Surround Sound Mixing – Part 2 of 5

This is a guest post by mix engineer, Unne Lilijeblad over at This is the second article in a five part series about his experience with mixing in this still under utilized medium for listening to music. In the last article Unne talked about the basics of surround formats and standards. This week he talks about some of the disappointments with DVD Audio discs.

Unne Lilijeblad - Mix Engineer
Unne Lilijeblad - Mix Engineer


Before I purchased my own surround system, I’d hardly ever heard surround sound outside of movie theaters, so when I finally got my system all setup, I had a blast watching, and especially listening to, all three Lord Of The Ring DVD’s and many other big blockbuster action movies. Well mixed surround sound really is an amazing enhancement of the movie watching experience, and that elevated my already high expectations for surround music even further.

But after purchasing my first couple of DVD-Audio discs and dealing with the hours and hours of headache it took to figure out how to even play them back on my Mac, (To this day I can only playback Dolby Digital and DTS streams through VLC and have to resort to obscure command-line DVD-A utilities running in Windows under VMWare Fusion to rip the CPPM protected Meridian Lossless Streams to hard disk) I was kind of disappointed about the whole experience. To put it simply, it basically seemed to me that most mixes could be put into one of two groups. Either they were very conservative or they were way too gimmicky.

The conservative mixes were basically just enhancements of the stereo experience with mostly ambience and just a little bit of everything else added in the rear channels, some vocals and a few  other elements added to the center channel, and that was about it. I could achieve similar results by simply sending a plain old stereo mix to both the front and rear channels. It “surrounds” you, but it doesn’t really bring you into the music. I had been expecting much more depth, clarity, and more of a feeling of envelopment.

The gimmicky mixes felt like the engineers had simply spread all the elements out between the different speakers. There’d be a guitar in the rear right speaker, a synth sound in the rear left, vocals exclusively in the center channel, tons of bass and kick in the sub channel and so on. Then you’d have pan moves where the guitar solo would move from the front to the back or spin around you. Kind of cool, and it worked decently for some styles of music, but I wouldn’t call it tasteful.

It felt like there was a big potential for beautiful, clear and enveloping sound that just wasn’t being realized. And so I set out to try and create better sounding surround mixes.

In the next installment Unne will discuss Recording and Mixing in Stereo and how it differs from Surround.

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