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Jeff Mullen | Sonichead
- Original article first appeared in Pro Sound News
Stress-Free Upmixing to High-Quality 5.1 Surround With NUGEN Audio’s Halo Upmix
by Jeff Mullen
As founder and owner of Sonichead, a full-service audio post-production facility specializing in television productions, I rely heavily on my music background. A classically trained percussionist, I learned early on that I had an affinity for recording and production; in fact, I became a full-fledged Tonmeister while working on my degree in Sound Recording Technology at the State University of New York at Fredonia. To the uninitiated, a Tonmeister is a professional audio engineer who combines deep musical training with a detailed theoretical and practical knowledge of virtually all aspects of sound recording.
Today this background informs every aspect of our work at Sonichead, and it has lead us to seek out tools for developing final mixes that closely mirror the original intent of the musicians and other content creators. With headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, we have the opportunity to work with many high-profile clients based in the Washington, D.C. area including the National Geographic Channel, PBS, and Discovery Communications.
Although our core focus is promos and commercials, we’ve done a wide range of projects including full-length programs and short films. Since most of this content is bound for broadcast, we’re required to generate a quality upmix to 5.1 surround from stereo components for virtually every Sonichead project regardless of length. And without much leeway in the typical production schedule, we’re usually under the gun to produce the upmix as quickly as possible.
We’ve worked with a few surround upmixing tools, but until recently we hadn’t found one that could meet our high expectations, particularly for a program’s musical components. Other upmixers would produce a 5.1 surround output that sounded very different from the original, introducing unnatural reverb and delay to the original audio signal. Surround audio tended to be pumping and phasey sounding, and the upper mid-range would be overhyped in an unnatural way. With so many phase issues in both the 5.1 upmix and stereo downmix, we were having to spend too much time tweaking parameters to make the upmix sound natural and bring it up to our clients’ quality standards.
Then I came across NUGEN Audio’s Halo Upmix, a ProTools plugin for automated upmixing of stereo audio to 5.1/7.1 surround. NUGEN Audio has a stellar reputation for audio tools that are technically advanced and produce very high-quality output, so when I heard early last year that they were releasing an upmixing product, I knew it would be something special.
We have used Halo Upmix on stereo ambiences and backgrounds for a range of projects and we have not been disappointed — the plugin is a tremendous improvement over anything else on the market. With Halo, the phasey artifacts, strange reverbs, and delays are now gone and the mid-range is no longer over-hyped; in fact, both the upmix and the downmix sound identical to the original stereo source material. The tool’s intuitive GUI not only gives us an at-a-glance view of upmix parameters but also helps ensure that the downmix output precisely matches the source material. Another invaluable capability is Halo Upmix’s dialog isolation parameter. For music tracks that contain a vocal component, we use this feature to keep vocals anchored in the center channel of a surround mix.
The ability to automate every parameter in Halo Upmix has turned out to be a tremendous timesaver, and I can still tailor each source very easily for the upmix. We’re no longer walking a tightrope between making a production deadline and delivering a great-sounding mix that I know will pass QC muster, and I don’t have to continually second-guess myself.
We didn’t need much experience with Halo Upmix to understand its power not only for the downmix compatibility needed for TV sound production, but also for delivering the creative flexibility required by today’s audio engineers. We look forward to future generations of the tool.
Jeff Mullen is an Emmy® Award-winning sound designer and mixer based in Washington, D.C. Mullen has more than a decade of professional audio experience, with a specialty in long-form and short-form video content as well as commercials, promos, 5.1 surround, and stereo. In 2015, he was on the team that produced the Daytime Emmy-winning 2014 preview campaign for PBS.
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