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Mixing in 5.1 - personal preferences?

Hey hey everyone.  I'm a new poster, but definitely a long time reader...I come here whenever I need some quick information on anything audio.  Anywho, I do a lot of remixing and some small-time producing as well.  I've recently decided to mix one of the songs I was working on into a 5.1 track.  Now, I'm not talking about taking a stereo version of my mix and upsampling with that - I'm talking about deconstrucing all the individual elements in the sequencer and then reconstructing it with certain parts of the mix in certain speakers (kind of like a real DVD-Audio release).
Here's where I need your guys' help.  I've done some playing around, but I don't really have a solid idea of exactly what goes in what speaker.  What I've been doing is having most vocals come from the center, most backup vocals and ambient sound comes from the rear speakers, while the left and right are pretty much slightly altered versions of the original.  Does anyone have a personal preference as to what they want coming from their speakers during a surround sound music experience?  Has anyone had quite a lot of experience with dvd-audio and knows which elements "belong" where?  I only have a few discs and pretty much use those as a template, but there can't be any real wrong and right way.

Mixing in 5.1 - personal preferences?

Reply #1
.. I don't really have a solid idea of exactly what goes in what speaker...

The only "experience" I have is from listening to Music DVD-Video's, most of them, but not all, live concert recordings.
As you asked for personal prefs: with music I prefer limited use of the center channel. Hard centered vocals are what I would call "cinema sound" where the dialogs should come from the screen. This becomes less noticeable when you spread the main vocals more to the front L+R (or maybe don't have them in the center at all). I've heard an excellent mix where just the bass guitar and some sparse percussion and sound effects were send to the center.

The question is of course just as impossible to answer as the one what belongs in the left and what in the right channel 

Things that often work in the surrounds are softer instruments (strings, acoustic guitar, organ etc.), some backing vocal parts and/or effects (like echo) that belong in that certain music.

Maybe its just the wording, but don't think of just putting tracks in a speaker. Think of putting sound somewhere in the room    e.g. you can "pull" instruments towards the listener by adding them in the surrounds too.

A way you could also do it is placing the different parts around you in a semi circle, this can work well with orchestra or a jazz band.
In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.

Mixing in 5.1 - personal preferences?

Reply #2
I often listen and mix in 5.1. The last mix I have done was for Prodigy ( The next one is Airlock and will be released in September.
First, because 5.1 in music is quiet new, rules are not well established. It’s little bit like mix in stereo during the 60’s. The positive side is that you don’t have to much rules, the drawback is the lake of standardisation especially on the consumer playback (characteristics of the speakers, distance from the listener, …).

A lot of 5.1 mix I have listened is too often an enhanced stereo mix, even if it has been done from the multi track… You take the stereo mix and you move few light elements and reverb in the rear, take 5 channels low pass them at 85 hz for the LFE. It’s really boring.

I suggest you to use 5.1 a little bit more creatively.

Anyway, here are my experience (it’s not rules;-):

Centre channel:
The centre channel is normally used for dialog of a movie, but is sometimes very interesting for music. The benefit of it is to be really in centre without loading the left and right channels.
For the voice, if you use the centre it will really separate the voice of the music, so sometimes it can be annoying because the voice seems to be outside the music. Anyway, it may be interesting. Sometimes, I put the voice in the three fronts speakers (L,R,C). Sometimes I put the voice dry in the middle and add reverb on the others channels (L,R,LR,RR). Sometimes I put it on the 5 speakers, like it was in the middle of the room.
A bass drum in the centre can be interesting; sometimes you better take the rhythm mixed in stereo, master it separately (equalization, compression) and put it on the L and R.
For the bass, I would say that often centre is not enough to reproduce a good bass, so I usually put it on the 3 fronts (LRC).

Rear channels:
They add a new dimension in you your mix and will help you to make it airy. 
The common trick is to take elements from the front and send the reverb in the rear. It’s a king of “grand hall” effect and it’s not really interesting.
I use delays and reverb but not always from the front to the rear. I can take an instrument, put it in the rear and send the delay or the reverb on the front. Actually, you have a lot of possibilities especially with surround pan you can use in a digital audio tool. You can take your mono or stereo signal and put it where you want. Thanks to automation, you can create very interesting movements.
Toms, cymbals and percussion can be putted in the rear, it’s common but it works well.

The LFE:
Normally the 5 channels are lowpassed and put in the LFE. Personally, I prefer to create a new sub bass line.
You have many effects able to help you to do that. For the bass line, you can lower it of one octave. For the bass drum, you can trig a tone between 30 and 50 hz. The problem is make these two sub bass live together in the same subwoofer. I do have my secret trick for that. Anyway I suggest to look at the harmony of the frequency and to use a good compressor/limiter. Also you have to avoid frequencies above 85 hz, it would make your LFE the sound “boomy” while masking the real sub bass. So a low pass at 80 is highly recommended. No need to add that you need a good and well tune subwoofer in order to work properly.

Finally, a last trick is to downmix your 5.1 mix in stereo and mono in order to check the balance between all you channels. You have plugins able to do that. If your mix sounds good in stereo and mono, it should sound very good in 5.1.

Good luck!

Mixing in 5.1 - personal preferences?

Reply #3
What are the specific rules on posting a clip?  Would I get shot down if I posted say, a 30 second encode of this particular song for input?

Mixing in 5.1 - personal preferences?

Reply #4
Can I jump in here too? is a very useful resource, as it goes through a lot of the Recording Academy's Producer/Engineer group recommendations.

I do a lot of multichannel for several different formats, and have found out the hard way that there really are no rules as such, but instead a whole heap of often conflicting recommenndations.

By and large, Marcan has it pretty well correct. All I would add are the caveats that no 2 projects are the same, and what works for one might not work in another. My preference is for all 5 channels to carry significant information, but only where appropriate. I fully agree with the comments about a lot of MC releases being effectively enhanced stereo. It is far too common.

LFE is a definite matter of personal taste.
When mixing for DVD-A it is a hard choice, as DVD-A does not use Bass Management, yet a llot of consumer systems are sub/satellite based, and have their own crossovers. The frequencies of which you cannot know. I prefer, where possible, to let Bass Management do it's thing, and not use an LFE track for pop music at all. If an LFE is used, it is crucial that you check the mixes back on a sub/satellite system as well as a Bass Managed one.

All mixing should be done using identical make & model full range speakers, correctly calibrated.
Also where possible, monitor using Bob Katz' K-20 system.

Mixing in 5.1 - personal preferences?

Reply #5
Thx neilwilkes for your document.
Nice to read I wasn't so fare from great names 
As mentioned before, my last 5.1 mix of Airlock - Shape of light is available here (DTS).

Mixing in 5.1 - personal preferences?

Reply #6
just for my 2 cents worth (and that's about all you're getting, as i don't even have a 5.1 system, let alone mix for one):

LFE is meant as an effects channel, NOT as a replacement for bass in the other 5 channels.  so please don't highpass the other channels and send their bass to LFE.  most systems that need this done, will do it on their own (and if they don't, buyer beware:)).

instead use it for actual effects - maybe a lingering reverb from a slow kick-drum or something (that's a very cheesy effect, but seems to impress a lot of people...).  it could also be a way of "escaping" instruments that don't stand out in the mix (this is mainly an issue if you're hypercompressing your music and it's causing instruments to get lost).

in movies, LFE is usually used to show off

Mixing in 5.1 - personal preferences?

Reply #7
I could not agree more.
Subwoofer does not equal LFE, and should not be treated as such.

Mixing in 5.1 - personal preferences?

Reply #8
Well, subwoofer does equal LFE.
I think what you meant was LFE does not equal bass.

Mixing in 5.1 - personal preferences?

Reply #9
Well, subwoofer does equal LFE.
I think what you meant was LFE does not equal bass.
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LFE is different than subwoofer.
LFE is the .1 channel (in 5.1) and it's a channel dedicated for low frequencies.
Subwoofer is a speaker dedicated for low frequencies.
So yes it is different.

Mixing in 5.1 - personal preferences?

Reply #10
The key metadata parameters can be called the “three Ds”: dialnorm (dialog normalization), dynamic range control (DRC), and downmix levels. (DTS has no metadata and therefore doesn't support the three Ds.)

a. how much are 3Ds usable for 5.1 music? - there seems to be no such thing in DTS?
b. also as it seems DTS will support only 5.1 and up channel configs?
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Mixing in 5.1 - personal preferences?

Reply #11
b. also as it seems DTS will support only 5.1 and up channel configs?
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AFAIK, yes. DTS is 5.1, 6.1, 7.1, or multichannel matrix for headphones.
"Facts do not cease to exist just because they are ignored."
—Aldous Huxley

Mixing in 5.1 - personal preferences?

Reply #12
AFAIK, yes. DTS is 5.1, 6.1, 7.1,  ..[{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]
There is no DTS 7.1 sound format. 7.1 is more like an implementation of 6.1 sound (example: DSP programs like THX EX Music use the (virtual) position between the side and back surrounds).

DTS is only used in 5.1 or 6.1. the back center channel can either be matrixed in the L+R surround or discrete. The 6.1 format is also reffered to as DTS-ES (extended surround)

Edit: [a href="]This guy has sorted things out[/url]
In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.

Mixing in 5.1 - personal preferences?

Reply #13
There is no DTS 7.1 sound format.
[a href="index.php?act=findpost&pid=290753"][{POST_SNAPBACK}][/a]

You're right. I made a mistake.  Nevertheless, the point was that DTS is used for surround sound.
"Facts do not cease to exist just because they are ignored."
—Aldous Huxley

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