Live from Rio 2016: NBC’s Karl Malone on the Sweet Sounds of Olympic Success

Karl Malone, NBC Sports and Olympics director of sound design is spending plenty of time listening to the Olympic games and so far he is more than happy with what he is hearing from not only his own team but also the massive team of audio professionals working for OBS to provide an audio bedrock for literally thousands of hours of Olympics content.

Karl Malone of NBC Sports and Olympics says the audio has been outstanding this year.

Karl Malone of NBC Sports and Olympics says the audio has been outstanding this year.

“OBS is doing a fantastic job, better and better as people expect more and people are pushing them more and they are being pushed to deliver so much content,” says Malone. “And people are critical of audio and want more audio, 5.1 Surround Sound, so they’ve done a great job.”

Malone’s listening room in the IBC is now making use of RTW’s TM7 TouchMonitor to stay on top of incoming audio signals and more.

“It gives me a little bit more inside knowledge of what is going on at the venue,” he says. “And in control rooms A and B and in the edit rooms we are using JBL’s new 7 series of monitors and they sound fantastic.”

The NBC Olympics team has also left copper behind, with the use of the OMNEO IP Ethernet networking architecture for intercoms and also putting some audio signals through Audinate’s Dante uncompressed multi-channel networking technology.

Calrec is also playing a big part, with nine consoles and Calrec Hydra being used to get audio signals back to Stamford. Malone credits the Calrec support team with making things go very well from a technical standpoint.

Monitoring the NBC output is now a multi-channel affair, not only because of the 5.1 Surround Sound output but also the multiple distribution outlets, including the networks, the content streaming on the Web, and even edited packages for primetime and on-demand distribution.

“Our team is trying to mix aggressively and bring up the rears to make it more exciting,” says Malone. “We also want to make every channel sound similar in the way it is balanced so all the sports in all locations are at the same level.”

Malone says the quality of the host feeds has been very good but that the NBC Olympics producers and directors want to enhance the coverage beyond the host feed which requires not only additional cameras but also additional audio feeds.

For unilateral coverage NBC Olympics takes the submix of the OBS ambient feed for the general crowd atmosphere plus some of the near-crowd feeds so that the audio mixers can have better control over shaping the sound field.

“And then we put up our own cameras with mics and will sometimes take some separate ‘kiss and cry’ type mics and then at the last moment I will go to the A1 mixer and ask if there is anything else they would like and that is always interesting as they ask for things like I usually would not think of like the show caller for the opening ceremony so they could hear what was going to happen next.”

Much of the improvement in audio can be attributed to OBS and others working closely with the federations to allow for more access to sounds from the field of play.

“The federations can make the life for audio easier or more difficult because it’s not like a camera where you can zoom in,” says Malone. “So when you put the mic on the diving board or on the volleyball net it helps in getting closer to the athletes although we also always fight getting too much and too close to the athletes.”

There are plenty of highlights for Malone, including the opening ceremonies were the balance between announcers and the ceremony allowed for more of the sounds of the ceremony to come through, the punch of divers into the water, the sound of the diving board, and more.

“Equestrian sounds fantastic and maybe in the past there just wasn’t the time to plan for those events but we spend a lot of time planning for these and we understand mic placement,” he says. “Everybody knows what they’re doing and everything comes in 5.1 Surround Sound so no one is editing in stereo anymore.”

Also helping with the overall audio quality is that the public address systems in the venues have zones so that PA systems can be lowered in areas where the commentators are working.

“The less sound that goes into the announcer’s mic the more width there can be in the mix and it also stops the announcers from having to shout,” adds Malone.

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