MIX 521 - May 2020

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Classic Tracks: Elton and Prince ★ The Weeknd Goes All-In ★ The U.S. Army Band at Skywalker ★ Fantastic Negrito May 2020 \\ mixonline.com \\ $6.99




DOLBY ATM S MUSIC The Introduction of Immersive Audio to the Recording Industry, and Why It's Different This Time Around





05.20 Contents




Volume 44, Number 5


COLUMNS 13 It’s Different



10 Fantastic Negrito’s Have

34 New Products: Speakers,

You Lost Your Mind Yet?

When You Mix Music-Only


12 Classic Tracks Minis: • Greg Penny on Remixing “Rocketman”


16 ‘Soundtrack of the American Soldier’: U.S. Army Field Band Goes Immersive at Skywalker Sound BY SARAH JONES

22 On the Cover: Dolby, UMG/Capitol, PMC— The Story Behind the Launch of Dolby Atmos Music BY TOM KENNY

28 ‘After Hours’ With The Weeknd—In Stereo and Atmos

32 Why You Still Need to Master for Immersive

DAWs and Plug-Ins for Dolby Atmos Music

• David Leonard on “When Doves Cry”

38 Review: Drawmer 1970


Dual FET Compressor & Pre-Amplifier




42 10 Things I’ve Learned Mixing Dolby Atmos Music BY STEVE GENEWICK

DEPARTMENTS 6 From the Editor: New

Format, Different Approach

8 Current: Westlake Pro



in Nashville; P&E Wing Immersive Committee

40 Review: DPA 2028 Dolby Atmos for Live

Handheld Vocal Microphone



14 The Strategy Behind

On the Cover: Deciding against featuring any one company or studio on the cover of this month’s special issue, we asked Mix Art Director Walter Makarucha, Jr., to come up with a concept and type treatment that illustrates the idea of immersive music. Cover Art: Mina De La O/Getty Images Mix, Volume 44, Number 5 (ISSN 0164-9957) is published monthly by Future US, Inc., 11 West 42nd Street, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10036. Periodical Postage Paid at New York, NY, and at additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Mix, PO Box 8518, Lowell, MA 01853. One-year (12 issues) subscription is $35. Canada is $40. All other international is $50. Printed in the USA. Canadian Post Publications Mail agreement No. 40612608. Canada return address: BleuChip International, P.O. Box 25542, London, ON N6C 6B2.

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Vol. 44 No. 5

May 2020

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CONTENT VP/Content Creation Anthony Savona Content Director Tom Kenny, thomas.kenny@futurenet.com Content Manager Anthony Savona, anthony.savona@futurenet.com Technology Editor, Studio Mike Levine, techeditormike@gmail.com Technology Editor, Live Steve La Cerra, stevelacerra@verizon.net Sound Reinforcement Editor Steve La Cerra Contributors: Strother Bullins, Eddie Ciletti, Michael Cooper, Gary Eskow, Matt Hurwitz, Steve Jennings (photography), Sarah Jones, Barry Rudolph Production Manager Nicole Schilling Managing Design Director Nicole Cobban Design Director Walter Makarucha, Jr.

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Current From the Editor

It’s Time for a Brand New Experience I feel a little bit guilty sitting down on my couch here on April 16, in the midst of a stay-at-home order going on five weeks here in Oakland and facing no real end in sight, certainly nothing definitive, with most people expecting a long, rolling comeback from the pandemic and varying types of disruption into 2021. Things seem bleak in nearly every industry, not just entertainment. And yet… for more than a month Covid-19 has taken up at least a portion of, I would guess, 99 percent of the conversations I’ve had, both personally and professionally. Honestly, sometimes I need a break. And now I feel guilty for saying that out loud. The pages this month should probably be filled with stories of how artists and engineers are finding new ways of working remotely with a new set of collaborative tools, or how the live sound industry is coping with the devastation, or how an entire year of audio education might move online—and how that might be done. All of those are much-needed stories and will be written in the days and weeks and months ahead, online and in print. Things will change, no question, from recording to production to performance and everything else. We just don’t know how right now. It’s still happening in real time. Perhaps that’s just a roundabout way of leading in to this month’s Special Issue and its focus on Dolby Atmos Music, the type of technology that represents the very reasons I’ve come to love the recording and music industries—the spirit of innovation and creativity that, when coupled with innovation in science and technology, can create magic in a room and thunder and lightning on a stage. Immersive music is coming to the recording industry, no question about it. And before simply dismissing the idea and saying that we’ve been here before, that 5.1 proved a failure and format wars spell ruin, that there is no content so there is no demand, that the labels just want to re-sell the catalog and nobody under 50 cares… I urge you to take some time during your own self-isolation and research the formats. There are countless reasons why this time around is different than 5.1.

First, there’s the fact that, as Art Kelm at Capitol Studios/UMG says, “Now technology is our friend.” That applies to both the means of creating music and to its distribution. Music in 5.1 had physical limitations regarding speaker positioning and the channel-based field. Immersive music does not. Immersive music also translates better up and down the scale, from high-end home theater to the Amazon Echo Studio, released last September with up-firing speakers. Sony 360RA, Dolby and many, many other manufacturers are betting the bank on headphones. It will happen, and the word binaural will become part of the audio vernacular. Also, streaming is song-based. That makes a big difference. Also, this time around there is a much bigger push behind the launch. Dolby, Universal Music Group/Capitol Studios and speaker manufacturer PMC have been working quietly but diligently for three years now, most of that time under NDA, to figure out how this Dolby Atmos technology, proven in film and television, would work in music. Then they set about remixing songs, not albums, from the back-catalog, along with a sprinkling of new artists. Starting with trial and error. Making up the new workflow. Getting to know about Objects and Beds. About 2500 songs were available, though not always easy to access, by the end of 2019. While stellar immersive music mixes have been available for years in Dolby Atmos, Auro-3D and DTS:X, all on Blu-ray disc, the mass introduction to the recording industry—and by extension, consumers— really came last fall when Dolby announced deals with Tidal and Amazon Music HD. There are many more deals to be made and frustrations ahead. But keep in mind, though it is here right now, Dolby Atmos Music is still very much in its infancy. The rules are still being made.

Tom Kenny Editor, Mix

P.S. I fully expect to receive a few emails taking me to task for putting Dolby Atmos Music on the cover, rather than Immersive Music. I certainly understand the point. And the decision wasn’t easy. I’ve been writing about Immersive Audio since 2014, even launched an event based around it. For the music and recording industries, Dolby is the company that has put the time, resources, and money into development and partnerships. And the truth is, I approached them to get the stories. They didn’t approach me.


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Current // news & notes Immersive Retail: Westlake Pro Nashville The need for Dolby Atmos music production spaces in Nashville has become clear as major streaming services like Netflix and Hulu are now requiring Atmos deliverables. Music platforms like Amazon Music HD and Tidal now boast thousands of titles available for streaming in Atmos. Westlake Pro has been a leader in designing, integrating, and supporting Atmos systems around the globe for nearly a decade, making it an obvious choice to build an Immersive Audio Listening Room at the company’s Nashville location. Westlake Pro partnered with Harman to integrate a 9.2.6 monitoring system comprising JBL 705i and 708i passive two-way speakers for the surround and ceiling channels. The LFE channel includes two JBL SUB 18s, and everything is powered by Crown I-Tech 5000HD and DCI 8|600 multichannel amplifiers. An Avid MTRX serves as the connection hub to multiple Apple Mac Mini workstations hosting Pro Tools HDX systems and the Dolby Rendering unit. Tactile control of all working parts of the system is provided by a 16-channel Avid S6 M40 control surface. Crestron systems provide control of multiple video and audio components to include a Panasonic 4K projector and motorized projection screen. Westlake Pro also worked with Dave Mattingly from Sound Construction to reinforce the ceiling and walls to install the speakers with pin-point accuracy. At the same time, to accommodate the growing needs of Eastern U.S. clients, the Westlake Pro Design Group is expanding its staff in Nashville to mirror the expertise of the design and integration team located in Los Angeles.

CJ Hicks Photo

The Westlake Pro Immersive Audio Listening Room in Nashville, incorporating a JBL-based 9.2.6 monitor system

The Nashville showroom features Immersive Audio mixing capability with Dolby Atmos, and combines it with a state-of-the-art music recording and production studio. It is located in the iconic Berry Hill neighborhood, near Nashville’s Dolby Atmos Music studios at the former East Iris and Blackbird Studios.

Recording Academy Producers & Engineers Wing Forms Immersive Audio Committee Two years ago the Recording Academy changed the title of its GRAMMY Award category for Best Surround Sound Album to Best Immersive Audio Album. Now, the Recording Academy’s Producers & Engineers Wing—widely known for its member-created recommendation papers, including “Delivery of Recorded Music Projects, Surround Sound and High Resolution Audio Production”—has formed a new committee of audio experts to deliver recommendations for immersive audio production. Chaired by Technical GRAMMY Award recipient and GRAMMY-winning engineer George Massenburg and GRAMMY-nominated mastering engineer Michael Romanowski, the geographically and genre-diverse committee of audio experts will address topics including format-agnostic setup, nomenclature, definitions and other best practices for recording, delivery and archiving of immersive audio projects. Previous Producers & Engineer Wing recommendations have filled a need in the music community for technical and real-world information about best recording practices. Based on the practical experience of the Wing’s members, along with advice from others well-versed in various technical audio capacities—including members of the Wing’s Manufacturer’s


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Council—the recommendations provide practical direction and advice to enable those working in the field to deliver the best possible quality for their music projects. “I am always awed by the knowledge, dedication and hard work our members contribute to produce these guidelines documents,” says Maureen Droney, Senior Managing Director of the P&E Wing. “The previous Producers & Engineers Wing recommendations have been widely adopted and are a resource used by numerous universities and recording schools, record labels, manufacturers, and other industry organizations. As with those previous works, this committee plans to also engage with other professional audio and music business organizations toward the goal of establishing industry-wide consensus and widespread distribution of the recommendations. www.producersandengineers.com n


Current // news & notes Streaming Dolby Atmos Music What Good Are All These Beautifully Produced Tracks If No One Can Hear Them?


hile there are many ways to listen to immersive sound, streaming true Dolby Atmos Music is a more exclusive endeavor. As of this writing, the only streaming sources for this innovative content are Amazon’s Echo Studio and Music HD and TIDAL HiFi. Here is the rundown on each.

AMAZON ECHO STUDIO AND MUSIC HD The Echo Studio smart speaker is able to fill a room with powerful immersive audio through its compact form factor. Dolby worked with Amazon to create this music listening experience, which pushes past the boundaries of the mono and stereo solutions found in most smart speakers today. “We are excited to announce the all-new Echo Studio. We worked throughout its development with Dolby to bring our customers an unparalleled listening experience from a single, easy-to-use speaker,” said Miriam Daniel, vice president of Echo and Alexa Devices, Amazon. “Echo Studio is the first smart speaker to deliver a truly immersive audio experience with Dolby Atmos. It allows you to hear objects placed into the three-dimensional space around you—it’s music the way the artist intended you to hear it and we can’t wait for our customers to try it.” A growing library of tracks in Dolby Atmos are available to experience on Echo Studio through the Amazon Music HD plan. Echo Studio users can also turn their living room into a home theater by pairing one or two Echo Studio devices together wirelessly with a Fire TV Stick 4K or Fire TV Cube to experience movies and TV shows in Dolby Atmos.


TIDAL HIFI TIDAL and Dolby Laboratories introduced what the companies call “a more emotional and authentic way” to enjoy the songs you love with Dolby Atmos Music using TIDAL HiFi. Members subscribing to the TIDAL HiFi tier with compatible Android smartphones or tablets will have access to a growing library of music available in Dolby Atmos from Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group. Android smartphones and tablets that TIDAL has authorized to receive Dolby Atmos include: • Samsung (Galaxy S10, S10+, Galaxy Fold, Tab S5, and others) • Huawei (Mate 20 x, Mate 20 Pro, and others) • Oppo (Reno ACE and others) • RAZER Phone 2 • Sony Xperia 1 and 5 The current library includes songs from some of the world’s biggest artists such as The Weeknd, Blondie, Ariana Grande, and more. TIDAL is working closely with its artist-owners, including JAY-Z, to mix their catalogs in Dolby Atmos — which are expected to become available throughout 2020. “Dolby Atmos is redefining how music is created, allowing artists and fans to experience it like never before,” says John Couling, senior vice president, commercial partnerships, Dolby Laboratories. “Together with TIDAL, we are expanding the reach of Dolby Atmos Music by enabling a more immersive way for people around the world to enjoy their favorite songs and albums.” To enjoy Dolby Atmos Music, TIDAL will automatically default to this experience if a Dolby Atmos mix is available. Tracks will be identified by a “Dolby logo” visual badge as well as through a “Dolby Atmos” identifier that will display once a song is selected. Users can also click on the “Dolby Atmos” menu option under the “Explore” tab on the TIDAL app to explore the library of tracks available in Dolby Atmos. Dolby Atmos is now available to TIDAL members subscribing to the HiFi tier, which already features HiFi and Master quality audio. n

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Have You Lost Your Mind Yet? Fantastic Negrito Fills the Room With Music, Voice and Sounds By Barbara Schultz


his two-time Grammy-winning artist has proven a brilliant choice for the Dolby Atmos format. Fantastic Negrito’s music naturally comes at you from every angle, as disparate spoken and musical elements give listeners the feeling that parts of a song are in your ear, while others are outside the room, or just outside. “Immersive music is really all about creating an active listener versus a passive listener,” says mastering engineer Michael Romanowski, who created the Atmos mix and master for Fantastic Negrito’s new album, Have You Lost Your Mind Yet? “You want to have people focused and paying attention. That’s why Fantastic Negrito’s music is ideal. It’s not background music. It keeps people engaged with his creativity. For example, the Hammond comes in with a lick, and suddenly it’s in a different spot, just for a moment, and that makes you take notice.” Fantastic Negrito (the stage name of artist Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz) has given his record a title that is as appropriate for our life and times as it is for the practically psychedelic experience of hearing his super-funky music surround you in a room. The original tracks were recorded by Trevor Orriss and Migui Maloles, and the stereo release was mixed by Nahuel Bronzini in Bronzini’s personal studio. Bronzini was also the recording engineer for Fantastic Negrito’s Please Don’t Be Dead album (the 2019 Grammy winner for Best Contemporary Blues Album), and he mixed a couple of those album tracks. For this release, he was mainly the stereo mix engineer. “This is a very electric guitar-heavy album Photo by Lyle Owerko


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Photo by Amanda Nuir Mýrdal

Photo Courtesy M. Romanowski

Michael Romanowski created the Atmos mix and master.

and a sample-based album,” observes Bronzini, who A/Bs his mixes between his Meyer HD-1 monitors and a pair of Grado SR80e headphones. His mixing rig also includes Pro Tools, a Burl Vancouver summing mixer and three UAD Apollo interfaces for a total of 32 outputs. “Most of the guitars were recorded DI, which is unusual for this type of album, so there was a lot of tone-shaping in the mix,” Bronzini adds. “I used plug-ins from a company called Kush Audio. They make a boutique distortion plug-in called Omega TWK, the ‘Tweaker.’ That was great on the organ and guitars. I can create automations to get more or less coloration at the same time that I get more or less level.” Bronzini also got creative with Universal Audio’s spring reverb emulations, as well as Soundtoys’ Little AlterBoy on vocals and guitars. “I love how artistic Xavier’s music is, so I really try to shape things in such a way that the elements feel as if they move and breathe,” he says. Another important part of Bronzini’s mix involved judiciously muting elements to create space for essential parts of the arrangements, whether they be musical elements, effects, or sung or spoken vocals. Not only are Fantastic Negrito’s songs complex musically, they also make strong statements about social and economic justice; it’s critical for the music and the message to come across. “Xavier and I went back and forth on those things until we felt it was right,” Bronzini says. “I would send him mixes to review and then we would get together for tweaks. He was very involved.” After arriving at a mutually agreeable stereo mix, Bronzini sent stems to engineer David McNair to master the stereo version, and to


Romanowski for the Atmos master. Romanowski also received a multitude of isolated tracks and stems, some dry and some processed, that he could make use of in his mix. Romanowski began working in surround in 2000 and has been mixing and mastering for immersive audio since 2018. His studio is optimized for immersive audio with a 7.1.4 Focal monitor system and Nuendo workstation, which he says works beautifully with the Dolby Atmos Renderer. “Bob Hodas tuned this room,” Romanowski says. “The space measures 16 by 21, with 11-foot ceilings. Ceiling height was really crucial. There’s bass trapping above the ceiling, so that actually gives me about 14 feet overhead. “What never works,” Romanowski says, explaining his approach to Atmos projects, “is upmixing to immersive audio from a stereo mix. I need to have control over individual instruments in order to imagine re-combining them in a 3-D space instead of a two-dimensional plane. “It’s about the listening experience as you move around the room. How does it pull the listener in? How does it change, depending on how close you are in proximity to one speaker or another? “What you want is a really cool, evolving mix, and for that you need to have a variety of elements to work with, to create movement as well as balance. For example, the song ‘I’m So Happy I Cry’ probably has 75 or 80 stems that I’m combining or manipulating in some way.” “I’m So Happy I Cry” is certainly representative of the possibilities for musical movement on Have You Lost Your Mind Yet? The song shifts tempo more than once, and features reverberant handclaps and stomps, effects, lead vocals, rap vocals, choral vocals and programmed drums,

Nahuel Bronzini mixed the stereo version of Have You Lost Your Mind Yet? in his personal studio.

as well as Hammond organ and electric guitar. “On first listen, what I thought was cool about Fantastic Negrito’s stuff was that there were percussion pieces and background vocals and little sounds or parts that I could spread out and move around,” Romanowski says. “You end up with this mix that’s different depending on where you are in the room, but it’s not gimmicky in the way some styles of music might lend themselves to. “For some bands, or some songs, doing something gimmicky or weird and out there fits,” he continues. “For example, there’s a surround version of Primus doing twisted versions of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory songs. It’s totally bizarre, but if it weren’t, it wouldn’t be Primus. Or a band like the Flaming Lips will do something wild like anchor the vocals in the center but make the drums swirl around over your head. They’re very unconventional in their techniques to begin with, and they might use the format to take the listener out of a conventional paradigm. Again, that works because it’s the Flaming Lips. “Atmos music has shifted in the last couple of years from the way people approached immersive audio that was tied to video. Now you’re not staring at a screen and your attention isn’t cut in half. Immersive audio for film can have moments when there’s movement, like a helicopter flying by, and if the image is in front of you but the audio sounds like it’s flying over your head, it doesn’t gel in your brain and there is a disconnect. “With Atmos music, and especially on this Fantastic Negrito project, you’re working with something that significantly enhances your experience. Negrito doesn’t need to express himself that way because the songs stand up strong enough. There are dozens of elements, but no fly-bys!” n

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Music // classic tracks Classic Tracks Go Immersive Elton John and Prince Get the Dolby Atmos Music Treatment By Barbara Schultz Greg Penny, the engineer in charge of Elton John’s archives and reissues, was an early adopter of immersive audio and has become one of its champions. Over time, he’s found that even skeptics are blown away by his Atmos remix of Sir Elton’s 1972 smash “Rocket Man.” Mix covered the original Gus Dudgeon production of “Rocket Man” in an interview with engineer Ken Scott in March 2010. Here, Penny shares details about the Atmos mix he did in 2017. “‘Rocket Man’ has Elton on piano, Dee Murray on bass, Nigel Olsson on drums, and Davey Johnstone on that slide guitar that sounds like a rocket ship taking off,” Penny says. “We started the Atmos mix with 96k copies of the original multitrack, but I printed all the reverbs with the TC Electronic TC 6000 because I wasn’t sure at that time that Dolby could create what I wanted. “Then I prepared it for Dolby with enough multichannel stems and reverbs to send out to all the speakers. This was done in Dolby’s Burbank studio, which had JBL speakers. “I like to work from the vocals out, so my first consideration was to have his voice build from the front of the room, where he would be if he were in the room playing it for you. The track is Mix engineer Greg Penny. constructed in a way that unfolds like a flower to the chorus, so it made sense to place the instruments first in the center and expand the audio field out as they enter the mix. “So the track starts sort of small and builds to the chorus, which opens up the whole range of speakers, horizontally and vertically. Then the track goes back to that small intimate sound, and it builds again after the second verse with David Hentschel’s beautiful ARP synth part. “There are also two acoustic guitars on that track, and I panned those out from the center to the side; they seem to lift you up and keep you rhythmically sustained through the whole track as it ebbs and flows. It became the perfect track to use as a demonstration [of the format], because of the way it is revealed to the listener.” Engineer David Leonard has focused a lot on Atmos mixing lately, amassing credits on artists ranging from Glen Campbell to Billie Eilish. Mix talked to Leonard for a “Classic Tracks” article in January 2009 about the making of Prince’s song “Purple Rain,” and recently Leonard had the opportunity to revisit another track that he worked on for the Purple Rain album 26 years ago: “When Doves Cry.”


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This month, “Classic Tracks” takes you inside the Atmos mixes of two great songs.

Leonard creates Atmos mixes in a couple of different Nashville-area studios for a variety of clients. He often works in the PMC-outfitted East Iris in Berry Hill when he’s mixing Universal artists. However, this Prince classic from Purple Rain was remixed in Blackbird Studios in an Atmos room outfitted with ATC speakers. as well as Pro Tools and the Dolby Atmos Renderer. “All of the rooms I work in sound spectacular,” Leonard says. “East Iris is a little on the smaller side, and the Blackbird room is much larger and more theatrical. For this song, I worked from 96k copies of the original 24-track masters. ‘When Doves Cry’ is actually a pretty stripped-down track: There’s a drum loop, keyboards, some guitar solos, vocals, and that’s it. “When I work in Atmos, I like to keep the voice front and center. I’ve heard Atmos mixes I like where the vocal is behind you, but I keep the vocal up front. The drums can spread around; you can move elements of the kit behind you, cymbals can move above-behind you, and then the guitar riffs can go beside you or above-behind you, and then you can put delayed elements of the original sources above or back behind you, so everything is more spatial in room. “On ‘When Doves Cry,’ Prince’s vocal is in front and there’s reverb on it that moves in stereo from the front to the rear of the room. A lot of the harmonies can Engineer David Leonard with his assistant. move to the left and right of your head, and above, so the main vocals are always in front of you but the harmony is above you in the ceiling area. It’s a very creative process with lots of real estate to fill up. The overhead speakers open up another dimension that puts you inside a balloon of audio.” n


Music // news & notes It’s Different When You Mix Music-Only By David Rideau


hough I am mostly known as an engineer/mixer of “records,” I have also recorded and mixed music for film, TV and theme parks over the years. I have seen delivery specs (level, channels and stems) change over time and have tried to stay current and look to what’s coming on the horizon. I have worked in surround formats specifically for music before, and it’s been fun to mix creatively without restrictions. I can say that mixing for Dolby Atmos Music takes that freedom to the next level. I understand and accept the conditions of mixing for film, where music brings real emotional dimension to a scene. Of course, sometimes it is reduced to a background role when the soundtrack must yield the right-ofway to dialog, sound effects and whatever else the director feels is the sonic priority at any given moment. Mixing music-only projects in an immersive format demands a different mindset. I am currently mixing to picture on a collaboration between director Reginald Hudlin and composer Marcus Miller. As in the last time the three of us worked together (Marshall, starring Chadwick Boseman), I am anchored to the screen, the image dictating the space available for music. At the same time, I recently remixed two songs in Dolby Atmos from Miller’s previously released projects. Working with Maurice Patist, President of PMC USA, we could use the space and the extra speakers’ fullrange capability to create an exciting music-only experience. I had first worked with Patist about 10 years ago, when we collaborated—along with Noel Lee of Monster Cable producing under supervision of the Miles Davis Estate—on a 5.1 surround presentation of Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain for an AES Convention. Flash-forward to April 2019, and Maurice, an engineer, hard-core jazz fan and an original champion of Dolby Atmos as a music format— asked if I would be interested in mixing Sketches in Atmos. I helped him reach out to the Davis


From left, Dave Rideau, Marcus Miller and Maurice Patist at Capitol Studio C.

estate; we contacted Vincent Wilburn Jr. and Erin Davis, who not only signed off on Sketches but also agreed to let us remix the legendary Kind of Blue! Maurice, Capitol Studios Senior Engineer Steve Genewick and I secured 24/96k digital transfers from the original Ampex Model 300 half-inch, 3-track recording. The raw transfers were stunning when we brought up the faders. So the order of the day became: Do no harm. It would be a crime to add anything that might distract from these unbelievable performances. We panned our three tracks across the front of the room, the LCR, and experimented with different live and artificial chambers to add space to the performance. In the end we settled on re-amping the original three tracks with the “stereo” panning we created over a pair of speakers set up in Capitol Studio A’s live space. The mics were arranged with the intent to mimic the Atmos speaker array in Capitol Studio C, where we were mixing. After printing the mics back into our session, we then spent days adjusting levels.

Both Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain were recorded in CBS/Columbia 30th Street Studios, New York City. The recording studio was approximately 97 feet long by 55 feet wide, with a 50-foot-high ceiling. The final picture within our Atmos mix is 100 percent “real,” where the front of the room is the recording from 1959 at 30th Street Studios, and the space surrounding the performance is Capitol Studio A. Once again, with “music” projects to be remixed in Atmos, you have total freedom to utilize the space as you believe best suits the song. If you’re used to mixing music for film, you may have to close your eyes when listening and adjust your mindset to the freedom of mixing without picture. The prime objective of a mixer does not change for the format. We are still servicing the artist’s performance, arrangements and composition. Miles’ “So What” is a great song in mono! That said, once we opened up the space and played it back in Atmos, I believe we gave it a bigger stage and the chance to be introduced to a new audience. n

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Photos Courtesy of Dolby



The Strategy Behind Dolby Atmos for Live By Tom Kenny


f the launch of Dolby Atmos Music is a movement still in its infancy, then the introduction of Dolby Atmos for Live might be considered still in the womb, but moving around and definitely kicking. It’s the newest addition to the company’s audio ecosystem, joining Cinema, Recording and Broadcast, and to some extent, Gaming and now Streaming. The exposure of Dolby Atmos for Live has been quieter, for sure, since its public debut four years ago. And in the meantime, a number of live sound companies have emerged with their own immersive systems that are now in action, most notably L-Acoustics’ L-ISA and d&b audiotechnik’s Soundscape, coupled with tools developed by Avid, DiGiCo, Waves and many other established live sound manufacturers. But behind the scenes Dolby’s research and development into applications for live events and performances has been going on practically since research began on Dolby Atmos for the Cinema market a decade ago. Cinema then took off in 2012, TV in 2017, and Music and Recording is just now emerging. Atmos Live debuted in 2016 with a launch at London nightclub Ministry of Sound. “That was a fixed install, and it was more of a proof of concept in a very particular content Jed Harmsen, Dolby VP genre, where it was really of Cinema & Content focused on EDM and DJ Solutions


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Meek Mill performing live in Dolby Atmos at a Grammy Week event in Los Angeles, early February 2020.

playback,” says Jed Harmsen, VP of Cinema & Content Solutions, who for the past five years has been involved with the launch of Dolby Atmos for Cinema and now looks to slowly introduce the creative possibilities and varied applications to the live sound market. “The idea behind Dolby Atmos for Live stems from an annual companywide innovation festival we call IdeaQuest, where Dolby employees across the world spend a week brainstorming our next innovations. “But what it did is it gave us a high degree of confidence and conviction—based on the creative feedback we got—that there’s definitely a value to this experience,” Harmsen continues. “That’s both at the consumer level based on exit polling we did, as well as from artists like Deadmau5 and others who really enjoyed working with the technology. And so that enabled us to say, ‘Okay, let’s think a little more broadly about this and how we can make this more applicable to multiple genres within music, as well as other forms of entertainment.’ How do we make this more adaptable so it’s not only for nightclubs, but also for performing arts centers and for residency venues and, over time, to the tens of thousands of people at general live venues.” A similar nightclub, Sound-Bar, opened in

Chicago a year later, in mid-2017, followed by a year and a half of development into applications and tools for other types of venues. Throughout 2018 and into 2019, Dolby began experimenting within its labs at its HQ in San Francisco to see how it could apply these learnings to larger venues and more diverse content genres. Then, in November of 2019, Dolby, in partnership with Dick Clark Productions, made a big splash at the AMA show held at the Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles, with performances by Lizzo, Post Malone and Dua Lipa in Atmos and the rest in stereo. “That was actually our first, I’ll call it, major public unveiling,” Harmsen says. “We actually designed and integrated the overall solution, working with the collective sound design team, the front-of-house mixers and the artists. We had three main criteria: One, that we could deliver the Dolby Atmos goods when we needed to; two, that we could pass through the traditional stereo playback for acts that weren’t in Atmos; and then third, provide a fail-safe option to fall back to stereo if there was a problem.” There wasn’t. A few months later, a system was installed in partnership with Live Nation at the House of Blues in Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas, for the now nineyears-running Carlos Santana residency to begin in


January 2020. [Unfortunately, the residency been put on hold after a handful of performances. It will be back.] In late January 2020, during Grammy Week, Meek Mill performed a full Atmos for Live show to an industry audience at NeueHouse Hollywood, presented by Dolby and Tidal, which also has partnered with Atmos Music. Those types of partnerships have become increasingly important as the Atmos technology spreads across the various professional audio markets, perhaps even more so in live sound. Unlike film, television, broadcast and music, the creative talent and established production companies don’t have a lot of precedents for working in a surround-type format. For Dolby, providing education and developing simplified, powerful toolsets are the order of the day. “I think the educational component is huge,” Harmsen says. “It’s a fundamental change, so the educational process is not only about how the tools can be used or how we envision them being used, but more so trying to give the creative teams a broader palette and an easy-to-use toolset so that you can be as ambitious or as conservative as you

The Dolby Atmos Live system setup for Carlos Santana’s residency at the House of Blues Las Vegas.

choose to be.” And Dolby freely admits that while they’ve had some early successes, all the tools aren’t yet there. The strategy now is on further developing a feedback loop with the creative teams at all types of venues, from performance halls to event centers to, someday soon no doubt, Broadway and eventually touring—once the pandemic

ends, anyplace where people gather in small, medium and large groups to enjoy music. “Our goal is to find these spaces where the creators can use the palette and get creative,” Harmsen concludes. “And we’re going to do the work to marshal everyone through the process and the educational curve, and hopefully come out with a reinvigorated way to hear music.” n

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Soundtrack of the American Soldier Immersive Audio Provides Deep Connection to the Humanity of Those Who Serve By Sarah Jones


he United States Army Field Band has been performing musical outreach around the world since 1946. Led by Colonel Jim Keene, these “Musical Ambassadors of the Army” entertain and inspire local, national and international audiences with more than 400 performances each year. This fall, the ensemble will release Soundtrack of the American Soldier, an immersive collection of music embodying the spirit of the Army and those who serve in the military. Works include new arrangements of classic film, TV and game scores by Jeff Beal, Michael Giacchino and John Williams; Mark Isham re-imagined his iconic “Army Strong” campaign theme for the project. Commissioned works include Laura Karpman’s “Brass Ceiling,” a


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portrait of General Anne Dunwoody, the first female 4-star general in the Army; and an arrangement of “The Star Spangled Banner” orchestrated by Field Band arranger and composer Master Sergeant Adrian Hernandez. “We partnered with extraordinarily talented composers,” Keene says. “They were chosen because they work in the business of telling stories. Most of them work in the film and television realms and are comfortable weaving stories with their music.” PRE-PRODUCTION WITH IMMERSIVE IN MIND Given the Field Band’s mission “to connect the American people to its Army,” Keene believed that creating a recording based around the Dolby Atmos format would offer a deeply meaningful listening experience.


Adapting the Control Room The control room at Skywalker Sound’s scoring stage is based around a Neve 88R, with B&W Nautilus 802 monitors in L, C, R, L/S, and R/S, and Neumann 310s for additional sides and height channels. “When we first started doing immersive, we already had the Neumann 120s and really liked the way they sounded,” says Leslie Ann Jones, Skywalker’s director of music recording and scoring. “We auditioned a pair of 310s, and they had a flavor that was so much like the B&Ws that we decided The control room at the Skywalker Sound Scoring to use those for the sides and the height Stage includes a Neve 88R console, with B&W speakers, and it’s worked out really well.” Nautilus 802 monitors for L, C, R, L/S, and R/S, and The Neve’s monitoring capabilities have Neumann 310s for additional sides and height channels. Photo by Dann Thompson been expanded with the addition of a Grace Design M908 surround monitor controller. “The console itself is not capable of monitoring anything greater than 7.1,” Jones explains. “If we go past that, we have to have some other way of hearing things. The Grace has been fantastic because it allows us to do everything we want and assign things the way we want. And, my favorite, it’s got a big volume knob!”

“The properties of the immersive listening environment provide the opportunity to show exactly how good a group really sounds from within, which is a rare opportunity that only performers fully experience,” he says. Before the project was under way, Keene reconnected with Grammy-nominated producer Dan Merceruio, who helmed the Field Band’s 2018 recording The Legacy of Leonard Bernstein. “After that project was finished, he turned to me and said, ‘What I really want to do is a project in immersive audio. Can you suggest anywhere that we could go?’” Merceruio recalls. “And I said,


Courtesy of U.S. Army

The U.S. Army Field band, conducted by Colonel Jim Keene, set up in the Skywalker Sound Scoring Stage in mid-February 2020.

‘Well, of course. Let’s go to Skywalker.’” Merceruio has produced a number of immersive projects for the label Sono Luminus at Skywalker Sound, a world-class center for audio for film, television, games and music production/post-production located in Marin County, Calif., just north of San Francisco. The facility’s six feature mixing stages, as well as its scoring stage, are all now equipped for immersive sound mixing, and the facility has collaborated in development of theatrical and venue-oriented audio formats for more than two decades. When Mix visited in mid-February, engineer Jim Anderson and producer Ulrike Schwarz were completing the latest immersive album by Patricia Barber; Anderson earned Grammy Awards for Best Surround Mix for Barber’s Modern Cool and Jane Ira Bloom’s Early Americans, both mixed at Skywalker; in 2019, Anderson and Schwarz were nominated for a Grammy for Best Immersive Album for the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra’s Kverndokk: Symphonic Dances, also mixed at Skywalker. Skywalker director of music recording and scoring Leslie Ann Jones, a multiple Grammy winner, was nominated for Best Surround Album in 2014 for her work on mediaHYPERIUM3’s Signature Sound Opus One compilation. “We’ve done surround for a long time in this room,” she says, “including 5.1.4 and 7.1.4, and of course we’ve been doing immersive film mixing for years. Pixar’s Brave was the first feature film

mixed in Atmos. That was mixed here, and Skywalker was the first facility to have Atmos in every mix room.” TRADITION COMES FULL CIRCLE Pre-production for the U.S. Army Band project focused on configuring the ensemble to highlight the musical arrangements and the immersive experience. “We really wanted to embrace the idea of coming up with a unique arrangement for the musicians inside the space, depending on the instrumentation and based on the music for each tune,” says Merceruio, who attended three days of rehearsals, interpreting scores with staff arranger Hernandez. “I suggested the various setups after hearing them play in the room and then literally moving them around while we were all together.” Each song dictated a unique seating arrangement, often with exaggerated separation between players. “Any time you change the environment of a musician, you change everything,” adds Keene. “Moving even a couple of feet can completely change what you hear, not only from other instruments, but, more importantly, from your own! I remember a bassoon player who told me that when he sat in front of the trombones, he would often stop playing because, ‘What’s the point?’ When moving him 10 feet, he heard another universe. That same bassoonist then sat in the audience and shared that he had no idea that that was what the group sounded like.” Merceruio and Jones mapped out seating

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Standing in the Skywalker Sound Scoring Stage control room, from left: Col Jim Keene, Leslie Ann Jones, Dan Merceruio, Skywalker staff engineer Dann Thompson, Master Sergeant Adrian Hernandez, Lieutenant Colonel Domingos Robinson.

omnis on wide left and right; an M49 to capture LFE; and M150s at left-back and right-back. Four Sennheiser MKH H800s were used as height mics; spot mics captured sections of the band and chorus.

Courtesy of U.S. Army

SONIC SNAPSHOTS A typical microphone setup included Neumann M50 mics at main left, center and right; M149

Courtesy of U.S. Army

for the sessions on Skywalker’s scoring stage, a 60-x80-foot room with a 30-foot ceiling and variable acoustics. The mission was to create an experience that would be immersive in an enveloping way, without resorting to gimmickry. “We certainly kept in mind what was going to create the greatest impact while also providing a balanced experience,” says Merceruio. “You can go crazy and do anything you want, but you always have to come back to, ‘What’s the mission? How do we best serve the music?’” The soundstage for each selection was informed by the musical arrangement; generally, the 65-piece Field Band and 28-member Soldiers’ Chorus were seated in a circle surrounding Col. Keene’s conductor podium, with the chorus in the back. “We always like to create balance,” Jones explains. “I place piano and harp on opposite sides, for example, because they often play in the same register. That informs these decisions— things like balancing out the percussion, having a nice, round woodwind sound—so it feels like it’s enveloping you, whatever activity there is in the orchestration.”

In the control room, from left: Engineers Dan Mercurio and Leslie Ann Jones, with assistant engineers Robert Gatley and Dann Thompson (facing the camera).


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“I tended to rely more on section mics or dividing things up into stereo pairs so that I could move them around a bit in the immersive landscape,” Jones explains. “When we had the chorus, we repositioned height mics so that they could pick up the chorus as well, because we had baffles between the chorus and the band.” Because the chorus was often recorded together with the band, Jones used microphones that offered strong rejection. “I often think of microphones in terms of the kind of picture that they’re taking of the sound,” she says. “If I’m a camera lens, what is it I’m trying to capture? If I’m a microphone, what am I looking at? That would dictate whether I use a smalldiaphragm mic if I need separation or a largerdiaphragm mic if I need to have a larger picture of something.” Joseph DeBeasi’s “American Sniper Suite” features two drum kits, which were recorded in iso rooms to make it easier for the colonel to follow the drums and to allow Jones the flexibility to position the drums in the front or in the back of the mix. “This particular arrangement, everything’s very powerful and very close,” says Jones. “There’s not much lushness to it. So it’s not like you have to pretend that the drums were in the room at the same time; they can just have their own personality. “Apart from the sound of the room, the whole orchestra is going to one reverb, and then I might


Courtesy of U.S. Army

The miking setup for the recording, with a Dolby Atmos Music release in mind.

put the chorus a little in that and then maybe add something a little extra to them,” she adds. “Same thing with the drums, because I didn’t want them to sound like they were necessarily in the room at the same time, but they have such an important part that they afford to be treated differently. Most of those sounds stay the same no matter what tune I was mixing, though there was some compression added to the drums on this one to give them a certain sound.” Laura Karpman’s “Brass Ceiling” features a barrage of percussion, including mallets hitting artillery shells; the music was arranged specifically for the recording space and refined through phone conversations with the composer. “Laura’s piece utilized five different percussion stations,” says Merceruio. “It quickly became a query: Wouldn’t it be really great if we could have them surround the ensemble, and therefore the listener? Starting with a main microphone array in the middle, we moved the instruments around to portray an aural picture that would not only serve the music, but also provoke the listener into having an experience that’s larger than what you could obtain in a stereo format.” STREAMLINING MIXES The project was originally planned for 7.1.4


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release in Dolby Atmos, but as some consumer Atmos-capable receivers downsample 7.1.4 to 5.1.4 automatically without a native way to play the side speakers, Merceruio and Jones decided to play it safe and mix in 5.1.4. “That changed the mix flow slightly because we had recorded in and were listening to it with side speakers,” says Jones. “When we mixed it, we didn’t have the side speakers, so I had to create that phantom image.” Creating a 5.1 mix brought different challenges: “When you spend a couple of weeks mixing with the height speakers and then you go down to a regular 5.1, you’re so used to hearing it being deep and tall and immersive that replicating that in 5.1 is a little harder,” Jones says. “That is why every tune had a different amount of height mics added in to give us what we needed to make that work well.” After completing the surround mixes, Jones recalled them and rebalanced them to create stereo mixes. “Of the downmixes that we’ve done to stereo, most have included the height mics, but in various volume levels,” she explains. “Some have not included the height mics at all because it tended to add a little bit of delay that you wouldn’t necessarily want when you go to stereo. And sometimes we’ll vary the amount of the height mics because having that little bit of fairy dust that they add is a good thing.”

equipment, that’s the most important thing.” In the end, Soundtrack of the American Soldier is a cultural document, a connection to a worldclass ensemble made more meaningful through immersive sound. “One of the most difficult things to do in music is to describe what music actually sounds like from the conductor’s podium,” says Keene. “My first listen sitting in Leslie’s chair was a revelation. Listening to the recording was like a time capsule in that I could remember exactly how the group was positioned in the room.” Lieutenant Colonel Domingos Robinson, a band officer and conductor who serves as the Field Band’s deputy commander and was familiar with the scores, sat in the booth helping to translate what he was hearing. “From the first playback on day one of the recording sessions, I knew it was going to be good,” he says. “When I heard the mixes at Skywalker this past February, I couldn’t believe the clarity of the score and depth of the sound. Leslie Ann was actually able to capture what it’s like to listen to this magnificent ensemble up close and personal. I can’t wait for people to hear this recording!” “Something like this is such a collaborative endeavor,” Merceruio says in summation. “All of us are trusting each other to represent our roles at the highest level possible. In this case,

“When you spend a couple of weeks mixing with the height speakers and then you go down to a regular 5.1, you’re so used to hearing it being deep and tall and immersive that replicating that in 5.1 is a little harder.” —Leslie Anne Jones As consumers start to embrace immersive music, providing the best listening experience to the broadest range of listeners means focusing on capturing artistic intent, says Jones. “We’re trying to have the best immersive experience we can in this room,” she adds. “Once we get to mastering we might do some playbacks through a soundbar or something like that, just to see what that sounds like. Apart from the 5.1.4 mix, we have a 5.1 mix and then a stereo mix, so we’re pretty much covered for any way that somebody might want to play back. But as long as the arrangement comes through and as long as the intention of the recording and mixing comes through, to me, regardless of the playback

the payoff is providing the listener with a deeper understanding of the music in a way that is more impactful than it otherwise would be.” “When I’m thinking about this from the perspective of someone who has never heard an immersive audio recording, when they sit down in that seat and they go, ‘Wow, I hear so much more, this is so much more dynamic,’ I am transported back to the time when we created this,” he says. “Those kinds of conversations provide the guiding light for us being on the right path of offering an experience that’s translatable to anybody who’s used to listening in stereo, who has never enjoyed an immersive format before.” n


THREE YEARS, THREE PLAYERS Dolby, UMG/Capitol Studios, PMC And the Launch of Atmos Music By Tom Kenny


n mid-May 2017 Art Kelm, then general manager of Capitol Studios in Los Angeles, walked into Studio C and told senior engineer Steve Genewick that they would soon be converting the space, one of the industry’s most in-demand stereo mix rooms, to a full-blown Dolby Atmos Music studio. Genewick’s response was simple and to the point: “Why?” he asked. Kelm explained that Universal Music Group, Capitol’s corporate parent since the purchase of EMI in 2012, was in the process of forming a partnership with Dolby to introduce Dolby Atmos Music to the world. Abbey Road Studios, the other UMG-owned facility, had just opened its own Atmos Music mix suite in March for a 50th anniversary release of Sgt. Pepper’s, which would be coming out in June. Capitol Studios was next. So, Kelm told Genewick, the room would be down for a few weeks, and by the way, at the end of June they would be getting the original tracks for the 25th anniversary re-release of R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People, and Genewick would be mixing it. In Atmos. Scott Litt, the original producer, would be coming in first of August to listen to playback, so he would have a month to mix. The room would be ready. No worries. Except that Genewick had never touched an immersive music project, and outside of the post facilities, he had no real place to learn hands-on. There had been immersive music mixes in the years prior, many of them out of Europe, many of them classical. But Genewick had no precedents to fall back on, nobody to talk to. He didn’t know the tools, had no idea of the workflow. He wasn’t quite sure of the differences between Objects and Beds. But it was coming. Soon. After the room was built. One of the first things Kelm did was call Maurice Patist, president of PMC USA and an early adopter and avid proponent of immersive audio. Kelm and Capitol are big PMC fans, having redone Studio C just a year prior with the addition of left-right IB2S three-way main monitors. JBL had already made a big splash in Atmos for post-production with its 7


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Series, but Kelm knew enough at the time to figure that the toolset, as well as the creative decisions, would be different for Atmos Music. Capitol went with PMC. Though none of them could have known it at the time, that one week in May solidified a triangular partnership between Dolby, UMG/Capitol and PMC that essentially became two triangles. The first was a boots-on the ground team—Kelm and Genewick from UMG/Capitol, Patist from PMC, and Nathaniel Kunkel, then Ceri Thomas from Dolby, led by Christine Thomas—that over the next two-and-a-half years built three more UMG Dolby Atmos Music-certified studios, established all new workflows, and, by the end of 2019, remixed around 2000 songs. In parallel, there was another core group on the executive side. Giles Baker was part of the team at Dolby working on the playback and distribution side, while Patrick Kraus worked with a team at UMG to get content ready, bringing in Patist from PMC when discussing the studios. Those efforts led in late 2019 to announcements with Amazon Music HD in coordination of its launch of the Atmos-enabled Echo Studio smart speaker, and with TIDAL, which announced Atmos Music as part of its Hi-Fi Tier, with a commitment to remix their own artist catalog throughout 2020 in addition to streaming UMG and now Warner Music songs, And then they all went under radio silence for the next two years. None of this background is meant to discount the contributions of countless others to the research into immersive music and the development of the tools and techniques that make it “something new.” There have been immersive music mixes for years, and companies like Auro-3D, DTS, Avid, Steinberg, Fraunhofer, and a number of European labels have all played their part, and they all continue to. But right here, right now, in the U.S. it’s been the triangle that put up the time, the commitment and the money.


Photo Courtesy of ATC

Photo Courtesy of PMC

THE VIEW FROM 30,000 FEET “There aren’t very many other companies out there that put together all these pieces and bridge the whole signal flow, from the creation of content through how it gets distributed and then how it gets played back by the consumer,” says Giles Baker, Dolby Senior Vice President, Consumer Entertainment, whose background includes going to recording school in England and later business school, followed by stints at Sonic Solutions, then Adobe. “So at a technical level, we’re pretty unique, and we have always worked with partners,” he continues. “[But] we start with the artistic process as much as the technology. It’s that combination of the artistic process and vision, and the technology that we can invent, that can bring all of that to life. The starting point has to be, ‘Can you make something compelling?’” It’s unclear at this point whether UMG first called Dolby, or vice-versa. Either way, it’s no coincidence that one month before Kelm and team started remaking Studio C, Dolby came out with the Dolby Atmos Production Suite and Dolby Atmos Mastering Suite, providing a set of tools that allowed mixers to work natively in the box and communicate with the all-important Dolby Atmos Renderer tool in software. It’s also important to remember that by 2017, Dolby Atmos was a relatively mature technology, having taken over film and television postproduction and distribution, but yet to make real inroads into the company’s other core markets: Broadcast, Music, Gaming, Live and now Streaming. Music, they knew, would have

Capitol Studio C.

different needs and require different tools “The cool thing about Dolby Atmos Music is that it’s a new artform,” Baker adds. “But by leveraging our presence in Dolby Atmos devices that are already out in the market, [we can] provide a way of accelerating that availability of content.” But Dolby doesn’t make content; it’s a technology and licensing company. So if they wanted to make a splash, it made sense to partner with the world’s largest record label, one with a massive back-catalog, genre-defining labels, hundreds of artists in every style of music, and two of the most fabled recording studios in history. “One of the differences between music and movies or TV is that there’s a lot more music than there are movies,” Baker explains. “We can have a meaningful availability of content with 200 movies, whereas with music you need thousands and thousands of tracks. And so that dynamic is

a little different. And the commitment required to get to that level of thousands and thousands of tracks—you just can’t do that on your own.” One of the big differences between the introduction of immersive music and the failed launch of 5.1 is that the latter relied on physical distribution of albums, while the former will ultimately rely on streaming and song-based subscription delivery. UMG was certainly aware of the rapid changeover in consumption, and was at the same time looking for new ways to excite consumers, says Patrick Kraus, UMG Senior Vice President of Recording Studios & Archive Management, who has paid his dues as a recording engineer, studio manager, transfer operator, and archivist, among other titles, over his career. “My boss, Michael Frey, who’s the president of supply chain operations and studios globally for Universal, said he’s excited about this Dolby Atmos technology in theaters,” Kraus recalls. “And he wanted to see if there was an application for it in music. He started talking to Dolby about four, maybe even five years ago. Universal is ultimately a music-based content company, and we want to make sure that we create experiences for consumers that go beyond just the stereo stream. “In the early days, it was more about, ‘What does it mean? What’s different between music and film? I mean, sound is sound, right?’” he continues. “And then through discussions and through experimentation we would get the right people involved. As you know, one of the early adopters here was Giles Martin when he re-did Sgt. Pepper’s. “We also felt that in order to really drive adoption and to help support this format that we needed to be the best at actually doing it right,” Kraus says. “We didn’t want to outsource all the mixing at the start because we wanted to make sure that our own rooms worked for music. But I want to make it clear that we’re not looking to


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hoard all of the work. This effort only works if it goes wide and far, if we get everybody to be working in the swamp.” BACK TO THE STUDIO Maurice Patist at PMC was also one of those right people, with 18 years at the company and now living in Los Angeles. He’s a hardcore jazz fan, an engineer in his own right, and he has an unyielding passion for the types of musical experiences that immersive music has to offer. Of course he wants to spell speakers. He wants everyone to sell more speakers. But with support from PMC owner Peter Thomas he’s invested thousands of hours and many, many thousands of dollars over the past three years promoting the format at trade shows, popping up rooms at AES and NAMM, at Munich and Bristol hi-fi stereo shows, with a 9.1.6 system and playing back UMG content. It’s about more than selling speakers. When Kelm called him in May 2017 to come in for another look at Studio C, and how he thought it might work with an Atmos system, Patist became a member of the team. The studios themselves were a critical part of the equation, and to get that right, the mixers had to trust what they were hearing and know that it would translate up and down the chain. Everyone knew that this would be a very different proposition than a 5.1 room. So they started with the speakers. “it’s all in the speaker and speaker placement, and the relation to height and distance speakers,” Kelm says, emphasizing that they learned right off the bat that it would be a very different proposition than building an Atmos post-production room. “You have to get the right imaging to get the right object in motion. That’s where you really have to pay attention. Translation is everything, both between studios and eventually into the home or device or wherever it ends up.” Over the first two weeks, Kelm, Patist and Nate Kunkel from Dolby (who ultimately was in charge of designing the system, as well as training Genewick on the mix tools) went over various options in speaker configurations, mostly trial and error, and ended up with the PMC IB2SXBD three-ways left and right, with an IB2S-A in the center, 10 Wafer 1 (in-wall) flat-panel monitors for the surrounds, and six Wafer 2 (on-wall) models for the ceiling, the height channels. The LFE is handled by four 10-inch PMC twotwoSub2s, with two each stacked and aligned left and


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right of the center channel. “When we started designing the Atmos systems at Capitol, we looked at how to place all the surround and height speakers in such a way that it voices identically with the front, and at the same time save space,” Patist recalls. “If we did it as we normally would, we ran the risk being completely surrounded by speakers—really in your face. So we brought in the Wafer flat-panels, with a 5-inch and two tweeters, and I said, ‘Well, we could take the in-wall grille off and put some acoustic fabric over it. And then we can tune and see how much we need to boost.’ This worked so well that now all the speakers for surround or height channels are completely hidden. You would never know when you walk in that there are 10 speakers behind the walls.” That same LCR+Sub configuration, with variations in the sides and heights based on room dimensions, has been used as the blueprint for the conversion of Studio E at Capitol and two UMG-owned rooms at the former East Iris in Nashville, along with a couple of other rooms that Patist has consulted on in conjunction with Dolby, including NYU’s Clive Davis School of Music, Shenandoah University, and his own space in Highland Park. He calls what they came up with the Capitol Blueprint. And it works.

UMG Berry Hill Studio E


Photo Courtesy of Dolby

Lizzo performed at the AMAs in Dolby Atmos and was one of the artists featured in the Dolby Atmos Music short film series.

THE STUDIO’S OPEN, TIME TO MIX While Kelm, Patist and Kunkel moved on to the next rooms and their other day jobs, Genewick started figuring out how to mix in a whole new way. Kunkel sat down with him for a day to get him familiar with the Renderer and the toolset, and to go over the differences between channel-based mixing and working with Beds and Objects. And then it was time to start on Automatic for the People. Today, Genewick still laughs as he says, “I had no idea what I was doing. It was a huge learning curve.” A couple of things he did learn, pretty quickly, was that the original plan to have a hybrid analog and digital workflow became an all-digital chain, down to the Focusrite-driven Dante network, a technology Kelm says is absolutely necessary for this type of room. So Genewick had to learn Dante, too. “I knew about Dante, but I hadn’t sat in front of it.,” he says “And it all sounds great until you’re staring at the screen going, ‘I don’t know how to get this to go there.’ I understand a patch cable, but this is crazy! But it’s like anything else You just learn it and do it.”

Maurice Patist of PMC in the company’s Dolby Atmos Music studio in Highland Park, Los Angeles.

He has also, over months and months of mixing, learned much more about object-based mixing and translation. “I use a lot of objects and very little bed,” he explains. “And the reason for that is that I started noticing that audio would appear when I didn’t really put it there, especially on the side and in the ceiling. I thought, ‘Why is that moving? I put it over there, why is it suddenly here?’ And I realized it was because I was using the bed, and everybody’s speaker configuration can be a little bit different, especially in the sides and the ceiling. “So long story short, I came up with a series of zones, I call them. Basically I have 25 static objects set up in different parts of the room—front side, side farther back, rear, high front, high middle, high back, stuff like that. Those objects never, ever move, and I have them set up on aux sends in Pro Tools. When I sat down to do R.E.M., I figured that I had all this cool space, I should use it!. I could do all this fun stuff and moving guitars and all that. But I learned early on that I still have to make a record that people want to sit down and listen to.” Genewick went through a similar process figuring out how to work with reverb, coming up with a scheme whereby he assigns seven instantiations to dedicated zones, then one big mono reverb over all of them. One send feeds all the reverbs. “Then I came up with this sytem where I put delays in front of all the reverbs so it kind of spills through the room a little bit. Those early days were all about learning how to use space, learning how to build spaces, and then finding out how different elements react.” While back then he had to create his own workflow technically and adapt his mix approach philosophically, Genewick was soon able to share ideas with other UMG staff engineers, including most notably Greg Penny, Nick Rives and Colin Heldt, who would eventually become the core group that remixed most of the initial catalog and new-artist tracks. And the first R.E.M. Dolby Atmos Music mix? How did that go when he played it back for Scott Litt? “Well, [pause] I had mixed the record the way I heard it and the way it came to me naturally,” he says with a laugh. “And Scott’s a sweet guy, and very polite, but I came to realize very quickly that what he had going on in his mind and what I had in my mind were not exactly lining up, conceptually and space-wise. He brought in the original engineer, we spent a few more days, Nick Rives helped finish it up when I had to go onto another project, and it all turned out well. “I learned that day, though, that whenever at all possible, it helps to sit down

Photos Courtesy of PMC


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MORE DOLBY ATMOS MUSIC STUDIOS Capitol Studio C wasn’t the first immersive music room in the country, but when it quietly opened in 2017, you could probably count the number on one hand. Now there might be 10 to 15 that would qualify as high-end mix rooms. It’s hard to find a real number. Suffice to say that it’s growing. UMG/Capitol went on to build two more Atmos Music rooms in Nashville’s former East Iris Studios, while at the same time outfitting Studio E back at Capitol in Los Angeles. Emotionmix built a room, also in Nashville. And then in August 2019 John McBride converted his famed Studio C at Blackbird Studios, just down the street from the two UMG Atmos rooms at East Iris, and put in an ATC monitoring system. Back in Los Angeles, IMN and Studio1LA opened smaller Atmos mix facilities, while in New York, the Clive Davis School of Music recently finished the build-out of two Atmos Music mix rooms, followed by Shenandoah University in Georgia, each school with PMC monitoring. In late 2019, Ronald Prent and mastering engineer D’Arcy Proper opened Valhalla Studios in Auburn, N.Y., based around Paul Wolff’s new analog Fix 360 analog console and PMC monitors. John Hanes and Serban Ghenea installed a Genelec Atmos Music monitoring system in their MixStar Studios in Virginia Beach, Va.

CHALLENGES AND CRITICS In 2019, then, before the fall announcements with Amazon and TIDAL, word started to trickle out in the studio community about all these Atmos remixes that had already been done and a commitment for much, much more by the end of the year. Then came the Amazon and TIDAL announcements, so now streaming was in the game. Not everybody was happy, including some of those original engineers and producers who were not consulted and then found themselves listening to a remixed version of a song they mixed at some private event or listening party. Some were aghast, and blamed UMG for being greedy, for rushing out quantity and not caring about quality. And the mix rates per song were all over the place, they said, as were the schedules for mix time. Critics say that Dolby is using its muscle to take over the immersive music industry, as it did in cinema and broadcast, bullying out competitors who have been working just as long and just as hard and have a slew of great immersive mixes already in distribution, on Bluray disc, a superior playback medium. And then once the TIDAL and Amazon deals were made, it became clear that access would not be as easy as it might seem. Atmos Music tracks on Amazon Music HD only play back Atmos Music


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And in the San Francisco Bay Area, Leslie Ann Jones at Skywalker Sound modified the Scoring Stage control room for recent projects with a truss-based system incorporating B&Ws across the front and Neumann KH220s for height and surrounds. Michael Romanowski, in Berkeley, has been mastering on a 9.1.6 system with Focal speakers across the front and in the surrounds, with Neumanns up above, in his recently re-opened Coast Mastering. No doubt there are many more, and no doubt many more will be coming. Please write to let Mix know of your own immersive music studio.

if played through an Amazon Echo Studio at this the bank on the Binaural setting in the Renderer, time. And the TIDAL Hi-Fi Tier service will only knowing that a vast majority of consumers will stream Atmos Music tracks on a limited number be listening on headphones. Listening to music in Dolby Atmos, or any of Android phones. It's a challenge, a difficult one, and we are still at the beginning. It turns out there immersive format, is exciting. Mixers are having is a lot that goes on in the background to get these fun, finding new ways to present an artistic streaming services up and running and Dolby is vision. But it truly is something that needs to be working closely with its partners to bring Atmos experienced to get the full effect, and once the Music to more people. But the fact remains that wrinkles are worked out and it becomes part of the streaming services have an element of control the production process, that will happen. Dolby over distribution. Why is it difficult to hear an Atmos took off in television almost overnight once Netflix, Prime Video, Apple TV+, Disney+ and Atmos Music track? All of these criticisms have a measure of others made it a required deliverable. If that could validity. And let’s face it, the recording and happen in music… Give it time. As Giles Baker of Dolby points music industries have a pothole-ridden history with accepting new formats. it still is the music out, a lot of stars have to align in order for business, and there are undoubtedly conversations something like Dolby Atmos Music to catch going on with Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, hold. And he firmly believes that it will. “There are four key things that need to be HD Tracks and every other premium streaming present in order for us to feel like we have a healthy service. Hopefully that all gets worked out. And as for why this is any different than the ecosystem,” he says. “First, do we have enough content being created? Second, is introduction of 5.1 music, well, there that content being distributed on are too many to list, starting with services that people can get? Third, the physical limitations of the speaker is it available on devices that people setup in a channel-based system. have? And then the fourth piece, is Audio as Objects changes everything. there buzz around it? Do consumers Put simply, Art Kelm says, “Technology want this? Are content creators is now our friend.” excited about creating it, and are It’s important to remember that they telling the world? If you can immersive music is still in its infancy, get all of those pieces in place and artistically and technologically, from they’re working positively, they start the studio down to the home. Right Giles Baker, Dolby to reinforce each other. And then you now many, including Sony RA360 Senior VP, Consumer have the change.” n and Dolby themselves, are betting Entertainment Photo Courtesy of Dolby

with the artist, the original producer or engineer, whoever you can. It helps to have a philosophical discussion. It’s their record. It’s their vision.”

The new Fix 360 analog console in Valhalla Studios’ new immersive music mix room.


‘After Hours’ On The Weeknd Chart-Topping Stereo Mix Gets Full Atmos Treatment By Steve Harvey


n 2019, UMG released The Beatles’ Abbey Road and Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, two of the most popular albums from one of the most popular bands, mixed in Dolby Atmos by Giles Martin. The labels have also released Atmos versions of backcatalog albums by Kraftwerk, INXS and REM. But for Dolby Atmos Music to hit critical mass, it’s surely going to require contemporary, charttopping artists to release current albums in the immersive format. That’s beginning to happen. Late last year, Alicia Keys previewed “Show Me Love,” the first single from her upcoming album, Alicia, mixed by George Massenburg in Atmos (Manny Marroquin mixed the original stereo version). Now comes the news that After Hours, the new album by The Weeknd, is being released in a Dolby Atmos version. The stereo version of After Hours, released March 20, 2020, went straight to Number 1 on the Billboard 200. It’s the fourth album from The Weeknd, the professional name of Canadian artist Abel Tesfaye, and the fourth to reach Number 1. The day before release, a record number of subscribers—1.02 million—pre-added After Hours to their Apple Music libraries. All 14 tracks on the album have since charted on the Billboard Hot 100, 10 in the top 40, with one, “Blinding Lights,” reaching the top slot. Thirteen-time Grammy-winning engineer John Hanes mixed the Dolby Atmos version of After Hours at MixStar Studios in Virginia Beach, Va. Hanes co-owns the private studio with Serban Ghenea, a 17-time Grammy-winner himself, who mixed five of the stereo album’s songs at MixStar. The pair first met while working for Teddy Riley at the artist and producer’s Future Records facility in Virginia Beach in the early 1990s. “We partnered up again in 2001 and set up


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Courtesy John Hanes

another, and you don’t know where in the chain you’ve gone wrong.”

Mix engineers John Hanes, seated, and Serban Ghenea in their MixStar Studios, with Genelec-based Dolby Atmos monitoring system.

our own studio,” says Hanes, a 30-year veteran of the business. Ghenea and Hanes have an enviable discography. Think of a record from the Hot 100 over the past 20 years and they likely had a hand in its success. Highlights just from recent years include releases by Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson, Maroon 5, Halsey, Taylor Swift, Benny Blanco, Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson, Ariana Grande, Jonas Brothers, The Weeknd and, well, you get the picture. SETTING UP THE STUDIO Hanes reports that he and Ghenea first experienced Dolby Atmos Music when a team from Amazon visited MixStar to demonstrate an early version of the company’s Echo Studio smart speaker. Recognizing the immersive format’s potential, the pair decided to start playing with the technology, adding Genelec 8320 speakers to the existing monitor setup in Hanes’ room to ultimately create a 7.1.4 setup. “We didn’t need full-size monitors all the way around, we just needed something of an appropriate size to give us that surround,” says Hanes. “Because we’ve done the mix already,

Opposite: The Weeknd appearing as January 22's musical guest on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" Photo by Randy Holmes via Getty Images


we know the EQ and everything else is already there on the speakers that we’re used to.” Plus, he says, the compact Genelecs didn’t require extra bracing in the walls or ceiling. “I started with a 5.1.2 system. I put up Ariana Grande’s ‘7 Rings.’ It’s a nice, sparse song with elements you can really move and place. That was my first experiment.” As momentum builds behind Dolby Atmos, Hanes believes that the technology will proliferate beyond the current handful of professional music studios equipped for the immersive format. “We’re on the edge of this becoming just like the home recording boom,” he says. “[But] there’s new technology you’re going to have to learn. It’s fairly complicated.” To begin with, because the Dolby Atmos Renderer accepts up to 128 inputs—10 for beds and 118 for objects—the system relies on a Dante transport. “You’re going to have to learn to set up a Dante system,” Hanes explains. “I’m using a Focusrite RedNet I/O box, and there’s the Dante Controller program on the computer. You have to set up the routing from box to box in the computer. I have the Grace m908 monitor controller. It’s super-flexible, but there’s a lot of programming that goes into setting it up, assigning channels to speakers, and to monitor setups. It’s maddening when you’re sending something to one speaker and it’s coming out

STEREO MIX, ATMOS MIX After Hours was something of a baptism by fire for Hanes, who was given relatively little time to create the Atmos mixes. “We were pretty under the gun. They had their tie-in release date with Amazon, so I had 10 days to mix 14 songs. The record label people said, ‘We trust you, just get it done.’” The goal of any Atmos mix is to re-create the sound of the stereo mixes, Hanes stresses. “I know that the mixers worked so hard on creating exactly the sounds that they wanted with the artist and the producers. I had the stereo masters, so I could make it as close as I could, then start experimenting with moving things around.” A typical stereo mix at MixStar might take a day to a day and a half in total, including review by the client. But an Atmos mix doesn’t necessarily need that much time, says Hanes. “It’s faster than a stereo mix because a lot of the decisions—volumes, edits—have been made. I’m trying to maintain all of that. I’m respecting every decision they’ve already made and trying to just not fuck it up.” “We did some of the production two or three times on some of these songs,” says engineer Ghenea of the stereo mixes. “I’ll tweak things until the cows come home, but as soon as it starts going backwards, I’ll throw my hands up and say, ‘We had it a few versions ago.’ Except in this case it got better every time.” Tesfaye is very specific about what he wants, Ghenea. adds “He hears the thing in his head, and he wants to get whatever it is out. Sometimes it takes a few tries; there’s a lot of trial and error. You end up with a lot of parts. Being ‘80s-inspired, there are a lot of synths and textures; there’s a lot of stuff going on.” Mixing anything in stereo is rewarding, says Ghenea, as that’s the version the majority of listeners will hear. And it’s possible to create a three-dimensional soundstage in stereo, of course. “You’re dealing with two speakers, but you try to get the feel of an immersive experience as much as possible. My biggest concern is that you end up losing the glue, the cohesiveness [when you then mix for Atmos].” The album’s various other producers and mixers delivered their songs as a collection of stereo stems, some of which needed work to match the masters before Hanes could start the

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Atmos mix. “With Serban’s sessions, the lack of mastering doesn’t change the overall sound of the mix for Atmos,” Hanes says. “But there were some mixes where the stems didn’t fully re-create the sound of the mastered stereo mix. That’s probably due to a combination of the stereo mix master bus hitting differently with less tracks feeding it, as well as choices done in mastering the tracks.” ESTABLISHING BEDS AND OBJECTS Working from dense digital sessions is not like remixing from a 24- or 32-track tape. “This modern music, a sort of wall of sound, sometimes doesn’t translate as well when you pick it apart and move things,” Hanes says. “Are you collapsing the imaging, are you collapsing the vibe of the song? I’m A/B’ing back and forth between the stereo mix and my Atmos mix constantly to make sure I’m in that same vein that they worked so hard to get to.” Hanes says his overall approach was to place about half the elements of a given song into the

or using a send to throw something to the back while the regular track is going to wherever it’s going. You drop it out of the main audio and send it to an object and automate it.” There are still relatively few plug-ins specific to Atmos mixing. “I used all the same stuff we’ve been using for stereo,” says Hanes. But Gaffel, from Swedish developer Klevgränd Produktion, was one problem-solver for manipulating stems. “It’s a band-splitting plug-in that you can put on multiple copies of one track. Each track then has part of the band, and they’re all synchronized. I use that to split stuff up and move the highs to one place, the lows to another. You can take a stereo pad and spread it a bit from front to back.” Since he came up in the world of mixing consoles and tape machines, he says, “My philosophy is still based on that. If I need to duplicate a track, change the EQ and use those parts to move it around, I still do some of that.” As for reverbs, even the dedicated surround plug-ins aren’t especially useful, he says. “The Waves surround suite is 5.1, so you can’t stick

object,” he explains. “Then I’m keying every object to the main master, so that if the main bed compressor hits then it’s going to pull everything equally down.” Hanes mastered every song, but they were not mastered as an album. “I don’t know if anyone wants to sit and listen to an hour of any artist’s Atmos mixes. People just pick and choose, and I’m guessing that Atmos streaming will exacerbate that,” he says. “But it’s something that will need to be figured out in the future to make track-to-track Atmos mixes sound like an album.” “Everybody is responsible for adhering to the spec to make sure everything is the way it’s supposed to be, that levels are not too crazy, and so on,” says Ghenea. “If people are working within the spec and making sure everything is right, then it’s going to be fine. But as soon as this goes mainstream and everybody is doing it, it could get crazy, with people doing things that aren’t supposed to happen.” Ultimately, says Hanes, delivering a Dolby

“This modern music, a sort of wall of sound, sometimes doesn’t translate as well when you pick it apart and move things. Are you collapsing the imaging, are you collapsing the vibe of the song? I’m A/B’ing back and forth between the stereo mix and my Atmos mix constantly to make sure I’m in that same vein that they worked so hard to get to.” —John Hanes Atmos bed, sending the remaining elements as objects around the room. “When you’re doing a stereo mix, it’s basically a two-channel bed. I’m just expanding on that.” He’s mindful that the approach may affect translation elsewhere. “If I put this sound in a bed, it’s going to come out in some rooms along the full left or right side of the wall. I know that when I’m placing sounds, so I’m thinking of how it might translate,” he says. The number of stems per song varied. “Until I Bleed Out,” for instance, was delivered as 25 stereo stems, the fewest of any song. “Fewer than that for a song with so much happening in it, it makes you get more creative,” says Hanes. “The music is so complicated on some of these songs. You have so much information there. It’s good to have extensive stems and everything broken out separately.” Where there were multiple elements in a single stereo stem that he wanted to separate, Hanes had to find a technical workaround. On some stems, he says, “You end up either breaking it up and sending different things different ways


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it on a 7.1 track. You have to create your own stuff and understand what it means to spread something out and how to do it, using delays or whatever means necessary to manipulate the audio so that it doesn’t collapse back into mono or stereo. They’re standard techniques, just in a different dimension now.” Hanes requested dry stems with the effects printed separately, but that wasn’t always possible, he says. “You have to be technically creative to solve the problems of being unable to separate a sound from the reverb. I’ll listen to the reverb and try and figure out what type it is, recreate just the reverb and throw a little bit of that main sound into it, and throw that somewhere. I might throw another short reverb on it or a short delay that spreads it a little bit.” COMING OUT OF THE BOX No stereo master means no stereo bus compression, a challenge Hanes solves by putting a compressor on every object and bed. “I’m creating a master fader for every object and copying the settings of every master to every

Atmos Music project feels a little strange. “I do the mix, send it out into the world and it sort of disappears. There are not many people that can hear it. I don’t even have a setup to listen to an Atmos stream from Amazon. We’re doing what we think philosophically sounds and should be right and hoping that it works.” “That’s the thing I’ve been concerned about,” says Ghenea. “We’re working in the dark a little bit. A&R people can’t even hear it. Because artists aren’t able to listen and comment and approve, the most important thing for me is still that the intent of the music is what it was on the album, which is what everyone worked so hard to get to.” Hanes and Ghenea are looking forward to more Atmos mix projects; indeed, they’re working with a major best-selling artist currently. MixStar also has a huge catalog extending back two decades. If there’s a budget available for an Atmos mix, Hanes says, “some of those projects would be really fun to re-create.” “It’s turning into something fun,” agrees Ghenea. “There’s no reason why you should still only be working in two speakers.” n


Mastering for Immersive Audio What Is It? And Why Do We Need It? By Michael Romanowski


have been thinking about this question for a while now. I’ve had countless conversations the past couple of years with engineers and producers that I highly respect., and invariably, eventually, the question comes up: “What do you do about mastering?” This question is both from me to the engineers, and from them back to me. I had a conversation at AES in October 2019 with a longtime friend and fantastic engineer who was excited to let me know that he was mixing in Dolby Atmos. Excellent! I asked him about his room, his process and approach to mixing, and how or where he had his projects mastered. He replied that he just made the proper ADM file and sent it to the label. He said that he wasn’t sure how it could be mastered or why it might need to be. I was a little taken aback. But his concern shifted when he said the thing that concerned him the most is that he only mixed five of the 10 songs for the release, and he didn’t know how the other songs would be completed, or if they would go together as a body of work for the artist. Exactly. Who would be putting together the tracks for authoring the Blu-Ray, or making sure the formats and metadata were correct for digital distribution? Who would make sure that the songs and files were properly prepared to be archived and best suited for future formats? Who would listen objectively to make sure that the music presents itself as best as possible across multiple formats and playback systems? That “other set of ears”? And on it went. This conversation has been repeated in various forms at trade shows, conventions and in talks with producers, engineers and artists alike who want to be working in the formats, but are not entirely clear on some of the details like deliverables and distribution. I have been mastering audio in surround formats—and now, immersive audio—for 20


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years, on releases for Marvin Gaye, Sting, YES, Sheryl Crow, Colorado Symphony, Soundgarden, Rob Thomas, America and many more. Most recently, I’ve worked on Dolby Atmos releases by Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Alicia Keys. I have also been working with Dolby, Sony, Fraunhoffer and other organizations to help develop the tools and procedures for mastering immersive audio. As an industry, developing an efficient and inclusive way to create immersive audio requires ongoing conversations between mixing and mastering engineers, and the companies creating the software. I am a big fan of immersive audio. I built my first surround (5.1) room in 2000 and had been working in that format until 2018, when I converted the main room at Coast Mastering to a 7.1.4 system. The last year and a half have been spent lifting my house, digging down underground so that we could get 14 feet of height, and building a 9.1.6 mastering facility. The monitoring environment is crucial to any mastering facility, and especially so once you start adding more speaker channels. Proper construction, speaker placement and tuning is paramount to a good immersive monitoring environment. I have been fortunate to have Bob Hodas tuning every mastering room I have worked in during the past 26 years. Put simply, mastering is the point where art and science come together. Or, the subjective and the technical. The technical side is knowing how the music is going to be distributed, and delivering the best masters appropriate for each format and stream. The artistic side starts with translatability and presentation. Music has its

The author’s facility, Coast Mastering in Berkeley, Calif., now set up for mastering in all immersive formats, with a Focal-based 9.1.6 monitoring system.

best chance to be enjoyed as an artistic expression if it translates, meaning that it sounds as good as it can on as many different systems as possible. So, what is Immersive Mastering? Exactly the same thing. It is receiving mixes, listening very carefully to them, then deciding what, if any, adjustments need to be made with regards to balance, levels, tonality, etc.—for all of the songs. Once the artistic decisions have been made and approved, the next step is to create the correct masters for distribution. The main difference between stereo and immersive mastering is in the complexities of the channels and the delivery. THE CHALLENGES The first big challenge is receiving the mixes. What gets sent to the mastering engineer? Individual tracks, ADM files, stems? A combination? Sometimes the answer is based on what software the mastering engineer is using. Right now, there are very few tools available for immersive mastering. As an example, if I want to use an EQ for a song, I would like to be able


U.S., etc. When the day was over, my favorite was still the original mono LP. Here’s why: The art and craft that was needed to have all of the individual sounds and instruments be heard in their own sonic place out of one speaker was tremendous. If you spread those out an immersive format simply as is (which is NOT what Giles Martin did, by the way), each piece of audio would be a weak representation of itself because the context of space is different. Simply spreading doesn’t work. The exact opposite is true when down-mixing. Folding all of the textures down to a smaller listening view is trying to cram more sound in a smaller space. It becomes a dense mess with no clarity or sense of localization. Algorithms don’t know the intent of the artist or the engineer to know what to sculpt to make the space. This applies to mastering, as well. When I am mastering a project, I am listening for the authentic nature of the presentation and the tone and space each element takes up. Not what it is, but how it is. The art form of Immersive Mastering is in making sure that the tonal and level transition occur smoothly across the sound sources. Filling in the sonic gaps and pulling back the peaks, if needed.

to apply it to any, all or some of the channels. I would also like to see a compressor/limiter that would allow me to link or trigger for any single or grouped audio, or be able to apply the same amount of dynamic reduction across all channels that are linked, based on the trigger channel. For now, we need to work around the limitations of our tools. DAWs present another challenge. It is unrealistic to try and master out of the box. I wish I could, as I greatly prefer it for stereo work. So I choose to use Steinberg Nuendo, as it can easily handle the different types of objects, beds and output bus structure. I can use it to import different ADM files which include the positional metadata for the object tracks in place. Or, If I get sent 12 channels of audio, for example in a 7.1.4 project, I can pan those to the correct speaker positions and proceed from there. I wish there were more options for immersive mastering. Delivery for Immersive Audio to the manufacturers or streaming services is another challenge. Each platform has different


requirements. And each format has its own software for creating those deliverables. Dolby has the Atmos Mastering Renderer, Sony has Architect, Fraunhoffer IIR reverb and 3DAConversion tool. Et cetera. Finally, I want to touch on down-mixing. For me, down-mixing does not work in practice. Each channel-type of delivery is best when it is created specifically. Each version—2.0, 5.1, 7.1, 5.1.4, 7.1.4—is best when each has its own mix. There are timing and phase issues that I feel must be dealt with by the mix engineer to achieve the best results. You can’t put ten pounds of flour in a five pound bag. Here’s a story to help me explain: When Giles Martin remixed Sgt. Pepper’s in Dolby Atmos, the two questions that kept coming up, from fans and from professional engineers, were: “Do you like it?” And “Is it better?” I decided to do an experiment and hold an all-day AES listening session with about 15 other engineers to compare every version of the record we could find: Original mono LP, stereo LP, remastered, re-released, Hi-res, surround, U.K. vs.

IDEALLY, SEPARATE MIXES The best case is that we receive separate mixes for each format. The complexities of the immersive formats, in every stage of the production, are far greater than stereo. Mastering is an essential part of the process of making records. A mastering engineer with skill and an ear to be attentive to the last detailed steps before release is a crucial part of the success of the format. I believe very strongly in the human element and what it brings to the technical capabilities getting the listener closer to the intention of the art form. What moves me about all music, mono to immersive, is its ability to pull me in. The way it can tell you a story, or take you on a journey, is powerful. What I love about mastering for immersive audio, and stereo mastering, for that matter, is trying to help make sure the artist sounds more like themselves, wherever or however their music is being heard. The consumer then become more of an active listener than a passive listener. What the artist is saying musically becomes more important than how they are saying it. That’s when we get pulled in. That’s when we stop what we are doing and just… Pause. Listen. Nice. n

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new products

Speaker Systems

While technically all speakers can be used in an immersive audio system, a few manufacturers have been working in the background with Dolby for years, starting back in 2014-15 with JBL in post-production. Music, however, has different demands than post, and the following companies have been notable for their early commitment to the format, to the point that all but one are currently integrated into Dolby’s DARDT program for recommended speaker setup, placement, calibration, etc.

PMC PMC deserves the lion’s share of the credit for developing professional Dolby Atmos Music configurations. Their work started three years ago (see Cover Story) in Capitol Studio C, and what they came up with has turned into a blueprint of sorts for subsequent UMG-owned Atmos mix rooms in Los Angeles, Nashville and at PMC’s own studio in Highland Park, Los Angeles. That configuration includes LCR, sub, 10 surrounds, and six height channels: Left and Right: PMC IB2S-XBD-AII (3-way fully active) Center: PMC IB2S-AII vertical center (3-way fully active) Subwoofer (4): PMC twotwoSub2 (active 10-inch subwoofer. Capitol has four subs—two stacked and aligned, left and right of the center channel). Surround channels (10): PMC Wafer 1 in-wall (2-way passive, 5.5-inch LF driver with 2 x 27mm soft dome tweeter) Height Channels (6): PMC Wafer 2 on-wall (2-way passive 6.5-inch LF driver with 2 x 27mm soft dome tweeter)

ATC ATC made a big splash with the opening of Blackbird Studios’ Studio C in Nashville in mid-2019, though the company, and its U.S. distributor, Brad Lunde, had been working with Dolby closely for about six years, mainly in the test labs and screening rooms at the company’s San Francisco headquarters. A typical professional 9.1.6 ATC mix room like Blackbird's Studio C might include: Left, Center, Right: ATC SCM300ASL Pro (3-way fully active, dual ATC 15" woofers, ATC 3" soft dome midrange, 1" soft dome tweeter, LCR with vertically oriented center channel) Subwoofer (6): ATC SCM0.1/15SL Pro (Active, ATC 15" woofer. Blackbird Studio C has 4 up front under the LCR and 1 on each LR side with surround channels) Surround Channels (6): ATC SCM100ASL Pro (3-way fully active, ATC 12" woofer, ATC 3" soft dome midrange, ATC 1" soft dome tweeter) Height Channels (6): ATC SCM100ASL Pro suspended to ceiling frame (3-way fully active, ATC 12" woofer, ATC 3" soft dome midrange, ATC 1" soft dome tweeter)


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Genelec Back in 2015 at the NAB Show, Will Eggleston of Genelec set up a Dolby Atmos playback system on a small, rectangular truss, with three chairs in the center and satellite speakers for surrounds and overheads. There was no music-only content, and nothing in broadcast, so he got the approvals and played back movies on Blu-ray. By NAMM 2020, the rig had grown quite a bit, and Genelec had established a presence in post-production, broadcast and now music. (See story on The Weeknd, page 28). Genelec’s recommended 7.1.4 high-end Dolby Atmos Music setup might include: Left, Center, Right: 8351 SAM (3-way coaxial, active, 113 dB SPL) Subwoofer (2): 7380 SAM (15-inch woofer; 16 Hz – 100 Hz, -6 dB) Surround Channels (6): 8341 SAM (3-way coaxial, active, 110 dB SPL, with Acoustically Concealed Woofer technology) Height Channels (4): 8341 SAM (see above)

Focal At the 2020 NAMM Show, French manufacturer Focal set up a full-blown Dolby Atmos Music rig on a large truss, in one of the big rooms along the wall. Outside the room, as attendees walked in, they were able to listen to Atmos mixes through new headphones or in a new Porsche parked outside. A typical Focal 7.2.4 Atmos music system would include: Left and Right: Trio11 Be (3-way with 10-inch driver, 5-inch midrange and 1-inch inverted dome tweeter) Center: Trio11 Be (see above) Subwoofer (2): Sub6 (10-5/8-inch Focal “W” composite sandwich cone driver) Surround Channels (6): Trio6 Be (8-inch woofer, 5-inch midrange, 1-inch inverted dome tweeter) Height Channels (4): Shape 50 (5-inch driver, 1-inch tweeter, with ceiling mounting points on back)

A Nod To The Trailblazer: JBL 7 Series The launch of the JBL 7 Series—primarily for surround and height channels, often coupled with JBL Cinema Speakers behind a screen or JBL M2 main monitors for LCR in music rooms—led to a flood of JBL systems throughout the post-production industry, in the then-emerging mid-sized sound design suites and TV mix rooms. While the company has not to our knowledge embarked on an aggressive re-launch for Dolby Atmos Music, no doubt JBL M2 monitors and 7 Series speakers will be a player as more musiconly mix studios start popping up.


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Dolby Atmos Music Edition Dolby Atmos Renderer Every engineer working in the Dolby Atmos format will eventually find themselves spending lots of time with the Dolby Atmos Renderer, a core component of any Atmos mixing system. It allows the reproduction of a particular sound field in an environment that is different from the environment in which it was created. It has the capability of using up to 128 input channels that can be defined as either bed channels or objects, and also receives object metadata from your DAW (either via a native object panner, or the Dolby Atmos Music Panner plug-in). The input configuration of a session is entirely separated from the output configuration of a system, and the Renderer connects those two defined environments. The Dolby Atmos Renderer also includes a binaural renderer, which can be used to create and monitor Dolby Atmos mixes on headphones. The Dolby Atmos Renderer is included in the Dolby Atmos Mastering Suite and the Dolby Atmos Production Suite.

Dolby Atmos Music Panner The Dolby Atmos Music Panner is the first Atmos plug-in built specifically for music workflows. With the Music Panner, artists, engineers and producers can create dynamic, tempo-synced panning sequences for objects in their Dolby Atmos mixes. The plug-in is available in AAX, AU and VST3 formats, and together with the Dolby Atmos Production Suite or Mastering Suite, it enables users to create immersive Dolby Atmos Music mixes using their preferred DAW (Pro Tools, Logic Pro, Ableton and Nuendo) on the Mac platform. The Dolby Atmos Music Panner is a free download and requires either the Dolby Atmos Mastering Suite or Dolby Atmos Production Suite.

Dolby Atmos Production Suite The Dolby Atmos Production Suite is intended for use on a single Mac computer alongside your DAW. The Dolby Atmos Production Suite package includes the Dolby Atmos Renderer, which provides the software required to monitor, create, and play back Dolby Atmos content, and the Dolby Audio Bridge, a virtual Core Audio device that allows the user to route audio from their DAW into the Dolby Atmos Renderer.

Dolby Atmos Mastering Suite The key differentiator of the Dolby Atmos Mastering Suite is that the Renderer is intended to run on a dedicated Mac or Windows computer, with the DAW on a separate computer, allowing for larger more complex mixes. The Dolby Atmos Mastering Suite also includes support for room equalization (EQ) and calibration, as well as remote control of the rendering and mastering workstation via the Dolby Atmos Renderer Remote application.


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ATMOS IN THE BOX While Ableton and Logic Pro have the ability to incorporate the new Dolby Music Panner plug-in, so far only Pro Tools and Steinberg have natively integrated Dolby Atmos Panning and provide a direct connection to the Dolby Atmos Renderer.

Avid Pro Tools | Ultimate and MTRX/ MTRX Studio Version 12.8 of Pro Tools | Ultimate or higher allows for direct connection to the Dolby Atmos Renderer and native object panning from the Pro Tools surround panner. The Avid MTRX is a fully customizable monitor matrix allowing for complete studio control, including room calibration with the SPQ card.

Steinberg Nuendo 10 Version 10 or higher of Steinberg Nuendo allows for a direct connection to the Dolby Atmos Renderer and native object panning from the included VST Multi-panner. When paired with a Steinberg Nuage worksurface, control capabilities are enhanced and workflows are even more streamlined.

And Outside the Box: Fix 360 Console While the majority of Dolby Atmos Music mixes have been done within DAWs, many have incorporated consoles in the workflow, typically an Avid S6. Recently an analog alternative was released by the legendary Paul Wolff and his company Fix Audio Designs. A 64-channel version was installed in Ronald Prent and Darcy Proper’s new Valhalla Studios in Auburn, N.Y. In a nutshell, the 64-input Fix 360 Console supports any format from stereo through the various surround sound configurations to immersive Dolby Atmos, Sony 360RA, Auro-3D and DTS:X. There are panning facilities for both the lower and upper horizontal planes, as well as between those planes, plus a dedicated LFE send. There are eight object sends per channel, and the desk also accommodates Sony 360RA’s two front floor speakers. A separate simultaneous stereo mix can be generated alongside any other format. The comprehensive monitor section supports three 24-channel-wide configurations, each with trim. n


Tech // reviews Drawmer 1970 Dual FET Compressor and Pre-Amplifier Update to Famed 1960 Trades in Tubes for All-Solid-State Circuitry By Barry Rudolph


he newest entry in Drawmer’s ‘70s Series product line is the 1970 Dual FET compressor and pre-amplifier. Compared to the original (circa 1985) 2U Drawmer 1960 vacuum tube compressor, the 1970 offers a modern and enhanced toolset that’s more flexible and better suited to the processing requirements of today’s engineer/producers. Handmade in the UK in a rugged two-rackspace, all-steel chassis with an aluminum front panel, internal construction is solid, with a large main circuit board and daughter boards connected together using short ribbon cables. A toroidal transformer mounted on the back panel runs the linear power supply, and no surface-mount technology or chip sockets are used. There are also no input or output audio transformers in the 1970. I liked the 6-second time delay before the unit passes audio so no errant noises are emitted while powering up. INSTRUMENT, MICROPHONE INPUTS Like the 1960, the 2-channel Drawmer 1970 works either as two independent mono recording chains with two sets of controls for both Channels 1 and 2, or as a stereo processor with linked controls. A notable feature in both the 1960 and 1970 units is the single Instrument input section that works like a guitar preamp/tone stack. It has a 1/4-inch input jack and controls on the left side of the front panel. The high impedance input offers up to 25 dB of gain with an additional 20 dB when the Boost switch is pushed. Voiced like a guitar amp, there are interactive Bass and Treble controls for up ±12 dB using passive equalizers centered at 50–100 Hz and 5 kHz, respectively. This section finishes with an EQ bypass switch and a Bright switch with 12 dB boost in the 2 kHz to 8 kHz range. Rather than using tubes as in the 1960, the Drawmer 1970 relies on all solid-state circuitry featuring a THAT Corp 1512 low-noise audio preamplifier chip in each mic channel’s preamp section. Each channel has up to 66 dB of microphone gain using a solid-feeling, 12-position, front-panel rotary switch. Gain is selectable in 6 dB steps from 0 dB (unity) up to 66 dB, so an attenuator pad is not required.


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SOURCE SELECT A Drawmer supplier for 30 years, Lorlin Ltd. makes both the mic Gain and the six-position Source rotary switches. The Source rotary selects which audio input(s) are routed to rest of the 1970’s signal chain(s). Either channel can be for a microphone, instrument input or line-level signal. Microphones are connected to separate rear-panel XLR connectors. When the Source switch is at fully CCW, it is the Mic +48V position and for phantom-powered microphones only. Next on the switch are 200, 600 and 2.4-kohm input impedance choices. The 1970 adds the ability to change its input impedance by switching in various resistive loading networks in front of the THAT Corp. chip. This is a way to “sculpt” the sound of passive dynamic, and especially very low-impedance ribbon, microphones. Position 5 is the Line level input from a separate pair of rearpanel XLR connectors while Position 6 connects the instrument input section’s output. Notably, a thoughtful feature is the ability to route the single Instrument section to both Channels 1 and 2 of the 1970 at the same time for two completely different processing chains of the same source. Following Source selection are on/off switches for Phase Reverse (polarity flip) and HPF, a 70 Hz, 12 dB/octave filter highpass filter. The original 1960 had no polarity flip. COMPRESSOR SECTION After the Phase and HPF buttons is the FET-based compressor section. The 1960 used a similar circuit but with a tube gain output stage. There are no tubes in the 1970, and, also unlike the 1960, there are not any rear-panel TRS insert jacks for connecting an outboard line-level processor (such as an equalizer) before the


PRODUCT SUMMARY COMPANY: Drawmer Electronics Ltd. PRODUCT: Drawmer 1970 Dual FET Compressor and Pre-Amplifier WEB: www.drawmer.com PRICE: $1,497 MAP PROS: Two amazingly useful channels in a 2U cabinet. CONS: The (Output) Link function could be better. compressor section. Both compressor sections have independent controls for processing two separate audio signals. And there is a Link on/off switch for linking the two compressors for proper stereo operation. In this mode, all of Channel 1’s controls, indicator LEDs and Gain Reduction meter represent and apply to both channels to maintain proper stereo imaging. There is a large, easy-to-grab Threshold control knob with a range of –40 dB to +20 dB. Both Channel 1 and 2 compressor’s sidechains have separate rear-panel, unbalanced send/return insert TRS jacks for external control, such as for de-essing or ducking functionality. This external signal enters the unit before the Threshold control, the Big and Air on/off buttons, and the rest of the control circuitry that develops the compression Ratio, Attack and Release timings. The 1970’s separate Ratio controls range from 1:1 to 10:1, Attack ranges from 200 microseconds to 100 milliseconds, and Release is adjustable from 50 ms to 3.5 seconds. I liked the PGM switch for program-dependent release timing—it is a good starting point when using the 1970 during a fast-paced recording session. The Compressor section finishes with an eight-segment LED gain reduction meter. It’s bright and easily seen from across the room. MODERN OUTPUT I liked the modern Wet/Dry control that blends the compressor’s input signal with its output for parallel processing. There are separate Gain controls for makeup gain with 0 dB positions. For each channel there are hard-wired Bypass switches that use subminiature relays. Bypass connects the Output amps directly to the input of the compressor. Another great feature that was not on the 1960 is the somewhat confusingly named Link switch. There is already a compressor Link switch, so this should be called Output Link; it locks the two output Gain amplifiers together, with Channel 1’s control knob as master.


Both Channel 1 and 2 compressor’s side-chains have separate rear-panel, unbalanced send/return insert TRS jacks for external control.

Finally, there is a +10 dB meter Pad button to re-scale the VU meter so 0 VU is actually +10 dB. This great idea keeps the VU meters off the pin when working with hot, modern DAW audio levels. Also an improvement over the 1960, I definitely love the larger, LED-lit VU meters; they read output level only. IN THE STUDIO I first wanted to hear the effect of the different microphone input impedances available. I used a pair of closely matched Royer R-10 ribbon mics that have a factory recommended load impedance of 700 ohms or higher. I set them up positioned as close together as possible and pointed at the center of the dust cover of the Celestion Hellatone 30 12-inch speaker in my guitar cabinet. Each mic was connected to a separate channel on the 1970, and I used 36 dB of gain, no HPF and bypassed the 1970’s compressor. As reference, Channel 1 was kept at 2.4 kohms, but for Channel 2, I tried all three impedance choices. As compared to the 2.4 kohm position, the 600-ohm position produced a darker, thicker tone with a lower level, while the 200-ohm position was extremely murky, sludgy and thick, with no air at all. With both mics on separate tracks, I did like blending the high-fidelity track from Channel 1 with Channel 2’s grungy and fat tonality that was in phase and beefy-sounding. I’m confident with this setup to record a mix of the two mics to one guitar track, and I would change the blend for the double-track. Next, on a stereo insert in Pro Tools for linelevel processing a loud dance track with lots of bass, heavy kick drum and “spikey” percussion elements, I calibrated the 1970. With 0 dB = -18 dBFS 1 kHz tone coming from my interface, and using the two bypass buttons, I quickly matched throughput levels. The Gain controls give a range of –10 dB to +20 dB for this process. The Drawmer 1970 is a smooth, clean, softknee compressor, and I tried various ratios up to 10:1 limiting. I could maintain a constant LUFS easily with a ratio of 5:1, with the gain reduction

LEDs sometimes indicating up to 20 dB of gain reduction! Wow! But it certainly didn’t sound like that much squash at all. The Big function is a must for keeping the low frequencies from triggering excessive gain reduction. I like that the gain reduction meters work all the time, even in bypass—you can tweak a little in bypass and then kick it in! The Output Link feature works well, and I would recommend starting with it in play for stereo processing; I had trouble matching L/R levels exactly when changing back and forth between it and dual-mono mode. I recorded a Taylor acoustic guitar using an X-Y coincident stereo matched pair of PreSonus PM-2 cardioid condenser mics. I had the Source switched to Mic+48v to power the mics, and Gain was set to 36 dB. I had the crossed mics close in on this large-body acoustic, and I switched on the HPF. For this setup, the HPF was just right for producing a solid midrange rhythm guitar sound. I compressed lightly with Big and Air processors switched on. I got a super-clear and steady sound using about 2 to 6 dB of compression at a 2:1 ratio, Attack at 10 ms and Release time at 0.3 seconds. Lead vocals were next, using a new MXL Reference II tube condenser. Not needing phantom power, the mic produced the most level at the 2.4 kohm position. Gain at 42 dB for my mellow and soft singer. I did not use the HPF or Air or Big features for this vocal. Again, the compressor was clean and controlled the level well. This is a clean, uncolored sound for near transparent compression. I did try the Instrument input for recording the DI output of the Taylor acoustic along with the MXL microphone at the same time. The Instrument input on the 1970 has a lot of gain available, and you can overdrive using the Boost mode. The Drawmer 1970 Dual FET compressor and pre-amplifier really is a desert island recording chain that will handle any audio source from line-level to mic to guitars or hotter synths, to low-impedance microphones. It would get much use at my studio! n

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Tech // reviews DPA 2028 Handheld Vocal Microphone Smooth Off-Axis Response, Excellent Rejection, Clarity Throughout By Steve La Cerra


PA Microphones has a well-deserved reputation for manufacturing high-quality condenser microphones that produce great sound. The company’s 4006 omnidirectional microphone has a lineage dating back to the 1950s, when DPA’s predecessor, Brüel & Kjær, developed some of the earliest measurement microphones. Several years ago, DPA introduced the d:facto 4018 VL, a premium-quality vocal microphone for on-stage use. There’s no debating the sonic attributes of the 4018 VL, but its price point (just north of $1,000) is a bit steep for some users. DPA’ s goal in creating the 2028 was to build a vocal microphone that brings the sonic qualities of the 4018 VL down to a more accessible price point. Whereas the 4018 VL offers a choice of removable capsules with linear response or high-frequency boost, the 2028 features a fixed capsule—which shouldn’t be a big deal for most users. THE INNER WORKINGS The 2028 is a supercardioid condenser microphone with a newly developed, pre-polarized, pressure-gradient capsule. It was designed for high gain-before-feedback, and to exhibit an off-axis response that remains consistent with that of the on-axis response. A great amount of care was taken by DPA’s engineering department in determining the spacing between the capsule and the front of the outer metal grille to ensure that a vocalist can get on the grille without worry of plosive sounds becoming an issue.


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Stated specs for the 2028 include a frequency response of 100 Hz to 16 kHz ±2 dB, dynamic range of 117 dB, and a maximum SPL of 160 dB—which should be more than enough to cover most mortal singers. An integral low-cut filter is applied at 80 Hz to help control proximity effect, as well as to reduce pickup of low-frequency noise from the surroundings. The 2028 runs on 48 VDC phantom power ±4 volts, though the manual indicates that it will work with phantom supplies of lower voltages with somewhat reduced performance. The microphone is packaged with a soft bag, zippered soft-shell case, and a clip. It is available in a wired version as well as wireless versions, employing an SL1 adapter for use with Shure, Sony and Lectrosonics equipment, or an SE2 adapter for use with Sennheiser wireless equipment. DPA sent Mix the wired version for this review. The 2028 features a new three-stage pop filter made up of an outer steel grille, a foam windscreen underneath that, and an internal metal screen that is very nicely made (yes, I took it apart). These pieces can be removed easily for gentle cleaning when necessary. Beneath the metal screen lives the capsule, set in a shock mount to reduce handling noise and damage from impact. The 2028 package is very well done. I especially liked the zippered softshell case, which has a well-padded foam interior with cutouts for the microphone and the clip. If you’re worried about space, you can instead use the soft bag. The 2028 has a solid feel and balances well in your hand. Its black satin finish looks good on stage but doesn’t distract from the performer.


PRODUCT SUMMARY COMPANY: DPA Microphones PRODUCT: 2028 Vocal Microphone WEBSITE: www.dpamicrophones.com PRICE: $699.95 PROS: Beautifully constructed; smooth sound; excellent rejection; available in versions for a variety of wireless systems CONS: Expensive compared to run-of-the-mill mics for live vocals TRYING IT OUT ON THE ROAD I used the DPA 2028 for a variety of singers on loud stages and in intimate settings with equally successful results. When I first put up the 2028, I thought, “Wow, it sounds like my singer has a cold.” That was because he did, in fact, have a cold! (I hadn’t spoken with him before soundcheck). A slight cut in the vicinity of 300 Hz and a bit of a boost around 4.5 kHz helped restore his voice to a more normal tone. The following week when I worked with him—sans cold—I noticed right away how smooth its response was. I could easily push the lead voice to the front of a busy mix without need for much, if any, EQ. I live with “P.A. du jour” and sometimes run into systems that can sound harsh in the upper-mids (2 kHz to 5 kHz). The 2028 wasn’t bothered by these systems, instead presenting the vocal with clarity and articulation while never sounding strident. At the end of the show the vocalist commented that the 2028 provided detail and presence in his in-ear mix, and we were both happy with the results. Like most directional microphones the 2028 exhibits proximity effect, though it is well-controlled. It becomes apparent at a distance about six inches from the mouth and becomes stronger as the singer gets closer to the grille. When a singer is on the grille, the proximity effect provides a lowmid warmth that can be flattering on thin vocals but could be a bit much for a vocalist whose voice already has a lot of low end. At least one of the singers who tried the 2028 preferred the sound of the mic when they were about 10 inches away from the grille, and (for this particular singer) I agreed that this position sounded the most natural. I also used the 2028 on a singer/songwriter with whom I’m very familiar, having done tons of gigs with him over the years. He performs mostly in small venues and accompanies himself with an acoustic guitar. One of the ongoing problems we’ve had is that his vocal microphone (and we’ve tried quite a few) inevitably picks up a ton of leakage from the acoustic guitar, creating phase problems when the guitar is brought into the mix. I was cautiously optimistic in putting up the 2028 and wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I was shocked at how well the 2028 rejected his guitar—it was barely audible in the vocal mic, a testament to the mic’s off-axis rejection. This characteristic also helped keep monitor leakage from entering the microphone, even when we weren’t able to position the

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If there’s one word to describe the DPA2028 it would be smooth. Unlike some condenser microphones designed for use on stage, the 2028 never exhibited any harshness yet still managed to keep vocals on top of the mix. monitor precisely in one of the null points of the supercardioid pattern. One of DPA’s goals in creating the 2028 was to provide a smooth off-axis frequency response, and the company has definitely succeeded in that department. When the mic is moved off-axis from a vocal, the timbre remains very consistent within about ±40 degrees. The sound starts to thin out at around 45 to 60 degrees off-axis, but until that point, changes in volume are more apparent than changes in timbre. HIGH GAIN, EXCELLENT REJECTION When used on a loud stage the 2028’s gain-before-feedback was higher than average compared to one popular handheld dynamic vocal mic, and about equal to that of another—but it’s worth noting that Mic #2 lacked the low-mid presence provided by the 2028. Handling noise was a non-issue, and the 2028’s three-stage pop filter did a great job of controlling plosives. If I solo’d the vocal channel in my cans, I could hear some leakage from the wedge monitors into the 2028 but it was mostly low-mids and was way down in level. I also noticed that leakage from the drums and guitar amplifiers was minimal, so raising the level of the vocal in the mix didn’t change the levels of other instruments. Used on a singer who has what I would call a smoky voice with a muted high end, the 2028 showed its ability to take EQ. At one particular show where I needed the vocal to be brighter, I was able to push a shelf EQ to +7 or 8 dB at around 4 kHz, which put the singer in front of the mix while avoiding peaky-ness. If there’s one word to describe the DPA2028 it would be smooth. Unlike some condenser microphones designed for use on stage, the 2028 never exhibited any harshness yet still managed to keep vocals on top of the mix. When compared to some popular dynamic vocal mics, I found that the 2028 was consistent across the frequency range whereas one of those dynamics had too much zip up top and was lacking low frequencies, and the other mic had the opposite personality. By comparison, the 2028 was rich-sounding, with an extended frequency response at both extremes but not in a hyped “hi-fi” manner. Most impressive was the amount of rejection that the 2028 provided against the acoustic guitar—I don’t think I’ve used another microphone that provided as much rejection as the 2028 did in that situation. The DPA 2028 may be more expensive than other handheld vocal mics designed for live use, but it’s worth every penny. n


Tech // back page blog 10 Things I’ve Learned Mixing Dolby Atmos Music By Steve Genewick, Mix Engineer, Capitol Studios


n the three years that I’ve been mixing musiconly content in Dolby Atmos, the list of things I’ve learned is extensive. One of the biggest revelations I’ve had is that although we use the same tools, mixing music-only content is very different from mixing for film and TV. As with all mixing, our brains are split between the technical and the creative. I’ve been asked to talk about 10 things I think are important to know when mixing music in an immersive format, so I’ve divided them into those two categories. First, the technical…

assigned to the bed). Even though the second room had six physical speakers overhead, the vocal that was fed to the front ceiling speakers in the first room came out of the middle two ceiling speakers in the second room—the two speakers assigned to the bed. Had the mixer assigned the vocal to objects feeding the front ceiling speakers, the Atmos playback system would have fed them to the intended spot in both rooms. Easy rule of thumb: The bed is a set of physical speakers in a room, while the objects go to places in the room—specific, assignable and movable. It’s not uncommon for the LFE channel information to be the only thing in the bed of my mixes. Now the creative and conceptual side of Atmos mixing…




Make sure your room is set up and calibrated correctly. Speaker placement, angles, and level are far more critical than room EQ. Get your speakers in as close to the ideal spots in your room as possible. The beauty of the Atmos system is that it’s not quite as “fragile” as a traditional 5.1 setup. It’s a bit more forgiving.

Always find a way to filter your LFE channel. Don’t expect that consumer playback systems will handle LFE information correctly. Every DAW is different, so make sure you know what your LFE send is actually sending. Anything that goes to my LFE channel is sent through an AUX channel in Pro Tools that has a lowpass filte with an aggressive rolloff anywhere from 150 Hz to 250 Hz. This can also be an issue when folding down into smart speakers and binaural. Which brings us to…


Don’t neglect the binaural settings! Like it or not, good or bad, however you feel about binaural, it’s not going away, and many think it’s the way of the future for immersive music.


Use the height channels. I’ll take elements I have panned into the lower speakers and feed them, in varying amounts, to the ceiling speakers. The height channels help to create that “dome” feeling I’m always looking for. Once I’ve created the “dome” feeling, it then opens up many more possibilities to pan elements hard into the ceiling and not have it feel jarring or unnatural to the listener.


I like to use objects rather than the bed. I’ve found, sometimes the hard way, that the bed can actually move around quite dramatically from room to room. This affects the side and height channels primarily, which is best described by an issue we ran into early on. A mix was done at a studio with a 7.1.4 bed (four ceiling speakers assigned to the bed). The mixer fed some of the lead vocal into the front ceiling speakers, as well as the front LCR. The problem arose when that mix was played back in another mix room that had a 7.1.2 bed (two ceiling speakers


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Every piece of music is unique and needs to be approached as such. Let the music and production dictate how aggressively you use the system and the space. Some music lends itself to elements moving around the room, or elements hard-panned to the rear or height channels, and some does not.

Keep in mind that you’re mixing music, not an Atmos demo. Having all this new space to work with is fantastic, but you can definitely get caught up and overdo it very easily. I always try to remember that at some point, someone is going to want to sit in their house and simply listen to music. It’s still our job to deliver that experience, not to show off our cool new speaker system.


Keep the “sweet spot” as large as you can. Not many folks will be able to sit in the perfect spot all the time, so try to make your mixes compelling from different spots in the room. I’ve found ways to fill the room while keeping elements anchored in spots when I want them to be.


Dynamics are awesome, so feel free to keep them in your mix. Because of the lack of effective dynamics bus processing (at this point in time at least), I’ve had to find ways of finishing off a mix without the use of bus compression to achieve either the apparent level I’m looking for or that “glue” effect we all want. It’s actually been kind of liberating for me. I’ve found that the system can handle the wide dynamic range, and that most music benefits from it. Imagine that! We’re not trying to jam a ton of stuff into a small space anymore. If two elements are competing for frequency range, simply move them apart. There’s no more need to carve out space with EQ, or limit dynamics with compression.


It’s a full-range system all around you, so don’t be afraid to use it. You want to put all the drums in the back, go for it! Vocals coming hard out of the side speakers, sure why not? An accordion coming from overhead, whatever works. Just keep point #7 in mind when you’re doing it. Good taste must always win out. n