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On Spatialising Sy Dim. Libraries
Last post Sun, Aug 09 2020 by Seventh Sam, 7 replies.
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Posted on Wed, Jul 29 2020 08:23
by Macker
Joined on Tue, Aug 21 2018, London, Posts 142

For attaining best instrumental realism and most convincing spatialisation in the mix, the Dimension collection is I believe still unsurpassed in the market. And realising this wonderful potential is much easier, more flexible and convenient with the Synchronised version, partly and importantly because the Synchron Player can stream up to 18 concurrent mono audio channels.

I've been getting superbly convincing results with Sy Dim Brass, and more recently, having bought the full Sy Dim.Strings 1 library, I'm over the moon at having 32 string players each positioned precisely where I want them in a stunningly convincing stereo field - even without a drop of reverb anywhere in the chain.

I find azimuth positioning most flexible, easy and realistic when dry mono channels are individually positioned in the stereo sound stage using binaural panning. Then adding reverb is also easy peasy and super flexible. LPX users have long had the built-in Binaural panner on each mixer channel, but there are several plugins that can do it too.

Seating - theory v practice

For many years I thought spatialising a simulated orchestra was about accurately modelling the players' seating positions on stage. Hahaha, nope - that's not how sound recording and mix engineers typically present orchestral performances to us. Now I'm arranging most players along a single-line semicircular stereo arc of no more than about ±60º total azimuth spread, and my favourite listening position is a few metres above and behind the conductor.

Why not go beyond ±60º? Because it tends to be disturbing for the listener, that's why not. It seems there's an instinct in us that makes us want to turn our head towards a side-only sound, probably so we can get a decent azimuth and distance fix on it; but with headphones or stereo speakers of course this can't work. Hence more or less one-sided sounds are likely to be an unwelcome nagging disturbance.

In simulating near/far relationships, only a few significant cases need be of concern. For example, for timps, perc., harps and heavy brass, added reverb can be set wetter and with less pre-delay, to help place them farther back in the mix more convincingly than with level alone. Also in these 'far' cases a gentle 6dB/octave EQ roll off at the HF end can help reduce 'presence'. Most other sections can be treated as 'near' and can compete for listeners' attention at or fairly close to the front stereo arc of the mix.

Despite the miraculous effectiveness of today's spatialisation technology, it's always well worth checking and dynamically balancing your whole mix in mono, rather than depending on stereo width to try to relieve problems of congestion and/or masking in a busy mix.

'Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies'

Notice how microphones are deployed in recorded concerts: one can often see high boom stands with mics aimed down at instrument sections, and even mics suspended high and hanging straight down above sections. Recording and mixing a performance is less about putting the listener in any particular seat in the auditorium, more about presenting balanced contributions of all the players, without those players who are seated behind others being needlessly somewhat masked.

The intentional result of sound recording, mixing and mastering, like pro photography, is hardly ever completely honest and truthful. If acoustical truth is what listeners prefer, then a Neumann artificial head-with-torso sat somewhere in the auditorium would provide the only 2 microphones required. Now in the case of film scores - well, just lol at the idea of truthfulness there.

There's always been a substantial overlap between music and the dramatic arts, carrying with it countless implications in terms of deception, pretence, conjuring tricks, suspension of disbelief, etc etc - ignore that at your peril.

Routing and processing

In reality, beyond a few metres distance the sound of most types of individual instrument has no dry width of course. Hence it's perfectly valid to start out with dry mono sample sources feeding one dry mono mixer channel per instrument. Two independent mono channels can be streamed from each of Synchron mixer's 2-channel outputs, simply by setting the Balance (not the Power Pan!) control hard left and hard right respectively on the two instrument feeds to each Synchron mixer output pair. In this way, up to 18 mono channels can be streamed simultaneously from each Sy Player plugin.

Having received and organised these multiple mono streams in VEPro or your DAW, the general azimuth direction and spread of each multi-player section (e.g. Vn1, Vn2, Va, Horns, etc) can be set up with binaural mono-to-stereo panners - preferably one per instrument. Sections can be made as wide as is sensible for a reasonable representation of actual stage seatings, given the preferred listening distance. This is simply a matter of choosing the size of angle that separates each instrument's dry line of azimuth as set by its individual binaural panner.

For example I find that within a section, separating each instrument from its closest neighbour by typically about 5º to 8º gives excellent results for my 'helicopter' listening position. Note that straight ahead, ours ears can resolve azimuth differences of about 1º, whereas more towards the sides, resolution gradually degrades down to around 16º.

The beauty of binaural panning is that our ears easily and spontaneously detect the average, median or general azimuth direction of each section's dry stereo spread, whilst maintaining a sense of how wide each section is. Hence adjacent sections can be overlapping. So it's not necessary to cram all individual instruments tightly together across the stereo arc in an attempt to give each its own exclusive azimuth angle.

 

In short, setting azimuth binaurally on each of many individual dry mono instrument channels gives unbeatably convincing and vivid stereo positioning, and provides a clear, firm foundation ready for reverb.

Sample libraries built from recordings of ensembles are a very different matter. In this case stereo information must come from close stereo and ambient stereo mics, and/or from added spatialisation reverbs - which is where MIR excels. But that's another story and no doubt I'll be spamming the forum enthusiastically about that when I've bought Synchron Strings.

Posted on Sat, Aug 01 2020 10:57
by Macker
Joined on Tue, Aug 21 2018, London, Posts 142

[Post deleted by writer]

Posted on Sun, Aug 09 2020 14:14
by Seventh Sam
Joined on Sat, Dec 29 2018, Posts 190

Macker,

Thank you for sharing all of this!  I'm always grateful when anyone shares information/experience/etc.

I have a few questions, if you don't mind:

If I'm understanding you correctly, your current method is to take each player in Syn. Dim Strings/Brass, output that player into two mono channels (one balanced hard right, one balanced hard left), feed those two mono channels into one channel in VEP7/DAW, and then use a binaural panner to position those hard-panned mono signals into your desired spatialization.

If I understand that correctly, then I think it's safe to say that's a fair bit of work compared to simply panning each player with PowerPan, using the pre-rendered IR's, etc.  My question is: what makes your method work/sound better than those other methods?  Is it somehow cleaner (no IR reverb buildup)?  Does the binaural panner do something special that PowerPan doesn't?  

Please understand: I'm not trying to argue or flame.  Rather, I genuinely want to understand and get better at the whole enterprise.  I've been experimenting endlessly with spatialization techniques and I'm thrilled to consider and try this one as well!

- Sam

Posted on Sun, Aug 09 2020 15:19
by PaoloT
Joined on Tue, Dec 27 2016, Posts 808

Very interesting findings! The semi-circular seating is indeed the preferred setup we can see in studio recording sessions.

Paolo

Posted on Sun, Aug 09 2020 17:49
by Macker
Joined on Tue, Aug 21 2018, London, Posts 142

Sam, all cool, no worries :) And thanks for your interest.

Routing Trick

In my post above, routing may seem a wee bit obscure - I'm using a trick that I probably didn't explain as well as I should; also this trick might not be the best way to get optimal efficiency and convenience. But it works. Let me try to unpack it here. Sorry if this gets a bit over-lengthy.

I route each instrument's actual patch slot (for all of its articulations in all the various dimension) into a Sy Player mixer strip of its own. Because each Sy Player mixer strip must (I believe) always carry a 2-channel pair, I have to use the Balance control in effect as a one-sided "mute" button to stop the source appearing on both output channels of the strip. (You'll see why below.) I have all reverb removed from the Sy Player mixer.

So in a typical Sy Player mixer setup I have Player 1 on Mixer strip 1 ( Left), Player 2 on Mixer strip 2 (Right), Player 3 on mixer strip 3 (Left), and so forth.

Now here's the last bit of the routing trick. Simply for (I hope) best efficiency, I package each pair of adjacent players in the Sy Player mixer as a couple of independent mono streams, by assigning them both to one of Sy Player's 2-channel Output pairs. Thus I have Players 1 and 2 both routed to SyPlayer Output 1/2, Players 3 and 4 both routed to Output 3/4, and so on. The summing that results from this routing means that now Sy Player's Output 1/2 has only Player 1 on channel 1 and only Player 2 on channel 2; Output 3/4 has only Player 3 on channel 3, and only Player 4 on channel 4, etc etc.

I route these Sy Player 2-channel output pairs in a similar way through VEPro and back to LPX, where I finally extract each Player from each 2-channel stream using Bus Left and Right Input designators in a Bus/Aux array, such that each player's mono audio stream now hits its own mono-to-stereo Binaural Panner in a dedicated Aux mixer strip.

Why Binaural panning?

Unless I'm very much mistaken, VSL's Power Pan is a straightforward adaptation of analogue mixing console stereo panning and does not perform any Binaural panning functions. (If I'm wrong about this I'm sure VSL will very quickly put me straight in no uncertain terms - and then I'll have to wear sackcloth and ashes forever!).

Binaural panning is a simulation of how sounds from sources at different angles and distances arrive at our eardrums. It uses mathematical models to determine time differences between the two ears (the "precedence" model), and how the human head typically affects spectral levels of sounds arriving from various angles and distances (the "HRTF", or head-related transfer function model.)

By comparison, pan-pots only (and somewhat approximately) simulate level differences which serve as cues to tell our ears the bare minimum about source positions in the supposed stereo sound stage.

As for using convolution reverb for spatialisation, I'll duck that enormously complex topic for now, except to say that I'm inclined to regard spatialisation as principally and primarily a job for dry binaural panning (wherever possible) - helped, refined and beautified to a great extent by sophisticated convolution reverb techniques.

I discovered the stunning "precedence" effect for myself by accident around 1971, when listening to "Instant Karma" from a record player connected to one side of my headphones, and a tape-recording of the same record, connected to the other side of my cans. As I adjusted relative speeds of playback and the two sources came very slowly into and then past perfect sync, I was was gripped by the strongest sense of stereo placement and movement I'd ever experienced. My eyes involuntarily followed the apparent movement of the sound as it traversed slowly and majestically from one side to the other. I deduced it must have been due to relative delay.

Then in 2001, using Logic Audio Platinum v3.5 coupled to Reason v1 (used sort of like a crude forerunner of VEPro), I mocked up my own precedence-panners using delay modules. "One day," I thought to myself back then, "all panning will be done this way". So you could say I was well prepared when Logic introduced binaural panning.

I'd say that subjectively, precedence is the most potent effect in binaural panning, but HRTF effects certainly help. That applies in most cases typical for our endeavours, other than small and intimate chamber ensembles, where HRTF can play a much more important role.
 

Best I can suggest, Sam, is experiment for yourself with binaural panning and see what it does for you. You must of course decide for yourself whether it's worth the extra fuss and bother. Obviously I think it's worth it because I've already gone to all that extra fuss and bother - no regrets here. Of course it would help if I posted an audio demo, but alas I'm still some way from being in a position to do that. Nevertheless, I'll be interested to hear about your investigations, and about your approaches if you choose to go down the binaural road.

Posted on Sun, Aug 09 2020 18:05
by Macker
Joined on Tue, Aug 21 2018, London, Posts 142

Thanks Paolo. And good to hear someone else understands that aspect of live sound reproduction.

Posted on Sun, Aug 09 2020 18:35
by Seventh Sam
Joined on Sat, Dec 29 2018, Posts 190

Macker,

First off, thank you so much for taking the time to explain.  Super helpful.

The routing makes sense now!  I don't use LPX but I'm 99.9% sure my DAW of choice will have a similar way to do what you explained.  I'll have a go (or two, or three, or five) with it and experiment away!  I'm also glad to have the impetus to learn more about binaural panning.  No worries about a demo - I'm knee deep in absorbing all I can about mixing and spatialization so I'll hear and compare for myself eventually :-)  If only there were infinite time and infinite tolerance for coffee...

Again, thank you so much!  If I figure out anything neat or worth sharing, I'll be sure to return the favor.

- Sam  

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