Late last year I was playing around with some songs I’ve recorded and doing some quick 3rd order Ambisonic mixes. It got me thinking about what I wanted to use Ambisonics for and how best to present my songs using it.
[Just as a side note, I’m talking here about “pop” music mixes, not electro-acoustic music where use of spatial audio is much more widespread.]
For example, do I want to use the full 360 degrees (or full sphere if were doing 3D) for the sounds or is it better to stick with a frontal sound stage and just use surround for ambience, which is common in 5.1 music mixes?
The thing about Ambisonics is that, if you’re using a regular array of loudspeakers, all directions are equal. This is not the case for 5.1 where there is an emphasis on the front. Therefore with Ambisonics we can use the full circle and have expressive dynamics without noticeable changes to the signal.
But just because we can, does it mean we should?
With pop music there are certain listener expectations about now things should sound. Perhaps having sounds and instruments arriving from all directions would be distracting. Or maybe it’s better challenge this and aim for a new experience, rather than simply “upgrading” the old one. Personally, I’d scrap the frontal soundstage for anything that doesn’t require it, such as a live recorded concert.
And what about stereo bounces? Stereo isn’t going anywhere any time soon so we always have to think about that. One of the joys of Ambisonics is that it can be converted easily to stereo so if we wanted we can do an Ambisonic mix and then also get a stereo version. But stereo has different requirements (e.g. centre panned vocals and bass, generally) and these might not be met.
This isn’t a problem if we mix with stereo in mind while doing the Ambisonic mix, so we can be sure a stereo transcode has a high chance of working, but then we are limiting what we can do with the space.
So despite the ease of stereo conversion must we still duplicate our effort to get a stereo version by doing another mix dedicated to that format?
Hopefully I’ll have a few more answers once I’ve had more time to play around with it more. Until then, I’d be very interested in hearing from anyone out there who has used Ambisonics to mix pop music. What were the pros and cons? Did it exceed your expectations or fail miserably? What about stereo versions?