If you have picked up a soundbar for your home theater lately, you may have noticed some buttons on the remote with text that doesn’t exactly give away their function, usually labeled as “DRC”, “DRC On”, “DRC Off”, which will most likely prompt you to press it to see what happens.
That being said, considering that understanding what exactly activating DRC achieves will only be straightforward if you know what you’re looking for, it may seem like the buttons do nothing at all at first, deepening the mystery even further.
In today’s article, we will be unraveling the mystery behind the functionality of the DRC button, which is actually a rather practical piece of technology that can create a more pleasurable listening experience when activated in the appropriate scenarios.
So, what is DRC audio, and should you turn it on or off for the best experience possible?
DRC, which stands for Dynamic Range Compression, is a technology that normalizes the volume of the audio you’re hearing by making the louder sounds quieter and the quieter sounds louder, ensuring that there are no sharp differences in loudness between different points of the playback.
In the upcoming sections, we will dive deeper into the purpose of DRC audio, discuss whether you should turn it on or off in more detail, and find out the factors that can cause DRC not to operate as intended in some cases.
What Is DRC Audio?
The abbreviation “DRC” definitely doesn’t give a whole lot of insight into what the feature actually does, and when you combine it with the fact that the effects of DRC can be rather subtle and unnoticeable based on the situation, understanding what it really does can be a bit of a puzzle.
Whenever you’re watching a movie or listening to music, you will notice that the loudness of the sound you hear changes naturally at different points of the playback based on how the audio is recorded, mixed, and mastered, even when the volume setting of your device remains constant.
This dynamicity often allows the listening experience to become a lot more enjoyable, with the best example being a horror movie suddenly scaring you with a loud sound that you haven’t been expecting due to the volume not getting as high up until then.
In such an audio track where the volume that you hear shows variance, the ratio of the volume of the loudest sound in the track to the volume of the quietest sound is described as the dynamic range, which essentially tells us how heavily the volume can fluctuate throughout the playback.
When Dynamic Range Compression (DRC) is active, the dynamic range of the audio track is compressed (lowered) by increasing the volume of the sounds that are too quiet and by decreasing the volume of the sounds that are too loud, bringing the volumes of loud and quiet sounds closer to each other.
As a result of this process, the volume of the track stays more consistent throughout the playback, with no sharp changes in volume that can suddenly cause your soundbar to emit a very loud sound unexpectedly.
Should You Set DRC Audio On or Off?
As DRC is a feature that you should activate circumstantially due to its capability to potentially deteriorate your listening experience based on the situation, having a good understanding of when to utilize it is integral to benefit from it.
Since enabling DRC modifies the original sound of the audio track by narrowing its dynamic range, there is no debate that your listening experience will be affected negatively in terms of the pure sound quality you hear when DRC is active.
For instance, if you’re listening to music with DRC on, you won’t be able to hear the full range of sounds that the producer of the song has intended to be heard, which will practically create a different and arguably more inferior experience than listening to the original sound.
On the other hand, the benefit of enabling DRC is manageability, as a narrow dynamic range means that you will always be hearing the audio at the same volume level, meaning that you won’t have to adjust the volume of your soundbar constantly.
For instance, if you’re watching a movie where you find yourself having to increase the volume all the time to be able to hear the dialog but then having to reduce it due to the sound effects being way too loud, DRC will make your viewing experience much more pleasurable.
As a result, our recommendation would be to keep DRC off at all times to fully experience the audio you hear unless there’s a specific scenario that would require you to use DRC, such as watching TV at night with people sleeping or having increased sensitivity towards loud sounds.
Since you will be able to understand how DRC impacts the content you’re consuming the best by experiencing it first-hand, we highly recommend carefully listening to the same audio clip with both DRC on and DRC off, which will allow you to decide whether you enjoy the content with DRC on or not.
What Can Cause DRC Not to Work?
In some cases, you may notice that DRC isn’t operating as intended even though it’s active, and while this may lead you to think that your soundbar is malfunctioning, there is actually a reasonable explanation for this.
For the DRC functionality to work as intended, your soundbar needs to be receiving Dolby Digital (or Dolby Digital Plus) audio signal, which practically comes down to both the source of the content (such as the channel or online service) and the content itself having support for Dolby sound.
As a result, if the content you’re watching or the source you’re utilizing does not send a Dolby audio signal to your soundbar, you will be hearing the original sound regardless of whether DRC is on or off, as compression won’t take place in this case.
Even though its functionality may not be apparent at first, DRC is definitely a handy feature to have at hand once you have a better understanding of what it does and activate it in situations where it will be beneficial.
To summarize, we can quickly describe DRC as a feature that flattens the dynamicity of the volume on the audio track that you’re hearing, which takes away from the full experience of listening to the audio, but makes controlling the volume levels much more manageable.
While activating or deactivating DRC comes down to personal preference at the end of the day, it’s worth mentioning that you will come across scenarios where it will be objectively beneficial to have DRC enabled and other scenarios where the sound quality of the content you’re consuming will take a hit from DRC being active.
Mark’s first real encounter with tech was when he had to format his computer with Windows 98 around the age of 6 to quickly get back to playing Heroes of Might and Magic III without having to send the computer in for a repair, which he strangely found to be rather enjoyable since it was a new challenge for him at the time.
While he has always been particularly interested in the software side of things, which eventually led to him becoming a software developer, he enjoys keeping up with the advancements in consumer electronics and smart home technology when he’s not busy coding.