Surround Interview Extras

Mar 1, 2003 12:00 PM, Barry Rudolph


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Our featured producers share their views on the center channel, checking their mixes and surround encoding options.

How do you use and check the center and .1 sub channels?
Wagener: I use the sub for a little bit of bass and kick and for LeRoi's record, we'll have sound effects like heartbeats that belong in the sub. The center channel is going to be treated equal to the other four.

Masson: I use the center channel. A good portion of the vocal is there as well as the left and right channels; never a phantom center only. A little kick and bass in the sub—the sub is another tool and an integral part of the mix. I want to hear it big-time."

Douglass: I turn off the sub altogether because it affects the way I mix and throws off my perception of the big picture. It's the difference between mixing on my five Yamaha NS10Ms and then going to a club and hearing my mix on those systems; hard to hear detail and not mixing on nearfields. With the sub channel on, I'm mixing in that club. I use the center speaker way differently than other guys. For example, I'll have four stereo keyboards: one across the front, one across the back, one across the middle (left and right panned and midway between front and back) and now, to distinguish that fourth keyboard from the others, I'll put it only in the center speaker. I never use the center for vocals—it sounds strange to me—not what I am used to hearing.

Tozzoli: I make sure anything in the center is also in the left and right mixed almost equally—50/50. About 80 percent of the mix is still carried by the other speakers. For the sub channel on BÖC, it was important to carry the sound of the PA system along with the kick and bass and I use Kind Of Loud's Woofie™ to check to see what bass management will roughly do to my mix.

Charbonneau: I use the center channel but I make sure that with a vocal also in the center, there is only a small increase of vocal presence with it on. If you put the vocal only in the center and that channel doesn't work correctly in the listener's living room, you've got a karaoke mix! For the sub channel, I filter and use dbx's 120x sub harmonic generator.

Caillat: The sub gives you another octave and more space for the upper frequencies. I send some kick, bass and a little snare drum and filter starting at 100Hz and clamp [compress] the sub channel bus. I'll put about 30 percent of the vocal in the center speaker and the rest phantom. Even though you might be sitting in front of the left speaker, you'll still hear the vocal coming from the center. When I'm nearly finished with a mix, I always go around and solo each channel to see exactly what it sounds like on it's own. The center channel is my main concern—I don't want to leave my artist “hanging out to dry” so I'll nudge some of the vocal L/R reverb returns toward the center channel.

Mack: Because not all bass management systems are equal, it sounds better to put some low frequency information in the sub channel than not. I also use the center channel a little to anchor the phantom center from the front left and right speakers. I use a Studio Technologies Model 78 Central Controller with channel solos and down-mix buttons for up to 7.1 channels. You can solo or mute any channel including the sub and also alter individual channels levels.

Parr: I really believe that there is no place for the LFE in orchestral cinema mixes. Cinema speakers are full range and you can open up your mixes to extreme abuse if you put stuff down there. Home systems, via bass management, will redirect so you shouldn't go there. The use of the center is a big issue and I mix to the dialogue tracks and keep out of the way. Otherwise I will place solo instruments in there, but always with some divergence in the left and right so that nothing is naked.

What equipment do you use to check your mixes outside the studio?
Wagener: I make a DTS encoded CD for playback at home. I have a standard stock home system with bass management turned on to check my mixes.

Douglass: After mastering, but before manufacturing, at home I use a Coleman Audio passive level controller/switcher and check a DVD ref on my NHT Pro speakers. It has got to represent what I did in the studio.

Tozzoli: We check everything [before mastering or authoring] by sending a digital feed of a hardware-encoded DTS or AC-3 stream from my mix room to another listening room at 333, and decode it on a typical home theater setup with bass management. We also use Kind of Loud's SmartCode Pro™, do a AC-3 encode of three songs, and burn with a Mac G4's SuperDrive™, a DVD-V (with AC-3 audio only) and check it at home.

Charbonneau: While mixing Clint Holmes’ album, we set up a surround playback system of JBL's LSR speakers in Clint's dressing room and ran six audio channels so he could listen in. We did a lot of A/B-ing other DVD releases that were originally recorded in my truck but mixed elsewhere. For Disturbed's DVD, I provided Dave May [DVD producer] with some discrete mixes recorded on DA-88, 16-bits. He listened to them at the Dolby lab reference room and at Warner Bros. Records’ listening room. We found them to translate very well.

Mack: I used to go down to the local hi-fi/stereo shop and play my stuff on all their systems, but now I have three surround systems to check DVDs. My $300 Panasonic system is pretty good because it exhibits a lot of things that you don't hear in the studio.

Parr: I have a jury-rigged [isn’t it “jerry-rigged”? bj] system in my live room which is all my old NS10s and some hi-fi shop crap, but it's great for worst-case scenarios. It tells me loads.

Do you do AC-3 encoding and do you like hardware or software encoders?
Wagener: At this stage, we're not sure of the final release format—could be DVD-V or DTS. I would hire and work closely with professionals doing mastering and AC-3 encoding and check the results.

Masson: Only for reference discs, but I prefer the hardware Dolby unit over software encoders and I use the default first choice setting.

Caillat: At 5.1 Entertainment we had both the Dolby and DTS encoder boxes. I like the hardware units for the simple reason that you can A/B input vs. output and adjust the mix to compensate for whatever the encoder is doing to it. I always set the encoder to default to the surround mix. We tried to make the default to the stereo mix on the Rumors DVD and some older Dolby receivers [we found] couldn't find it on the disc! The only choice was the stereo down-mix and that is a whole other thing—you have to adjust the surround mix for the way it gets folded down to stereo. If your DVD player defaults to stereo, the Dolby Pro Logic circuit will throw audio to the rear channels and for a lot of consumers, they'll think that is the surround mix; they won't even know!

Mack: I use Apple's DVD Studio Pro for reference discs because it allows you to set parameters like normalization or rear channels down 3dB for down mix reasons. There are six or seven different compression choices. I try encoding using all the different settings to see what works best for the particular music and the mix I'm doing—heavy guitar production reacts differently than a piano-based song. I burn a DVD and listen to the results, including the fold down on my three 5.1 home theater systems and make notes of what I like. I give the settings to the authoring house doing the final AC-3 encode. The disc can also be sent to the producers so they can approve mixes.

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