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The Voice from Above Part 2


The Voice from Above Part 2
by Gary Woods

Last week I started an interview with Academy Award nominated sound engineer Dennis Sands. We talked about the way movies have been mixed for decades but then I turned to “Immersive Sound” which adds a Z coordinate (height) to the existing X coordinate (left to right) and Y coordinate (front to back) and I asked him why he chose Dolby Atmos. (Dennis) “After a great deal of research, I committed to the Dolby Atmos format. The mixes are substantially different from any other format. The capabilities are incredible. The term “immersive” is quite accurate. The audience is truly inside the sound. Not only is there the addition of the height dimension, the surround and ceiling speakers are aligned to the same level as the screen channels. There is bass-management capacity for the surrounds, which allows low frequency content to be put into the surround objects. This did not exist prior to this format. Because of this, sound placement, accuracy, and movement is vastly superior to any of the prior formats.”

Dolby Atmos uses something called “Object Based Audio.” What is it? (Dennis) It is a bit too complex to explain in a paragraph, but basically you no longer look at the audio soundtrack as being made up of channels, but objects. Any given mix has up to 128 objects. The first 10, called “Bed” tracks, are a traditional 7.1 plus stereo overheads, are fixed objects, are non-dynamic, and are shared by all sound components (dialog, effects, and music). The remaining 118 are completely dynamic and can be stationary and/or moved to any place in the room. These objects can also dynamically change in size. This is a game changer.”

When you work on a project that you know will be using one of the “Immersive Sound” systems does it change the way you record the orchestra?” (Dennis) I have tried a few “immersive sound” micing attempts for the orchestra, but haven’t found anything significant that’s all that meaningful. I certainly have ideas as far as mixing, and because I have a facility that allows me to monitor in Atmos (as of this writing, I have the only dedicated film music mix facility in the world with Dolby Atmos capability), I can do some really cool things in the mix. But, for the most part, these involve electronics or pre-recorded elements, reverbs, effects, etc.”

You have one of the world’s great microphone collections, have you added any microphones or pre-amps that would maximize how the orchestra gets recorded for “immersive sound?” (Dennis) Not really. My microphones (and preamps) have all been chosen to be the best possible tools for the purpose for which they were designed. My goal has always been to create the best sound that I could regardless of the end product. But there’s no microphone, to my knowledge, that is designed for immersive sound. At least not yet. But when there is one, I’ll most definitely check it out.”

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Gary Woods is the Computer Trainer for the Santa Barbara Association of Realtors and he is a Broker/Associate at Sotheby’s International Realty.