Surround Options

Are you Blur or Oasis?
Are you ambient, or direct?
Of course, the first question
might be better posed as
‘music or film?’, but the
simple matter of speaker
positions does still seem to
create some ill-reasoned
loyalties and extraordinary
myths. We turn to Andy
Munro, to clear the whole
mess up…

Setting up Setting up a surround monitoring system is fraught with issues – acoustic room treatment, bass management, and speaker positions are just a few. It’s that last one that causes a special bit of confusion – particularly if your work
isn’t wholly music or wholly film sound. Of the myriad of
surround speaker positioning protocols, it does seem that
two are particularly prevalent: ITU–R BS.775–1, and what is normally referred to as the Dolby set-up (early detail in the
Dolby Surround Mixing Manual). What is essentially the ITU set-up is, in fact, detailed in Dolby’s 5.1-Channel Music Production Guidelines. The main differences are the positions and angles of the surrounds. ITU has the surrounds on the imaginary circle around the listening position, angled directly at the sweet spot (all source equidistant from listener), while the Dolby surround mixing version has the surrounds on the side walls, pointing inwards and positioned above the listener (thus the surrounds are more ‘ambient’ than ‘direct’). Of course, there are more variations, especially when it comes to larger rooms and Dolby certification, and so on.

So this doesn’t get out of hand, it’s best to ask an expert. Andy Munro, of Munro Acoustics, has designed some of the most highly-rated surround rooms for both film and for music around the world. We spoke to him about not only the placement of speakers in a multi-channel environment, but also the philosophy of surround mixing in general. It seems that you can’t think
about monitoring without considering mixing… Which is probably as it should be.

Audio Media: Is the world reaching a consen-
sus on surround system monitor positions or is it fragmented. Which should we choose and why?

Andy Munro:
"It depends on the room as much as anything. The room has quite a bearing on it. If it’s a music control room and
it’s a music mix, then I would defi-
nitely go for the ITU arrangement – the classic 5.1 with the surround speakers at 100 – 120 degrees from the normal zero angle. But if it’s any-
thing to do with post production or film and so on then I would as
much as possible try and go for the Dolby arrangement.

"The idea of the Dolby one basically is that the surround channels cover a much bigger area. The thing about the ITU arrangement is that there is a sweet spot – a mix position. Nobody else is going to get anything like a sur-
round mix; so if you’ve got people sitting at the back of the room on a sofa or something like that
then they’re going to hear the surround speakers
first, and then everything is going to be out, tim-
ing wise..

"With the Dolby set-up, no matter where you sit you hear the front speakers before you hear the
rear ones, which as you can imagine isn’t that easy in a small room.

"It’s all to do with time delays really, and I think sur-
round sound is very much misunderstood by a lot of music mixers because of that, whereas film people tend
to understand it very well and are very subtle about their
surround mixing. They tend to use a lot of reverbs and a
lot of diffusion to ‘de-localise’ the sound.

"The best surround mixes, that I’ve heard in music anyway – which tend to come out of Nashville – use a lot of reverb and a lot of de-focussing on the rears. If there’s one thing I cannot stand it’s someone blowing
a trumpet behind my left ear. I find it very disconcerting
indeed… to the point where I really don’t like listening to 5.1 in that way. I like listening to classical music in 5.1 if they somehow manage to capture the ambience of the hall and create the right reverb balance. It can sound fantastic.

"I remember hearing a radio france transmission years
ago that was, if I remember rightly, on a DTS or Dolby demo disk in the early days of DVD. it was so good it sent
shivers down my spine. It was recorded in a cathedral in France and I thought ‘that’s it… if that’s the way s
urround can be done then it’s just going to be a huge success.’ Unfortunately, apart from a few opera DVDs and so on, not many people are doing it.

"The speaker arrangements and all of that are really secondary to getting the concept right. Actually think-
ing ‘why do we have surround – why do we have multi-
channel’? The whole point is to put you into a space. It’s not to do circus tricks like in the old ping pong days
of stereo. The whole idea is to put you into a space and
make you feel that you’re there. That’s it, that’s the be-
all and end-all of it. Okay, in the cinema you might have
special effects like someone creeping up behind you or whatever, but that’s very rarely used; and the reason it’s
rarely used is because it’s very hard to get everybody to experience the same thing."


There’s more to this article than
meets the eye. You can read more of Andy Munro’s expert view of surround monitoring options, plus get behind-the-
scenes insight into a large range of the latest and greatest
in monitoring and headphone options in our Monitors buyer’s

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