SRS Advanced Rendering Lab

A few weeks ago, I visited SRS Labs in Irvine, California, to see—and hear—its new Advanced Rendering Laboratory (ARL). This facility is custom built to test any imaginable physical or psychoacoustic audio system—in other words, it's an audio geek's dream come true.

The ARL is a room-within-a-room measuring 30 x 22 x 9.5 feet and constructed inside a warehouse. A raised floor hides all the cables, and the walls and ceiling are acoustically treated with reflectors and diffusers so the room is not terribly live, but not dead, either.

A stage-rigging company constructed scaffolding throughout the room so any number of speakers can be positioned virtually anywhere. When I visited, there were 20 main speakers (front left, right, center; front left and right wide; front left and right high; six side surrounds; three rear surrounds; four overhead) and two subwoofers. All speakers are self-powered professional monitors from Blue Sky, and the entire audio system carries +4dBu balanced signals.

All signal routing and processing is performed in software running on a Windows computer with a quad-core CPU—in fact, the only other audio hardware in the ARL is a pair of 12-channel MOTU professional audio interfaces, and more can be added as needed. This allows various configurations and algorithms to be instantly compared without having to repatch anything.

During my visit, I heard a demo of a new multidimensional-audio open standard being developed by the 3D Audio Alliance, which is the subject of my recent podcast with SRS CTO and 3DAA president Alan Kraemer. I also heard a demo of a new SRS algorithm that blew me away.

This algorithm, called Circle Cinema 3D Audio (CC3DA), adds the element of depth to a soundtrack by analyzing cues in the mix (phase, amplitude, etc.) and using psychoacoustic tricks to render sounds out in the room or behind the walls. According to Kraemer, this process uses completely different principles than conventional head-related transfer functions (HRTFs), though it uses those as well.

The demo consisted of several clips from Avatar, and Kraemer switched between conventional 5.1 and 2-channel (front left and right) with the CC3DA algorithm. In 2-channel mode, I was amazed to hear sounds appear to emanate from different distances—objects in the foreground sounded closer than objects in the background. When he switched to 5.1, the entire soundfield immediately flattened against the walls. As I remarked at the time, "The 2-channel processed sound is more surrounding than the 5.1!"

Unlike the open-source 3DAA multidimensional-audio standard, which is a couple of years from fruition, CC3DA is an SRS-exclusive algorithm that should appear in consumer products next year, and it seems to be a perfect compliment to 3D video. I'm sure we'll hear more at CES next month, and you can read all about it in my show coverage.

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COMMENTS
uavK.Reid's picture

Scott:

This technology appears very promising giving we enthusiasts a glimpse at what is to come. When you were receiving the demo, did the SRS representative mention how they plan to adapt the technology to a conventional consumer home theater that tyically will only be able to accommodate 5 speakers (FL,C,FR, L.Surr, R.Surr and SW)? How was the sense of height in what you heard as I see a number of speakers considerably higher than ear level at a seated listening position. Also, with hardwood floors I would think there would be problem with reflection. How did SRS account for that? Do you know if Dolby or DTS is working on something similar and perhaps more sophisticated?

Speaking of Dolby, have you, TJN or Shane had an opportunity to see Dolby Laboratories' PRM-4200 Professional Reference Monitor yet. See http://investor.dolby.com/releasedetail.cfm?ReleaseID=521218

Though not available to the consumer, it appears impressive. Perhaps worth a profile?

uavtheo's picture

Scott,

Nice Podcast on the topic and the promise of a 3D Audio Alliance that would start to have a metadata standard on the location of objects in the audio space sounded very promising.

I haven't auditioned a ton of speakers in my life, but those that I have, I've found the interpretation of the depth of soundstage to be one thing that I love but also have seen plenty of variation. To me, the NOLAs did an unbelievable job of rendering a sound stage that was thoroughly realistic. In terms of depth, I still haven't found anything to compare with Magnepans.

That being said, there really shouldn't be that variation between systems (I know I'm comparing an apples to oranges in terms of speaker technologies too); my point being, the sense of depth and space is part of the process of immersion. That goes for both two and multichannel audio in my book.

So, while I've enjoyed all the podcasts and updates, this specifically gives me the most hope that we'll be seeing some cool things in the industry on this front coming in the next few years... I hope :-)

Scott Wilkinson's picture
The ARL itself, with its many speakers, is not a system intended for consumer use; it's a testing facility designed to evaluate various configurations and algorithms that will eventually be incorporated into consumer products. For example, it has front width and height speakers to test systems such as Audyssey DSX, Dolby Pro Logic IIz, and anything along those lines that SRS might come up with. No one at SRS expects consumers to put 20 speakers in their home, but I thought enthusiasts such as yourself would find the facility interesting.

What consumers will see directly are the two things I heard demo'd—the 3DAA's multidimensional audio format and SRS's CC3DA algorithm, both of which are intended for conventional audio systems, such as 5.1 and 2-channel. In fact, both were demonstrated using 5.1 and 2-channel configurations in the ARL—in other words, most of the speakers in there were not being used for those particular demos. (Actually, I think one of the 3DAA clips did use most or all of the speakers, but the other demos did not.) The sense of depth in the SRS CC3DA demo came entirely from the front left and right speakers.

I didn't think the hardwood floor posed a problem; the room sounded very good to me.

I haven't seen the new Dolby LCD pro monitor that uses Dolby HDR (High Dynamic Range) LED backlighting, in which each LED is individually dimmable. However, I have seen the SIM2 version of that technology, which is intended for commercial and medical imaging, and it's very impressive. You're right, it would make a good profile. Thanks!

BTW, how about adding a photo of yourself to your UAV profile?

Scott Wilkinson's picture
I agree that the 3DAA multidimensional audio format is very exciting; the idea to specify where objects are in the soundfield independent of the rendering/playback system is brilliant. And it can be used to specify depth for the SRS CC3DA algorithm, which will be much more effective than the current implementation, which estimates depth from cues in the mix, such as phase, amplitude etc. As I said, I'm very excited about the possibilities here.

A sense of depth in the soundstage is something speaker reviewers listen for all the time, and you're right, some models render depth better than others. However, I'm willing to bet that no speakers in a conventional audio system can do it nearly as well as those in a system with CC3DA, which we should see in consumer products some time next year.

BTW, how about adding a photo of yourself to your UAV profile?

Jarod's picture

This is one impressive acoustics lab. This technology seems like the wave of the future and it looks (sounds?) like they are really making some incredible innovations. To have the 2channel demo outshine a 5.1 setup is astonishing to say the least! Im very excited about what SRS is up too.

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