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Sound Engineering: Surround Sound, Its Techniques And Setting Up

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On this assignment we were tasked with conducting a practical recording that gives a greater understanding of what surround sound is, the microphone techniques used to conduct it, the setting up in the control room as to how the sound will be spread evenly in 5. 1 once everything has been recorded and pictures illustrating all the work done.

Our entire focus this semester for sound engineering is surround sound and everything in line with it. Therefore on this assignment we will be discussing just that based on the advanced stereo mic tech, the movie scene, sound effects and foley effects that we chose. All it is that we chose to work with in this assignment will go hand in hand with the original scene we chose to re-enact as per assignment requests.

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Task 1: Pre-Production & Recording

Many surround sound microphone techniques exist and there’s one we as a group are going to give background info on based on the research that we have been exposed to in our lectures and we have found on our own. This microphone like many others is a stereo microphone technique but far more advanced than the ones we’re used to. We chose to make use of the Hamasaki Square surround sound mic technique and the overall goal for our chosen mic technique is to intensify not only the music experience by having all given and important sounds come through from all angles enough not to cluster into the listeners ears and have it go hand in hand with the movie scene we’ve chosen to re-enact.

Hamasaki Square

This technique consists of four bidirectional or as we know the figure-eight microphones placed in the design of a square. The distance between these microphones is usually 2m, these microphones are on the left, right, left surround and right surround all angled directly to the sound source or sources. Compared to other systems for picking up or recording ambient sounds this technique is the least sensitive because of the distance between the front and rear array microphones. This technique complements any of the standard stereo recording techniques, such as the OCT or Decca Tree. Unwanted direct sound is prevented when using this technique simply because the microphones are aimed sideways, so this unwanted sound won’t appear on the surround channels.

Microphone Types, Polar Pattern & Placement

The microphones that we’re using to record our movie scene for our assignment are Shure SM81 microphones which are high quality unidirectional condenser microphones which are also designed for studio recording. We chose this microphone because of its frequency range of 20Hz to 20KHz, it is very sensitive as well to sounds picked up this is important because some of the effects we added on the project were of very low signal. The Shure SM81 microphones have a cardioid also known as heart-shaped polar pattern, meaning that all of our signals will be very directional and clear for our listener to hear without any external and unnecessary noises.

Task 2: Movie Scene Chosen

The movie scene we chose to make use of is from an international production known as insecure. This scene consists of three actors, two females and one male. In this specific scene the two females (Issa and her friend Molly) are in a car that the owner being Issa uses as a meter taxi in order to make extra money on the side and to kill time while she gives her roommate the chance to spend time with his guest without Issa’s interruption. The scene starts right after Issa and Molly drop off a few ladies before. They discuss how much the ladies tipped her, how much they rated her and their comments based on her services, Molly then suggest that the next client they should pic k up must be a guy. In their luck the male actor (Nathan with the face) requests a ride on the app used to get rides just like uber, not only that but Nathan is a good looking guy so they proceed to pick him up. He steps in the car, they share pleasantries and he asks how long his ride is going to take to get to his destination. When he ears how long the ride is going to take he complains not only because in his mind it’s going to be a long ride but because he also feels like people from LA like taking longer routes when having to go to certain destinations if not everywhere. When Issa and molly look at the app to see where he’s going they laugh at him because it makes sense to them why he’d be complaining like that because he doesn’t know the shortest routes to get anywhere in LA because he’s not from there. Issa then suggests to him that he give his phone to Molly so she can help him get the quickest route to his destination. After helping him Issa suggests that they also make time to get Tacos since it’s so close Nathan allows this because he was helped to find the quickest route and because they said he’s cute. Our approach to recreating this scene would be to re-enact everything in our school studio, where a whole lot of effects and dialogue will be much easy for us to record. This scene will require that we find and make use of three different artists, those being two females and one male just like in the movie scene. Our artists will have to have accents as close as those of the original actors in the scene. We will have them run through their lines a few days prior to the initial recording so that everything sounds well thought out and re-enacted once the final production is submitted. We will also find a way to record a similar ambience as the one in the scene with the background music playing that partly loud and soft solely depending on what is being done and said in the scene. We will also record foley effects of texts messages coming in and going out, not only that but cellphone alerts of the map app that is used in the scene.

Sound Effects and Foleys Included

The sound effects that we’re going to make use of are mainly surrounded around creating a similar ambience as that of the one in the scene, where there’s background music playing as Issa and Molly decide who to Lyft next, though the music is quite faint you still hear it. When Nathan gets picked up by Issa and Molly and throughout the entire ride until they Lyft the next person, also have background music when Issa reads a text message from her roommate Daniel. This type of background music will make the scene seem as if the song is being played on the car radio from start to finish, there will be instances where the music is loud and instances where it’s fairly low to create the overall feel and ambience in the car between the three actors.

The foley effects that we’re going to make use of are mostly based around the phone chimes and phone alerts, either from text messages coming through, to text messages being sent from both Issa and molly’s phones. Also the sound of the car driving off right after it picks up Nathan.

Task 3: Surround Sound Recording Evaluation

Time: Timeline of the song structure.

This deals with how long the video and the audio that was recorded from the vocals, the actual video and the foley effects. How was the structure of the actual audio and does it align with the video re-created.

Pitch: Melodic contour, pitch area and pitch density.

Pitch is the quality that makes it possible to judge sound as higher and lower in the sense associated with musical melodies. Pitch is often correlated with frequency although there should be a distinction made, as frequency is used as scientific means for measuring and even manipulating sound and its possible pitches, though pitch is a perceptual term used to describe a more psychological phenomenon.

Dynamic: Dynamic contour and musical balance.

Dynamic is characterized by constant change, activity, or progress, which is the degree of loudness or softness of the sound. Example: playing the keyboard, the artist would play it very hard and the dynamic would increase and playing very low and decreasing the dynamics, so it then changes the dynamics going up and down.

Sound Quality: Performance, intensity, timbral balance.

Sound may be generally characterized by pitch, loudness, and quality. Sound quality or timber describes those characteristics of sound which have the same pitch and loudness. Timber is then a general term for distinguishable characteristics of a tone.

Spatial Properties: Distance, locations, stereo and surround location, sound stage, performance environment.

By analysing how sound reaches both our ears our brain determines the distance and direction of the object emitting the sound. “A head related transfer function” simulates this interaction by modelling the ear receiving sound from a point in space the characteristics of sound also changes based on the environment in which they exist. For insistent, shouting in a cave will cause your voice to bounce off the walls, floors and ceiling creating an echo effect. So the spatiality is very important as it determines everything on stage from quality, movement, positioning, and location.


The overall experience of this assignment taught us a lot about recording in 5:1 and not only that but what it takes to prepare not only for that setup in terms of microphone techniques and every other piece of equipment needed, but also in sourcing the video that you’re going to make use of for your project and finding one that won’t be very difficult to execute and re-enact. Also we allowed ourselves the chance to explore different miking techniques and eventually choose one that works best for us and will project everything we’re yet to record in the manner that we had perceived.


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