L-Acoustics L-ISA Studio review: An immersive experience

Founded in Marcoussis, just south of Paris, L-Acoustics is a French company with an international reputation for articulate and energetic sound reinforcement. From custom residential sound suites to high-end public spaces to live performance venues, L-Acoustics has pioneered the use of loudspeaker arrays and digital signal processing to sculpt sensory perceptions. Now, thanks to the L-Acoustics L-ISA Studio software suite, the same mixing engine behind the clarity and continuity of these loudspeaker configurations, is available to traveling sound engineers armed only with a laptop and of a helmet. After several days of mixing in my home studio software, I found the room acoustic simulation to be an incredibly powerful and accurate tool. I came away with the following impressions of how L-Acoustics L-ISA Studio can simplify the transformation of virtual environments into real-world experiences.

First steps with L-Acoustics L-ISA Studio

If you want to take advantage of L-ISA Studio’s hardware routing and deploy it in a multi-channel recording studio or live sound application, the software is available for home users for an annual or monthly subscription of €290 and €29 , respectively (which converts to roughly the same dollar price, at press time). The scope of this review is limited to L-ISA Studio version 2.4 binaural output enginewhich is now available to sound engineers indefinitely at no cost and requires no additional hardware to use.

This specific control interface allows the software to deliver an accurate, true-to-life rendering of a 3D mix using only a pair of headphones, theoretically expanding the options for sound engineers accustomed to working in stereo and mixing far away. great consoles and their purpose. -build monitoring stations. I fit firmly into this category, so I tried using L-ISA Studio to mix the song “Alligator” by Billy Cadden. [Full disclosure: Billy is an established musician who I have played with (I contributed guitar to and engineered his track “One in Control”), but he also works at Popular Science, giving us convenient access to song stems.] Thanks to Apple Music’s adoption of Dolby Atmos-processed songs, among other factors, “spatial audio” is a major buzzword in the industry, so it was the perfect time to explore mixing in all imaginable sizes.

Installing and configuring L-ISA Studio was time consuming and quite complicated, but a set of short video tutorials provided all the I/O configuration information required to get started. L-ISA Studio runs exclusively on Mac systems and officially requires at least a quad-core Intel Core i7 processor due to the software’s demanding spatial simulation and powerful 96-source capabilities, but I was able to run my 16 sources through a CPU dual-core i5 MacBook Pro without a hitch. Because L-ISA is an “object-based” mixing system, referring to its emphasis on the precise placement of sounds in 3D space, I found that much of the setup process and audio routing revolved around “converting” my remix stems to discrete “sources”. that the software handles.

Screenshot of the L-ISA Studio processing panel
Julian Vittorio

audio routing

L-ISA Studio comes with a rather simple plug-in for easy DAW integration – it’s compatible with Pro Tools, Nuendo, Ableton Live, Reaper, Logic, etc. – but most of the mixing takes place in a separate application called L-ISA Joystick. Routing audio sources from the DAW to the controller begins in another program called the L-ISA Processor, which essentially handles all DSP signal processing and initializes a virtual “bridge” that allows users to send sources, mono or stereo, directly from their DAW to the Controller itself. After configuring the L-ISA processor and designating an output for monitoring, users must then manually link it to the controller via a separate settings menu. While this makes sense due to L-ISA Studio’s ability to run multiple CPUs on different machines on a network, it’s a good example of how users have to tell the software exactly what to do at every step.

Once tracks are sent from the DAW to the L-ISA controller inputs, users must manually create individual sources in the controller application and patch them to their respective inputs. Next, instances of the L-ISA source plug-in must be placed on each track of the DAW and linked to their new source in the controller. At this point, the routing is mostly complete and users must manually engage binaural monitoring in the controller and route the binaural outputs to the system or headphone outputs of an interface. Then, and only then, is it time to mix (installation took me about 45 minutes on the first try but can probably be done in 5-10 minutes by someone who has done it before).

The L-ISA controller user interface

Once the somewhat arduous task of audio routing is complete, interacting with the L-ISA controller’s graphical user interface feels like a breath of fresh air. In it, users can load or create a variety of multi-speaker setups and intuitively move their audio sources around the modeled ‘place’, adjusting placement, distance, elevation, width and pan. . The Soundscape interface offers a clear representation of the modeled 3D space as well as speaker placement and listener position in top-down and three-dimensional options, and a variety of simple toggles at the top of the window allow users to access the controller cluster. , automation and reverb.

“Alligator” is a melodic pop-rock game with slightly lysergic flourishes. For my instrumental remix, I sent bass, drums, percussion, acoustic guitar, and a number of electric guitars to Logic Pro X’s L-ISA controller and loaded a high- 18.1.4 speakers in the controller from the provided space presets.

Starting with the drums, I isolated each individual instrument and spent time moving them through the simulated space, adjusting distance and elevation along the way. I repeated this process, slowly adding more elements to the soundscape and making small adjustments until I had what I felt was a balanced and energetic mix. L-ISA doesn’t add any reverb to your mix by default, so I clicked on the Reverb tab and sifted through the available presets before choosing a “little warm vibe”. The distance source parameter affects the amount of reverb applied, so I went back and adjusted my sources until the mix was rebalanced.

The L-ISA controller can accept MIDI clock information from your DAW, opening up the possibility of automating source placement changes while your content is playing. Automation can be written directly into the DAW or using the Snapshots function, which allows users to create changes in the soundscape at specific times. Snapshots can also be set to fade between them, giving the impression of elements moving around the listener’s head in 3D space. In music mixing, it can be a particularly effective creative tool for marking transitions within the song and bringing elements to and from the foreground.

Screenshot of the L-ISA Studio Reverbs configuration window
Julian Vittorio

The sound L-Acoustics L-ISA Studio

Compared to traditional stereo panning, which offers very limited placement of elements in a flat soundscape, L-ISA Studio and its implementation of binaural processing is simply breathtaking. Playing it all back through the trusty Sony MDR-7506 headphones, I found it easy and intuitive to find natural, realistic “spots” for instruments and other sonic elements to sit in a mix without bumping into each other. . Sculpting in a traditional mix is ​​often time consuming and requires everything from EQ tweaks to reverb treatments to get competing elements in the same frequency band(s) to gel properly, but L-ISA Studio has given me allowed to reach about 80% of the way. in less than half the time.

Having a third dimension to work with while mixing intuitively makes sense given how speakers behave in real space, and I was more than impressed with L-ISA Studio’s ability to simulate this effect in a simple binaural mix. In fact, I found the once-dense mix felt more sparse and spacious thanks to L-ISA Studio, opening up the possibility of adding even more musical elements to the pleasingly spunky Strokes-esque track.

Screenshot of Mapping Courses in L-ISA Studio
Julian Vittorio

So who should use L-Acoustics L-ISA Studio software?

L-Acoustics L-ISA Studio is, first and foremost, an immersive workflow for simulating surround sound, so while it was instructive and inspiring to use the software for basic music mixing, its advanced potential makes it more ideal. for live sound, cinema, virtual reality, games and other large-scale 3D audio productions where engineers have the time and need the best in space acoustic modeling. It’s by no means just another plugin that you can add to your DAW and integrate into your existing workflow for subtle changes; L-ISA Studio requires a detailed setup process and unique workflow that reflects its incredible flexibility and L-Acoustics’ roots in years of research in psychoacoustics and physics.

L-Acoustics’ decades of integration expertise and its dynamic, distortion-free sound signature, from the generous textural detail of its speakers to reference quality in-ear monitors for demanding mixing engineers– are definitely exposed. The volume of features is as deep as the volume of space(s) you can design. The software contains so many options that I couldn’t explore with my current mixing station: L-ISA Studio is compatible with the head-tracker; it supports routing to up to 12 physical speakers; it is compatible with OSC, a networking technology designed to synchronize multimedia devices for performance; And the list goes on and on.

All things being equal, however, if you’re a sound designer or audio creator of any kind, L-ISA Studio’s free binaural processing is worth trying for its impressive 3D spatial modeling. It can be leveraged to breathe new life into old mixes or to create entirely new audio content with a clear focus on the physical experience of the listener, which seems like a unique conceptual angle in the world of music mixing. . If you’re a sound engineer already familiar with mixing multi-channel content and working with spatial audio, L-ISA Studio’s incredible ability to simulate acoustic spaces makes it one of the best tools for creating mixes. expansive on a compact configuration.

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