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Surround Sound Monitoring: IMPACT ALONE ISNT’ ENOUGH

Riddled with anti-matter warheads, the alien spacecraft explodes with a blinding flash of energy. A room-shaking roar of sound accompanies the ship's

Riddled with anti-matter warheads, the alien spacecraft explodes with a blinding flash of energy. A room-shaking roar of sound accompanies the ship’s demise, enveloping a solitary viewer whose eyeballs briefly refuse to focus. The man smiles, swept away by the majesty of his new high-power surround sound system. He reaches for the DVD’s remote control to play the scene again.

Such is the world of many consumer surround systems, where the “wow” factor wins out over accuracy as the key design goal. These systems may cost just a few hundred dollars or several thousand, but their job is the same: Create a dramatic, immersive aural experience.

Surround monitoring systems used in production roles need to do more than just shake your internal organs with every explosion or downbeat. They must also be very accurate, serving up “nothing but the truth” in several different areas. These desirable characteristics of surround monitors are very similar to those for regular stereo monitors, with a few twists.

First, a good surround system for production must present a flat, minimally colored frequency response. A trustworthy frequency response is crucial for properly balancing instruments, effects and dialog. As with a stereo monitoring system, mixes done on a less-than-accurate surround system won’t translate well to other playback systems.

With the increased localization options available to the mixer, a surround system must deliver pinpoint imaging accuracy. Only when a surround monitoring system is designed (and installed) properly will it deliver reliable positioning cues. Crossover design (and amplifier design, in active systems), cabinet bracing, driver selection, room placement and much more contribute to a surround system’s localization accuracy.

Finally, a surround system needs to deliver the goods in the lowest octaves of the human perception range. Home surround systems are getting better and better, and surround listeners expect dramatic, deep bass. If a mixer can’t tell what’s going on in that crucial bottom octave, his or her mixes may lack the sofa-rumbling power they need to compete in a bass-hungry market.

THE COMPONENTSYou’ll often hear surround monitoring systems labeled with the moniker “5.1,” which is shorthand for “five speakers plus a subwoofer.” The five main speakers in a surround system are the left front and right front, the center speaker and the left-rear/right-rear surround speakers. With traditional film mixes, the front left and front right speakers carry the bulk of the program material, operating in much the same role as a standard stereo pair. The center speaker’s main role is delivering strong, accurate voice-range projection. Left-rear and right-rear speakers deliver the ambience and spatial cues that give most surround mixes their all-encompassing, immersive realism. That last “point one” in 5.1 refers to the subwoofer, which usually covers the range from about 30 Hz up to 100 Hz or so (which, in bandwidth terms, is closer to “.2”). In some surround configurations, the subwoofer relieves the full-range speakers from the chores of reproducing deep bass. In others, the sub responds to a specific mono signal that carries low-frequency effects (LFE) and music.

But a surround monitoring system is much more than just five speakers and a sub. Individual speakers must perform well in their individual roles while seamlessly complementing every other component. You can slap together your own 5.1 monitoring system with a hodgepodge of speakers, but the results may be far from optimal.

In the early days of surround sound, the rear speakers were often of much lower fidelity than front left and front right speakers. The result was an unmistakable sense of sound coming from behind the listener, but the true “wraparound” sonic effect was rarely achieved.

Today, most surround systems use a rear speaker design with a sonic fingerprint much more like that of the front pair. Many surround systems use four or five identical speakers, to ensure a seamless blend from one speaker to the next. Such a careful matching of components is the only way to go beyond “front and back” sound to a true 360-degree surround effect.

THE SURROUND MARKETWhen you begin researching a surround monitoring solution for your studio, the options begin to add up fast. Decisions you’ll need to make include whether to go with passive or self-powered speakers, how big (or loud) the system needs to be, what sort of subwoofer is best for your room, how much control you need and how much you want to spend. For most users new to the surround market, these decisions will prompt some serious head-scratching.

To ease the buying angst, a handful of manufacturers are selling ready-to-go 5.1 monitoring systems with many of the options already nailed down. These systems should plug in, power up and please the ears with a minimum of fuss. Several are THX-approved right out of the box. Countless other manufacturers make speakers well-suited to surround applications, if not expressly marketed as such. Contact these manufacturers directly for more information.

In the next few pages, we’ll look at packaged 5.1 monitoring solutions introduced in the past year. These new products represent a serious effort to meet the unique needs of those engineers recording and mixing surround projects for music, film or TV/video release.

Unveiled at AES, the SCM0.1/15 High Power Sub Bass from ATC is designed specifically for surround applications, with internal 1,000-watt amplification said to produce SPLs to 124 dB with response down to 18 Hz (-6 dB) from a 2×2-foot cube. Onboard signal processing provides for easy setup with phase, level, lowpass and contour controls. Lowpass frequencies are adjustable to include the recommended 150 Hz for Dolby AC3. An optional multichannel control unit allows routing any of the five main channels into the sub, with full gain and phase control, for low-frequency support any or all of the monitor channels. The SCM0.1/15 can be combined with any ATC monitors, but for most applications, the company’s mid-sized SCM-20A PRO is recommended.

Bag End offers a 5.1 surround system made up of five of their new MM-8H reference monitors and one INFRASUB-18 ELF subwoofer. The MM-8H monitor is a passive coaxial design with an 8-inch woofer and 1.75-inch aluminum high-frequency compression driver. A proprietary passive crossover assures time alignment within 25 microseconds between high- and low-frequency drivers. Designed to be used with an ELF subwoofer, the compact MM-8H offers a frequency response of 95 to 20k Hz.

The INFRASUB-18 subwoofer uses a direct-radiating 18-inch driver, 400-watt amplifier and ELF (Extended Low Frequency) circuit to generate low-frequency output from 8 to 95 Hz. According to Bag End, the system offers time-coherent output beyond the limits of human hearing (8 to 20k Hz). The Bag End surround system has a list price of $7,155.

Details were sketchy at press time, but Digital Designs should be shipping its new surround systems by the time you read this. Essentially, users have a choice of various two-way monitors based on the company’s DD161 speakers, but with an improved new 28mm dome tweeter coupled to a 6.5-inch woofer. Several dipole models will also be offered. System LF is handled by sub box with eight 6.5-inch woofers in a single enclosure. Pricing is TBA.

Dynaudio Acoustics is bundling its newest BM6A, BM15A and BX30 speakers into several surround sound configurations. The BM6A, an active two-way design, offers a 7-inch woofer and 1-inch soft-dome tweeter. Dual 100-watt internal amplifiers offer peak SPLs of over 115 dB at 1 meter (two cabinets driven). The BM15A uses a 10-inch woofer with 200 watts of low-frequency power; maximum SPL jumps to 119 dB at 1 meter. The BX30 is a self-powered subwoofer with 12-inch front-firing woofer and 150-watt amplifier. The BX30 is well-suited to surround applications thanks to its variable crossover, bass management features (80Hz, 95Hz and 120Hz LFE mode) and 360-degree phase adjustment.

Dynaudio’s entry-level surround solution (the Artist’s System, priced at $8,999) offers five BM6A speakers for left front, right front, center, left rear and right rear. The Engineer’s System ($10,399) replaces three BM6As with larger BM15As in the left front, right front and center positions. The Producer’s System ($11,299) uses BM15As for all five full-range speakers. All three active surround configurations use a single BX30 subwoofer.

Unveiled at AES, Event Electronics’ new subwoofer is designed to complement its 20/20bas biamplified two-way monitors. The appropriately named 20/20 System Sub puts a single 15-inch woofer in an enclosure with a 250-watt amp and input routing for five speakers. The $999 sub features a blend/discrete switch so the five other channels can run either full bandwidth with natural rolloff in the 28 to 40Hz range or by blending the satellites with a 20 to 80Hz tunable crossover, with the sub handling any lower frequencies. The 20/20bas speakers are $500 each or $999/pair.

Beyond 5.1: The big news from Event comes with next month’s launch of its Tria Surround Unit, a complete $2,999 package set up for 6.1 surround monitoring, with six powered satellites and a dual 8-inch powered sub. Best of all, the system includes a hardware remote switch providing solo or mute of any channel, along with a master level control: Just connect the TSU to one of today’s surround-ready digital consoles for a complete mixing package-right out of the box.

Genelec offers two surround configurations of its 1029A active close-field monitor and companion 1091A active subwoofer. The Genelec 1029A is a bi-amplified near-field design with 5-inch woofer and 0.75-inch metal-dome tweeter. With 40 watts per driver, the 1092A is capable of greater than 100 dB SPL at 1 meter. The 1091A active subwoofer uses a single 8-inch driver coupled to a 70-watt internal amplifier for better than 103 dB SPL in the 45 to 80Hz range

Genelec’s smallest surround system ($4,298) uses five 1029A speakers for left front, right front, center, left rear and right rear. Two 1091A subwoofers handle deep bass chores for the whole system; there is no support for the LFE (low-frequency effects) channel with this configuration. A step-up system uses five 1029A speakers, a 1091A sub and a redesigned 1092A subwoofer (dual 8-inch drivers). The 1092A handles deep bass from the left front, right front and center speakers, as well as the dedicated LFE matrix output. A single 1091A subwoofer reproduces the bottom octaves for the left rear and right rear 1029A pair. This configuration, which will handle more strenuous monitoring chores in larger rooms, has a list price of $5,749.

New from Hafler is the TRM6 Active Monitor Speaker System, which is similar to the company’s TRM8, but smaller and cheaper; a pair of the two-way, biamplified powered speakers is $1,390, or $695 each. Comprising a 6.5-inch polypropylene cone woofer and a 1-inch soft-dome tweeter powered in a magnetically shielded cabinet, the TRM6 features a frequency response of 55 Hz to 21 kHz +/-2dB and peak output of 120 dB. Hafler just unveiled two powered subwoofers for use with ts TRM6 or larger TRM8 monitors. Both subs incorporate 200-watt Class G/Transoana amplification, a 40 to 110Hz adjustable crossover point, variable input sensitivity and balanced XLR/unbalanced RCA inputs. The TRM10s has a 10-inch woofer and is priced at $695; the 12-inch TRM12s is priced at $795.

HHB Communications is now shipping its Circle 5 studio monitors, available in active and passive configurations and featuring an 8-inch woofer and fluid-cooled, soft-dome tweeter. The active Circle 5 includes a 2-channel amplifier that delivers 120 watts to the woofer and 60 watts to the tweeter. Prices are $1,399 (active) and $749 (passive). At the Winter NAMM show, HHB unveiled a 5.1 surround monitoring package priced at $4,895 that includes five active Circle 5 monitors and the new Circle 1 powered subwoofer, which features a 100-watt power amp and onboard 5-channel active filtering for the satellites. The Circle 1 is also available separately for $1,398 for use with other monitor systems.

Hot House (Highland, NY) offers a range of 5.1 surround systems comprising the company’s bi-amplified ARM 265 and passive crossover PRM 165 reference monitors, in conjunction with one of Hot House’s five active subwoofers. (Customers are encouraged to consult with the manufacturer in order to arrive at the optimum configuration.) The ARM 265, which offers flat response (+/-.75dB) over a 911/42 octave range, includes twin long excursion 6.5-inch woofers and a 1-inch recessed dome tweeter in a rear vented cabinet. Frequency response is 30 Hz to 20 kHz. Cabinet measures 25Hx14Wx12D inches, weight is 52 lbs., and the units are priced at $6,499 per pair.

The Hot House PRM 165 contains one 6.5-inch woofer and a 1-inch recessed dome tweeter in a 12.5Hx8.5Wx13D-inch cabinet weighing 25 lbs. Recommended amplification is from 100 to 200 watts per channel into 8 ohms. Frequency response is 49 to 20k Hz +/-1.5 dB. Price is $1,299 per pair.

Hot House offers five active subwoofer systems, ranging in price and peak SPL ratings from the ASB110 ($2,999/118 dB) to the ASB215 ($5,999/128 dB). All models include fully overlapping, independently adjustable highpass and lowpass filters, phase invert, LF contour and level match controls, and both balanced and unbalanced inputs and outputs.

The newest near-field/surround monitors from JBL use the company’s Linear Spatial Reference (LSR) technology to deliver consistent sound in a broad range of conditions. The LSR32 and LSR28P full-range monitors and LSR12P subwoofer were the first speakers approved under THX’s new pm3 small-room certification program. Users can build surround monitoring configurations around five of the LSR32 or LSR28P speakers, plus one LSR12P subwoofer.

The LSR32 ($999) is a passive three-way design with 12-inch woofer, 5-inch midrange driver and 1-inch composite tweeter. The LSR28P ($999) is an active two-way speaker with 8-inch woofer and 1-inch composite tweeter. The LSR12P self-powered subwoofer mates a 12-inch front-firing woofer to a 200-watt power amp. The LSR12P ($1,099) has bass management for various surround configurations, and includes a discrete LFE input for 5.1 applications.

KRK (distributed by Group One, Farmingdale, N.Y.) introduces three new 5.1 surround monitor configurations based around the company’s Expose E7, E8 and V8 speakers. All three systems offer precision-matched speakers (to within 0.1 dB), active electronics, video shielding and self-powered KRK Rokbottom subwoofer.

KRK’s E7 and E8 reference monitors are both two-way designs with dual 140-watt fully discrete amplifiers, high-frequency attenuation controls and 1-inch dome tweeters. The E7 uses a 7-inch Kevlar woofer, while the E8 uses an 8-inch Kevlar woofer. The V8 is an active two-way design with an 8-inch Kevlar woofer, soft-dome tweeter, 130-watt low-frequency and 70-watt high-frequency amplifiers, and high-frequency trim control. List prices of the E7, E8 and V8 surround systems are $7,930, $9,280 and $4,370, respectively.

Miller & Kreisel offers a turnkey surround solution comprising the MPS-150 MAIN monitors, MPS-150 SUR surround monitors, MPS-350 SUB subwoofer and LFE-4 bass management controller (system price $6,950). The MPS-150 MAIN holds down the left front, right front and center duties. This compact full-range speaker is available in several physical configurations and offers switch-selectable directivity and stacking options. A proprietary phase-focused crossover assures precise sound imaging.

The MPS-150 SUR surround speaker offers direct, dipole and tripole output options, allowing it to achieve the diffused-yet-accurate sound required for realistic surround effects. These cabinets offer a front-radiating 5-inch woofer and 1-inch tweeter, complemented by full-range 3.25-inch cone mid/tweeters mounted in the left and right baffles. In combination with the LFE-4 bass management controller, the MPS-350 SUB subwoofer delivers flat bass response to below 20 Hz, with an option for rising bass below 20 Hz. The MPS-350 SUB uses a 350-watt amp driving a pair of long-throw 12-inch drivers in a push/pull relationship.

NHT Pro/Vergence has announced several surround packages based around its S-00 subwoofer ($750), which features a long-throw 10-inch driver in a vented box with a 250-watt power amp. The M-00 surround system combines the S-00 sub with five M-00 compact, powered two-way speakers. The mag-shielded M-00s have a 4.5-inch woofer and a 1-inch soft-dome tweeter in a sealed, cast aluminum enclosure with 75-watt power amp. M-00s are also priced singly at $350/each. The M-00 can also be used as either a center channel or as surrounds in a larger system using the S-00 sub with NHT Pro’s flagship $1,900/pair A-20 speakers (two-way monitors with integrated 250 W/channel power amp/crossover) for the L/R pair.

PMC (The Professional Monitor Company), distributed by Bryston, offers a variety of systems designed for surround applications, in both nonpowered and powered versions (with Bryston amplification, of course). The IB1S ($4,500/pair, non-powered) mid-field monitor, is a three-way design using transmission-line technology for extended bass reproduction, lower distortion and higher output. The IB1S combines a stiff carbon fiber/Nomex woofer with soft fabric mid- and high-frequency dome drivers. Recently, PMC has introduced “low-profile” versions of its IB1S, TB1S (two-way 7-inch) and LB1 (two-way 4.5-inch) speakers, further expanding the suitability of PMC systems in post applications. The XBD subwoofer is available in 12- and 15-inch transmission-line versions as well; the SB100 sub uses the same 10-inch driver as the IB1S.

Shedworks TLC offers the TLC V.1 surround monitor system ($2,250 retail). All five speakers are identical, and feature a three-way design with 6.5-inch rear-firing woofer, 5.25-inch midrange driver and 0.75-inch neodymium tweeter. The passive TLC V.1 uses a sealed enclosure and delivers bass down to 40 Hz. For DVD multichannel mixing, Shedworks also offers the Bass Management box ($890).

Quested debuts a new surround package targeted at music and film soundtrack production. The system includes five Quested VS2205 self-powered near-field speakers and a VS1112 self-powered subwoofer. The VS2205 uses two 5-inch woofers and a 28mm soft-dome tweeter in a lightweight, low-profile enclosure. Quested recently upped the amplifier power output for the VS2205 to 100 watts for bass and 75 watts for high-frequency; monitors now deliver 108dB maximum average SPL. The Quested VS1112 subwoofer offers left, center, right summing and discrete effects channel inputs. The VS1112 has a built-in 400-watt amplifier for 103dB max output down to 15 Hz. The new Quested 5.1 monitoring system has a list price of $11,000.

Tannoy (distributed by TGI North America, Kitchener, ON) offers several 5.1 system packages. The Tannoy Reveal Active 5.1 System consists of five Reveal Active Loudspeakers and one PS110 Subwoofer; retail cost is $2,745. The Tannoy System 600A 5.1 System consists of five System 600A Active Loudspeakers and one PS115B Subwoofer; retail is $5,285. The Tannoy System 800A 5.1 System consists of five System 800A Active Loudspeakers and one PS115B Subwoofer; retail is $6,285. Tannoy sells speakers individually and has several more 5.1 systems available.

The Reveal Active Loudspeaker combines twin 50-watt amplifiers, a shielded 6.5-inch bass driver and a shielded 1-inch soft dome tweeter, with a frequency response of 65 Hz to 20 kHz and a capacity of a maximum SPL of 114 dB.

The bi-amplified System 600A features a dual concentric 6.5-inch drive unit and dual 70-watt amplifiers. Frequency response is 44 Hz to 20 kHz and maximum SPL is 107 dB. The System 800A is similar, but features an 8-inch dual concentric drive unit and two 90W amplifiers. Frequency response is 44 Hz to 20 kHz and maximum SPL is 110 dB.

The Tannoy PS110 Pro active subwoofer features a 10-inch long throw transducer that offers low frequency extension (-3 dB at 31 Hz) while maintaining the ability to produce high SPL (110dB peaks) in a compact footprint.

New from Westlake Audio is the Lc265.1 ($1,347/each), a dedicated center-channel speaker system. This three-way design uses dual 6.5-inch woofers with a 5-inch midrange and a 1-inch coaxial tweeter, and its passive crossover gives the option of bi-amp or bi-wire operation. Response is rated at 48 to 18k Hz. The speaker can be used either as a center channel with other Westlake systems, or five Lc265.1s can be used as satellites in a surround system paired with a sub system such as the 8.1SW ($4,250). Westlake has also unveiled a matching subwoofer, the BB10SWP, for use with its larger BBSM10 monitors.