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Binaural live mixing for the Queen Elisabeth Competition - Cello Concertos Condenser Microphones
Old 30th May 2017
  #1
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Binaural live mixing for the Queen Elisabeth Competition - Cello Concertos

Hi to all,

I've been reading and learning quite a bit here for a few years, time to give back... (and sorry, English isn't my first language!)

A small introduction

I've been working at Musiq3 (the classical radio station here in Belgium) for ten years and I've recorded and mixed everything from quartets to opera. Every year, we have one of the biggest classical music contest here in our small country, the Queen Elisabeth Competition. This year in the Finals, we have twelve cellists playing a piece especially composed for the event by Toshio Hosokawa, in addition to a concerto of their choice (Shostakovitch, Dvorak, Schumann...).

This year, in addition to the usual stereo broadcasting, we are doing for he first time a live binaural mix. This is an experiment, I've done binaural work before (mostly in VR post), but not on that magnitude.

Synthesized binaural

Well, technically, this isn't a true binaural recording where we'd use a binaural head. This isn't possible because the concert is filmed live and we couldn't place a head where it'd make sense (behind the director, probably a bit higher?). The TV crew wouldn't accept it and we have to work with that constraint.

So, we use as usual a main AB pair of DPA 4006, with a Sennheiser Ambeo in the middle and lots of spot mics. Everything is mixed through Reaper with Noisemakers plugins which spatialize the sound in a format B field, which is then encoded in binaural. We don't use Pro Tools because of stability issues.

Microphones

From memory, here's the list of microphones used:
Main pair : DPA 4006 AB
Outriggers : DPA 4006
"Inside" strings : 4x Schoeps MK22
Solo Cello : pair of DPA 4006 ES and a suspended pair of MK21
Wind Section : Violet Globes
Celesta : KM 140
Harp : KM 140
Double Bass : Schoeps MK4V
Timbales : KM140
Percussions : KM184A (same capsule as 184, but different electronics I think, a bit smoother to me anyway)

Learnings

As I wrote before, creating a binaural mix of this magnitude is new to me. I've done it in post before (short films) but with an orchestra, it's a whole new box of tricks I have to learn.

I've found I have to put the AB pair quite low in the mix, otherwise it lessens the 3D impression - we usually do the opposite for stereo recordings! The ambeo is useful, but it doesn't replace the main DPA's : its timbre is a bit on the strident side, so it's more useful as a basis that I expand with the spot mics - it's very good at rendering the live ambience and the applause though, you really can hear the audience behind you...

To me, the real strength of this mix is to create a bigger space in which you can hear the instruments better, this sounds more natural, especially compared to the stereo mix (which is good too, done by colleagues). For instance, I can place all the winds higher and hear them better, it sounds more musical. The solo Cello is in his own space too. In contrast to the stereo mix, the binaural mix is not as wide but is deeper vertically and in the front to back sensations. To me, it sounds more like you're near the orchestra.

A few links

Here's where you can listen to the second candidate (the stereo mix is available too):
https://www.rtbf.be/auvio/detail_queen-elisabeth-finale-3d?id=2218894


And the website for all the details of the Competition :
Queen Elisabeth Competition

Disclaimer

This is a new box of tricks to learn for me, so feel free to criticize. I'm genuinely doing my best and would be more than happy to answer your questions, should there be any. Musiq3 is a public broadcasting channel, so this is completely free!
I also have to give credit where it is due (in case they read this) : none of it would have happened without Laurent Flémal, who coordinated everything, and I have to thank Thierry Lequeux who helped me get through the mix (this guy has more than 30 years of experience and is the best set of ears I've worked with).
Old 30th May 2017
  #2
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Here are some pictures : my setup (small and full of screens) and the stage of Bozar, a great sounding hall in Brussels.
Attached Thumbnails
Binaural live mixing for the Queen Elisabeth Competition - Cello Concertos-20170530_182349.jpg   Binaural live mixing for the Queen Elisabeth Competition - Cello Concertos-20170530_182238.jpg   Binaural live mixing for the Queen Elisabeth Competition - Cello Concertos-20170530_182050.jpg  
Old 31st May 2017
  #3
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Thank you for posting, Benoïde. I did not have time to listen to the binaural links yet, but I have been following the competition closely, and I congratulate your team for doing an excellent job with the audio and video. I have listened to significant portions of all of the semifinalist solo recitals, and a bit of a fair number of the semifinal concertos. As usual, I find the solo playing to be most revealing. How is the piano mic'ed in the solo/piano recitals? What is the floor cello spot (with the silver headbasket)?

For other forum members, I strongly recommend listening to a bit of this competition if you enjoy the classical cello repertoire. If you look through the semi-finals, in addition to Bach, you can find excellent versions of the Debussy Sonata, Poulenc Sonata, Britten, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Brahms F, Strauss, Stravinsky Suite Italienne, Schnittke, Schumann Fantasiestucke, etc.

Semi-Final Videos

First Round Audios

I have to thank you once again for making all of this available to the public, and commend your good work. It is of great benefit to me as a cellist, and though I am not keen on the idea of music as a competitive endeavor, it is very encouraging to see the level of artistry that many of these young cellists exhibit.
Old 31st May 2017
  #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by benoïde View Post
Hi to all,
I've been reading and learning quite a bit here for a few years, time to give back... (and sorry, English isn't my first language!)
Your recordings and your English are both fantastic! You deserve a Neumann KU-100!
Old 31st May 2017
  #5
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Well done, you deserve the Earcatcher award for facilitating innovation giving rise to highly engaging listening ! The binaural still translates very well to speaker playback for me as well.
Old 31st May 2017
  #6
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Thanks Joe!

Quote:
Originally Posted by JoeDeF View Post
Thank you for posting, Benoïde. I did not have time to listen to the binaural links yet, but I have been following the competition closely, and I congratulate your team for doing an excellent job with the audio and video. I have listened to significant portions of all of the semifinalist solo recitals, and a bit of a fair number of the semifinal concertos. As usual, I find the solo playing to be most revealing. How is the piano mic'ed in the solo/piano recitals? What is the floor cello spot (with the silver headbasket)?
There were actually two solo cello spots : a pair of mk22 suspended and on the floor, a single Milab DC 196 (omni pattern I guess). I did not work on the semi-finals. On the piano, it must have been either a pair of KM184A or Schoeps again.
I have to say the Milab DC196 are fantastic microphones, and not so expensive compared to Schoeps and DPA. They are very clean and musical, with a soft sound that allows you tu place them close to the source. They also mix very well as spot mics when used with a DPA 4006 pair. I recently recorded the Orchestre des Champs Elysées, directed by Philippe Herreweghe in the same hall. They played Mozart's 24th piano concerto (pianoforte) and I had the Milab as spot mics. Due to the repertoire of that night, I had to put the main pair a bit farter than I usually do, and use the milab on the pianoforte. You can listen to the results here (the Mozart concerto starts at 15'00''). I find the pianoforte a bit bright in the mix on the higher registers, but it's still close to how it sounded in the hall.

Quote:
Originally Posted by JoeDeF View Post
For other forum members, I strongly recommend listening to a bit of this competition if you enjoy the classical cello repertoire. If you look through the semi-finals, in addition to Bach, you can find excellent versions of the Debussy Sonata, Poulenc Sonata, Britten, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Brahms F, Strauss, Stravinsky Suite Italienne, Schnittke, Schumann Fantasiestucke, etc.

Semi-Final Videos

First Round Audios

I have to thank you once again for making all of this available to the public, and commend your good work. It is of great benefit to me as a cellist, and though I am not keen on the idea of music as a competitive endeavor, it is very encouraging to see the level of artistry that many of these young cellists exhibit.
Thanks again. We are a public service, and this is the core value of our station.
I wholeheartedly agree about the concept of a competition between musicians. But every year, this contest is the occasion to hear such wonderful artists. Last year I admit I was moved to tears by Lukas Vondracek and his Rachmaninov Concerto (N°3 in D minor op 30).
Old 31st May 2017
  #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Given To Fly View Post
Your recordings and your English are both fantastic! You deserve a Neumann KU-100!
Thank you! Now tell me where I can get the Dummy!
More seriously, I'd love to use on of those sometime. Meanwhile, we found something that will make do for experiments and small recordings : the B1-E Dummy Head, that we fill with DPA 4060. It probably needs some compensation EQ but the combination already seems to sound good as is. It's a lot cheaper too!
Old 31st May 2017
  #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by studer58 View Post
Well done, you deserve the Earcatcher award for facilitating innovation giving rise to highly engaging listening ! The binaural still translates very well to speaker playback for me as well.
Thank you! I've been interested in binaural recordings for a few years, but only had the chance to work professionally with binaural tools for two years. I really have to say I'm blessed to work in a team full of competent and passionate people here at the radio station!

I'm simultaneously surprised and delighted to hear that it translates well on speakers too! I'll have a listening later today!
Old 1st June 2017
  #9
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For those watching the videos or listening to the podcasts, Noise Makers just did an update with the Ambi Head plugin (converting B Format to Binaural), which adds an HRTF from the KU100 Head, adapted to the Ambeo mic. So you basically get an approximation of the KU100 when you combine the Ambeo and this plugin. I'm using this plugin on my master channel, with an instance of Ambi Pan on every track (except the ambeo one of course).

I have to say it makes a staggering difference compared to the previous basic HRTF (which sounded convincing to me, but not perfect). The instruments sound a lot more natural and the spatialization is better.
Old 2nd June 2017
  #10
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Thank you for this great discussion. A very nice recording of Brannon Cho who is outstanding. He is a student of my friend, Prof. Hans Jensen here in Chicago.

I did get a feeling of immersion with your recording. I liked the sound very much and even though I heard a somewhat indistinct and wandering image in my headphones, I enjoyed the listening experience very much.

I am an expert with the Neumann KU-100 and you will probably have to use one to hear if it makes a real and major difference in your work.

I am a fan of the Noisemakers soft and, of course, France and Belgium are the world leaders in this type of work.

I want to get the AMBEO mic and this news about new KU100 HRTF's is great.

Can I ask a question, please?
When converting the AMBEO A format to B format, do you use the Sennheiser soft to convert from A to B?

Keep up the great work.
Old 2nd June 2017
  #11
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Plush, I remember reading the article about your work in Resolution with great interest!

I use the sennheiser plugin to convert from A to B format. Noise Makers make one too, but the Ambeo one has access to rotation (I found it useful to just correct the mic placement by a few degrees) and has a corrective filter : apparently the encoding to B format can result to some phase shifting in the high frequencies and they made a filter to compensate for that. It does sound a bit more natural to my ears. It also has a low cut but I don't use it.

I think I get what you hear when you talk about the somewhat indistinct and wandering image... I think some of that is due to the microphone distance to the source : due to the film crew, a lot of the microphones are suspended a bit higher than I'd like to, so they "hear" a larger zone, with more instruments. I'm not especially an advocate of close proximity for orchestral music, but I think a middle ground would help me get a better focus and spatialization for the different sections.

On this matter, for the Concours, we are actually three team collaborating : two people for the stereo mix (TV, radio, live streaming), two other people for the CD (compiled and edited two days after the end of the contest!! These guys are fantastic engineers) and me for the 3D mix. So we all have to agree for the placement of microphones, which is always easy because we are used to working together. But I now realize that binaural mixing could require a different approach to mic placement.

I'd love to use a KU-100. I've heard it's now possible to rent one here in Belgium, with one of the distributors we work with, so that may be a nice opportunity. I hope to make a comparison with the cheap head we've got now.

Oh, one last thing : anyone interested in the Ambeo really should enquire about a longer cable : Sennheiser only make a short one and an extension. Here in the hall, we needed a 20m one, we had to make it ourselves and source the connector and the cable. Sennheiser should at least provide for the materials!
Old 5th June 2017
  #13
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Can't thank you enough for sharing this. Been moving slowly in this direction in my recording activities, but also in my teaching since I really feel that binaural and Ambisonic formats will probably be the dominant formats in the future - especially with the ubiquity of headphone listening nowadays.

I've done some DIY binaural head recordings with my students at the college, with varying results. It is tricky to rig the mic's in the ears correctly. Also for compatibility with stereo and other formats, it seems like it will be very limited.

I recently made the move to Ambisonics in my own rig, buying a Soundfield ST450 at an incredible bargain in the immediate aftermath of Rode buying the company, and have been learning its idiosyncrasies. It sounds OK, but does not quite stand up to the Schoeps I normally deploy. Nevertheless, it has proven to be a useful tool, and I feel it will be a more flexible format, and perhaps more future-proof than a traditional binaural mic, especially as we start to come into more 360-camera work.

I am curious as to what the mix routing is - I've not worked in Reaper yet, though it seems to be the DAW of choice for this kind of thing. Is there some sort of Quad master bus with the Ambisonic plug-in to convert to B-Format, and then some sort of 2-channel mix down with Binaural encoder?
Old 12th June 2017
  #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RobAnderson View Post
Can't thank you enough for sharing this. Been moving slowly in this direction in my recording activities, but also in my teaching since I really feel that binaural and Ambisonic formats will probably be the dominant formats in the future - especially with the ubiquity of headphone listening nowadays.

I've done some DIY binaural head recordings with my students at the college, with varying results. It is tricky to rig the mic's in the ears correctly. Also for compatibility with stereo and other formats, it seems like it will be very limited.

I recently made the move to Ambisonics in my own rig, buying a Soundfield ST450 at an incredible bargain in the immediate aftermath of Rode buying the company, and have been learning its idiosyncrasies. It sounds OK, but does not quite stand up to the Schoeps I normally deploy. Nevertheless, it has proven to be a useful tool, and I feel it will be a more flexible format, and perhaps more future-proof than a traditional binaural mic, especially as we start to come into more 360-camera work.

I am curious as to what the mix routing is - I've not worked in Reaper yet, though it seems to be the DAW of choice for this kind of thing. Is there some sort of Quad master bus with the Ambisonic plug-in to convert to B-Format, and then some sort of 2-channel mix down with Binaural encoder?
Hi Rob, thanks for your comments (and sorry for the delayed answer!).

I wholeheartedly agree that Ambisonics has a bright future as a format. I hope we'll see higher order microphones and higher order decoding by the likes of YouTube etc. And better capsules too!

In Reaper, the mix routing is fairly simple and exactly as you suggested : every track has the AmbiPan plugin, so it's essentially a mono or stereo track going to the master quad bus (B-Format). This bus has the AmbiHead plugin, which converts the B-Format signal to stereo (binaural). This routing makes it really easy to adapt the content to VR (create a parallel bus with AmbiHead to have a B-Format quad track to insert on YouTube) or to 5.1 (with the soundfield plugin for instance) if you couldn't create a dedicated mix.

I read Audioease has an ambisonics convolution reverb coming, I'd be really curious to hear it. In the mean time, I got convincing results using a stereo reverb panned behind - it would be also fine to use a different algorithm for the front image I guess.
Old 12th June 2017
  #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by benoïde View Post



I think I get what you hear when you talk about the somewhat indistinct and wandering image... I think some of that is due to the microphone distance to the source :

I have done a lot of B-Format ORCH recordings and have wrestled with 'wandering'. The big problem decoding to AB with Harpex is 'wandering'. It seemed like certain leading edge high frequency transients(like solo strings) triggered the flashing.
Sometimes, also, when the array was right on a soloist(in the null of the Y) the jumping around of the image was really heightened.
The decoder had a similar character when set to BINAURAL.

I had to choose XY or ORTF DECODING because of that problem.
Old 15th June 2017
  #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by emenelton View Post
I have done a lot of B-Format ORCH recordings and have wrestled with 'wandering'. The big problem decoding to AB with Harpex is 'wandering'. It seemed like certain leading edge high frequency transients(like solo strings) triggered the flashing.
Sometimes, also, when the array was right on a soloist(in the null of the Y) the jumping around of the image was really heightened.
The decoder had a similar character when set to BINAURAL.

I had to choose XY or ORTF DECODING because of that problem.
Hi Emelton,

I checked the Harpex plugins but didn't try them in context. I think I'm understanding what you say but in my experience, an AB pair always has some sort of "wandering" : image isn't as pointed and "accurate" as an ORTF pair for instance. So I think I understand why you'd prefer to decode an ambisonic signal to XY or ORTF.

I have to admit on my end, the only times I chose to use an "ORTF" pair was with mk22 caps by Schoeps (wide cardioid, so not a true ORTF), because I almost always prefer to use an AB pair of DPA 4006. The reason is simple : their frequency response just clicks with me both on a musical and emotional level (and I was taught in that way too). The only times I chose to use mk22 as a main pair was because of difficult acoustics (and probably a lack of time to experiment with placement). Otherwise, I always try to use a pair of 4006's with spheres or grills if necessary.

One last thing : I've read about a lot of people here recording using a blumlein pair (with ribbons mostly?). I tried it once with a string quartet using milab mics but it didn't work for me. Partly because the placement wasn't obvious (I'm faster with an AB pair) and partly because the resulting image required more thought than I had time to. But it was interesting, I see how many here seem to like it.
Old 16th June 2017
  #17
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Benoide the wandering I was experiencing in my work was extremely flashy.

On another subject I have, as you mentioned, encoded spots with a b-format encoder and panned them to match where the instruments seem to be located in the main array.

Harpex is a 'better' sounding decoder and definitely worth trying, I'm not talking about your recording which is incredible, but discussing Harpex in comparison with the other decoders.
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