well, they really believed in the product and were willing to take the chance, and you know, it actually does work - I've even used it to test out acoustic treatment to see how it affected my listening environment. So, I had to re-calibrate my opinions on room tuning as well as my room.

    But then...I was the Frankfurt Musik Messe, and Peter Chaikin of JBL grabbed me. "You gotta see this new room correction system we have that really works." By that point I was a little more open-minded, so I didn't need quite as much convincing to give it a shot.

    And yes, it was impressive. JBL had really gone full-tilt into the computer application, and the results were clearly an improvement over what the sound was like without correction. What's more, I was able to move around the room and still hear pretty consistent imaging. Hmm...

    I kept track of the system's progress over the months that followed, which leads us to the MSC1. This is a speaker controller, or at least that's what it looks like; but it also does the Room Mode Correction thang. There's a description of it on the JBL web site which is a) accurate, and b) devoid of marketing-speak (other than throwing the word "acclaimed" in there ), and c) concise. So rather than re-invent the wheel, I'll quote it here:

    The MSC1 includes JBL’s acclaimed RMC Room Mode Correction technology that measures your room and tackles low frequency problems caused by room modes and boundary conditions. The MSC1 comes with everything needed to calibrate your system including a Calibration Mic, MSC1 Control Center Software, and accessory cables. Calibration is simply carried out using the supplied microphone, MSC1 Control Center Software and your computer.

    Before measuring your room, Control Center meticulously measures the signal path of your audio system to set the stage for an accurate speaker calibration. Control Center Software guides you through every step. Once your system has been measured, re-calibration of your speakers is fast and easy and can be done at any time. After RMC calibration, the MSC1 works as a stand-alone controller and connection to a computer is not required.


    So there you have the basics. If you want the full scoop on the MSC1, Room Mode Correction, and some always-impressive charts and graphs, the MSC1 landing page is the place to go. In fact. I think it provides all the basics that would normally take up the first several posts in a pro review as I explain what something does and how it's supposed to work, so we'll skip ahead immediately to the "well, does it really do what they say?" part. Because if so, that's a pretty cool thing for project studios, especially given the price - a little under $300 street, so if it can help you create more accurate mixes, that's a pretty cost-effective investment.

    I'll be testing out the MSC1 with a pair of LSR2328P 8" speakers, and then when I feel I know what I'm doing, it will be time to add the LSR2310SP subwoofer. The only time I've been involved with subwoofers has been playing live, and there was a sound company taking care of the details; having a sub in my studio will be a new experience, so not only will we get a chance to see if it works or not, we'll be able to see how well JBL can guide a newbie into the world of subs.

    Like I said...this should be interesting. Is it really possible to push a button and be able to have a far greater degree of confidence in your monitoring? Let's find out.

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  • #2
    As is the tradition with Pro Reviews, I like to start off with a photo tour...but this one will be relatively short, as the system is quite simple.



    In the "a picture is worth a thousand words" category, let's look at the MSC1's front panel. I haven't really delved into the documentation yet, but the front panel is pretty much self-explanatory: It's a monitor control box, but with the RMC options.







    Moving across the top, you have headphone volume, speaker selector (RMC speakers or other speakers), input select for three inputs that we'll meet when we check out the rear panel, and an input trim control, with clip and signal LEDs.



    In the middle, we have a big knob for volume. Or, perhaps I should phrase that as a BIG KNOB.



    I mean, it's big! If you can't find this to turn down the volume in a darkened mixing environment, you're in trouble.



    Around the knobs are pushbuttons/indicators for RMC, Sub, EQ, and Mute. We'll discuss what these do as we investigate the system, but I suspect you've already figured it out.



    The only thing that may not be obvious is the power on/off switch, as it's black and doesn't show up all that well in the photo I took. It's on the left, just below the Headphone Volume knob.
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    • #3
      The rear panel is also pretty obvious.







      Across the top are the connections for the two sets of speakers, with the Sub connector toward the right.



      Below that, from left to right, is the connector for the AC adapter, USB connector to hook up with your computer, and three sets of inputs (two 1/4" pairs, and one pair of RCA phono jacks). Toward the right, you'll find the area for plugging in the mic used for calibration (which also has an output), and the headphone jack. I would have preferred a front-panel headphone jack, but that's no big deal.
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      • #4
        The package also comes with a bunch of accessories, as well as software.







        Starting at the top, we have the calibration microphone. Moving clockwise, there are several cables and adapters you may need while hooking up the system. These include two stereo mini to 1/4" adapters, a mini male to mini male extension cord, and mini stereo to male phono plugs. Next up is a USB cable to hook the MSC1 to your computers, and finally, a mic clip so you can attach the mic to a mic stand for consistent readings.



        Hey, let's make the MSC1 work hard, okay? Over the weekend, I'll be re-arranging my office to accommodate the speakers as it's a more hostile environment acoustically-speaking than my adjacent studio room - I basically use the office for post-production rather than recording, and work mostly with headphones or very tight near-field monitors.



        The office is a rectangular L-shape, with hard surfaces, and is considerably longer than it is narrow. The L is a small closet-type area without a door where I store magazines, books, and software discs, so it screws up the response even more. If the MSC1 can make my office sound good, I think it could make anything sound good. We'll find out...
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        • #5
          Hi Anderton,



          Would the "JBL MSC1/LSR-Series Speakers: Room Mode Correction System", work on a room 40feet long, 20feet wide, and 13foot high?



          We are using it as a church.



          Thanks,



          Dan Andrews

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          • #6






            Quote Originally Posted by Dan FX
            View Post

            Hi Anderton,



            Would the "JBL MSC1/LSR-Series Speakers: Room Mode Correction System", work on a room 40feet long, 20feet wide, and 13foot high?



            We are using it as a church.



            Thanks,



            Dan Andrews




            Well, I won't have the chance to try it out with your church...but I have the feeling that if it can turn my office into a decent listening environment, anything else you throw at it should be a piece of cake!
            _____________________________________________
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            • #7
              Thanks for that!



              Dan

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              • #8
                The package comes with software for both Mac and Windows. I figured as Windows scares people more than the Mac (although that's been fading fast since Windows 7 hit the world), I'd install it on Windows. Another reason for doing this is because if you're into doing speaker installations and room correction and such, a laptop would be a logical choice - and when it comes to Windows laptops, "why pay more?"



                These days, I assume the CD-ROM that comes with a product is simply there as a coaster to put your drink on while you download the real, updated software. So, I went to the JBL site and while normally I'd just get right into the installation process, I was so impressed with the level of support on the MSC1 support page that I thought it was worthy of comment.



                Of course you'll find owner's manuals, quick start guides, and software. But this is also one of the few products I've run across recently that still supports PowerPC Macs back to Tiger 10.4.1 (so now you have a use for that G5 sitting in a corner), and at the other end of the spectrum, not only supports Windows XP but also both 32- and 64-bit flavors of Windows 7 (no Netbook support, though...not that I expected it).



                What's more, Windows users will require certain additional pieces of system software - DirectX 9.0c, Adobe Flash Player 10, Adobe Reader 9, and .NET Framework 2.0. Rather than telling you "hey, you'll need this, go find it," links for all those programs are on the site.



                There's also support for the LSR series speakers I'll be using initially to test the MSC1, including new firmware. So, kudos to JBL for putting this all together in a way that makes life easier for the average user...or for that matter, people doing Pro Reviews who are really pressed for time!



                Okay, the 136MB of software should have finished downloading by now...
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                • #9
                  Well, installation went uneventfully. When I tried to install the MSC1 software, I was dutifully informed that Adobe Flash and Reader weren't installed (hey, I tried to put it off for as long as I could...), so I clicked on the links to install them. I also installed a utility for updating the firmware, should that be required. As with typical USB peripherals on Windows, you install the software first, then plug in the peripheral while the driver installs.



                  A couple reboots later, I was good to go. I opened up the program just to make sure it was happening, and was greeted with...







                  Of course, you're not seeing anything fancy, because I haven't hooked up the speakers and started the RMC process yet. Stay tuned...
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                  • #10
                    Well, we’re set up and ready to go. We’ll check out the more common functions first (mute, EQ, and the like) and then get into the Room Mode Correction process. But let’s give a little background on what RMC is all about, and what we’re going to be testing.



                    First of all, this isn’t a new, untested process. I first saw RMC in use with JBL’s LSR6300 and LSR4300 speakers, which have the RMC correction electronics built-in, at a trade show. What’s novel about the MSC1 is that it can add RMC to any speaker system, not just those by JBL, which opens the process up to a much wider audience. In fact, I’m really tempted to try the RMC process initially with something other than JBL speakers, just to see what happens...



                    It’s important to emphasize that RMC is not a typical room-tuning system that results in one sweet spot, and that’s it. Instead, it’s designed specifically to address low-end issues caused by room resonances, which is a common problem with any room that hasn’t been acoustically treated, or minimally treated. Of course, if you can build real bass traps in your room to solve bass problems – be my guest! Proper acoustic treatment is always a good idea. But in many cases, it’s not possible or practical to this, which is why RMC came about.



                    Are low-end issues really a problem, or is JBL hyping the problem in order to sell the MSC1? As a mastering engineer, I can definitely speak to that. If I had to identify the #1 problem in the mixes I receive, it would be the use (actually, misuse!) of bus compressors and limiters, which pretty much tie my hands when it comes to adding artful dynamics control. But the #2 problem is bass response issues. When I first check out a cut to see what’s going on, it’s usually the bass end where the response problems are most pronounced. This is so common it’s one reason why I use the Har-Bal program for the initial bass end EQ correction – check out the following screen shot.











                    This is exactly what the MSC1 intends to address. Note the major dip at about 65Hz; this is something that I can guarantee was not intended in the song, but the result of a room resonance at that frequency, causing the engineer to cut the bass to compensate (the cut even looks like a classic parametric notch response). This happens to a lesser degree at about 40Hz. When I used EQ to remove these dips, the bass magically fell into place, giving a stronger, smoother sound. If the engineer had been working in an acoustically-treated room, I’m pretty sure those bass dips would not have been present.



                    So, what about correcting the midrange and highs? Realistically, if the mix is occurring in a room small enough where bass response anomalies and untreated spaces are a major issue, it’s extremely likely the mix is happening over near-field monitors, and the engineer is hearing those frequencies in a fairly direct manner. It’s also less likely that they’ll cause room resonances the way bass is prone to do. So, the RMC process doesn’t touch the mids or highs. However, there is EQ available to tailor the highs (like the controls found on many speakers to adjust level going to the tweeters) in case you’re using speakers with a “hyped” high end, or which are somewhat dull.



                    The biggest advantage to this approach is you don’t have the same “sweet spot” issues as systems using a gazillion bands of graphic EQ. The room’s bass resonance is going to encompass the room space, because the bass waveforms are so long. Higher frequencies have shorter wavelengths, creating far more complex response anomalies as they interact with walls, floors, and ceilings. So of course, this is one reason why near-field monitors are popular in smaller studios: Most of the midrange and highs are coming at you directly from the speaker, making the room reflections less of an issue.



                    All right, now that the theory’s behind us, it’s time to get practical.
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                    • #11
                      Hook up time! The MSC1 is designed to handle line levels; the inputs come from audio interfaces and other line level outs, not power amp outs. As a result the easiest connections involve powered speakers, although you could switch signals prior to going to power amps that then feed speakers. In any event, it's highly likely that the MSC1 target audience is useing powered monitors.



                      As shown previously in this thread, all the connections (except for the RMC calibrfation mic and a pair of RCA ins) are 1/4" balanced. The ADAM A7 speakers I use most of the time in my setup have XLR or RCA ins, and my studio is pretty much set up for XLRs. So although I have JBL speakers here for testing, I though that before installing them (and making a couple extra 1/4" stereo cables!) I'd give the A7 speakers a try. Remember, JBL emphasizes that the MSC1 is not something that's limited to use with their speakers, so it also seems like it's worth testing the MSC1 with various speaker systems. Obviously, being able to handle a wide range of speakers will help their sales



                      One thing I did learn is you don't want to interrupt the AC supply while speakers are connected, as this produces a pop in the speakers. Make sure your AC connections are solid before turning on power.



                      Note that while you can choose between A and B speaker sets, the B one is the "reference" out that is not affected by the DSP. All the EQ and Room Mode Correction options apply only to the A speakers.



                      Once the interface outs and speakers were hooked up, I connected up USB and opened the MSC1 software. After a few seconds, the software came to life. Oddly, a JBL representative was concerned that installation on Windows could be confusing to some people, but frankly, I think his "Windows thinking" may be s redsidue of the Bad Old Days of "plug and pray." Under Windows 7 (64-bit, even) installation was painless, everything worked as expected, and there were absolutely zero issues. I told JBL that if anyone had problems I'd try to help them out in this thread, but I'll be very surprised if anyone has problems getting the system up and running. Well, unless they're trying to install it on Windows 95. Or a Commodore-64
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                      • #12
                        While the idea of equalization may seem like a gimmick, this EQ is not about room-tuning in the sense of being, say, a multi-band parametric. Instead, you get a gentle high-frequency shelf and low-frequency shelf.







                        The EQ controls are set for a gentle "smile" curve.



                        The high-frequency shelf range is from 2.5kHz to 17kHz, with up to + or -3dB gain, adjustable in 0.25dB increments. So really, this is more like the high-frequency control you'll find on typical speakers that regulate tweeter level. The advantage to doing this electronically is suppose you have a dead room and tend to mix "bright," and that you also switch between a couple sets of monitor speakers as references. Instead of boosting the tweeter levels for a brighter sound, and trying to make sure that you match the highs on the two speaker sets, you can set the speaker controls flat and have the MSC1 provide the treble boost. Also note that you can save custom EQ settings if you have speakers with significant natural differences, and want to compensate for these differences as you switch from speaker to speaker.



                        At the low end, shelving frequency extends from 34Hz to 1.104kHz. Why 1.104kHz? I dunno! But that's what it is. As with the highs, the range is +/-3dB with 0.25dB resolution..



                        Although setting boost/cut is easy, I have a suggestion for any future MSC1 software updates: A shortcut to reset the boost/cut control to 0dB, like double-clicking on the control, doing ctrl-click, or whatever. It's not hard to hit the zero point, but hey, I'm always in favor of saving a second or two.



                        By the way - not sure I mentioned this, but the software is only partially bi-pdirectional. Changes you make to tyhe RMC, Sub, EQ, and Mute buttons on the software affect the hardware. But of course, the pots and mechanical switches aren't motorized, so you can't change, for example, volume on the software and have the MSC1 control follow. However, changes you make to the input select and volume control on the MSC1 are reflected in the software. No big deal one way or the other, but I mention it for completeness.
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                        • #13
                          And now, it's time to check out the RMC. I thought the following info from the manual might be helpful, as it explains the basic concepts.



                          What is JBL RMC™ Room Mode Correction?



                          A JBL first, the RMC Room Mode Correction system includes everything needed to analyze low frequency problems in your room and restore low frequency accuracy at your mix position.



                          RMC is included in JBL’s premium LSR6300 series and LSR4300 Series studio monitors. The MSC1 makes RMC affordable while extending RMC capabilities to any speaker system.



                          What Room-Related Problems does RMC Address?



                          There are two types of acoustic problems common in the small production environment, particularly those that have not been professionally designed. In the low bass region, your ROOM affects what you hear. Rooms resonate at low frequencies. This resonance is the result of standing waves or room modes. The presence of room modes can give a false impression of bass response at the mix position,and lead even an experienced mix engineer to make the wrong decisions while mixing audio.A room mode is caused by the room’s geometry.



                          In a typical project studio, the strongest room modes exist at 60 Hz and below. When your speakers play bass frequencies, say from a bass guitar, the room may resonate at the frequency of the room mode. The effect is a boomy sound that continues to ring even after the note has stopped playing.



                          This may be perceived to be a problem in the mix, when actually it is a problem in the room. Depending on where the speakers are placed and where you are sitting, it can be very dramatic. Without correction, you might choose to attenuate, limit or equalize bass signals that excite the problem. But the problem is not the mix. It is the way the mix sounds in this specific room. By changing your mix, it will sound bass-light everywhere else it is played.



                          Professional studios eliminate this problem by constructing bass traps in the control room. Since low frequency wave lengths are very long (50 Hz equates to a 22-foot wavelength) it takes a lot of space and mass to absorb the frequencies that excite these room modes. Most studios have neither the space nor budget to build real bass traps. Alternatively, putting absorptive material on the walls does not help these low frequency problems.



                          In addition to room modes, a speaker’s proximity to walls and your mixing work surface can cause reinforcement of upper bass frequencies, and other sonic coloration which may adversely affect mix balances.



                          JBL RMC Room Mode Correction in the MSC1 is an analyzer that measures the presence of these problems and applies corrective filters that can dramatically improve the bass performance. RMC can make a big difference in problematic rooms. Once your speaker system has been properly calibrated, you’ll experience superior clarity at the mix position; achieving balanced mixes comes with greater ease. Mixes produced in an RMC-tuned room sound right when played on other systems.



                          The MSC1 Control Center Software is required in order to take advantage of the MSC1 RMC feature. Using the software, it is possible to calibrate two speakers and, optionally, a subwoofer connected to the “A” SPEAKER OUTPUTS of the MSC1. In addition, the software permits manual adjustment of individual speaker and subwoofer levels, and subwoofer polarity, as well as application of delay to all speakers in order to compensate for differences in distance from the mix position. Once the system is calibrated, connection to a computer is no longer required.
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                          • #14
                            And now, the rubber meets the road as it were, while we check out the signature MSC1 feature - room mode correction (RMC).



                            First, the bad news: I spent many frustrating hours trying to get the program to work. I had problems like error codes (if anyone knows what “-3” means, let me know – and let JBL know too, because it was presented as an “unknown error” and nothing in the documentation mentions it). I followed the calibration procedure to the letter, but just couldn’t get any kind of reliable results.



                            But now, the good news: I finally did get it working. And the ever better news: the results definitely exceeded my expectations, which is saying a lot for someone who is skeptical of room correction in general.



                            Why the problems? Well, although the Windows software is listed as being compatible with 64-bit editions of Windows, I think my initial problem was trying to run it with 64-bit Windows 7 on a desktop. When that didn’t work, I tried 64-bit Vista from my laptop. That didn’t work either. As soon as I booted up my desktop into Windows XP SP3 (32-bit), everything worked. It also worked with a laptop running XP.



                            Another clue about 64 bits is that once I did get everything working, and the MSC1 stored its RMC settings, I tried again with 64-bit Windows 7 and Vista. The MSC1 is supposed to show a graph with its stored correction settings but in both cases, the graph didn’t appear. As soon as I plugged back into Windows XP, the graph appeared. So, regardless of whether JBL claims 64-bit compatibility or not, proceed at your own risk (unfortunately, I don’t have 32-bit versions of Windows 7 or Vista for testing, but if 64 bits is the problem, it’s likely that the MSC1 will work with those).



                            I have to say that JBL is nothing if not thorough in terms of hand-holding the user. When you initiate room mode correction, the first thing you see is text explaining that you need to calibrate your computer hardware and audio interface prior to doing the calibration. It also explains that once your system is calibrated, you don't have to recalibrate it again unless you make significant changes.



                            Next, you see a list of everything you need to do to begin calibration, as well as all components you need to have on hand. I'm getting the impression that whoever wrote the documentation was instructed that "We will be testing this on my 89-year-old grandmother who has just barely figured out how email works. If she can't calibrate her system, you're fired." For example, here's the screen where JBL tells you about connectors







                            The attention to detail extends to when JBL wants to make sure your sound card or interface doesn't have any effects, spatial enhancement, etc., it opens up the Windows control panel for you so you can find your interface's sound management application.



                            When you set up for calibration, your studio will look like a cable store. There are cables from the MSC1 to your speakers, a USB cable connecting the MSC1 to your computer, a cable running from the audio interface headphone jack to the MSC1, another cable from the calibration mic to the MSC1, and a feedthrough cable from the MSC1 to your audio interface.



                            Incidentally, after experiencing my first round of problems, I went to the discussion forums to see what I could dig up in case there was pilot error. What I found was a lot of people saying they couldn’t get it to work, with others saying be patient, once you get it working it’s great (I’m in the latter camp). Some people mentioned problems running external interfaces, but I had no such issues. I tested the MSC1 with both an external audio interface and the laptop's internal soundcard and the MSC1 had no problems identifying the interfaces or performing loopback tests on them. There is a newer version of software on the JBL web site than what comes with the unit, so I tend to think these problems others experienced that I didn’t might be due to using older software.
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                            • #15
                              After getting everything hooked up, a series of screens deal with setting levels and calibration. There’s some intelligence here; for example, when I came to the screen telling how to set all the controls on the MSC1, it detected that the Speaker Select switch was in the wrong position, and asked me to change it. The next steps involved setting up levels for a test tone, then doing a loopback test which (trala!) completed successfully.



                              I initially didn’t get good results, as the system claimed it couldn’t find any resonances in the room, which I knew couldn’t possibly be true – I didn’t need graphs to tell me what my ears could hear. After some experimentation, I found what I think are key elements to success with the MSC1.



                              The mic used for testing is very sensitive - even the noise from computer fans and such interfere with accurate readings. I’d recommend using a laptop (if you have one that meets the specs) to keep noise down. In my situation, my computer is on the floor, under a table, so I temporarily draped blankets over the table to muffle the noise. This was surprisingly effective.



                              The RMC process seems to like loud test tones - I think you need to “activate” the room response to get good results. Running through the JBL LSR2300 speakers (which are very nice speakers, by the way) gave me good, undistorted levels. Although the software recommends a level on their on-screen meter between -20 and -9dB, I’d go for as close to -9dB as possible. I also found that it was possible to raise the level coming out the speakers somewhat with the Input Trim control, and turn down the audio interface input sensitivity a bit further than recommended to compensate, to get good, strong levels.



                              The RMC process is 90% calibration and 10% testing. Once everything’s calibrated, you just click on start and sit back while your speakers emit a bunch of tones. As long as you don’t overload the interface and have good levels, the process seems pretty foolproof. I was using the Roland Octa-Capture as my interface, which has the helpful feature of flashing its channel lights in an extremely attention-getting manner if it’s overloaded. At one point when it distorted, turning down the level just a dB or two and re-running the test returned the RMC process to getting accurate results.



                              After running the first test, the RMC found the following resonances, and graphed the EQ compensation.







                              This was just a rough test, because I was mostly interested in finding out if I could get results with XP. The mic wasn’t placed properly, my chair was not in its normal position but off to one side, and I was standing in the middle of the room so I could see what was going on with the computer screen and RMC settings. After I got the process figured out, I did a more rigorous test, and here’s what the RMC found.







                              As expected, with the mic placed in the correct position for stereo and asymmetrical room-altering elements removed, the left and right channels had much more similar correction (blue is the right channel, green is the left, but check out the numerical charts to get a more precise idea of what’s happening). But what I didn’t expect was that even with all these changes, the frequencies of the resonances are very close in both cases, particularly the wicked room resonance at 126Hz, which is obviously the biggest problem. These graphs confirmed what I had been hearing with my ears in terms of room problems in my office.
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