Tascam DR-701D and Sennheiser Ambeo Package
If you’ve jumped into the confusing “Wild West”-like atmosphere of VR content creation, you may know that VR cameras seem to have exploded in popularity with dozens of both consumer and professional grades available, with new models hitting the market almost weekly. Audio for VR, on the other hand, is a different animal than shooting 360 video. Think about it: VR/360 video is viewed in usually one of two ways, ideally with VR headsets for a fully immersive experience or also on a smartphone screen where the phone’s accelerometer, compass and display allow you to visually experience a bit of the VR look and feel.
But what about the VR sound? If you are wearing a headset and walk through a room, with, say, a person speaking to you, the sound will change as you move through the scene, right? A person speaking sounds different to you from 20 feet away than from 3 feet away, right? This is known as the Doppler effect, and it’s the same thing you experience when you are walking down the street and you hear a siren in the distance. The siren grows louder and more present as it makes its way closer to you, then fades in amplitude as it moves away from you.
Many people new to VR think that perhaps the audio is merely surround sound in a 5.1 or 7.1 format. Many of us have surround sound in our homes and are familiar with how it works. But for VR, surround sound just doesn’t work. The sound that is needed is called Ambisonics. It’s a sound format that slightly differs from your usual stereo/surround paradigm because its channels are not attached to speakers. Instead, an Ambisonics recording actually represents the whole spherical soundfield around a point. In practice, it means that you can represent sound coming from all directions around a listening position and, using an appropriate decoder, you can play back the same recording in any set of speakers with any number of channels arranged around the listener horizontally or vertically.
From a VR creator aspect, one of the biggest challenges in recording Ambisonic sound has been expense and complexity. When I wrote about the Wild West atmosphere in the VR world, that’s not hyperbole. I shot VR in Africa a year and half ago, and the sound mixer who accompanied us showed me his hand-modified VR sound recorder, a factory Zoom recorder that had been disassembled and modified to record Ambisonic sound. The sound mixer also used a special Tetrahedral microphone that he told me cost about $4,000. The entire VR audio postproduction process, just like stitching 360 video from multiple cameras, was complex and expensive.
Tascam, in partnership with Sennheiser recently announced a new 2.0 firmware update for its popular and relatively economical DR-701D six track recorder that allows for Ambisonic recording. The two companies are offering the DR-701D recorder with the new VR firmware update that has been specially designed to interface with Sennheiser’s AMBEO tetrahedral VR microphone. This new update supports Ambisonics recording by enabling encoding both A and B formats and providing a real-time stereo monitor mix of B format content. What’s most interesting about the partnership and the resulting package is that the two items can be purchased for just a little over $2,100. This is about half the cost of just what a quality VR microphone used to sell for, for an Ambisonic recorder and VR microphone. The price performance parameter in recording VR audio has just taken a major step toward affordability. While $2,100 is a significant expense, before this system was available, the price for the same capability was more in the $9,000 and up price range. At press time, a system wasn’t yet available for evaluation but we will be pursuing acquiring a review copy of the system for a future user review.
Remote Audio HN-7506 Noise-Reducing Headphone System
If you’ve been in the video or audio for video business for any amount of time, chances are good that you’ve experienced situations where you are supposed to be carefully monitoring audio in locations with high ambient noise. Sound mixers often find themselves in very high noise environments such as helicopters, racetracks, firing ranges, or rock concerts, where the ambient sound levels are so loud that you really cannot hear what you are recording.
Remote Audio has introduced a special headphone monitoring system that is designed to provide extreme isolation from outside noise. Known as the Remote Audio HN-7506, the system utilizes industry Sony MDR-7506 drivers with special baffling that radically reduces perceived ambient sound while monitoring. The Remote Audio HN-7506 adds a high degree of protection from hearing damage while giving the user the familiar sound of the industry-standard Sony headphones. Sealing off outside ambience by as much as 45dB, the HN-7506 is designed to sound like the industry standard Sony MDR-7506 and allows the switch from one to another without loss of monitoring standard and reliability.
I had a chance to evaluate the Remote Audio HN-7506s on a recent shoot for a Netflix series. In the scene being filmed, a crowd was screaming wildly as an ’80s metal band played on a nearby stage. Two of the characters in the scene were having a discussion as the loud band played. Often in TV/film production, in a scene like this, the sound of the band and of the crowd will later be dubbed in post as the band and crowd mime their parts. For some reason, unbeknownst to me, in this scene, the band on stage was really playing, and the crowd was really loud. I was not the project’s sound mixer, but I was allowed to listen to what the sound mixer was hearing through both his regular Sony MDR-7506 headphones and through a set of the Remote Audio HN-7506s. The difference in what I could hear of the scene being shot was considerable between the two headsets. With the Sony MDR-7506s, which are not even full-ear headsets, I could not hear anything the two actors having the conversation were saying. Switching to the Remote Audio HN-7506s, which seal over your full ear, I could immediately tell a huge difference as I could hear exactly what the actors were saying, even though the ambient sound levels were relatively high.
The headphones did exactly what they were supposed to, an impressive feat. The Remote Audio HN-7506s are relatively larger and heavier than the stock MDRV-7506s, so there may be times when size and weight are more important than the ability to block ambient sound. For those times when you need to record audio in high ambient sound level situations, try the Remote Audio HN-7506s. They retail for around $310 from all of the popular online retailers or from your local sound business.