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The Game DVD-A

Surround Mixing continued

The Centre Speaker
The centre speaker/channel was designed for the cinema so that people sitting on the extreme sides of the auditorium still perceive the dialogue to be connected to the screen. In the music industry we have been happy using stereo for many years where a phantom centre is created by providing equal signals to both speakers at the same time. Now the cinema sound systems that people are buying to watch films are being used to play music too and the centre speaker has become a talking point.

I noticed on the Freddie Mercury Video Collection DVD, that the mixes by Peter Cobbin and Paul Hicks rely heavily on the centre speaker, particularly Living On My Own. On the A Night At The Opera DVD-A Elliot Scheiner has relied on the centre speaker much less, so that if one mutes the centre, the mix is not destroyed. I took this one step further for Greatest Video Hits 1 and didn't use the centre at all. My point being that this 5.1 format allows many different interpretations and that is a good thing, as is borne out by the fact that all the above mixes have received good critical reviews. I have no set of rules for myself regarding this so I have just put down the arguments for and against.

Reasons for using the centre channel or speaker.
• If one sits too far to one side, the centre of the mix still appears to be coming from the centre, not the side speaker.
• Because it is there.
• In case it is played in a cinema.

Reasons for not using the centre channel or speaker
• Sitting too far to one side is not an issue in most peoples homes.
• Sitting in the middle of a properly set-up system it is impossible to tell whether a sound is coming from a centre speaker or a phantom centre.
• There is more chance of the mix sounding as intended.
• In my experience of homes and hi-fi showrooms, the centre speaker is often different or smaller than the left and right speakers, and badly positioned, which is worrying if all the important elements like lead vocal, bass kick and snare drum are in it.
• The things in the centre of a mix are often the loudest too, so it is sensible to share the load between two channels allowing it all to be louder.
• Save money - buy better left and right speakers using money saved from not buying centre and use your AV amp/receiver to route the centre channel to the phantom centre - an easy setting on most.

One thing I found was that sharing a sound across all three speakers at once can be a problem. There are many reasons why a phantom centre and a real centre will almost never be in exactly the same position, and when they are in different positions there will be sound colouration due to slight phase shifting.

For The Game we mostly used the centre speaker in a similar way to the A Night At The Opera mixes - as a means to help locate the lead voice, bass and drums in the centre of the mix but not relying on it. We were a little more adventurous with some tracks though. In Play The Game and the middle of Sail Away Sweet Sister we put the lead voice in the centre speaker only and the drums and bass not at all. Also Crazy Little Thing Called Love and Save Me are the same mixes as on Greatest Video Hits 1 (with no centre channel) because we decided they were perfect.

The Subwoofer
Bass guitars, kick drums and toms were treated normally in the front speakers but I also fed them into the Low Frequency Extension (LFE) channel for extra bass effect only. Many domestic systems use 'Bass Management' which separates the low frequencies from all five channels and feeds them into the subwoofer along with the dedicated LFE channel. This means that often the end-user cannot control the LFE channel separately from the overall bass - a good reason not to overdo the LFE channel.

The Surround Speakers
The back speakers, on the other hand, are the main reason to do a surround mix in my opinion. Queen music is often complex and layered making it difficult to mix down to stereo in the first place. Having surround means there is more room for everything. I have tried to use the back speakers in such a way that the front and back stereo fields sound joined together as I've heard some surround mixes where this is not the case. In addition to the left/centre/right and sub panning, I arranged it so that I had four stereo fields (front, back, left and right) to route to and pan within. When facing forwards, we (humans!) aren't as good at hearing the location of a sound in the side fields as we are in the front and back, but I found it to be a good way to place things where I wanted them in the mix. Anyway, who says you have to face forwards while listening to your DVD-A?!

We have placed a lot of background vocals, guitars and keyboards in the rear speakers; we even put the lead guitar there on some songs. When the sound is in the centre-back it can seem to be coming from the centre-front, because of the way a pair of ears work. This can be a nice effect when a lead voice and lead guitar are battling it out like they are on some of these songs. Double-track voices also seem to work well in the centre back. Additionally, I have fed a small amount of lead voice and associated stereo effects into the back speakers which gives a wide spread and also means the voice is intelligible wherever one sits.

During GVH1 Brian suggested putting the bass guitar in Fat Bottomed Girls in the back speakers as well as the front. Although this is frowned upon by some people we all liked the effect and it sounded good on other systems too. I did the same thing in Save Me to try to balance the onslaught of the choruses with a more powerful bass. In the rest of the song it is in the front.

The Game 5.1 mixes are designed to be heard on a system with directional rear speakers, not the bipolar type which spread the sound. Most cinemas have the latter type of rear speakers and often many of them all the way up the side walls, so I've no idea what these mixes would sound like in there - might be interesting! Furthermore these surround mixes are not intended to be folded down to stereo as some are, but that is not to say you can't try it.

When I wanted things to move within the mix, I took cues from the panning in the original stereo mixes but also added some ideas of our own - which was nice.


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