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Crowd-sourcing a history lesson about volume control

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Geoff Martin
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Geoff Martin posted on Thu, Sep 12 2019 12:13 PM

Hi,

I'm lazily looking for the quickest way to get some information I need... and I suspect that the solution lies here in BeoWorld...

The setup:

  • Today, the volume control standard (on, for example, a BeoVision television) ranges from 0 to 90 with a step size (resolution) of 1.
  • Once-upon-a-time, that range was 0 to 72 with a step size of 2 (even-numbers only).
  • Before that, it was 0.0 to 6.0 (e.g. BeoMaster 9000)

My questions:

  1. What were the first and last B&O products released with the 0 to 72 standard?
  2. Other than the BeoMaster 9000, were there other B&O  products that used the 0.0 to 6.0 standard?
  3. Were there other scales on other products? Or was everything else an analogue knob/slider?
  4. What was the step size of the BeoMaster 9000?

Thanks for your help!

-geoff

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Jeff
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Jeff replied on Tue, Sep 17 2019 2:45 PM

Hi Geoff - that's an interesting research project. Was it driven by a specific design philosophy/decision or was it more a result of what components were readily available? I tend to think, for a small firm like B&O, that what components were available at the time had much to do with the decision, at least for contour. Number of steps, hard to say as I have no idea how much variability was possible, that is if it was X component/design has so many steps period vs. how many do the designers think are best.

Ain't psycho-acoustics fun? Smile The thing that always made me shake my head was audiophile preamps that had dual volume controls, sometimes hawked as a "this improves channel separation" but sometimes advertised as "avoiding errors in tracking from a combined volume control." The latter never made any sense to me, yes, single knob dual pots often have some mistracking L and R as you go up the dial, but trying to adjust two knobs to the same place reliably is even worse.

I for one would love it if you would let us know what you find in your explorations, or point us to your blog if you do a writeup there.

Jeff

I'm afraid I'm recovering from the BeoVirus. Sad

RaMaBo
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RaMaBo replied on Tue, Sep 17 2019 4:32 PM

Hi Geoff,

 

to make things more complicated there are two versions of some Devices: BeoMaster 1900 / 2400  and 1900-2 / 2400-2.

Both had digital volume control  in 1976-1983.

 

The Beomaster 1900 / 2400 (later with a remote control equipped) had a 16 step volume controll but no numbered readout. The later version (1900-2/2400-2) was a bit more sophisticated with a 127 steps volume control.

The difference in this case is not a technical one but just a later redesign (due to customer request?)

In the begining they used a 4 Bit Up/down counter with a discrete DAC (R2R ladder network). Later they coupled a second couner in the row and used 3 additional bits of the counter to increase the step count with an extended, discrete R2R DAC.

So the 1900-2 / 2400-2 have the biggest volume control range Smile  (as far as i know):  128 Steps

 

Ralph-Marcus

Geoff Martin
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Jeff:

Hi Geoff - that's an interesting research project. Was it driven by a specific design philosophy/decision or was it more a result of what components were readily available? I tend to think, for a small firm like B&O, that what components were available at the time had much to do with the decision, at least for contour. Number of steps, hard to say as I have no idea how much variability was possible, that is if it was X component/design has so many steps period vs. how many do the designers think are best.

In the "old days", the primary determiners were a result of hardware, with some tweaking resulting from UI / UX decisions. The UI people couldn't choose something that the hardware couldn't do - but they could choose to not use all capabilities of the hardware. (As a ficticious  example: IF the hardware could deliver a million-and-one volume steps, the UI / UX / designer person could choose to not have the volume go from 0 to 1,000,000 ppm...)

Jeff:

Ain't psycho-acoustics fun? Smile The thing that always made me shake my head was audiophile preamps that had dual volume controls, sometimes hawked as a "this improves channel separation" but sometimes advertised as "avoiding errors in tracking from a combined volume control." The latter never made any sense to me, yes, single knob dual pots often have some mistracking L and R as you go up the dial, but trying to adjust two knobs to the same place reliably is even worse.

"avoid error in tracking from a combined volume control" is advertising-speak that actually means "making the errors your fault instead of ours." IF things sound left heavy, you should probably turn it up on the right... but I'm just sayin'....
cheers
-g
Jeff
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Jeff replied on Wed, Sep 18 2019 11:16 AM

I also remember the heady days when volume controls on mass market receivers and such played with contour, in that say 50% output for a standard signal occurred with less twist of the volume knob on one product than another. Sales droids would say, see, this receiver is louder at 5 on the volume knob than this other one cause it's more powerful, whereas the 2nd unit had a more usable volume control taper.

Certain car makers did this two, you'd get to full throttle with half or a bit more of the gas pedal travel, pushing it farther just did nothing, so on a test drive people would think it more powerful than it was. Of course it also made the car jumpy off the line and hard to drive in traffic, but, whoa, power! Smile

Marketing!

Jeff

I'm afraid I'm recovering from the BeoVirus. Sad

Geoff Martin
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Jeff:

I also remember the heady days when volume controls on mass market receivers and such played with contour, in that say 50% output for a standard signal occurred with less twist of the volume knob on one product than another. 

Marketing!

Check your mobile phone's volume control.... You'll notice that this trick is still being used...

What's weird is that, if you measure the output level of two phone models from the same brand - or two versions of the same music player software, you'll see different curves - but they all have the same general shape that you describe...

Have a nice weekend!
-g

Jeff
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Jeff replied on Fri, Sep 20 2019 7:01 PM

I'm not surprised, the tech may change but the game remains the same.

Jeff

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Beofile7
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Beofile7 replied on Sun, Sep 22 2019 11:10 AM

My old BM5500 and MCP 5500 used to deliver loads of power in the first 1/3rd of it's volume display. So much so that I rarely had it approaching 1/2 way. On the Beomaster 18/60 was always a good, fairly loud level. 24/60 was very loud and 28/60 was as much as I would ever need. 

On a BM7000 it couldn't be more different. We now go up to 78 but 26-30 is always needed. To get loud I need 48/78. 

It was very noticeable to me such that I referred it to my dealer at the time. He informed me that B&O had chosen to give more control over lower levels on the later equipment. So, it's far from linear.

beojeff
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While folks at B&O are discussing volume levels, it would be nice to hope for some thought about how radio and n.radio source are so out of level with the volume of other sources.

In the U.S. congress unanimously passed legislation to require tv advertisements to be of similar volume to the televised program. The legislation was unanimously passed because lawmakers were themselves annoyed with needing to grab the remote to reduce the volume when advertisements came on at sometimes double the volume of the broadcast program -- just to have to raise the volume once the advertisements were finished. Making this change just seemed common sense.

Similarly, I'm surprised that people at B&O aren't themselves annoyed at the need to adjust the volume when switching between Radio or N.Radio sources and other sources. It would seem that an adjustment could be built into the audio products to remove this annoyance. Aren't people who work at B&O just as annoyed by this as the customers are?

Jeff
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Jeff replied on Sun, Sep 22 2019 6:16 PM

I find the difference in volume levels between different sources very annoying. I solve this with respect to my Beogram by using a phono preamp with adjustable gain (the MMC cartridges tend to be low output). But it would be nice to have an adjustment pot or something to level out the different sources.

The US regulation sadly didn't have as much effect as you might think. I believe the law said commercials can be no louder than the loudest part of the show, so they get set at the level of whatever explosion, gunshot, or car chase was. Also, I've noticed that commercial makers also change the modulation on the sound, similar to the kind of compression and such used in the music loudness wars, which makes it sound louder (and more objectionable) than the dB level might make you think.

One thing I've noticed is how various commercials play with surround sound. High end products (I first noticed this in a Jaguar commercial) really use surround well, it was an amazing thing. Low end products, especially I've noticed this on local advertisers, tend to jam a lot more volume in one channel, which for a Pro Logic type signal makes the surrounds blare out as the L-R is wack. Not sure if they do this deliberately or just thru incompetence, and it's been a while since I've heard such. Of course since I seldom if ever watch TV with commercials I probably am out of date on my observations. I dropped cable TV years ago and just stream now.

Jeff

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Geoff Martin
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beojeff:

While folks at B&O are discussing volume levels, it would be nice to hope for some thought about how radio and n.radio source are so out of level with the volume of other sources.

In the U.S. congress unanimously passed legislation to require tv advertisements to be of similar volume to the televised program. The legislation was unanimously passed because lawmakers were themselves annoyed with needing to grab the remote to reduce the volume when advertisements came on at sometimes double the volume of the broadcast program -- just to have to raise the volume once the advertisements were finished. Making this change just seemed common sense.

Similarly, I'm surprised that people at B&O aren't themselves annoyed at the need to adjust the volume when switching between Radio or N.Radio sources and other sources. It would seem that an adjustment could be built into the audio products to remove this annoyance. Aren't people who work at B&O just as annoyed by this as the customers are?

 

Hi Beojeff,

The problem is more general one - and the discussion and behavioural design requires some philosophical decisions about what a sound system should do.

We have to start by accepting the fact that different audio signals have different levels.

Example #1: "Bird on a Wire" by Jennifer Warnes is about 20 dB quieter (on average) than "Psychosocial" by Slipknot. The peaks in both songs are the same - but their average levels are very different. (20 dB is a lot... If you're used to B&O's current volume control, then this is 20 steps. So, on average, Bird on a Wire at volume step 70 is roughly the same level as Psychosocial at volume step 50 on a BeoVision 11, for example...)

Example #2: Movies are mixed at a known level where the dialogue is at a low enough level to leave room for explosions. Dolby says that dialogue should average at -31 dB FS - that's 31 dB lower than maximum, so that gunshots can be 31 dB louder than that. (This also means that, if you are watching a movie on Blu-ray that only has dialogue - say, "My Dinner with André" for example, and you take that disc out and put in a Slipknot CD and press play, you'll get a jump of about 31 dB, since Slipknot is as close to maximum as it can be.)

Example #3 is where you have differences in level cause by differences in sources. For example, "Bird on a Wire" on a CD has a different level than the same song played on an FM radio (probably) since the radio station is (probably) compressing the dynamic range - making the quiet sounds louder so that they're closer to the peaks.

There are other examples - and combinations of those examples, but that's enough.

So, if we switch from one song to another song, or to a TV station, or a movie, or a radio station - we will get a signal with a different level. This will always be true.

Now the question is: what should the sound system do, in general? We have 2 options:

  1. Play the signals as-they-are. Quiet sounds are quiet and louder sounds are louder.
  2. Try to reduce this difference in level somehow. There are two ways to do this:
    1. Compress the dynamic range by making loud sounds quieter and quiet sounds louder as they happen. This will make TV commercials jump less - but it will make a violin solo as loud as a full orchestra - or the dialogue as loud as the fight scene in Lord of the Rings. You will probably also hear that level jumping up and down unnaturally as the processing tries to guess what it should do.
    2. Pre-process the dynamics by analysing all the songs on your hard drive before you play them, and assign a gain that will be applied to each song to make them more alike on average. (so, Bird on a Wire will be played louder, and Psychosocial will be played quieter.) This can only work if you have the ability to pre-analyse your materials, or if you have access to a large database where a computer has already done the analysis in advance.

The default behaviour of B&O products is to "play what's on the recording", knowing that changes in source or changes in song may have some effect on the perceived average level. But, (assuming that the system is not trying to protect itself - and therefore changing the dynamic behaviour of the signal) the cost of this is that the end user will hear the changes in level caused by those changes, and may therefore have to reach for the volume knob after something changes (e.g. the next song comes on) or they changed something (e.g. changing from radio to n.radio)

In some products, there is the option to reduce this change. For example, you can turn the Dynamic Range Compression to Maximum in B&O televisions - and you can make that the default behaviour all Sound Modes if you like. This will significantly reduce the jumps in level cause by changes in signals - but you will also lose the changes in level that may make a movie more "exciting", or a song more "punchy" or "clean" (whatever those words mean...)

However, the dynamic range compression option is admittedly not available on all B&O products. And it certainly would not be appropriate to put it in some products (like the BeoLab loudspeakers, for example - dynamic range control belongs between the sources and the loudspeakers - in what other companies would call "a preamplifier" in the old days...)

Cheers
-geoff

 

 

beojeff
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beojeff replied on Mon, Sep 23 2019 10:06 AM

Jeff:

I find the difference in volume levels between different sources very annoying. I solve this with respect to my Beogram by using a phono preamp with adjustable gain (the MMC cartridges tend to be low output). But it would be nice to have an adjustment pot or something to level out the different sources.

The US regulation sadly didn't have as much effect as you might think. I believe the law said commercials can be no louder than the loudest part of the show, so they get set at the level of whatever explosion, gunshot, or car chase was. Also, I've noticed that commercial makers also change the modulation on the sound, similar to the kind of compression and such used in the music loudness wars, which makes it sound louder (and more objectionable) than the dB level might make you think.

One thing I've noticed is how various commercials play with surround sound. High end products (I first noticed this in a Jaguar commercial) really use surround well, it was an amazing thing. Low end products, especially I've noticed this on local advertisers, tend to jam a lot more volume in one channel, which for a Pro Logic type signal makes the surrounds blare out as the L-R is wack. Not sure if they do this deliberately or just thru incompetence, and it's been a while since I've heard such. Of course since I seldom if ever watch TV with commercials I probably am out of date on my observations. I dropped cable TV years ago and just stream now.

Sadly, the regulation does not apply to streaming content. I've noticed this to be especially bad with the History Channel app on the Apple TV. The volume increase with commercials would be ridiculous. I did find a setting on the Apple TV to help level this somewhat.

Jeff
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Jeff replied on Mon, Sep 23 2019 2:50 PM

Interesting Beojeff, having not watched say History on streaming. I mainly watch Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, but occasionally will look at something on Pluto TV but yeah, the commercials on there seem particularly loud at times. Every time I watch Pluto I'm reminded of why I hate commercials.

As for Geoff's comment, I understand you point, but I think we are discussing more gross mismatches in volume, it'd be nice to have user adjustable gain on various inputs to at least try and balance them more. Beogram to CD on my 9000 without using the gain control on my phono preamp, using a standard preamp, is enormous. If you forget to turn it back down when switching to CD it will blow your ears off! Granted giving the user one more control has dangers, those damned users will muck anything up! This job would be fine except for the customers!Big Smile

Jeff

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beojeff
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beojeff replied on Tue, Sep 24 2019 12:03 AM

Geoff Martin:

beojeff:

While folks at B&O are discussing volume levels, it would be nice to hope for some thought about how radio and n.radio source are so out of level with the volume of other sources.

In the U.S. congress unanimously passed legislation to require tv advertisements to be of similar volume to the televised program. The legislation was unanimously passed because lawmakers were themselves annoyed with needing to grab the remote to reduce the volume when advertisements came on at sometimes double the volume of the broadcast program -- just to have to raise the volume once the advertisements were finished. Making this change just seemed common sense.

Similarly, I'm surprised that people at B&O aren't themselves annoyed at the need to adjust the volume when switching between Radio or N.Radio sources and other sources. It would seem that an adjustment could be built into the audio products to remove this annoyance. Aren't people who work at B&O just as annoyed by this as the customers are?

 

Hi Beojeff,

The problem is more general one - and the discussion and behavioural design requires some philosophical decisions about what a sound system should do.

We have to start by accepting the fact that different audio signals have different levels.

Example #1: "Bird on a Wire" by Jennifer Warnes is about 20 dB quieter (on average) than "Psychosocial" by Slipknot. The peaks in both songs are the same - but their average levels are very different. (20 dB is a lot... If you're used to B&O's current volume control, then this is 20 steps. So, on average, Bird on a Wire at volume step 70 is roughly the same level as Psychosocial at volume step 50 on a BeoVision 11, for example...)

Example #2: Movies are mixed at a known level where the dialogue is at a low enough level to leave room for explosions. Dolby says that dialogue should average at -31 dB FS - that's 31 dB lower than maximum, so that gunshots can be 31 dB louder than that. (This also means that, if you are watching a movie on Blu-ray that only has dialogue - say, "My Dinner with André" for example, and you take that disc out and put in a Slipknot CD and press play, you'll get a jump of about 31 dB, since Slipknot is as close to maximum as it can be.)

Example #3 is where you have differences in level cause by differences in sources. For example, "Bird on a Wire" on a CD has a different level than the same song played on an FM radio (probably) since the radio station is (probably) compressing the dynamic range - making the quiet sounds louder so that they're closer to the peaks.

There are other examples - and combinations of those examples, but that's enough.

So, if we switch from one song to another song, or to a TV station, or a movie, or a radio station - we will get a signal with a different level. This will always be true.

Now the question is: what should the sound system do, in general? We have 2 options:

 

  1. Play the signals as-they-are. Quiet sounds are quiet and louder sounds are louder.
  2. Try to reduce this difference in level somehow. There are two ways to do this:
    1. Compress the dynamic range by making loud sounds quieter and quiet sounds louder as they happen. This will make TV commercials jump less - but it will make a violin solo as loud as a full orchestra - or the dialogue as loud as the fight scene in Lord of the Rings. You will probably also hear that level jumping up and down unnaturally as the processing tries to guess what it should do.
    2. Pre-process the dynamics by analysing all the songs on your hard drive before you play them, and assign a gain that will be applied to each song to make them more alike on average. (so, Bird on a Wire will be played louder, and Psychosocial will be played quieter.) This can only work if you have the ability to pre-analyse your materials, or if you have access to a large database where a computer has already done the analysis in advance.

 

The default behaviour of B&O products is to "play what's on the recording", knowing that changes in source or changes in song may have some effect on the perceived average level. But, (assuming that the system is not trying to protect itself - and therefore changing the dynamic behaviour of the signal) the cost of this is that the end user will hear the changes in level caused by those changes, and may therefore have to reach for the volume knob after something changes (e.g. the next song comes on) or they changed something (e.g. changing from radio to n.radio)

In some products, there is the option to reduce this change. For example, you can turn the Dynamic Range Compression to Maximum in B&O televisions - and you can make that the default behaviour all Sound Modes if you like. This will significantly reduce the jumps in level cause by changes in signals - but you will also lose the changes in level that may make a movie more "exciting", or a song more "punchy" or "clean" (whatever those words mean...)

However, the dynamic range compression option is admittedly not available on all B&O products. And it certainly would not be appropriate to put it in some products (like the BeoLab loudspeakers, for example - dynamic range control belongs between the sources and the loudspeakers - in what other companies would call "a preamplifier" in the old days...)

Cheers
-geoff

 

 

Thanks, Geoff.

I know what you mean by how some albums have a noticeably different volume. For example, the CD "The Innocents" by Erasure is lower in volume than most CDs. I can accept that and live with it. However, the increase in volume generally for Radio and N.Radio seems to be consistently MUCH higher than a source such as CD. Wouldn't it be a reasonable solution to add an adjustment in the B&O app to allow us to INCREASE the volume of a Phono (BeoGram turntable) source and DECREASE the volume of a Radio or N.Radio source? I would think that would be satisfactory to the end user. As a user of B&O products, wouldn't you yourself like to have that control? Anything to minimize the need to lunge for the remote.

Geoff Martin
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Hi,

I had to check this morning - just to make sure... Hence a slight delay in responding.

On the Eclipse, go to

  • Settings
  • Sources
  • choose the source you want to adjust
  • Audio Level

From there, you have a source-specific adjustment of ±12 dB in steps of 0.5 dB.

That ought to be enough. ;-)

Cheers
-g

beojeff
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beojeff replied on Tue, Sep 24 2019 11:10 AM

Geoff Martin:

Hi,

I had to check this morning - just to make sure... Hence a slight delay in responding.

On the Eclipse, go to

 

  • Settings
  • Sources
  • choose the source you want to adjust
  • Audio Level

 

From there, you have a source-specific adjustment of ±12 dB in steps of 0.5 dB.

That ought to be enough. ;-)

Cheers
-g

Geoff,

I probably confused things by mentioning the U.S. CALM Act. My focus was on the need to be able to reduce the volume of RADIO and N.RADIO sources. I mentioned the CALM Act merely to show how lawmakers took action because they themselves experienced firsthand the need to do something. My point was that I would be surprised if people working at B&O didn't also feel annoyed at the need to reduce the volume when playing RADIO and N.RADIO sources.

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