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Mixing For Surround Sound

A Mixers Guide By Jeff Wilson
So you've made that killer 5.1 Surround Sound mix. You know, the one that will show your creative genius, and forever change the way that the world mixes Surround.

The next step is to give it to someone to listen to.

Oops! Houston, we have a problem. How do you give your Surround recording to someone so that they can take it home and listen to it?

And now the good news. Home theater systems are selling like hotcakes and have already put Surround Sound systems into millions of homes. And they are driving what's happening in home audio. Don't believe me? Go to your local audio store and try to find a stereo receiver. Nearly every piece of gear on the shelf now is Surround.

So how do I put my Surround mix on some medium that can play back on these systems? More good news! Using an encoder for DTS Digital Surround or for Dolby Digital, you can make a CD (yes that's right, a CD), that will play in a home theater system.


Nearly all Surround systems have a Dolby Digital decoder built in. To create a CD using Dolby Digital, you will need a Dolby encoder, such as Sonic Foundry's Soft encode, or Minnetonka Audio Software's soon-to-be-released SurCode for Dobly Digital. Both products accept any six .wav or .aiff files and encode to Dolby Digital. To encode for CD, you must select the ".wav file" output option. This option creates a files specifically designed to play back over a S/PDIF connection (i.e., the "digital out" from your CD player). Once you've created this file, you can use any software that can burn an "audio CD," such as Adaptec's EZ CD Creator, or Sonic Foundry's Audio Architect. Just burn the file onto the CD the same way that you burn a regular soundfile onto the CD.

The other option is DTS Digital Surround. DTS is playing catch-up with Dolby for installed base, but is now licensed into 60 brands of audio gear, and is in most equipment that is sold now, including some car audio equipment. DTS uses a much lower data compression than Dolby, and if you haven't heard a DTS-encoded Surround Sound CD, I highly recommend that you do. DTS commissioned some of the very best talent in the business to remix popular recordings to Surround, and many of them sound awesome.

The first native-mode software encoder for DTS is Minnetonka's soon-to-be-released SurCode for DTS Digital Surround. Making a CD is the same process as for Dolby. You specify the six soundfiles of your 5.1 Surround mix, and the encoder gives you a .wav file that you burn onto an audio CD.

How do I play the Surround CD? Just run the "digital output" of your CD player into the "digital input" of your Surround decoder (or Surround receiver). The decoder will automatically detect Dolby or DTS and, TAH DAH!!!, you'll be listening to your mix in no time.

Just for the record, DTS was designed from the ground up to be used on CDs. Dolby's official stand is that they don't recommend that Dolby Digital be used on CDs because, if played back with-out a decoder, the digital noise might damage some audio gear. Our experience is that both work well.


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Related Keywords:audio, sound, surround, theater, dts, dolby digital

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