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d&b audiotechnik Soundscape

by FOH Staff • in
  • December 2017
  • Technology Spotlight
• Created: December 12, 2017
d&b audiotechnik used its demo space at the recent AES show to preview its Soundscape technology. The new system promises to give sound designers and engineers control over multidimensional source placement, acoustic room simulation and signal matrix processor capability to create dynamic audio experiences.

3D Spatialization System Shows Promise

Tradeshow demo rooms tend to be pretty predictable. You walk into a boxy, less-than-ideal acoustical space, pick through some familiar CDs, then sit back and take in 117 dB playbacks with throbbing bass and piercing highs. The whole point is to provide a positive audio impression during a 10-minute presentation, but more often than not, I’ve walked out on such aural assaults before the first 90 seconds have elapsed.

At the recent AES show in New York, d&b audiotechnik took a different take on the demo room experience, to show the capabilities of d&b Soundscape, which is intended to bridge the gap between the physics of loudspeaker system design and the creation of artistic material. Slated for early-2018 release, Soundscape operates on the user-friendly DS100 platform, empowering sound designers and engineers with multi-dimensional source placement, acoustic room simulation and signal matrix processor capability.

The technology opens possibilities for source localization and acoustic emulation so sound engineers and artists can build sophisticated, dynamic audio experiences. “Soundscape allows us to rethink the role sound plays, both in terms of its social and cultural context, and the relationship between the listener and their environment,” says d&b’s Marcus Bäumler, who co-presented at AES. “As part of an everyday toolkit, Soundscape makes the familiar extraordinary and the extraordinary familiar. The point is, the path to realizing creative ambitions is not that difficult.”

The AES co-presenter, d&b’s Ralf Zuleeg, added “Soundscape represents not only the crossover between art and science, but also our relationship to sound, space and time. In many ways, this is unchartered territory for d&b and society in general. Sound reinforcement — and our listening experience — is no longer defined by physics alone, but the unlimited power of the imagination.”

From left, Marcus Baaumler and Ralf Zuleeg.

‡‡         Inside Soundscape

What d&b Soundscape does is encapsulated by its name. The term “soundscape” is defined by the International Standards Organization as the “acoustic environment as perceived or experienced and/or understood by a person or people, in context.” A soundscape is, therefore, the total of the auditory stimuli that surrounds us at any given time and place. For d&b, Soundscape is about enabling this creation via technology.

The d&b Soundscape will consist of three component parts: a signal processing engine and two optional software modules. The signal engine offers a familiar format of audio matrix and processing that most sound designers know and use every day. The software provides an object positioning tool, which allows individual placement and movement of up to 64 “sound objects” (loudspeakers), as well as the means to add room emulation signatures to any given space.

“The d&b Soundscape is a two-layered technology,” explains Zuleeg. “The basic layer is the configuration, the setup, which you do as normal in ArrayCalc. Then, there’s the creative layer, where you position the sources, the sound of the instruments, the pan, the reverb. And, as with any d&b solution, the R1 Remote control software gives you all the control and oversight you need.

“The real challenge is not to do with the technology,” continues Zuleeg, who is credited as the driving force behind the development of Soundscape, which is designed to integrates with the existing d&b workflow. Instead, he says, “it is one of education — or re-learning. Soundscape allows us to rethink the role sound plays both in terms of its social and cultural context, but also the relationship between the listener and their environment. Once we make this mental shift, we can begin to think beyond the norm, with the same creative freedom that inspires lighting and set design. Then it’s about empowering people to believe in their auditory vision.”

This is a crucial point, as the creative potential of d&b Soundscape is all-encompassing. The ability to sonically compose a sound-based spectrum of human sentiment and experience makes it as relevant to the audience as the sound designer, architect and engineer, the artist and performer.

‡‡         The Psychoacoustical Angle

Of course, in reality, all of us live in a continuous soundscape, receiving aural information from all directions. As Zuleeg points out, the binaural nature of the hearing process enables humans to make sense of that soundscape. Here, the ear-brain system can pinpoint a sound source with great — and perhaps life-saving — precision. Listening can uncover visual secrets. “We have evolved hearing everything in the soundscape around us, in a panoramic way, not from one source. In this sense, Soundscape brings us closer to an acoustic experience that resonates with our intuitive understanding of reality.”

Zuleeg also feels that this return to a more “natural” sensory experience makes the d&b Soundscape so revolutionary. “Soundscape doesn’t just represent the crossover between art and science, but an interaction of our relationship to sound, space and time.”

Using Soundscape, the possibilities for source localization and acoustic emulation give sound engineers and artists the ability to build sophisticated, dynamic audio experiences into their shows. “Soundscape also changes the mixing experience, compared with the limitations of a stereo P.A. From personal experience, the mixing itself is much easier,” adds Bäumler, “simply because you have more space in your mix. You have a lot of room to position a sound object, so it’s much easier to set them apart so everything can still be heard at the same time.”

‡‡         Launch Countdown

The scheduled official launch is in early 2018, yet Soundcsape has passed an extended beta testing period. Leading sound designers, composers and venues worldwide have helped shape the d&b Soundscape into its soon-to-be available form. Among these are Glastonbury’s 2017 Acoustic Stage, Opera Australia and a four-year collaboration with German electronic music pioneers, Kraftwerk.

“The first objective was to make this as easy as possible to use,” says Bäumler. “The next objective was to completely integrate the design setup into the d&b Workflow. So, from a user point of view, you basically do the same thing as in any sound reinforcement situation: you look at the hall or the environment (Soundscape works both indoors and out), and you do the system configuration within ArrayCalc. Then you transfer that data to the Soundscape platform, which calculates all the necessary processing algorithms. By making Soundscape part of an everyday toolkit, the path to realizing creative ambitions is not that difficult. What we’ve shown is that you can make this setup work on a tour. It’s not just something you put in a theater, and never touch again.”

‡‡         The Future Begins Here

So what does d&b plan for Soundscape? “We need to introduce the basic concept into people’s thinking,” explains Bäumler. “Once the imagination takes hold, the second step is letting them know that d&b Soundscape can actually make things a lot easier, and help them achieve their goals. To make it as accessible as possible, d&b has prepared a Soundscape environment at its main HQ in Germany, so customers can play with the concept and experience it for themselves. Similar facilities and support will soon be available in the U.K., U.S. and Asia.”

Zuleeg adds, “Soundscape’s creative horizon is endless, especially when you consider its relevance not just to concert sound, but to any and all sound reinforcement applications. It can go everywhere. We want to open sound’s emotive power and potential in peoples’ minds, to be the key that turns the lock — an advocate for sound’s vital role in life, art, society and enterprise.”

For more information, visit www.dbaudio.com.

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