April 20, 2016 · Las Vegas – At one of Bellmedia’s studios in Toronto, a new installation of Neumann KH series loudspeakers is helping the broadcaster prepare for the future of audio. Michael Nunan, Bellmedia’s Senior Manager, Broadcast Operations, Audio has assembled a sound mixing room capable of 13.1 audio and other next-generation audio formats to create an immersive monitoring environment. The first of its kind at any Bellmedia studio in the nation, it features a unique array of carefully placed Neumann KH 120 monitors and KH 870 subwoofers to ensure a balanced mixing experience for editors and engineers.
Listening to the future
For Nunan and his team, the writing was on the wall for 5.1 surround. “It’s fairly clear to everyone that we’re going to have a new Canada audio standard later this year for ATSC 3.0,” Nunan explains. “Whatever that ends up being is going to be extensible well beyond 5.1 surround and will certainly include surround plus height formats.” For Nunan, that means that he needs to ready his team to work efficiently in these advanced new sound formats. “Maintaining operational tempo is essential at an organization like ours,” Nunan says. “We needed to create an environment where we could start figuring out the aesthetic of surround plus height long before we were going to have a requirement to actually deliver it.” Already extremely satisfied with the performance of Neumann monitors in Bellmedia’s 5.1 rooms, the Neumann KH 120 and KH 870 were easy choices for his next-generation mix room. “We are decidedly a Neumann house and have been for years,” Nunan says.
Adapting the largest of Bellmedia Toronto’s existing 5.1 sound rooms, which was already outfitted with five Neumann KH 120 loudspeakers and a KH 870 subwoofer, Nunan set his sights on a flexible system that would accommodate a range of surround plus height formats and provide maximum compatibility in the still-evolving arena of next-gen audio. He added two speakers to the ear-height array, turning 5.1 into 7.1, adding Lss and Rss speakers. Next, a 5-channel Height layer was added, along with a single overhead speaker and an additional KH 870 subwoofer.
The right fit in the mix room
With the exact specifications of the new broadcast audio standard still as-of-yet undetermined, flexibility was a priority for Nunan and Bellmedia. “Our system is designed to accommodate the Auro-3D 13.1 format, but the same physical structure is capable of working with smaller versions of Dolby Atmos, 5.1.4, 7.1.2, and 7.1.4. So our mix room is well equipped to handle most of the commonly understood contenders for the new official surround plus height format.” The compact size of the Neumann speakers was key to accommodating the large number of speakers required. “This isn’t a gigantic film mix stage,” Nunan points out. “It’s not trivial that I was able to fit 14 Neumann speakers in a modestly sized television mix room and still have room for people.”
Range in every dimension
Nunan recognizes that full-range monitoring is key for unlocking the power of surround plus height audio. “We have an opportunity to discover how to aesthetically and editorially leverage these new formats for our purposes, but we can only do that if we’re hearing the sound field accurately,” Nunan says. “The combination of the KH 120 and KH 870 gives us the full breadth of frequency reproduction we need at every speaker position, including those bottom two octaves, which are critical for factual television.” It will also help Nunan entice production clients to produce content utilizing the latest formats. “The key to getting our production clients interested in these formats, which can sound scary at first, is taking a non-academic approach and getting them in the production suite. When they hear surround plus height delivered with Neumann fidelity, it’s vastly easier to make the sale when the format becomes a visceral experience.”
Ready for things to come
The new listening environment is already hard at work, with Nunan and his team producing UHD surround plus height versions of much of the content they are creating this year. Even though they have no way of delivering that content now, they know it will be ready now has many advantages for Nunan and Bellmedia, not the least of which is future-proofing their content. “Factual television is evergreen programming that has value beyond today and can sit on the shelf and be utilized again and again,” he says. “Working with UHD and surround plus height now allows us to preserve maximum long-term value of the assets we’re creating. If I get word that someone wants to re-air one of our Discovery Channel series in UHD two years from now, we’ll have it ready to go. Knowing that those “future-proof” mixes were generated with the benefit of our Neumann monitoring, we know they’ll translate well.”
New formats, superior accuracy
For Nunan, as much as the technical specifications of audio continue to evolve, one need never changes: the need for accurate monitoring. Thankfully, the Neumann KH series gives him just that. “I’m not well served by a monitor that is pleasant to listen to but is functionally disguising problems,” Nunan says. “The Neumann KH 120 and KH 870 are the perfect combination because they are always accurate.” Nunan’s faith in Neumann monitors is a direct result of the success he has had with mixes performed with them in many formats over the last several years. “They translate to TV and other environments,” he says. “I’ve never heard a mix that surprised me later when I’d executed the mix on Neumann speakers. That’s it, and everything else is window dressing.”