Help me equalize the TV volume.
July 30, 2012 1:56 PM   Subscribe

Can I rig some sort of home-made equalizer between my TV, speakers and PS3? Other ideas as to changing the levels of frequency ranges also welcome.

I have a PS3 that is connected to the TV via HDMI, and speakers that are connected to the TV via 3.5". Right now, especially with the living room fan going during the summer (the hum is knocking out a nice chunk of frequencies,) we have to constantly adjust the sound. The quiet is either too quiet, or the loud is too loud. The PS3 doesn't have an on-board equalizer of any sort.

Short of buying an equalizer, is there anything I can do here to adjust the levels?
posted by griphus to Technology (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The only other solution I can think of is headphones - either in-ear or headphones that completely cover the ear and block out external sounds.
posted by b1tr0t at 2:00 PM on July 30, 2012

Just fyi the term used in the industry for what you want is compressor, not equalizer.

A compressor boosts the quiet parts so that the overall volume is more consistent over time. In commercial music production they will often use multi-band compression that is a combination of compression and equalization in order to maximize loudness (because of the way the human ear responds to frequency spectra it is helpful to operate on different bandwidths in parallel).

Traditionally, an equalizer equalizes the frequency response of a system, so that every frequency range is equally reproduced. The original intention was to reduce distortion and help get a flatter response for a given preamp / amplifier / speaker / room combination, but they are also used sometimes for arbitrary tone adjustments too.
posted by idiopath at 2:17 PM on July 30, 2012

The essential problem here is your radio sensitive equipment is acting as an antennae and picking up unwanted signals.

Er, if I was unclear, the fan is knocking out the frequencies after they leave the speakers, not before. I phrased it that way because turning up the volume won't solve the problem (or, rather, create a different problem.)
posted by griphus at 2:25 PM on July 30, 2012

I'm so glad you asked this because I have the exact same issue.

Two things you might look into:
- Some TVs have a built-in compressor feature (possibly branded "Smart Sound" or similar, marketed as a kind of volume limiter for commercials). Check your TV's sound settings in the menu.
- Some PS3 games allow you to set the dynamic range in the game itself; the last 2 games I played had this in the Audio settings and taking it down to the minimum had a good effect.

Hoping someone comes along with a better solution!
posted by churl at 3:02 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

The TV has a built in equalizer, but it doesn't seem to do anything to line-out sound.
posted by griphus at 4:35 PM on July 30, 2012

Are wireless headphones a solution?
posted by 6550 at 7:11 PM on July 30, 2012

so, what's wrong with just getting a regular equalizer? you should be able to easily shoehorn it between the TV and the speakers; you'll just need to get the appropriate cables to hook everything together (3.5" <-> RCA converters/cables should be all you need). you could do something like this (eBay link, will probably definitely be expired by the time you look at it) or this. you could potentially do something similar with a compressor, but, since those tend to be recording/live audio type stuff, the hookups may be weird, so pay attention to that. (they tend to use balanced inputs for that kind of stuff, where home audio gear is pretty much all unbalanced. you don't see any XLR jacks on home gear for the most part.)

the other other option is to ditch the computer speakers and get a regular receiver and speaker set. that opens the door to a lot of things (and potentially to spending a lot of money); there are a bunch of ask posts about setting up a home theater setup that I'll defer to there. that said, I have a perfectly capable low-end Denon receiver that does all this kinda stuff, sounds way better than the crap that's in the TV, and also gives me the questionable utility of 5.1 surround sound that I picked up for like $150 new. you need not spend a ton of money on this option - good receiver deals can be had if you get an idea of what you want and do some hunting. some of these things nowadays come with a mic that you hook into it and then it figures it all out for you automatically, even.
posted by mrg at 7:23 PM on July 30, 2012

Headphones won't work because my girlfriend and I watch TV together.

The issue with equalizer is that I don't want to spend money fixing this problem. I have enough unused consumer electronics laying around the house that if I can rig up some sort of device, I'll do it, but otherwise I can put up with it until I get together enough money to get an good audio system together.
posted by griphus at 7:28 PM on July 30, 2012

I have enough unused consumer electronics laying around the house
Are you looking to connect those devices together like Voltron to make an EQ? Or do you want to desolder a bunch of components and build your own EQ?

Unless some of those components are EQs or bandpass filters and you happen to have a few mixers as well, the former isn't going to happen. The latter isn't really worth your time. Resistors and capacitors are the most likely parts that you could salvage, but capacitors don't age well. Resistors cost a few cents each, so aren't worth salvaging (the long leads of new resistors are far easier to work with).

If you want to build a DIY equalizer, this is the first schematic that came up on a google search. You could probably build it on stripboard rather than trying to etch your own PCB.
posted by b1tr0t at 8:32 PM on July 30, 2012

Once again, you don't want an equalizer. They simply do not do what you want. What you want for the problem you describe is a compressor.
posted by idiopath at 2:46 PM on July 31, 2012

Yeah, pretty much seconding b1tr0t & mrg here. If your "unused consumer electronics" include a receiver/amp & some speakers, you should be able to hook that up to your TV instead of your current speakers (which seem to be small powered computer speakers from what you're describing) and get generally better sound. Otherwise, it seems highly unlikely you can kludge together a collection of "other" consumer electronics to fix your problem.
posted by soundguy99 at 3:40 PM on July 31, 2012

Yes, sorry, what I don't want to spend money on is a compressor.

I have a netbook sitting around with both a mic line in and a headphone line out. Could I do it in software through that? I'm relatively unlearned as far as audio goes (as I've clearly made apparent.)
posted by griphus at 3:49 PM on July 31, 2012

Mmmmmmmaybe . . . . .

Your first potential problem is that your TV is almost undoubtedly putting out "line level", which is a LOT louder than "mic level." Maybe your netbook has the software/hardware capabilities to reduce the input level enough so that the signal doesn't distort, maybe not.

Then, most of the audio software stuff I know of, especially the freebie/shareware stuff, is meant to be used for recording. It may not be possible for the software to handle "live streaming" at all, or your netbook might not be able to handle it without glitches or the audio failing to sync up with the picture.
posted by soundguy99 at 4:56 PM on July 31, 2012

In my experience a netbook (asus eeepc) can handle line in on the mic port (as can any laptop where I have tried it).

If this were my project I would use csound, but I am sure there are easier to use tools for the non-programmer (the issue with csound being that it is basically a programming language, so not very friendly for the less technically inclined). If csound can do this in real time on a netbook (which I know from experience it can), there has to be something user friendly that can do the same thing if you look hard enough.
posted by idiopath at 5:40 PM on July 31, 2012

That's good news! I've got a EEE so that's what I'll be working with. I think I just should've asked that question right off the bat.

Any idea what keywords I should be searching with? "Real time audio processing"? "Software audio compressor"?
posted by griphus at 6:21 PM on July 31, 2012

(I've got a EEE running Linux, to be more specific.)
posted by griphus at 6:22 PM on July 31, 2012

Audacity should do the trick. There are definitely EQ plugins, though I can't remember if they came with the main Audacity download, or with the LADSPA plugin library.

For those that keep suggesting a compressor, please read griphus' question. The problem is the sound that the fan is making. Without complex micing and sidechaining, a compressor isn't going to do any good. Even the EQ solution is a bit rube-goldberg, but simpler and probably more effective than a compressor.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:26 PM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

I agree Audacity would be worth a shot.

Linux is an utterly foreign language to me, but a quick Google of "Linux graphic EQ" found the PulseAudio Equalizer, which seems to be an EQ tool for general system audio. No link because I can't make heads or tails of whether it's still viable or what flavors of Linux it works in.

Try "system EQ", "system tone controls", like that. Otherwise "recording software", "recording studio", "real time audio processing" would probably give you some good results.

"compressor" as a keyword mostly seems to get data/file/mp3 compression results, which I don't think will be useful to you.

And just pointing out the kind of obvious, if you're Googling (rather than searching within the Linux community), definitely include "Linux" as a keyword.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:26 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Okay, well, I spent the night messing around with Jamin and it seems the EEE is just short of having the power to run it well (or at all if I want a visualization of the waveform.) I'll be experimenting further, so thanks for your help everyone!
posted by griphus at 8:39 PM on August 1, 2012

Jamin is not meant to be a realtime tool.

If you can get jamin running, you should be able to get all the ladspa plugins and use jack-rack and try the various compressors and equalizers that come with that.
posted by idiopath at 6:55 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ah. I was trying to run Jack-Rack and I was getting a single volume bar that wasn't seeing the Jack server or doing anything or having any option to do anything. I guess I'll dive deeper into the documentation to figure out what I did wrong.
posted by griphus at 7:29 AM on August 2, 2012

The + button adds a new plugin - all jack-rack does is send its input through a linear list of plugins. Make sure you have all the ladspa plugins installed so you have something that can go in there. In particular check out the "swh" ladspa plugin package which contains "dyson compressor", and "multiband eq", both of which are pretty good.
posted by idiopath at 9:20 AM on August 2, 2012

But if you find a particular frequency you want to cut / boost, you will generally get better audio quality from one of the dedicated band pass/cut plugins than from a graphic eq.
posted by idiopath at 9:22 AM on August 2, 2012

Great, I'm going to try this as soon as I get home and probably report back. Thanks for your help!
posted by griphus at 11:00 AM on August 2, 2012

Oh! As the biggest problem is not being able to hear speech, what should I be adjusting, specifically? According to this guide, I should:
Boost in the 1KHz to 5KHz range for improving intelligibility and clarity.
Boost in the 3Khz to 6Khz range to add brightness. This can help with speakers with poor intonation.
Boost in the 4.5Khz to 6Khz range to add presence. Note that too much boosting in this area can produce a thin lifeless sound.
Boost in the 100Hz to 250Hz for a boomy effect.
Am I on the right track?
posted by griphus at 11:05 AM on August 2, 2012

yeah I would boost 1-3k and squash most everything else, then follow that by a compression step (I still think compression will help more than the eq here).

Also you could use a spectrum analyzer tool to look at the frequencies of the fan (with the best mic you can get for this task) and then boost what doesn't overlap the peaks, and cut what does (adding energy to a saturated band tends to make things muddy, even when mixing in a purely acoustic domain).
posted by idiopath at 12:07 PM on August 2, 2012

oh, and I should add, the reason I was skeptical about eq and pushing for compression here was that a fan tends to be very broad-band, and it may be that, for example, it has a big peak going all the way from 300hz to 10khz or something crazy like that (this would not be at all abnormal for a fan, but you may as well measure instead of reasoning about a spherical-cow version of a fan).
posted by idiopath at 12:10 PM on August 2, 2012

Okay, it seems to be working, but every time I pipe the sound through the laptop, it becomes very tinny and crackly. I'm going to assume that's because I'm doing line in on a mic port and there's nothing to do about that?
posted by griphus at 6:02 PM on August 3, 2012

For cracklyness, that is a sign you are clipping. I have been able to get good quality from line in on an eeepc, even with a headphone output plugged in (which is even hotter than a regular line level).

The best tool for me was alsamixer - it is a pseudo-gui keyboard driven terminal application, but unlike the regular mixing tools it literally provides a slider for every control that exists for the sound card driver. The two big things to look for are mic boost (which should be muted) and mic level (which should be pulled down until your audio has reasonable quality). From the default starting state you need to hit tab once to get to the input controls, and tab again to get all controls at once (tab a third time goes back to only output controls again). Also adjust the level coming out of the tv, between those two things (and of course the output volume on the eeepc and whatever speakers or amp you are using) you should be able to get decent sound.

Also be careful that you are not clipping the signal in the various effects you are using - make sure the last plugin in your chain is a volume control, and adjust that as needed.
posted by idiopath at 8:28 PM on August 3, 2012

Also some eqs are liable to cause bad distortion if the curves are too step anywhere along the line, and compressors can also distort things if you muck up the settings.
posted by idiopath at 8:30 PM on August 3, 2012

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