..and this is really driving me nuts. I have a Denon receiver, NHT speakers and a Panasonic Blu-Ray. Music is pretty good, but intelligibility stinks. I thought that Blu-Ray would give better sound, (and it may in music), but I don't understand what in the world the dialog is telling me.
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Yes this is normal for high end audiophile type speakers. These sell because of boom booom tizz. Nearly all manufacturers do this so I am in no way trying to single out Von Schweikhart. It is very simply the same as voicing your speakers with a bass and treble boost - it sounds impressive in a shop floor demo.
My room is 14x18'. For home theater, the most important feature is voice clarity, 2nd is bass depth and clarity, and 3rd is dynamics.
Professional models of speakers like ATC or PMC or Meyer or Westlake are what you are looking for. These are used in countless studios for mastering 5.1 audio. Pros want a flatter more realistic response so the speakers tend to be voiced for better accuracy rather than being impressive boom boom tizz sounding. Pros also seek speakers that convey proper dynamics rather than the prototypical consumer designs that compress the mid range at movie SPL levels.
This is very strange. The best thing about my VR4 genII's is the midrange/highs and unbelievable wall to wall soundstage I get. The bass is almost pathetic and I have been forced to use subs to get the bass where I want it. I believe the issue may be the electronics/room/placement rather than blaming the speakers. I think you will be dissapointed if you think changing speakers will give you the magic you seek. Getting great sound is all about getting everything right, so blaming the last thing in the chain is why some endlessly change speakers hoping for the magic to materialize only to find their cash dissapear instead.
I am not familiar with either the PS3 or the Direct DVR. Do they have digital outputs? If so, are you using the digital or a set of analog outputs? If you are using digital outputs, are they configured to have the digital outputs in 2.0? Are you getting mostly music from your VR 4's when watching movies? If vocals are fine in stereo, I would expect them to also be fine when used for theater.
Like several other posters have suggested, I suspect there is a setup problem. You mentioned that you are running in phantom mode. That could be the problem. Do you have poor dialogue intelligibility in (unprocessed) stereo? Do you have it from all sources equally, or are some sources worse than others?
If the answer to these last two questions is yes, then the next place I would look is at the room. Bad room acoustics can easily lead to poor dialogue intelligibility.
"Phantom" mode is generally used when no center channel speaker is used.
Do you lack a center channel speaker?
If so, I'd say that's likely the problem or a very big part of it.
I've experimented with this setting on multiple processors and always felt they were a poor substitute for a proper center channel.
I have digital outputs from both my Sony PS3(Playstaion) and my Directv DVR. I am running 5.1 in phantom mode. I can't say that the clarity differs from one source to the other. I frequently notice that the vocals are buried in the "background" effects, but I attributed that to the mix. Also, live tv vocals (such as newscasts) are always clearer than movies.
I do not have a center channel speaker because it would be either to high or to low in front of my 72" RPTV.
For just voice clarity alone, Id choose the Magnepans. Spooky real. Easily the cleanest voices Ive ever heard. Just listen to a diana krall cd with them, incredible! For bass, get a sub. Nothing beats a good properly set up sub(better yet 2 or 4. Magnepans have better dynamics then some will have you believe. If you want loud, I would not go with the Magnepans. They can get loud(not very loud), but you have to drive them hard, and cross them over in my opinion.
Thank you all for your help- there is a very srong consensus- I was planning on getting a new pre/pro (probably the Integra 40.1 or 80.1). If Audyssey doesn't dramatically improve things, I'll have to negotiate with my wife over the room treatments and WAF. If still not satisfactory, I'll invest in a center channel speaker and amp.
Up front, my sugggestion will fly in the face of audiophile dogma - but it may solve your problem. Many speakers have what could be called 'loudness' built into the design - an emphasis on the highs and lows - you may have to search a bit to find speakers that do not. Instead, you could try filtering to deemphasize the highs and lows. A kind of "de-loudness" effect. How do you tell when you have it correct? Two possible approaches. (1) base your adjustments on vocals / voices with which you are familiar. (2) Tune your filtering by comparison to accurate reference headphones - eg. Sennheiser 600's. The headphones and an inexpensive headphone amp will be a minimal investment when compared to new speakers. Behringer makes inexpensive filters and some manufacturers still include either high and low filters, or more elaborate schemes, in their preamps.
I second Musicnoise. Unless you have a problem with your setup then you are experiencing the prototypical midrange scoop - the VR4, like many audiophile speakers, is crossed over at 3.5 KHz - this is similar to most B&W's (for example). The large midrange will start beaming at around 1 KHz - so you tend to get a "scoop" or hole in the off axis response from 1 to 3.5 Khz...this is detrimental to voice intelligibility. This is well known in physics of speaker design but manufacturers prefer to build a speaker with boosted bass, recessed mids and boosted highs - it is cheaper to make and it sells....boom boom tizz sounds really good with music and will sell over a flat response in a shop floor A/B comparison (with untrained listeners)
Figure 1 is your problem and you need a speaker like Figure 2.
"Midrange beaming can be reduced by lowering the crossover frequency. The high-frequency drivers lower range will then provide wider dispersion and the bass/midrange drivers output can be rolled off before its dispersion narrows."