The BEST ways to add Dirac Live to your HiFi System
Houston we have a problem
I want to start by asking you a question, what part of your HiFi system was not designed for audio playback, please think about it?
That is not a trick question because of course your speakers are, your amplifier is, your DAC and turntable of course are but unless your really lucky, 0.00000001% lucky your listening room was not designed for audio playback, so if your listening room was not designed for audio playback that’s surely a problem for achieving great audio quality right, it has to be – please hold that thought.
From my experience most audiophiles share their listening rooms with other members of their family and its a room used for other things too like watching tv and maybe eating dinner and of course that effects what system the audiophile can have and how they can set that system up. But even if your really lucky and have a dedicated room for your HiFi and I class myself as really lucky as I do, that room is most probably not designed for audio playback and is still a problem. My room was definitely not designed for audio and it’s a huge problem for me, your room might not be as bad as mine but you only have to walk around a HiFi show if they ever happen again to know the room, all different ones are a problem for sound quality.
Is it really room correction
Room acoustical problems are very well understood and that is why in 2022 we have various products available to us like room acoustical treatments, I own loads of them that are designed to try and better the situation. We also have electronic based solutions like Dirac Live which I have been using for several years now with great success. I want to confirm I have no affiliation with Dirac, I do offer a Dirac calibration service to help audiophiles get the best from it and their systems. I think its really important to stress the reason I use Dirac is because it works, it does much more right than it does wrong when you use it correctly and that is regardless of the audio source. By that I mean it doesn’t matter if its HiFi two channel music listening or home cinema movies or a radio station advert if your listening to audio in a room that’s not designed for audio playback it’s a problem for audio quality regardless of what that audio is, the same room acoustical problems are always present.
Dirac Live comes under the room correction banner but I hate that term for electronic solutions because it’s a little disingenuous. Proper room correction would be building a new one from scratch, next would be trying to improve the rooms acoustics with physical treatment. I actually think a better category title for Dirac or other DSP solutions would be “Sound Management” but as they are working in the realm of room acoustics I suppose that qualifies them for the title of room correction.
What Dirac can do for you and your system
When using Dirac you take a series of room acoustical measurements, it then it plots a normalised average of how your speakers and or subwoofers are behaving in your room for both frequency and impulse response. This is really important because frequency response is not everything for sound quality but its extremely influential to what we hear for tonal balance, overall musical translation, high frequency detail and energy, sound stage, bass power presence and depth, and probably most importantly is the impact on the overall systems sonic balance.
Whats very important to know is the frequency response you hear from a pair of speakers is not 100% the speakers it’s the combination of the speaker and the room interaction, that means it’s the sound that comes out of the speakers mixed with the reflected sound or echo of the speakers sound that reflects off all your walls ceiling and floor that we are listening to and the reflections effect the sound significantly. This you see more from looking at the impulse response because you can see reflections that are happening in your room at set delayed times and this can be converted into distance to identify where those reflections are but that does get pretty technical.
Why I think Dirac is useful as a tool, that is the magic word here tool, its useful because you can actually see how your speakers are behaving in your listening room and you can see things in the measurements you cannot hear. More important is Dirac puts you the audiophile in total control of the sound you will hear from your speakers and system from a frequency response point of view. Going back to what I just said about frequency response being extremely influential for tonal balance, translation, detail, sound stage, bass, treble etc having total control over that is a powerful tool for the audiophile to optimise their systems sound.
But you cant change the systems sound, you cant make a solid state amp sound like a tube one for example but you can tailor the systems sound to be more how you want it, you could manage the top end so it’s a little less bright or less edgy or maybe a little more bright, you can saturate your vocals for a little more vocal fullness and you can tighten up your bass immensely and control how much kick you get greatly reducing how obvious bass peaks and nulls are. Or you can set the frequency response to be very much how your speakers left the factory if you have that information, you can do this and a lot more when you know what you are doing.
That is what you can do, but you cant get blood from a stone, if the system cant do it Dirac cant make the system do something it cannot do in the main, it is possible at times to “push” things around a little with experience. Dirac does as I have mentioned several times on purpose put you the audiophile in total control of the sound that your system can create and that is a huge advantage because without this level of control you will only ever hear what your listening room speaker interaction allows and as we already know the room is not designed for audio and therefore wont ideal or good enough. Without a fine level of control what does the audiophile do to tailor their systems sound, maybe they move their speakers around in the room if they are lucky enough to be able to move them, a lot of audiophiles cant move them much. However even moving your speakers around a room if you measure their in room performance you will see some bits get better and other bits get worse because that is room acoustics, especially when the room is not designed for audio playback. All the audiophile can do is pick the best compromise and live with it, live with the poorer bits but with Dirac you have much more control and can minimise the poorer bits much more effectively without losing the better bits, you can often greatly improve the better bits too. You can also place your speakers more freely within your room because you don’t have to worry quite so much about some of the usual negative effects because again you have control, but remember Dirac is a tool not a magic wand it has limits and you can’t get blood from a stone.
I could go on and list all the other benefits Dirac offers for a HiFi system and I could easily discount all the negative things that are said about using DSP and especially Dirac for HiFi because for every negative there is a much bigger positive. There is no free lunch in audio, if you put something in the audio chain you are going to hear it, but you will hear Dirac much less if you use it correctly than the negative effects the listening room is having on your HiFi system, much much less.
Three Best Ways to add Dirac to your HiFi
By now your obviously sold on the idea and want to add Dirac to your HiFi system, but how can you do it, before we go through that I think I should explain that Dirac works a little bit like Roon. There needs to be a Dirac digital brain or core or whatever you want to call it somewhere in your HiFi system and that needs to be active all the time you want to use it. Then to control that brain you download Dirac Live for free and you can use the software on any Mac or PC and even from your phone I think. The software uploads your calibration file to the Dirac brain / core and then it just works. That sounds complex but its pretty straight forward and easy but it poses the question how do I get the Dirac brain / core into my Hifi system.
The first and easiest way to do it is to buy a HiFi component that features Dirac maybe Arcams SA30 or NAD M10 or M33, some of their other products feature Dirac too. This is a great way to go because its really easy and featuring Dirac might be why you would chose these products over their competitors, I know I would but while its great being this easy it’s also very limiting because maybe you don’t want to be forced to use just these bits of HiFi kit which is totally understandable.
The second way to integrate a Dirac brain into your HiFi is with software, you can buy download and install Dirac Studio which will run as a stand alone software and use that computer as the brain for Dirac and you can run Dirac Studio on both Mac and PC. This is how I use Dirac in my HiFi system, I have built my own dedicated computer music server and I run Dirac as software and I think this is a great place for it because its in the source. Its also a very cost-effective way to integrate Dirac but again its very limiting because it means you need to be using that computer as your music source, which will be fine for some audiophiles but not many.
The third, most flexible and probably the way most audiophiles will best be able to integrate Dirac into their HiFi system is with a miniDSP unit such as the DDRC22D or the SHD or SHD Studio. These are stand alone units that allow connections for digital in and then Dirac corrected digital out perfect for sitting nicely in between a CD players or streamer and your DAC. The larger and more expensive miniDSP SHD offers both digital and analogue inputs to a Dirac corrected digital output.
You might think why would I want analogue inputs, well if you have a turntable you might want to put that source through your Dirac calibration too for all the reasons spoken about in this article, it doesn’t matter what the music source is room problems are there for everything, also once you have a Dirac calibration really dialled in you will miss it when its gone. My recommendation for digital only audiophiles is to get the SHD Studio, its smaller and cheaper and you can power it externally from a linear power supply. My recommendation to audiophiles who also use turntables is to buy the SHD, yes its more expensive but I think it makes sense to cover your bases just in case you want to use Dirac for your turntable as well. You can easily turn the calibration on and off so its nice to have the option to turn it on.
Both miniDSP SHD units offer lots more features too like their own streaming and preamplification, other bass management which you might find useful. Personally I wish they didn’t do all this, I wish a product existed that was a simple but extremely high quality USB in Dirac corrected USB out and that is all it did, but for now that solution doesn’t exist so the best option audiophiles have are from miniDSP. I have setup quite a few customers systems with miniDSP units and got some great results, they are well made and sound very good but I think a stand alone, purely designed for maximum audio quality unit could be better.
I want to close out the article with hopefully a message that will stick with you, Dirac is a tool just like a hammer and chisel. I can use a hammer and chisel, I think pretty much anyone can use a hammer and a chisel and probably knock up a box, but put those tools in the hands of a master craftsman and they could likely create a masterpiece. All tools are like this, they take time and experience to master. Dirac is a tool, it puts the audiophile in control of the sound of their HiFi system so if you use it and don’t like the results, it can only be the way the tool has been used that you don’t like, not the tool itself.
That is what stands out about Dirac to me, that is why I use it, its not like the other room correction systems where you take a few measurements press a button and hope you like the result. Dirac puts you in control so you do have to know what you are doing to get the best results, so take your time, do some research and try and learn about sound in rooms. Don’t waste your time trying to learn about Dirac, learn about how sound works in rooms. Don’t rely on information from forums and especially target curves from anyone else or that you can download they wont work.
Think about it logically every HiFi system is different and its setup different, in a different room for a different audiophiles taste, that means every Dirac calibration requires an individual approach to really dial that systems sound in for its owner, that makes total sense and that is why Dirac is special because it allows you to do this.