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How to Record for 5.1 Sound

Never attempt to create a surround-sound mix on a stereo speaker system.

The 5.1 surround-sound audio format uses five speakers and one subwoofer to encircle an audience for a more realistic listening experience than traditional stereo can provide. It is used in films and video games and is sometimes used for recording music albums. Recording and mixing in 5.1 isn't a difficult task for an experienced engineer. Many common recording programs support the format, and the extra workspace provided by the additional speakers gives an engineer more room to work when creating a mix.

Choose recording software that is capable of mixing in 5.1 surround. Sony Acid Pro, Apple Logic Studio and Avid Pro Tools HD systems are among the many programs capable of doing this. Pick one that fits in your budget and is compatible with your operating system. Logic Studio and Acid Pro are both priced under $500; however, Pro Tools HD systems are built for professional studios and cost substantially more based on the supplier and the model.

Mix your music accordingly. While the obvious advantage of mixing in 5.1 is being able to encapsulate the listener in sound, the lesser known advantage is having a wider spectrum to separate instruments in a mix. Surround sound doesn't use a left-to-right mixing format; it uses a pentagonal diagram, placing the five surround speakers in a position most used by listeners and the subwoofer in the center.

Position low-end sounds such as bass guitars, kick drums and any rumbling effects closer to the center of the mix and high-end sounds closer to the outside. When choosing where to place the sounds with regard to the five surround speakers, be as realistic as possible. For example, when mixing a band, position the instruments as if they were sitting in the room being played, and position voices and effects for a film where they would be heard from the perspective of the audience.

Render your mix into both Dolby Digital and DTS formats once you've created your final mix. Dolby Digital is the more established of the two and is the common format used by DVDs. The DTS format is not as widely used but is said to be of higher quality because it uses less overall compression when being created. It's always best to offer both formats to the audience; most audio systems that support 5.1 will recognize both, but it's best not to leave the unlucky exception to the rule out in the cold.

About the Author

Residing in Toledo, Ohio, Darhel Baker has been writing both articles and advertisements for the region's music scene since early 2008. His work has been published by both "Matrix Concerts" and IGUN (Industrial Gothic Underground Night), and has been read on various radio stations throughout the mid-west. Darhel is currently pursuing an associate's degree in music business technology at Owens Community College.