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Rode NT-SF1

Ambisonic Microphone
Published December 2018
By Sam Inglis

Rode NT‑SF1

Rode's new Soundfield mic brings the benefits of Ambisonic recording to everyone, whether you're working with 360‑degree audio or old‑fashioned stereo.

Technologies that look dead and buried sometimes enjoy remarkable comebacks. When SOS was launched back in 1985, modular analogue synthesis was already a thing of the past. Who could have imagined that it was also a thing of the future? And who could have foreseen that, 33 years later, we'd all be using ribbon microphones, or getting our mixes pressed onto vinyl?

Another technology that is poised to enter the mainstream after four decades on the sidelines is Ambisonics. The brainchild of Michael Gerzon, Britain's greatest audio innovator since Alan Blumlein, it has always had a small band of fiercely loyal adherents, but several factors held it back from widespread acceptance. Ambisonics was poorly understood, difficult to work with in the analogue domain and, above all, lacked a killer real‑world application.

Over the years, digital mixing and recording have eliminated some of the technical challenges, but what's really sparked the Ambisonics revival is that the real world has caught up with Michael Gerzon's imagination. Surround sound is now central to the cinema experience, vital for VR and germane to gaming, and what we mean by 'surround sound' is often very different in each case. From consumer earbuds to huge multi‑speaker cinema arrays, there are many ways in which immersive audio is consumed, and no way you could possibly create different mixes for each format.

This is where Gerzon's genius comes in, because Ambisonics is designed to be agnostic with regard to listening setups. An Ambisonics stream is an abstraction: it contains all the necessary information about which frequencies are radiating in which directions at what levels, but it leaves it up to the delivery system to translate this information into real‑world speaker signals. That might mean distributing sound across tens of different speakers to create an impressive effect in the cinema, but it might equally mean feeding it through a binaural encoder for headphone surround, or even folding it down to mono for listening on a mobile phone...

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Published December 2018