Image: Hugh Threlfall
February 16 2013
I spend longer than you’d imagine thinking about film soundtracks. Lately, my concerns have not so much focused on the paradox I’ve written about before – that high-quality, multichannel cinema audio sounds more realistic than reality, and hence highly unreal – but a not unrelated irony: that the more vivid the inevitable helicopters whizzing across the cinema are, the more mumbly the actors’ voices.
I will conveniently park the idea, if you don’t mind, that actors in a lot of films only sound this way to me because my ears aren’t as good as they were. I’m pretty certain that directors are making a point of mumblifying their cast as a kind of macho thing. The harder the actors are to hear, I imagine these directors thinking, the more serious their cinematic oeuvre will seem. It’s the film counterpart, I fancy, of ridiculous “literary” authors who only feel they’ve written proper art if their books are incomprehensible.
Now I’ve got that off my chest, let me explain that it came to mind while reading the brochure for this piece of British-made technological virtuosity, the Datasat RS20i, a home-cinema audio processor that’s being acclaimed in some quarters as the best ever offered. Datasat makes sound systems for tens of thousands of public cinemas – it even has an Oscar for movie sound – and the RS20i is a home version of its professional audio offering. I went to hear it at its base in Twyford and, predictably, the sound is whatever you call the audio equivalent of dazzling, although you should be aware that at £16,000 it doesn’t include amplifiers. Datasat will be delighted, however, to help you out with these, too.
The 16-channel RS20i has too many wonderful features to go into fully here, one being that once it’s installed and optimised to your room, you can tinker with its millions of personalising possibilities without losing the official settings. It’s also claimed to be almost infinitely future-proof, which is no small thing with such a rapidly evolving technology. Reading through the brochure later, most of which, I have to confess, I didn’t understand, I came across a line that really sold the system to me. “By digitally optimising the output from each speaker,” it explains, “music becomes clearer” – nice – “and voice intelligibility is improved.” Now, that is talking my language.