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by Andrew J. Horsburgh, BSc (Hons) www.ajhorsburgh.com
Purpose of document:
This short paper, aims to inform those with little or no experience on the spatial audio format Ambisonics by using the Digital Audio Workstation Reaper 1. The contents of the paper provides information relating to mixing and production techniques of interest to those who wish to use surround audio in their productions. The document will list all of the software and hardware required, then advising setup procedures. Additional comments will be given, although, this advice is author experience and your mileage may vary. All of the software listed here has been tested for a considerable amount of time on various operating systems – however – this is not a guarantee that the process nor results will be the same. If your system is based on XP or 10.5, then there should be very few problems following this guide. Versions: This document is version 1.02, August 2012. Changes have been formatting related. A future update including a UHJ encoder is in the works.
In this section, a short detail of the Ambisonic format and the plug-ins are discussed. More information is available by following the references at the end of this section.
Surround sound, or spatial audio, productions are often rushed for many music releases but the film and games markets use 5.1 surround sound as a standard format of release. There are however several problems in using surround sound. The spatial audio market is often constrained to one of the following formats: • • • Dolby THX SCCS
Previously, authors have found that these formats are problematic in their reproduction of spatially accurate audio through a speaker array. The problems are inaccurate panning, large 'holes' in the area sound reproduction and un-related channels producing unexpected amplitude signals. Attributing to the issues it can assumed to be the method employed for encoding audio and wide-spread use of discrete audio channels. Spatial audio, as the name suggests, should give the illusion of space and realism. In many current productions using surround sound the end product is hyper-real and centred about the main front / right speakers – providing very little dynamic information from the rear speakers. Cinematically, this can often be thought of as explosions or crashes that appear to 'surround' the listener. Use of spatial effects such as large surround reverbs are limited because of their audio bandwidth consumption. One format that does preserve the equality of speakers is Ambisonics. By placing the speakers in a regular array, conserving the pair-wise nature of stereo, then multiple phantom images can be created around the listeners. This allows for a more stable soundfield surrounding the listener. A secondary by product is that there is no frontal-bias in the array, equating to reproduced amplitudes being relative to all other speaker feeds. Plug-ins: The largest change in audio production has been the adoption of digital technologies for recording and processing. Moving into the digital domain has allowed for many positive changes to be made in real time to signals via plug-ins, but the quality of the developmental process with these plug-ins is often disputed. With the spatial audio plugins there are the same issues with the resulting processing accuracy. A test of the software has previously been conducted, using varying factors, using their decoding methods / GUI and ease of use as measures. One of the top pieces of software was found to be 'WigWare'2 created and distributed by Dr Wiggins (Derby University). Ambisonics can be considered a true three dimensional audio format, that is scalable in its reproduction forms - from mono through to 64 speaker arrays across horizontal and vertical planes. For specific information regarding the history of Ambisonics, or specifics in the operation - there are references at the end.
Required Software & Hardware Software Required:
There are several pieces of key software that will ensure smooth integration between the surround plug-ins and the hardware setup. Traditionally, ProTools [x] or Logic Studio [x] are the DAW of choice in studios for stereophonic productions. Although they are capable of handling 5.1 mixes they use discrete outputs which are not suitable for use with Ambisonic processing 3.
Digital Audio Workstation
A change for many audio engineers will be their chosen software to edit and mix. In recent times there has been a move for many to the Professional-Quality, Indie-Price of Reaper. The feature set is comes with is extremely impressive for both is quantity and quality of the tools – but the feature that is of interest is the manipulation of multichannel audio files. As previously discussed the two largest DAWs have limited routed and processing, therefore an alternative was needed.
Cockos' Reaper [Digital Audio Workstation] (version 4,151 or above) www.reaper.fm
The software is priced extremely competitively, at $60 (or £38 at time of writing), for a discounted single non-commercial licence. For those who wish to purchase a commercial license it comes in at a tiny $225. Other software may be available for both Windows and OSX platforms but for the price / feature ratio it will be difficult to beat it. 3 Using ProTools and Logic with Ambisonic decoders is possible, but will not be covered in this guide – it may be the subject of a future guide.
The next piece of software required is the decoding stage. As Reaper will handle traditional stereo, surround (5.1) using supplied plug-ins – then an additional decoding plug-in is required to ensure that the Ambisonic calculations are processed correctly. On the internet, there are several competitively feature packed plug-in suites 4 but one that is maintained regularly and decodes with accuracy is WigWare. Developed by Dr Wiggins of Derby University, Wigware is a VST (Virtual Studio Technology) plug-in suite that features two Decoders (Irregular and Regular), Ambisonic Reverb and two Panners (XY and 3D panner).
Decoders Bundled in the suite are two Ambisonic decoders. For those unfamiliar with the decoding process [x] these specific plug-ins ensure that the spatial dimensions are accurate across the specified array of speakers. Combining both Irregular (ITU “5.1” array) and Regular (Square or Hexagon shapes) into one package is helpful as it will allow for comparison easily when mixing. Reverb The ability to mix in a spatially accurate format is often no different in processing in stereo, but the immersive features of reverb giving elements of space and size to a signal can allow the listener to hear that it's not originally a live performance. When mixing in stereo, 4 http://www.brucewiggins.co.uk http://mcgriffy.com/audio/ambisonic/vvmic/ http://www.dmalham.freeserve.co.uk/vst_ambisonics.html
engineers often use reverb to accentuate space to instruments – but in spatial audio, with such a large audible field (360 degree encapsulation) reverb can be used to enforce the recreated space. Panners Many of the users interested in adopting or 'trying out' Ambsonics will not have A-format material to hand 5 then upmixing monophonic material is the way forward. As monophonic material does not have any spatial co-ordinates – a panner is required. As a traditional stereo panner applies the panning law to mono, applying either a left or right directional component, the Ambisonic panner applies a 3 dimensional component. Often, material will be mixed for a horizontal array only so an XY panner is all that is required. If the material is being used in a “with height” array, then a Z component can be applied to the W, X and Y.
Download and Install!
Once Reaper and WigWare has been downloaded, please ensure that the .vst files in the Wigware suite are recognised within Reaper before starting this project. A quick test is to view the plug-in manager list found under the “Reaper” main menu.
5 But Ambisonia.com does!
This section is really situationally dependant – but in order to use the WigWare plug-ins to their full extent, and achieve 2 nd order horizontal Ambisonics it is recommended using a minimum of 6 matched speakers. Each of these speakers requires a monophonic output from a soundcard. The hardware connected used by the author is a combination of either a MOTU 896 or Digidesign 002R. Other similarly specified hardware Digital to Analogue (D/A) units should have the ability to achieve a minimum of 4 discrete outputs. If there are not enough physical outputs, Reaper may default to the stereo option – and no rear / side information will be available.
Stereo and Surround Routing:
In any normal production situation the stereo (or 2-buss) output will be connect to speakers via two hardware outputs fed by the software, Left and Right. With surround, for example Dolby 5.1, there will be 6 hardware outputs connected. The discrete channels are Left, Centre, Right, Right surround, Left Surround, Sub-woofer (or LFE). Ambisonics is not a discrete mixing matrix like the common-place surround production methodologies that are currently employed. Each of the speakers is attached to a hardware output (that is discrete, admittedly) but is controlled by a software decoder that assigns ALL of the speakers within the array an amount of frequency and amplitude content from the soundfield relevant to the speaker's position in the physical space. This is due to the progression from original stereophonic productions of using two microphones and relevantly placed speakers to produce a ‘field’ of sound in front of the listener. Ambisonics uses a more advanced methodology of processing to achieve this ‘field’ of sound that encapsulates the listener, termed ‘soundfield. More information is at 6. With this in mind, Reaper can not be used in the standard configuration for channel setups. Each of the tracks, busses and outputs must be changed according to the material they will be expected to reproduce. A two channel bus will be physically unable to reproduce four channels of audio, and similarly, six channels will not produce four channels in the same manner.
Routing to Outputs - Playback
A basic B-format file containing 4 channels can be placed onto a 4-channel bus and played through the system outputs 1, 2, 3 and 4. A screen shot of this setup is contained in the 'Mixing' section of this guide. Once this basic Ambisonics setups has been achieved, future improvements of spatial resolution and clarity can be achieved by adding more speakers can be done in the exact same manner but using more physical outputs connected to the corresponding speaker. All that is required is an adjustment of the output master Buss [or decoder buss] to the corresponding even number (as Ambisonics works in pairs) and there should be very few problems. Scalability of the Ambisonic format is one of the key unique features. Resulting from the development from true stereo – the format has very few problems in reproducing materials in stereo, quadraphonic, 6 speakers, 8 speakers, 16 speaker arrays and beyond. The aspect that will change the reproduced spatial element is the decoding processor. Fed by information of the attached speaker array the decoder can split the soundfield into the relevant discrete speaker outputs for reproduction. This is a key aspect to maintain correct in implementation, as to ensure even clarity across the entire array. If the signals are being mismanaged then phase problems will be evident that result in loss, or frequency limited loss, of signal.
Let's get Mixing:
Details of how to set up Reaper are given, to achieve the quickest and simplest way to get mixing with Ambisonics, in this section. Hopefully you've not just skipped here without reading what it is you're actually 'doing' with the audio – but nonetheless, let's start at the beginning of the session.. Blank Reaper File – Channel setup Starting with a blank Reaper file, the first task is to create some new tracks. The number of tracks isn't important at the moment as the process is easily duplicated across any newly inserted track. Parent / Child Folders One of the most unique and helpful feature sets within the newest versions of Reaper is the ability to use 'parent/child' track nestings. Using this feature allows for each track to be assigned to a parent track (traditionally, a group) and greatly decreases the routing time when dealing with multichannel sessions. After renaming the tracks to something meaningful, this instance the following tracks have been added: • • • • • • Master (not shown by default) Decoder Reverb Mono 1 Mono 2 Mono x
The parent / child folder has been applied above. It is done via clicking the small folder in the bottom right of each track. The 'mono' series of tracks then had their internal channel count increased from 2 to 4 (or above) as to allow for the mono upmix plug-ing later in this guide. Track Channel Increase Working from right to left upon reaching the master output, the physical outputs have to be assigned for each of the software outputs. As the signals have been transformed from AFormat into B-format signals, the hardware outputs are speaker feeds.
In the master section, choose the 'outputs x – x' and then 'multichannel'. [In this example, a 6 speaker array was attached – therefore the master buss could cope with 6 speaker feeds]
Once the routing has been correctly implemented, plug-ins from the chosen suite can be inserted. Plug-ins! The screen capture below represents a simple mix window with 'up-mixing' plug-ins, reverb and decoding inserts. Double clicking on the insert points will result in a popup window. Typing 'wig' into the text box should filter all plug-ins to only those created by Dr Wiggins. For the image below only XY polar plug-ins are on the 'Mono' channels, and reverb / decoding plug-ins on their
respective channels. Post-inserts, the mixer window should resemble the below image.
Reverbation Sends Set-up Setting up the reverberation sends within Reaper for multichannel audio is similar to that of other packages, except because multichannel files contain more than one audio stream – the channel count of the send/recieves within Reaper have to be adjusted. The reverb send panel is accessed under the “output” section on the designated channel strip. Upon opening:
After repeating this process, ensuring that ALL the channels are being sent (in this instance, 1-4) are being processed then send back out (again, 1-4) the reverb will function on the amount of level on the fader.
The above image shows the reverb send for the first three mono channels, all being sent on 1-4 and then sent on 1-4 to outputs. What to do now? Once the routing is correct, plug-ins applied to channels and the reverb buss has been setup – then it's up to you! Materials need to be dragged into the 'MonoX' channels. The panner plug-in then acts as the spatial placement tool across the array.
WigWare – Check Output Routing!
On the output of WigWare decoder, the outputs run anti-clockwise on a speaker array. In order to achieve the correct left / right panning, use a test-tone and pan around the array to double check accuracy. If the decoder doesn't match your hardware outputs rather than altering your hardware outputs or system setup, follow the images below.
Clicking on the “4 in 6/8 out” button will pop up the routing window. As standard, it shows all the outputs running numerically. This may conflict if the speaker array is built clockwise in outputs.| The image below shows how an anticlockwise software output should look like.
Examples & Downloads
Reaper Template - for replay of 8-channel material. - for replay of 4-channel material (A to B format conversion included) - for mixing monophonic files to 8-channels - for mixing monophonic files and B-format files to 8-channels - for mixing and replay of files for exhibitions
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