It is tempting to consider “room correction” with Digital Signal Processing (DSP) as a substitute for acoustic treatment. We implemented both in the same room to see what the effects actually are.
Experimental setup: DSP and acoustic panels
The setup used is a normal living room/home theater. The loudspeakers are Genelec 8351A active monitors with DSP and automatic calibration using a microphone and frequency sweeps.
Five acoustic panels were placed in the room. They are mineral wool panels measuring 60x60x10 centimeters. Two of them were placed at the side walls in order to address first sidewall reflections and three of them were placed behind the listener by the back wall. The measurement point is also the normal listening point. Measurements were done with REW software:
The effect of acoustic panels and DSP on room response
From the magnitude response we see that the acoustic panels bring down some of the peaks in the mid-range. When we then apply DSP and automatic calibration, we get attenuation of the low-frequency peaks caused by room modes. DSP does not really affect the mid-range and the highs. It only raises their level back to where it was earlier. Using DSP and equalizing for mids and highs would be very difficult, because notches and peaks are very narrow.
Spectrograms show massive amounts of energy in the bass domain, where we have room modes affecting. Panels this size should not be very effective at long wavelengths according to the manufacturer and our magnitude plot. Yet, adding acoustic panels brings down the energy across the frequency range according to the spectrogram. DSP reduces the bass peaks which, of course, reduces the energy in that region. DSP brings up the mids and highs, so we can see slightly increased energy in that region, which leads to an evenly distributed energy across the spectrum of frequencies.
So do you need both digital signal processing and acoustic treatment? Yes. Looking at the magnitude response, we see that DSP addresses the peaks in the bass region and adjusts for the overall level, while the acoustic panels address the mid-range frequencies. Looking at the energy spectrum, we can see that actually both acoustic panels and DSP even out the energy distrubtion across the frequency range. It is encouraging to see that placing only five panels has a measurable effect. Headphones are immune to room acoustics, but benefit from DSP. Check out our post on headphone DSP: https://rdphysics.com/2021/06/14/dsp-for-headphones