Audio-Technica Talks Microphones in the Immersive Age

The imminence of the object-based–audio era has not escaped notice at Audio-Technica. Neither, for that matter, has the fact that sports-media content is changing radically, with more of it moving to streaming and, in the process, often to earbuds as the final audio-monitoring method for consumers. What’s not changing is the fact that these new multi-object soundscapes will continue to be built largely using mono and stereo microphones.

Michael Edwards, VP, product and market development

Michael Edwards, VP, product and market development

“Playback formats are definitely changing,” says Michael Edwards, VP, product and market development, A-T, “but the role of the microphone is still to capture the moment.”

A-T has periodically considered entering the market for multichannel dedicated surround-sound microphone but has continued to favor its broadcast stalwarts: shotgun mics like the BP4073 and BP4071 mono and the BP4027 and BP4029 stereo.

“What we’ve seen is that most of the surround beds are still built using either closely or widely spaced microphones, depending on the engineers’ tastes,” says Edwards. “Stereo microphones have become the primary tool for building surround sound, with mono microphones used for specific effects to fill in. As we move into the next generation of broadcast audio for sports, the creation of the surround bed will become ever more complex.”

As important, adds Chris Nighman, product manager, wired products, whether an A1 or A2 prefers to create a stereo image using either an X-Y or a mid-side element configuration, mono compatibility will remain a critical necessity well into the object-based future. “That’s something that broadcast can never lose sight of, even on mobile platforms,” he stresses.

Chris Nighman, product manager, wired products

Chris Nighman, product manager, wired products

Both executives emphasize that, while consumer playback configurations ranging between 11 and 22 channels (or objects — the terminology remains in flux) will offer listeners new ways to access sports on television while presenting field technicians with new and interesting challenges, most viewers won’t feel compelled to access these new formats. Whatever format they do listen through, however, they will have had their expectations for sound quality set high, simply because broadcast sound has been so good for so long.

“And that’s always going to start with the sound source: the microphone,” says Edwards.

In fact, he adds, how audio is captured at the elemental level could influence the overall experience for consumers. For instance, the audio for an announcer located on a sideline or near the field of play may not be completely free of ambient sound, which would affect whether a consumer turns off the announcer object. Or the ambient audio around a second announcer speaking another language could be a mismatch with the rest of an event’s background sound. “The way audio is captured in the first place can significantly influence how it’s [experienced] later,” he points out.

In fact, says Nighman, the trend toward personalization of the broadcast-audio mix puts an even greater premium on sound quality at the point of capture, because the final mix may no longer be completely under the control of an experienced A1.

Edwards says this could contribute to the use of more microphones per show and more types, such as the boundary microphones that he sees increasingly used for golf and other sports where microphones need to be present but inconspicuous. (He and his team are aware of the type of “remote-integration” methodology pioneered by ESPN and how it could affect the number of kinds of microphones deployed.)

And, although microphones and speakers will remain the analog end points of what has become an almost all-digital enterprise, even microphones will ultimately find their way into networked audio. In 2014, A-T introduced its ATND971 cardioid condenser boundary network microphone, which is compatible with the Dante network.

“The ability to manipulate the microphone remotely, which is something that networking enables, will become more important in the future,” Edwards asserts. “Things are changing, but the microphone remains the basic building block for broadcast sound.”