Is ‘Digital Room Correction’ ruining live music?

I went to a gig recently, at a smallish dedicated music venue that has live performances most nights. They take the acoustics seriously there, with special tiles on the walls around the stage, and a very fancy computerised mixing desk feeding the house ‘PA’. When I was there, three bands were relying on the PA system and the man at the mixing desk to give them acceptable sound.

What I heard, and felt, was most peculiar. There was definitely bass, sufficiently loud to shake the walls, but it had no ‘body’ – there seemed to be a gap between the deep bass and a thin, harsh upper mid range and treble. The overall volume wasn’t all that high, but I found my ears ringing between songs. When the vocalist spoke into the mic, you could tell that her voice was undergoing some sort of heavy-handed processing that wasn’t a musical effect.

Was this a case of DRC rearing its ugly head? Almost certainly this venue will have employed consultants to measure the evil resonances that everyone worries about these days, and to ‘optimise’ the acoustics: I would expect the fancy mixing desk to incorporate a ‘house EQ’ through which everything is fed. There was never a hint of acoustic feedback through the mics, so I also expect the system to be using some sort of feedback cancellation system.

If so, I think the result is a failure, giving a thin, sterile experience – the exact opposite of what you might expect if you make the effort to go and see a live band. This venue is a repeat offender in this regard, but I did see one band there a few months ago (the excellent Wolf People) who brought their own wall of amps and speakers, and the result was a much ‘fatter’ sound, and far preferable in my opinion. I worry that the pseudo-science of ‘Digital Room Correction’ is being used unquestioningly, just as it is by some audiophiles who obtain a misleadingly-flat frequency response based on a misunderstanding of what they are measuring, and assume that it must be optimal.

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