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Listener as conductor: Inside L-Acoustics Creations BluBubbles

The 'genuine experience of live sound in the home'

The Bubble Deck

It looks like a regular, upmarket home in an unapologetically leafy North London suburb, but this disguises two things: firstly, that it used to be a Post Office sorting depot; and secondly that it is now the site of some of L-Acoustics’ farthest-reaching R&D. Founder of the market-leading French sound systems manufacturer, Christian Heil, has made the UK his base and has surrounded himself – one might say immersed himself – in audio talent in the pursuit of new goals. Even the postman has little idea.

This is where L-ISA Immersive Hyperreal Sound Technology, the live and installed sound statement in the current parliament of immersive audio, develops and grows every day and has been since before the world first heard of it in 2016. However, its granular redefinition of audio reproduction has led L-Acoustics into new territories for the creator of V-DOSC and Wavefront Sculpture Technology. Professional mixing and even domestic markets have moved into view, at least at the luxury end, and the whole concept has been bottled for recorded media and post-production consumption with a label that says BluBubbles. Sparkling, it is.

L-Acoustics Highgate showroom

Blu Hotel

The showroom is ringed with 18 L-ISA-enabled speakers and several subs in a configuration called Ocean. It also features Island, a self-contained private auditorium encasing 18 speakers and a pair of subwoofers. Attached to it is a device with remote control, called the Bubble Deck, for playback of audio produced for the BluSpace standard, effectively creating an 18.1 or 23.1 immersive system with optional overheads. Uniquely, the coherence of the entire sound field – known here as the Ocean – is maintained throughout 360°, with subtle dynamic shifts if you move around. The L-ISA Playback Suite is comprised of the Player, the Bubble Deck and the Player App – a GUI for iOS 11.0 devices or later including the iPad.

It’s the individual sound creations that are the actual Bubbles, each one a mix of up to 96 ‘sound objects’ sent to up to 24 speaker channels. Their combination makes Ocean a virtual rendition of the recording space, with the same dynamic changes between the sound objects as between the original sources in the recording studio. As Heil has explained about the project: “The signature of residential L-ISA is to bring the genuine experience of live sound into the home, as if the listener is the conductor of a symphony orchestra and has the same emotions as if standing on the podium – every instrument localised and adapted to the unique room acoustics. Or, if it’s rock music, it’s as if the listener is very close to the stage with a hyper-realistic impression of the band – perhaps a little like the feeling of a front of house engineer.”

Naturally, this demands a thorough review of recording techniques, with engineers facing a genuine paradigm shift. The L-ISA headquarters – and the suburb in question is Highgate – also features studio space and a mix/control room wherein visitors can take their first steps down this new path, starting with listening tests on Island and in Ocean – bring a raft if you’re nervous – and exposure to life beyond two busses. The aim is to reveal the creative possibilities that the object-based audio environment opens up without the constrictions of summing everything down to a stereo field.

“The signature of residential L-ISA is to bring the genuine experience of live sound into the home, as if the listener is the conductor”: Christian Heil

Island’s 18 channels, and its subs, can be augmented with five overhead sources if required, so of course the mix room is configured for exactly this output. It’s entirely unique, but such exclusivity does bring liberation from the types of distortion that restrict mass-market mixing. So far the principle DAWs used at L-Acoustics are Pro Tools and the VR-friendly REAPER DAW by Cockos, but Nuendo, Logic Pro and Ableton Live are also compatible. The workflow entails multitrack output from the DAW to the L-ISA Processor, unmodified from live sound reinforcement applications, via a MADI interface if you turn up with your own laptop.

The processor has a plugin that accesses the automation engine of the DAW, which can then be used to program trajectories around the sound field, while other techniques are available to build the workflow you require. Once rendered, the signals are output to the array of monitors just as you would expect; a studio model of the same L-ISA output to a PA system at immersive gigs.

There the familiarity ends: you are now monitoring on over 18 speakers and life has changed. So has mastering, with a potentially unruly crowd of peaks and headrooms. BluBubbles demands a new approach, with the range of dynamics between so many different Bubble files necessitating a more complex process of audio glazing.

You can read the full article in the digital edition of the March issue (p27-29), which you can find here.