Live From Rio 2016: NBC’s Karl Malone on the Sweet Sounds of Olympic Success
Karl Malone, director, sound design, NBC Sports and NBC Olympics, is spending plenty of time listening to the Olympic Games and, so far, is more than happy with what he is hearing, not only from his own team but also from the massive team of audio professionals working for OBS to provide an audio bedrock for literally thousands of hours of Olympics content.
“OBS is doing a fantastic job better and better. People expect more and are pushing them more, and they are being pushed to deliver so much content,” says Malone. “People are critical of audio and want more audio, 5.1 surround sound, so they’ve done a great job.”
Malone’s listening room in the IBC is making use of RTW’s TM7 TouchMonitor to stay on top of incoming audio signals and more.
“It gives me a little bit more inside knowledge of what is going on at the venue,” he explains. “In Control Rooms A and B and in the Edit Rooms, we are using JBL’s new 7 series of monitors, and they sound fantastic.”
The NBC Olympics team has left copper behind, using the OMNEO IP Ethernet networking architecture for intercoms and putting some audio signals through Audinate’s Dante uncompressed multichannel-networking technology.
Calrec is also playing a big part, with nine consoles and Calrec Hydra used to get audio signals back to NBC’s facility in Stamford, CT. Malone credits the Calrec support team with making things go very well from a technical standpoint.
Monitoring the NBC output is a multichannel affair, not only because of the 5.1-surround-sound output but also because of the multiple distribution outlets: the networks, the content streaming on the web, and even edited packages for primetime and on-demand distribution.
“Our team is trying to mix aggressively and bring up the rears to make it more exciting,” says Malone. “We also want to make every channel sound similar in the way it is balanced, so all the sports in all locations are at the same level.”
Malone notes that, although the quality of the host feeds has been very good, NBC Olympics producers and directors want to enhance the coverage, which requires not only additional cameras but also additional audio feeds.
For unilateral coverage, NBC Olympics takes the submix of the OBS ambient feed for the general crowd atmosphere plus some of the near-crowd feeds so that the audio mixers can have better control over shaping the sound field.
“Then we put up our own cameras with mics and will sometimes take some separate ‘kiss-and-cry’–type mics, At the last moment, I will go to the A1 mixer and ask if there is anything else they would like. That is always interesting, as they ask for things I usually would not think of: like the show caller for the Opening Ceremony so they could hear what was going to happen next.”
Much of the improvement in audio can be attributed to OBS and others working closely with the federations to allow more access to sounds from the field of play.
“The federations can make the life for audio easier or more difficult, because it’s not like a camera, where you can zoom in,” Malone points out. “When you put the mic on the diving board or on the volleyball net, it helps in getting closer to the athletes, although we also always fight getting too much and too close to the athletes.”
There have been plenty of highlights for Malone. Among them: the Opening Ceremony, where the balance between announcers and the event allowed more of the sounds of the ceremony to come through; the punch of divers into the water; the sound of the diving board.
“Equestrian sounds fantastic. Maybe, in the past, there just wasn’t the time to plan for those events, but we spend a lot of time planning for these, and we understand mic placement,” he points out. “Everybody knows what they’re doing, and everything comes in 5.1 surround sound, so no one is editing in stereo.”
Also helping with the overall audio quality is that venue public-address systems have zones where PA systems can be lowered when the commentators are working.
“The less sound that goes into the announcer’s mic, the more width there can be in the mix,” says Malone. “It also stops the announcers from having to shout.”