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Immersive in the Live Sound Arena

And you will say, I thought we had heard everything about this during the other four columns. However, this topic is so omnipresent that I cannot ignore this and I would like to offer my two cents again on this, especially so, because I happen to have a very critical view of this and for many reasons too. A lot of the arguments and statements out there do grind my gears, so I will vent for a bit. Please bear with me and I very much welcome our discussion about this.

We see the companies, that make DSP or Software solutions for Immersive applications promoting their tools and products and the amount of news that they generate, making all of us feel that if we don’t use and buy those products, we are yesterday’s news. Loudspeaker brands like L’Acoustics and d&b are getting their in house solution integrated into digital mixing console setups so that you can use their offering within the console setup and despite those offerings most likely being free of charge, you will have to use their loudspeaker systems, so this is where the dollar comes full circle.

While I was working with Allen & Heath, we had an immersive product already available in 2013. This was in the old iLive console, which was discontinued in 2015 I think. Part of the internal plug-in offering was a plug-in called “LOUDSPEAKER MATRIX”. This was nothing but a GERZON Matrix calculation where you feed in a stereo signal and the plug-in distributes the stereo signal across five loudspeaker arrays according to the Gerzon algorithm. This is the Michael Gerzon, who invented AMBISONICS. I had a chance to use the plug-in very successfully for a few years in the Vienna Arts and Music festival grand opening, where we had a Gerzon matrix system installed on top, across the stage and also below the stage for more realistic stereo reproduction of orchestral pieces in an open-air live sound environment. This worked amazingly well for our application

The plug-in was for free and from about a thousand iLive users that I was able to meet over my tenure at Allen & Heath, less than ten even knew what this was about, least of all, how it could be used successfully in a live sound environment. The tool was available, but the applications were rare and rather limited and as a result this plug-in disappeared when dLive was released and to the best of my knowledge it has not come back at all yet.

So why does all this grind my gears, you might ask. I am seeing this whole topic promoted at various ends and from practical experience, I know the limitations and everyone and I mean everyone, who has tried this in a large-scale concert environment, has the same experience. There are very clear limitations, but no one promoting those products will ever tell you about those limitations. As an engineer interested in this you will have to study for weeks to learn and understand, only to find that the practical value in large-scale concert sound is quite limited. Don’t get me wrong, the immersive topic is super exciting and it has a huge playing field for audio engineers there are great jobs to be had, but just not in large-scale live sound concert reproduction, at least not with Loudspeaker systems in a conventional way.

The reason is physics and not that I don’t like it and luckily the laws of physics are valid for all of us the same way, even for those claiming they have invented the Perpetuum mobile already. The problem here is the sweet spot and localization question. The better your localization becomes, the smaller the sweet spot becomes. However, immersion is all about localization and so we are in fact in a not solvable dilemma. In all research, this was confirmed and is clearly communicated and it is even noted that this will become critical, if the sweet spot becomes smaller than one listener position, meaning not even one person could enjoy this properly. Go ahead, learn all about this and play with this as much as you can. Let’s discuss what makes sense and what does not and please do build an informed opinion. Don’t be swayed by the amount of noise that is being created about all this. This is definitely not the holy grail that it is portrayed to be.