surround sound setup in Reaper (for film mixing). tutorial #3
5.1 surround sound setup in Reaper for feature film mixing
After I did my first two videos on CD ripping and burning I was planning to do a tutorial on surround sound setup in Reaper topic for more than a year now and finally it’s done. Strangely there is absolutely no info about REAL surround sound setup in Reaper without 3rd party plugins not only on YouTube, but on the whole net as well. Glad I’m the first one to do it and I hope it will be helpful to everyone involved in indie or not indie movie making.
Thought I’ll give Adobe Audition a try…
Here’s a short step-by-step story on how I ended up mixing 5.1 feature film in Reaper. In early 2014 I’ve got a task to mix a sitcom feature for theatrical release. At that time I’ve never had anything to do with surround. So I started absorbing all possible information on how to do it. And because I own a Adobe CC subscription, Audition looked like a perfect DAW for the job.
Need to say that I’m on Reaper since circa 2010 and understanding Audition was a really huge struggle for me. But in a week or so I started to feel comfortable with its nuts and bolts (if you can ever feel comfortable with something that uses a razor tool for splitting events instead of just a shortcut being hit to make a split under mouse cursor…).
… and Adobe Audition crashed ignoring all “save history”
I bought three additional Adam A7’s to build a full surround monitoring system. Now about 20 minutes of editing into the mix on Adobe it crashed and couldn’t recover my auto-saved session with 20 minutes of automation already done. That was my first “sweat-point”. I contacted Adobes’ support and they said something like “this has never happened before. Sorry…”. Then I repeated everything to see if it crashes again, only this time I did a 1minute piece. And it did crash. Can’t remember what the problem was, but it’s still here today after more that a year. Great job Adobe. However I found a workaround and continued working with Audition. I liked its surround panner a lot. Oh, and of course I bought a Waves 360 Surround bundle so I can monitor my mixes properly.
Adobe Audition features ultrasonic tone burst that burned one of my tweeters!
After I was 90% done with first 20 minutes of my mix I decided to render the stuff to check how the rendering is working and if everything is fine. I did the render and imported the wave into Reaper (it still felt like at home) to check it out and split the channels.
Strange thing was that the waveform showed some extreme clipping trough the whole track on all of the channels, there was no audible distortion however. I did another render out of Audition and the same thing happened again. My metering and waveform indicated excessive clipping going on, but everything was playing back nicely. That was strange. So I decided to see if Audition “sees” the clipping as well. I started playback a bit louder than always and TC Loudness Radar started indicating overloads few seconds into the mix. Now that was strange so I started searching for the problem by switching my plugins on and off while staring at the screen and with one hand on my volume control.
After on-and-off-ing few plugins my peripheral vision noticed some movement on left Adam A7. A quick head turn and I see that the tweeter is producing gorgeous smoke. Turned out that both left and right speakers were on fire at that time. So after some research I found out that one of Audition’s plugins (can’t remember which one exactly) was producing supersonic sine wave which I was not able to hear and analyzers set to 20hz – 20kHz couldn’t draw. However Adams were trying to produce that frequency and it got the tweeters burning. After that I contacted Adobes’ support once again and got no response till this day. I’m still able to reproduce the problem by the way.
Moving from Audition to Reaper
That was my last drop. I quit Audition and turned back to Reaper. Won’t lie it took me some time to figure out hot to do a proper monitoring routing and surround sound setup in Reaper in general, but after few days I was up and running. And the feeling was awesome. Felt like home. I didn’t even use the Waves 360 on the project.
My first VIP “sound check” at the cinema theater
Few months later producers booked some time at the cinema for me to check if everything I was doing was translating OK. And you know what? Everything was perfection. I asked the engineers if they notice something unusual with the sound and they responded “the guy’s without pants acting is a bit fake”. That was a perfect answer for me. Only thing they said later that the mix can be a bit louder which was strange as I mixed to the norm and with my room calibrated. So I did some corrections finished the whole movie and went for another reality-check at the theater and it went super smooth.
The Grand Finale
So that’s my story how I ended up using Reaper for film mixing and how I succeeded. Funny is that the movie got suspended and did not air because some of the actors weren’t happy with their performances and camera work. Producer company got bankrupt and nobody received full payment for our hard work thereafter.
2. If you have your monitors calibrated correctly, your room treated at least a decent bit and know hot to work to loudness standards/recommendations, you’ll be OK with a mix that start’s from my tutorial.
3. Hollywood guys doesn’t always follow loudness standards for sure. (Busted by Marcin – there are no loudness standards in film mixing. Only dialog level recommendation, and everything else is mixed around that. If your room and speaker setup is well calibrated and treated, your mixes would do just fine without dolby certification…).
4. You should keep in mind that mixing for film and for dolby surround or dts is different and requires different software monitoring setup. Contemporary cinema theaters have digital cinema projectors which read DCP files that contain six discrete audio tracks which are then processed (decoded) in certain way to produce a playback. Dolby Surround and DTS use different decoding processes thus require different monitoring setup.
5. English is not my native language so please excuse me for some mistakes I do on the video (like saying “mute” and soloing the channel etc.
6. This tutorial will work with Reaper 5 as well as nothing has been changed in surround realm there. The monitoring routing needs to be done manually anyways.
7. My tutorial about surround sound setup in Reaper and the monitoring matrix is supposed to work in sub + 5 two-way satellites setup (as opposed to LFE speaker(s) + 5 or more full range speakers). Thanks to Steve for making me to recall this! However you already noticed that I added notes on the tutorial video itself where and what you should alter for my setup to work with full range speakers.
9. And here’s the tutorial itself if you came here not from the link in the description. Happy watching!