Designers Offer Insight Into Audio Monitoring in the Trucks

The cramped bays of remote-broadcasting trucks are far from the spacious confines of luxurious recording studios, but the same people often design them. Both John Storyk and Russ Berger, leading brands in the world of high-end music studios, have also left their marks on sports-broadcast audio.

“Music is definitely playing a part in making sports broadcasting sound better,” asserts Storyk, who recently completed designs for several audio studios and for ESPN in Bristol, CT, and TV Globo in Brazil. “The Yankees just started using a real Saturday Night Live type of theme-music segue, and it sounds great. You need to be able to monitor high-resolution music, in the truck and in the studio, properly and accurately.”

That’s not as easy in the truck, he observes. In his designs, he tries for least an equidistant 5.1 monitor configuration with a single subwoofer, two if he can fit them in. “We try to conform to the ISO ITU-R 775  spec [for multichannel audio accompanying picture] at the very least,” he explains. “Trucks are a tough environment for monitoring. We use Genelec speakers pretty often, in part because we can get them pretty flat in small spaces using their onboard DSP.”

Berger concentrates on quieting and flattening the ambient environment in the monitoring area, something he says is highly achievable using improved HVAC venting and absorptive and diffusive wall and ceiling treatment. He also pays close attention to the thermal impact of a lot of equipment crammed into a small space.

“You’d be surprised how significant the thermal image shift can be,” he says, explaining that the distortion imposed on a visual image by heat rising from a hot surface has a distinct aural counterpart. Repositioning equipment that generates the most heat is the main solution.

Berger says remote trucks’ biggest challenges come from accurate low-frequency reproduction, due to the small size of most audio compartments, which inhibit the ability of lower frequencies to fully unfurl: “When you get down to 600-700 Hz, you’re mostly guessing, and, below 300 Hz, it’s a total crapshoot.”

That hasn’t been a significant issue for sports broadcasting until relatively recently, with sports leagues, teams, and networks increasingly emphasizing music in their programming. (The day Berger was interviewed, the NFL Network announced plans to slot actress/recording artist Priyanka Chopra’s track “In My City” as its new theme for Thursday Night Football, using it for the opening of each of its 13 primetime games.)

Berger says he has come up with a solution. In the highly competitive world of acoustical sciences, he’s reluctant to discuss it in too much detail, but the gist is that the storage compartment beneath the audio bay can be used to add volume to the monitoring space with an “acoustical crossover” — some method of letting sound “leak” in a controlled fashion into the underbelly bay that allows it to resonate in the lower frequencies.

For the most part, he says, trucks will have to work with what they have for the low end: off-axis subwoofers and “mixers with imaginative minds.”

For Paul Bonar, VP of engineering at mobile-unit provider Game Creek Video, it’s the size and shape of the speaker that rules the day. He has recently been choosing Neumann KH 120s, which he says are shaped well for inclusion in truck designs. Like many of his colleagues, he had been a fan of Genelecs until the company changed some of its form factors several years ago, making them less easy to slip into tight spaces.

“The Neumann speakers are a good choice for mobile units,” he says. “Besides sounding great, their size and shape make designing and implementing a layout and a mounting scheme much easier than some other monitors. The size and shape of a speaker can make a big difference in other aspects of the truck layout. It’s not just that it has to sound great; it’s got to fit the mobile environment as well.”

Also, Bonar adds, implementation of a rear-firing port on some speakers can pose a challenge for truck designers. He creates and keeps templates of mounting techniques from different projects to help him determine the best angle for mounting that still allows the port to fire properly.

The remote truck remains a challenging environment for making audio sound good. But until someone manages to change the laws of physics, compromise will remain the name of the game.

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