Audio Monitoring Struggles for Elbow Room in Remote Trucks

By Dan Daley

SVG’s technology focus on audio monitoring this month underscores how the historically uneven relationship between audio and video in broadcast becomes even starker within the confines of remote trucks.

First off, for decades, audio truly was the stepchild in television broadcasting. “Everyone at home was listening off a 2.5-in. speaker, so no one cared about the sound of the audio,” says Paul J. Bonar, VP of engineering for truck builder Game Creek Video and a long-time broadcast mixer himself. As stereo and then surround sound moved into sports broadcasts and consumers’ homes, the emphasis on audio increased. However, audio still had to contend with the very real issue of space in the truck, another area in which it tends to give way to video.

“Space is a challenge in every respect: distance from speakers to mixer, size of the room itself for reflections,” says Bonar. “If I could get 24 inches more for the audio, that would make a huge difference. But that would take it away from video, and that’s not going to happen.”

Then there is the noise issue. Truck designers increasingly try to put noisemakers like fans into separate spaces to isolate them from the mix environment. To limit noise in a recently built truck, Bonar put Whispermat and other insulation material in the walls between audio and production as well as acoustic tiles on the ceiling. But when the intercom system was installed, he discovered to his dismay that the manufacturer had changed the system configuration and one of the intercom components that had heretofore been quiet now had a noisy fan attached.

“That was frustrating,” Bonar says. At NAB, he adds, he asked the manufacturer’s reps to step into a truck in the parking lot and listen to the monitoring environment with that particular component off, then on. “They realized the problem immediately and said they would modify the equipment ASAP, which is great, but it shows how we’re at the mercy of a lot of things outside our control.”

Another issue is the fact that trucks host numerous mixers over time, all of whom have their own ideas about what audio should sound like. Thus, the design has to incorporate a common denominator to make the truck viable. One of the ways that has happened is the establishment of a de facto monitor-speaker standard, which has shifted over time from Tannoy to EV to JBL and most recently to Genelec. Bonar uses the Genelec 8050s for the L-R array and the 8030s for the center channel, surrounds, and PFL monitoring. But even that arrangement has been encroached upon by video: he had to move to a smaller center speaker when the size of the center video monitor increased as the need to scrutinize synch became more important in an HD universe.

As with the intercom situation, he’s also finding that industrial design sometimes works against truck design. A new curvy shape makes Genelec’s 8000 series look good but makes it harder to install in tight spaces. “The speaker quality has improved,” he sighs, “but the dimensions are more difficult to deal with.”

The bottom line in designing audio spaces for trucks, says Bonar, is to choose your battles carefully. “You’re not going to win them all, especially the space issue. But know that we are trying.”

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