May | June 2019
CREATIVE CLOUT An exclusive look inside the new professional spec media recording facility at UCA Farnham
Analogue and digital wireless systems compared
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Creating an immersive mix for Tom Clancy’s The Division 2
Pioneer Pro Audio’s XPRS loudspeakers
DESIGNED & ENGINEERED IN GERMANY LD SystemsÂ® is a registered brand of the Adam Hall Group.
13 The Psychology of Mixing Dom Morley on why it is important to maintain a healthy work life balance
Royal Albert Hall We hear about the iconic venue’s record-breaking speaker install and immersive d&b Soundscape system
19 Game Audio How the Ubisoft Massive sound team brought Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 to life 22
UCA Farnham Colby Ramsey gets a tour of the University for the Creative Arts’ new media recording facility and 7.1.2 dubbing suite
TECH TALK 30
Wireless Systems Audio-Technica’s Alex Lepges weighs up the pros and cons of analogue and digital wireless offerings
32 Pioneer Pro Audio XPRS
May | June 2019
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AMI MAY | JUNE 2019
SUMMER IS COMING
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Cover photo credit: UCA Farnham
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t’s been another busy couple of months for the pro audio industry. High End Munich – where PMC presented a number of unique Dolby Atmos music demonstrations – lived up to its name as the European hub of high end hi-fi, Superbooth in Berlin continued to push synth culture forward in unexpected ways, and PLASA Focus Leeds once again proved to be a key social and business event in the entertainment technology calendar, with an 8 per cent uptake in visitor numbers. AMI has also been busy as usual covering all of the industry’s big developments, one of which, of course, is immersive audio. In this month’s issue, the usual swathe of pro audio product reviews have been swapped out for a healthy dose of big features, all of which touch on this fascinating new technology which is slowly but surely becoming the norm. The first of which profiles the enormous loudspeaker installation at London’s Royal Albert Hall, an extremely culturally important venue which required six months of work to create a bespoke immersive sound system using d&b audiotechnik’s Soundscape. Pat Smith of SFL Group – the Royal Albert Hall’s long-serving AV partner – described the emergence of immersive formats as
perhaps the most fundamental change seen in audio technology for a generation. Next up is a medium that’s not been covered for a while in AMI – Exploring game audio. Here, sound specialists from Ubisoft Massive and Pinewood Studios in the UK describe how they brought the sound of 2019’s biggest online RPG shooter, Tom Clancy’s The Division 2, to life. The immersive audio mix for this title saw the team sound map Washington D.C. in its entirety – A location recording mission of truly epic proportions. Meanwhile, I headed over to the University of the Creative Arts in Farnham, Surrey to get acquainted with this month’s cover star, a shiny new media recording facility and 7.1.2 dubbing suite designed primarily for UCA’s Film Production students. Third year coordinator and senior lecturer Charis Coke very kindly gave me an extensive tour of these new sound spaces, which will undoubtedly bring UCA bang up to speed with some of the country’s top educational institutions, as well as giving the students a fantastic opportunity to work in a state-of-the-art professional environment and use pro audio gear that’s as close to industry standard as possible. Also in the issue, we hear from multi award-winning post production specialist ZEN Broadcast who tell us about their experiences using Universal Audio systems, Stephen Bennett discovers how KLANG’s immersive in-ear monitoring system is being integrated into DiGiCo’s console software, and Polish broadcast audio company 120Db explain how they’ve been getting to grips with Solid State Logic’s System T. Enjoy the issue, and make sure to keep an eye out for the next AMI double bill, which will land mid-July! ■
Colby Ramsey Editor Audio Media International
Experts in the issue
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Alex Lepges is the marketing director EMEA at Audio-Technica
Michael Biwer is group show director of the Messe Frankfurt Exhibition
Dom Morley is a Grammy Award winning producer and mixer
May | June 2019
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TECHNOLOGIES EVOLVE, VALUES REMAIN.
BETTER TOGETHER Having visited this year’s show, AMI takes a closer look at the biggest developments from Prolight + Sound 2019...
rolight + Sound was once again filled with innovations and exciting experiences when it returned to Messe Frankfurt from April 2-5. After the event, AMI spoke to Michael Biwer – group show director of the Messe Frankfurt Exhibition – to get his thoughts. “Once again Prolight + Sound covered all developments in the industry: in particular, the triumphal success of IP-based transmission could be seen and felt in all halls, while specialist features – such as the whole-day Dante Certificate Level 3 training course – went down very well,” said Biwer. Immersive sound and object-based audio applications played an ever greater role at this year’s show: “A clear exposition was cast on this trend, inter alia, in the successful Immersive Technology Forum, while in addition, key players such as d&b Audiotechnik, L-Acoustics and Meyer Sound presented their solutions in their own demo rooms, which hosted an outstanding number of visitors,” Biwer added. The new Hall 12, which was part of the trade fair for the first time, also received plenty of praise. Messe Frankfurt’s biggest and most modern building bundled together a broad range of products and services, covering every aspect of light, stage and entertainment under one roof and provided first-class facilities for presenting innovative technologies. So how was the decision to concentrate the whole spectrum of audio products in one hall received? Biwer said this step was overall viewed by both exhibitors and visitors as a good idea. It meant short links for visitors since product segments – such as mixing consoles, microphones and cables – were no longer spread over several halls. “In this arrangement we were following what the majority of exhibitors wanted,” said Biwer. “Moreover, the firms benefited from the good conditions for assembly and
dismantling in the ground-floor Hall 8.0, plus the central location at the Fair & Exhibition Centre.” Musikmesse and Prolight + Sound were moved physically closer together and ran concurrently for the first time this year, which had an important effect on the overall organisation and running of the two events. “A consequence of the concurrent opening of Prolight + Sound and Musikmesse was the ability to make better use of the outside grounds, since during the event no assembly and dismantling work took place,” Biwer explained. “Thus the Agora on the East Campus proved to be an ideal location for the Festival Arena and a suitable presentation area for outdoor LED walls. Special areas, such as the Sample Music Festival Area or the Vintage Concert Audio Show, benefited from their positioning, since they enjoyed large footfall by visitors to both fairs.” Also, shifting Musikmesse to four weekdays went hand in hand with a stronger focus on international trade visitors, Biwer told AMI. “The whole dual-fair arrangement benefited from this professionalisation of the visitor structure: trade visitors numbered 76 per cent, of whom 45 per cent came from top management. More than half of the trade visitors came from abroad – from no less than 130 countries. “Once again Prolight + Sound 2019 has demonstrated that a presentation and meeting platform in the heart of Europe, with a clear focus on event and entertainment technology, is of untold value for the whole industry,” Biwer concluded. “Even now we are in contact with firms, associations and further partners and are working on developments for the anniversary event of 2020, at which Prolight + Sound will be celebrating its 25th birthday.” Prolight + Sound 2020 will run from March 31 – April 3 next year, and further details will be announced soon.
From the showfloor Grammy Award-winning artist and engineer Imogen Heap wowed a capacity crowd with a live demonstration of how she uses her Mi.Mu gloves to create sounds and control the d&b Soundscape, the d&b immersive sound system. Featured on the company’s stand was the d&b SL Series - GSL and KSL Systems, the d&b Soundscape, and new arrival, the B8-SUB/Bi8-SUB, as well as the d&b enabling technologies. Meanwhile, DiGiCo demonstrated the integration of KLANG:technologies immersive in-ear mixing into its SD-Range and the latest A3232 DMI for S-Series consoles. The show gave visitors the first opportunity to experience a working version of its new control integration for immersive in-ear mixing. The bidirectional control of mixes and immersive pan positioning is designed to allow monitor engineers to provide fully immersive IEM feeds as part of their normal workflow. Funktion-One also unveiled its latest technological development with the launch of Vero VX. Having been in development for the last three years, Vero promises sound for a wider range of venues and environments thanks to its more compact footprint. At the other end of Hall 8, L-Acoustics launched its new ARCS product range, comprising four constant curvature enclosures – A15 Focus, A15 Wide, A10 Focus, A10 Wide – and a dedicated subwoofer, KS21. The enclosures are designed to offer flexible coverage options, achieving a throw of up to 45 meters and a maximum output of 144 dB. n pls.messefrankfurt.com
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MI.MU GLOVES OFFICIALLY LAUNCHED TO THE PUBLIC The new version of the innovative wearable tech for music composition was recently unveiled at a showcase event in London...
he MI.MU Gloves are the brainchild of musician Imogen Heap, who, together with the MI.MU team, have worked towards new expressive ways of composing and performing music since 2010. The first glove prototypes were forged in the nurturing space of Imogen Heap’s musical experimentations, and tested on stage in real live performances. However since 2014 a small group of pioneer musicians have been using early versions of the MI.MU Gloves across the world for a wide range of different artistic projects. These include vocalists, classical pianists, beat boxers, guitarists, artists controlling live visual projections and Ariana Grande on her world tour in 2015. AMI recently attended a launch event at London’s Blundell Street Studios where the new version of the gloves were launched to much eager anticipation. As well as receiving a fantastic demo of the technology, we managed to sit down and speak with the company’s managing director Adam Stark as well as one of two ‘glovers’ who performed on the night, Lula Mebrahtu, about her MI.MU journey so far. “The MI.MU project is really about trying to change the way we compose and perform music,” Stark told AMI. “We’re trying to change the world of buttons, sliders, knobs and dials which are not expressive as such, and are very limited in their control. “We’re trying to capture the full movement of the human body and allow people to create and compose music that way. It lets them be more expressive in their music creation, but also they get to engage with an
audience and communicate with people, rather than being stuck behind a laptop screen looking like they’re checking their emails.” Over the last few years, Stark and the team have spent a huge amount of time looking at how to manufacture something that’s part textiles and part electronics, which is simultaneously fragile and vulnerable: “We’ve taken this interdisciplinary software, textiles and electronics, and merged them into a single process where we can now make this for lots of people,” he explained. “We got a grant from the UK government to develop a posture recognition algorithm, which can recognise a fist, an open hand, a one finger point, or a pinch for example, and can recognise any posture you teach it. “We started storing posture data based on many different people’s hands and we wrote machine learning algorithms, which we tested against each other to find the best algorithm for recognising posture. We’ve now got what we believe is the most stable thing that we can build, at least with existing technology – that’s been a really exciting part of it.” Stark said he wanted to use the event to get the message out there – that there’s a new way to make music and it can be expressive and communicative: “We’re really proud to have reached this point and it’s been an incredible team effort,” he told AMI. “It’s such a mixture of research, engineering, electronics, software and textiles. There’s an amazing range of skills, hard work and time that’s gone into it. They’re the best group of people I’ve worked with and it’s been really inspiring.” Singer/songwriter and sound designer Lula Mebrahtu – also known as Lula.xyz – has been using
MI.MU Gloves in her work for a number of years. Her background is in music but also in performing arts, and so her original interest stemmed from the physicality of the music. “It was a musician friend of mine who brought my attention to MI.MU,” Lula told AMI. “My process as a creative has been to not always dictate the story. The story tells you what medium is best suited to it – sometimes I sit down to write a song and ten pages later it’s a short story – so I was looking for something that gave me the facility and process of working that was unconventional. I struggled with the conventionality of working within specific frameworks and this gave me the potential of freedom that I could not achieve elsewhere. “When you’re doing music there’s often a preconceived idea of what sounds you’re aspiring to achieve,” she continued. “Now that I’m working with the gloves, it’s kind of a new playing field, so I’m received with whatever I bring to the table, which has been really freeing, and a journey and a half!” At the event, Lula used her MI.MU gloves to perform two solos to an attentive audience. “I’ve also used it in the context of a band, and I do the sound design for a dance company,” she told AMI. “Last year, I did the sound design for a children’s play but I was also the lead actor. The gloves really enabled the character to come to life within the story, so it’s definitely a great storytelling tool in that sense.” n www.mimugloves.com
May | June 2019
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CHANGING THE TUNE Dan Piggott of KORD.Media offers his thoughts on changing workflows in the post-production landscape…
think it’s widely accepted that there are two ways in which a facility can deliver audio post, employ staff or use freelancers, so there seemed to be an opportunity to explore whether there’s something that sits in the middle of those. About 18 months ago I started experimenting with different workflows and since then, various things have happened that have thoroughly supported this theory. I actually set up a fairly high spec’d home studio in 2017 – Genelec 5.1 monitoring, Avid S3 with Dock – with a view to it being a kind of proof of concept setup. My objective was to see if I could seamlessly sync a project between my “remote” studio and a studio where the project would be signed off. I found that it is possible and have been growing this workflow ever since. Now I’ve decided to take on a slightly larger overhead – take it out of the house and, instead, put it in a central location in Manchester City Centre – which then opens up the door to voiceover and ADR, dry hire etc. It means that there’s then a few different options available to my clients.
As a very small independent audio offering the idea would be to find a new position in the market, which gives facilities another option when they start reaching capacity. The studio is being built in Bonded Warehouse, St John’s on the site of the Old Granada Studio, and at the time of writing I’m about two weeks from completion. There’s lots of really cool and interesting stuff going on in this part of town. It really is an incredible building with a hugely impressive history. So I’ve taken a unit of roughly 500sq.ft. – There’s going to be a mezzanine above the dubbing theatre which will house the technical area, while there’ll also be a voiceover booth and a small edit suite. There will be the option of monitoring in 7.1.4 through the CB Electronics TMC-1, and there is a Dante network being installed, which will allow very flexible recording options – the Focusrite X2P provides an interesting solution for the voiceover booth. The Avid S3 is an incredibly cost effective piece of kit and when housed in the Modson furniture, also being installed, should rise in professional appeal somewhat.
It’s difficult convincing people that there’s an alternative way of working, but when you look at it on paper it makes a lot of sense. By booking someone to deliver a fixed amount of work and not booking them for a fixed amount of time, you can apply working practices found in many other industries, i.e. you quote to deliver a job to a deadline. For the first time technology is allowing our industry to work in that way. A company approached me recently to mix four one-hour tv shows. They asked me to mix them off-site because schedules had slipped and the capacity of the facility couldn’t accommodate them any longer. The mixes were completed to deadline, and the client then attended for one day to sign off the four episodes. Here’s an example of how a facility has managed to put eight days worth of work through a dubbing theatre in a single day, rather than tying it up for all eight. Through being reactive, they found an incredibly efficient way of utilising their resources. Through the democratisation of post production equipment, many other freelance mixers now own their own dubbing theatres, so facilities would do well to be proactive and start putting the structures in place that allow them to also facilitate. n
Dan Piggott is a dubbing mixer and company director of KORD.Media. He is also a member of The Association Of Motion Picture Sound. His three main areas of professional experience are television drama, animation, and short-form sound design.
May | June 2019
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THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MIXING Dom Morley takes a look at the mental aspect of mixing and explains why it is important to maintain a balance...
love a technical discussion as much as the next person, but I think it’s worth pausing every now and then to think about the psychological aspect of the work that we do. What challenges do we face as engineers, and what do we need to consider on behalf of our clients? I would say that the biggest psychological challenge that we face during mixing is maintaining perspective. If you’ve ever got stuck into a mix, been deep in a ‘flow state’ and then after a few hours compared your mix to a reference track and realised that there’s not enough bass, or your vocal is clearly too loud, then you know what I mean. These things can happen, and it’s just a case of keeping your perspective in check. If you’re mixing for a client, then you should have a playlist with a few tracks that they want you to sonically aim for. Keep referring to these to make sure you’re in the ballpark. Obviously, you’re not looking to copy anything - just to be able to stand up alongside them and sound like you should be there. In a very Buzzfeed-y sort of way, I have three ‘takes’ that can help maintain perspective:
• Take breaks. Getting yourself into a ‘flow state’ can really push a mix forwards, but you have to remember that regular breaks prevent you from pushing for many hours in the wrong direction. I find it useful to get up and walk around. Leave the room or even leave the building if you can. Just sitting in the same chair and hopping on to social media is technically a break from mixing, but it’s
not as effective as actually leaving the space that you’re working in (I think I need to be in an acoustically different space to properly give my ears a rest but maybe that’s just me). It only needs to be a couple of minutes and then sit back in front of your mix and prepare to…
• Take notes. On your first listen back after a break you hear with fresh ears, but this perspective doesn’t last very long. You know when you come back home from a holiday, and you have about 30 minutes where you walk around and see your house/flat as other people do. Why is that pile of stuff still in the corner? How is that wall still not painted? This bathroom looks tragic, etc. After about 30 minutes you don’t see those problems again until the next time you come home from a break. Coming back to a mix after a break is a similar thing. That’s why it’s good to make notes on that first listen – a few things will be noticeable with this new perspective and they will be worth exploring. Within a couple of listens those fresh ears will be back to normal. • Take a friend. This is an interesting one, as playing your mix to a friend can really help you hear it from a listener’s perspective. If this friend has an opinion that you trust then all the better, but the reason you’re doing this is to see how it changes your perspective and not to gain theirs.
This is really worth trying if you have not done it before, as you’re likely to be amazed by what you notice when you’re in this ‘performance’ frame of mind. As a mixer you come in right at the end of a potentially very long process. It’s also possible that you’re the first ‘outsider’ to be involved creatively. Being respectful of this and understanding your client’s stresses will help any mix session go smoothly. Mixing is generally remote these days – artists appear to have come to the conclusion that mixing is not a spectator sport (I was an assistant for a few years, and I agree). This is not a problem but it requires good communication. Let your client know what’s happening and when it’s happening, of course, but also make sure you get as much information as possible on what they are looking for. Obviously ask for a playlist to give you an idea of how they want to sound, but also ask why each song is on the playlist. Is it there because they like the vocal sound? Or the drum sound? Or is it just the overall balance? This communication will reassure the client and make your life easier. And as a final note on the psychology of mixing – unless you are lucky enough to be in a large studio complex with lots of people to talk to, you’ll find yourself working on your own most of the time. This level of solitude is not normal for humans and can be bad for your mental health. Try to integrate some actual (not virtual) human interaction into your working life and it’ll make for happier and more creative sessions! n
Dom Morley is a Grammy Award winning producer and mixer based in his own Oxfordshire (UK) studio.
May | June 2019
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ZEN STATE OF MIND Despite being a small facility located in rural Hampshire, ZEN Broadcast had been doing an awful lot of post production recently. Dubbing mixer Kevin Duff, who makes up one half of the company along with his fellow sound supervisor Andy Deacon, has been nominated for and won several BAFTA Craft Awards, most recently bagging an accolade for last year’s Festival of Remembrance. Here, Colby Ramsey discovers how Universal Audio systems have ultimately helped bring the pair success... Tell us about yourselves and the history of ZEN. KD: I’ve been in broadcast sound since about 1987, originally starting at London Weekend Television as a sound trainee. Over the next ten years I was trained up and started moving into the freelance market, during which I got involved with BBC events, and primarily the Festival of Remembrance. Here I bumped into Andy who’s now been working on the festival for 28 years – He was the recording engineer for the Royal Marines Band Service. We worked on that event and a few other BBC events for a few years, and we soon found
ourselves in a position where we wanted to form a company together. This is where ZEN Broadcast, which we’re now throwing all of our efforts into, was born. A post production space was the next logical thing for ZEN and we soon moved into a brand new warehouse and office. Since then we’ve built two very nice mix rooms plus an Avid room that’s about to come online, with a recording space that became operational at the end of 2018. The Royal Variety, Black Eyed Peas’ music special, Olly Murs’ music special, and the last series of The Voice have all been posted here.
My background is very much in light entertainment and music shows, whereas Andy’s background was recording military music, so client-wise that’s two of our biggest areas of expertise. We tend to get calls for multi-stage difficult jobs, with a high track count etc., and with our OB truck, we see ourselves continuing to work with big BBC events. AD: The Royal Marines Band Service trained me both musically and as an engineer. Through that I’ve been fortunate enough to record many large events for them and for other organisations in the Royal Albert
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ZEN's Andy Deacon and Kevin Duff
Hall, including large scale orchestral recordings with the likes of Ennio Morricone, Hans Zimmer etc. The beauty of the truck is that we designed it with two mix spaces that are tuned and matched identically. We can have over a thousand inputs and it will allow one of us to mix the orchestra and the other to mix other elements of stage bands in the other room, with the ability to mix into each other and listen back through each other. We both utilise the exact same UAD mastering system, which Kev uses on all his shows with other engineers he works with.
It’s easier to carry and transport, and with AES and analogue I/O I’ve got different types of accessibility
What inﬂuenced your decision to switch over to UAD systems? AD: I started working with Kev in broadcast through the BBC link, and around the same time was introduced to UAD systems. We both started using them within Pro Tools post production and audio CD production. Compared to our previous tools, UAD was far more comprehensive in terms of how it worked and how it integrated with the Pro Tools systems that I was using at the time. I also felt that its sonic quality was superior, and matched more of the analogue equipment that I had at the time. Much of the outboard we had kept needing repairs, but going to the UAD stuff allowed us to use the same parameters and get the same sound. The workﬂow it’s allowed us to develop over the last eight or nine years has kind of created a signature sound that people look to us for. KD: As a jobbing freelancer in 2013, I was looking for kit that would cross over between studio and post, so I came across the Precision Limiter, the plugin that first drew me towards UAD. My audience chain is quite specific and involves a few different limiters and compressors. Whereas this would usually be in a 12U or 14U rack, I replaced that with a 1U rack and some plugins.
sessions – What advantages have these brought to your workﬂow? KD: When we’re doing something like The Voice, the live shows crossover with the post production element, so it means that quite often I’ll be on site in the truck mixing the show or getting ready for a live transmission with a post show going on at the same time. We’ve developed portable dubbing rigs completely based around the power of UAD, keeping everything in the box and matching the plugins across all our systems. I am able to pull up a laptop, a UAD satellite and an extra screen so that I can keep dubbing while I’m on site or with the clients. This side of it has been massively powerful for us, allowing us to be really ﬂexible in all sorts of situations and turn things around quicker. We’re using the same kit across all our dubbing rooms, post rooms and the truck, and it gives us that signature sound. It provides a streamlined workﬂow and cuts down the variables, while also lets us be much more creative. I haven’t done a show in the last six years without UAD by my side. AD: I’ll use the Royal Albert Hall as an example – We had to go in there with a laptop, an RME MADIface XT, a couple of MADI routers, and the UAD rig. For an
in terms of the infrastructure I can use, depending on where I’m going. I then realised I could plug this into my Pro Tools rig as AAX plugins, which really is a no brainer. You’re now using UAD Apollo 16 interfaces as the main limiters and FX engines for all your live shows, as well as a UAD Quad Satellite for Pro Tools orchestra, it gave me three or four different reverbs to utilise within a 1U unit plus various other processing – It’s easy, speeds up the workﬂow and reduces our carbon footprint. How have you seen the roles of post houses/live engineers evolve? AD: What UAD has allowed us to do is give that 24 hour service to our clients in the sense that we can – with a laptop, thunderbolt hard drive, a UAD satellite and Apollo Twin – pull the exact same session up, edit what’s required, and re-upload where necessary at anytime of the day as long as we’ve got an internet connection, which is something that’s not been possible before. KD: In the light entertainment world, I think the skill set has been lost in keeping supervisors that can mix and do post. It’s kind of a personal mission of mine to re-engage this aspect, especially at ZEN where we’re training new staff to do both. For big musical shows, being able to carry out mixing, post production and mastering for continuity and ﬂexibility throughout the process is absolutely vital. ■ www.zenbroadcast.com
May | June 2019
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SIZE MATTERS AMI finds out more about the colossal loudspeaker install at the Royal Albert Hall, which features an immersive d&b audiotechnik Soundscape system...
ver the past two years, London’s Royal Albert Hall has spent over £2 million on the biggest change to its audio system since Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd shared a bill there in '69. Formally unveiled at this year’s Olivier Awards, it is believed to be the world's biggest single-room speaker install, with over 460 speakers and 54km of cable cores. The complex project involved the first-ever 3D acoustic mapping of the hall, six months of overnight works, and a team of industry experts – from the sound engineers behind Hamilton, Take That and the 2012 Olympics, to the acousticians (Sandy Brown), and speaker manufacturers (d&b audiotechnik). After a recent visit to the prestigious venue, AMI got the chance to speak to two of the people behind the install, Pat Smith of SFL Group, the hall’s AV partner, and d&b’s Steve Jones, who designed its bespoke Soundscape system…
The Royal Albert Hall is an extremely culturally important venue – Why was it so important to have a comprehensive audio system and how much planning went into that? Pat: There was about a year of initial planning and d&b did a lot of the design work, so this was happening before we were brought on board in the April. We were involved in the later design phase meetings, which ran through to around June, which was when the on-site works started. Certain details were still being worked out and revised at that point – The listed building consent application was put in at the start of July so everything had to be nailed down by then. The main arrays of the system which are flown over the stage and the fills for the circular gallery were delivered in a three month phase which was completed in September. So although the official launch was only fairly recently at the Oliviers, they’d had a bit of time to bed-in since then.
There was another three months where we did the installation in all of the boxes – there’s over 300 speakers which makes a huge difference in those spaces. Obviously they’re the most premium, expensive seats in the venue and now they should be the best sounding. Steve: d&b has done a lot of shows at the venue over the years so I’ve been here multiple times to build 3D models of the room. As our technology gets greater we’ve honed these models. I don’t know of another venue that’s quite this – believe it or not – slightly asymmetrical shape, and because of its age, trying to get hold of good CAD drawings was quite difficult. We were quite fortunate that another company was commissioned to do a 3D laser scan, which gave us an accurate 3D model from which we could then build our acoustic modelling programs and start simulating how the sound system performs in this type of space, and how the room responds to that in terms of reverb.
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Were there any particular problems that you encountered? Pat: It’s a huge privilege to work in such an incredibly iconic building, but it really is a product of a different architecture and it does throw challenges at you. We were working off architectural drawings at times that were over 150 years old. The accuracy of that and how it was actually built during that era was quite different to what we’re used to working with in the modern day. We could start drilling through a wall or some floorboards and discover that things aren’t as we expected them, so we had to be quite flexible and adaptable all the way throughout. Steve wanted to float the speakers in front of each gallery bay whereas previous attempts at this kind of solution had put them on the lighting bar across the bay, which is really too high to mount a speaker. We had to put 23 new holes in the plasterwork in the ceiling around the gallery area, for which we had to get heritage approval, work out the exact location and decide what we would fix it to. Then there was working out a way to actually get up to the 40ft ceiling. We brought in a company called Unusual Rigging who really made it look very easy by hanging
a platform from a radial RSJ so that we could scoot around up there. Drilling into ornate, antique plasterwork is quite hairy and there’s a lot of responsibility there if something goes wrong, but fortunately it went very smoothly. The scale of the project with its absolutely critical deadline was probably the most intimidating aspect. It was a great collaboration with all the other companies involved. At such a prestigious venue, you’re working with an assortment of people and organisations, all of which are at the absolute top of their game. The team at the Albert Hall were very hands on – They take a lot of responsibility in terms of the quality and experience of what they deliver. Having a client like that keeps everyone very focused. We’re a UK sales and installation partner for d&b so there was already some history there. To what extent does the install future-proof the venue for generations to come? Steve: We decided that the in-house system should not be, in itself, a Soundscape system, but we have positioned the speakers so that we can easily drop into place two extra hangs across the stage to turn
this into a full Soundscape system, which we did for the first time at Christmas with Nutcracker. When we use this object-based approach, the instruments work their way through the sound system in a very different way, and the upshot as an audience member is that you don’t hear sound coming from the speakers, but from whatever you’re seeing in front of you. In this sense, it’s almost as if the speakers disappear and it becomes a more true performance. Pat: The key driver for the venue throughout has been about taking back control of the audio themselves. There’s a lot of things that you can do with a permanently installed system that you just can’t when you’re rigging a system for a one-day event. We did things that no one has been able to do in the venue before. d&b really had to think outside of the box for the system design, and Steve really pushed to make sure that this was an uncompromising solution. Some of the very end seats on the edge of the circle have historically been the most difficult seats to achieve good sound but now they sound like some of the best seats in the venue! n www.dbaudio.com
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A LIVING WORLD Colby Ramsey finds out how the sound team for Tom Clancy's The Division 2 pulled out all the stops to create a truly immersive audio experience for 2019’s biggest online RPG shooter...
familiar spin on its predecessor's icy setting, The Division 2 play out on the streets of Washington D.C. in the height of summer. All new combinations of weather, vegetation and wildlife provided plenty of exciting challenges for those responsible for the game’s audio. It became clear quite early on in the process that the game’s apocalyptic online world, given its scale and dynamic nature, would play a major role in how Simon Koudriavtsev, audio director at Massive Entertainment – a Swedish video game developer owned by Ubisoft – approached the final mix. The goal was to create a truly immersive, living world that feels natural to the player. “We learnt a lot from the first game – we combined our internal postmortems with the feedback from our fanbase, and
that became the foundation on which we started to build the soundscape for the sequel,” explains Simon. “Being an online shooter RPG, we had to take player progression into account in everything from the gun sounds to foley, even creating an exclusive soundtrack for the end game sequence.” In terms of location recording, Simon and the team went on several trips, the first of which being to D.C. where they spent around ten days and nights recording all possible parts of the urban environment and wildlife in order to map the entire city and build up a huge library of assets. “We recorded mostly at night to avoid pedestrian noise and traffic, and that ended up being the base layer of the exterior ambiences,” Simon adds. To convey a real sense of abandonment and isolation whilst exploring the game’s Dark Zones, the team even went to Chernobyl in Ukraine to record
more unique sounds, including impulse responses. Meanwhile, gun recording sessions were carried out at Pinewood Studios in the UK to capture the urban reflections of different gun and ammo types when being shot in different areas. “These ended up being essential elements in the sound design of our weapon sounds,” says Simon. “The setup for the gunshot was pretty insane, as we were able to record with an endless variety of microphones, and since we were monitoring in the studio, had access to a wall of hardware EQs, compressors, limiters etc.” For the ambient recordings, the team favoured recording gear including the Aeta 4Minx, Sound Devices MixPre-3 and Zoom F8, along with microphones for immersive sound capture from the likes of Holophone, DPA, Schoeps and Sennheiser. While the game does have very futuristic elements
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GAME AUDIO in terms of weaponry, it is very much grounded in reality. Environmental sounds were equally as important to the team, and so there was also lots of experimenting with their vast collection of outboard gear during the recording process. The use and importance of true field recordings for The Division 2 was a momentous opportunity for Glen Gathard – Pinewood Studios’ head of creative audio – who worked with Simon and the Massive Ubisoft team on pioneering the game’s sound. “The level of detail really is quite incredible,” remarks Glen. “The brilliant thing about Massive Ubisoft is that they allow everyone to get involved with the creative
input. The style we were going for in this case needed to be two-fold – when we were in heightened mix states we needed to treat it like a true FPS shooter, while avoiding the temptation to overhype everything to the point that it sounds unrealistic. We spent a lot of time trying to make this unique by playing around with reflections.” The team – which Glen believes to be the only post team in the world that has a 50:50 male-female split across the entire business – recorded pretty much every space available at Pinewood, from in-between two shooting stages to open parkland, in order to inject some reality back into that heightened state.
"While the game does have very futuristic elements in terms of weaponry, it is very much grounded in reality"
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“It was the same with the dialogue,” Glen adds. “What we were trying to do was sell the size and scale of the city, and be able to tell the player there’s things in the distance but through real, diffused audio rather than just in-engine mixing. We put in as many slaps on the voices, guns and explosions as we could to try and really bring the city to life.” With the game’s world being so huge, the team wanted to make sure that the uniqueness of these sounds was reflected in their recorded assets, and that the world created by the game’s level and environment designers was fully utilised. For all the interiors recordings, they developed a system that would scan through every room on the map each night and create Impulse Responses based on the room’s level geometry and wall materials. “This means that every interior space would have a unique reverberation to it,” Simon explains. “On top of that we also used that same IR to excite some pink noise, combine it with the wet sends of the props of that room, and create an interior “airtone” in a perfect loop, which would also be unique for each room.” In the exteriors the team had a system called “Bubblespace”, which constantly checks a player’s surroundings, and change the sounds of the ambience and reverbs based on where the player currently is. “For every single tree we have a specific leaves in wind sound (tied to the wind speed), as well as a chance to play D.C. specific bird-calls tied to the correct time of day,” adds Simon. As a result, the game lends itself extremely well to immersive sound formats such as Dolby Atmos. Simon and the teams also carried out this final mix over five days at Pinewood, and could not be happier with the outcome. “Dolby atmos was a great fit for us,” Simon reveals. “First of all it helps with gameplay, as enemy positions become much easier to audibly comprehend, and even enemies that are behind, above and below you feel like they are actually there. It is amazing how the mix came together at the end, everything from hearing the
helicopters roar above you whilst doing an extraction in the Dark Zone, to smaller details like the sounds of rain hitting the props.” Working in a perfectly calibrated mix-room and really focusing in on all the details of the world initially revealed a number of unexpected challenges, but after spending that time testing the game on multiple setups, including Atmos, headphones, TV speakers and soundbars, the team found a great balance in the mix that would’ve been hard to achieve elsewhere. “Dolby Atmos is an amazing technology, yet there can sometimes be a danger of overusing it when player feedback is so integral,” Glen remarks. “When everything is spinning within that space and the player is given free control, it can suddenly become quite cluttered and disorientated with so many moving objects, and the whole concept of delivering precise situational feedback through sound can get confused.” Knowing when to use the full range of Dolby Atmos capabilities and when to be more conservative with it was a big factor for the teams: “We had to be selective for really dynamic moments or key critical player feedback, but also understanding when we could just use an Atmos or music bed and allow it to run more like a standard mix,” Glen adds. “Simon lead a team who were able to listen to and compare lots of mixing styles from a number of titles, and then decide truly where we would fit within that sonic marketplace. Our experiences with films and games often crosses over – the granularity of games helps us sometimes with the effects sequences in features.” Simon for one is excited about where the industry is heading, and quite rightly so. “The quality gap between the film and games industries is hardly there anymore,” he concludes. “For us it raises the bar, but also provides additional challenges, as we have so many things going on at once. The constraints we cannot budge are the memory and CPU budgets, so as they develop further, so will the game audio.” n
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FEATURE Colby Ramsey recently took a trip to the University for the Creative Arts to check out its new media recording facility and professional dubbing suite...
he small, sleepy town of Farnham in Surrey is the last place you would expect to find a brand new state of the art media recording facility, yet the University for the Creative Arts (UCA) – which was named the Sunday Times’ Modern University of the Year 2019 – is now the proud home of such a space. The building – which was designed by architects Pascal & Watson and boasts a professional dubbing suite – opened at the end of January. UCA’s Film Production course, which has 450 students across five year groups, will benefit the most from the new music and sound spaces, which were curated with help from Digital Garage and Studio People. Over 150 films are produced each year by the students, who can in their second year choose to follow a sound specialism pathway that includes on-set recording, foley, ADR, editing, mixing and design. Other courses that will have access to the dubbing suite meanwhile include Film & Digital Arts, Animation, Music Composition & Technology, and Computer Games Arts, with a view to expand on this in the future. Charis Coke, third year coordinator and senior lecturer on the Film Production course, tells me that they started designing the new building before the course even existed. It had been in the pipeline for three years and she jumped on it with eager anticipation from the very beginning: “I’ve been here a long time and it’s great to see it finally come to fruition,” Coke says. “It’s always something I’ve really wanted to do but we’ve never had the space for it – Myself and my colleagues have put forward lots of options over the years but they’ve never really been viable.” A number of companies including ATC and Avid were brought in to acoustically test the new rooms, specifically the dubbing suite, to make sure they were up to standards. Overall, it sounds like it was a smooth collaboration with the other parties involved, with Digital Garage – who carry out a lot of design for spaces in educational institutions such as this – also responsible for sourcing most of the new gear. “It’s not Dolby Atmos certified just yet but it’s 7.1.2, which is a massive step up from what we’ve had in the past,” Coke explains. “It’s a brand new facility built from scratch so we’ve been able to design the spaces to meet our requirements, albeit with some constraints.” While taking a look around the dubbing suite, I noticed a camera on the wall, which I was told can have its feed broadcast on a big screen in the lecture theatre, so that students can actually see what’s being worked on and don’t have to all be crammed into one room. “The music course leader gets lots of different
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types of professionals in,” Coke adds. “He’s done this over Skype before but I think if he can get somebody in to work live in front of people, he would want to open that up to more than just music students, so it’s a good way of doing that.”
Top Tech Coke put forward a paper to Digital Garage which alluded to future-proofing the new dubbing suite (pictured above), and this specification was wholly fulfilled, much to her delight. “I thought that the S6 M10 would be enough, so I was quite surprised when I first came into the room and saw that we had the M40,” she says. “I was expecting a 5.1 setup with the option to go 7.1.2 if the money was ever available. Apparently that wasn’t an issue though, and so suddenly we had an allsinging, all-dancing setup!” Coke says the whole point of going big with the desk was to give the students an opportunity to use something that’s as close to industry standard as possible. The department has always done this on the software side with Media Composer and the production kit, and so hardware was naturally next on the list. “I know that when I’m freelancing this is the kind of space I would be using – It’s much more akin to what you would find out in the industry,” Coke remarks.
“We’ve been using NUGEN’s Halo Upmix and Downmix tools for a while, but the desk is definitely going to be the main thing, and getting the students to play around with immersive audio rather than just stereo. Having spent so long doing the stereo setup, an interesting challenge for the department has been working out a system with the students where they can successfully take them from that stereo workflow through to at least 5.1, and hopefully onwards to 7.1. The monitors in the dubbing suite meanwhile are all ATC, from SCM50ASLs to SCM12 Pros: “They’re amazing and doing a really great job – They need to be nice and resilient because they’re definitely going to take a beating,” laughs Coke.
Creative Simplicity UCA Farnham has various industry professionals visit the university each year to talk to the current students, as well as holding alumni timetables. With the course being so established, there are many graduates who are on hand and willing to help. Notable alumni include director and writer Gareth Edwards, best known for directing Star Wars: Rogue One and 2014’s Godzilla. Kate Herron, who directed half of the new Netflix comedy drama series Sex Education, has also been welcomed as a visiting speaker. Returning graduates
who have visited since the building has been open have, on the one hand, been slightly disappointed that it wasn’t available during their studies, but have also been very keen to rent it, as Tim Savage, UCA Farnham’s facilities and academic development planning manager, reveals. “It’s definitely one of the shiny new assets of the university, built from the ground up,” he says. “It really takes us up a notch in terms of resources.” Of course, the whole motivation behind this is to show the students exactly what they will be facing when they head out into the industry themselves. It has nothing to do with their skill level, as Coke explains: “It’s an important moment when you first walk into a room as a professional – the first time you’re being paid properly and being expected to do something for somebody else – to not have that fear factor stopping you.” UCA already did a great job of preparing students on the production side with top spec cameras, lights and building sets, but now the sound students have also got this professional grade setup to get stuck into. As they’re so used to working in stereo, getting them to think on a wider, slightly more 3D scale is the part that Coke believes might prove challenging. “I’m really looking forward to doing this though as I think it will open up more of the passion and help them to
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understand more about recreating the world they’re seeing on screen,” she says. “It should give them the opportunity to really experiment with the sound – I think being given what is essentially a completely different playing field will make them start imagining the possibilities. A lot of our sound students find success after they’ve graduated and so I’m happy that this is going to give them something to get their teeth into.” Something that the department has been quite aware of over the last four or five years, is that students are coming with a different level of knowledge in the first instance. Previously it had been quite a mixed bag, with students arriving either with no previous experience, or a fair amount. Nowadays there seems to be an established middle ground, where people are gaining significant experience in music and film production due to increased access to software that was never available historically. “There’s enough out there for people to experiment on their own and work out their own styles,” says Coke. “What we teach here is to get that to a truly professional level, unteach bad habits and hopefully replace those with better ones. As the University for the Creative Arts, we’re always trying to keep this creativity going.”
No Half Measures In the last ten years or so, the Film Production course has shifted its focus from experimental, slightly more artist-based film making to more professional feature-
film making, and Coke believes that this is what the students are really after. “Of course we have to teach the technical side of things, but we try not to put too much emphasis on it, and keep technical constraints like loudness as simple yet as close to industry standard as we can,” she explains. “Most of the time I just want them to test their creativity so it’s a fine balance, but I think technology and creativity go hand-in-hand in this day and age, which will just keep going and going.” The current third year students will get to use the new dubbing suite first, with the MA students possibly getting to grips with it at the beginning of July. Using the comprehensive setup, they will be able to increasingly design their films around the idea of having a cinematic experience through the sound as well as the image. “Having previous knowledge of post can inform your practice,” says Savage. “When you know what
possibilities are available and what tools you’ve got to realise a concept, you can configure the experience for your audience very differently.” The department visited a number of different institutions from which they felt they could draw best practices, such as the University of Guildford in Surrey with its Tonmeister course, the University of Westminster, and the University of Bournemouth. They took the parts that they liked and then, having identified various contractors, worked with them to refine their designs. A taste of this professional grade state of the art technology made the UCA guys realise that this certainly could not have been achieved with half measures, and was a useful bit of leverage in helping them bring together this impressive facility, which in the grand scheme of things makes them extremely competitive as an educational institution. ■
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AMI speaks to Michał "Mikers" Mika of Polish broadcast audio specialist 120Db, who have been getting to grips with SSL’s System T... What services do you offer and what kind of clients do you work with? Michał: 120dB Sound Engineering has been around since 2012. I first started working in this industry as a sound engineer for rental companies, but soon wanted to do more business myself. I met the guys from ESL TV, who are perhaps the biggest international producer and broadcaster of esports.
Not only do they produce TV shows but also big live events in arenas – I met them around seven years ago and after that I started mixing some smaller shows for them. The company soon started to grow and I needed to get more audio engineers on board to cope with the growing workload. We are mostly doing shows for ESL now, although in the last three years I have
also worked with some music bands, including mixing in-ears for a rather famous Polish band. It’s too much for me now so we always have at least four members of staff available to help out with productions, which can often be seven-days-a-week jobs. We use our ST1 Sound Truck most of the time, but not just for esports. It is often used for recording TV shows and orchestras with huge channel counts –
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sometimes upwards of 100 – for the Polish national TV broadcaster TVP, we well as for Polish national radio. It’s a good part of the market for us, and we’re always trying to connect with their sound engineers and do more and more jobs for them. While most of our work lies with esports, we’re also getting into recording and mixing big music festivals for TV. Last year we did a big TV show in Warsaw marking 100 years of Polish independence, for which we provided our sound truck for the orchestra mix and was responsible for recording around 120 tracks. What makes you unique? The Polish market can be quite strange. There are lots of PA companies, from very small players to huge ones. This is part of our work where we use third party companies. When I started in the industry I also worked for a big rental company and so now when we need a big PA I can call on them to help out, as there’s no point in us shelling out on a big expensive PA system just to use for two or three shows throughout the year. While this is not our forte, esports on the other hand definitely is, and I think we are the only company in Poland doing audio for esports TV productions. We established a relationship early on with ESL – who are huge in Poland – and have built up a good level of trust with them. Esports are of
course quite different to regular sports shows. In order to mix and provide equipment for these types of productions you need to have a certain level of knowledge about the industry, so they turn to us most of the time in this respect. Why did you decide to start using SSL systems? We were looking around for a new mixing system and settled on SSL for its Dante capabilities, as we know it very well and realised this would be very important for us going forward. It is very stable and easy to use, and System T is a great system for us when doing esports shows as we don’t have to use MADI with an expensive router. System T looks good and I like good looking gear, because you need to work with this stuff every day for long periods of time and it is important to have fun whilst doing so. When clients from the audio world come to us and see we’re using SSL, it catches their attention which is also very important for us. Some of the other broadcast manufacturers aren’t so flexible with their systems. We can change configurations on the fly which in the digital world is crucial. Our clients – especially in esports – often come to us five minutes before a show and ask us to send a feed for some guys in Japan or South Korea, which we can do very quickly. For the TV guys working with AWS, the preamps and A/D converters on the System T translate to the studio
very well. Most recently I’ve been combining it with the SSL Fusion – I often find myself using the truck out of hours just to mix something for fun. How has it enhanced your workflow over the past year? On the company side, the best thing about System T is that you can add another I/O stagebox without having to spend more money to upgrade your MADI router. With Dante, if we need another 32 channels on the stage, we just put in a box and connect this up with a Cat5 cable. It’s extremely simple to change your configuration this way – With just a few clicks you can put the inputs from the stage into your desk through the correct channels. Also, from an audio operator’s point of view, it’s easy to mix on System T even if they’ve never used it before. We’ve had some great feedback from our partners about the system. I don’t like desks that have thousands of knobs and dials and so I’m a big fan of the touchscreen infrastructure. The best thing that SSL did with this system however is Dante. It’s a very powerful and flexible protocol that we can use with our collection of Focusrite RedNet stageboxes, while we can also exchange signals with other OB vehicles – such as those used by NEP – via a Dante to MADI bridge, which is extremely useful. n www.120db.pl
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EXPERIENCE ENHANCEMENT Stephen Bennett speaks to DiGiCo’s Austin Freshwater about the integration of KLANG’s immersive in-ear monitoring system into the company’s console software...
ne of the strangest things I found when I started to play live music was that the all-important monitoring systems always seemed to be set up to fire the sound right at your knees. When I asked monitoring engineers to place the wedges at head height, they looked at me as if I were mad. Things have moved on and now we have monitoring systems that are actually placed in the ear – result!
However, even the best in-ear systems can create a feeling of separation and isolation and you’ll often see performers with one earpiece dangling down over their shoulder to try to get some of that live ‘vibe’ back. Traditional stereo just doesn’t have enough ‘space’ for multiple monitor inputs – you’ll usually need to use EQ to separate out the different instruments, which opens its own can of sonic worms.
New technologies are being developed to enhance the experience of those using in-ear monitoring systems and one of these is the KLANG system which comprises the Fabrik hardware, KOS firmware (now at version 3.1) and a software application. This ‘3D’ in-ear system is designed to produce ‘spatial’ or ‘immersive’ monitor mixes that can be created and controlled by the artist. The upshot of this is that KLANG’s system gives the artists and engineer a wider sound ‘stage’ to play with.
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The application features a representation of a head and the instruments to be placed in the monitor mix. The artist then has complete personal control over where in the 3D ‘field’ they lie and the levels of each feed. KLANG’s system can also work with a positional sensor that allows the immersive field to track the artist’s head movement. So, if a singer has placed the drums behind them and turns to look back (while punching the air, of course), the position of the drums in the in-ear monitors also changes. KLANG is now part of DiGiCo and has been working alongside the company for several years, as Austin Freshwater, DiGiCo’s relatively new general manager, explains. “We share the same distributor in the USA and that allowed us to get very close to the KLANG team and also the products in their range.” Freshwater says that once you have heard the KLANG system and experienced immersive in-ear mixing, it is very hard to go back to stereo: “Being able to position sources around your head not only allows more space for the audio signals, but on average allows the monitor engineer to reduce the levels by 6dB. These two things combine to reduce ear fatigue and allow an artist to have a more natural on-stage experience.” DiGiCo has also worked with immersive speakers from L-Acoustics and d&b to enhance the audience’s experience. “These are all designed for the audiences’ perspective, but when we started working with
KLANG it was clear their technology would bring major advantages for artists on stage and the monitor engineers, too,” says Freshwater. He adds that performance setups are becoming more and more complex and one of the challenges for a monitor engineer is how quickly they can set up and control the multiple mixes that they are in charge of, and that integrating the KLANG control into the DiGiCo console software allows them to control the system within their normal workflow. “The functionality provided by the KLANG/DiGiCo system removes the complication of setting up these immersive mixes and allows an engineer to quickly give the artist access to all the audio components they will need to create a bespoke monitor mix,” says Freshwater. Connectivity between the KLANG system and the DiGiCo console is over Ethernet via the Open Sound Control (OSC) protocol. “The new DiGiCo Quantum 7 console has some fantastic features specifically designed to aid the monitor engineer, such as True Solo and Nodal processing,” explains Freshwater. “KLANG adds to the console’s monitor software suite, which allows DiGiCo to create a complete package that covers both front of house and monitoring.” Freshwater says that KLANG’s immersive in-ear system allows monitor engineers to bring the sound that is important to an artist into focus: “Sounds that
appear in front of us are perceived as more important than sounds coming from the side or behind, so immersive in-ear mixes sound much more natural and comfortable than traditional stereo – and that is key to convince artists to keep both ear pieces in and benefit from the advantages of in-ear monitoring.” As the KLANG system offers personal mixing on stage, with smartphones or tablets, the monitor engineer can now work collaboratively with the artist who then has complete and precise control over what they want to hear – a far cry from ‘wedge’ based monitoring. KLANG’s system is at the cutting edge of immersive in-ear monitoring, but as the technology advances and further improvements and innovation are made in both hardware and software, the DiGiCo/ KLANG collaboration should reap rewards: “One of the great things about KLANG is the team of people working there,” says Freshwater. “With the resources of DiGiCo now available to them, it is certain the exciting new product ideas they have can now be developed further.” If you want to hear the spectacular difference 3D monitoring can make, download the application from the company’s website and run the demos. Your monitoring experience will never be the same again. ■ www.klang.com
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PUSHING THE LIMITER Audio-Technica’s Marketing Director and former long-serving EMEA Product Manager, Alex Lepges, weighs up the pros and cons of analogue and digital wireless systems...
here is somewhat of a misperception between physics and products in the market at the moment. While it’s always been more efficient to use analogue if you have a bandwidth problem, analogue wireless systems traditionally involved third order intermodulation and lots of frequency planning. Shure then came up with the ULX-D and later Sennheiser with the 9000, and now the 6000 Series. Both digital systems make for equidistant frequency planning. They say this is more efficient because you don’t have to worry about intermodulations, and people think that this has something to do with
digital. This is physical nonsense, because the AudioTechnica 6000 Series system can do the same thing in analogue, squeezing in 31 channels in 4MHz without the disadvantage of operating range limitations. This 4MHz window does not exist in Europe, leaving no dedicated small window where you can just put such an expensive technology in one place. But technically, spectral efficiency doesn’t go along with digital. Digital typically needs more space, while an analogue system can be packed more efficiently if you do it right. Digital does give you some benefits when it comes to controlling and embedding additional data, so in terms of communications there are many great things you
can do. This all comes at a cost however, which is audio quality and latency.
The right path With these systems, companies need to make the choice between the full operating range, the audio quality and the occupied bandwidth. The latter is specified with legal regulations and so it’s generally just the decision of a trade off between operating range and audio quality. The best compromise is somewhere in between with the long-range modes (which is good quality MP3), but this is still not completely uncompressed as you would expect from
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TECH TALK good digital audio quality, which by definition is also up for debate! The main disadvantage of an analogue system is the compounded circuitry and the so-called deviation limiter, two factors which are very much audible. The problem is, every analogue system is using a technological pre-emphasis and de-emphasis. So on
the transmitting side you boost higher frequencies with a shelving filter to lift them above the noise ﬂoor, and on the receiving side you’re reducing the high frequencies by pushing down the noise ﬂoor (deemphasising). Frequency response in this case should stay the same, yet having said that, when you increase the high frequencies on the transmitter side and do a lot of frequency modulation, these high frequencies hit the deviation limiter and it sounds bad, because it’s not an audiophile limiter but a technical one to stay within the legal limits. To this end, all the plosive sounds get over-excited and distorted. The de-esser components that people buy and use on vocal tracks sometimes is basically coming out of the misuse of wireless microphones with this maximum deviation. On the A-T 3000 Series we use very little deviation to stay far away from this over-excited pre-emphasis hitting the limiter. We also spend a lot of time getting the noise ﬂoor right so that the signal is stable, which makes it a little more complicated and expensive to build. For us though, it’s always about the quality of the audio. With the 3000 you don’t get that distortion and edgy, aggressiveness – Instead it’s very pleasing to listen to and not tiring on the ears. With the 5000 Series on the other hand, we use a completely different approach with a dual compander, making a two-way active system out of the audio signal. We have a crossover frequency around 500Hz; everything below this goes through one compressor and everything above this goes through a second compressor individually. So we split the signal, mix it back together, transmit it, and then do the same thing on the receiver side. The huge benefit of this is
that – specifically on handheld microphones – when the proximity factor kicks in, the low frequencies are compressed and expanded on the other side while the middle and high frequencies where the speech intelligibility and tonality happens is all unharmed. In this sense, we can get away with this problem of the compander effect that people sometimes hear. We can work our way around the disadvantages of the analogue transmission and keep and maintain all the advantages, like very good RF range and good audio quality with zero latency.
Solid solutions Everything around the 3000 and the 5000 Series systems was about finding an answer to the most pressing problem: spectrum. The 3000 Series is typically a system where the user is also the operator when it comes to live sound and music. In those cases, they are the ones who need to control which frequency they’re using, and the easiest answer is to make the tuning bandwidth as wide as possible. 60MHz provides very good usability, but there are some limiting factors in terms of how wide you should go. One of them is, the wider you go, the more expensive your amplifiers have to be because there’s more energy intake. As I explained earlier, the noise ﬂoor thing was an issue for us and we put in a lot of effort to get that under control, but that then allowed us to go the full 60MHz, which we think is a very good compromise to ensure
that people do not run into problems and have enough spectrum to play with. Then we thought, wouldn’t it be cool if you could access a backup frequency much quicker with one push of a button. It’s a show saver for applications like a band playing on stage or someone doing a presentation or conference – If you experience any hitches, you push the button and seven seconds later you’re good to go. Lots of companies are launching their own solutions, but Audio-Technica is not convinced that digital is the only solution. People often say that the future is digital, but one thing that is also very critical is that the future stays analogue, as long as we’re listening with our ears which are analogue, and the music and voices we want to capture with microphones are analogue signals. There are advantages and disadvantages of both digital and analogue, but if you tackle the disadvantages of the latter, I think you come up with a better solution. It almost seems as if we’re leaning into the vintage route, and it’s pretty valid to make that conclusion, but we really believe that these analogue systems outrun the digital systems – The operating ranges are better, you have the link stability benefit, the zero latency benefit, and no audio quality disadvantage. We don’t see it as keeping the old; we simply invented a new analogue way of transmitting in order to utilise the best of both worlds. ■
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PIONEER PRO AUDIO XPRS Simon Allen puts these high-powered active speakers to the test...
’d heard the Pro Audio division of Pioneer had started venturing back into loudspeaker design and manufacturing via some colleagues of mine. Developments started a few years ago with their XY series; a passive solution aimed at high-end club installs. Now they are presenting an active solution for either fixed installs or mobile events called the XPRS range. The XPRS range, otherwise known as the express range, consists of the; XPRS-10, XPRS-12, XPRS-15, XPRS-115S and XPRS-215S. As the model names suggest, there are three full range boxes with a 10”, 12” or 15” woofer respectively, and two subs with either a single or dual 15” driver. For the purpose of this review, I was sent the XPRS-15 and the XPRS-215S to try out. In this ever-growing market of portable active boxes, I was keen to find out what this highly-respected digital entertainment equipment manufacturer had developed.
SOLID BUILD Before we get into any specifications, performance or what these new speakers sound like, I have to discuss the build quality. Manufactured from 15mm birch hardwood ply and coated in an impact-resistant textured finish, these are solid cabinets. They are completed with heavy duty handles; two on the full range boxes and four on the dual 15” subs. The subs also come fitted with castors, which is a relief as you won’t be carrying them far. There is a trade-off of course; having all this dense material does impact the weight of these boxes. While the XPRS-15’s are manageable at 28.5Kg each, they’re not the lightest solution available. Although these are a speaker designed for mobile use, they’re not the most compact either. Therefore, it’s apparent right from unboxing, that Pioneer have gone for quality over
Key Features n Powersoft Class D amps n AFAST acoustic tube n 4 EQ modes n Flexible connectivity SRP: XPRS-15 – £1,199 XPRS-215S – £1,469 www.pioneerproaudio.com
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form. I’d say that’s a promising start from a brand that’s more commonly found squeezing electronics inside compact cases. The notable build quality doesn’t stop there. While many manufacturers are adding LCD screens on the back panel, or even networking and Bluetooth technology, the XPRS is more old school in it’s design approach. Only simple select switches and hardware level controls are present, alongside an intelligent offering of connectivity options. I think this is a smart approach that should prove reliable and easy to use in many scenarios. Another practical feature I like is the dual 35mm mounting socket on the underneath of the full-range cabinets. This is something we’ve seen before on competing products, but very useful in the real world. It allows the speakers to be pole mounted straight-on, or with a seven degree tilt. The XPRS-215S subs sport an M20 screw socket for a spacer pole. Couple this with M10 rigging points on the full-range boxes, and these boxes are clearly ready to go straight onto the professional stage. After excusing the weight issue, there are clearly many design features that have been considered here. While this is a new page for Pioneer, it certainly isn’t their first chapter. I would like to see one pair of handles in the subs installed in the other orientation for easier handling, but that’s a minor point. The wedge shape of the full-range cabinets is neatly delivered, sitting at a good angle when used as a floor monitor while not appearing oddly shaped when mounted upright. Depending on the usage, you will need to take off the front grill to rotate the horn, which delivers a 90 x 60 degree dispersion. Internally, the XPRS-15 contains a 15” ferrite lowfrequency cone driver and a 1.75” titanium diaphragm neodymium compression driver. The bass reflex cabinets sport what Pioneer call an AFAST acoustic tube. This is a tube inside the cabinet that has been designed to reduce standing waves. Amplification is delivered by partner brand Powersoft. With the kudos of Powersoft being literally on-board, it’s another nod to the live world that these
are professional units. Inside the XPRS-15 there is a Class D amp delivering an impressive 2400W peak / 1200W continuous of amplification. Powersoft have produced this amp so that it can handle a range of AC supplies while being very efficient. Only 175W of power consumption is quoted thanks to Powersoft’s Power Factor Correction (PFC) system. Built in to the amplifier module are several protection features to protect the drivers and the amp. These include; thermal limiting, output overcurrent, DC offset removal, stationary high-frequency protection as well as input and output voltage limiters. The units will also protect against power surges with their AC mains over-voltage protection.
SOLID SOUND I set up the pair of XPRS-15’s and the pair of XPRS215S’ that Pioneer sent me, with standard spacer poles as a typical LR setup. Firstly however, I tried using the XPRS-15 full-range cabinets by themselves. i.e. without the subs. I set all the controls to zero, Flat EQ and left them in full-range mode. My initial impression was consumed by the amount of low-frequency output. It wasn’t just the level of bass that was striking, but also the depth. It’s common to find a bump in point source boxes like these, somewhere around 60-100Hz. Here however, my ears were drawn immediately to the 40-60Hz region. I even had to double check I hadn’t accidentally left the subs connected. I’m not sure how this would translate to the 10” or 12” models, but users of the 15” will probably get away without needing a subwoofer more often. Although the EQ presets do what they say, I doubt live engineers would use these boxes in anything other than Flat. The “BASS+” preset is fairly gusty, but might be useful in outdoor scenarios for example. Before connecting the subs, I listened to the XPRS-15’s in “EXT SUB MODE” as well as full-range. The built-in high-pass filter felt very high, so unless extreme output levels are required, I believe a selectable HPF would have been useful here.
With the subs connected, the low-end was very deep. Although these units sport dual 15” drivers, the result is much lower and less “note-like” than you would expect. If I had to describe the sound from this system in one word, it would be “prominent”. There is a lot of power on tap which seems to project with ease. This can be very useful but I think live sound engineers and musicians will typically soften the sound slightly with EQ. However, club installs, mobile dance events and party-style event promoters will be drawn to the solid output of these boxes.
CONCLUSION There’s clearly been a conscious effort to shake any preconceptions that these speakers wouldn’t be fit for pro audio. Everything about the way these speakers have been built is aimed at the professional stage. Heading straight for the pro market, focusing on function over form, I believe will prove very smart for Pioneer. There are many aspects to this new product line that will impress even the most experienced touring engineer. My personal taste in sound is for higher fidelity, but if you’re looking for some boxes with a pronounced sound, the XPRS range might be for you. There is a lot on offer here, evident from the ground up. With significant input from Powersoft, Pioneer have managed to deliver an active PA solution that will sit boldly alongside the competition. n
The Reviewer Simon Allen is a freelance internationally recognised sound engineer and pro audio professional with over a decade of experience. Working mostly in music, his reputation as a mix and FOH engineer continues to reach new heights.
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PRO SPOTLIGHT In each issue of AMI we feature an audio professional from a range of disciplines to find out how they got started in the industry and what they’ve worked on. This month we speak to the multi-talented Dan Lucas...
What do you do? I’m a recording and mix engineer, producer and session musician! How did you get into the industry? I just kind of fell into it really through playing in bands, being in and out of studios as a musician and picking things up as I went. I’d often record as a musician but I could hear what was wrong, yet didn’t know a lot about the technical side of things. Once I picked that up, I began recording my own bands at rehearsals etc., then other bands I knew. Eventually people got me to do demos for them and I put my recording gear into a small makeshift studio on the side of a manor house that a friend owned. I was working with bands during my free evenings and at weekends. I did that for two or three years before eventually taking the plunge and deciding to do it full time! What are some of your credits? I’ve worked with numerous people, from unsigned bands through to international and major label bands
such as Amen, members of AC/DC, Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age, and Lonely the Brave. What is your favourite item of audio gear and why? I don’t have a favourite piece, but I love my guitar amp and pedal collection – don’t know where I’d be without that! I have a couple of Selmer Treble n’ Bass valve amp heads. They usually get crowbarred onto most sessions somehow! What are some of the challenges that you face in your job? Trying to inject energy into a flat performance can be difficult at times, especially if I’m mixing something that has been tracked by someone else and I can’t go back to the source to re-track it like I would if I were producing. Another challenge is helping less experienced musicians understand that ‘the take’ isn’t necessarily the first one they’ve managed to complete that has barely any mistakes in it and obviously, putting musicians at ease. Lots of them are extremely protective over their ideas, and some of them just don’t trust you with them. It can take a lot of work to gain that trust.
What was your favourite project and why? I produced an EP for a Brighton-based band called Phoria, about nine years ago. Everything about their musicianship and songwriting just blew my mind, and we really worked well together. I learnt a lot from those guys too. We did a bit of location recording too in a big old Victorian hotel ballroom, and a nice country house. It felt like we were making something really magical. What industry professional inspired you the most to do what you do? I couldn’t pick one. In terms of being a musician, Robert Smith from The Cure – hands down. In terms of working in a studio environment, there are several that I admire: Kurt Ballou, Dave Sardy, Sylvia Massy, Brendan O’ Brien, Andy Wallace to name a few. What’s the best bit of advice that you can give anyone trying to break into the industry? Work hard, work smart, find your niche, and dive in head first with a willingness to learn at every opportunity. Make the people you’re working with feel validated. n
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