And They’re Off! Breeders’ Cup Gets Surround Audio

By Dan Daley
Viewers of the milestone 25th-annual Breeders’ Cup race, to be held this weekend at Santa Anita in California, will hear hooves thundering into the turn a bit more thunderously, thanks to enhanced-audio tactics that ESPN plans to employ. The net’s audio team, led by senior technical audio producer Kevin Cleary, has been taking notes on experimental use of Holophone’s H3D binaural microphone and Neural Audio’s Neural Microphone Array multichannel microphone at the X Games and selected collegiate and Monday Night Football bouts to find the sweet spot for what will be the first time that thoroughbred racing’s biggest purse goes 5.1.
“We want to be able to convey everything but the smell of the horses,” Cleary says of the mic positioning.
Another new trick, first used at the Belmont Stakes this year, is the placement of the network’s own custom-manufactured Xducer piezo-electric microphone on the starting gate to document the dynamic release of the gate and its clanging bell.
But it’s not all big sound. Cleary points out that horse racing generates far less SPL than the horsepower at ESPN’s NASCAR broadcasts. “Viewers also want to hear the sounds that give them a sense of place and event, like the starter calling ‘Riders up!’” he adds.
The track is ringed along the outside and inside with Sennheiser 416 and 418 shotgun microphones, and the action is also tracked by a chase vehicle with gyro camera equipped with a camera microphone.
Altogether, the race’s audio is expected to require the same approximately 100 inputs as the Belmont Stakes broadcast did. The main audio console will be a Calrec Alpha in the IMS Production primary remote truck, with a Yamaha 4000 for the submix.
“Horse racing is a difficult challenge,” says Cleary. “The tracks are huge, the horses are quiet, the crowds are wildly extreme and go from talking to screaming in a split second. It’s pretty much one of the hardest sports in the world to cover audio-wise.”
Assisting Cleary at the Breeders’ Cup will be audio veterans Dan “Buddha” Bernstein as production mixer, Thom Mangan handling submix duties, and Shawn Peacock to oversee the integration of all audio sources and sends.
Neural’s Microphone Array will build the audio bed for the mix. “I have tested this microphone successfully at Monday Night Football and college football this season,” says Cleary. “I will also have mics on both the starting gates and a host of [Sennheiser] long and short shotguns around the track in strategic locations to capture the hoof sounds as well as the nuances of jockey noise to give the viewer the feel of the race.”
Mangan has his work cut out for him here, Cleary says since the 2008 Breeders Cup will be run in California and therefore, in compliance with state law, on a sound-deadening artificial surface.
Plenty of voice-over for this race, as well. In addition to the main host position, there will also be wired microphones in the paddock area, three roving RF reporters, an RF on horseback, and an RF pony rider.
The audio signals will be transported on fiber via LightViper Booth Kits supplied by CP Communications. “We will also utilize some of the sends on the LightVipers for the EFX mics,” Cleary explains. “I like to see horse racing as a challenge not only for the overall sound design but in creating an infrastructure of this size and covering this much ground during the course of an event. It’s kind of like a football game with a field that is a mile long and announce positions potentially anywhere on the 320 acres of Santa Anita Park.”

Password must contain the following:

A lowercase letter

A capital (uppercase) letter

A number

Minimum 8 characters