Composer Jakob Eisenbach Turns Mix Theory into Practice with Amphion
Unparalleled accuracy of Amphion bolsters mix translation for multichannel, cinematic, and immersive audio
Zurich, Switzerland – For composer and sound designer Jakob Eisenbach, there is a natural principle to both compositions and mixes that relates directly to the way our brains process sound sources. “When I finished my masters at Zürcher Hochschule der Künste, I wrote my thesis on the topic of human perception, in particular the way that the human brain adapts to fold things down into elements that one can perceive as form, like melody and rhythm,” he says. “In the end, we can handle about three to five completely distinct elements at a time. Each can be complex–our brains will filter information that’s similar into a single entity–but any more than three to five disparate elements we start to get confused.” Eisenbach explains that he believes this is why a sound design element that is milliseconds out of sync with the corresponding picture can become jarring, but also why a hundred-member orchestra playing together with intention can function as one fully cohesive unit, while two musicians playing two separate pieces of music simultaneously cannot. “These same principles apply to a mix,” he says. “For example, a vocal delay that is well crafted and mixed sits as a single unit with the vocal itself.” To achieve results that adhere to his theories in practice, Eisenbach turned to the clarity and incisiveness of Amphion speakers for his 5.1 monitoring setup.
It was at university, where Eisenbach studied composition for film, theater, and media, that he first came to value high-quality monitoring. “I learned from the beginning that the most important thing in any composition is your imagination, but that the place where your imagination joins with reality is in the room and in the speakers,” he says. “We had the great privilege of having access to fully outfitted studio complexes, including recording rooms with many different kinds of speakers, so I was able to test a wide variety of options. I chose Amphion because of their solid performance on a wide variety of material.” This versatility has served Eisenbach well, as he has gone on to compose, sound design, and mix for everything from virtual reality experiences (Tikal: Night of the Blood Moon) to multichannel installations (360° 22.2 installation for ZOO Zürich) to film and television scores (Emma Lügt, Tatort Zurich) or sound design (Neumatt, Refense VR Training).
Starting out with a pair of Amphion’s One18 speakers, he has since expanded to a 5.1 monitoring environment, relocating his One18 to the rear left and rear right positions and installing a trio of Two18 speakers powered by an Amphion Amp700 for LCR positions. An Amphion FlexBase25–with its FlexAmp1200 amplifier– provides low end extension and bass management for a cohesive 3-way system. Having worked very successfully on the One18 speakers for years, Eisenbach has found the Two18 speakers in his surround configuration to present even further sonic revelations. “The One18s have great spectrality and are very honest,” he says. “But the Two18s provide an incredible insight into audio. I can watch any movie or listen to any music in my studio and hear exactly what the engineer was doing. It’s very precise and very clear. And the FlexBase25 provides deep but articulate sound reproduction in a critical frequency range for cinema.”
The level of detail his speakers provide has created a chance to absorb ideas from these composers and mix engineers. “I’m learning so much just by listening to existing work on the new system,” he says. “When I listen to composers I adore like Jóhann Jóhannsson or production legends like Hans Zimmer on my monitors, I can hear how they are using dynamics rather than reverb to obtain a deep sound field,” he says. “They might have one layer which is very loud and very close, and then have another layer which is the opposite: something that’s very low volume with some reflections that feels way back in the rear. When I was younger I thought putting tons of reverb on something was the way to make it seem far away, but the Amphions have really changed my understanding.”
Eisenbach has been pleased to watch his mix process evolve, finding himself making more effective choices that reliably translate on other systems. “In sound design and mixing music for cinema it’s very important to have precise speakers because when you make 5.1 mixes or Atmos mixes you never know where they’re going to be played back,” he explains. “The more detail you have and the more information you can encode on good speakers, the more of the mix that will survive on bad speakers.” With the Two18’s consistent frequency response of +/- 3 db between 39 Hz and 20 kHz and the FlexBase25 extending that response down to 20 Hz with the same tolerance, Eisenbach is able to make mix choices with objectivity. “I can hear very clearly how much compression or EQ I have to apply –which is often less than I may have been inclined to apply in the past–and the result is better mixes and better translation.”
For Eisenbach, even as his Amphion sound system positions him well to capitalize on his ever-growing notoriety in his field and the diverse applications for immersive and spatial audio, his work is still about the same fundamental principles. “Some people think that because we have these immersive multichannel setups with so many speakers that we have to do lots of stuff or have so many elements, but all the same principles of mixing and composition apply,” he says. “It still gets very crowded very fast if you’re not careful. But my system gives me the information I need to make the right choices.” Friends and colleagues who have experienced Eisenbach’s monitors have concurred. “Everyone who has heard the system agrees that it’s like a microscope for sound.” Eisenbach has also been impressed with the support and guidance he’s received from Amphion during his tenure as a user. “They’re truly amazing people,” he says. “The support is incredible. They check in. It feels very personal. For a big company with big name producers as clients, they really make you feel valued. It’s a family vibe.”