Immersive audio as standard

There’s a tough new audio standard in town and it has ridden in with the intent of cleaning up any confusion when it comes to immersive audio best practice. For all those involved in audio integration, it’s time to up your game and lend an ear to RP22 from CEDIA writes Stuart Pritchard.

Of course, when I say “from CEDIA”, what I actually mean is that the Custom Electronic Design and Integration Association – the global group for smart home technology – is behind the conception of the standard, but many of the great and good of advanced AV and intelligent tech have been involved in RP22’s creation, including luminaries from the likes of Dolby, Perlisten Audio, Officina Acustica, StormAudio, Trinnov Audio, Adair Acoustic Design, Sphere Custom, and Harman, alongside many others, all coming together to lend their expert insight to ensure RP22 delivers the very best for equipment manufacturers, custom installers, and end-users alike. So, what exactly is it and what does it mean for the industry?

Better audio by the book

Setting me straight right away is Sébastien Gailleton, head of product and support at StormAudio: “RP22 is not really a new standard, it is the revision of a document that was created more than 10-years ago, providing recommendations for multi-channel audio design. Since then, the immersive audio with multiple formats has become the reference. Also, the audio experience is not only a matter of dedicated rooms (home cinema), but more and more experiences in multipurpose environments. The new document comes as a design guideline that provides the integrator a clear step by step methodology to follow to specify a room while anticipating the performance.”

Walt Zerbe, senior director of standards at CEDIA, adds some essential inside info: “CEDIA/CTA-RP22 is a revision of CTA/CEB23-B which only addressed theatres at the time. Immersive audio truly changed what is recommended and not just for theatres but for all media environments. This was the driving force for the update to this standard and addresses all possible environments that we consume media in.”

“CEDIA/CTA RP22 is a complete update of CTA/CEDIA CEB22 which was first released in 2009,” reiterates Peter Aylett, Officina Acustica Partner, CEDIA Fellow, and chair of the CEDIA/CTA R10 Standards. “It was written under the CEDIA/CTA R10 standards committee. The updating process began in 2017. As a document written according to ANSI (American National Standards Institute) standards, the working group that wrote the document is open to any industry stakeholder, defined as any CEDIA or CTA member company. 

“Officina Acustica were involved to the extent that we had two people participating in the working group. As group chair, one of my jobs was to ensure that the discussions were free of any commercial bias and are not product specific.”

So not a “standard” per se and not “new” but rather a much-needed update that now addresses all audio installation on an unbiased even keel. But being such a colossal undertaking, where did CEDIA start and who did it choose to collaborate with?

Erik Wiederholtz, CSO at Perlisten Audio answers: “RP22 took several years and hundreds of contributors to make happen. The great thing is that the level and diversity of the people involved help make it a great document that truly improves the industry on all levels.  Manufacturers, integrators, recording engineers, acoustical engineers, as well as Dolby for example were involved to make this a comprehensive document. Perlisten came late in the development of the document and is a small contributor, as we were just a start up in 2020, but contributed with the speaker data needed for integration of audio into these types of spaces. Mainly how to show off axis data that is useful for speaker placement.”

Another big name involved in the evolution of RP22 was Trinnov Audio. Arnaud Destinay, director of sales, had this to say: “Our CEO and co-founder Arnaud Laborie attended several RP22 calls over the last eight-years, counting for several dozens of hours of contribution. 

“As a pioneer in immersive audio, Trinnov released the first version of its own speaker layout guidelines in 2018, which reconciled several incompatible concepts and recommendations. Many key concepts of that document were taught during CEDIA classes, incorporated into The Cinema Designer (formerly The CEDIA Designer), and are now part of RP22.

“Our involvement obviously goes beyond speaker layout but that's where I would say Trinnov had the most significant impact and leadership. Let's not forget the involvement of our dear colleague Jon Herron, internally known as Professor Herron due to his vast and long experience in the field, including as a technical writer and author.”

Levelling up

Indeed, let’s not forget the good professor when it comes to understanding the creation of RP22: “Trinnov has more experience with high-channel-count, high spatial resolution theatres than anyone else because we've been doing it longer than anyone else,” says Jon Herron. “We invested about 14-months working on our speaker placement recommendations guide to help our dealers deliver the best possible experiences. Our recommendations were accepted pretty much as-is by the entire team once they had had a chance to review them.

“The Performance Levels outlined in the recommendations include – for the first time ever – objective, measurable criteria that must be met to claim that a particular system is ‘Level 3’ or whatever. These performance standards were discussed at great length by the entire group and are deliberately challenging. The goal is to improve the results of everyone's labour toward the end of delivering a better experience to the customer.”

Also integral to RP22 was StormAudio. Gailleton gives us some insight on how all elements were developed to ensure RP22 was for all. “The RP22 group included more than 20 individuals coming from different origins: integrators, scientists and manufacturers. This profiles’ diversity has helped make sure that any topic covered could get different view angles and perspectives on how to develop an element of the design process.

“It was therefore instrumental to get involvement of manufacturers like StormAudio in this writing process, to ensure that we brought our expertise on immersive audio reproduction and also to ensure that our products help the room designers to achieve their goal using our products.

“The new document comes as a design guideline that provides the integrator with a clear step-by-step methodology to follow to specify a room, while anticipating the performance, and not forgetting any aspect of the sound reproduction quality in any listening spaces.”

RP22 for manufacturers & integrators

So, the arrival of RP22 will standardise all CEDIA member audio installations to absolutely defined levels or performance, covering all areas of installation, even so far as factoring in the wall and floor coverings utilised. But what does it all this mean in real terms for AV equipment manufacturers and, of course, the integrator at the business end?

“A good manufacturer will understand what is needed to reach the goals and even the four levels of home theatre laid out in the document,” states Perlisten’s Wiederholtz. “I am also a part of the RP1 group responsible for performance facts looking to be released in 2024, which will be a list of specifications that manufacturers should supply so an integrator knows how to use the home theatre equipment to reach each level. This means more clarity on specifications. This will drive manufacturers to create better products inherently, and share that data, or be left out in the cold.”

Destinay at Trinnov adds: “Ultimately, RP22 is all about being able to refer to an objective set of parameters that enables a fair and relevant comparison between jobs or quotes. RP22 enables integrators to aim for a specific goal and helps them sell different proposals to the client that actually mean something.”

While Gailleton at StormAudio says: “With the RP22 (and also now the RP23 on the video reproduction side), CEDIA aims at defining reference standards with clear parameters and performance criteria that can be used by any integrator to identify which elements he needs to use in his design process to achieve predictable performance levels. This involves the need for manufacturers to provide product specification sheets that exhibit enough information for the designer to clearly select the right product. The definition of these specifications parameters is part of the ‘performance levels’ work that is covered with the RP1 workgroup. For each product category, a set of critical requirements is defined that the manufacturer would ideally need to provide.

“As to integrators, with four clear performances levels proposed, the designer is guided through multiple elements from Seating layout, Speaker layout, Speaker selection, Low frequency optimisation, Sound isolation, Acoustical treatment, Equipment selection and Performance optimisation.

“A set of 21 parameters have been defined with a target to achieve for each performance level, providing means to the integrator to illustrate the grade of the room he is designing, thus giving clear facts to his customer.”

RP22 for end-users

So, the affect of deployment of RP22 on manufacturers and integrators is clear – manufacturers need to provide greater clarity on the spec of their kit to allow integrators to specify accordingly to the ‘level’ he or she is working towards; makes perfect sense. But what does the implementation of RP22 mean to the end-user?

Wiederholtz at Perlisten thinks it’s pretty simple: “The end-user now knows what to expect and why it costs as much as it does. They can clearly be educated on what it takes to meet their experience goals and can work with the integrator to adjust their goals if needed. They will be a happier customer to get the experience they wanted and have criteria that proves the integrator met those criteria with tests after completion.”

Gailleton at StormAudio also sees clarity as being the biggest benefit: “For the end-user, RP22 will give the possibility to have clear information about the design the integrator is offering at the quotation phase, with clear performance objectives and expectations. It will also allow him to compare with objectivity offers he could get from various integrators. At the commissioning, he’ll be able to expect measurable results that validate what was predicted at the beginning. While this might be not so simple to predict accurately, it will in any case be much more informative about what he is getting out of his investment.”

Better for all

Years in the creation and involving a cast of countless experts from across the AV industry, RP22 is something of a labour of love for CEDIA and all those involved, and, of course, a clever system of classification for truly defined levels of audio installation, creating absolute clarity for manufacturer, integrator and end-user alike. RP22 may have been a long time coming, but it has clearly been very much worth the wait.

“RP22 changes the home theatre industry as the first peer-reviewed, unbiased recommendation which objectively defines performance levels and best practices for audio design,” concludes Trinnov’s Destinay. “Now, every integrator can reflect back to the same reference and speak the same language. This is truly unprecedented and will help everyone achieve a better job.”

Finally, Wiederholtz at Perlisten has the last word on the new CEDIA audio install standard: “RP22 enables manufacturers to know what to design to help the integrator achieve a level of performance, the integrator to know how to use the product to help the consumer reach their goals, and the consumer to understand what they can expect for performance. It’s a win for everybody!”

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