NetMix: Create your own sound balance from Centre Court
Or: how much base-line grunting can you take?
As a life-long radio engineer I care a great deal about sound quality and I know many of our listeners do too. Last summer during the last week of the BBC Proms I ran an experimental extra-high quality audio stream and asked you what you thought of it.
After a couple of days, in response to your suggestions, I made some adjustments to the sound and the response was then overwhelmingly positive. As a result of your comments the BBC made the extra-high quality stream permanently available for Radio 3 as “HD Sound”.
I now want to ask for your help with another experiment using audio delivered over the internet.
We receive regular feedback about sound quality on both radio and television and the most common complaint is that the speech (commentary or dialogue) is too quiet compared with the sound effects or music.
As a result of your feedback we have made changes to our sound balance guide-lines but we can’t please everyone all the time. Whilst some people want the speech to be much louder than the music, others complain that the announcer is louder than an entire orchestra. Making the speech too loud can destroy the sense of immersion in the event for those listening in quiet rooms on good quality sound systems or headphones.
This year I am running an experiment which lets you decide on the sound balance you want for some of our coverage of the Wimbledon Tennis. I’m afraid that for rights reasons the stream is only available in the United Kingdom.
You can download a special player and it will let you adjust the sound balance whilst listening to the tennis. You will be able to adjust the sound mix from one extreme with lots of crowd sounds and base-line grunting and the commentary as a very quiet voice, to the other extreme with loud commentary and very quiet sounds from the match. I would like you to try this, play with it for a while then complete the on-line survey to let me know what you thought of it.
I hope to learn a number of things from this experiment.
- What are the production challenges do we face in creating this sort of stream?
- Given a choice, where do you, the listeners, set the sound balance?
- Do you find it useful being able to create your own sound balance between the commentary and the effects?
- Do you think it would be useful for other types of content or on other devices?
So please go download the player and give it a try. And whilst I’m happy to answer questions here, please complete the survey to give feedback. If you are going to mention the experiment on Twitter please use #NetMix so we can follow your comments.
How does it work?
We have stereo microphones on the umpire’s chair on Centre Court and the sound from these is coded with the mono commentary as an MPEG4 audio stream with additional control data, which allows the player to “unmix” the sound.
With the player fader in the centre the commentary and court are heard at levels which are often broadcast. When you move the slider towards “court” the commentary gets quieter whilst the court atmosphere stays the same. Conversely if you move the slider towards “commentary” the court sound gets quieter whilst the commentary stays the same.
Please note that neither the court nor the commentary ever get louder than they are with the fader in the central position; for this experiment the effect is achieved by reducing the volume of the sound you want to hear less, not by amplifying the one you want to hear more.
Note for those listening on a computer on a business network.
The player does not auto-detect proxy settings.
If used on a computer which accesses the internet through a proxy (as many computers on business networks do) right click on the player and select menu option "Proxy". Enter the IP address of your proxy server and remember to finish with :80 as that’s the port where the stream can be found.
As an example, you might enter xx.xxx.x.xxx:80 or you can enter the URL, for example www.something.something.something.co.uk:80. You may be able to find the address of your proxy server in the “settings” menu of your web browser.
Rupert Brun is the Head of Technology for Audio and Music