advice columns tell you exactly how to go about doing your mix. But
I'm not going to do that here. Why? Because I'm too humble?
that's not the main reason. The main reason is that you, with your forward-thinking
personality and your quest for the ultimate fun, have decided to get
into Surround, a new frontier forged by pioneers who make their own
rules. That's right, many of the "how to's" in Surround are yet undecided,
and wide open to creative approaches.
The Studio Setup
First, let's consider your studio's Surround speaker setup. If you lived
in an ideal world, you would have this speaker arrangement.
Your front left
and right speakers would have the classic 45 degree stereo spread. The
rear speakers would have the same angles and distance. The front center
speaker would be moved forward to give it the same distance from the
listener as the other four speakers, to avoid any problems with phasing
and proximity loudness.
This is the arrangement that many of the first Surround studios have
Now WAKE UP! Time to snap out of this dream and join the real world.
The real world is the world where the millions of listeners are going
to enjoy your awesome recording on their home Surround systems.
For starters, the home system is not going to have the front speaker
moved forward to make it equal distance, unless the devoted listener
takes out a wall. In fact, the average studio won't be able to move
the center speaker forward. This results in a setup much more like this:
But even this is
not going to be America's typical home living room. In a more average
home, the listener will be sitting on the couch against the back wall.
That makes it impossible to move the back speakers to the rear of the
listener, or at least not by much. So the most common listening setup
is likely to be more like this:
The REAL bottom
line is that you recording will be played on systems with many different
configurations, and you want your recording to work as well as possible
on all of them. The best way to approach this is to do you recording
on a system that has automated Surround mixing (such as Mx51), and take
a "final" mix and burn it onto a CD in DTS or Dolby format, and go visit
every friend you have that's fortunate enough to have a home theater
system. You will learn very quickly what works on some systems and what
works on other systems (and what works the best on a wide range of sytems).
After you listen, go back to your automated mix, do some tweeks, then
go do some more listening.
Don't Forget the Downmix!
Yes, don't forget that the playback system will automatically downmix
your precious recording to stereo (you remember, that 2-channel stuff
your parents listened to) if the system has only 2 speakers. And radio
stations will also be doing downmixing to get the sound out through
2 channels. So you need to be certain that your mix can survive downmixing
and still sound good.
Again, with your Surround CD in hand, hit the "stereo" button on your
friend's home stereo decoder. This will put it into downmix mode, and
you can check it out.
Don't Forget Car Sound Systems!!!!
This one here is especially important, since people spend lots of time
listening in their cars. The first people to do Surround recordings
were surprised to find out something they hadn't considered. Surround
recordings can sound radically differnt in cars, and here's why.
One of the ways people like to mix to Surround is to put the soundstage
in front, and to use the rear speakers for some carefully created ambience,
at a much lower level than the front speakers. In cars, however, we
are now all used to speakers in the four corners, with the rear speakers
at the same volume level as the fronts (if not louder). Now pop in a
Surround recording with just a little ambience out of the rears. What
do you get? The soundfield collapses to the front of the car, and you
just have a line of sound across your dashboard. And not even a very
good one, since you can't be sitting in the "sweet spot" and still be
in control of your car.
What should you do about this? Once again, make a Surround mix, and
find a friend who has a true Surround system in their car. DTS-decoded
car Surround systems are just now coming on the market, so these will
be showing up in cars more and more.
The Bottom Line
Get out and listen to you Surround mix in as many different situations
as you can. This can be great fun for you and your friends, and you
learn how to give your fans the best possible mix, no matter what system
Jeff Wilson works
for Minnetonka Audio Software, maker of software for professional sound
recording and editing. He can be reached at email@example.com.