Surround Hardware?

Hey guys. I need to do a professional 5.1 audio mix for a film and I also want to experiment with surround music but I don’t currently have the best setup. Right now, I’m just using my PC’s on-board 5.1 card and a Logitech X-540 desktop surround system ($189.99). However I’ve never fully been satisfied with the sound I’m getting (compared to my pro headphones) and so I’ve been wanting to upgrade soon.

I’ve seen a lot of studio monitors but they all have either speaker wire or RCA as inputs. How do I connect my PC to those? I can’t just convert a 3.5mm jack to speaker wire without an amplifier right? What kind? I have a surround receiver but these home theater systems only accept encoded audio such as DTS or dolby for surround to work.

Do I need a better sound card? I don’t like internal sound cards because they suffer from local radio interference from my GPU or CPU. Or do I need a USB DAC? I already have a nice budget FiiO DAC but it’s only stereo. I can’t seem to find any 5.1 DACs online.

Is there some sort of USB audio device that exposes 6 channels to the PC with ASIO drivers and with a built-in amplifier and speaker wire outputs for external studio monitors?

What’s your setup? :question:

Don’t take this the wrong way please, but when I see the word “professional” and “5.1 audio mix” and read your description I really feel you’re in way over your head here. Not to be offensive, but either the job you’re about to do isn’t really “professional” in the sense I’m used to the word (i.e. getting paid, there’s a budget, the film is getting released or shown somewhere with a real playback system etc), or, if it is a truly “professional” job you would have said “no” because of your current setup (because either you know it wasn’t up to par, or you knew you didn’t know enough about this to accept a paying gig).

But having said all of that there’s of course the possibility that by “professional” you just mean you want to do a good job… possibly ‘no pay’ job… so;

Films are typically (professionally) mixed on mix stages. Those stages are carefully treated acoustically and if you want to do a true theatrical release it’s usually best to get a Dolby certification which is very expensive. The playback systems are of course on par in terms of cost.

If you want to mix at home, which is what it sounds like, then you’ll do a million concessions as far as setup goes. There’s just no way around it. And so when you ask what you “need” it’s at this point really just a matter of picking a budget for your upgrade and spending that money in the best way possible.

The way I see it acoustics are really important. I used to have some KRK RP8s at home and they sounded pretty crappy. When I put up wall panels they sounded a lot less crappy. If I had gotten better speakers that would have improved the sound, but I would argue that in my case proper room treatment was a much better investment.

Now, I haven’t heard your speakers, but it seems to be a consumer system. So, it’s probably going to sound less good compared to studio speakers, and it’s going to be harder working on them. Would you benefit from an upgrade to decent studio quality speakers? Yes, absolutely. Would it be best to spend the money on speakers as opposed to acoustics? Not sure. I’m guessing “yes”, but I’m also voting “do both” (assuming your acoustics aren’t already good enough).

Either way, once you get studio speakers you’ll connect them using line-level outputs out of your interface. That in turn means not using a built-in soundcard.

You need to think of your entire system holistically, as a whole. If you look at it in a broad perspective whatever noise and interference they might suffer - and it’s not going to be lot most likely, unless something is just plain wrong - is going to be offset by the better quality you’ll get by upgrading your interface and speakers.

I use a Lynx TWO-B PCI card. It’s no longer made but has 6 outputs and 2 inputs. I have no problem with interference. Each output/channel goes directly to its own speaker. 5 regular speakers and 1 subwoofer. All monitoring is controlled in Nuendo’s “Control Room”.

There are like a million interfaces on the market. Some PCIe, some USB, some thunderbolt. If you haven’t found 5.1 converters/interfaces online then you haven’t looked very hard… or in the right place… or used the ‘right’ terms…

The most obvious option would be an interface made by Steinberg (!). The UR-RT4 has 6 line-level outputs and I’m guessing they can be accessed in a way to run a 5.1 setup. They also have other interfaces that have the required number of outputs.

There’s also RME’s interfaces, interfaces from Antelope Audio, Focusrite and more…

Surely I don’t expect to be able to recreate a “dolby” certified hollywood studio in my bedroom but I don’t want to sound amateur because it would distract the audience from the story. The film I’m working on has been in production for over 7 years and is being produced by a family-owned independent Miami studio. I already did their 5.1 mix for their feature intro here (downmixed to stereo):

Does it sound bad to your ears? My room acoustics literally could not be better here because it’s soundproof and has virtually no echo. The floor, ceiling, and walls of the roof are carpeted with the walls additionally being covered with acoustic wedge foam panels. I’ve recorded some shortwave radio shows in this room and mastered them with headphones. Perfect results for the average listener.

So, is it a professional job? No, but we want the average user with a home theater to experience the film the best way possible within the constraints our low budget which has already been spread over almost a decade. Now cheap, does not necessarily mean low quality in my experience. We talking Netflix-quality, not Hollywood.

The film in question might have a chance of having a limited release in the United States and if it does I don’t want to be embarrassed because of poor EQ and mixing. The feature intro had to be encoded various times to DTS so I could hear it with my home theater, because every time I thought I had a good mix with my headphones, it sounded totally different on my home theater.

It doesn’t sound bad. I’m tired and it’s late, so my ears might be off: I’d say intuitively that it could use more low-end. But like I said, I’m tired right now.

As for the production I understand. 7 years is a fairly long time I guess and if it’s a vanity project then there’s no telling when it’ll end. If I were you I’d be generally cautious here. There’s a risk involved with projects like these where if you aren’t that close with the people involved you might lose the gig for no good reason (or for good reason), so investments in order to do the job may or may not make sense. I’m guessing you can’t really charge enough to pay for a decent upgrade to your monitoring system (?), so… out of your own pocket?


Well… Netflix really covers a range between Hollywood maximum-budget downmixes (to 5.1) all the way down to low-budget indie close to crap-sounding films. So, it doesn’t really tell us that much, certainly not about the ceiling.

Well, that’s sort of what I was wondering about. How do you know which is accurate? Is it the home theater system or the headphones? You’ll just have to trust me when I say that it’s pretty uncomfortable to mix film for surround in a small space that isn’t certified for theater mixes. The one’s I’ve done this in have been “sort of calibrated”, just not to the standard of a theater. It makes it hard to know in advance how things play back in a theater. For TV it’s of course somewhat different, but you’d still need a room that gives a reasonably accurate representation of your mix… but anyway;

I think you should start with the budget. What is it? What can you spend to improve your situation? I would definitely recommend getting a better playback system and a separate interface for conversion, given that your room can’t sound better. For 5.1 you’ll need full range speakers + a sub. If you don’t do full range speakers you’ll need to do bass management of the 5 speaker channels, and the bass from those 5 channels will get added to the LFE channel. In at least Nuendo you can do this with the included bass management plugin. It’d go in the Control Room inserts (and would be kept out of the mixing chain).

It’s also worth you telling us what kind of film it is. If this is a drama where people are having dinner and all they do is talk then the bar is arguably lower than if you’re doing a sci-fi action-fantasy-adventure film.

Lastly, IF you want this film to ever be sold to Netflix or a network, there’s a fair chance they’ll ask for specific deliverables, so it’d be good to set your project up with that in mind ahead of time, even if you’ll only be delivering a stereo and 5.1 mix to begin with. So make sure your computer can handle it as well as you having the required knowledge to pull that off. If you can’t make that happen you should make it 100% clear in a contract what you will NOT provide (assuming there’s money or goodwill involved). A “fully filled M&E” for example is probably out of the question, yet might be requested by a future buyer. So you need to make people aware that you won’t provide that, yet at the same time set it up so that if the money shows up later your project can be added to relatively easily, as opposed to people having to start from scratch.

But anyway: I know it sounds a bit presumptuous since I haven’t heard your speakers in your room, but everything in my body is telling me to tell you to get “proper” professional speakers + a professional interface of some decent quality…

I thank you for your helpful advice.