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Surround sound is now supported in Pro Tools LE 8, with the addition of the complete production toolkit. If you are fortunate enough to have the tool kit in the interface that supports at least 6 outs, you can set your system up to mix and surround. So, again the requirements to enable 7.1 surround sound in your I/O setup are the complete production toolkit, but above that you need an interface that supports enough outputs, discrete outputs, to feed the surround sound speaker setup. So, if you have an inbox, there is only two outputs.
You are not going to be able to feed 6 speakers. So, you are going to need something like an inbox Pro for 5.1. If you want to do 7 in 1, you are going to need a 002, 003 or something like that. Now, you're also going to need speakers and some sort of volume management system. A surround sound speaker setup presents some additional challenges in that you need to have all of the speakers connected to some sort of monitor control that supports a surround sound environment. Generally, on the front of your 003 or your inbox, you have a monitor control but that's a stereo level control.
You're going to need something that can control the level of 6 speakers together. So, there is a lot of options out there. Just consider that when are you sort of thinking about setting up a surround sound mixing environment. Now, to setup Pro Tools and the mixer to extend the mix and the surround, what you can do is an I/O setup, setup I/O. In the Output tab, I can add a new surround sound path. So, I can define this path as a surround sound output. So, I'll call this surround and I'll assign that to some additional outputs on my interface.
Now, how this is mapped out is going to correspond to how you need to connect your speakers to the back of your interface. So, if 3 is left and 4 is center, you need to make sure that's how you are connecting them. Otherwise, the Surround Panner inside the software is not going to direct the signal to the right speaker. Now, once you have the I/O setup correctly, you can now begin putting components of your mix to the rear speakers by sending them out to the surround outputs.
Now, by selecting the output and choosing your surround bus, you can extend that into the rear speakers. Once you assign the surround output, you are going to get the surround panning matrix that you can pull up, which is going to allow you to place a track in the surround field. Now, you probably want to create a Master Fader to monitor your surround output, so I can choose a new 5.1 Master Fader and that's going to get assigned to my surround sound output.
Now, the reason we create this Master Fader again is to make sure we are not clipping that output but also what we can do is we can place an EQ, where we are able to using a multi-mono EQ filter the LFE or the Low Frequency Effect. By unlinking the multi-mono EQ, I can choose the LFE channel and I can filter the output of my subwoofer channel so that no high frequency is going into that. And generally, a surround sound system is going to do that anyways but sometimes let's say you're playing back DVD audio, sometimes the DVD player will fold the low frequency effect back into just the stereo left and right speakers and so it's a good idea to filter all of that stuff out if the surround sound channel isn't going to use.
Now, some basic surround mixing strategies. If you are mixing surround and music, remember to think about how people listen to music. So, what I would like to do is first mix in stereo, get that sounding right and then possibly extend some of the components into the rears. So, I'm leaving most things static upfront. You know, think about how you watch a band. Do you stand in the middle of the stage with the band around you? Or do you typically stand out in front of the band, looking at the band? And you know, be creative but things panning around in space and whirling around your head, that's great for the movies but generally in a music context, we want to be a bit more subtle with that.
So, think about just sort of extending maybe the tails of your reverbs or the tails of your delay tracks or certain effects tracks into the rear speakers while most things are still upfront. Watch for phase problems with the center channel versus the left and the right. So, normally when we listen to music, we get a phantom center created by the left and right channels when things are panned and coming out equally from the left and right sides. But now when we are dealing with the center channel, we got to be very careful where we are replacing things in our mix.
The Surround Panner in Pro Tools has a center level control that you can use to adjust whether something will be or won't be in the center channel. And don't be afraid to just set certain tracks outputs just for that center channel and not in the left or right hand sides. Now, in terms of getting this mix out of Pro Tools, what you are going to get when you bounce to disk a surround session is discrete audio files. So, you are going to get an audio file for each speaker.
So, a left wave, a center wave, a right wave, left rear, right rear, LFE. Now, you are going to need to take that and put that into some sort of surround encoder and then burn that to some sort of medium that will work for you. There is a lot of software utilities out there on the market, if you just do a Google search for surround encoding, but know that Pro Tools stock, as it sits, will not encode anything into surround. So, if you want to go play it on your home theater system, it generally needs to be encoded into Adobe or a DTS format and then burned correctly to a DVD audio or a DVD video to play it back.
So, obviously this isn't meant to be a comprehensive look at surround mixing. That would take a whole other course but hopefully, I have given those with access to surround setup some inspiration and useful insights on surround mixing inside of Pro Tools.
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