Blue Marble Sound builds ‘complete immersive solution’ with Dolby Atmos and L-ISA

New Colorado studio Blue Marble Sound recently equipped itself for immersive projects with a Dolby Atmos setup and L-ISA Studio technology. Headliner hears from studio owner Amol Kitwadkar about his ambitions for the facility and the opportunities its high-tech spec is opening up for the future…

The inspiration for Blue Marble can be traced back to a webinar Kitwadkar watched during lockdown featuring double Oscar-winning composer (Best Score and Best Song for Slumdog Millionaire) A.R. Rahman, in which he discussed the benefits of using spatial sound within music. With a lifelong passion for music, including a five-year course in Hindustani Classical Music in his native Sangli, Western India, he decided to embrace immersive technology to the fullest in his next creative endeavor.

The studio found a home in a former boxing gym in nearby Loveland, CO. Kitwadkar researched and implemented his new studio setup meticulously and thoroughly. These efforts involved taking his team, including Anthony J. Catalano, CEO of Denver-based pro audio vendor MediaVine Pro Audio Video LLC, and acoustician Tim Gulsrud of Soundpost Acoustics LLC, out to Los Angeles in June 2021. Here they met with Dolby and other potential equipment vendors and found a wealth of inspiration and resources.

While in L.A., he visited the L-Acoustics facility in Westlake Village, where he first experienced the company’s L-ISA immersive technology, and subsequently asked MediaVine to design his L-Acoustics system.

The design features seven compact X8 loudspeakers: three for the LCR array and four for the surround array. Four smaller 5XTs comprise the signature Atmos overhead height array, while a pair of KS21 subwoofers provide the anchor for the 7.1.4 system, all powered by four LA2Xi amplified controllers.

“The biggest thing I have noticed is that the L-ISA studio used with Dolby renderer definitely adds a punch to a song which sometimes lacks in a Dolby Atmos mix,” Kitwadkar tells Headliner when discussing the setup.“Both Dolby Atmos renderer and L-ISA Studio have their advantages and disadvantages but together they create magic. One of the notable features of L-ISA Studio is that you can group objects and move them together which is not possible through the Dolby Renderer. Another great perk is the ability to add a controlled reverb as you are moving objects away from the room easily without making the mix sound muddy.

“The speakers are extremely crisp and are two-way coaxial, which makes them phase consistent. This is great for rooms like ours that are on the larger side.

“It was a lengthy process to design and build the studio, especially because of the supply-chain issues during Covid. But when I realized the potential for immersive music and the fact that there were so few facilities that were capable of it at the time, I knew it was what I wanted to do. And one thing that became clear after we heard the L-ISA demo was that the monitoring system had to be L-Acoustics. The quality of the speakers and sound is incomparable and unmatched.”

He also insists that he believes the L-Acoustics monitors and L-ISA software setup could mark a new push for the company in offering a complete studio monitoring solution.

Using L-Acoustics speakers and L-ISA Studio software represents an inflection point in the evolution of immersive audio. Amol Kitwadkar, owner, Blue Marble Sound

“I absolutely believe it does,” he states. “This is a complete solution if you want to deliver an immersive audio project. As Dolby Atmos has a larger market share, the fact that it can work with Dolby Renderer is a competitive advantage as a lot of other immersive audio solutions don't offer this feature.”

MediaVine, with guidance from the L-Acoustics application and sales teams, installed Blue Marble Sound’s monitoring system. Kitwadkar and his team then completed the setup using L-Acoustics L-ISA Studio software in conjunction with Dolby’s rendering software. This combination ensures the proper management of mix-objects and metadata embedding, as well as compatibility with Apple Music and Amazon Spatial Audio.

“What’s great about the 5XTs mounted above is that they have a wider dispersion angle than a lot of other studio monitors, which allows us to have a wider overhead image,” he explains. “The dimensions of the speaker coverage are 19 by 10 feet, and the ceiling speakers are 13 feet from the ground, and those compact height speakers have no problem covering that much space. It does not feel like you lose sound in any part of the room, and the audio remains fully coherent when you walk throughout the space.”

“Using L-Acoustics speakers and L-ISA Studio software in a recording studio application represents an inflection point in the evolution of immersive audio”, says MediaVine Pro Audio Video’s Anthony J. Catalano. “The beauty of this system is that it can support both Dolby Atmos and L-Acoustics L-ISA as immersive recording formats,” he says. “The L-ISA Studio software can run natively on the studio computer, so both formats are instantly accessible.”

He notes that L-ISA is becoming a more widely used format for spatialized music recordings, a path Atmos has already taken. It’s also being adapted for high-end residential applications. Furthermore, he says, Blue Marble Sound can derive significant work in the future from touring music productions that deploy the L-ISA format for their live sound and choose to do preproduction premixes of some audio elements before shows: “There is a lot of track-heavy content for those sorts of productions, and Blue Marble is the place they can go to map out how the sound stage will operate.”

Catalano cites LifeGate Denver, the first house of worship in Colorado to install L-ISA technology - designed, supplied, and installed by MediaVine - as a potential future client for the studio as the church creates its own immersive environment. “Once it’s all software-based, any user can mix in any format on any DAW,” he says. “You can really see the future taking shape here.”

Dolby engineer Jonathan Lessner tuned and approved the Atmos studio in October 2022. With projects for Denver-based label Bully Free Music artist Gareth Kelsall and an Atmos up-mixed version of New Orleans band Vivian already completed, Blue Marble Sound is on the way to achieving Kitwadkar’s vision of “using Atmos and L-ISA to ‘lift-up’ the community and myself.

“We are entirely focused on immersive projects,” Kitwadkar says. “We have not done a single stereo mix as a main deliverable since we started. Every sign is pointing towards all the content demand being immersive as we move forward. With the latest developments in Dolby Atmos available in cars, through Audible audiobooks, and all major DSPs asking for Atmos mixes to get playlisted, demand for immersive services is going to be through the roof in the next couple of years.”