Squarehead’s unique approach to audio attracts attention in U.S.

By Ken Kerschbaumer

When Norwegian-based Squarehead Technology introduced a new concept in sports audio at the IBC in Amsterdam last September it opened the door on a new way for audio mixers to zero in on players, fans, and coaches from afar similarly to a camera lens. And now that Bexel has landed an exclusive deal to offer the whiz-bang technology here in the states it’s beginning to capture the attention of top-level sports networks and leagues.

Jason Cohen, HBO Sports director of production, says HBO is in preliminary talks to use the system during a boxing match in February. The system, which would hang directly over the ring, is a little over six feet in diameter and has 300 microphones and a small camera outputting a video signal of the area covered by the 300 microphones. The control unit is connected to a video monitor that outputs the camera signal, allowing the user to use a track ball to move a cursor around the image and zero in on the subject of interest like a fighter’s fist, a boisterous fan, or someone in the fighters corner.

“In addition the system is recording all the time and synched up with the EVS system so the user can go back in time and find audio for replays,” says Morgan Kjolerbakken, Squarehead CTO.

The system works by using phase delay, spatial filtering, and being optimized for speech. As the cursor is moved the system automatically adjusts the phase delay of the 300 microphones to grab audio from upwards of hundreds of meters in quieter situations.

Cohen says the technology theoretically suits boxing perfectly. “We could pinpoint and zoom in on sounds like a punch as opposed to relying on microphones that also pick up crowd noise and have both the sound of the punch and the crowd noise battling. With this we could creep in the crowd noise.”

HBO Sports currently relies on a Sennheiser microphone hanging above the ring along with corner mics on fish poles and lavalier mics on trainers and, occasionally, the referee. If successfully trialed and tested the Squarehead system could replace the overhead mic.

The system costs more than $200,000 to purchase. Given the much higher rental rate vs. a regular microphone the system will have to prove that it’s worth the extra investment.

“It has to take boxing audio to a place it’s never been before and let the viewer experience sounds never heard before,” adds Cohen. “On the camera side we’ve done everything we could with cameras like the Inertia XMo so now we want to continue to enhance the sound,” says Cohen.