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‘Stereo is amazing but can’t take us any further’: GCRS co-founder Ivor Taylor on the studios’ new immersive audio lab

London’s Grand Central Recording Studios recently announced the launch of its brand new Audio Lab 2 - a purpose-built facility offering cutting edge sound design and mixing services

Following on from the successful establishment of GCVRS – Grand Central Recording Studio’s VR arm – the opening of Audio Lab 2 represents a major push from the Soho facility to bring together capabilities for both film and 360/VR audio. With almost 10 years of research and development informing the build, the studio has been designed to produce integrated and immersive soundscapes, and features 32+1 Dolby Atmos speakers, as well as 16 lower level speakers enabling the world’s first mixed Dolby Atmos Theatrical and TOA studio for VR work. Here, GCRS co-founder Ivor Taylor takes us inside the new studio and tells us what it will bring to the studio sector…

Tell us about the Audio Lab 2 set up. Who is it aimed at?

Audio Lab 2 brings together outstanding capabilities for both film and 360/VR audio. With almost 10 years of research and development informing the build, the studio is equipped to produce unrivalled integrated, immersive soundscapes. It’s a facility that aims to answer questions about how to make expert VR soundscapes in a real world commercial environment and then deliver workflows, which allow clients and sound designers to seamlessly and jointly develop VR soundscapes. Grand Central has built itself a formidable reputation mixing cinema trailers for the likes of Universal Pictures, Studio Canal, Lionsgate and eOne among others. The introduction of a full Dolby Atmos Theatrical installation was a unique opportunity to be part of the next big thing in cinematic sound. It’s also an integral build on our work at GCVRS, the studio’s dedicated VR arm, that offers creatives and directors working in the emerging world of VR production the delivery of expert spatial audio sound design.

Talk us through the spec.

Audio Lab 2 is a multimode studio capable of working in stereo, 5.1, 7.1, 7.1.4, Atmos and High Order Ambisonics for VR. There is no ‘specification’ as such for a High Order Ambisonics speaker layout, plus Audio Lab 2 had to deliver Dolby Atmos Theatrical for GCRS’s trailer and film clients. This meant that we ended up using the very specification required for Dolby Atmos Theatrical as a foundation to which we then added additional speakers to make a High Order Ambisonics studio. Atmos required a 32-speaker array comprising 12 high level speakers in the ceiling and 20 speakers nominally at sitting ear height.

We then had to select a speaker design which would deliver the high levels Atmos requires with very low levels of distortion and wide dispersion, giving the widest ‘sweet spot’ possible. Sweet spot size is very important – how can you collaborate with clients if the only person in the room who can experience the ‘mix’ is the one sitting in the engineer’s chair? We selected a new speaker design concept from Exigy, which has a very wide dispersion pattern giving exceptional clarity and an enhanced, large sweet spot, all with very low distortion and high power levels when needed. The technical side of the install has a 48 fader 500 path DFC Gemini, Protools HDX 2 and a HDX 3, 16 by 16 x 64 Madi matrix and the switching of room modes via a 15 x 4 crossover array.

When did work start on the studio?

Conceptually, the design work started in early 2015 but it had its roots back in 2008 when we first started working on immersive/3D sound. The actual build started in July 2017 with completion in November 2017.

What will the new studio bring to GCRS?

Immersive 3D audio is a new skill set which is in its infancy. Where it will go no one really knows, but for GCRS and GCVRS we see the new studios as being capable of richly enhancing our understanding of sound and how to use sound to create much deeper experiences. Stereo is amazing but it cannot take us forward any further – Audio Lab 2 will help us on this journey.

Does this launch illustrate GCRS’ commitment to providing the most cutting-edge services in the market?

Absolutely. Our focus is about delivering best in class audio environments with in-depth client creative participation during the mix process, all encapsulated into a seamless and efficient workflow. Key to this is embracing emerging technologies and ensuring our facilities are at the absolute forefront of sound design technology – which I’m proud to say they are.

What has the response been like from engineers and audio professionals utilising the space?

Excellent. Both clients and audio luminaries have really bought into the studio design concept and sound at all levels. It is early days but what is notable is that the studio has gone straight into production without any glitches either technically or sonically.