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Interface or/and a Mixer for Surround?
Old 10th September 2018
  #1
Interface or/and a Mixer for Surround?

I am at the (relative) beginnings of designing sound for motion picture and am equally thrilled to work with related forms such as live/theatre performances. That's why I am looking for a surround-capable setup that would allow most versatility in bounds of a modest budget[1] to be used in a home editing suite as well as live occasionally.

Obviously, an interface suffices for an in-the-box editing suite. What USB/Thunderbolt options do you recommend? I was looking into the MOTU 8A or MOTU 828x.

But then a six-or-more output digital mixer, while being a necessity for live applications, could also be used as a monitor controller at home.
Any suggestions in the entry-level field? Your experience with surround panning, control software, automation for theatre (scenes) and surround sources? Would you combine with an interface or get a mixer that acts as an interface?

To meet the budget (let's pretend $2,000 is a target figure), I also want to explore 2nd hand options, older models, ...

I currently (ab)use the original Focusrite Scarlett via FireWire for the editing suite with a Late 2013 (Thunderbolt 2 equipped) MacBook Pro/Pro Tools Ultimate Native system. I could hook up the Scarlett directly to a 5.1 system live, but it does not have per-channel output control (can only control pair output volume), the control UI is sluggish in newer macOS versions and the FireWire connection relies on an adapter (sometimes, there are powering issues, sometimes one just forgets the adapter somewhere). I also liked mixing several stereo Saffire outputs on an analogue board, but felt using auxes for C, Ls, Rs, LFE on the same analogue board was clumsy.

Hope somebody finds the time to answer. Couldn't find recent advice on surround buying choices except the rather quiet thread from z1s about mixers.
Old 10th September 2018
  #2
Lives for gear
 

Since you're using the interface to mix, then having numerous mic inputs isn't an issue. Your main concern is having the correct number of line level outs so you can mix in surround. Either of those units should work but I can say you're spending allot of money that you can put to far better uses.

First question you need to answer is how many channels of surround do you plan on using if its 5.1 or 6.0 you're fine with any interface that has 8 outs. Even an older PCI M-Audio 1010LT would work.

Best bang for the buck out there is a Tascam 16 x 8 which is $299 new, cheaper used if you can find one used. The interface has 8 outs for mixing surround and its got 16 ins. You probably wont need that many but I could see the interface being used to capture sound using 8 mics (its got 8 mic preamps) then you could replace the low fi camera audio with audio from a DAW if you chose too.

The rest of that 2K you'll need to spend on monitors. Doesn't matter how good the interface or recording is, without pro monitors you're simply groping around in the dark trying to get a good mix. If you were mixing music I could probably come up with a half dozen decent monitors for that purpose but mixing audio for movies actually is a different ball game when you're doing surround. I suggest you google up what's being used in the industry now. Back when I was in that business were still mixing from Beta tapes and everything was either mono or stereo. I know Genelec make some surround systems but you're looking at $4~5K for a 5.1 system.

They use Dolby in movie mixes too so you'll need to get up to speed on those details too. If you were up to speed in music audio first, moving to movies isn't nearly as difficult. Starting off with movie surround is car more difficult when it comes to designing three dimensional soundscapes. I did enough in my time to know I have no desire to mess with it. Its not just the gear that's important. Your entire monitoring system needs to be set up for mixing environment and I'm afraid you'll be like a sheep herder in a wind storm without some basic mixing skills under your belt so all I can say is good luck.
Old 10th September 2018
  #3
wrgkmc, thanks for the prompt reply!

Quote:
Originally Posted by wrgkmc View Post
The rest of that 2K you'll need to spend on monitors. Doesn't matter how good the interface or recording is, without pro monitors you're simply groping around in the dark trying to get a good mix. If you were mixing music I could probably come up with a half dozen decent monitors for that purpose but mixing audio for movies actually is a different ball game when you're doing surround. I suggest you google up what's being used in the industry now. Back when I was in that business were still mixing from Beta tapes and everything was either mono or stereo. I know Genelec make some surround systems but you're looking at $4~5K for a 5.1 system.
I should have stressed more that I am moving from stereo-only (student and low-budget) projects to something new. I am well aware how the room and speakers come into play, but since I have to take it step-by-step budget-wise and since it seem I'll have a chance to do some multichannel live work in two months time, I am taking care of the mixer/interface combo first.

For now, several Adam monitors will do. I don't want to pretend I am a dubbing stage and will (dpeendent on what production says) only edit at home, but mix elsewhere.
Old 17th September 2018
  #4
Any more thoughts?

How would the entrly-level mixers (maybe Midas M32?) perform in this situation?
Old 17th September 2018
  #5
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The elephant in the room here is that while you can get mixers with enough inputs and outputs none have multi-channel panning capability. Your options are typically to pan between adjacent channel pairs. Basic film surround sound is 6 channels (5.1), and panning requirements become much more complex. For example, the classic "fly-over" move may require panning from LF to RR, which are not adjacent.

If you don't mind handling this the clumsy way, you can get by without the full multichannel panner function, but recognize the limitations. The typical solution is to burn up multiple channels with the input you need to position, and deal with panning with the input faders. And of course, digital solutions with automation or virtual/assignable panning.

Most critical, however, regardless of what you do with a mixer is to set up the correct monitoring environment for the end use of your mix. Essentially, you need a "dubbing stage", a theater calibrated to industry standards and designed with acoustics and speaker plan at least similar to that of the end use of your product. The design changes somewhat between theatrical film, TV and music, so study that. Room calibration is not trivial, or as simple as it seems, lots to learn there. A good, well designed and calibrated home theater is not a bad mix environment to start with, but emphasis on calibration.

The LFE channel is tricky because getting an accurate representation of requires either a big room or a smaller room with multiple subs correctly placed for best LFE response. Getting that wrong results in mixes with the wrong LFE level. There was a famous film mixed in an uncalibrated LFE room that contained far to much LFE, basically unplayable in theaters without distortion. You'll have to watch out for that kind of thing.

Encoding to Dolby Digital is a matter of the right software during the final authoring process. But there are settings to learn about in that too. Part of the process is auditioning your mix as its encoded. The Dolby Digital process does alter the mix somewhat, as it is not presenting 5 full-bandwidth channels all the time. The high-end (the high bandwidth stuff) gets dynamically steered around as required. Generally fairly transparent, but not always. Any of the high-res formats like DTS HD or Dolby TrueHD are completely transparent, so no issue. Consider backward compatibility to lower channel count systems, like stereo fold-down, even mono compatibility.
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