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Quality & Flexibility In A Stereo-To-Surround Up Mix Plug-In

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High Quality and Flexibility in a Stereo-to-Surround Up mix Plug-in: NUGEN Audio's Halo Upmix, by Samuel Justice.

When Chris Sweetman and I founded Sweet Justice, we were looking to leverage our combined three decades of frontline experience in the games industry to create a high-power interactive audio production studio. Over the past couple of years, we've built a team of fantastic sound designers and editors not only for gaming but also for audio postproduction in a wide range of media projects. Our award-winning team includes veterans in both game and film audio. Because of them, we've quickly become the go-to house in Europe not only for in-game sound but also cinematics. And we're proud that our portfolio includes some of the industry's hottest game titles, including Battlefield I, Mirror's Edge Catalyst, and Paragon, just to name a few.

One of our biggest current challenges is trying to accommodate users who are engaging with an ever-growing number of platforms on which to hear sound – from mobile devices to increasingly sophisticated surround sound in home theaters. With game audio specifically, we also have to take into account the audio engine the developer is using. Some engines have additional mastering or very particular DSP for the D/A conversion that can also color the sound. The technology never stops moving, and it's imperative that we keep our finger on the pulse.

With the emergence of cutting-edge surround formats such as Dolby 7.1 and now 9.1, creating a quality upmix from stereo to surround sound is an important task for our team. In the past, we've used quite a few upmixing tools and techniques. For instance, we've tried sending the signal to tight reverbs in rears, applying multiband control to specific areas of the signal to be sent to various speakers, or even very simple tricks like panning the music around depending on the scene. We have also tested plenty of upmixing plugins, some of which have been promising. But most of those tools would leave some artifact, phase issue, or discrepancy on the downmix; that is, when the upmixed version of the audio is output in stereo again.

Our ongoing search for a better upmixing tool led us to NUGEN Audio's Halo Upmix. Right away, we were impressed with the high quality of the surround output. The interface itself is easy to use and very intuitive, and the presets make a great starting point. But one of the most powerful aspects of Halo is that it lets us instantly hear not only the upmix but the downmixed version at the click of a button. With Halo, we can test the session on multiple listening setups immediately.

To give an example, we recently used Halo on a game title in which the music was recorded and mixed very lovingly to fit the particular period in which the game is set (specifically around the 1930s and 1940s). There are certain levels in the game in which the music needs to encompass the player to strike a mood. But the game also offers menu options that allow the user to change the mix, including one to make it sound very authentic to a 1930s-40s-style sound. Halo handles this with grace, switching through the snapshots without causing any artifacts or phase issues from the upmix back to the downmix – a fantastic benefit. Additionally, Halo handles the low end extremely well, keeping it very consistent and tight.

We also use Halo on game cinematics in a typical post-production workflow, in which we receive stereo music mixes, but the cinematic requires a surround mix. We've used Halo not only for music but also to apply artistic license on other types of audio. One recent example is a game scene in which the character was in a state of trance. Rather than use a surround reverb on the dialogue, we processed the dialogue for the scene and then used Halo to manipulate it around the sound field. It worked wonderfully.

When deadlines are tight, it's all about the interface – and Halo lets us save a tremendous amount of time through the ability to change the upmix in a very simple manner. With Halo, we can quickly put the upmixed audio on a track or bus and have it sound fantastic with only some minor adjustments.

Using Halo is a pleasure, but it's just one example of the fantastic tools NUGEN Audio provides to assist the mixing process. VisLM2, the company's loudness metering and monitoring solution, is another one I rely on quite often. It's clear that the NUGEN team puts a lot of care and thought into their products. Plus, their openness to continually improving products based on customer feedback is very refreshing.

Samuel Justice is co-founder of Sweet Justice, an award-winning interactive audio production studio based in the south of England.


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