SFX for Surround in Corporate Events
By Harold Blumberg

By now, you should know that SFX is a true winner when it comes to everything from small community theatre to large-scale Broadway style productions.  But how does it handle in more utilitarian settings such as a big-time corporate event?  This month, Harold Blumberg of Blumberg Sound Design talks a little about his experience with SFX during a large scale corporate sound event and its advantages over other well-known sound software packages.

Blumberg Sound Design has been providing surround audio to corporate clients for several years.  Recent events include Panasonic Broadcast at NAB for Events on Sand, Xbox 360 at E3 for ZED Ink., and NVIDIAs NVISION 08 for Carlstrom Productions.  As these events required playback of surround music and sound effects, the traditional replay type devices had to be replaced by something with multi-track capability.  Traditional replay devices, while digital, are still very linear in their file handling and limited in their editing capability.  We decided a PC based solution was required.  As we prefer the sound of high end converters and have had great success with Lynx sound cards, we built several systems using Magma PCI expansion chassis with Lynx 2B sound cards (2 in, 6 out) and Seagate Barracuda hard drives. As we soon discovered, the hardware was only part of the solution; the software selection proved to be more difficult. 


The first year we used several software packages as we had issues with file compatibility.  Most composers of corporate event audio are working in ProTools, however ProTools is not really suited as a playback program for playing multiple sound files in rapid and random succession.  Dolby AC3 seemed to be the best file format choice as there are several playback programs that will recognize multiple output sound cards and play AC3 files.  However, we experienced difficulties with many of the musicians working in ProTools being unable to save AC3 files, and while they sound relatively good, they are still compressed files.   Plus, we were not satisfied with those programs playback controls.

Another major issue is the choice of drivers.  The programs we were using all used the Windows WDM driver.  WDM worked for stereo files on 2 track sound cards, but when playing stereo files over multiple output sound cards, we were experiencing random output track switching.  We assign surround files in the following order: L-R on tracks 1,2; Center-Sub on tracks 3,4; and Surround L-R on tracks 5,6.  This allows stereo files to also play on tracks 1,2 for compatibility using the same playback s 3,4 or 5,6 instead of tracks 1,2. 

This year we decided to standardize on 6 channel interleaved (5.1) wav files.  ProTools will save to this format natively without an extra-charge plug-in and the files are not compressed.  What sold us on SFX 6 is the use of ASIO drivers, not WDM.  With SFX 6 and ASIO drivers, 6 channel interleaved (5.1) wav files play natively and we have not experienced one example of improper track assign.  SFX 6 has been rock-solid in this respect.

An added benefit is Sony SoundForge 9 will open and edit 6 channel interleaved (5.1) wav files so editing can be done without re-entering ProToolsersonal music files will play as well.

SFX 6 has been completely stable and solid on our systems and sounds better than WDM-based programs.

Harold Blumberg owns and operates Blumberg Sound Design.  Contact him at harold at blumberg-sound dot com