Sound for Picture VI: Audio post-production systems

When it comes to building an ‘audio for post-production’ suite, things can quickly become difficult. This is especially true if you’re looking to get Dolby Premier Studio certification for your facility, in which case every single aspect of the build will have to fall within a strict set of criteria. Very few facilities are accredited as being Dolby Premier Studios, but that’s not to say that the UK doesn’t have any spectacular post-production houses. If you ever find yourself in the heart of Soho, you’ll immediately notice that many of the UK’s most prestigious production companies are based there. Interestingly, though, post-production is one of the few audio industries that is expanding across the UK – new post-production houses are being established primarily outside of Soho in Bristol, Birmingham, as far north as Edinburgh, and especially in Manchester which has, in recent years, seen a tremendous influx of new post facilities.

With this in mind, it seems apt to dedicate a part of this Sound for Picture series to what actually goes in to a post-production suite. Of course, there is by no means a ‘one size fits all’ approach to building a production studio, and if you’re looking into setting up a new facility then I would highly recommend you give us a call so we can help you with the process from beginning to end. With that said, this section of the Sound for Picture series will look at post-production systems in general, focusing on the solutions widely accepted to be the “industry standard”.

Digidesign Pro Tools|HD and Avid Media Composer

No discussion of audio post-production systems would be complete without mentioning Digidesign’s Pro Tools|HD and ICON console systems. Since their release, the ICON consoles have become the heart of audio post and film production and are widely accepted as the standard to aspire to. Arguably, no other software and hardware combination offers the same level of editing and mixing functionality, sound quality, integrated video options and session management – of course, different users and manufacturers in particular will have varying opinions on this based upon their experience and the products they’re charged with promoting, but for me Avid and Digidesign win the integration battle hands-down.

There are, of course, a number of solutions for audio production and video work when it comes to software applications and hardware integration. Essentially it all comes down to which package you feel most comfortable using and how it integrates into your workflow. After many years of working in recording studios running Pro Tools, that’s the system I’m most comfortable with and, if pushed to make a decision, it’s the DAW I’d choose every single time.

While I must stress that this is my own opinion based upon my own experience in a professional environment, I find that the speed and efficiency of the Pro Tools and ICON integration makes the decision-making process much easier – when working to a budget and deadline, making production decisions and having confidence in the tools you work with is paramount. What’s more is that since Digidesign is a part of Avid Technology, Pro Tools is able to offer seamless integration with Avid’s world-class video editing and storage solutions, allowing you to work with Avid standard definition (SD) and high definition (HD) video resolutions when editing to picture.

One of the most interesting developments from Avid and Digidesign is the new Video Satellite system that debuted in the closing months of 2008 and was demonstrated in full at this year’s NAB exhibition is Las Vegas. Video Satellite is a software option that allows Pro Tools|HD editors to quickly and easily play Avid HD or SD video sequences from a dedicated Windows-based computer running Avid Media Composer software in sync with their Pro Tools session. By sending the video workload to a separate Windows-based PC (synced over Ethernet), there is no need to render effects, transcode video, or copy files in your DAW machine. You can therefore maintain the full audio track count and processing power of Pro Tools|HD.

For Video Satellite…

–   HP Avid-Certified XW8600 Quad Xeon, 4GB RAM
–   Media Composer-based Video Satellite for Digidesign Pro Tools
–   Avid Media Composer Nitris DX
–   Avid VideoRAID SR attached storage
–   Avid RS422 Deck Control cable for PC
–   Sony HVR 1500A HDV VTR
–   Sony LMD-4250W 42″ HD LCD Monitor
–   Netgear GS108 ProSafe 8 Port Gigabit Ethernet Switch
–   Avid Unity MediaNetwork / ISIS shared storage
–   Kramer SG6005 Black Burst/Bar/Audio Generator

For audio production…

–   2009 Mac Pro 8 Core 2.93GHz, 6GB RAM, 1TB HDD, NVIDIA GeForce GT120
–   Up to 3GB additional internal storage
–   Airport card
–   Apple 30″ Cinema Display
–   Digidesign ICON D-Command ES
–   Digidesign ICON D-Command ES Fader Module
–   JLCooper Surround Panner
–   Digidesign Pro Tools|HD3
–   Digidesign 192 I/O
–   Digidesign SYNC HD
–   Digidesign Digitranslator
–   Digidesign MachineControl for Mac
–   Glyph attached storage
–   KeySpan USB Twin Mac Serial Adapter
–   Genelec 5.1 monitoring

Apple Final Cut Pro, Logic Studio and AJA Peripherals

For independent production houses that are operating on a smaller scale, or perhaps those working exclusively with their own content, a full Digidesign and Avid post-production suite will be beyond both their needs and budget. But just because you don’t need the mind-boggling capabilities of Pro Tools|HD, ICON control surfaces and Avid video peripherals doesn’t mean that you want to compromise on quality.

Over the last 5 years, Apple have developed an impressive roster of Pro Applications that have gained widespread approval in both amateur and professional environments. With a feature-set aimed at the most discerning professional and a price tag aimed at the amateur producer, both Logic Studio and Final Cut Studio have become accepted – and sometimes preferred – alternatives to Digidesign and Avid’s software solutions.

For professionals working with video or indeed post-production audio, Final Cut Studio 2 will need no introduction. The suite has found popularity not only amongst small-market independents, but also in the largest media conglomerates. Much of this success can be attributed to the fact that the Final Cut suite handles key workflow tasks such as collaboration with other users, management of media files and seamless multi-point delivery with ease. However, the strength of the Apple Pro Applications predominantly lies in their integration with both Apple’s own hardware and third-party solutions. As you would expect, the applications are designed to work seamlessly with each other on Apple’s own Mac OS X operating system, but are also able to operate with third-party controllers, decks and audio devices. All of this means that you can customise a system that isn’t bound by manufacturer-specific hardware – the hardware you use for video and audio is your choice and not fixed to limited proprietary hardware as it is with Digidesign and Avid peripherals.

With that said, there are certain standards that I would personally recommend if you’re choosing to work with Apple Final Cut Studio for audio post-production, and this is where the impressive “Power Trio” setup comes to the fore. The Power Trio components, although not specifically catering to the video market, provide a level of quality and integration for audio post-production that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find elsewhere. This system is composed of Apple hardware and software, Apogee converters and I/O, and Euphonix control surfaces.

As we’ve already seen, an audio post-production suite is largely at the mercy of the components that control it – when editing decisions need to be made quickly and confidently, the control of the software is as important as the software itself. Knowing this, Apple, Euphonix and Apogee have worked closely together to provide a seamless workflow that lends itself perfectly to audio post-production.

For audio, Apogee systems range from the small and portable Apogee Duet to the fantastic sonic quality of the Apogee Symphony system, which can provide between 16 and 64 channels of pristine analogue-to-digital or digital-to-analogue conversion for audio input (for post-production recording of Foley, ADR, etc.) and monitoring in surround. Combine this with Euphonix control of Apple’s Final Cut and Logic Studio suites (using the proprietary EuCon control developed specifically for this purpose) and you have an audio suite with class-leading audio performance and integration.

Apple Logic Studio 8 with Apogee AD-16X and DA-16X converters and Euphonix Artist Series MC Control and MC Mix surfaces

Of course, in many independent post houses and single-seat suites, the role of the system may not just be audio post alone and video peripherals will be required for capture. For professional work on an Apple system, AJA’s internal and external units offer unparalleled performance. AJA’s KONA cards represent some of the finest uncompressed QuickTime I/O cards available for the Apple platform with the added benefit of bringing all the quality and function of a fully-featured non-linear editing suite at a fraction of the price. AJA KONA cards are available in both PCIe and PCI/PCI-X versions, so they can be fitted to both Mac Pros or older G5 desktops. The great thing about cards such as the KONA3, AJA’s flagship PCIe-based product, is that 8 channels of audio output are available on 24-bit AES/EBU connections, meaning you can mix your soundtrack in full 7.1 when the card is used in conjunction with a Digital to Analogue Converter (DAC). Adding an Analogue to Digital Converter (ADC) to the system will also allow input of audio in perfect sync with the video playback for tasks such as ADR recording.

For users who operate on mobile systems such as the Apple MacBook Pro, AJA also offer a stand-alone portable solution in the IoHD, which works over a single FireWire 800 connection. This award-winning product allows producers and editors to work on the road in real-time with 720 and 1080 HD, all in full-raster 10 bit and 4:2:2 and provides both analogue audio inputs and outputs on XLR (4-channels of each) and digital AES/EBU audio inputs and outputs on four BNC connections. To put it simply, monitoring your audio can be as simple or as complex as you need it to be, allowing for the perfect mix of functionality and practicality.

If you have any queries about the products mentioned in this article, get in touch with us on 03332 409 306, email or take a look at our full media and entertainment range.

Call us: 03332 409 306

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *