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5.1 Surround Setup

Hi everyone! It's been a while since I posted to this site but I wanted to get some feedback/advice. I'll be graduating college in about 2 years with a BA in film production (my university didn't have an audio program so I did what I could). Business is really picking up for me and I'm hoping right after graduation I'll be able to afford to setup a dedicated studio room in an apartment.

My dream setup and what I'm working towards is a Nuendo/Pro Tools system for re-recording, post work, composing, sampling, and VR audio engineering. By then I plan on finally having the space to break into 5.1 mixing. Thanks to my job at the university I have some understanding of complex signal routing but 5.1 is still mostly a mystery to me.

Ok, exposition aside here's my idea. I plan on investing into The Pietown Adam Audio 5.1 system as my monitors. From a Clarrett interface I was hoping to output optic through to a controller then out the controller to the monitors. But I read that 5.1 can't be sent optic out in real time, only decoded and played back. Anyone able to confirm this? Just wanted to fact check that one.

So now my idea is to run signal out the Clarrett, TRS to XLR, to a controller like the Coleman SR5.1 then out the Coleman to the monitors, XLR to XLR. The monitors are powered so I don't need an amplifier, but am I missing something? I also read that a Dolby decoder would be good to check the mix after you bounce it but that's where things really get fuzzy for me.

Anyone have any 5.1 experience that could help shed some light on the optic out, Dolby decoder, and my current planned signal path?

Edit: One last question, sorry it just came to me. I know typically for 2.1 setups your monitors run into your sub. How does that work with 5.1? The Pietown sub doesn't have 5 inputs so would one-for-one to the monitor controller be ok, and how would that affect bass management and crossovers from the other 5?

Sorry for all the questions. I'm still very much a student and I want to make sure I understand as much as I can before moving forward with a major upgrade like this one.
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Update: I asked this question on Avid Pro Community forums and got some great responses. Here's some quoted info in-case anybody else had questions about this as well :)

"You're asking all the right questions, but it's a long adventure ahead. Encoded Dolby Digital over an optical connection is a consumer format. Don't do this and don't worry about it. In a pro studio, you need (6) dedicated paths for 5.1. That can be done over optical using the ADAT optical format, but that's less common these days. Analog, AES, Dante, etc. are more common.

Yes, you need a 5.1 monitor controller. You don't need Dolby-branded hardware or software to work in 5.1. You do need bass management across all (5) satellite channels. This is typically done in the subwoofer in smaller studios (see Genelec subs), and more often done in the monitor controller or audio interface in bigger studios. Not everyone in post uses bass management. If your satellites are really good, you may not need it. Nearly all consumer systems do use bass management. I'm a big fan of Metric Halo interfaces and the MTRX interfaces because they provide Eucon control, bass management and easy pathways to Atmos should you ever go there. Good luck!"

"If you are using a Clarett interface, there is no need to go into a separate controller like the Coleman. The Clarett can be configured for 5.1 monitoring by itself, in which you can use the main volume knob, mute and dim switches to control all 5 speakers and subwoofer.

For further surround control, you could get something like the Waves 360 surround bundle (on sale right now), which has plugins for bass management, and further specific control."

"I recommend that you follow the recommendations in the NARAS (Grammy org) Producer's and Engineer's Wing Recommendations for Surround Sound Production document. A lot of thought and work went into making this a very useful guide for setting up surround systems in an effort to standardize systems and techniques as much as possible. Some of the information is slightly outdated, but still very informative and accurate overall.


This PDF is definitely worth the read if you want to go into 5.1. Some info is slightly outdated as the poster said, but it's got loads of great info!