When it comes to room correction, some folks want as automated a process as possible, and for them, an AVR's built-in Audyssey capabilities offers one of the simplest paths to achieving better sound. But for only a modest additional investment, MultEQ-X software ($199) opens up customization and configuration options that allow for extremely precise fine-tuning of the correction and saving multiple configurations for later use.
As a companion to the software, Audyssey released an upgraded microphone—the ACM1-X ($79.99)—with a custom calibration profile that allows for greater precision versus the generic microphone supplied by default with compatible AV receivers. According to the company, the stock microphone is already quite accurate. I asked what's the difference between an uncalibrated and calibrated microphone, and for frequency response, you basically gain that one last dB of accuracy. It's not a necessity, but the profile does tighten things up and Audyssey states that it allows "measurements to be corrected to a near-perfect match to those of a “type 1” reference microphone."
My interest in testing the MultEQ-X software is twofold. Of course, I want to get the best room correction profile for my personal listening. But, I also count on room correction when reviewing speakers, and in particular, it's convenient having access to the frequency response graphs generated by test tones. MultEQ-X software allows you to view graphs for all of the measurements in great granular detail.
It's important to know that the MultEQ-X software license is bound to a particular piece of gear. In other words, you are purchasing a specific feature upgrade to a specific AVR, not general-purpose software that you can use on any device. So if you own three AVRs, you need three copies of the software. But, you only need one microphone, it'll work with any copy of the software.
Mac users take note, this is a Windows application. You can get it through the Microsoft Store, and you can even download the software and use it in trial mode to get a feel for what it offers. And so that's what I did, using my primary PC.
Anyone reasonably familiar with PC software will feel right at home using MultEQ-X. Once installed and activated, as long as the AVR itself is connected to the same home network as the PC, the connection is automatic. My AVR-X8500h showed up as an available option right away.
As for the mic, you will need a tripod although it can be a very lightweight and compact tripod. I throw in a microphone shock mount for good measure, but you really want to make sure that the room is quiet and there's no outside vibrations (like a washing machine on spin cycle) that might mess with readings. There's not much more to it than that, the microphone plugs right into the AVR.
Over the course of this review, I had the opportunity to measure and room-correct several different speaker systems. And because I moved to a new loft right in the middle of writing the review, I also had a chance to see the software at work in two different rooms. We're talking rooms that are significantly different in size and shape and overall acoustics: The old apartment is a rectangular 17' x 26' x 11' space with hard floors, and the new space is a loft with an 800-square-foot open area; it is 20 feet wide, with wall-to-wall carpeting and 13-foot ceilings. Overall, the new space requires less correction.
As for speakers, I used the system with a pair of Bowers and Wilkins 805 D4 stand mount speakers, separately with a pair of GoldenEar Triton Seven towers, and finally a 5.1.2 Klipsch Reference Premiere II system (RP-8000F II towers for the L/R channels).
The Klipsch system came with the company’s SPL-150 15” subwoofer. When not running them full range, with the 805 D4s and Triton Sevens I use a dual-opposed 12” sub that’s a bit of a unicorn—it is a highly capable pre-production unit of a model that never made it into production. Both subs reach down to 20 Hz and below. For a few days, I even ran both subs concurrently, added the GoldenEars to the Klipsch speaker system as rear surrounds for a grand total of 7.2.4 speaker count, and let Audyssey sort things out.
I have used Audyssey XT32 for years, even the Pro version, and also also the room correction systems offered by other manufacturers—including the high-performance Dirac Live and Trinnov options. Of course, I have also encountered proprietary systems by Sony, Yamaha, and Pioneer. And while I long ago settled on using XT32 for my own system—because it is what comes on premium Denon AVRs—I used to long for the depth of the Dirac Live PC app. That is why it was not until the release of MultEQ-X that I felt Audyssey achieved parity with its competitors. It's not a question of the capabilities of the room correction system, it's a question of being able to access those capabilities and customize them.
Notably, the MultEQ-X PC software experience is far more granular, and much more adjustable than the Audyssey MultEQ Editor app developed by Sound United and is supported Denon and Marantz products. Notably, both these software solutions offer access to more features than simply running Audyssey directly on the AVR. But between the two, there is absolutely no question, MultEQ-X software is the most capable and sophisticated way to run Audyssey.
One of the cool things about MultEQ-X is how it lets you use up to 32 discrete measurements to create the room correction. Audyssey says taking that many measurements is unnecessary—with 16 or so being the most you need to get a highly customized correction—and I found this to be true.
After a dozen measurements, the aggregate response view really settles down, additional positions have little impact. I would note that above the transition frequency (aka Schroeder frequency) you can see the character of the speaker itself emerge, there is an uncanny similarity between the response curve captured by Audyssey and the published anechoic measurements of the same speakers.
Of course, there is also the impact of the room, and that is especially pronounced below the transition/Schroeder frequency, which is where bass starts to become really unruly. To get balanced sound out of a system, you need to get a handle on these peaks and dips, and that’s the area of the sound spectrum where room correction does some of its best work.
Whether you run speakers full range or have a sub in the mix, getting it all to sound perfectly balanced is a matter of fine-tuning the bass management and EQ capabilities of room correction. And the more control you have, along with the precision afforded by an accurate mic, the better a result you can expect to wring out of any speakers or subwoofer(s).
One tip offered by Audyssey is you can tailor the measurements to a particular configuration. For example, if you want a tight response right near one single sweet spot seat, you can keep the actual measurements clustered right around that area. If instead, you want to spread the wealth, you spread out the measurements.
The software let's you choose which measurements you use in the final correction, so if you want to you can perform both styles of measurement and switch between two different room corrections, depending on the effect you want. And pragmatically speaking there's almost no limitation to how many different configurations you can use, since you can store projects on your PC and upload them to the AVR at will.
The secret sauce of MultEQ-X is that "X" factor. You can basically do anything you want, in terms of customization of the EQ curve. You can even just use the measurements to set levels and distances, and create your own EQ curve, as you would with a dedicated, highly capable parametric EQ. You can pick the range over which correction is applied.
I found taking 13 measurements was sufficient to fully cover my listening area and provided a consistently good result. In both spaces (loft and apartment) it's the same 5-seat L-shaped sofa that I'm covering.
Now, I admit that I'd be hard-pressed to actually hear the difference the calibrated mic makes over the stock Audyssey mic—hardware-wise they are the same. That last 1 dB of accuracy gives me peace of mind, so maybe that's the cherry on top but what is an ice cream sundae without the cherry? Incomplete, that's what! Spare yourself the OCD and get the ACM1-X mic.
The cake itself is MultEQXT32 and the improvement in tonal balance, bass response, and overall clarity is why I always use room correction.
Here's the key point: MultEQ-X is the absolute best way to use Audyssey MultEQ32. Thanks to the clear layout of the software, taking a deep dive and getting hands-on with your system's sound is not even that complicated. But since it is sophisticated, it will get you where you want to go in terms of fine-tuning; it rewards the meticulous AV enthusiast intent on pursuing perfection.
I'm happy to say that I never had a measurement fail, which is something I can't say from my past experiences with Dirac Live.
The MultEQ-X GUI allows you to examine and contemplate the measurements as well as the effect of corrections. In the process, I can see how each speaker pair performs in my room, in other words, how much correction is needed to make its output linear.
I was surprised to see that the best behaving speakers in this roundup are my six-year-old, somewhat beat-up GoldenEar Triton Sevens. They are even more linear than the Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4! But spoiler alert, this is not a huge surprise because Bowers and Wilkins speakers consistently have the same eccentricities, which I can spot in anechoic measurements found in other reviews.
The Klipsch speakers, on the other hand, showed significant variations in response that needed some cleanup from Audyssey, but nothing outside the envelope of what's reasonable, and arguably room correction provides some value when it is also able to nudge a speaker into a more textbook-correct response with some judicially applied EQ. In other words, with the Bowers & Wilkins or GoldenEar speakers, the option exists to apply room correction only to the lower frequencies that are overtly affected by the room. But with the Klipsch system, there was a clear audible benefit to applying the correction to the entire frequency range.
It's in the realm of deep bass that MultEQ XT32 does wonders. Coaxing a powerful subwoofer into behaving well can be tricky, and not everybody can put a subwoofer in the most optimal location for sound, sometimes you have to force the subwoofer to work with the practical reality of a room's layout. This proved the case with the Klipsch SPL-150 sub, which is extremely capable but has no built-in DSP equalization, so it depends on room correction to tame its wildest tendencies. I was certainly happy to see from the measurements that it fulfills the promise of its 18 Hz bass extension specification!
You can analyze the correction curve to see exactly what Audyssey is going to fix things, and in my subwoofer setup (in the loft) the clear challenge is a dip around 50-60 Hz. The compensation curve is +6 dB at that point, which is concerning since that equates to 4X the power versus if the response was flat to begin with. But the good news is subwoofers tend to be extremely efficient at that frequency range, and therefore have the headroom to spare. What I liked seeing is there was no other boosting going on and actually due to room gain the compensation curve was about -3 dB at 20 Hz.
Key point: If you understand how to read frequency response graphs you can make informed decisions about your system based on the readings, and then fine-tune things before applying the correction. Listen to the result, and if you don't like it, save that version and try something else. The possibilities are nearly endless!
What I'd like to convey is not my subjective opinion that this or that sounds so much better than whatever. The point is that these are extremely powerful and accurate tools, made simple and reliable to use, so if the "cost of entry" seems high, well... it is not. MultEQ-X is some of the best money you can spend to get better sound.
If you have a supported AVR or pre/pro, nothing else will go further toward empowering you to achieve the best possible sound within your listening space. Editor's Choice, of course... after all, it's what I use!
As it happens, the day before I published this review Audyssey announced an update to MultEQ-X. The 1.1 update offers compatibility with REW (Room EQ Wizard) which will open up another whole new world of capability, especially for the knowledgeable hobbyist who knows their way around this free, extremely deep, and capable tool.
I look forward to trying out the new capabilities, I'm familiar with REW and have used it for many years. For current MultEQ-X owners, the 1.1 update will be automatically pushed to the software through the Microsoft Windows store.