6 Dec 2017

The live audio revolution. d&b audiotechnik: The d&b Soundscape

“No machine runs without friction”, says designer Ralf Zuleeg. It is the start of my introduction session to The d&b Soundscape at their Backnang HQ near Stuttgart. This is a 3D sound system, where there are at least five speaker systems across the top of the stage, making stereo completely redundant.

This development has been in progress at d&b audioteknik since around 2011, and will officially launch in February. At that time, several venue installations and one large UK origin arena tour will have the system.

Based on the DS 100 processor, the system is essentially a 64 in, and 64 out matrix processor that uses Dante to connect things. On top of that you have two optional software packages, En Scene to position sounds and En Space to create new rooms through acoustic emulations. . From your mixer you would send post fade from each channel, plus main outs so it knows to turn everything down when you do.


In its simplest implementation you would have at least 5 speaker systems, equal distance apart across the top of the stage, and small front fill across the front of the stage. The more the better. You may have subs flown or stacked somewhere, flown is preferable.

(Picture: a recent presentation on The d&b Soundscape)

Once your room is modelled in their Array Calc simulation software, you load that into the DS 100 and use a touch screen to control the En-Scene and En-Space 3D positioning system. This is mixing, but not as we know it. You now have the ability to position sound sources in a space aligned to your speaker systems design.

A rectangular on screen matrix with 1 metre incremental squares shows where your speakers and audience are located, you then position each of your performer sources or groups on the stage – or anywhere.

A comparison recording of a big band was demonstrated in mono, from the centre speaker only, then stereo from the outside pairs, then in full Soundscape mode. The sound jumped out, and as I walked around the audience area, the image changed but in a realistic way.

It sounded much more lush and transparent.

Dragging sources around the sound system was easy, as was opening up each and making the source wide or narrow.

At this stage it does not yet position vertically, only on the X-Y horizontal axis. “You have to get used to this first, before we add that on,” says Ralph. I heard independently that d&b can indeed do vertical positioning but that it is not yet implemented in the GUI (graphic user interface).

d&b have built FIVE Soundscape demo theatres (like the one in Germany, pictured), in Tokyo, Singapore, Asheville North Carolina and Nailsworth in the UK. They reason that this is a system that must first be heard, so that designers, consultants and venue clients can appreciate the potential.

The theatres are fully ‘in the round’ with a stage at one end. There are five short line arrays flown above, and seven front fill speakers below. Then an arc of speakers around the listening area.

The first demo is mono, then stereo, then it opens right up across the stage speakers. The difference is black and white (mono), ordinary RGB (stereo) then vivid technicolour once The Soundscape kicks in.

The second part of the demo shows the full circular array, with an orchestra track that puts the audience inside the orchestra. An electronic dance music composition then shows how sounds are rolled around. The screen display showed the moving components coming around from the back of the theatre.

The breadth of options for an audio designer and producer are staggering.

Ralf (pictured) says they are talking to almost all the digital console manufacturers about ‘on screen’ integration. I could not help but think the onset of this kind of system is very disruptive since the mixing surface now has a lot further to go, and that the next few years of live audio will be quite revolutionary.

As to how the rollout is planned, d&b seem in no hurry. They will get their distributors trained (many already are) in The d&b Soundscape and expect that once artists and venues are across the benefits for an audience, the takeup will be exponential.

They hypothesize that an audience could come to appreciate there is a premium associated with buying a ticket inside The d&b Soundscape coverage area in a venue.

I asked the obvious question, pointing at the DS100: ‘Every one of these you sell means you sell more speakers, right?’

“We’ve done some modelling and projections on that”, said David Claringbold, Chief Marketing Officer.

Footnote: This is but one of several systems that I heard towards the end of 2017. The others are featured in CX Magazine, December. Read free online, here.

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