CALABASAS, CA—Producer, engineer and musician Alan Parsons was at the Southern California headquarters of DTS recently, discretely mixing a couple of tracks for playback in the company’s latest multichannel format, DTS Neo:X. The technology, which will be in AV receivers this summer, adds left and right front high and front wide channels to existing 5.1 or 7.1 configurations to create a multichannel environment of up to 11.1.
Configurations with more channels than the now standard 5.1 or more recently available 7.1 formats are not new, of course. There have been a number of multi-speaker layouts introduced or proposed over past decades, including a 10.2 configuration developed by Tomlinson Holman, inventor of the Lucasfilm THX system, that was introduced more than 10 years ago. Holman is a co-founder of Audyssey Laboratories, a Los Angeles-based company that launched Audyssey DSX (Dynamic Surround Expansion) as a technology in 2009. Dolby Laboratories, too, introduced its Prologic IIz codec about two years ago. Both Audyssey DSX and Dolby Prologic IIz support up to 11.1 channels and can upmix from lower channel counts.
The prospect of adding four more speakers, one each above the front left and right channels and a pair between the main left and right and the left-side and right-side positions, could be a difficult sell in the home, Parsons allows. But for commercial applications, it can provide superior sound localization compared to even 7.1, he says. “It sounds fantastic; you get wonderful separation with separate speakers that you wouldn’t get with phantom centers. And the height is an extra bonus.”
The first track Parsons has mixed for Neo:X presentation is by The Good Listeners, comprising songwriter Nathan Khyber and engineer and multi-instrumentalist Clark Stiles. Parsons hopes to also mix a track in the DTS Neo:X format by SubClones, a duo with whom he is currently collaborating on their debut album. He recently also released a three-disc instructional documentary, Alan Parsons’ Art and Science of Sound (artandscienceofsound.com).
The genesis of The Good Listeners’ third album, Don’t Quit Your Daydream, is also available as a documentary. The pair traveled the country in an RV for a month with a film crew, collaborating with local musicians along the way and creating a song from scratch at each stop. The film, which has played the festival circuit, has now found a distributor, Stiles reports, and is available as a DVD on a double-disc CD Baby release.
“Nathan’s and my artistic mantra is: Let it happen,” says Stiles. “We also subscribe to the idea of putting a deadline on any artistic venture and forcing yourself to be done, for better or worse. On our first record [Ojai], we did 10 songs in 10 days. It was an experiment to see what would happen if we were forced to stop at the end of each day and start a new song the next day, and do it for 10 days straight.”
He continues, “Nathan is the most talented singer-songwriter I’ve ever run across, and is just a geyser of material. I’m a music producer/engineer; I’ve done traditional sessions since I was in my late teens. So I have a good sense of craftsmanship of the engineering process, and I play a bunch of instruments.”
According to Parsons, “Clark has done a wonderful job of preparing this track for us to mix. It’s made it delightfully easy. Everything is at the right level, and we don’t have to switch tracks on and off.
“I was basically just burning all my EQ and compression and plugins in Pro Tools to a new track at zero, and marking my pan positions,” explains Stiles. “So you literally just throw up a block of audio files on the timeline with everything at zero and it’s mixed.”
For this 11.1 mix, Stiles says, “We threw it up as a stereo mix, and went from there. I think what Alan has done with it sounds fantastic; it’s really fun to listen to.”
Parsons has been enjoying the ability to place tracks discretely into a speaker channel: “Because there is no center on what we’ve been calling the ‘upstairs’ channels, that has to be a phantom center, and there’s no center rear speaker. But I’m getting a much better feeling of inside the room with all of these speakers than I do in 5.1. We have the drums inside the room, and it sounds much more coherent, somehow.”
“I like it a lot better than 5.1,” comments Stiles. “I’ve always liked the idea that a speaker does one thing really well. The more stuff you throw at a speaker, the less of a performance you’re getting for each individual sound. So you’re literally getting all this performance moving air, speakers dedicated to certain things. It’s a nice sound.”
The Good Listeners