Yesterday we talked about how live streaming has become and looks set to continue to be a massively important component in our enjoyment of live entertainment.
I always tend to think "mission statements" are a bit naff, but if I were pushed to write one for Expressive Audio, it would definitely be focussed around bringing people as close as possible to the experience of live enternatinment, through expertise and technology.
This has never felt more relevant and pressing than this year, so here are some thoughts on how to transform your experience at home.
Get a good screen
Live streams are a fundamentally visual thing, so if you're watching them on your laptop or phone, do yourself a favour, and move it to the TV. With OLED technology coming down in price, you can get really decent displays at quite affordable prices. We can advise you on models, budget and technology. You can even buy a TV from us, but we'd generally advise you to go to one of the huge retailers whose economies of scale allow you get get the best prices and warranties. Drop us a note if you'd like a steer - we're always happy to help. Just buy your cables from us :)
For the most immersive experience, consider a projector and screen. This is our area of expertise - we can help you choose the right size and specification of both. At the click of a button we can dim the lights, have a screen drop down automatically, and the room spring to life as your favourite artists appear, larger than life in front of you. We're fitting out our demo facilities in the new year, so keep in touch via our newsletter, and maybe arrange to come in and experience it yourself.
Ditch the default sound - consider a sound bar
This might seem obvious, but many of us have become so used to the tinny sound we get from our phones, laptops, or TVs that it's not until we've heard a good system that we realise quite how much we have been missing. The never-ending trend for bigger and flatter screens doesn't help - it's simply not physically possible to get a good sound out of a speaker with a few milimetres of travel.
Matters are made worse by the seemingly impressive devices from Google and Apple that accentuate bass and treble at the expense of balance and musicality. Compared to a phone, they sound immediately more dynamic, but can actually quite quickly get tiring to listen to, and lack subtlety and refinement.
The simplest and most cost-effective improvement is to get a good quality sound bar. These can radially improve the sound on your TV, and can make a big difference to the level of engagement you feel. We'll be making some exciting products available in the new year which tick the peformance and value boxes very compellingly! Speak to us if you want advice.
Consider a dedicated stereo setup
A sound bar is the best and most cost-effective way to make massive difference to your listening experience, but if you have the budget to go to the next level, you can go for a dedicated music and movies system.
If you're primarily a music lover, and not so wild about movies, actually one of the simplest things you can do is put your TV and whatever other sources you have through a stereo system. This is what I do personally - I take a digital out from my Panasonic TV and Apple TV, into a Primare amplifier, with on-board DAC into some high quality floor standing speakers.
I love stereo, but there are limits - many streams and certainly most movies, aren't really mixed or optimised for two channel play back, and in a few cases the digital output can't be decoded by a tradtional stereo DAC, calling for a workaround. For example the excelllent Elton John biopic doesn't have a two channel down mix, so I had to take a feed from the headphone output into an analogue input on my amp. This isn't ideal in a couple of ways. It's obviously a bit of a sonic compromise, as you end up using the primitive, budget-basement DAC in the TV, but it also isn't equally effective on all TVs, as many models do not have the ability to control the headphone out independently from the built in speakers. If you're using a high quality stereo amplifer and loudspeakers, you obviously don't want to hear the TV speakers too, but if you mute or turn down the sound and that also controls the volume out of the headphone socket, you're not going to be able to hear anything! Again, if you want to go down this route, make sure you get a TV that doesn't have this problem - we can advise you if need be.
Enter the world of home cinema
For a not a lot more than the cost of a pair Glastonbury tickets plus a tank or so of petrol, you can get yourself an entry level AV amp from one of the mainstream Japanese brands. Yamaha have always been great, but their supply chains have been badly effected this year. Marantz are great and these days come out of the same factory as Denon, who are our personal pick at this place in the market. While it stands to reason that these can never match the sound quality of an equivalently priced two channel system, you can still get a great result.
At the simplest possible level these systems add "surround" or "rear" speakers to the usual pair of stereo speakers, and then a centre speaker, and a subwoofer for low frequency sounds. This is your standard "5.1" system, and it's great. We offer 5.1 "packages" which matching speakers and subwoofer, for a consistent look and sound.
Beyond this, the world is your oyster. There are many configurations and standards, but in essence we're adding more channels for a more realistic soundscape and immersive experience. We'll put together a guide to the various standards and options for how to achieve them in a later article.
Personally, as someone who still firmly believes in stereo as the one true format, I'd probably still steer you towards running your movies, tv, and everything thorough a top quality two channel amplifier, and adding a subwoofer, but you shouldn't pay any attention to me - I'm just the maverick founder. You should pay much more attention to John, who is altogether more grounded, experienced, and realistic!
What about headphones?
I couldn't finish this article without a reference to our product of the month - the remarkable JVC Exofield XP-EXT1 immersive headphones, reviewed by John last week. This might just be your ticket to audio-visual nirvana - no need for extra speakers, or cables, you could even stick with your laptop or computer screen, and decode Dolby Atmos or DTS:X bitstreams, or upscale stereo or multichannel music content from online sources.
They're been our best-selling headphones in the last two months, and with good reason - they're incredible.
I do hope this pair of articles has been interesting or even inspiring to you. As someone for whom the live entertainment industry is personally of massive importance, I have significant investment in this world recovering. I want you to buy tickets, I want you to get to live events, but I'm realistic... in these interim moments, embrace the humanity we see around us. In a sense this weird time is gift to us all. We see that fundamentaly people need people, and people care about people... even at the star level. Underneath it all, we're all basically just humans with a need seeking other humans to help meet those needs, and music, and connecting with artists, composers, and performers is a vital part of that experience.