Without the facility to monitor six or more channels clearly and transparently with one gain control, mixing for surround sound on your favorite console can become a major chore. Whether your choice of console is a vintage Neve, API, Trident, or even an 02R with "surround capabilities," Martinsound's new MultiMAX Multiformat Monitor Control System offers an excellent solution to the problem of multichannel monitor control.
MultiMAX offers the capability to monitor in 7.1, 5.1 and LCRS multichannel formats, as well as stereo and mono. An LCD readout in the center of the rackmount unit's front panel provides an easy-to-read window that shows the current monitor configuration and monitor level. The Level/Select knob controls both the level and movement throughout the setup directory and the setup menus. All the internal parameters can be adjusted by using the Level/Select knob in conjunction with the Setup and Exit switches located next to the LCD.
The front panel is easily readable and pretty much self-explanatory, even for someone with limited knowledge of film mixing. MultiMAX can be used to monitor a set of main speakers (Main Front Monitor switch) or easily switched to a set of alternate speakers (Alt Front Monitor switch). This is a tremendous help for engineers like me who carry their own speakers from one studio to another. The listener may select from two surround systems, such as directional or diffuse surround speakers (Alt Ls Rs switch), and can select stereo near-field (Near-field switch) and small mono TV speaker systems (Mono switch). All switches are conveniently positioned on the front panel.
However, in order to understand the front panel, the non-film mixer needs to understand a couple of things. When an encoder/decoder pro-cess such as Dolby Digital or DTS is in use, the processor output should be inserted in the monitor chain via the Wide Return input. A front panel switch marked Wide In will then select the discrete mix being monitored, and Wide Return will select the processed signal. This function is very useful when mixing through a processor in the studio, rather than in an audio post room, many of which are equipped for monitoring the effects of a processing device. (It is worth noting that many of the "surround ready" mixers now available do not provide for A/B comparisons between discrete and processed mixes.)
Film mixers will appreciate that the MultiMAX's Wide In selector can accommodate inputs from up to eight console buses, the recorder playback outputs and three premixed (stem) playback machines all up to eight channels wide, plus "monitor only" inputs from a mono production track and the monitor outs of the console. As a result, you can monitor a stereo mix with ease when not doing surround. I believe that Martinsound has covered all the potential bases in this area, though I didn't have to use many of the system's extensive features when mixing in standard 5.1.
SIMPLE SETUPThe task of creating a 5.1 mix from material that I had previously mixed in stereo on an old Trident 80B, while at the same time creating some new 5.1 material from scratch, gave me the opportunity to put the MultiMAX through its paces. The physical setup was simple in principle, since all MultiMAX connections are via D-sub connectors. Of course, you will have to create or buy the necessary interfaces between D-sub and patchbay. But, all in all, the connections were simple and obvious, and I had no need to open the manual.
For me, the hardest task at the beginning of a 5.1 mix session in a new room is positioning the speakers. Once the demanding task of correct placement is complete, I usually find that running pink noise through the system is the next greatest obstacle. Not so with the MultiMAX! Once you have picked the format you are mixing to (5.1, 7.1 or LCRS), you simply open the Trim/Noise pages via the front panel LED and Level/Select knob and set up pink noise for each speaker. Further, as soon as the Trim/Noise page is selected, the dim and cut switches automatically come on-a welcome feature for the ears. The pink noise generator is similar to the one in the Dolby CAT 85C card, which makes for a widely understood setup standard. The Noise page even provides a filtered noise signal for correctly setting the LFE (low-frequency EFX) subwoofer level. MultiMAX also includes a meter connector, which allows you to add dedicated meters of your own choice. The meters will automatically follow the source being monitored.
My experience with the MultiMAX was limited to a discrete 5.1 mix. I was already familiar with the sound of the console I was working on, and the first thing that I perceived was the fact that there was no noticeable degradation of the signal through the MultiMAX. The sound was clean, transparent and quiet. The manual states that the Dim and Master level controls use digitally controlled attenuators instead of VCAs, and I must suppose that these contribute to its unobstructed clarity.
MultiMAX includes a Bass Management feature that redirects bass signals from the main speakers into the LFE subwoofer in order to convey a realistic representation of the full-bandwidth mix. The Bass Management feature also allows you to redirect the LFE signal into the mains system, which is particularly useful if you have full-range speakers but no sub. This is one feature that I didn't use but should have; during mastering it became evident that this bass management system would have been extremely helpful in maintaining a controllable low-end curve when not using full-range speakers. As I found out, if you are mixing to 5.1 without a subwoofer it can be next to impossible to get the correct bass response unless you are using full-range speakers. Live and learn!
MultiMAX also provides a Downmix function for collapsing a surround mix to stereo. The setup menu allows the user to determine the levels of the center and surround channels to be "folded back" to the stereo mix. Although it was not the ideal stereo mix, with a limited amount of rebalancing, I was able to use this Downmix for a stereo mix comparable to my 5.1 mix. I say comparable because if I were mixing in stereo, I might take it to another place altogether; however, the Downmix did have the same overall feel as the surround mix.
Isolating a speaker or a combination of speakers was easy and convenient; the front panel offers both solo mode and on/off switches for the individual speakers. MultiMAX may also be connected to a console's Solo In Place and Dim controls through the console's logic outputs. A remote control unit is being manufactured at the time of this writing; I was told that it will connect through a serial communications port and access all of the MultiMAX's available parameters. Martinsound's brochure also states that computer control and other functions will be added in the future.
The design team that came up with this box should certainly be congratulated for including just about every detail imaginable to make any existing desk usable as a multichannel post-production console. For the price of $2,795, not including remote, the MultiMAX delivers an abundance of features in a small space and offers exceptional ease of use and sonic clarity.
Martinsound, 1151 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra, CA 91803; 626/281-3555; fax 626/284-3092. Web site: www.martinsound.com.
(The author would like to thank Omni Sound and Steve Tveit, Gear For Days, Underground Sound, Mastervision, Greg Jampol and Tom Clark for their support; and Grant Greene, Mark Baldwin, Scott Heyniger and Mike Nowak for their creativity.)