Trinnov D-Mon and La Remote
Posted on: Monday 13th of September 2021
MIKE AITON goes ‘to inTRINNity and beyond’ in search of La Ultimate monitor controller.
You can download this feature as a PDF from this link.
Trinnov Audio, the charmingly clever French audio boffins who research the processing of acoustic fields in 3D, has sent me a D-Mon 12 Integrated Monitoring Processor with their new remote controller, jauntily titled (with not a hint of ethnophaulism) ‘La remote‘, to Trinnotest (to obsessively compulsively test, to within an inch of its life) for a couple of weeks. The Trinnov quite simply turns your monitoring and your room inside out and reveals the truth. So, in deference, I am writing this review back to front with the conclusion first.
Are You Missing The Point?
Looking for a monitor controller that you can trust for immersive audio? The Trinnov D-Mon is one of the best, cleverest and most flexible monitoring controllers in town. Because we as an industry are still almost all in total denial of our monitoring and room deficiencies, many of us have been pigeonholing the Trinnov D-Mon into the audio awkward room. “Oh I don’t need one of those, I know my room” or “I just add an EQ” or “Aren’t they kind of expensive compared to Sonarworks?”
We have been doubly missing the point, by not wanting to admit the truth. Not only can this clever box and its programmable remote help your monitors to be the best and the most truthful that they can be, it can help them integrate into the most modern workflows too. Top-flight totally flexible monitoring control with acoustic genius built in — what’s not to love? With both functions built-in, as well as efficacy, comes massive cost efficiency. The two functions share the same hardware. Think of it as two for the price of one! With its internal computing cleverness comes the ability to be almost infinitely flexible in features. It’s high-level software monitor control!
If you want a monitor controller for stereo and for surround (with multiple outputs) or want to be able to mix music in Dolby Atmos 7.1.4 and immersive formats, then this should be at the top of your list (oh, and it can also take care of your acoustic issues with correction for physical speaker position, phase, EQ and acoustics too). So, as a quick recap for those who have not met a Trinnov, let’s dive into the box itself and how I used it.
The hole truth
The last time I tried a D-Mon I learned the hard way that the biggest lie in professional audio is perpetuated by virtually all of us: “I know my room”. You think you do, as you may be familiar with the nodes (the obvious humps), but most of you have never officially met your anti-nodes (the dips), and you have no idea of what you are missing — you are getting the hole truth, not the whole truth!
So, although we all gayly spend lots of money on Brand X monitors, “mine are flatter than yours” and “these translate really well to the mix stage” and brag about them ad nauseum on forums, and most of us spend some hard-earned pounds on good stands, less of us spend money on getting our acoustic treatment right or ensuring good accurate monitoring paths.
Set phase to stun?
“My monitors are accurate — they are truly flat!” Unfortunately, that’s less than half the story, even if it were true, which sadly for many brands it just isn’t. The frequencies of a signal need to be reproduced accurately, but so does the timing (phase). As mere mortals (albeit sometimes with ‘spendy speakers’) we are sensitive to phase between approximately 300-3000Hz due to the 20cm distance between our ears. So, if you think you can just EQ your way out of bad monitoring or a poor room (yes, you — cinema mixers!) then think again.
Phase kills! As a post mixer, if you have to premix in one room, and final mix in another, then the two things you are most often battling with or continually adjusting are the atmospheres and the reverbs. These are both highly phase dependant. Room tones and atmospheres are like pink noise and very broadband. If you have nodes, anti-nodes or startlingly fundamental phase errors you will have almost certainly made inaccurate and poor choices with your EQ or your reverb balances. Had a listen to your mono atmospheres in stereo recently? Hearing some width? That’s the phase errors in your speakers and your room. Just how accurate is your phantom mono?
The ideal is, of course, to have a well designed and treated room, with a good accurate monitoring system, and then add a Trinnov to wring the very best out of it. With the fragmentation of the music AND post industry — and pandemics — most of us are working in smaller, possibly slightly less-than-ideal environments, and this is probably here to stay.
The Trinnov can correct for less than ideal speaker geometry as well as the phase and frequency issues at the chosen listening position. It measures your elevation, azimuth (angle of dangle?) dB level and time of arrival as well as frequency, phase, reverb time and a ton of acoustic stuff that is above my pay grade and my humble (very vintage now) BSc in Chemistry!
The La Remote is USB bus-powered, I just plugged it into the front USB slot of the D-Mon and its presence was auto-detected. You can also plug it into a Mac and it will connect via the networking side of the OSX Trinnov app (it shows up in the gateway part). Clever stuff. As a remote, it has some heft and is reassuringly weighty. It has a small high-brightness monochromatic LCD screen for button legends and display purposes like metering. It has a very sexy feeling volume knob, that is weighted and stepped with magnetic feel. This volume control is acceleration programmable, so the faster you turn it the more it goes through the gain range, and the slower you turn it, the more accurate it is.
There are eight totally programmable buttons, a rotary select knob for scrolling through to different programmable knob pages, and a non-programmable mute button with a bright red warning LED. La Remote can connect right across the Trinnov range from a D-Mon, to an MC-Pro or an ST-2, and can recall different profiles/presets, switch speaker sets, toggle downmixes, engage bass management, bypass the Trinnov correction, solo or mute individual speakers. It can even control the headphone volume or the talkback (some of these features are only for the D-Mon series).
La Remote is totally customisable and configurable from a web browser page of a computer attached to the D-Mon. Just select which functions you want from the page and drag and drop them to the buttons on the layout page you would like. There are unlimited layers. I have often found that, in post production facilities, the functionality/complexity ratio paradox of the remote can be a problem. Often, if a piece of equipment of this ilk does what you want it is too complicated to be able to use effectively — especially for visitors/freelancers. Conversely, if it is easy to use, it isn’t powerful enough. Trinnov has scored here with a simple but powerful remote that is very easy to personalise to your workflow. You can also save your customisations and import them into other La Remotes.
Looming it up
I connected my Avid Pro Tools HDX system to the D-Mon digitally from my Avid Omni. I then connected the first five DB25 analogue outputs to my Quad 520 power amps for my 5.0 Dynaudio BBC Ls5/12a monitors, and the last two outputs (7&8) to John York’s PSI 21 active stereo monitors that I have on loan so that I have the ability to switch between two different speaker makes as well as two different speaker set widths. The ADCs & DACs are 24-bit 96kHz, with 118dB signal to noise ratio. The internal processing is all 64-bit floating-point. The specs are very game-on and top-flight.
The D-Mon 12 is a 2u 19” rack mount unit, with a plethora of audio and computer/networking connectivity. Analogue IO is via eight balanced DB25 inputs, 16 balanced DB25 outputs, and eight balanced XLR outputs — all Tascam pin config. Digital IO offers 16 AES3 DB25 AES3 inputs and 16 DB25 outputs, all Tascam config, eight AES3 DB25 inserts, and wordclock input and output on BNC. General Purpose IO (via a loom to a DB25) is two GP control Inputs and I GP control output on ¼” jack, midi in and out on five-pin din, listenback and talkback inputs on XLR, headphone output on stereo ¼” unbalanced jack. There is also USB 2 (front and back), USB 3, VGA, HDMI and DVI and ethernet (more on that later) and one of those funny historical PS/2 keyboard ports.
Initial set up
The monitoring outputs from the Avid Omni are in Pro Tools internal film order (L C R Ls Rs LFe). When I set my room up, I chose my Quad amplifiers to be in AES/EBU pairs, L/R, C/LFE, Ls/Rs so that if I was working in stereo only, I could turn the amplifiers for the C/LFE and Surrounds off and be greener.
The Avid Omni to Trinnov connection is a straight digital DB25. I had to configure the output connections in the studio set-up page, i.e let the D-Mon know that, for my Dynaudio BBC surround monitors, L R is plugged to outputs 1+2, C to output 3, Ls to output 5 and Rs to output 6, and the PSI 21s were plugged to outputs 7+8. Once the speaker sets were created, I generated test tones from the Trinnov to prove each individual speaker connection, and to set the gain on the active PSI speakers to the same volume as the Dynaudios/Quad Amps, so that if I changed speaker sets whilst in Trinnov bypass, there would be no volume jump (when active, the Trinnov would correct for level differences).
Once checked, I then generated a panned test tone in Pro Tools to check the full pathway through from Pro Tools to the speakers. All good.
Measure by measure
The Trinnov tetrahedral measurement microphone was connected to four analogue inputs via a loom and is powered by an internal 9v PP3 battery. Do not use phantom power. Once you have positioned the mic in your listening position, making sure it is straight in all elevations and planes, put the Trinnov monitoring into mute (to prevent any howl-arounds). Go to the Optimiser settings/calibration tab page and set a calibration going.
It will ask you to switch the microphone on. It will then start a series of test tones of what sounds like pink noise. Make sure the volume on La Remote (or the Mac app) is loud enough to measure about -30 on the meters page (so that the room is excited enough). Once you have set levels, stop this ‘initial level set’ calibration and start the real one. The D-Mon will measure each speaker of each set. To measure the 7 speakers took about a minute or so. Once finished, you can turn the microphone off and then you can tell the D-Mon to compute, this takes around another minute or so for it to do all the clever maths (unlike me).
Once finished you can nerd out and check your results, with before-and-after graphs for each speaker as well as 3D plots of speaker positions and elevations etc and lots of other fun stuff (like phase angles at different frequencies). It’s totally fascinating. You can download your measurements/settings to a PDF file if you attach a USB FAT32 stick to the D-Mon and then you can play ‘monitoring top trumps’ with your engineer friends as to who has the flattest monitoring/best room!
When you have finished your measurement, you can then store a preset with your studio speaker sets and your acoustic measurement/optimisation. You can save other presets with the same (or different) speaker sets but with the optimisation measurements taken at different positions (i.e ‘the expensive seats’ or the client couch) etc. You now no longer have to share your engineer’s chair with the hoi polloi! It’s really quick and easy to make measurements.
Please note: NO rooms are ever flat, despite what acousticians tell you. No monitor systems are flat either (even in an anechoic chamber), but some are flatter than others… and very few speakers indeed are remotely phase-accurate across much of the frequency range. With the Trinnov correction, you should be able to get your monitoring to within +/- 2dB and mostly phase accurate.
Flexibility vs. simplicity
The D-Mon, because it is so powerful, does have an element of complexity — and like all things with power and capability, it’s key to understand the premise and the way it works allows in order to enjoy the power of what it can do. Once configured with a basic set-up — thanks to the help of Paul Mortimer from Emerging Ltd, Trinnov’s UK distributor — I was able to navigate my way around and (after just two quick phone calls to remind me of things I had forgotten after a week) make my own custom studio set-up and my own monitor calibration, and store my own La Remote custom button configurations. I still haven’t read the Trinnov manual yet! Once set up, it’s plain sailing and I’m just using my La Remote buttons.
Happy days! Many of the advanced functions were not applicable to me, such as bass management (my monitors are full range and I don’t run a sub), or simulated dynamic range control, downmixing, or headphone cue mixes, the internal routing matrix, or the GPIO or Avid EUCON integration (S6, S5, S3, Dock, D-Command and D-Control). You even can set up the D-Mon to do unusual things such as only optimise your surround speakers, or only correct certain parts of the frequency range, or share the sub with the L and R in stereo mode, but treat it as a discreet destination in 5.1 mode. The world really is your oyster.
The D-Mon was connected to my studio network switch, and assigned an internal IP address by my router. My studio Mac was then able to access the D-Mon via the OSX Trinnov app. What’s really cool is that, if I was stuck, I could ring Emerging in Reading or Trinnov HQ in France and they could remotely login to my Trinnov D-Mon and check my settings. How cool is that?
The listening bit Sound Supervisor and Re-Recording mixer John York owns a Trinnov D-Mon 6 (for 5.1 monitoring) for when he’s working at home, and was a convert from my last Trinnov test. He premixes feature films or dramas at his home studio, so is confident that when clients attend playback at screening rooms or another mix theatre, the correct decisions have been made and the mix is in the best possible shape. He has 5.1 Dynaudio BM15s, which sound very similar to my Dynaudio Ls 5/12a. Graham Kirkman (Luminol Audio) is a very experienced freelance re-rerecording mixer and has been a staff mixer in some of Soho’s top luminaries, such as NATS & Halo Post.
Interestingly, when I first played Graham some music in my studio, he preferred the music with the Trinnov in bypass. This is because “it sounded a bit bassier and brighter — as if the loudness button was on”. As soon as we switched to voice recordings (our more natural diet), without the Trinnov, Graham would have been reaching for the EQ as “it sounded very uneven”. As soon as I switched the Trinnov in, the need for EQ went and “the voice sounded much more homogenous”.
We tried listening to several atmospheres too and all of us felt the mid-range errors around 500Hz in the room and slight phase complications of vague mono imagery on stereo speakers without the Trinnov.
The Last Word
So if you have got this far, there is at least hope for you. Every time I come across Trinnov, I’m more convinced that the audio paradigm has changed. Get on board and get arguably the best monitor controller in town, and get the best out of your monitoring and your room. Trinnobunking isn’t professional any more and is strictly for amateurs.
Mike Aiton was weaned at the BBC. But after breaking free nearly 30 years ago, he became a Senior Dubbing Mixer at Molinare, Head of Sound at both ClearCut Pictures and also at ESPN. He is now one of London’s busiest freelance dubbing mixers, and he can mostly be found in his Twickenham post suite, Mikerophonics, thrashing gear to within an inch of its life. Mike works for Source Elements as a part of the Solutions Team In his spare time he takes therapy for his poor jazz guitar playing and his addiction to skiing and Nikon lenses.
Read more about the D-Mon at Trinnov’s website