NASCAR, Surround Sound a perfect fit for Fox Sports

By Dan Daley

SVG Audio Editor

When NASCAR wants to get up-close and personal, it does so in a big way. Starting this season, Fox Sports has combined a camera and microphone in a stainless steel-and-brass container and buried four of them below each of the corners of the racetrack. The visual effect is stunning, with the camera angled so viewers can see the vehicles coming and, in some cases, rolling right over them. But when you add the audio component, the result is over the top.

Fox Sports’ “Gopher Cam” is an HD camera married to a DPA 4052 pressure cartridge-type condenser microphone. The omnidirectional mic has a maximum sound pressure level of 135 dB SPL peak, but Fred Aldous, FOX’s sports audio consultant, senior mixer and a 14-time Emmy winner for sports audio, says he has measured the SPL as high as 145 dB as the cars roar over it at 190 mph.

Aldous says the DPA 4052 was a good choice because of its small size and ability to withstand high SPL. The assembly is covered by a weather-resistant protective dome that is four inches in diameter and rises less than one-quarter inch above the track surface. A thin slit was cut from the hole to run power to the cam and the 48-volt phantom powered microphone and take signal back via copper wiring trenched below the track and grass and run to where it meets up with the network’s fiber optic wiring system and onto FOX’s mobile production units.

Aldous says FOX Sports knows the value of audio for NASCAR. “Back in 2001, when FOX got the NASCAR contract, they told me to do what had never been done before,” he says. Aldous set about assembling a microphone test tree with 16 different mics and checked the performance of each at various locations around the track. From these tests a microphone plan was derived that works consistently with the racetracks. Pole-placed cameras are paired with an Audio-Technica AT815ST stereo shotgun microphone.

“The AT815ST has very good reach, which is important in an application like that,” he says. Robocams along the straightaway wall are matched with DPA 4007, again chosen for their high-SPL characteristic. An Audio-Technica AT815ST captures the pits’ sound. An Audio-Technica AT825 stereo condenser microphone and a Shure VP88 stereo condenser mic cover the infield.

Aldous has mixed the races in full 5.1 since 2004. “You can get great dimensionality in 5.1,” he says. “Visually, the cars enter the screen from the left and traverse to the right. The sound is mixed so that the approaching cars are heard through the left front speaker [in the LCR array] and they exit through the right rear surround speaker.

“NASCAR is the perfect fit for 5.1,” says Aldous. “It’s a very dynamic sport; the movement of the audio can match the picture. With basketball, we’ll build the mix with audience reaction sound, placing the viewer as a spectator in the grandstand. With racing, the audio accompanies the action. With audio for basketball and football, you’re at the game. With NASCAR sound, you’re in the race.”

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