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Old 03-07-2008, 01:59 PM   #1
JamesN JamesN is offline
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Default Yamaha Presence Speakers Explained

There have been a lot of questions floating around the board regarding Yamaha receivers and what “Presence speakers” are used for. There have been some high-level explanations provided by various members, but I thought I would take a stab at a more detailed explanation. I hope it proves helpful.

Overview
Presence speakers are part of an overall technology that Yamaha calls Digital Signal Processing (DSP). DSP is an attempt to recreate the sonic characteristics of external environments and apply them to music and film soundtracks in one’s home. To understand how this works, we first need to think about sounds and how we perceive them in real-world environments.

When we listen to live music, we are not just hearing the actual instruments being played. We are also hearing the environment in which they are being played. If we could listen to a violin in a controlled anechoic chamber, it would sound dull and flat. We might be hard pressed to even recognize it as a violin. That is because when we listen to a violin played in a concert hall, we hear not only the original sounds emanating from the instrument, but the countless reflections, echoes, and reverberations of that sound as it interacts with the physical environment, arriving at our ears at different times and from different directions. The combination of original and ambient sounds determines the overall character of what that particular instrument sounds like in that particular environment.

The architects who designed the great music venues in the world understood acoustics and the interaction of sound and environment. The great concert halls were “tuned”, much as fine musical instruments are tuned by their creators, to enrich the original sounds of musical instruments with the characteristics of the environment. Every real-world venue has its own sonic characteristics, its own sonic “footprint”.

DSP Technology
Yamaha DSP technology seeks to recreate these sonic footprints of real-world venues in the home environment. To accomplish this, Yamaha travels to famous venues and electronically measures the specific ambient characteristics of each environment. They start by placing multiple microphones at strategic locations within the environment and recording known test sounds emanating from the sound stage. Each microphone receives a mixture of original sound and ambient sound. Because the original test sounds are known constants, they can be effectively “subtracted” from the composite sound, leaving only the “blueprint” of the ambient sounds. (A gross oversimplification, but this is the basic idea.) Once the “blueprint” is created, it can be applied to any sound source to recreate the ambient characteristics of that sound in that particular environment.

In Practice
So how can DSP technology be applied to the home environment? Unfortunately, we can’t just create the ambient sounds and mix them in with the original sounds. The results would sound muddy and artificial. In a real-world venue, ambient sounds arrive at our ears from every direction. To recreate this at home, the ambient sounds need to originate from locations physically distinct from the original sound source (the main speakers). For ambience originating from behind the listener, the surround channels can be employed. However, for ambience originating from in front of the listener, we need an extra pair of speakers. Hence the need for front presence speakers.

The front presence speakers should be located higher above and to the outside of the main front speakers. Because they reproduce only ambient sounds, they do not need to be as large as, or of the same quality as, the main speakers. Small bookshelf or satellite speakers are perfectly adequate.

It should be noted that Yamaha’s flagship receiver, the RX-Z11 also provides for a set of rear presence speakers. More on this later.

Musical Applications
Yamaha calls the sonic blueprints of environments “sound fields”, and several different sound fields are provided to match different types of music. Different receiver models feature different sound fields. You should experiment with different styles of music and different sound fields. There are concert hall fields for classical music, jazz club fields for jazz and acoustic music, cathedral fields for organ and choir music, and larger venue fields for electric music. All are modeled after real-world venues. But don’t feel limited by the names Yamaha has given the sound fields. Try a jazz ensemble in one of the concert halls. Let your ears be your guide.

The overall effect should be subtle and realistic. If you are “hearing” the ambience, it is probably too loud in relation to the original sound. You should only notice the effect if you turn it off. The goal is realism. You should be able to close your eyes and believe you are somewhere else, listening in a real venue.

All of the sound fields have configurable parameters and you should feel free to experiment with them if you don’t like the factory settings (you can always restore the factory defaults). You can make a sound field larger or smaller, more or less reverberant. But always remember: less is more and the goal is realism.

Surround Sound
Yamaha originally developed DSP technology to enhance musical recordings, but it can also be applied to movie soundtracks and surround-sound recordings. A movie theater is just another real-world venue and has its own sonic blueprint, just like a concert hall, and Yamaha provides several movie theater sounds fields from which to choose.

Unfortunately, when we move beyond stereo musical recordings, things get a little more complicated. For multi-channel movie soundtracks with up to 5.1 channels, sound fields can still be applied. However, since movie soundtracks employ the surround channels for discrete sounds, the generated rear ambience must be mixed in with the original surround material and the result can sometimes sound muddy.

The front surrounds provide an added bonus that Yamaha calls “dialog lift”. Some of the center channel information is mixed in with the front surrounds, resulting in raising the perceived height of the center channel. For those with large screens, specifically front projection setups, this can make it appear as if dialog is originating from the screen itself instead of below it. The relative “height” of the lift can be adjusted by the user and the setting can be saved uniquely for each sound field.

When we move to 6.1 and 7.1 soundtracks and add rear surround channels, things get even messier. For all but Yamaha’s flagship receivers, the rear surround channels and the front presence channels share the same internal amplifiers. This means that the rear surrounds and the front presence channels are mutually exclusive—they can’t play simultaneously. The receiver decides which pair to enable and which pair to disable based on the source material. For 5.1 and fewer channel sources, the front presence channels are enabled and the rear surrounds are disabled. For 6.1 and 7.1 channel sources, the front channels are disabled and the rear surrounds are enabled. This means that for 6.1 and 7.1 soundtracks, the front ambience gets mixed in with the main speakers and the results can sound muddy. You also lose the dialog lift effect.

Many users don’t like to apply sound fields to movie sources because of the above mentioned limitations, and I can understand that. Personally I stick with the “Standard Movie” sound field for 5.1 sources and disable DSP entirely for 6.1 and 7.1 material. The one movie sound field I really do like is “Mono Movie” for older monophonic films. However, the factory settings are way too echoic for my tastes and I have dialed down all of the effect parameters to make it more subtle.

[Note: For Yamaha’s flagship receivers the above limitations don’t exist. The current top-of-the-line RX-Z11 has 11.2 channels with discrete amplification for each (7 discrete channels, front and rear stereo presence channels, and stereo subwoofer channels!) If you can afford one of these, you can afford a custom installer and you don’t need my opinion.]

Closing Thoughts
Yamaha’s DSP technology can provide a very realistic “you-are-there” experience for both musical and movie material. IMHO, it is much more effective for music sources than for film. Remember that all of the sound field parameters are fully configurable, so if you don’t like the factory defaults you can tailor them to your own taste. You can also disable DSP entirely and listen to the unadulterated source material. The ultimate goal is realism: to recreate the experience of listening to music and films in real-world environments and venues. Experiment and enjoy.

Last edited by JamesN; 03-07-2008 at 02:26 PM.
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Old 03-07-2008, 07:23 PM   #2
andersonbc andersonbc is offline
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Excellent explanation ... this is exactly what I was looking for. Thanks!
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Old 03-08-2008, 02:49 PM   #3
Tall Dog Tall Dog is offline
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JamesN, again, just wanted to say thanks for all the help. I have learned alot from you and this forum. For anyone interested, here is my "Presence" speakers setup. Just installed it yesterday, but I really have not had a chance to test it out yet.

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Old 03-24-2008, 07:56 PM   #4
BFRedrocks BFRedrocks is offline
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Excellent summary, but it leads me to a question...

I have the V3800 and I don't use Presence Speakers, so should I leave the setting for Presence Speakers "on" (through the GUI), or turn them "off" (set to "none")? The reason I ask is because there are sound field settings (specifically Cinema DSP 3D) that are not available with Presence Speakers set to "none".

Thanks!
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Old 03-24-2008, 08:07 PM   #5
CptGreedle CptGreedle is offline
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I have been wondering about those... set them up and noticed they don't do anything. I've been meaning to looking up what they do. Thanks for the info!!

Now i need to figure out the details and make sure I find a good setting.
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Old 03-24-2008, 10:20 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CptGreedle View Post
I have been wondering about those... set them up and noticed they don't do anything. I've been meaning to looking up what they do. Thanks for the info!!

Now i need to figure out the details and make sure I find a good setting.
You need to enable Dialog Lift, which reroutes some of the center channel signal to the Presence Speakers. Works a charm.
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Old 03-24-2008, 10:58 PM   #7
Sir Terrence Sir Terrence is offline
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DSP environments, steering signal from the center to the presence speakers.......uggggg

Can you guys think of anything else to destroy the signal with?
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Old 04-02-2008, 01:46 PM   #8
JamesN JamesN is offline
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Originally Posted by Sir Terrence View Post
...Can you guys think of anything else to destroy the signal with?
With the utmost respect for your professional experience and your stature as an Audio Insider, I beg to differ.

You are obviously not a fan of Yamaha’s sound field technology, and by “destroy the signal” I assume you mean that the addition of ambience in the home environment (as opposed to in the recording environment) corrupts the intentions of the original sound designer. While I would have to agree that an artist’s vision should never be unnecessarily compromised by an end user, there are nonetheless technological opportunities available to the end user whose intent is to restore or recreate an artists’ original vision for appreciation in the home environment. Equalization is a prime example. EQ clearly alters the signal, but isn’t the intent to eliminate sonic anomalies introduced by the listening environment and return the perceived state of the signal to something closer to the original? Doesn’t one’s very choice of amplification equipment and speakers alter the signal?

While it is certainly true that Yamaha’s sound field technology alters the final sound as perceived by the end listener (by adding digitally-derived ambience), I would argue that if properly applied with moderation and with consideration for the style of music being enhanced, the alteration can in fact provide an end result closer to the artist’s original vision. Symphony orchestras are not intended to be heard in a living room environment. 2-channel recordings of symphonies are an approximation of the artist’s original vision. Yamaha’s classical hall sound fields can produce a very believable recreation of listening to a symphony in a real concert hall.

As I have stated before, I personally believe that Yamaha’s sound field technology works best with 2-channel music sources that were intended to be heard in a live environment to begin with (classical, jazz, organ, choir, etc.) IMHO, the technology enhances these types of recordings by reproducing an approximation of the environment in which they were intended to be heard. I would agree that the technology is much less effective with multi-channel recordings that already make use of the additional channels for ambient and other effects.

Last edited by JamesN; 04-02-2008 at 01:51 PM. Reason: Typos
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Old 04-03-2008, 11:09 PM   #9
JamesN JamesN is offline
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Originally Posted by BFRedrocks View Post
Excellent summary, but it leads me to a question...

I have the V3800 and I don't use Presence Speakers, so should I leave the setting for Presence Speakers "on" (through the GUI), or turn them "off" (set to "none")? The reason I ask is because there are sound field settings (specifically Cinema DSP 3D) that are not available with Presence Speakers set to "none".

Thanks!
To address your specific question: if you do not have front presence speakers hooked up, you should set the GUI menu setting to "None". That way, for any DSP sound fields, the front ambiance will then be mixed in with the R & L main speakers. Otherwise, if you set the menu setting to "On" but don't have any presence speakers connected, the ambient sounds will be dropped. Yamaha's current manuals don't make this clear. Their literature used to be much more informative in earlier models.

That being said, employing DSP sound fields without front presence speakers will yield sub-optimal results. The realism of the effect relies on the ambient sounds originating from physically separate speakers. Without separate presence speakers, the resulting sound is muddy and less believable.

Furthermore, I would encourage anyone who has auditioned Yamaha's DSP sound fields without the benefit of the full configuration (front presence speakers), and who has rejected the technology, not to be too quick to judgment. If you haven't auditioned the full-blown configuration, you haven't experienced the full potential.
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Old 04-03-2008, 11:52 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JamesN View Post
...
While I would have to agree that an artist’s vision should never be unnecessarily compromised by an end user, there are nonetheless technological opportunities available to the end user whose intent is to restore or recreate an artists’ original vision for appreciation in the home environment. Equalization is a prime example. EQ clearly alters the signal, but isn’t the intent to eliminate sonic anomalies introduced by the listening environment and return the perceived state of the signal to something closer to the original? Doesn’t one’s very choice of amplification equipment and speakers alter the signal?

While it is certainly true that Yamaha’s sound field technology alters the final sound as perceived by the end listener (by adding digitally-derived ambience), I would argue that if properly applied with moderation and with consideration for the style of music being enhanced, the alteration can in fact provide an end result closer to the artist’s original vision. Symphony orchestras are not intended to be heard in a living room environment. 2-channel recordings of symphonies are an approximation of the artist’s original vision. Yamaha’s classical hall sound fields can produce a very believable recreation of listening to a symphony in a real concert hall.
...
All this is a nice infomercial for Yamaha. However:

1. EQ is not in fact used in the way suggested. It can't be, since the 'original' is normally wholly absent. It's not as though the end user first hears (or has heard in the past) a sample of the original and then tries to reconstruct it in his/her living room. Most of the time the user has no notion of the original; s/he only has the recording in hand to go by. Nor, typically, do users try to guess at whatever the original may have sounded like. (Good thing too: with nothing but a few EQ band faders to work with, this would be futile.) Instead the end user tweaks the knobs to taste or to compensate for some acoustical defect in the room or in his hearing. If the user likes a bit more bottom or if his shag rug is a bass trap, he slides up the low faders. If he's lost perception of some highs due to too much heavy metal in his youth, he adds in some extra treble. This is like adding salt and pepper to taste, not like trying conjecturally to reconstruct how the head chef imagines his recipe _ought_ to be enjoyed. Anyone who sits down to a meal with that mindset is in for an unsatisfying experience. The salt and pepper shakers have no practical role to play in the diner's estimation of the chef's intent, and EQ has no corresponding role with respect to the listener and the musician's putative intent.

2. I like the 70-plus piece symphony orchestra as the proferred example of the source of "the artist's original vision". Which artist -- the conductor? Conductor plus first violinist and an oboe? -- More deeply, what if it turns out that there simply is nothing answering to the description "the artist's (or artists') original vision"? (Ask the orchestra what the vision is: what can they be expected to say?) And yet isn't there still, in those cases, some justification for trying to make one's living room sound more like a boomy concert hall and less like somebody's shag-carpted living room? Of course: only the justification is to be found elsewhere -- in the vicissitudes of personal listening preference.

Yahama DSP processing is unlikely to have any rationale in some imagined idea of artistic intent. If people like how it sounds, they'll use it. This is all the reason music lovers have or need.
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Old 04-04-2008, 12:35 AM   #11
JamesN JamesN is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Teazle View Post
All this is a nice infomercial for Yamaha…
My only intention in composing the original post was to provide some insight to fellow posters who had questions about the technology. I have no intent or interest in becoming a champion for Yamaha. I was merely trying to contribute something to the forum.

Quote:
…EQ is not in fact used in the way suggested...
I beg to differ. EQ can be, and is, used to compensate for acoustic deficiencies in rooms. Regardless, my intent in the analogy was merely to illustrate that I believe applying DSP sound fields to a source is no more heretical than applying EQ.

Quote:
…I like the 70-plus piece symphony orchestra as the proferred example of the source of "the artist's original vision"...
My only intention was to illustrate that an orchestral recording, for example, sounds more realistic, to my ears, with the technology applied than without.


Again, I was merely trying to give something back to the forum from which I have learned so much. Give me a break.
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Old 04-04-2008, 01:07 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JamesN View Post
Again, I was merely trying to give something back to the forum from which I have learned so much. Give me a break.
No prob.
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Old 04-04-2008, 01:14 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by Teazle View Post
No prob.
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Old 04-04-2008, 12:51 PM   #14
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I am far from being any kind of audio expert, but one thing I can say for sure is that while watching a movie with Presence speakers and DSP turned on, the sound effect sounds much better than without the speakers. I have listened to it both ways and there is a definite improvement with DSP and Presence speakers.

I can't speak to music, but movies are great!
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Old 04-04-2008, 07:24 PM   #15
BFRedrocks BFRedrocks is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tall Dog View Post
I am far from being any kind of audio expert, but one thing I can say for sure is that while watching a movie with Presence speakers and DSP turned on, the sound effect sounds much better than without the speakers. I have listened to it both ways and there is a definite improvement with DSP and Presence speakers.

I can't speak to music, but movies are great!
So what type (size, brand, etc) of speakers do you use for the Presence speakers? I would imagine you could go somewhat low end on these, but I'm just not sure...
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Old 04-04-2008, 07:33 PM   #16
JamesN JamesN is offline
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Originally Posted by BFRedrocks View Post
So what type (size, brand, etc) of speakers do you use for the Presence speakers? I would imagine you could go somewhat low end on these, but I'm just not sure...
In my own system, I use Paradigm Atoms for the presence speakers and rear surrounds, ADP-170s for the side surrounds, and Titans for the mains.

You are correct, the presence speakers do not need to be of the same size or quality as the mains since their main purpose is ambient tones. I would recommend borrowing a pair of speakers from a friend and just hooking them up temporarily to see if you like the effect. If you do, you can invest in a set of small speakers and some cabling. If not, you're not out anything but some time.

Last edited by JamesN; 04-04-2008 at 09:06 PM.
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Old 04-04-2008, 09:15 PM   #17
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Just wanted to add a few comments, being that I am a fan of Yamaha DSP. Here is a brief background as a reference: I've played in bands for many years. I play piano and love listening to various genres of music. I have used Yamaha professional DSP equipment for adding reverb and echo to my band's PA mix - something that is very commonly used by live bands. Yamaha is well known for their custom DSP technology.

I love good music, and I consider myself pretty picky about my sound. I have a Yamaha RX-V620 (going into 5 Polk speakers + a sub), and I use some of its DSP setting to enhance the listening experince - if I think it enhances it of course. I don't add it indiscriminately.

One of my favorite DSP patches is the "5 speaker stereo", which creates a 5 channel mix from a 2 channel source like a standard CD or FM radio. I love the fullness of all 5 speakers putting out sound.

But on a true 5 channel mix from SACD discs - which are by far my favorite type of CDs, I don't use any DSP, and there is no need to. SACDs have tremendous depth and dynamic range. Actually, I'm not even sure that the unit allows DSP on the multi-channel source, but I wouldn't use it anyway.

For movies, I will vary settings, but usually use one of the "70 mm cinema" patches, which automatically turn into "digitial cinema" if it detects a true digital source from HD cable or a DVD.

I'm looking forward to hearing a system that supports the new lossless digital sound tracks like TrueHD and others that are coming out on the Blu-Ray discs. The only reason I'll upgrade my current receiver is to get the new lossless sound quality.
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Old 04-06-2008, 03:31 PM   #18
Tall Dog Tall Dog is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BFRedrocks View Post
So what type (size, brand, etc) of speakers do you use for the Presence speakers? I would imagine you could go somewhat low end on these, but I'm just not sure...
I just use the same speakers as my surrounds. They're lower-end Yamaha, but sound pretty good to me. You can see them in the picture above.
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Old 04-07-2008, 01:17 PM   #19
m_tyson m_tyson is offline
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The presence speakers definitely provide a more realistic and spatial front sound stage to me. I have them mounted at 6 ft. up and 1.5 ft. wider than my main speakers, and the dialog lift (I have it set on 2) and additional DSP effects sound awesome with my 106" screen.

I would recommend using presence speakers with the same frequency response as your center channel (which should go down to at minimum 80Hz), since they will be handling the same dialog, along with additional effects.
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Old 04-17-2008, 08:45 PM   #20
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I definitely believe that the presence speakers greatly enhance the surround sound experience. I have NHT SuperTwo mains, SuperOnes for center and surround, and SuperZeros for presence speakers. It sounds phenomenal with my RX-V2095 receiver.

I first read about the presence speaker outputs on the yamaha receivers back in the late 90's. Technical editor David Ranada from Sound and Vision(then Stereo Review) tested the effect and said that it actually improved the surround experience. I bought my RX-V2095 back in 1998 when it was first released based on his(David Ranada) review of the Yamaha receiver and performance of the presence speaker outputs.
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