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Confidence monitoring in the surround-sound era

From remote capture to post production to broadcast control, one of the biggest needs in broadcasting is the ability to monitor audio simply and effectively. As stations move to surround sound, this requirement has become more pronounced and, at the same time, difficult to realize. Work environments need to be fitted with additional loudspeakers, and, more critically, those systems must be capable of monitoring specific inputs in specific ways, on the fly. Mixers are responsible for tracking 5.1 sources as well as stereo feeds — the way most viewers listen — plus mono, SAP and secondary audio feeds.

“We’re still not at a point where most people are listening in surround,” said Joe Prout, sales rep for Dale Pro Audio. “They’re listening in stereo. To say nothing of the fact that some network feeds still have to be provided in mono to some international properties.”

For most facilities, this situation is handled via retrofitted equipment. Audio inputs and outputs from various sources may be analog or digital; the downmix functions and dialnorm information may exist separately from the monitoring audio chain, and channel mute/solo functions may not be easily available.

“So, therefore, you really need to have a quick and easy, cost-efficient, size-efficient way to monitor across all formats,” Prout said. “Space is very limited in an OB truck, so it has to be something with a small footprint that they can quickly and easily get to.”

Currently, the marketplace contains limited options. Studio Technologies offers StudioComm, which includes a compact control console (Model 77B) paired with the 1RU Model 76B central controller. Grace Design offers the M906 monitor controller with remote, and Martinsound offers the MultiMax monitor controller. All these products feature analog outputs, which makes sense because loudspeakers are essentially analog devices.

However, in our increasingly digital world, even transducers are not immune. “There are some great monitor speakers out there that accept digital inputs through AES connectors,” Prout said. “Genelec is a prime example. It’s an amazing digital speaker system, and it almost defeats the purpose to convert the audio back to analog just to use the surround-sound controller.”

Gordon Kapes, president and chief designer at Studio Technologies, sees the increased adoption of digital-input speakers as a significant opportunity. “We’ve heard the same message from many of our broadcast customers,” he said. “For those who own or have plans to invest in digital-input speaker systems, we’re formally launching two new all-digital surround monitoring systems at NAB. In fact, we’ve already started shipping the broadcast-optimized version, the Model 77B control console with Model 76DB central controller.”

See Studio Technologies at NAB Booth C11843.