vitruvian man overlayed with standard surround speaker confuguration diagram on old paper with title saying: surround sound setup in reaper

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.

Conclusions:

1. Surround sound setup in Reaper is pretty easy to implement thus Reaper is perfect for surround mixing for film and to do it you don’t even need any third party plug-ins.

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.

8. Here’s a 7.1 project for Reaper made (drop box or google drive) by Andres Villa Torres based on my tutorial. Feel free to download it.

9. And here’s the tutorial itself if you came here not from the link in the description. Happy watching!

14 comments

  • Hello Tomas!
    Great article and tutorial! I’m considering reaper as a replacement for pro tools!

    Anyways, I would like to point out sth to you – there’s no such thing as a norm for film cinema mix!. The only norm is – mix in a proper room, calibrated up to the cinema mixing standards. For example, dolby certified room. For cinema commercials – yes there are some limits. But there’s no dial norm, like for TV. Of course, you can excpect dialog to sit somewhere around -20 dBFS, but that’s really hard to judge. Specially, going from shouts to intimate whispers may ruin those proportions. In calibrated room, you just mix as it sounds good.

    For me it never translated well, glad it worked for you, thought.

  • Glad you liked it, Marcin. And thank you for your remark. -20dBFS was exactly what I had in mind talking about loudness standards. With my poor-ish English I was trying to say, that the suggested loudness of -20dBFS for dialog is often forgotten in by the big guys and some heavier squashing of dynamic range is applied to get louder “everything”. At least it’s what I noticed.

    I believe my mix translated quite well because it was a sitcom with people talking at normal levels most of the time. There were few sfx with information in the LFE channel, but only few. Also no explosions, gunshots etc. Lots of door action though.

    If you’re not working in a pipeline with PT involved at some stage, I bet you’re transition to reaper will be just fine. By the way, why do you want to make the transition?

  • Don’t worry – you’re english is great! It’s just me being accuracy douche! 😉

    Why I want to make a transition? Well, there’s number of reasons:

    – pro tools is very expensive, the only improvement I’ve seen for the last 10 years is clip gain and offline bounce, and it keeps getting buggier each version.
    – pro tools workflow/editing philosophy didn’t change/improve at all and I believe that computers should do more work for us, rather than doing stuff manualy, but with mouse.
    – Reaper seems flexible, very powerfull and has some cool macro and actions features that allow me to do things faster and smarter – I really like it. And it’s freaking cheap.
    – I’m thinking of creating some surround rig (more for tv/dvd stuff rather than proper big cinema stage) on the budget. And I’m thinking that reaper in the chain will allow me to do it way more cheaper.

    I’m allready using reaper on day to day basis, for game audio. The only thing I’m worrying about is lack of advanced automation features (like preview in pro tools). I would really appreciate if you will share some insides from your reaper mixing workflow! How did you do that? 😉

    Cheers!
    Marcin

    • Cześć!

      Thanks again for your remarks. Reaper really is flexible. I’m on it for about four years now I think. Moved from Cubase because of the price mostly. Tried pro tools several times (7, 9 and 10), but it just seems too outdated to me.
      I don’t really know what to tell you about my reaper mixing workflow. Is there something you’re interested in exactly. And are we talking film mixing? One huge tip I can share is this: make your “split under mouse cursor” shortcut to “S” and your “delete” shortcut to “D”. Hands will get used to it in about an hour and you will never go back to “delete” with “delete”.
      And my mixing workflow on that project was quite simple. I figured out how to “invent” the monitoring and rendering matrices (used users manual of waves 360 mix-down I believe for reference). Before that I calibrated my monitors of course. And the mixing was kinda straight-forward. Had not too much time for “searching for the right tone”. However I did most of the automation manually with the mouse. And it was a lot of level riding, panning and eq automation as well. Did not have a control surface at hand at that moment. Reverb was mostly stereo as I was dealing with a sitcom… Maybe there is something specific you want to know? That would be easier. Let me know, please.

  • Hi Tomas,

    A fantastic tutorial, and as you pointed out the only one for Reaper of its kind!

    I’ve followed your recommendations carefully with only one small adjustment, I have given the hidden Master track a hardware output, as there is no audio scrub in Reaper without it (at least not that I know of). I realise your set-up is about mixing and not editing and you could could do all editing in a separate routing project but I like to build and layer from the same project.

    There is one thing I don’t quite understand though: the +10db on the LFE monitoring output. Could you explain a little more about that? Also I realise your cross-over matrix is carefully replicating the norm for home theatre set-ups but does this also apply to cinema installations?

    I’ve used BLITS line-up tones in my routing matrix and everything lines up except of course for the monitoring matrix.

    Many thanks,

    Steve

    • Hey Steve,

      I’m really really glad you found it helpful. Thank you for your praise.

      1. I didn’t know about the scrub and master track link, because I don’t use scrub at all as I found that it behaves kinda strange. Maybe I took too little time to configure it (it’s configurable, right?). However I did not only mixing, but some corrective editing as well, so some scrubbing would have been helpful. Thanks for heads-up about this.

      2. As far as I know and did the research my monitoring matrix was set up exactly like it’s done in cinema theaters. That’s why it translated quite good for me. But as Marcin noted in a comment above, my monitor loudness calibration was off at about 3-4dB, that’s why cinema technician said the mix could be a bit louder. I’m not 100% sure, but the home-theater setup has something to do with the center channel being +3dB louder than L and R. Also the crossover frequency might be different. Please, correct me if I’m wrong here. Oh and there is the X-curve thingie in cinema setups (which I didn’t mention and didn’t do) having something to do with Ls and Rs having a HF shelf.

      3. Line-up tones and all the calibration of the speakers needs to be done before the monitoring matrix. After that you can check if the monitoring matrix does exactly what it should by cross-referencing changes done by monitoring matrix adjustments. Does that make sense?

      4. LFE channel in monitoring matrix needs to have a +10dB boost if the sub is calibrated to be flat once played side by side with the satellites (L and R). This is mostly the case if one mixes not only in surround for film, but stereo music as well. This way you don’t need to adjust the physical level of your sub-woofer every time you switch from 5.1 project to stereo. Otherwise if your setup won’t ever be disturbed by stereo projects you can calibrate the sub to play 10dB louder by turning the volume knob on the thing up. And the +10dB is needed for headroom so there is always enough dynamic range left for low frequency stuff and it won’t hit the limiter or distort while played back in cinema theater.

      I’m afraid I’ve forgotten lot’s of details about the calibration as I did it and my monitors are still calibrated from that time. That’s why I’m not confident enough to give you some strict regulations or answers. To understand what’s going on in the cinemas (including +10dB setting for LFE channel) and calibrate your setup in a right way I’d strongly advise you to read “Surround Sound: up and running” by Tomlinson Holman. If you’re in a hurry, just skip everything and search for the cinema sound system setups explained. I believe there is a piece about monitor calibration and x-curves as well. Also to see how different monitoring matrices work, be sure to download waves 360 surround manager plugin and at least read it’s manual (here it is: http://www.waves.com/1lib/pdf/plugins/m360-surround.pdf ). It has a perfect calibration section. Also by checking different presets of the plug-in you’ll get a better understanding about the differences between film surround, dvd surround and other monitoring setups. In fact I did my monitor calibration after that manual. And I created the reaper monitoring matrix after the preset in waves 360 surround manager.

      Hope my essay will be helpful to you. Sorry for not being too specific, but as I said I’ve forgotten lots of details since I’ve calibrated my setup and don’t want to confuse you with incorrect or partially correct information.

      Thanks for your kind words and all the best mixing and editing and scrubbing!

  • Thanks Tomas,

    That all makes perfect sense and thanks for your quick response and link.

    The only thing is and I think it may reflect on the earlier point is that I believe some subs are calibrated for +4db. There is reference to it in this document (http://www2.grammy.com/pdfs/recording_academy/producers_and_engineers/5_1_rec.pdf), which I have found to be very informative and comprehensive (Section 3.6). But my understanding is less than perfect so that is why I am grateful for your thorough example. In fact the monitoring matrix in your set-up is the cleverest part. The reason I also asked is because cross-overs are really part of home theatre set-ups more than cinemas, which tend to have full range mains and groups or rears. But you seem to imply that your matrix worked for both?

    Yes I realised, of course, that calibration and metering need to come before the monitoring matirix and I have placed PPMulator 3, multichannel meter on the render group (another mod I made was to include receives from the renders stems to the RENDERING channel for this purpose and so I could see metering when the group is closed). I have also created an optional duplicate of the MONITOR channel fed into a Dolby Headphone plugin, obviously this won’t be at all correct, in comparison to calibrated studio monitors, but is surprisingly useful in judging the effects of ProLogic II decoding at least for headphones.

    What is your suggested best routing/plugin for a stereo mix stem at the same time as the surround one?

    Thanks once again, this has been a great help after moving from ProTools 8LE and Neyrinck Mix51 to Reaper and your method works so much better!

    All the best,

    Steve

    Thanks

    • Ahhh! Got it.

      I did the whole crossover thing because this scheme applies only if mixing with sub+satellites (as opposed to full range L R C Ls Rs speakers). And you’re right – cinemas don’t do the bass management/redirecting. All the sub crossover is indeed needed to replicate the cinema full range speaker behavior while mixing without full range speakers. That’s why we need the management, which is easy to confuse as if we were mixing for home-theater. But here the sub redirecting tries to replicate the full range speaker + LFE speakers setup. Of course it’s not perfect, but I did found out, that it is quite good.

      As of “worked for both – home-theater and cinema” – no it actually did not. It worked only for cinema as I did not test it for home-theater setup.

      Now about your document – it is in fact informative and I see the +4dB for LFE recommendation. But can’t get it – why is that +4dB and not +10dB. Maybe they came up with a new standard? I’ll try to read the whole thing to understand why is that once I have some time. In the mean time, here’s what I’ve found for you: https://www.gearslutz.com/board/post-production-forum/803199-please-explain-extra-10db-headroom-lfe-channel.html there’s also some info about x-curve equalization.

      I see now that in general my tutorial is technically good, but I talk lots of bs. Sorry for that. I believe I should have made this tutorial right after I came back from the cinema theater and had all the information still in my head and not half year later. Anyways glad you pointed it out. If I were you without full range speakers I’d stick with +10dB. But guys on GS are sticking with it even with full range setup only without bass “management” of course.

      Great enhancements on ProLogic II and metering of the Rendering Group. Whatever makes the work easier! You should mention that in the comments section on youtube as I believe not much people bother to come here.

      And sorry but I’m not sure I understand what you mean by this: “What is your suggested best routing/plugin for a stereo mix stem at the same time as the surround one?” Do you mean like mastering processor for dynamic range and frequency spectrum processing?

      • Great info again Tomas,

        I think your +10db monitoring makes perfect sense since it prevents from over-driving the LFE, which is often a problem for 5.1 mixes.

        I think what is implied by the article I referenced is that it is often the case that calibration of the sub-woofer is set to +4db and therefore that could explain why your set-up under some circumstances would be 4 db too low, since your monitoring is set to +10db for a subwoofer not calibrated to 0db. But on the whole I think it is safer this way round and I will take your advice. I will have to do more research of my own to establish the norm. It sounds great though through headphones!

        What I meant by the stereo fold down is that is where I’m a bit lost in Reaper. What is the best way for me to create another stem that is a stereo fold down of the 5.1 stems to create a standard stereo mix? Do I route the 5.1 stems to a new track as, L to 1, R to 2, C to 1/2, LFE 1/2, Ls to 1, Rs to 2, or would that better as a matrix with EQ passes for balance too?

        The X-curve as I understand it is solely a monitoring/cinema room calibration to compensate for over-brightness in theatres and homes, that must be done after the speakers are calibrated to 85dbl (i.e. each space will be different and it is not a standard EQ curve), depending on whether the space is more or less than 150 square metres, it involves a 3db roll-off @ 63Hz and either a 3db or 1.5db roll-off @ 2KHz, the smaller figure for the smaller space. The old Academy X-curve was entirely different and to compensate for poor high frequency response in optical sound tracks and reproduction chains. A good article I found about it is here: http://www.hps4000.com/pages/special/Dolby_The%20X-Curve.pdf.

        Once again thanks for your help,

        Steve.

  • Hi Tomas,

    While I have yet to watch your tutorial but I wanted to say thank you in advance.

    I also wanted to ask one question please if you don’t mind. Do you prefer mixing in surround for all of your film music or do you also mix in stereo? Why I am asking is I have heard that most of the trailer or cinematic music are now mixed in surround nowadays to create more depth. I wonder what I hear on YouTube (trailer music specially) is a surround mix or just stereo mix?

    Thank you for your time and reading my post.

    Ed

  • Hey, Ed. Thanks for your “thanks” in advance. Hope you found the tutorial useful. Be sure to check the comments on Youtube as one guy did a nice move and uploaded a 7.1 project preset for Reaper with some really awesome enhancements to my tutorial.
    To answer your questions shortly – I no longer work with surround as it is more time consuming and brings me less bread. My main occupation now is with TV, Radio and Web advertising which most of the time involves voice-over directing, mixing etc. If my life depended on the response I’d say it depends on what your client or director wants and what did the composer had in mind while creating his piece of art. More often than not music for film is positioned in LCR and Ls/Rs are left for space and time effects as this distracts the audience less from the screen. However there’s one video on Youtube that states that in surround mixing is only one rule – there are no rules.
    If a movie or trailer is mixed in surround and separately in stereo or just down-mixed from surround to stereo depends highly on the scale and budget of the movie. For example – I know that here in Lithuania no-one would pay for discrete stereo mix just for Youtube or TV, so most likely the mixer will just down-mix the surround mix using some “5.1 to stereo” plugin and that will be it. I doubt that this would be the case with LOTRs or some other epic features however. I read somewhere that Peter Jackson takes location sound very seriously and sometimes event sacrifices visual stuff (e.g. if boom mic is in the frame, he lets it be there and then removes it later in the post) so his A1 and A2 could get the perfect dialog. So I doubt he would be OK with simple down-mix. Now I could go on and on, but the fact is that I don’t know for sure as I no longer work too much in surround realm so I wouldn’t want to confuse you.
    Again thanks for your message and hope I was somehow helpful.

  • Hi Thomas and thank you very much for this tutoria!. I will make surround sound for an animation without dialoge, only ambient, foley, and music. Sorry for my newbie questions: 1)Can i record direct too with this setup if i have the corresponding inputs(and condenser microphones) in my audio interface? 2) The speakers that will have will be: 3-front: 1left, 1center, 1right, 2-behind: 1left 1right, and 1sub?. Can you tell me any other important techniques to watch;
    You can see my works on dropbox i put it on the website link
    Again thank you very much!

    • Good day George! I’m always happy to find a comment here or on my YouTube channel that says my tutorial was helpful. Thank you for this. Now to your questions. 1. I believe you should be able record directly into the project you created watching my tutorial. You should make a decision if you want to record a single 5.1 track or 6 discrete mono tracks. 2. Also keep in mind that channel order for film (I’m using it in my tut as well) is LRCLFELsRs, not LCRLsRsLFE. If you’ll make your input patching wrong you’ll have mixed up channels (nothing to scary, but you’ll need to do additional job and “untangle” them afterwards).
      As for techniques – I used to only mix in in surround, so I can’t tell you much about how to record 5.1 tracks for it… I believe surround is less demanding phase-wise than stereo, so you should just go for what sounds awesome and what in your opinion should sound the way you imagine it… the only thing that comes to my head is to not forget 3 to 1 rule (at least that what I would do). Thanks again for your comment and questions. Hope I was able to help. Also it would be perfect if you could share a link to the finished product you’re working on. Have fun experimenting and mixing!

    • Oh, and there’s some really interesting stuff on your dropbox link. Not that I’m a big fan of such things, but I always respect and look up to artists who have ideas, will and dedication to create and most importantly finish such pieces! Thanks for sharing.

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