A masterful alliance – HAA and THX
HAA founder Gerry Lemay was in Australia recently to run a THX-HAA masterclass in home acoustics. Gerry spoke to Adelle King about the course and how it’s redefined the audio space for integrators.
In 2014, the Home Acoustics Alliance (HAA) and THX began a formal partnership to offer training courses to teach professionals and enthusiasts how to design and install the ‘ultimate home theatre experience’.
The founder of HAA, Gerry Lemay was in Australia in April to run a masterclass in home acoustics as part of this training, providing in-depth technical explanations aimed at turning integrators into experts. Gerry has 30 years’ experience in consumer electronics technology and acoustics, and is a leading CEDIA consultant in audio design for the residential industry.
Gerry was integral to the formation of the THX-HAA partnership, which he says began as informal interactions between himself and THX’s original certification instructor, John Dahl.
“Our individual classes had a complementary relationship and we often recommended each other’s courses. Much of the philosophy regarding the goals and sonic requirements of the HAA were already based on the THX concept so there was no conflict,” says Gerry.
After John retired, THX contacted Gerry to carry on in John’s place and the partnership between the two organisations began.
THX’s focus on basic acoustic design theory was combined with HAA’s hands-on, technical study of the same material to create a new curriculum that made the courses stronger.
It was becoming increasingly obvious during this time that home theatre was more technically challenging than most integrators were trained for and a basic knowledge of audio system installation was not enough.
As technology, products and practices continue to advance there is a need for professional acoustic design and calibration for residential rooms. This is where the THX-HAA courses are vital, with curriculum constantly evolving to keep pace with the increasing complexities of the industry.
The most recent masterclass held at Synergy Audio’s Heidelberg office was designed for custom integrators and provided a framework and knowledge to practice acoustic design and calibration in the field. Participants learnt how to design and install home theatres, implement the latest technology, choose the right electronics and calibrate audio and video systems, as well as other important principles.
The course introduces the THX concept and how it transformed the commercial side of cinema before moving on to discussing how the same design principles employed in the high-end studio and cinema are used in the creation of a home theatre. The course also discusses the critical dependency between the desired seating locations and the placement of both main speakers and subwoofers, which Gerry warns is not as simple as it seems.
“The highly variable acoustics of a small room and the close proximity of the speakers make creating the proper solution difficult for a group of seats. A theatre designed without a review of how the soundfield is directed may leave many, if not most, seats with less than acceptable results,” he says.
According to Gerry, the most common misunderstanding among integrators when it comes to acoustics and acoustic design is the idea that designing systems around the placement of seats does not demand more in-depth analysis.
Historically there has been an emphasis on speaker design and amplification concepts rather than consideration of room design but there can be a tremendous difference in sound quality between a proper design and one that isn’t quite right.
“We’re not tweaking the system as an audiophile, we are systematically designing and tuning the system according to professional standards and the most practical procedures,” says Gerry.
In terms of audio playback, acoustics is the most important consideration for any system, which is why the THX-HAA course focuses on training students to diagnose, design and install acoustic solutions in home settings.
“Getting high performance is more than using expensive speakers and amps. It’s using science and professional techniques to efficiently create a truly high performance acoustic framework,” says Gerry.
As part of the masterclass students are given hands and ‘ears on’ training, participate in in-depth discussions on the acoustic theory behind the procedures learned and then employ their new knowledge to design and calibrate a high performance room.
Gerry says the class is firmly grounded in listening, with acoustic goals split into five categories of clarity, focus, envelopment, dynamics and response.
He says it’s important for professionals to observe all elements that can affect sound quality, which is why students have the opportunity to listen step-by-step to what incremental changes in the design or calibration of the system sounds like. It shows that every system can benefit from some level of calibration.
The THX-HAA calibration process includes scientific evaluation of a pre-calibrated system including measurements, thorough verification of the operating status of all components and a review of the layout of the system, including making any possible improvements.
Called the HAA TurboCal, this procedure requires an understanding of professional listening techniques and the correct use of audio analysis tools, such as Real Time Analyser (RTA) and Fast Fourier Transform (FFT).
“Calibration by itself is an incomplete process. Simply setting speaker levels, time delay and running an automated calibration system is not sufficient,” says Gerry.
The THX-HAA courses have been updated to include new discussion topics about immersive audio technologies, including Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and Auro-3D. These 3D audio formats are still seen as the driving force for the home theatre market.
“Immersive audio technology dramatically changed the training we provide. The basic elements are intact but now everything is discussed referencing these technologies and integration. Dolby Atmos isn’t a distinctive part of the training, it’s completely embedded in it,” says Gerry.
Consumers are finally experiencing the full capability of immersive systems in commercial theatres and as a result more clients are demanding the same level of quality acoustics from their own home theatre systems.
“These developments have highlighted the need for advanced training to get the most out of new technologies and generated a realisation that high performance is a science that requires more than a passing familiarisation with acoustics and measurement technology,” says Gerry.
Immersive audio technology presents integrators with the challenge of trying to make speakers, which have the potential to be localised, appear to play equally to all listeners.
THX-HAA training teaches the scientific acoustic manipulation required to broaden this sweet spot and as a result Gerry says it has redefined what it means to be an ‘audio’ integrator.
“Customers are spending more money on new high tech sound systems and are expecting a true pro. THX-HAA training has become the gateway for the best integrators to become the best audio integrators and acoustic specialists.”