After 37 years together, jazz fusion luminaries Manteca used a cutting-edge 12.2 mix room featuring Neumann monitors to turn it’s The Twelfth of Never album into a 3D space.
Manteca, with nine principle players, released a traditional stereo recording at the end of September, 2016. However, an offhand discussion between the group’s co-founder, Matt Zimbel, who also works as a television producer, and Bell Media surround sound mix experts Michael Nunan and Anthony Montano led to a plan to take the record to the 3D level.
Dolby’s Atmos format was not new to Nunan or Montano. They knew the format had rarely been used for a stand-alone music recording. “Anthony and I have already been working in the Dolby Atmos format for over a year now, trying to learn how it will work for TV applications, and had become increasingly interested in how the format could be applied to non-cinema applications, especially music,” said Nunan, Bell Media’s senior manager for audio broadcast operations.
“Anthony told me about Atmos outside the truck one day while we were working on the Pan Am games and I was really intrigued,” said Zimbel.
When Zimbel told Montano and Nunan about Manteca’s new album, they knew it would be an ideal first foray into mixing a music recording in an enhanced surround format.
“The Twelfth of Never is an extraordinary album with fantastic players, great songs and arrangements that are well-suited to this kind of space,” Nunan said. “These arrangements are quite dense with a lot of moving parts. The possibility to get inside the music in this three-dimensional space is a major evolution of the craft of music production.”
The record was initially recorded and mixed in stereo by Jeff Wolpert at the sprawling Revolution Recording studio in Toronto. Nunan and Montano started with individual tracks for each instrument that included Wolpert’s processing and adjustments.
From left to right: Matt Zimbel of Manteca; Producer Jeff Wolpert; Colleen Allen of Manteca; Ben Escobedo; Justin Auld, sales, Sennheiser; Doug Wilde of Manteca; Doug Spears, Manager ProAV Sales, Canada, Sennheiser; Anthony Montano, Broadcast Audio Operations, Bell Media; Michael Nunan, Senior Manager, Broadcast Audio Operations, Bell Media; Norman Verrall, sales manager, HHB Canada; Charlie Cooley of Manteca. Photo by Terry Edelman
“We wanted to utilize the basic tonality that Jeff had crafted for the record and work from there,” Nunan said. Nunan and Montano took those tracks to Bell Media Studios in Toronto, home of one of very few non-cinema mix rooms in the country fully equipped for high-order surround.
“Neumann monitors are used throughout Bell Media Studios because of their excellent sound quality, flat frequency response and compact size,” he said. “All of those factors made them an easy choice for our enhanced surround mix room.”
The mix room features 12 KH 120 monitors complemented by a pair of KH 810 subwoofers. “It is imperative that we have accurate imaging as we explore these new formats, and the Neumann monitors provide that.”
Nunan and Montano hewed close to Wolpert’s core sounds from his stereo mix. “The kick drum sound was the same one Jeff had in his final mix, for example, which we would diverge from only if we needed to account for what happened in the space we were creating.” Some of their enhancements included utilizing special surround reverb and delay effects that were rendered to fill the 3D space.
Wolpert and Zimbel remained involved throughout the process to ensure fidelity to the original sonic vision of The Twelfth of Never.
“As you can imagine, imaging is super important and that is something at which these speakers excel,” said Wolpert. “Without precision of placement there would be no ability to precisely create the virtual atmosphere we were after. They really are extraordinary.”
With this very unique mix of Manteca’s latest work complete and approved by Zimbel and the band, it was time to decide how best to present the cutting edge material to the world despite the dearth of non-cinema venues equipped for high-order surround playback.
“We didn’t feel that a movie theater was the right place to debut this, so we decided to bring it back to where it all began: to Revolution Recording’s Studio A live room,” said Zimbel. The audience would be divided into two listening sessions and include friends and collaborators of the band as well as industry luminaries and a few lucky Jazz FM Toronto donors.
To achieve the balanced sound the team had relied on during the mix stage, they reached out to Sennheiser’s Doug Spears, Manager ProAV Sales, Canada, who was able to coordinate the delivery of a 14-speaker Atmos-ready sound system for the occasion.
The system featured Neumann’s KH 420, KH 310 and KH 120 monitors and KH 810 subwoofers, arrayed in a 7.1 configuration at ear level with an additional 5.1 array above the listening positioning to add the crucial height dimension, each encircling the 50 chairs gathered in the immense live room.
“Incredible,” said one guest as enthusiastic applause erupted after playback completed.
While the method of delivery for a commercially distributed version of the high order surround mix of The Twelfth of Never is uncertain, Nunan hopes that continuing advances in surround reproduction technology will make a compatible system more widely available in the form of a pair of normal headphones.
“When we created the mix, we did so by placing audio objects in a virtual space, which the computer then renders to the specific speaker orientation we have available upon playback,” Nunan explained. “This means we can always re-render our mix to a new speaker format as standards evolve. Some day we hope this will include a binaural convolution that allows us to deliver the effect on conventional headphones.”
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