Our featured producers share their views on the center channel,checking their mixes and surround encoding options.
How do you use and check the center and .1 subchannels?
Wagener: I use the sub for a little bit of bass andkick and for LeRoi’s record, we’ll have sound effects like heartbeatsthat belong in the sub. The center channel is going to be treated equalto the other four.
Masson: I use the center channel. A good portion ofthe vocal is there as well as the left and right channels; never aphantom center only. A little kick and bass in the sub—the sub isanother tool and an integral part of the mix. I want to hear itbig-time.”
Douglass: I turn off the sub altogether because itaffects the way I mix and throws off my perception of the big picture.It’s the difference between mixing on my five Yamaha NS10Ms and thengoing to a club and hearing my mix on those systems; hard to heardetail and not mixing on nearfields. With the sub channel on, I’mmixing in that club. I use the center speaker way differently thanother guys. For example, I’ll have four stereo keyboards: one acrossthe front, one across the back, one across the middle (left and rightpanned and midway between front and back) and now, to distinguish thatfourth keyboard from the others, I’ll put it only in the centerspeaker. I never use the center for vocals—it sounds strange tome—not what I am used to hearing.
Tozzoli: I make sure anything in the center is alsoin the left and right mixed almost equally—50/50. About 80percent of the mix is still carried by the other speakers. For the subchannel on BÖC, it was important to carry the sound of the PAsystem along with the kick and bass and I use Kind Of Loud’sWoofie™ to check to see what bass management will roughly do tomy mix.
Charbonneau: I use the center channel but I makesure that with a vocal also in the center, there is only a smallincrease of vocal presence with it on. If you put the vocal only in thecenter and that channel doesn’t work correctly in the listener’s livingroom, you’ve got a karaoke mix! For the sub channel, I filter and usedbx’s 120x sub harmonic generator.
Caillat: The sub gives you another octave and morespace for the upper frequencies. I send some kick, bass and a littlesnare drum and filter starting at 100Hz and clamp [compress] the subchannel bus. I’ll put about 30 percent of the vocal in the centerspeaker and the rest phantom. Even though you might be sitting in frontof the left speaker, you’ll still hear the vocal coming from thecenter. When I’m nearly finished with a mix, I always go around andsolo each channel to see exactly what it sounds like on it’s own. Thecenter channel is my main concern—I don’t want to leave my artist“hanging out to dry” so I’ll nudge some of the vocal L/Rreverb returns toward the center channel.
Mack: Because not all bass management systems areequal, it sounds better to put some low frequency information in thesub channel than not. I also use the center channel a little to anchorthe phantom center from the front left and right speakers. I use aStudio Technologies Model 78 Central Controller with channel solos anddown-mix buttons for up to 7.1 channels. You can solo or mute anychannel including the sub and also alter individual channelslevels.
Parr: I really believe that there is no place forthe LFE in orchestral cinema mixes. Cinema speakers are full range andyou can open up your mixes to extreme abuse if you put stuff downthere. Home systems, via bass management, will redirect so youshouldn’t go there. The use of the center is a big issue and I mix tothe dialogue tracks and keep out of the way. Otherwise I will placesolo instruments in there, but always with some divergence in the leftand right so that nothing is naked.
What equipment do you use to check your mixes outsidethe studio?
Wagener: I make a DTS encoded CD for playback at home. I have astandard stock home system with bass management turned on to check mymixes.
Douglass: After mastering, but beforemanufacturing, at home I use a Coleman Audio passive levelcontroller/switcher and check a DVD ref on my NHT Pro speakers. It hasgot to represent what I did in the studio.
Tozzoli: We check everything [before mastering orauthoring] by sending a digital feed of a hardware-encoded DTS or AC-3stream from my mix room to another listening room at 333, and decode iton a typical home theater setup with bass management. We also use Kindof Loud’s SmartCode Pro™, do a AC-3 encode of three songs, andburn with a Mac G4’s SuperDrive™, a DVD-V (with AC-3 audio only)and check it at home.
Charbonneau: While mixing Clint Holmes’album, we set up a surround playback system of JBL’s LSR speakers inClint’s dressing room and ran six audio channels so he could listen in.We did a lot of A/B-ing other DVD releases that were originallyrecorded in my truck but mixed elsewhere. For Disturbed’s DVD, Iprovided Dave May [DVD producer] with some discrete mixes recorded onDA-88, 16-bits. He listened to them at the Dolby lab reference room andat Warner Bros. Records’ listening room. We found them totranslate very well.
Mack: I used to go down to the local hi-fi/stereoshop and play my stuff on all their systems, but now I have threesurround systems to check DVDs. My $300 Panasonic system is pretty goodbecause it exhibits a lot of things that you don’t hear in thestudio.
Parr: I have a jury-rigged [isn’t it“jerry-rigged”? bj] system in my live room which is all myold NS10s and some hi-fi shop crap, but it’s great for worst-casescenarios. It tells me loads.
Do you do AC-3 encoding and do you like hardware orsoftware encoders?
Wagener: At this stage, we’re not sure of the finalrelease format—could be DVD-V or DTS. I would hire and workclosely with professionals doing mastering and AC-3 encoding and checkthe results.
Masson: Only for reference discs, but I prefer thehardware Dolby unit over software encoders and I use the default firstchoice setting.
Caillat: At 5.1 Entertainment we had both the Dolbyand DTS encoder boxes. I like the hardware units for the simple reasonthat you can A/B input vs. output and adjust the mix to compensate forwhatever the encoder is doing to it. I always set the encoder todefault to the surround mix. We tried to make the default to the stereomix on the Rumors DVD and some older Dolby receivers [wefound] couldn’t find it on the disc! The only choice was the stereodown-mix and that is a whole other thing—you have to adjust thesurround mix for the way it gets folded down to stereo. If your DVDplayer defaults to stereo, the Dolby Pro Logic circuit will throw audioto the rear channels and for a lot of consumers, they’ll think that isthe surround mix; they won’t even know!
Mack: I use Apple’s DVD Studio Pro for referencediscs because it allows you to set parameters like normalization orrear channels down 3dB for down mix reasons. There are six or sevendifferent compression choices. I try encoding using all the differentsettings to see what works best for the particular music and the mixI’m doing—heavy guitar production reacts differently than apiano-based song. I burn a DVD and listen to the results, including thefold down on my three 5.1 home theater systems and make notes of what Ilike. I give the settings to the authoring house doing the final AC-3encode. The disc can also be sent to the producers so they can approvemixes.