Home > About Us > News & Reviews > Some More Experience With Mike Godfrey's 6.1 Microphone, Now Called "The Holophone®"
by David Moulton

Mike's Mic
Alert readers may recall that I reported on a "Surround" microphone that was incorporated into an experimental recording project by the Boston AES section that I was involved with in January. Built by Mike Godfrey, a recording engineer and inventorin Toronto, Canada, the microphone utilizes seven omni capsules made by Sennheiser for their MK2E Lavalier Series. These capsules are arrayed in the surface of a black plastic ellipsoid "dummy head" structure to yield Left, Center, Right, Left Rear, Right Rear, Overhead and Low Frequency in a "semi-coincident" array. The microphone performed well in our experimental recording, which was of an orchestra playing in Boston's famed Faneuil Hall.

As I noted at the time, this experimental recording is probably only of limited interest to TV Technology readers. Surround orchestral recordings are fine, but right now they don't have much relevance for those of us who crank out the audio for video. Might be cool for the occasional PBS special, but that's about it.

However, the microphone was actually designed for film and video production work, and so its use for THOSE applications should be of considerable interest to TVT readers. Happily, last week I found myself in Toronto to give a paper on Audio Ear Training at the United States Institute of Theater Technology Convention, and arranged to have dinner
with Mike and my old drinking buddy from NPR days, Neil Muncy. Before dinner, Mike showed us the new demo video he has prepared about the microphone, which he now calls "The Holophone®." This demo should be of GREAT interest to TVT readers!

The Demo
The video demo is about ten minutes long, and includes a variety of examples of microphone usage, including snippets from the Faneuil Hall recording. There are also the usual sorts of things, like airplane and helicopter flyovers, and assorted barnyard Foley. Well, it got my attention, I can tell you. In addition to the flyovers and Faneuil Hall, the demo also included some handheld shots where the mic was mounted to the top of the videocam. One shot was in an aviary, while another was a walking shot where the cameraman walked down a hallway and into a small studio (Rising Sun Productions, in fact) where Mike was playing a small grand piano with the lid up. The camera then panned around the room and then back to Mike.

This was all recorded to digital multitrack synched to the video. No postproduction was done other than editing and simple level management. I think I may have just heard the future of video.

Surround Miking With Video
I gotta tell you - I hadn't thought it through. As I was watching the birds in the aviary, and listening to the audio, I suddenly realized that this very natural surround auditory perspective really works WITH the video presentation. For all of those National Geographic specials, those Learning Channel things, Bob Vila, anyplace where we wanna watch somebody DOING something interesting or BEING someplace interesting, this mic is gonna RULE! It is so utterly simple, and so utterly natural, it's a total no-brainer!!! Point 'n shoot! Why, we can even start right now - just fold it down into Dolby Pro Logic and print the sucker. It's even reasonably mono compatible!!!

Now that I've got the gushing out of my system, let me tell you what I heard. For the "piano in the studio sequence," I heard a very natural auditory perspective of walking down the hall, into the room with the piano playing, turning around, and listening to the piano. Now, I've fooled around with this sort of thing in stereo - take a mic and walk around with it. The results are usually disappointing - the motion perspective is usually quite vague and ambiguous, and the difference between the way the mic hears things and WE hear things is substantial - interference effects abound. Further, pianos are hard to record in the best of conditions. I flinch at the thought of trying to record a small grand piano in a small room with the lid up - the interference effects are maddening and the results are generally quite unrewarding. The idea of doing it with a hand-held moving coincident mic gives me hives. Years of experience tells me it simply isn't going to work - gonna be an embarrassment, once again. With Mike's mic, it all worked fine. The results weren't so much spectacular as natural. The piano sounded much more the way I would expect to hear it in person. The linkage between the video and audio perspectives was very strong, and the two media really supported each other well. The only downer was that the natural open-ness of the sound made the picture seem quite small - as if I were peering into the scene looking through a small hollow tube. (When you think about it, this, of course, EXACTLY what is happening! It isn't called "the tube" for nothing, y'know.) In the aviary shot, the sense of place was again both natural andconvincing. I heard the birds on camera just fine, as well as others off camera, and the particular natural ambience of the space. Again, it wasn't spectacular, just natural. The willing suspension of disbelief just got a whole lot easier.

I think that the reason it works is that the surround channels give enough extra information accross the bandwidth to really fill out the auditory perspective that our hearing uses to localize in reverberant spaces. Stereo, at its best, gives us a taste of that. The seven capsules of the Holophone seem to give a rich enough array of auditory data to allow us to really overcome the obvious interference effects and ambiguities encountered in stereo and mono.

Keep in mind, there are limits to this. This mic isn't gonna be the end-all for standard video sit-com or dramatic production work. The video production set is not a very natural sounding place, and the future of the dubbing stage is quite secure. At the same time, I can't imagine us deciding to use this mic on the dubbing stage, either, adding additional
layers of unreality upon the original unreality. Where this mic will find a home is in location work, ENG, live broadcast and other situations where a strong sense of "place" is important and/or useful. I suspect that it will drive down the amount of ADR called for in such productions as well.

One of the big pluses is the simplicity of it all. Because of the omni capsules, Mike's mic is comparatively insensitive to vibration, wind noise >and proximity problems, which will really ease things on location. Also, there are virtually no posting problems. All we need to do is maybe add some global EQ and possibly some (gentle!) compression, and send the various channels on their way to whatever release media we've chosen, from Pro Logic to DTS. Mike tells me that both Sony and Dolby are working on a"surround" headphone to monitor the signal in the field as well, so we won't even have to worry about that.

Availability is still an issue, of course. Mike says that both Sennheiser and Sony are quite interested in offering the mic for sale, and so it is reasonable to hope that the mic will be available sooner rather than later. Most, if not all, of the R&D has been done. Fabricating a blimp should be a cinch, and manufacture of the actual microphone assembly should be cake, especially in comparison to arrays like the Soundfield microphone or the Aachen Head. Cost? I can't imagine that it is going to be cheap, but the simplicity of the design should keep manufacturing costs in the "reasonable" category, so there's hope that it won't be a bank-buster.

Much remains to be learned. How are we gonna do live music? What happens when we use two such mics in the same space and try to mix them? Et cetera. But, for me, the basic concept has now been proved. Here's an auditory recording/playback system that really complements the video perspective, as it really happened at the time. Let's hope Mike can get this puppy into production post haste. We can sure use it! As usual, Neil Muncy summed things up best of all. "That's it," he said. "That's really it!"

Dave Moulton is surrounded by deadlines. You can complain to him about anything at dmoulton@ma.ultranet.com.