Before selecting anything like your BluRay player or speakers, take time to make sure you have the best audio processor for your needs.

It's easy to underestimate the importance of this step until you think about what the audio processor actually does. It takes the sound inputs from a wide range of devices and ensures that the output from the speakers is exactly what the creators of the film or music originally intended.

That means taking a range of digital and analog inputs converting them into a digital format that allows for sophisticated and accurate manipulation before being converted back for play through a range of analog and digital output devices. All without the loss of data or sound quality.

It's the processor that lets you take advantage of the latest advances in surround sound to provide the most stunning, realistic and immersive listening experiences. It should support common speaker configurations such as 5.1, 7.1 and beyond.

More than this, the audio processor is responsible for delivering the optimum experience regardless of the listening environment. It has to understand the contours of your room and be able to compensate for the interference and feedback that can be caused by elements within it.

The audio processor you choose has to be extremely responsive and intelligent. It also needs to be future-ready and able to accommodate exciting new areas such as 3D audio.

 

There are a range of capabilities that every audio processor should have.

Inputs and outputs

The audio processor must be able to handle both digital and analog inputs and outputs. Each input or output will require a separate channel in the processor. Within the modern environment with a wide and growing range of devices to be supported, eight channels in and out is a bare minimum but 16 channels is more likely to be needed. However, advances in surround sound and moves towards 3D sound means 24 channels and above – especially for output – are really necessary if you wish a degree of future-proofing. You may consider whether the audio processor has expansion slots for future growth.

Equalization

You need total control of every part of the sound. This starts with advanced equalization features. The audio processor should offer both third octave and parametric equalization to give both fixed and adjustable approaches to altering the sound frequencies within each channel. The fixed approach of third octave is the simpler to use but parametric equalization gives more flexibility and control.  Look for low, high and bandpass filters to provide even more granular control of the sound by specifically addressing the high and low ends of the sound spectrum.

Room optimization

The concept of room optimization is disarmingly simple. Overcome the uncertainty caused by the type of room or speakers used by using the audio processor to compensate for the problems encountered. In reality, room optimization is hugely complex. It requires very careful measurement to allow the processor to form a map of the listening environment and then a great deal of intelligence to control how the sound is output to create the largest possible listening 'sweet spot' within the room.

Bass management 

With home cinema, bass management is especially important. You want the bass to pack as much 'punch' as possible but the reverberation from a previous bass note can continue into the next sound event. The audio processor must be able to control the bass to minimize the potential for this distortion.

System management

With so many sophisticated features within today's audio processor, wireless communications to the processor is a must. This is more than just a remote control. It is beings able to control and manage the system from an iPod, iPad or smartphone. Once the system is properly configured, the ability to save the complete configuration, baseline room tunes and equalization profiles on a memory stick means that the whole system can be quickly re-configured should it need be or a new room can be quickly configured if it is similar to the original.

 

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