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VLC Equalizer - From Bad to Worse


First I'd like to say I really appreciate the great effort of the VLC team, and I'd like to apologize for perhaps being a bit harsh towards VLC in the following description. I do however feel it is necessary to publish this and explain some common misconceptions that unfortunately still show up in audio UI designs - and now also in VLC.

So as a case study, here are some suggestions to how the EQ (under Audio Filters part of VLC's Preferences) could be re-designed in order to become both easier to use and make more sense. I believe these changes would make it more accessible for both novice and skilled users.

Current status

First I'll run through the current state of VLC 2.0's equalizer to demonstrate why I think this needs to be changed. Now, any good user interface should be self explanatory, especially a standard thing as an EQ. Pressing F1 for help does nothing here btw. so I'll start from the top and describe what I think is problematic:

v2.0

  • "Equalizer with 10 bands": Where are these 10 bands? I don't see them anywhere.
  • "Equalizer preset": This is obviously inspired by a long-lasting consumer electronics tradition, we're presented with an odd list of genres. This would seem to indicate that music within each gerne always has a specific problem that needs to be corrected. I'm sure any mastering professional would cringe over this horribly wrong assumption. To make things even more bizzare, the list also contains these items: "headphones" (no mention of brand or model), "Live" (whatever that means!?) and "Large hall" (which to me sounds like a preset on a reverb unit rather than an EQ setting.)
  • "Bands gain": This one is a text input field! Quite revolutionizing I might add, as this is the first EQ ever to feature a free text input field. Of course, the obvious question is what you're supposed to write there. Most likely I'm supposed to type in how much these invisible 10 bands are supposed to gain, but I do not know the format, and there's no help function nor example on-screen to tell me.
  • "Two pass": Another completely unusual on/off switch I've never before seen on any EQ despite being an audio engineer for a long time.
  • "Global gain": Finally something I understand. This input field defaults to "12" for some reason. There are no units indicated, but the experienced user would probably guess these are dB.

Suggestion 1: Parametric (advanced)

In earlier versions of VLC, the EQ was actually less confusing, and you could see that the underlying algorithm must be a parametric EQ. One could argue that a simple graphic equalizer would be more suitable for normal end-users, but let's base our design on the algorithm already in there. This way we would only have to change the UI and not the code behind.

mock-up

Further notes:

  1. All numbers read-outs now have units appended (dB/Hz/oct etc.)
  2. The values depicted on this screenshot are the suggested default values (flat EQ response), which are invoked when pressing either of the "Reset" buttons.
  3. All amplitude sliders have a range from -12 dB ... 0 dB ... +12 dB
  4. All frequency sliders have a logaritmic range from 20 Hz ... 630 Hz ... 20000 Hz
  5. All bandwidth sliders have a logaritmic range from 0.3 oct ... 1 oct ... 5 oct.
  6. The little symbols on the right side help the user to understand the difference between shelving and peaking EQ.
  7. The Amplitude sliders are "magnetic" a few pixels around the center (0 dB) in the same way as many pro audio apps do it.

Suggestion 2: Graphic (simple)

In my experience, normal users find it even easier to use graphic equalizers than parametric equalizers such as the one described above. Because of this I would actually recommend this approach as the best suited one for VLC's typical audience. Here are a few examples of other players who already chose to implement such designs. It also shows that you shouldn't go overboard in features. 10 frequency bands is seems to be a good choice, as we can see on the first two screenshots, which are the ones I prefer.

WinAmp WinAmp

iTunes iTunes

Windows Media Player 12 Windows Media Player 12

Foobar Foobar

XBMC XBMC

Sonique Sonique

Contact:

You can reach me on IRC. I'm "joachip" at both EFnet an IRC.

Website by Joachim Michaelis