Howard Moscovitz, is one of the founders of the Electro-Music community (EM 2012 Fextival NY is next weekend btw). That's Howard and Zuzu at the recent Midwest Electro-Music Experience in Indianapolis (photo by Beth Ann Broadhurst). Howard and Robin Miller developed a plug-in called AmbiphonicDSP. I just learned about it last year while at Electro-Music 2011 festival in NY when I attended Howard’s session on Ambiophonics. It was a fascinating session so I’ll do my best to explain Ambiophonics and offer some details on AmbiophonicDSP.
An Ambiophonic DSP Processor for $10!
Right up front I want to mention that this Windows only VST is only $10.00 right now on the Electro-Music store!!! At this prices you should give this this a go. You can use the plugin to process real-time audio or create Ambiophonic mixes – and the effect is pretty mindblowing. No special equipment is needed, you’ll just need to move your speakers (more on this later in the post).
What’s the Goal?
“To extract every nuance of perception, enjoyment, and realism from ordinary stereo recordings – and for extraordinary electronic music!”
The Problem With Listening With Typical “Triangle” Speaker Placement
Listening to audio via stereo speakers with typical placement introduces an crosstalk that negatively effect the listening experience. The problem is summarized nicely in this Wikipedia Ambiophonics article.
In stereophonics, the reproduced sound is distorted by crosstalk, where signals from either speaker reach not only the intended ear, but the opposite ear, causing comb filtering that distorts timbre of central voices, and creating false “early reflections” due to the delay of sound reaching the opposite ear. In addition, auditory images are bounded between left (L) and right (R) speakers, usually positioned at ±30° with respect to the listener, thereby including 60°, only 1/6 of the horizontal circle, with the listener at the center. Human hearing can locate sound from directions not only in a 360° circle, but a full sphere.
What this means for the listening experience.
There is a perceivable hole in the stereo center
The sound is bound by the width of the speaker placemen and you can identify where the speakers are as you listen.
If you are off axis from center the speaker you are closest too dominates
Ambiophonics Processing to the Rescue
Using a Digital Signal Processor you can eliminate theses issues in real-time or create Ambiophonic mixes (see “Roots and Research” section of WIKI for history). So by listening to song processed in real-time by an Ambiophonic processor, or simply using a regular stereo to listen to an .wav, .flac, or .mp3 mastered with an Ambiophonic processor you will hear the following differences:
No hole in the center of the mix
The entire mix sounds wider
Elements like vocals that are mixed toward the center of the mix really stand out
Better off axis results
An most importantly, the speakers vanish and sound extends beyond the edges of the speakers. It’s so cool. Just close your eyes when listening and you can’t determine speaker placement, and when you open your eyes you’ll hear sounds beyond the edge of the speaker.
Listening and Speaker Placement
No special equipment is required other than the an ambiphonic mixed wav, flac, or mp3, or a song played real-time through the DSP. Your regular stereo will do fine. However you need to move your speakers closer together – somewhere between 17 and 20 degrees. Howard’s rule of thumb on this is “holding my fists out at arms' length with the thumbs touching give me 17 degrees over the knuckle of the middle finger.” You can see this placement I the photo above that I took at the session at Electro-Music 2011.
Listen to the Effect Now
I rendered a new version of my song “I Can See Them” from my album I HEAR YOUR SIGNALS using the plug-in. In the embedded soundcloud player below you can hear a small snipped of the song, first with the plug-in off, then .07 mark I turn the plug-in on. Play this a few times over and you’ll hear the effect clearly. The next is the full song with the plug-in turned on the entire time followed by the original mix. So position your speakers and check it the soudncloud set.
Note: This will NOT work with headphones. You MUST listen with speakers placed 17-20 degrees apart.
Download AmbiophonicDSP VST to Make Your Own Mixes and Listen to Your Library
As I mentioned, you can download the VST for 10 bcks – here is the link http://electro-music.com/catalog/product_info.php/products_id/114.
Using the Plugin in Real-Time
You can drop the VST into your master track of your host and the output from your speakers will be Ambiophonic. If you want to use the plugin to play music in your library, try Winamp (which you should get anyway because it play FLAC files). Howard has a post here on how to configure. Here is a screenshot of the plug-in running in Ableton Live.
The plug-in comes with these factory presets:
You can also tweak the following parameters and save your own presets:
Creating an Ambiophonic Mix
If you want to render the mix, simply render using your host with the plug-in on. Then simply listen to the result with speakers placed properly.
Howard mentioned that he has used the plug-in in real-time for live performances. I think this is an interesting idea for sure, you’d just need to consider potential latency depending on the power of your system and soundcard.
Listen to songs that are extremely familiar to you and, at first, perhaps songs with sparser arrangements.For example, at the festival Howard played songs by the Beatles. He played the songs through Winamp and switched the plug-in on and off and he difference was amazing.
Another Experience for Your Listeners
One thought I had about all this is that since no special equipment is required to listen to an ambiophonic mix, offering ambiophonic recordings is just another way to engage your fans. You just need a page explaining how to place the speakers.
There is a forum dedicated to the plugin on the Electro-Music community site here http://electro-music.com/forum/index.php?f=164.
Buy the plugin – http://electro-music.com/catalog/product_info.php/products_id/114
Download the PDF Manual – http://www.filmaker.com/papers/UserGuide-AmbioDSPv1.1.pdf
Howard’s Official Web Site http://mosc.com/
Artist site: http://www.markmoshermusic.com
Host of Sonic Encounters Podcast: http://markmoshermusic.com/podcast/
Boulder Synthesizer Meetup founder and host: http://www.bouldersynth.com