NBA Tipoff 2021: TNT Sports Will Deploy Shure Linear Mic Arrays

Precise control, clarity are the goals of the broadcaster’s audio effort

When TNT Sports begins its NBA season this week, viewers can expect to hear the same great audio they’ve become accustomed to, but the way that sound is captured will differ significantly from previous methods. In addition to a variety of shotgun, condenser, parabolic, and other types of microphones deployed across and around the court, three or four Shure MX710 linear-array microphone assemblies will be placed in key locations.

A rectangular array is mounted where the vertical support meets the horizontal arm supporting the backboard.

“The ultimate goal is to have four of these on or around the court,” says TNT Sports Sound Designer Dave Grundtvig. “Even with three, we’ll be able to capture virtually all of the sound we’ve always gotten for NBA.”

A rectangular array will be mounted on each backboard, just at the 90-degree point where the vertical support meets the horizontal arm supporting the backboard. A third will be placed just in front of the announcers’ table, about an inch from the floor. A fourth array will be placed on the opposite side of the court, in front of the scorers’ table if the league allows.

The array mics, originally intended for use mainly in corporate-meeting or education applications, are remotely steerable, via a Dante processor. This will allow the broadcast A1 to keep the microphone lobes (the transducer elements’ pickup pattern) focused on the play as it moves around the court.

Grundtvig experimented with this type of microphone array during the NBA’s Summer League in Las Vegas last August, providing the proof of concept. The array’s low profile and high sensitivity make it a good pick for wide fields of play, and the use of several together provides up to 16 additional channels of audio. He had also experimented with it as a source for Dolby Atmos broadcasts, providing overhead audio. He had pitched it to MLB for postseason use; however, the baseball application was declined by the league because, ironically, the array was too sensitive, able to pick up a lot of random sound, including player chatter, on a field that’s often not as subject to natural masking noise as other sports environments can be.

TNT tried out the linear microphone array for the NBA’s Summer League in August.

Grundtvig, who is also lead A1 for TBS Sports’ MLB coverage, will miss the first week of NBA play as he mixes the MLB NLCS series for the network. Mixer Pat Thornton will substitute for him. Both will work with submixer Victor Victoria.

In addition to the new arrays, Grundtvig will also deploy the same Shure dual-diaphragm TwinPlex lavalier mics he usually affixes to the hoops to catch score swooshes and backboard hits. And an under-court array of custom-made piezo transducers will pick up ball bounces, sneaker squeaks, and other vibrational sounds — the array he developed for the NBA “bubble” in Orlando during the league’s pandemic-shortened season.

In addition, the league will deploy an updated version of the Q5X PlayerMic, sewn into the athletes’ jersey and controlled by the NBA’s own A1, to catch player sound.

“We’ll hear everything we’ve heard before,” notes Grundtvig, “but we’ll be able to control it more precisely and hear it more clearly. It’s going to be a great season.”

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