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Yamaha DME64N makes sound sense at the BFI

Oct, 2009

Promoting the understanding and appreciation of British film and television for over 75 years, the British Film Institute’s (BFI) screening facilities in London are some of the best in the world. And, having recently added a Yamaha DME64N digital mixing engine to its technical inventory, it has taken a major step towards future-proofing the integrity of its audio facilities.

The DME is installed at the BFI Southbank facility (formerly the National Film Theatre), which screens over 1,000 films a year and caters for a wide variety of film formats, including being the only public cinema in the UK still permitted to show the potentially hazardous nitrate film.

The BFI naturally prides itself on the quality of its screenings. “Cinema is about the whole experience,” says freelance cinema consultant / technician Ed Mauger, who plays a key role at the facility. “The prints of films you see at regional cinemas are mass produced and not particularly good quality, which I find a great shame.

“For a good quality cinema experience, it’s not just about the quality of the visuals - it’s the quality of the sound, the comfort of the seats, the décor - they all play a role.”

When money became available for the BFI to upgrade the venue, that ‘whole experience’ was uppermost in the minds of all involved.

“I wanted to put in an audio system which was at least three way,” says Ed. “Our existing audio processor didn’t do tri-amping and so we looked at a range of alternative options. It soon became apparent that the DME was a cost-effective solution, because it has so many features.

“It was also recommended by Unique Cinema Systems in Norway. DME has been installed in the Norsk Film Institute over there, which reassured us that it must be good,” says Ed. ”I also knew of the installation at DTS's theatre and the technical manager there also recommended Yamaha products highly.”

Ed ultimately specified a four way audio system, the audio from the various film formats such as 35mm, 70mm, DTS and Dolby being decoded, routed through a Panastereo Cinema Processor and fed to the DME64n, which provides crossovers, delays and surround routing.

“One of the big advantages of the DME is that it has parametric equalisers,” says Ed. “Cinema processors only have graphic EQ, but a parametric is gentler on the sound than a 1/3-octave graphic. You can cut or boost a much wider spectrum with one operation, rather than having to adjust a load of frequencies individually. The choice of what is possible is larger, both because of the variable adjustments, and the choice of components, such as high- and low-pass filters.

“The DME is also very versatile,” he continues. “You can build the facilities you want in software and it can be updated as the BFI’s facilities change. At the moment it is being used in a fairly basic way, but it’s my intention to increase the sophistication of the functions. Certainly I’m hoping to take audio digitally from the media server to the DME sooner rather than later, because the less analogue/digital conversions you have, the better the audio quality.”

With the flexibility of Yamaha’s MY series interface cards, changes to the system configuration like this are easily achieved.

The DME64n is already proving a vital link in the signal chain of BFI Southbank’s updated facility, together with the new speakers and amplifiers making a significant improvement to the soundtrack of screenings.

“The intention was to really improve the audio quality and the sound is much better overall,” says Ed. “The DME was set up very easily and it’s extremely reliable - it works and goes on working with no problems. We are very happy with the system.”

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