Stereo-to-Surround Upmixer Used for Powerful “Vikings” Score
Phil McGowan, scoring mixer and studio manager at Trevor Morris Studios in Santa Monica has been utilizing the Penteo 4 Pro stereo-to-surround up-mixer for the past year on a number scores for both film and television, notably the hit show “Vikings.” He recently upgraded to Penteo 4 Pro, which supports Avid’s AAX plug-in format for true 64 bit processing.
Multi-tasking engineer McGowan keeps busy at TMS, oftentimes serving concurrently as co-producer, mix engineer, and Pro Tools consultant on various projects for Morris and other composers. He first learned of Penteo through GC Pro, the professional audio division of Guitar Center.
“I was looking for a new stereo up-mixer because the ones I had been using weren’t being updated and were not porting to 64 bit,” McGowan recalls. “Penteo ended up blowing away my expectations of what an up-mixer really can do — taking two track stereo material and up-mixing it into a surround field, typically 5.0 or 5.1. “
But how was McGowan doing it before Penteo? “I used various reverbs and panned material into the surrounds. At the time, it was all very time consuming and took a lot of effort, but now with Penteo I get immediate, great sounding surround from stereo sources. A lot of the composers that I mix for will give me stereo material that has a lot of very stylized effects, delays and reverbs and Penteo handles it all. Somehow, Penteo figures out how to keep the source material in the center channel and then spreads out all those effects into surround, really well and really quickly.”
McGowan mixes on a Euphonix System 5 console, and uses Avid’s Pro Tools 11 running AAX 64-bit processing. For monitoring, the LCR or front speakers are a trio of PMC IB2’s with built-in M&K tripole surrounds and a pair of JL Audio Fathom 13 subwoofers for the LFE channel. The LCR is lightly bass managed on the monitoring end into the subs as well as for a little extra low end extension.
What type of music does Penteo handle the best? “Penteo handles everything well,” says McGowan “Our projects may be rock based scores, with lots of drums, guitars, and synths, but I frequently put orchestral samples through Penteo as well. I mix all of the surround sound stems that we send to the dub stage, and Penteo is useful in converting the stereo samples coming directly from the composers’ studios. It’s great being able to turn them into surround and wrap them around the listener. Penteo is definitely the cleanest up-mixer that I’ve ever heard and when you fold it back into stereo, every translates perfectly, and it sounds really clean.”
Penteo offers six different pre-set modes. “I generally leave it on the Penteo Music mode,” he explains. “That works 95 plus percent of the time for me. I’ve also experimented with the ‘Quad’ mode where all the energy is in the four corners, which gives leaves the center channel free to mix in dialogue. There’s also a ‘Triangle’ setting that just generates center and surround, which leaves left and right open for the original stereo sample to remain in it’s original form.”
McGowan recently utilized Penteo to mix the score for the second season of the hit TV show “Vikings,” which has been picked up for the upcoming third season. “It is an interesting show because not many of the cues are what you would really call traditional scoring — it’s predominantly synthetic and percussive material with some ethnic elements. We’ve been working with a Norwegian composer, Einar Selvick, who we’ve been collaborating with over the internet. He sends me a variety of stems: stringed instruments, his own vocals, group vocals, chants and percussive elements, as well as effects. Using Penteo I can get a big wide surround spread on those different sound effects and it really feels cinematic, really warm, really full. Penteo doesn’t add any coloration to the sound. With orchestral elements, we’re very careful to not color the sound too much when mixing it into surround, Penteo delivers.”
After incorporating Penteo into his workflow over the past year, McGowan is eager to share his experience. “I’ve actually introduced Penteo to a lot of other mixers,” he explains. “I’ve been calling it ‘Dark Magic’, because it’s always surprising what Penteo delivers when you feed it stereo material. I don’t know how Penteo figures out certain things, how it actually can spread reverbs separately from the dry elements. Sometimes Penteo will take delays from the front and they will pan behind you. It’s already been printed onto the stereo, but Penteo just figures it out and just unwraps it. I’m always happy with the results that Penteo gives me.”
Read the entire Interview with Phil McGowan and other industry leaders in the Perfect Surround Master Class series:
Native AAX64 Support
Penteo 4 Pro now natively supports Avid Audio eXtension (AAX) for true 64 bit processing. Guitar Center Professional (GC Pro), the outside sales division of Guitar Center that focuses on the needs of professional users. Learn more here: http://tinyurl.com/npc6j8v
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About Audiotech Digital Limited (ADL)
Penteo transforms any stereo recording, soundtrack, DJ mix or live television broadcast into perfect 5.1 surround sound. Developed by ADL, Penteo 4 Pro remains faithful to the original stereo mix; no artificial sound manipulation is used. The Penteo 4 Pro plug-in creates a perfect surround experience for all stereo media with zero sonic artifacts, crisp and discrete center-channel, and only Penteo is 100% ITU down-mix compatible to the original stereo. Penteo has been used by major studios on hundreds of films, TV shows and music recordings and supports AAX64, RTAS, VST and AU formats. For more information, see the website: