Dr. AIX's POSTS TECH TALK — 30 August 2014

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The meeting was originally scheduled for July 15 but was moved to August 29th after several people had to cancel at the last minute. My good friend Robert Margouleff (Grammy-winning engineer/producer for Steve Wonder) and I traveled to DTS in Agoura Hills yesterday to see what they’ve been working on and to offer up some of my AIX Records surround recording in Headphones X format. Robert has a long history with DTS and although it’s been a number of years, I’ve also seen them grow from a small technology company to a major player in the audio and film world.

DTS, started life as Digital Theater Systems but is now known simply as DTS Inc, It was founded in the early 90s and run by Dan Slusser. The company developed a new codec for the encoding of 5.1 surround sound for motion pictures, similar to the Dolby Digital (AC-3) codec that Ray Dolby’s company had developed 4 years earlier. The first DTS encoded theatrical movie was Steven Spielberg’s 1993 blockbuster “Jurassic Park”, which was also the first laser disc to include DTS audio.

The company’s DTS 5.2 encoding scheme was not one of the mandatory formats selected for DVD-Video discs but was included as an optional format. It uses about 1500 kbps vs. Dolby’s 448 kbps (up to 640) and has been universally regarded as more transparent than Dolby Digital. The arrival of Blu-ray equalized the playing field with both Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio format included in the format specification.

Robert and I headed to DTS to meet with members of their technology team, marketing people, and content/artist relations folks. They have a “surround headphone” technology called Headphones X that they’ve been promoting. You can check out examples online at YouTube. There is also a presentation of Headphones X at the Soundgarden website.

The company describes the technology this was: “DTS Headphone:X™, is our most advanced headphone technology to date, capable of recreating the home theater surround sound experience using only a pair of headphones. It was a show stopper at CES 2013 leaving those who stopped by our booth for the demo in awe.” As readers of this blog know, they’re not the only ones working in the “surround headphones” area. Dolby started things many years ago with Lake Technologies process, which has become Dolby Headphones, there’s Astound Sound, Smyth Research, Headphones [xi]™, and a number of others.

The most successful of the bunch is the Smyth Research “Room Realizer” but it does require a custom measurement session to get things calibrated for your individual ears…in a specific space. It turns out that the AIX Records surround room is one of the most popular (and best sounding) surround environments to be measured in.

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Figure 1 – The main studio at DTS. Notice the various multichannel speaker configurations. [Click to enlarge]

The meeting with DTS went very well. Robert gave an introduction followed by my PowerPoint presentation. After a few questions, it was off to the DTS surround studio. This is a room capable of any current surround sound speaker configuration and any that is likely to happen in the near future. They’re experimenting with 11.2, 10.2, 7.1 and of course 5.1. There’s a set of 12 floor-standing speakers, another set of 7 elevated speakers, with a few overheads as well. The room is also equipped with theatrical configurations. There were lots of speakers, amplification, and a software driven routing system feeding the monitor system in the middle of the room.

I brought along about 20 tracks in full surround (both audience and stage perspectives) as well as stereo. The first up was my recording of the Ravel Bolero. The sound was glorious…not a single speaker stuck out. The room sound was completely immersive. It was the “audience’ mix so I asked Fred, the operator, to switch to the stage” perspective. Everyone was immediately aware of the change and the additional involvement that the “stage” perspective brought to the experience. We listened to lot of music and I think everyone was thoroughly impressed.

DTS is planning on promoting Headphones X for movies, gaming, and music delivery. However, there isn’t that much surround music available and what is available is often very expensive. My catalog is full of jazz and classical tracks that would fit right into their campaign.

We’ll see…Robert and I were treated to a great lunch in nearby Calabasas before escaping the triple digit heat. I took the short cut through Malibu Canyon straight to the beach.

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About Author

Dr. AIX

Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

(4) Readers Comments

  1. Mark,
    This is really beginning to sound very exciting!
    Are you using any of the new multi element array mics for your recordings?
    I saw Nevaton has a very interesting surround mic, and the Josephson C-700 looks like it would be a nice mic for capture.
    Are these surround headphone systems accurate enough for small mix jobs?
    Thanks,
    John

    • I don’t use arrays of mic in any configuration unless an ORTF stereo pair counts. The use of 5.1 arrays means the microphones are too far away for my taste.

  2. My apologies,
    The last question may have been a bit cryptic.
    The mics I am really curious, and excited about are the single unit surround mics with multiple capsules.
    DPA 5100, Nevaton MC-50 (quad), Soundfield, etc. for instance.
    The Nevaton has a self noise of 4dB weighted IIRC which is just fantastic.

    • I haven’t looked into them…but I will.

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