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BBC evaluates surround Carols

Carols from King's College, Cambridge are not only a traditional feature of UK Christmas broadcasting, they are a test-bed for audio recording experiments and at the end of last year the BBC put different versions online for evaluation, writes Kevin Hilton.

Carols from King’s College, Cambridge are not only a traditional feature of UK Christmas broadcasting, they are a test-bed for audio recording experiments and at the end of last year the BBC put different versions online for evaluation, writes Kevin Hilton. The 2011 Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, to give it its full title, was broadcast live in stereo on BBC Radio 4 on Christmas Eve and on the internet using the broadcaster’s HD Sound service. A binaural recording was also made by Steve Richards, the engineering manager for Radio OBs within BBC Audio and Music Operations who is the regular engineer on the broadcast. The evaluation material comprised an experimental stereo recording from 1958, a tape of which was discovered in 2010 when BBC R&D moved out of its former headquarters at Kingswood Warren, and a 4.0 surround version of the 2007 service made by Richards. The 1958 recording was converted into surround by BBC engineers, who were helped in their work by important technical information written in fountain pen on the tape boxes. Binaural renderings of the 2007 recording were created by Anthony Churnside at BBC R&D’s new lab at MediaCityUK in Salford. Listeners were given two choices of how to listen to the recordings; either over loudspeakers though a downloadable player developed by German research institute Fraunhofer IIS, which produced special computer algorithms and the surround codec, or through headphones. Rupert Brun, head of technology for BBC Audio and Music, says the Carols at King’s broadcast was ideal for audio tests because of the “rich, reverberant acoustic of King’s College and the location of choir, organ and congregation give us a complex and immersive audio landscape to reproduce”. www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/radio3/2011/12/the-festival-of-nine-lessons-and-carols-in-surround-sound.shtml

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