Year of the System: Lost in Translation or How I Started Looking for the X Curve
So here’s one for the rest of you system optimization junkies like me. I’m trying to solve a dilemma so I don’t have a lot of answers here, and I’d love some input via the comments section. This is just something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. The basic issue is that I haven’t been satisfied with the way our audio for video has been translating in our big room when it has primarily been mixed in little rooms, and I’m wondering if there might be a better way to optimize our systems for this. This might ramble a bit so bear with me.
The whole thought process really started when I was talking with Tom Petty’s FOH guy, Stewart Bennett. As I’ve been building my optimization chops using an FFT such as SmaartLive, I’ve been optimizing systems to get a linear response. For those new to optimization and without going into the nitty-gritty on what FFT’s are, this basically means I’m optimizing my system so that that what we hear in the room is a linear representation of what the console is spitting out; this way everything we do on the console translates to the system giving the FOH engineer complete control at the console. This is the method that Robert Scovill is a big proponent of, and I would say I’ve had a lot of success with it. However, I’m still wondering if there could be a different approach worth trying even though everything we mix live in the room meets our expectations of our systems in their current state.
When I got to hang out with Stewart Bennett, we talked about a lot of different optimization curves that some other heavy-hitter FOH guys like to employ on their systems. Without going into details, some guys essentially make some sort of compensation for Equal Loudness contours which almost always entails some kind of cut per octave happening above 1k. Some of these approaches were also shared by some of my church audio geek friends. I am always up for experimenting, but there is definitely an element right now of “it ain’t broke” in the system so my plan was to hold off until we upgrade before I start experimenting again.
So fast forward a bit to this whole audio-for-video translation issue. Thinking about a different approach to system tuning got me thinking about something called the X Curve which is an optimization curve that movie theaters use. You can do some research of your own if you want to find out about it, but the X Curve basically looks eerily similar to some of the curves described in my discussions with other sound reinforcement guys.
Thinking about the whole crux of what we do, sound reinforcement in a modern church can really be a unique venture compared to a lot of other environments. I don’t know about your church but within one event or service ours can be required to meet the needs of a rock concert, movie theater, and college lecture in under 30 minutes. Just within these 3 elements are 3 different SPL level needs with almost 30 dB of dynamic range between the average programming SPL’s. In an effort to create a live music experience on par with a concert experience, a lot of emphasis these days gets put into optimizing systems for this, but I’m wondering if the rest of what we do might be suffering as a result and if there’s a way to compromise optimization to create the best experience for everything we do. Ultimately, my goal is to get things that are mixed in the big room for a service or event to translate to a smaller medium such as a video control room or hallway, and then vice versa. And while there is a lot of discussion on the net about room size and the psych-acoustics involved along with the difference between mixing on nearfield monitors vs. mid or far-field as it pertains to the post world, nobody seems to want to stamp a systematic approach to setting up for this.
So here are some questions for discussion from some of you other guys who like to play with this sort of thing and have more experience in this area than me. Is there a one-size-fits-all optimization curve that you like to use to get all programming types in the ballpark? Is it better to optimize the system to be linear(flat) and then to make adjustments to individual programming? What have you found works best in your rooms? Does the dynamic nature of what we do wihtin a church service make mix translation outside of our bigger rooms ultimately unrealistic?