3D Immersive Audio with Neumann Monitors at the Chamäleon Theater, Berlin

No other place in Berlin seems better suited to present a new dimension in audiovisual show production: the Chamäleon Theater in the heart of the city. This is where the pulse of the "New Circus" beats; this is where the most innovative and successful pacemakers of the international circus scene amalgamate all kinds of sensual perception to ever-new forms of art.

The productions in the New Year - "Parade" and "Finale" - are no exception, opening up a new dimension on the acoustic plane. A 3D sound system installed in cooperation with the well-known professional audio firms Neumann.Berlin and Sennheiser gives guests the impression they are not only listening to music but becoming a part of the sonic universe themselves.

Wolfgang Fraissinet, president of Neumann.Berlin, who was also involved in the sound design of the former Chamäleon production "Underart - Ode to a Crash Landing": "Traditional playback systems - mono, stereo, or quadrophonic sound in the 1970s, but also current 5.1 and 7.1 surround setups, reproduce sound sources in only two dimensions. There are loudspeakers to the left and right, at the center, the sides, and in the rear, but they are always at ear level of the listener. By using additional loudspeakers, positioned further above, 3D immersive audio allows for a far more realistic perception of the original sound image."

"Think of recordings in a large concert hall. Sound reflections, for instance from the ceiling of the hall, play an essential role in the acoustical perception of the room; they define its 'acoustical fingerprint'. The new 3D audio technology allows to reproduce such reflections from the actual direction they originated, from above, from the ceiling. Moreover, during recording, it becomes possible to generate so-called audio objects which are not anchored in a surround sound image but may be repositioned, even in reproduction, as the sound designer wishes, regardless of the actual position of the loudspeakers in the listening space."

In total, there are 24 monitor speakers of various sizes as well as subwoofers to extend the bass response. The speakers are installed on two levels: The lower area has a kind of 5.1 surround setup with 5 subwoofers. Mounted further above, there are 8 monitor speakers to reproduce the third sound dimension. Six additional nearfield monitor speakers are used for the balconies.

KH 420 at the edge of the stage, front left

2x KH 420 on the back wall of the hall

KH 310 as monitor loudspeakers on a ceiling truss

Separate loudspeakers for the balconies: KH 120 on a ceiling truss

Wolfgang Fraissinet: "The soundtrack is now far more than a charming accompaniment to an artistic top performance. It is an integral, equal part of the experience. Therefore, it takes an acoustical top performance to match the quality of the overall stage production and create a holistic experience that truly touches the audience by offering total immersion with all senses."

An interview with Andreas Schwalbe, the responsible Technical Director

By now you have presented four productions in the Chamäleon Theater using the new sound system. Where did you use the possibilities of Immersive Audio especially intensively?

Up to now we have used the new sound system most intensively in the piece entitled "Underart" - the production in which we originally used Immersive Audio for the first time.

Did any special feedback come from the audience or from professional colleagues at any point? Can you remember any particular "curiosities"?

The feedback was extremely positive. I can't remember any special curiosities right now, but there was one amusing moment: about 2 months after the official premiere of "Underart", we met two first-night guests again at a different event. They looked at us and said "You've spoilt everything now!" This disturbed us slightly, but then they explained that, after experiencing the sound in our theater, they couldn't enjoy other theaters properly anymore because our sound is simply so much better. It's great to receive feedback of this kind.

Were there any problems changing over to the new system at first?

The changeover itself was relatively problem-free - what made it difficult was our lack of experience concerning the use of studio loudspeakers as part of a theater sound system in those days.

How did you realize the additional playout channels?

We realized the additional playout channels using Ableton Live and Q-Lab from the company "Figure 53". We work almost exclusively with a Dante network to distribute the audio signals.

Did you notice any differences between using classical PA loudspeakers and using Neumann studio monitors in your theater?

The combination of conventional sound technology and studio monitors has opened up completely new possibilities for the sound designer. In particular subtle little sounds, noises or instruments are reproduced in a crystal-clear way and can hold their own fantastically without having their level increased - they sound much clearer than they do with conventional PA loudspeakers.

For a director or sound designer, this means new expressive possibilities: all those contributing to a production can be located with loving attention to detail using special spatial configurations. Playbacks can be expanded to up to 12 tracks. The use of this concept of studio monitoring for the live sound in a theater was a huge gain for our theater, the production, the sound technicians and the composers - and an absolutely impressive listening experience for our guests.

Inside: Kevin Kosmalla
Outside: Jean-Paul Raabe
Any further photos: Georg Neumann GmbH