I teach an advanced audio production class at 8:30 am every Monday and Wednesday at CSU Dominguez Hills. The students are currently working on mixing a couple of tunes (one that I recorded and another of there own) in 5.1 surround. Exactly how they’re getting the work done is going to be a challenge for some because the one studio we have that is equipped for surround mixing is overbooked…by a large margin. Some students got in the studio early and got their projects done while others have waited until the last minute and are now struggling to find enough studio hours to finish. In light of this problem, I offered an option. What if they could mix the tracks in 5.1 surround using a set of headphones rather than a complete 5.1 surround mix studio? They liked the idea. Then the questions started…
The first was, “How can a standard set of headphones reproduce the sound of a sound coming from behind you or over your shoulder?” I responded by telling the student, “we all have only two ears, right? And if I were to move over to the corner of the classroom behind your right shoulder and start making some sounds, you’d hear me over your shoulder, right?” He agreed. That’s the answer I told him. Using our two ears we can spatially locate sounds coming from all directions. Reproduced music might be limited to stereo…a left and right speaker with a smooth soundstage between them…but that’s a technical limitation of our recording and playback systems not a constraint caused by having only two ears.
To reproduce a sound over your right shoulder using a standard (but high quality) set of stereo headphones requires some fancy signal analysis and digital processing. Think about it. We know it has to work because we experience immersive surround sounds all day as we go about our daily routines. The trick so to make is work with standard headphones.
The measurement process that I talked about yesterday succeeds because the Smyth Room Realizer (and other systems based on the same operations method) knows what music filtering, delay, and equalization to apply to individual signals to make them mirror the real world location of a speaker found in a 5.1 surround monitoring environment. A sound source coming from the right surround speaker will reach the right ear slightly ahead of left speaker because your left ear is further away from the source. The right ear will also receive a cleaner or unfiltered version of the source sound because it’s not masked by your head as the left ear is. And the timbral balance…the equalization…reaching each ear is unique as well due to the convolutions of our outer ear…the pinnae. So it’s possible to use a set of headphones and some virtual 3D panners to move sound around a 5.1 surround array AND even change the height of each signal.
Paul Horner’s Kickstarter Campaign will conclude in only 38 hours. His amazing record will be available as a standard CD, high-resolution stereo files, and if he reaches his stretch goal of $2000, in full 5.1 headphone surround. Since I wrote about his new initiative yesterday, he’s raised the funding level to over $1700…just $300 short of his stretch goal. If 10 more people pledge just $30, he’ll made the new goal.
I wouldn’t be helping Paul with his project unless I honestly felt a kinship with Paul and his amazing talent. The tunes are witty, engaging, fun, and thoughtful…just like the man himself. I mentioned Robert Margouleff in the post above…he produced the project and I assisted in a number of ways. If you’ve got a few stockings to stuff, this is the perfect item to acquire. It even features a very clever Christmas song titled, “Snowdrop (The Three Legged Reindeer)”…how could you go wrong with a song about a three-legged reindeer? As always, Paul and I appreciate your support. Don’t delay…there’s not much time left!