The role of sound in movies
There was a time when films were completely silent. As filmmakers discovered sound is a powerful storytelling tool and technology improved, modern filmmaking adopted ever-richer soundscapes. The effective use of sound in movies can immerse audiences in the story and bring it to life.
Sound categories in filmmaking
In films, sounds can be, for example, dialogues, music, and sound effects. Sounds can be diegetic and non-diegetic. Diegetic sounds occur inside the story-world. Examples include footsteps, dialogues, a door closing. Diegetic sounds can be synchronous or asynchronous. The first refers to sounds that match the exact action on the screen like when you can see and hear someone knocking at the door. Now imagine the camera shows a person in the shower and someone you cannot see knocks on the door. Sounds which are part of the story-world but do not correspond to the exact image on the screen are called asynchronous. Non-diegetic sounds, on the other hand, relate to every sound that is not part of the story-world. They include music (which is not being played by a character within the film), the narration, and other sound effects.
Sound and emotions
Sounds are known to evoke emotions. The most realistic the sound reproduction the higher the emotional level of the listener. In music, major chords are felt to express happier feelings and minor chords sound more melancholic or sad. Emotions will depend as well on the melody and the rhythm. The power of sound in shaping the emotion of the listener can be stronger than words and pictures. In a movie, a scene of a person walking into a forest can either be perceived as the beginning of a marvellous adventure or signal imminent danger thanks to variations in the background sound mix alone.
From the movie theatre to your home
In the past, fully immersive surround sound experiences were reserved to only the best professional movie theatres. Today, you can get immersive experiences in the comfort of your home. Home theatre systems like Goldmund – Swiss audio equipment manufacturer since 1978 – revolutionized the home surround sound industry by offering incomparable levels of sound fidelity.
Sound realism, what does it mean?
A realistic reproduction of the movie sound mix depends on:
- the clarity and presence of voices. For example, if the character is whispering you should not hear the character screaming.
- the precision of the sound localization on the screen, also referred to as spatialization.
- the quality of the immersion: the spectator must be surrounded by the sound and be able to identify the direction of a sound, not the location of the speaker. Speakers are placed in the room with a distance from one another. Despite this gap, the spectator should hear a continuous sound without blanks even on areas where there is no speaker, for example, when a helicopter is moving around.
- the reproduction of low-frequency effects (LFE). Infrasound effects create physical impact and help build realism. These effects are particularly useful for awakening earthquakes, plane takeoffs, or explosions.
- accuracy of sound volume: recording sound level should be coherent with real-life sound level. A Home Theater should operate at 120 dB from 10 Hz to 25 kHz with minimal distortion. Average quality systems will produce parasite sizzle and crackling sounds. These distortions are caused by the very sound systems and are not part of the soundscape crafted by sound designers.
Sound multichannel formats
Over the years, movie soundscapes have grown in complexity from mono to stereo and ultimately multichannel configurations. Mono (1 signal) format means whatever you hear in your right earbud, you will hear in the left earbud. Both speakers reproduce the exact same thing and you locate the sound from a single position. With stereo (2 signals) or different multichannel audio formats, you start locating the direction of the sonic object. For example, you can locate the singer on your left and the piano on the right, or a helicopter moving from rear to front in a movie. In audio, the ability to locate the direction where the sound comes from in width and depth is called spatialization.
Multichannel formats used by movie sound engineers include:
- 5.1 (Dolby Digital, DTS and THX), the first commercialized home theatre format.
- 7.1 (Dolby Pro Logic IIz and DTS NEO:X), which added two rear signals to the 5.1 formats.
- 3D audio (Auro 3D / Dolby Atmos / DTSX), initially created for entertainment areas and video games, it added the vertical dimension of sound (signals from above and underneath).
In nature, there is no such thing as a 5.1 format. Sound doesn’t come from only 5 directions but from everywhere and a 5.1 doesn’t offer enough positions to create a realistic sonic atmosphere. With this in mind, Goldmund developed the Proteus. Proteus bases on 5.1/7.1/… soundtrack formats and delivers a 3D immersion with no need for ceiling speakers (as opposed to 3D formats).
Goldmund bespoke Home Theaters respect every criterion of a realistic movie immersion thanks to four main technologies:
- Goldmund Proteus for Home Theatre
The Proteus – Goldmund patented technology for Home Cinema – recalculates the signals, the number of speakers the room needs, and their optimized location to deliver a perfect surround sound with no “blanks” in the panning. Sky effects are perfectly reproduced with no need for ceiling speakers. Goldmund home cinemas offer minimal distortion even at very high sonic levels thanks to high precision production processes, refined materials used to build its products, and the company’s passion for excellence.
Proteus software factors in the available multichannel format (5.1, 7.1, …) and room specifications, including:
- Is it a new building or an existing room
- Does the customer want an apparent or hidden loudspeaker system?
- Room size
- Building constraints like the presence of a door, windows, and furniture
- Screen type and size
- Customer’s budget
With the variables listed above Proteus outputs:
- Optimal listening position (Proteus can calculate one or several optimal listening positions and the spectator can easily switch between these configurations)
- Total number of speakers
- Ideal loudspeaker position
The result: full immersion and sound coherence. It is important to point out that Proteus adapts to the room geometry and décor and calculates configurations even for rooms with non-ideal characteristics. For example, when the screen is not acoustically transparent the centre signal will be reproduced in phantom by resorting to two centre signal speakers placed at the front left and right of the screen.
- Goldmund Proteus for loudspeakers is responsible for loudspeaker design and modelling, digital filters, gains and delays, and the correction of time distortion (Leonardo time correction project). The Proteus for loudspeaker improves sonic transparency, clarity, and stage width and depth.
- Goldmund Infra-subwoofer (LFE) models include acoustic filter technology and reproduce the behaviour of the LFE (10 Hz – 100 Hz) to deliver the spectator the physical impact consistent with the movie action.
- Goldmund amplifier technology is designed to deliver the lowest distortion in the market today even at very high levels.
All these parameters of Goldmund Home Theaters combined bring the audience to the zenith of realism and emotion like no other system available in the market today.