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Can I upgrade studio monitors for surround sound mixing?

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Neil Redman
Can I upgrade studio monitors for surround sound mixing?
on Sep 7, 2012 at 3:47:27 pm

Hi, I am currently looking to invest a good pair of studio monitors for film mixing. Eventually I would like to get into some surround mixing as well, however I can't afford a 5.1 monitorsystem at the moment, so I'd rather spent my money to get a good stereo pair instead of a cheap 5.1 set.

When the point comes when I want to upgrade, is it then possible to just add additional speakers and a subwoofer to my monitors or would I have to get a complete new 5.1 set? Do the speakers in a surround set usually have different characteristics as a 'regular' monitor, since their is a subwoofer for the lows in the system? Or are there maybe specific studio monitors that can be upgraded to a 5.1 system and some that can't without compromises?

I haven't decided on any monitors to get yet, so if there are any good recommendations for this I'm open to suggestions.

Cheers!


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Richard Crowley
Re: Can I upgrade studio monitors for surround sound mixing?
on Sep 7, 2012 at 5:02:18 pm

There is nothing magic about 5.1 speakers. Even the very best and most expensive small monitor speakers can use a good subwoofer to extend the low-end response. I would prefer to buy a main stereo pair that was designed to be used with a subwoofer (correlated crossover frequency) even if I didn't buy the subwoofer immediately. It is more tricky to select a good subwoofer when you have to do the crossover frequency research yourself. As for the rear channel speakers, if you have piles of money, you could just buy another pair like the main stereo speakers. But a budget option might be to buy a smaller version of the main stereo pair.

Those 5.1 speaker kits sold for use with computers are ALL cheap plastic junk. Don't touch any of them. NEVER buy something touted as a "computer speaker". They range from bad to absolutely horrid. Even "brand names" (like Altec) that were once proud, quality audio gear have been bought out by marketers of cheap asian junk.


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Neil Redman
Re: Can I upgrade studio monitors for surround sound mixing?
on Sep 7, 2012 at 5:48:46 pm

Hey thanks you just cleared something up to me and caused some new confusion at the same time ;)

I just realised that the 5.1 monitoring solutions I was looking at, were basically just 5 studio monitors that were sold as stereo pairs as well, so I guess that could have already answered my question more or less. Prior to this, I always thought that you wouldn't need a subwoofer when you are using studio monitors so that raises a few new question for me now. When you are mixing sound for video (or anything really for that matter) wouldn't you always want/need an additional subwoofer for a proper mix? I was under the impression that almost all mixing is done just using 2 studio monitors. I can see the reason from a budget point of view but wouldn't a professional always want a subwoofer?

About correlated crossover frequency: So basically that means that not all subwoofers are designed to give an optimal result with all monitors and there are designs that are specifically for a certain monitor?


(Oh and by the way thanks for the warning but I wouldn't consider buying some cheap computer speakers. Funny that you mention Altec though, as I still have an old 5.1 set laying around here somewhere that came with an all-in-one computer before I was getting more serious about Audio/Video ;) )


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Richard Crowley
Re: Can I upgrade studio monitors for surround sound mixing?
on Sep 7, 2012 at 5:58:14 pm

It depends on what you are mixing whether you really NEED a subwoofer. Many people mix everyday stuff (mainly speech/dialog, and some pre-mixed commercial production music) without any subwoofer. Business stuff, web clips, instructional videos, etc. But if you are actually mixing full-range music (vs. simply buying commercial pre-mixed production music) or if you are doing critical things like living on the edge trying to mix someone with a deep voice who was recorded somewhere with low-frequency ambient rumble (for example), then you probably need better coverage below the main pair speaker LF cutoff so you can hear what you are doing.

Different speakers have different LF response. Certainly you wouldn't expect a main pair with 6-inch speakers to have the same low-end performance as speakers with 8-inch speakers, etc. It is difficult to get accurate numbers for crossover frequencies for many products because of the way speakers are marketed. Some brands are more truthful than others. And, of course, your room plays a critical part as well.


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Neil Redman
Re: Can I upgrade studio monitors for surround sound mixing?
on Sep 7, 2012 at 9:14:58 pm

So I will have a look for a couple of good monitors that are also offered with a subwoofer, so that sometime in the future I could upgrade to a surround setup if I want to.

Just out of curiosity and not regarding my setup: What would be a typical setup that is used for a feature film, lets say a big budget Hollywood movie? Would they mix their stuff on a (really expensive I assume) 5.1 or 7.1 setup?
And what would a top notch music producer use? Would they have an extra sub or just two high quality monitors?

Thanks for taking your time it will narrow down my choices at least a little bit when I will force my way through the studio monitor jungle... ;)


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Peter Groom
Re: Can I upgrade studio monitors for surround sound mixing?
on Sep 7, 2012 at 9:58:40 pm

Personally, I dont think you should have a sub woofer in the chain UNTIL you are mixing surround with a .1 in the name. Only then are you supposed to accessing LFE (low freq effects) Until then, Good full range speakers are what you need.
Im a fan of Genelecs personally, but youll need a credit card.
Peter

Post Production Dubbing Mixer


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Sareesh Sudhakaran
Re: Can I upgrade studio monitors for surround sound mixing?
on Sep 8, 2012 at 4:58:45 am

"So I will have a look for a couple of good monitors that are also offered with a subwoofer, so that sometime in the future I could upgrade to a surround setup if I want to."

There is no point using a subwoofer in your studio if your mix is going elsewhere for various 'environments'. In fact, it will create the wrong kind of mix.

Surround mixing can be 'done' in a controlled home sound environment. I have friends who use such setups for small projects. Eventually, they bring the project to a professional facility for final mixing.

The Speakers are just a small part of it - it's the environment that is the most important.

"Just out of curiosity and not regarding my setup: What would be a typical setup that is used for a feature film, lets say a big budget Hollywood movie? Would they mix their stuff on a (really expensive I assume) 5.1 or 7.1 setup?"

A movie theater has many sound systems, and today's DCI specs allow for a range of mixes and channels. A multiplex with THX will be different from one with Dolby. There are many other variables as well.

DVDs and Blurays have a different mix. Then there is also a stereo mix for broadcast, etc. Also headphones and the 'iphone mix'.

It's not a 5.1 or 7.1 setup in the consumer sense. The cinema theater sound characteristics are totally different from a room's. The bigger the cinema, the greater this difference.

"And what would a top notch music producer use? Would they have an extra sub or just two high quality monitors?"

My music composer works from home in a stereo setup. Music composers usually don't mix, they just compose and lay tracks in whatever software they feel comfortable in. My composer works in Cubase and Nuendo.

Eventually, the tracks are taken to a Pro tools facility (not because it's the best, but because everyone's using it) and mixed for the kind of delivery required.

The best way to learn is to call up a few sound facilities and "take the tour". If you approach them professionally you might 'luck out' and sit through a mixing session. That'll teach you tons.

For a home or indie setup, I strongly recommend Yamaha monitors like this one.

Either go 'all out' and get a full setup, or go bare bones with the Yamaha. For cinema you will need to mix in a large facility, or you'll never know what it's going to sound like.

Hope this helps.

http://wolfcrow.com/blog/ - Workflow information and support for filmmakers, photographers, audiographers and videographers.


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David Watson
Re: Can I upgrade studio monitors for surround sound mixing?
on Sep 8, 2012 at 11:18:02 am

[Sareesh Sudhakaran] "Eventually, the tracks are taken to a Pro tools facility (not because it's the best, but because everyone's using it) and mixed for the kind of delivery required."

Just because everyone's doing it doesn't mean it's the only option right? For example if I am building a recording and mixing studio for music production, can't I use the full version of Cubase as my DAW? Or is there any substantial difference in Pro tools as a DAW over Cubase et al.?

David H. Watson
dEhiN Entertainment


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Sareesh Sudhakaran
Re: Can I upgrade studio monitors for surround sound mixing?
on Sep 8, 2012 at 1:02:16 pm

Of course.

I'm not a mixer but in my experience my favorite is Nuendo, but you can use any professional DAW, as long as you can make it sound good! Cubase is great for music.

Pro Tools is an excellent performer, but I've always hated the Apple way of doing things.

I've also used Adobe Audition and it's very intuitive. Investing in CS6 on PC is a great idea for 2012 if you're a filmmaker.

I've yet to see a bad edit or mix due to a DAW.

http://wolfcrow.com/blog/ - Workflow information and support for filmmakers, photographers, audiographers and videographers.


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David Watson
Re: Can I upgrade studio monitors for surround sound mixing?
on Sep 8, 2012 at 11:47:31 am

[Neil Redman] "About correlated crossover frequency: So basically that means that not all subwoofers are designed to give an optimal result with all monitors and there are designs that are specifically for a certain monitor?"

A 2.1 speaker system (regardless whether it's small-time computer speakers or studio reference monitors) will be programmed for optimal frequency placement, meaning the mains and tweeters (if there are any) will only be sent the frequencies they can handle, and the low frequencies will be sent to the woofer. If you get a 2-speaker system and add a woofer separately, you could end up getting double playback, meaning the low cut-off on mains on the stereo speakers and the high cut-off on the woofer might overlap.

David H. Watson
dEhiN Entertainment


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Ty Ford
Re: Can I upgrade studio monitors for surround sound mixing?
on Sep 9, 2012 at 1:44:33 pm

Hello Neil and welcome to the Cow Audio Forum.

In addition to the advice given to date, here are a few additional thoughts.

In the "old days", surround mixing systems used satellite speakers for the dialogue, side and rear speakers. They didn't have to be as good as the L/R because most consumers home systems were not that spectacular.

As home theater systems evolved, the trend to having speakers equal to the front L/R speakers have required studios to up their game as well.

About composers and mixing. There are thousands of composers who submit their mixes in stereo. Film productions seldom do anything severe with the music that require surround mixing. If they do, then tracks or submixes can be used.

Composers may or may not use a sub. More has to do with the individual setup and how capable their main L/R are in reproducing the lows. The Klein and Hummel 0110 are great small monitors but they require a sub, the K&H 0300 have a pretty solid low end and don't in most cases. I don't know about the yamaha speakers mentioned. I haven't seen much about them and haven't heard them. Genelec has an excellent reputation and I like the Event Opals. I use legacy JBL L100 on one of my workstations.

To be sure, composers working on techno and some dance music absolutely require subs because their music is reproduced in clubs with "big bottom" systems.

Do you have the right space in which to deploy surround monitors? That's a big question. If the architecture is not conducive, your results will be limited.

Regards,

Ty


Want better production audio?: Ty Ford's Audio Bootcamp Field Guide
Ty Ford Blog: Ty Ford's Blog


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Neil Redman
Re: Can I upgrade studio monitors for surround sound mixing?
on Sep 9, 2012 at 4:12:20 pm

First of all thanks to everyone who has answered. Lots of great information and I will check out all of your speaker recommendations.

[Ty Ford] "Do you have the right space in which to deploy surround monitors?"

I am actually planning on moving pretty soon and I will have a look for a place where I can set up a room just for film editing and audio mixing. Do you have any tips about what characteristics a good mixing room should have and what (minimum) size would be appropriate?


[Sareesh Sudhakaran] "Investing in CS6 on PC is a great idea for 2012 if you're a filmmaker. "

Thats what I did with the creative cloud, I'll be running an all Adobe Workflow: Premiere, AFX, Audition, SpeedGrade, Photoshop.


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Ty Ford
Re: Can I upgrade studio monitors for surround sound mixing?
on Sep 9, 2012 at 8:32:46 pm

Hmm, let' see....


Don't put your main monitors on a wall.

make or keep the side walls symmetrically irregular, never parallel.

Have enough room behind the fader line for the sound waves to develop, maybe 8-10 feet.

If you can put a mirror on a side wall and see your main monitors int the reflection from the sweet spot, you'll have to treat that wall to prevent late reflections from messing up you mix.

Don't put monitors on the console meter bridge, some of the sound will bounce down through all of the pots and knobs and back up to your ears and mess with the sounds coming directly from your monitors. Mount the monitors higher and further back from the meter bridge instead.

etc.

Regards,

Ty Ford
Cow Audio Forum Leader


Want better production audio?: Ty Ford's Audio Bootcamp Field Guide
Ty Ford Blog: Ty Ford's Blog


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Neil Redman
Re: Can I upgrade studio monitors for surround sound mixing?
on Sep 13, 2012 at 4:31:57 am

Thanks a lot I'll keep those things in mind, when setting up my new room!


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