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Thread: Software Review - Breakaway Audio Enhancer (MUST HAVE!)

  1. #1
    Newbie SpaceMonkey's Avatar
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    Thumbs up Software Review - Breakaway Audio Enhancer (MUST HAVE!)

    What is it?

    Software that performs various sound engineering tricks to boost and clarify your audio.


    The Verdict

    Over the years I've tried lots of audio enhancer plugins, equalizer software that comes with sound cards, equalizer software that comes with media players, directshow filters etc etc, yet none of them really made any major improvment to my audio quality. Even those that did, were either ridiculously complex to control or would only improve certain types of audio, leaving other types sounding the same or sometimes even worse.

    So, when I saw this software I was fairly skeptical given the track record of other audio enhancer software I'd tried. However, to my surprise this software not only works but is freakin incredible. My bass has gone through the roof and is incredibly punchy (for kick drums especially) without sounding muddy. My treble is even clearer, yet it avoids the sibilance problems (ear piercing 'ess' sounds) that other enhancement software tends to introduce.

    Overall, everything sounds sooo much more powerful and clearer and I'm only using the onboard Realtek sound chip that comes with my Intel D945GCLF2 motherboard.

    Screenshot




    Description

    Breakaway Audio Enhancer installs itself as another Windows sound device (it becomes the default playback device) that acts as a virtual sound device, sitting between all of your applications and your actual sound card device. When any sound is produced either by windows or any app, it is sent to the virtual Breakaway device. Breakaway then does its thing and sends the enhanced audio to your actual sound card device for output. If this doesn't make sense you'll see what I mean once its installed.

    It comes with 16 presets that vary between the amount of bass they enhance, the amount of volume levelling they perform and tons of other things that I don't really understand like Multiband Compression. After fiddling with each of these presets I found the one that sounds best in my car. You then have the option to increase the bass even further (for those with subs) and change the shape of bass to suite your speaker size.

    I've been using it for a few weeks now and haven't had any issues whatsoever. It works fine with hibernation and doesn't use too much CPU (around 5%). So, if anyone is having trouble (like I was) in making their carpc sound bassy, punchy or clear then I'd definitely recommend trying this software.


    Positives
    • Simple installation and easy to use.
    • Incredible results with dramatically increased bass and clarity of all good quality audio sources.
    • Lots of control over the amount of enhancement it performs.
    • Improves audio quality without warping/changing the sound of the audio.
    • Cool looking and unobstrusive UI.
    • Volume levelling that actually works.
    • Costs $29.95US, so not too expensive and definitely worth the dough. You get free upgrades with this as well.
    • Available as a fully functional, time limited demo version so you can try before you buy.
    • Still being actively developed. See below for posts from konbaasiang (author of Breakaway) about future versions and other amazing audio software he's worked/working on.
    • Must have for those with onboard audio, or possibly even proper sound cards to create better than head-unit quality audio.



    Negatives
    • Costs $29.95US (would be great if they had a freeware version).
    • Has its own volume control logic so prevents volume control via the standard windows mixer, so may not work with all frontends that control the volume using the windows mixer API. Either of the following solutions can be used to workaround this issue, but both require frontend code changes:


      Solution 1 (best): konbaasiang (author of Breakaway) has posted the official solution that provides direct control of the Breakaway Device's volume via Windows API Messages. See below for details.

      Solution 2: Before I was aware of Solution 1, I overcame this in my custom frontend by coding it to control the mixers of the actual sound card device instead of the breakaway sound device.

    • For really poor quality audio sources, Breakaway tends to amplify the noise making them sound worse. Only seems to happen with really poor quality audio sources though e.g. dodgy DivX/Xvid's. When this happens you can press it's 'Bypass' button to prevent it from doing any enhancements.
    • Uses online activation for licensing, so if you want to use it on multiple PC's you need to purchase multiple licenses (altho, they give you a discount which is good). This is fair enough I guess, but... well... you know

  2. #2
    Mo' Programming Mo' Problems
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    Sonicxtacy02's Avatar
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    Thank you for your helpful review.. software sounds very interesting.
    mp3Car.com Senior Tech Blogger (Want a product reviewed? Contact me.)
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  3. #3
    Low Bitrate SoulR's Avatar
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    Thanks for the review SpaceMonkey,

    I have not been happy with my sound from my onboard sound card Realtek ALC888 (especially bass levels) but don't want to install another sound card. This may be the answer.

    Will have to see if it works in RideRunner ok?

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    I have to admit i have just tried this and its fantastic but not being able to adjust volume with centrafuse is a massive problem. switching between applications and a tiny volume control on my 7 inch screen is just plain dangerous has anyone found a way to allow cntrafuse volume to control this?

  5. #5
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    This is interesting however I am too using centrafuse and it is an automatic deal breaker if it cannot be used with centrafuse...perhaps someone with coding knowledge and help us out.

  6. #6
    cheap custom title JC-S60's Avatar
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    Doesn't it work if you select the wave output as the one to be controlled by CF?

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by JC-S60 View Post
    Doesn't it work if you select the wave output as the one to be controlled by CF?
    Could very well be the case, I was just going by what the reviews states. I will certainly look into it when I have a chance.

  8. #8
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    Hi guys!

    I'm the author of Breakaway. Nice review, thanks a lot .

    Car audio has always been extremely near and dear to my heart. Check out this video of my custom car audio system, from 2002:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bgnO5s6Vwr4

    This system is 10 years old, used the great grandfather of Breakaway and allowed near instantaneous selection of any song, album or artist in the system without ever having to take your eyes off the road. I plan to redo this system from scratch next year, so I might have some new cool software for you guys .


    There is an API to adjust the volume in Breakaway! Code at the end of the post.
    I do have an new idea for a different way of implementing the volume control, which should be more system-friendly. I will try it for the next version -- if it works, we should be all good.


    Breakaway as an audio processor works great, but for excellent audio it's only a third of the equation.

    The first part is of course the source material. Bad input = bad output, just like SpaceMonkey noticed.

    The 2nd part is volume normalization / leveling, and spectral balancing. That's breakaway.

    The 3rd part is proper equalization of the speakers. For this, you need an RTA, a calibrated measurement microphone, and an accurate EQ, preferably parametric.

    Breakaway Personal doesn't have parametric EQ. Breakaway Live does, but it's arguably too expensive for Car Audio (although I'd certainly pay to have it -- with its 8 speaker outputs with separate 24-band parametric EQ *per speaker*, it's extremely inexpensive for what it is).

    However, the upcoming Breakaway Home Theater will be priced somewhere in between the two (probably $80) and also feature speaker equalization!


    By the way, I have an idea for a way to use your existing car PC as a multi-speaker EQ and audio processor, using only one extra cheap USB sound card, and using an all digital path through an analog head unit!

    Imagine a Breakaway CarPC version:

    BCPC sends out a continuous detectable *test signal* through Sound Card #1 Out. This signal goes to your head unit AUX input.

    Sound Card #2 outputs (2, 4, 6 or 8 channels) go *directly* to your amplifiers, with processing, eq and crossovers all in software.

    Head unit low level output goes to Sound Card #1 in. BCPC monitors this input, and:

    If the test signal is detected, take straight digital audio from the player running on the computer, and let the level of the test signal control the output volume. This means, your *head unit's volume control will work as normal*, and it means up to 8 channels of separate speaker EQ in software even though your head unit is just 2 channels (stereo). It also means that the actual audio never passes the head unit, so NO noise, NO interference. We send the processed audio to Sound card #2 outputs, which goes to your amps.

    If the test signal is NOT detected, then it must be a straight audio signal (for example if you're listening to the radio), so we feed it directly to the software Speaker EQ / crossover path, and out through sound card #2 as normal. We don't pass it through Breakaway, because that would break the volume control, and radio is already processed.

    What do you think?

    I don't know about you, but this is how I'm wiring up my car the next time I do a car audio system .


    Best regards,
    ///Leif



    Here's how you currently control Breakaway volume programmatically:

    HWND hWndBa=::FindWindow(NULL,"BreakawayUtilityWindow_0 xBA31337");

    int msgGetVolume=RegisterWindowMessage("BaGetVolume");
    int msgSetVolume=RegisterWindowMessage("BaSetVolume");

    if(hWndBa)
    {

    int volume=::SendMessage(hWndBa,msgBaGetVolume,a,0);

    if(DoVolumeUp)
    {
    volume++;
    if(volume<0) volume=0;
    if(volume>100) volume=100;
    ::SendMessage(hWndBa,msgBaSetVolume,a,volume);
    }

    if(DoVolumeDown)
    {
    volume--;
    if(volume<0) volume=0;
    if(volume>100) volume=100;
    ::SendMessage(hWndBa,msgBaSetVolume,a,volume);
    }


    }

  9. #9
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    Breakaway RTA

    Almost forgot.

    I've made an extremely accurate RTA, and it's completely free (as in beer).

    It's called Breakaway RTA, and you can get it here:

    http://www.ceaudio.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=554

    It also contains ITU BS.1770 compliant loudness meters (normally used in the broadcast industry) and oscilloscopes.



    Most RTA software (for example TrueRTA) are based on FFT, which means equal resolution per frequency. Since frequency doubles per octave, this means they will have very low resolution for bass, making them unusable for EQ'ing the subwoofer.

    Breakaway RTA uses traditional band-pass filters for the bottom half (octave wise) and FFT for the top half, yielding the same high resolution at any frequency, and can run in third or sixth octave mode. Highly optimized code -- runs very comfortably on a standard-issue atom-based netbook.

    If you're going for SQ over SPL, it helps *tremendously* to notch out the resonance frequency of the subwoofer (and perhaps put in an artificial hump below it), yielding fat, solid, deep bass instead of boomy bass, even with a bandpass enclosure. This is why I consider high bass resolution to be a very important feature of an RTA, and why I was unhappy enough with other solutions to spend the time writing my own.

    For the actual equalizing you will need at least a 3rd octave (that is, 31 band per channel) equalizer, or at least 8 bands parametric (with width/gain/frequency controls for each band). Breakaway Live has it, is available now ($129), so if you were going to spend $100 for a stereo hardware EQ you may want to get BA Live instead of BA Personal, and get 8 channels of 24 band parametric EQ. When I release Breakaway CarPC, I'll give a free copy to any BA Live customers who ask for it.

    To run Breakaway RTA you need a calibrated microphone (I recommend Behringer ECM8000, it's about $50, needs phantom power), and some way to connect it. USB mic pre-amps are also about 50, and may look like this:



    If you've never RTA'ed a system, I cannot emphasize how big of a difference it makes.. It's truly night and day.

    Best,
    ///Leif

  10. #10
    Newbie SpaceMonkey's Avatar
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    Wow, thanks for getting involved konbaasiang - love ya work!

    Breakaway CarPC edition! sounds incredible. Altho, not sure if I need much more than Breakaway Personal for my system right now, but this may change down the track when the upgrade bug bites again. If anyone tries out the Breakway RTA software, i'd love to hear how it goes.

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