ESPN captures surround ambience for NBA playoffs coverage

To enhance the experience of watching its basketball games live in HDTV, sports network ESPN is using Holophone’s H2-PRO surround microphone to capture crowd noise. The idea is to bring fans at home closer to the experience of being in a seat in the arena.

ESPN audio mixer Jonathan Freed is using the microphone to create an ambient surround bed while capturing crowd response and sounds of the venue. A 35-year audio veteran, Freed also used the H2-PRO for “Monday Night Football” games on ESPN last season and will do so again this year.

Freed said the Holophone mic delivers an “intimate” quality, where the people who are nearest to the mic are audible in the crowd mix, but they don’t overwhelm it. “Sometimes with separate crowd mics, if people get too close, you hear individuals making too much noise and it becomes objectionable in the mix. So you’re hearing one person or one section of people making too much noise. The Holophone allows us to hear the 50 or so people in its area, but not overwhelmingly so.”

For the NBA playoff games, the H2-PRO is placed high up in the center of the basketball arenas, near the crew’s camera platform. Freed said this is the best location because the mic does not block fans, but can still obtain good centralized sound. The mic is used along with a Calrec Bluefin console and a variety of Sennheiser, Beyer, Neumann and Sony microphones, which are used in various applications including supplementing the sound pickup from the H2-PRO.

“There are some instances when we have very little preparation time,” Freed said. “Due to the way it’s made and wired and because of its size and weight, the H2-PRO is really the perfect choice in cases where setup time is short. I actually build my own surround arrays out of other microphones, and they are cumbersome and time-consuming to build, but they definitely help me get the ambient bed that I’m looking for.

Using a design that mimics the acoustical shadow of the human head, according to the company, Holophone’s H2-PRO is able to capture a surround recording from a single point with no mixing or signal manipulation required. It features eight mic elements, which are positioned within an elliptical casing, to correspond with a typical home theater or studio speaker setup.