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  1. #1
    M.P.S.E /AES/SMPTE member Sir Terrence the Terrible's Avatar
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    Why soundtracks should be remixed for hometheater

    I had a discussion with one of my friends(who was at the screening of Star Wars I put together) who also has a very good hometheater system on why soundtracks from some studios sound really good, and from others have issues with dialog and loud sound effects. It seems that he has to constantly ride the volume control on some soundtracks, bringing the dialog up at quiet moments, and jumping up to reduce the volume when sound effects are at full bore. He comment during our screening of Star Wars how good it sounded in my small 7.1 HT/music room(seats 4 comfortably), and he never touched the volume control ones during the movies. He also noticed the movie sound "different" on my system in my signature. I explained to him they are both calibrated differently, and that would explain the "difference" he heard with the sound of Star Wars. It didn't sound bad, just different. Let me briefly explain why soundtracks can sound so different from the various studios.

    All soundtracks are mixed for the theatrical environment. In that environment the front three speakers are calibrated at 85db, and each of the surrounds are calibrated at 82db(85db summed), and 89-90db for the LFE channel. They sit in a room that is conservatively 10 times the size of the average hometheater. The background levels in this room hover around NC-20 or less(in some dubbing stages), which ensure the full dynamic range of the soundtrack will be heard. There is no bass management, and there is the X curve(SMPTE ISO-2969) we must follow when designing soundtracks. You have between 12 and 18 surround speakers(depending on the size of the dubbing stage), and three very big speakers behind the screen with 4-10 subwoofers in the system(depending on the size of the dubbing stage).
    When a soundtrack is played back in this environment, you hear it in all of its glory without amplitude errors you get at home.

    All soundtracks on video from Warner, Universal, Paramount, and every other studio(some exceptions will be listed) carry a soundtrack from this environment. There is no alteration to it in any way, so what you hear is exactly what they heard on the dubbing stage(warts and all).

    We listen to these unaltered soundtracks on systems that consist of bookshelf or floorstanding L/R mains, and small horizontally oriented center, and a left and right(and sometimes left and right rear) surround. All channels are calibrated to 75db, and the sub at about 79-80db.(if it is properly calibrated). The average background level in our homes is about 55db, and the room is at least 10 times smaller than the a medium size dubbing stage.

    When you take a soundtrack built on one system, in a very large room, and play it back on another system in a much smaller room, you are going to have playback errors all over the place. This is why you have dialog issues, and dynamic range issues when playing back film soundtracks.

    In 2000, I noticed this effect, and went to my superiors at the time to ask if I could take one our our home video releases, and remix it on a system that was more like HT we use at home, and in a room the size we have in our homes. They agreed, and when they heard the results, I was assigned to mix all of our home video releases this way. What I was trying to do was avoid all of the THX bandages that were applied in the a THX certified system to overcome these playback errors. I wanted soundtracks that didn't require re-equalization, decorrolation, and timbre matching.

    Disney along with MGM, and Sony on occasion mix their releases with a nearfield system in HT size rooms. This is why our soundtracks do not have the playback issues that Paramounts, Universal, and Warner home video soundtracks have.

    What do we do when we re-mix in the nearfield? We raise low level dialog and ambience higher, lower the peak level of the sound effects, and apply equalization to blend these elements back together seamlessly.

    The only way to make film soundtracks sound their best for HT, you must optimize them for that environment using equipment that represents the high end of HT.
    Sir Terrence

    Titan Reference 3D 1080p projector
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    9 Onkyo M-5099 power amp
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  2. #2
    Loving This kexodusc's Avatar
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    Insightful. Thanks for sharing. Seems a no brainer you'd remix for much smaller rooms and different speaker configurations, but what do I know? If I read you correctly, some studios don't?

  3. #3
    M.P.S.E /AES/SMPTE member Sir Terrence the Terrible's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kexodusc View Post
    Insightful. Thanks for sharing. Seems a no brainer you'd remix for much smaller rooms and different speaker configurations, but what do I know? If I read you correctly, some studios don't?
    You are correct. Sony, Paramount, Universal, and sometimes Sony dumps their theatrical mixes right on to their home video releases, hence why you have to ride the volume control like a bronco horse.
    Sir Terrence

    Titan Reference 3D 1080p projector
    200" SI Black Diamond II screen
    Oppo BDP-103D
    Datastat RS20I audio/video processor 12.4 audio setup
    9 Onkyo M-5099 power amp
    9 Onkyo M-510 power amp
    9 Onkyo M-508 power amp
    6 custom CAL amps for subs
    3 custom 3 way horn DSP hybrid monitors
    18 custom 3 way horn DSP hybrid surround/ceiling speakers
    2 custom 15" sealed FFEC servo subs
    4 custom 15" H-PAS FFEC servo subs
    THX Style Baffle wall

  4. #4
    Forum Regular audio amateur's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sir Terrence the Terrible View Post
    You are correct. Sony, Paramount, Universal, and sometimes Sony dumps their theatrical mixes right on to their home video releases, hence why you have to ride the volume control like a bronco horse.
    I do this all the time, especially when I'm not watching the film on my own (I don't really mind the changes in volumes and sometimes loud peaks, but that doesn't apply to everyone).

    Your first post was very insightful, it completes what my thoughts were on the subject. I have to say my biggest gripe is dialog, as even with a 4dB boost on the center channel, I still don't always get what is being said. Thanks for sharing.

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