Tech Focus: Audio Monitoring, Part 1 — Speakers Are Smaller, Lighter, and Proliferating
Immersive sound is a complicating factor
When it comes to remote production, size matters, although, with speakers, the preference tends toward smaller rather than larger. The constrained spaces of audio compartments in remote-production trucks determine the acoustical environments that A1s have to mix in. But two other dynamics are also at work: the development and implementation of immersive audio formats means that there will be more speakers in those compartments, and relentless demand for reduced costs in an era of corporate mergers translates into (among other things) the need for speakers to be lighter. Smaller, lighter, and more of them can create a kind of cognitive dissonance.
“We’re constantly being asked to build smaller speakers,” says Chris Fichera, VP, audio, Group One Ltd., which distributes Blue Sky speakers, whose monitors have been favored by ESPN, among other networks. “It’s a space issue and a weight issue, certainly, but it’s also the fact that a new generation of trucks are getting smaller and that the audio compartments on even the larger trucks are also getting smaller. So [broadcasters are] asking for smaller speakers.”
However, he adds, immersive broadcast-audio formats are looming and are going to complicate matters. The additional four overhead speakers called for in the Dolby Atmos format, for example, will require additional space and add weight to production vehicles.
“No one is sure yet how or to what extent immersive is going to be implemented in sports broadcasting,” he says. “We have to wait and see how that evolves.”
But there is a growing consensus that some form of immersive will become part of the workflow. According to Chris Hansen, director, recording, broadcast, and content creation, Harman Professional, which owns the venerable JBL brand, development of its 7 Series monitor speakers incorporated significant input from broadcast A1s, and Dolby has used the speakers recently in demos of its Atmos immersive format.
“Size and weight are part of what we’re hearing back from broadcast-audio users, but so is networking capability,” he says, noting that both the powered and passive versions of the 7 Series speakers are network-addressable. “Being on a network also allows them to maximize the use of the Intonato 24 system,” JBL’s auto-calibration system. In addition, Hansen notes that IP-based monitors can remotely control parameters using Audio Architect, Harman Pro’s comprehensive communications protocol.
Self-calibration systems, another significant trend in audio-monitoring technology, use DSP to automatically adjust such parameters as equalization and time alignment to electronically adapt to less-than-ideal mixing spaces. Manufacturers tout such systems as a way to achieve an ideal speaker-to-room balance. Some systems, such as JBL’s Intonato 24 and Blue Sky’s AMC, can work with any brand of monitor speakers; others, such as Genelec’s AutoCal, are meant to work only with the Genelec brand.
Meanwhile, as budgets get squeezed, the audio nevertheless needs to become more present, even with smaller, more numerous speakers.
“Everyone’s expecting big sound even as speakers get smaller,” says Fichera. “That has always been the challenge with speakers, since the very beginning.”
Click here for Tech Focus: Audio Monitoring, Part 2 — Truck Environment Requires Robust, Full-Range Speakers
Click here for Tech Focus: Audio Monitoring, Part 3 — Room-Correction Software Aims To Optimize the Environment