The Sound of Speed: MotoGP Racing and Audio-Technica Microphones

The electrifying hum of motorcycles, the animated chatter from the paddock, the anticipatory hush in the pit lanes, and the unmistakable roars from the crowd - these are the exhilarating sounds of the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas MotoGP™ race. Sounds that are meticulously captured and delivered to racing fans worldwide, live and on-demand. And the real star behind the scenes? Audio-Technica microphones.

Motors are music to the ears of race fans and by that standard, MotoGP racing is a symphony orchestra performing a crescendo. Capturing live audio from a MotoGP race is a herculean task that requires meticulous planning, expert knowledge, and top-notch equipment. The challenges are many, making the process a complex technical and creative endeavor.

The goal is to bring the visceral experience of being at a MotoGP race to screens, speakers and headphones across the world. How do you translate the sights and sounds of an event so huge into a cohesive broadcast that delivers emotional impact? It takes teamwork and state of the art equipment to pull it off.

When Audio-Technica asked if I wanted to see a live MotoGP race, I leaped at the chance. I wanted to experience firsthand how its microphones are used in the live race broadcast, how they bring the viewer into the action. It is no small feat when you grasp the enormity of the task: 2.3 miles of track and 22 of the fastest racing bikes in the world, with speeds exceeding 200 miles per hour for 20 laps.

The Challenge
One of the foremost issues with recording the sounds of motorcycle racing is the sheer volume of noise. MotoGP is loud, with revving engines reaching decibel levels equivalent to a jet aircraft taking off. This cacophony can easily saturate microphones and distort the captured audio.

More than 200 Audio-Technica microphones are in use during a race. This audio equipment is designed to withstand high-decibel environments and unpredictable weather conditions and capture clear, high-definition audio. They cover a broad range of applications, from the track, pit lane, to ENG (Electronic News Gathering) crews, and even (or especially) onboard the bikes themselves. To avoid clipping, the sound is captured as 32-bit floating point digital audio.

The sonic landscape of a MotoGP race is highly dynamic. Motorcycles zoom past creating a rapid shift in sound intensity and pitch due to the Doppler effect. This creates a moving audio target that is difficult to capture accurately. Even though the race is outdoors, the acoustics of the landscape and racetrack structures also have an effect by reflecting, absorbing, or diffusing sound before it reaches the microphones.

Given the outdoor nature of motorcycle racing, microphones are exposed to the elements, requiring effective shielding that doesn't compromise their audio capture capabilities. Adding to the challenges, because it is a live production there is a need for tight synchronization. Audio captured from various sources must be perfectly timed with the visual footage. Any delay, however slight, can disrupt the viewing experience and diminish the immersive feel of the broadcast.

Audio-Technica is up to the task of overcoming these challenges, given their engineering expertise, sound engineering expertise, and decades of experience working in professional sports. The company started working with Dorna (MotoGP's commercial rights holder) in 2019 and from there started innovating custom audio capture solutions. The skill of the audio team — who must strategically place these microphones around the track, continuously monitor the sound levels, and make real-time adjustments as necessary — is crucial and allows viewers to experience the full sonic spectacle of a MotoGP race.

About MotoGP
MotoGP racing is considered the pinnacle of two-wheel motorsports and is revered globally for its high-octane spectacle and the extreme skill required from competitors. The prestige of MotoGP stems from several factors. Firstly, it showcases the utmost limits of motorcycle technology. The machines raced in MotoGP are purpose-built, high-performance bikes that push the boundaries of speed and agility.

These are not production bikes and the sound of the racing motors is distinct to the class. Motorcycle racing presents challenges different from car racing. The rider's stance significantly influences the race, and the aerodynamic demands are extreme. The delicate aerodynamic dance between motorcycle and rider informed the design of the latest camera and mic system Audio-Technica helped create for the bikes.

MotoGP riders are the best in the world, and they compete on some of the most iconic racing circuits; these include Le Mans in France, Mugello in Italy, and the Mobility Resort Motegi in Japan. 2023 marks the tenth MotoGP Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas, which opened in 2012 and features 19 turns over its 2.3 mile length.

The Trip
There's nothing like first-hand experience to understand the creative intent behind live race coverage. Before I ever set foot on a plane, I familiarized myself with the course and MotoGP in general by playing the racing sim MotoGP 22 (MotoGP 23 came out June 8) and watching past races via the VideoPass on (membership required). The sim is considered a difficult game because it forces you to respect the timing of braking and acceleration that is intrinsic to motorcycle racing and a lot tougher to master than automobiles. Watching a live race brings home the reality of how tough it really is.

Only recently have I started watching live racing on big-screen TV using a surround-sound system, as I would enjoy a movie. I had no idea how much goes into the production and never before wrapped my head around the (literal) moving parts. Going to Austin fixed all that. Having seen the real thing in person, I found it remarkable how realistic racing sims and games have become. This is particularly true for MotoGP 2023 on my PlayStation 5. It quite literally simulates the people and places and equipment and the track with astonishing verisimilitude.

In the two days leading up to the big race, we—a small group of journalists along with Audio-Technica staff—toured the track, saw the bikes, met with riders and gained an awareness of the various elements at play. We even had the opportunity to ride a lap at full speed around the track in the MotoGP Safety Car, as well as to visit the broadcast booths where the production comes together.

Pit Lane
The first stop on our tour, naturally, was pit lane. Here, six U851R boundary microphones are deployed to pick up sound in an inconspicuous manner. Their design allows mounting on flat surfaces like walls and ceilings and are used to pick up sound from above.

Another mic found in the pit lane is the BP3600 immersive audio microphone. Consisting of eight capsules, it picks up 360-degree audio and in this application can be used to add spatial ambience to the background of the mix. According to Audio-Technica, this mic's "eight-channel near-coincident array provides ample spaciousness and controlled separation not found in other all-in-one immersive audio microphones."

The Track
A total of 18 BP28 shotgun microphones were set up in nine stereo pairs around the track. These are instrumental in capturing the sound of the motorcycles as they round corners and zoom down straightaways. The mics are X/Y offset by 90 degrees for corners while on the straights the separation is 110 degrees in order to capture a wider area.

Audio-Technica's goal is to seamlessly cover the track with microphones, so the director can transition from one camera view to another and always have consistent sound accompanying it without any gaps. Additional stereo shotgun microphones—BP4027 & BP4029—complement the track sound capture array.

The BP28L shotgun microphone is another crucial piece of equipment. These are long, highly directional mics that pick up whatever the camera it is mounted on points at. Twelve of these allow for precise audio pickup directly from the action, even when using a long zoom.

And along the straightaway near the finish line is another BP3600, perfectly situated to capture both the crowd and the bikes as they zoom past.

Of course all this audio needs to find its way back to the director at his console. This is done with miles of fiber optic cable and specialized networking gear housed in waterproof containers.

The Riders
There are 100 BP899 miniature lavalier mics mounted on bikes, all feeding into a wireless transmission system. Just think of the challenge. With 22 riders zooming around the track at incredible speeds, the mics and camera cannot interfere with the rider. They need to perform under incredible stress and still deliver clear audio.

The riders, of course, are 100% focused on the race. Thanks to the onboard cameras, viewers can experience a vicarious thrill and ride along with them.

The Race(s)
There are actually numerous races that take place over the weekend, including a Sprint for the premier class and Grand Prix races for two lower classes of bikes, Moto2™ and Moto3™. But the final MotoGP Grand Prix race is the star of the show: 20 intense laps. 22 riders start, but not all will finish. There are no pit stops. If you slip up, it's over. In this race, the first lap claimed two competitors almost immediately.

It was fascinating to watch the broadcast of the race and compare it to my memory of the actual event.

Because the streaming broadcast has announcers, the audio mix from the track in the main feed serves more as background. But don't underestimate its sophistication!

At the track, a spectator is stationary if they have a seat, or at least limited to walking speed in terms of how fast they can get around. Consequently, the sounds they hear do not match what is shown on the big screens broadcasting the race. But if you pay attention to the streaming broadcast, you'll hear all sorts of audio subtleties that exactly sync to the action; it's the real sound of the race so it seamlessly matches what you are seeing.

The really cool thing about using the VideoPass on is that when you are watching a race, you are not at all restricted to the broadcast feed! You can watch the main video feed with only ambient sound, no announcer! This is the mix to listen to if you want to appreciate what all this effort is about. The sounds the mics pick up correlate to individual bikes on screen. Once you've done that, go back to the mix with the commentary, and you'll truly appreciate what the ambient mix brings to the table.

The need for complete track coverage using stereo shotgun mics is perhaps most apparent in the ambient feed that accompanies the helicopter aerial views. It has to sync up to what you see, just like the rest of the audio. However, the helicopter is able to track racers uninterrupted over extremely long stretches and multiple turns, and the audio mix has to keep up seamlessly.

You may have thought the analogy I made to a symphony at the beginning of this article was a stretch but I promise that if you listen to the ambient feeds you will come to appreciate the nuances that are communicated.

When streaming, you can even choose between four on-bike camera views (including the "butt-cams") and focus on the sound. The forward-facing view is pretty much identical to what you get from a driving sim, although even more intense because you can clearly see what an extreme sport this really is as riders react to the wind and the track surface. What I find amazing is that the microphones on the camera deliver such clear sound even with 200 MPH wind. When you switch between bikes, you can also hear the slightly altered timbre of the different engines. When one bike passes another, you hear the dueling engines.

The Finish Line
The world-class spectacle of MotoGP racing puts it in rarefied territory. To see and hear the race in person is the equivalent of attending a classical music concert so you can understand how a particular instrument should sound in a recording. Without the in-person experience, you cannot know if its essence is captured.

It's quite amazing, with all these moving parts, that the final broadcast is so seamless, with no dropouts in the feeds. But even more astonishing is hearing the ambient mix and the sounds from the on-bike cameras using a high-fidelity sound system. I used the Dolby Surround upmixer to expand the mix, leveraging the 9.1.4 channel AVR system in my living room. It's an immersive listening experience that creates true envelopment.

Now that I've wrapped my head around what it really takes to capture a race of this magnitude, I have a newfound appreciation for live sports sound. It's mission critical; without it, you lose the tension, excitement, and sense of being a spectator at a live event. The sound makes the spectacle.

The symphony of motorcycle racing is a super specific set of sounds. What’s fascinating is that, in different locations, these sounds interact with the acoustics of the track in novel ways. When standing on the inside of a hairpin turn the effect of all the bikes cornering around you creates a dizzying 360-degree aural panorama specific to that spot. But that "you are there" cacophony would not make sense as the main focus in a live broadcast. What you hear needs to match what you see.

One thing is for sure, all the effort to mic up the race is worth it. Having been there, I can vouch for how it translates in the broadcast. If you watch MotoGP racing from home on a high-performance AV system with a big screen and surround-sound, you are transported into the event.

Streaming the race is certainly different from being there, but it brings the sights and sounds home to VideoPass viewers in a way that you can’t even experience in person.

As with movie soundtracks, you cannot appreciate the nuances of the MotoGP broadcast audio mix unless you have a surround-sound system and pay attention. But you also don’t have to go crazy to enjoy the artistry, because a decent 5.1 system—yes, even a competent soundbar system—will do the trick. Headphones also offer a good listening experience. Even if you just use AirPods, you’ll hear the artistry and technical know-how that went into the mix.

Thanks to this experience, I now understand all that goes into capturing and delivering audio of a live MotoGP race, I can truly appreciate what a complex endeavor it is. But you don't need to know all this technical background to appreciate the end result. Even a casual viewer can recognize Audio-Technica's contribution and how the audio mix naturally matches what is on screen. The reason why? Because it is not just a broadcast of a race. It is a production, there is artistry to it.

The winner of the big race turned out to be Alex Rins, taking a historic victory for the LCR Honda Castrol team. But the other winners are the viewers who get to enjoy MotoGP racing with truly impressive sound made possible by Audio-Technica's microphone know-how.