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Surround mixing / Dolby Atmos etc.

Postby Ramirez » Mon Oct 19, 2020 9:48 pm

What's the consensus on where this is going? Are we on a course where something beyond stereo is going to become the norm?

The studio I co-run don't have any surround mixing facilities, and I don't see that changing really.

I will, however, be setting up an additional room at the new family home, and wondering whether I should set up for 5.1 ar the very least. I do get a few film/TV jobs, so if they're likely to be asking for surround in the not-too distant future, it would be a good move I think.

On the other hand, the little TV work I do is usually for S4C in Wales, who don't broadcast in surround at all. Is online streaming heading for surround? I know it's hard enough to find a properly set-up stereo system in most people's homes, let alone surround!

If surround can be seen as future-proofing, then it might be worth it for me (I'd probably be looking at a 5.1 system with Neumann KH80 to start with). Most of my work would still be stereo music though, and the space would be needed for that. Is it a compromise too far to suspend the rear L/R speakers from the ceiling? Obviously this wouldn't be feasible with a Dolby Atmos setup due to the need for extra ceiling speakers.
Otherwise I think the rear speakers would need to be moved into position when needed - no big deal I presume.

Obviously, a minimum of 5 KH80 DSP, a suitable subwoofer and monitor controller isn't pocket money, but if more and more work is going to require it then I'll need to give it serious consideration.
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Re: Surround mixing / Dolby Atmos etc.

Postby blinddrew » Mon Oct 19, 2020 10:17 pm

I love a bit of surround sound on a movie, but it still feels like a solution in search of a problem when it comes to music.
Last thing I read on the subject (at the beginning of this year) was that 60% of music listening was done on headphones/earbuds and that number was rising. So if someone comes up with a surround sound set of headphones, in a form that can be translated to earbuds, then I think you'd have something.
But until then I'd be very surprised if there was ever much demand for it.

Having written that, I have just thought of a potentially huge use for it and that's in video games. Especially as we move to more VR-based games.
I retract my previous statement and refer the good gentleman to the statement in my signature! :oops:
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Re: Surround mixing / Dolby Atmos etc.

Postby Ramirez » Mon Oct 19, 2020 10:27 pm

blinddrew wrote:I love a bit of surround sound on a movie, but it still feels like a solution in search of a problem when it comes to music.
Last thing I read on the subject (at the beginning of this year) was that 60% of music listening was done on headphones/earbuds and that number was rising. So if someone comes up with a surround sound set of headphones, in a form that can be translated to earbuds, then I think you'd have something.
But until then I'd be very surprised if there was ever much demand for it.

Having written that, I have just thought of a potentially huge use for it and that's in video games. Especially as we move to more VR-based games.
I retract my previous statement and refer the good gentleman to the statement in my signature! :oops:

Thanks Drew.

I was thinking more in terms of TV/video streaming jobs rather than music. I can't see surround being a deal-breaker in music-only recording and mixing for a good while!

I've read something about iPhones natively supporting Dolby Atmos now as well. If that's the direction everything's heading, then we need to cater for it. But then again, as you say, it's more likely to be on headphones anyway isn't it.

I guess my question is, if you're setting up a new decent mix room, with an eye on doing some work for TV/video, is it silly not to offer a surround mixing setup?
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Re: Surround mixing / Dolby Atmos etc.

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Mon Oct 19, 2020 10:45 pm

Ramirez wrote:I guess my question is, if you're setting up a new decent mix room, with an eye on doing some work for TV/video, is it silly not to offer a surround mixing setup?

I'd say yes, in as much as stereo only would be restrictive for major film and tv production work, and dobly so for the audio-for-gaming market. But lower budget productions are still mostly stereo and will be for a long time to come... so it depends on what your likely clientele will be -- or what you want it to be -- now and in the future.

But if you do go down the surround route, simple 5.1 is probably not going to cut it. That was the 90s...and the world has moved on since then. Dolby Atmos is now de rigeur... (and other object-based surround sound formats are likely to stay in one form or another, even if Atmos loses popularity). High-order ambisonics is the other format gaining a lot of ground quickly. In both cases you'll need additional horizontal channel speakers and at least four or more ceiling speakers.

Importantly, both atmos/object-based surround and HOA can be folded into binaural forms which are increasingly popular for earbuds/headphone users, too.
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Re: Surround mixing / Dolby Atmos etc.

Postby Luke W » Mon Oct 19, 2020 10:55 pm

The majority of what I see on streaming services now seems to be available in at least 5.1, but how much of it is done properly I don’t know. As you’ve already pointed out most people won’t have a setup that makes full use of it, but there will always be some that do and if the demand is there from the companies creating the content then I suppose that’s beside the point. We all still mix in stereo for lots of people to listen on one earphone I suppose :D

Ramirez wrote:I guess my question is, if you're setting up a new decent mix room, with an eye on doing some work for TV/video, is it silly not to offer a surround mixing setup?

If it were me, I think I’d at the very least put in the infrastructure so that it could easily be added if/when needed. If you don’t already have gear you’re planning on using then it could be worth picking a monitoring solution that could be expanded to - rather than supplemented by - a surround setup? Apologies if I’m just stating the obvious...
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Re: Surround mixing / Dolby Atmos etc.

Postby Ramirez » Tue Oct 20, 2020 11:41 am

Thanks both. I was thinking of 5.1 as a stepping stone towards perhaps 7.1.4 Atmos... but they're all hugely expensive steps with decent speakers aren't they!

Luke W wrote:If it were me, I think I’d at the very least put in the infrastructure so that it could easily be added if/when needed. If you don’t already have gear you’re planning on using then it could be worth picking a monitoring solution that could be expanded to - rather than supplemented by - a surround setup? Apologies if I’m just stating the obvious...

That's a good point, and along my lines of thinking. I could obviously start with a pair (or 2.1 setup) of KH80 and expand if I see the need.

I had been toying with the idea of a pair for the new space anyway, but I really like my current monitors (AE22) and don't really fancy changing them. For various reasons (not least availability) it's not practical to use the AE22 as part of a surround system, and their resale value is so low it's hardly worth selling them!

I think the best idea for now would be, as you suggest, to set up the room for stereo, but install some cabling and access point with an eye on a potential future surround system.
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Re: Surround mixing / Dolby Atmos etc.

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Tue Oct 20, 2020 12:00 pm

Ramirez wrote:I think the best idea for now would be, as you suggest, to set up the room for stereo, but install some cabling and access point with an eye on a potential future surround system.

That sounds like a good compromise. Designing the room with a 7.1.4 system in mind (in addition to your AE22 stereo rig) would be a good plan -- and that doesn't just mean planning and installing the cabling and patchbay etc, but the positions of acoustic treatment on the walls too, leaving space for the speaker installs as and when you get that far.
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Re: Surround mixing / Dolby Atmos etc.

Postby Ramirez » Tue Oct 20, 2020 12:17 pm

Hugh Robjohns wrote:
Ramirez wrote:I think the best idea for now would be, as you suggest, to set up the room for stereo, but install some cabling and access point with an eye on a potential future surround system.

That sounds like a good compromise. Designing the room with a 7.1.4 system in mind (in addition to your AE22 stereo rig) would be a good plan -- and that doesn't just mean planning and installing the cabling and patchbay etc, but the positions of acoustic treatment on the walls too, leaving space for the speaker installs as and when you get that far.

Yes. This is a strange new world for me!

I don't think I'd keep the AE22 in addition to a new system though - am I correct that the front L/R in a surround system are positioned the same as stereo? If that's the case, the AE22 would have to go when it's time to get the new speakers, and the KH80 (+ sub probably) would become my stereo system as well.
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Re: Surround mixing / Dolby Atmos etc.

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Tue Oct 20, 2020 12:34 pm

Ramirez wrote:...am I correct that the front L/R in a surround system are positioned the same as stereo?

Well... that all depends... They are typically wider if working on film soundtracks -- maybe +/-45 degrees instead of +/-30 degrees.
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Re: Surround mixing / Dolby Atmos etc.

Postby The Red Bladder » Tue Oct 20, 2020 3:22 pm

Hugh Robjohns wrote:But if you do go down the surround route, simple 5.1 is probably not going to cut it. That was the 90s...and the world has moved on since then. Dolby Atmos is now de rigeur... (and other object-based surround sound formats are likely to stay in one form or another, even if Atmos loses popularity). High-order ambisonics is the other format gaining a lot of ground quickly. In both cases, you'll need additional horizontal channel speakers and at least four or more ceiling speakers.

Importantly, both atmos/object-based surround and HOA can be folded into binaural forms which are increasingly popular for earbuds/headphone users, too.
THIS!

All these 3D audio formats 'fold-down' easily for those still on stereo.

Points to remember for 3D audio -

1. The consumer base for 3D audio is (shall we be polite?) thin. I only know one person who has such a system and he is a well-known sound engineer. Of all the many, many Blu-Ray disks I have, only three have 7.1 sound and one or two have Atmos/DTS-X.

3. There are three commercially viable 3D audio formats, of which Atmos is just one and possibly not the best. The others are DTS-X and MPEG-H. MPEG-H is free. There are others, but they don't seem to be gaining much market headway.

4. There are soundbars that do actually work, the best being the one from Sennheiser called 'The Ambeo' - but they cost real money. Don't expect anything out there that actually works for under $2,500. On unveiling Atmos at IBC, Dolby used a Yamaha soundbar in a very small glass cabin with astonishingly good results. The two-or-so good soundbars work well in smaller rooms with 2.4m ceilings. The crappy soundbars are to be avoided at all costs!

5. If you monitor for discrete speakers, you will need a 7.1.4 system minimum and a fairly large room. Small rooms with low (i.e. 2.4m) ceilings lead to hot-spots. I attended a Genelec demo for 3D audio and the ceiling was just 2.4m and despite that they took great care, we heard hot-spots near every ceiling speaker.

6. Resolve also does 3D audio within the Fairlight tools.

7. All TV and film work will probably expect your room to be Dolby and/or DTS-X accredited. Blu-Ray stuff for the big-boys will also expect this (and a whole host of other stuff like data security accreditation) but small indies won't really care. The audio on most indi films is (IMO) not especially good. The two things they seem to forget to budget for are audio and marketing - but that's another issue!

8. When it comes to business decisions - don't bet against Dolby! Theirs may not be the best system - but they know how to market things!

So, them's all the facts - here's my 30-cents-worth -

A very few theatres on Planet Earth have 3D systems installed and I have yet to meet a single regular punter with a 3D sound system in their home. Cinemas are nearly all 'dark' right now and fighting for survival. There is no money for a refit. Most provincial theatres have poor 7.1 systems and that's it.

So we have all the headwinds blowing against the 3D idea. Streaming is stereo and nearly all punters do not even want 5.1, let alone any kind of magic 3D system. When 3D is installed into TV sets, you might get some traction - but the sound will be ghastly of course!

The only vehicle for 3D audio is films and right now, to quote Roger Deakins, "I can't make films wearing a hazmat suit!"

I love the idea of 3D audio and it really does work brilliantly when done properly - but considering that most films can't even get 5.1 and 7.1 right and nearly all punters fail to see or hear the need for 3D audio (mostly because they have never experienced it) universal acceptance will not happen any time soon.

When you can go into a downtown showroom and get a brilliant demonstration of 3D audio that knocks your socks off, well, then maybe it is time to refit the studio.

We have a Genelec 7.1 system and 3D is a bridge I intend to cross when we get to the river! If someone were to tell me that they'll finance our next bodice-ripping epic if it is in 3D, right now I'd get that Sennheiser box. We are, however, pre-wired for 7.1.4 speaker arrays.

Here's the blog from a guy who went down the Atmos route - https://www.pro-tools-expert.com/produc ... s?rq=Atmos

Happy reading!
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Re: Surround mixing / Dolby Atmos etc.

Postby Ramirez » Tue Oct 20, 2020 4:00 pm

Excellent, thanks for your time.

I don't see myself getting work for the 'big boys' really, so it's probably not worth the bother right now. What I do see myself getting (and am getting a little of) is some work for independent companies/producers who want to be able to push their work to the big boys. If the delivery specs call for surround/Atmos, then we're straight out of the game. That's what made me think of this, more so than any hope of sensible surround systems in people's homes!

The room isn't so big either - around 6x5 metres with a gentle sloping ceiling not far from the typical 2.4m height.
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Re: Surround mixing / Dolby Atmos etc.

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Tue Oct 20, 2020 4:31 pm

The Red Bladder wrote:The only vehicle for 3D audio is films and right now...

I disagree with this point.

It's the Games industry that is driving both the consumer market and the tech industry for 3D audio in a huge, HUGE way.

Most of the HOA development I've seen in recent years has basically been for immersive Games soundtracks. And the last time I was in Abbey Road studios (end of last year) they were investing hugely (both in gear and studio time) in developing their 3D recording techniques mostly for games soundtracks. Film surround is very much the poor relation...

I agree with the 'don't bet against Dolby' notion -- atmos isn't the most sophisticated format around, perhaps, but it is reasonably well-engineered, and it's a logical and practical extension from the legacy 5.1 format, meaning movie theatres and others can upgrade fairly painlessy and cost-effectively when they want to... which is very important.

The same is not as true for the alternative formats...none of which have Dolby's marketing skills, as you say!
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Re: Surround mixing / Dolby Atmos etc.

Postby The Red Bladder » Tue Oct 20, 2020 4:44 pm

@Hugh - sports and games. Ouch! Yes, horrible thoughts - but if they drive 3D audio then let's get funky!

We are doing in-house productions and music videos, plus editing BBC and Channel Four documentary rubbish and therefore 5.1/7.1/Atmos certification ain't an issue right now.

Hardly anyone is able to make proper films demanding even 5.1 - the demand for end-product is there in spades but as long as C19 is more important than the economy or even cancer operations, something as frivolous as making movies ain't going to happen.

And making films is all I want to do - that other stuff is just keeping the doors open.

The future could be very bright for 3D audio though as it will have to be delivered as a digital protocol and that means it will be vertically compatible with stereo, mono, 7.1, etc., etc. HDMI to the soundbar and a line-feed from that to the bass that's all the punter will need.

3D audio works by not just trying to make the sound come from a specific position, but there is a time-base thing going on, as well as a phase and anti-phase component. TBH, it is a subject I have not had to deal with much, other than to see if it had any relevance to us and what we do.

When there is, I shall probably go down the top-of-the-line soundbar route simply because that is what 99.99% of the punters will be listening on. We do not provide products for IMAX rooms, nor are we ever likely to (I don't like their shiny screens or the aspect ratio anyway!)

At the bottom of this debate is the sad fact that audio comes right at the bottom of the to-do list when making movies. You only have to pick any Blu-Ray disk and watch the average film using a decent sound system with 7.1 to realise that. The number of films with a really great soundtrack is tiny. Even the DCP for the theatres is usually sort of OK, but that's about all!

The number of directors working today that care about sound and are able to make tent-pole movies is tiny. Maybe five of them - Villeneuve and Fuqua spring to mind and some of Nolan's films are good.

Note to self - must watch Blade Runner 2049 again in our viewing room - 7.1 and banging!
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