Call Of Duty Modern Warfare sound Asbjoern Andersen


The Game Awards just named the cross-platform FPS Call of Duty: Modern Warfare as having the Best Audio Design - congratulations to the Infinity Ward sound team! In this in-depth A Sound Effect interview, those award-winning team members talk about their approach to designing a sound experience that’s as immersive as the game’s realistic visuals.
Interview by Jennifer Walden, photos courtesy of Activision
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The reveal trailer for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare uses a brand-new game engine that allows for more detailed environments, more accurate lighting, more photo-realistic images, and precise object tracing — all contributing to a higher degree of visual realism. On the sound side, this led Infinity Ward’s sound team to push boundaries as well, giving the player a more reactive environment that responds in realistic and varied ways.

So far, the efforts are paying off. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare just won ‘Best Audio Design’ at The Game Awards, won best ‘Original Score – Video Game’ at the Hollywood Music in Media Awards, and was named ‘Best Online Multiplayer’ at the Game Critic Awards. Plus, it’s earned five other nominations so far for best action game.

Here, Infinity Ward’s audio director Stephen Miller, principal sound designer Stuart Provine, senior lead technical sound designer Tim Stasica, senior lead audio designer Dave Rowe, lead dialogue recordist and editor Dave Natale, and supervising dialogue editor Chrissy Arya discuss their approach to weapons recording and implementation, designing non-combat missions, Foley, dialogue, and how they used these elements to create a visceral and immersive narrative experience that’s more than just an FPS.
 
Call Of Duty Modern Warfare game sounds

Stephen, you’ve worked on all five Modern Warfare releases, correct? What did you want to do differently for this latest release? What did you want to carry forward from other games in this series?

Stephen Miller (SM): All except for Modern Warfare Remastered.

I joined Infinity Ward as a sound designer at the beginning of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare’s production in 2006. Going back to the Modern Warfare franchise was incredibly exciting. It also raised the question of how do we outdo ourselves, while remaining true to our love for the original series? This new epic told a story with a raw, gritty feel. We brought that to our sound design as well, stepping away from the classic cinematic-style for a more modern approach. We were certainly able to lean hard on new technology, given that a lot has changed since 2007 when the first Modern Warfare released. This new realism and grit is something we plan to carry forward into the future of this series.
 

The weapons are a main focus in an FPS. Can you tell me about your approach to the guns in this game?
Stuart Provine (SP): The goals were, first and foremost, do whatever could be done to differentiate the guns and turn them into unique “characters.”

Second, don’t overly diverge from people’s historical expectations (audiences have seen and heard these weapons depicted in hundreds of previous films and games).

And third, make every effort to simultaneously raise the bar in terms of realism. Of course, this must be accomplished within the confines of game memory and audio technical features supported by the game engine.

How many/what types of weapons did you record?
SP: We probably recorded sounds for about fifty weapons including pistols, select-fire assault rifles, submachine guns, bolt-action sniper rifles, grenade launchers, and more. We recorded those same weapons again with suppressors attached whenever possible. It was a lot of work, but we had the help of some amazing recordists and expert armorers.
 
Where did you do the gun recordings? What did your mic setups look like for the record sessions? What elements of each weapon did you want to capture to use in your designs later?
SP: Our biggest live-fire recording session took place in Arizona, but we also recorded various things in other spots both locally and across the country. John Paul Fasal, Charles Maynes, Bryan Watkins and Mitch Osias from Warner Brothers, and a bunch of the IW audio team all pitched in for the primary shoot in Arizona.

From the beginning, I wanted our weapon recording trips to be open to different recording approaches and styles. There were things we needed, but how to “get there” wasn’t something I wanted to dictate.

Two recording trips were dedicated solely to getting sound reflections, one of which we did at a very unique location in Florida with Watson Wu. Additionally, I would go out on solo trips with some really tolerant (and patient!) friends to record “character bits” — sounds that needed a little extra spice and perhaps more experimentation with environments and mic placement than we had time for during the larger sessions. Some of those outings produced great results that are featured prominently in the game.

From the beginning, I wanted our weapon recording trips to be open to different recording approaches and styles. There were things we needed, but how to “get there” wasn’t something I wanted to dictate. I’ve known Charles, Bryan, and John for many years because I used to work with those guys occasionally in the film industry. Charles and I have been great friends for fifteen years or so now. He’s one-of-a-kind, amazingly talented, and a truly wonderful human being. Each of these gentlemen have a unique and proven style that has been defining what weapons are “supposed” to sound like for decades. I wanted them to “imprint” their instincts into the recordings. Unless you’ve somehow managed to avoid listening to movies, games, and television for the last thirty-plus years you’ve already heard their excellent work. They are role models and teachers, and my respect and appreciation for them is beyond my ability to express with words.
Call Of Duty Modern Warfare sound designer

In terms of the end results of all this recording, I wanted to have the broadest palette possible from which to draw ideas because each gun needed a unique sound signature — some “personality trait” that would set it apart from the rest. The reality is that dry and literal recordings of guns can sound very similar to one another. This compounds when you have many guns firing the same caliber ammunition. Since there are largely standardized ammunition specifications for rifles and pistol calibers, and many of the most prolific military-issued weapons fire this limited range of ammo, avoiding “sameness” becomes a distinct challenge. Additionally, there is no way to realistically capture and reproduce the sound pressure levels and concussive force of a firearm going off. It’s an experience that’s felt as much as it is heard, especially for the person firing the weapon. Even if you could reproduce it realistically, people would hate it. Imagine 160 dB transient bangs coming from your TV! The audience for true realism would be, to put it mildly… limited.

The reality is that dry and literal recordings of guns can sound very similar to one another. This compounds when you have many guns firing the same caliber ammunition.

As for microphones and gear, it was highly variable. Everybody used what they were comfortable with, but we also did experiment with a lot of stuff. We have a nice complement of recorders and microphones at IW, and I used a fair amount of personally-owned equipment too.
 

Did you also capture IRs for each space you shot/recorded in? How did you use these IRs when creating the guns in-game? (Was the reverb pre-processed onto each shot? Or is the reverb real-time audio processing?)
SM: We don’t support IR’s in our audio engine at the moment. We do have multiple in-game reverbs running, but convolution reverbs cost more CPU cycles than we could afford to spend with current generation hardware. The COD franchise demands fast and fluid gameplay, and any feature that compromises this would represent a step backward. Hopefully in the future we can do something like this.

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A behind-the-scenes look at the making of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare by The Hollywood Reporter

What were your biggest challenges when designing the guns? Creatively? Technically?
SP: From a creative standpoint, my biggest challenge was making each of the guns feel powerful and rewarding to use yet sound as realistic as possible. Call of Duty players don’t like it when the guns feel weak! It helps that I’m knowledgeable about firearms, having been around them my whole life. Each weapon required a new approach. There wasn’t any magic plug-in or standard effects chain. No particular microphone, preamp, recorder, or anything else that could be relied on to deliver consistently successful results. Perhaps there was an easier way besides reinventing the wheel for each gun, but I wasn’t able to find it. It was a long process, and I needed to become comfortable with failure. I’ve been accused of being my own harshest critic, but at the same time I had a clear idea of how I wanted things to sound. Hopefully people enjoy it!
Call Of Duty Modern Warfare game audio

From a creative standpoint, my biggest challenge was making each of the guns feel powerful and rewarding to use yet sound as realistic as possible.

With the rock-solid support of our Audio Director, Stephen Miller, I also lobbied for realistic gun features that have never been in a Call of Duty game before. Things such as trigger reset / disconnector sounds, open-bolt mechanics for appropriate machine guns, hammer / striker effects that play separately from the rest of the weapon, pistol slides and bolt carriers locking back on the last round, and more. Our Lead Technical Sound Designer Tim Stasica and I collaborated closely on a lot of the features. He’s simply incredible at what he does. Tim and I would talk about a problem, and he would find a way to create a solution. Sometimes what I was asking for would be pretty abstract, and he would either fix it himself or translate my request into something the code team could work with. Former Infinity Ward Audio Director Mark Ganus also helped with some of the gun assets, and on top of being a great guy, he was an important part of creating Modern Warfare’s soundscape. Without the other members of the IW audio team believing in taking it to the next level and having the skills and talent to make it happen, we wouldn’t have the same game. We still have a list of weapon-related things that we’re hoping to add, so it’ll get even better.
 


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What was your approach to implementing the gun sounds into the game? What are the elements that went into each shot?

There are the typical elements of the main transient attack, mechanical sounds, tails, and LFE, but we also change assets based on a number of gameplay situations, such as your current environment, stance, how long you’ve been firing the weapon.

Tim Stasica (TS): Our goal was for every gun shot to be unique to the current gameplay situation. There are the typical elements of the main transient attack, mechanical sounds, tails, and LFE, but we also change assets based on a number of gameplay situations, such as your current environment, stance, how long you’ve been firing the weapon. There are about 25 different sets of elements per weapon before we even get into attachments or caliber conversions. When players use Gunsmith to add under-barrels or silencers, a weapon platform can have hundreds of permutations heard in game.

In addition to the sounds coming from the weapon itself, we wanted to capture how much energy is thrown downrange, echoing around an environment. (I’ll talk about this more later in the interview)
Call Of Duty Modern Warfare sound effects

Each time you fire a weapon the sound is going to be different. There are almost an infinite number of possible combinations of the different layers, so in the end the guns sound more realistic than they have ever been in the history of our franchise.

What was your method for adding variation into the weapon sounds?
SP: Each time you fire a weapon the sound is going to be different. There are almost an infinite number of possible combinations of the different layers, so in the end the guns sound more realistic than they have ever been in the history of our franchise. Reflections of gunfire play realistically depending on the distance to buildings and objects, whether you’re inside a space or outdoors, and are different for different guns.
More powerful weapons have more prominent reflections and are different again for when that same weapon is fired suppressed. Between all the various gun-related sounds in the game, there are many thousands of sounds involved. I don’t even know how many at this point. It was a ton of work!
 

Tell me about your approach to the non-combat mission, guiding a civilian through a terrorist-overrun embassy. What was your approach to sound for this mission? What were your challenges in terms of sound here?
Dave Rowe (DR): One of the important aspects of the game is this sense of civilians being intertwined with wartime conflicts and we wanted to make sure their story was told. We recorded a loop group for the various civilians and enemies you encounter in missions like “The Embassy,” “Piccadilly,” and “Hometown.” We wanted to make sure the player felt like they were responsible for the innocent civilians, and the addition of voice talent helped that emotional connection. In “The Embassy” mission there is a part where you are guiding a civilian while in contact with her on her cell phone. We recorded cell phone handling and cloth movements on an actual cell phone and processed it the same as the voice. This keeps the player emotionally connected to her on-screen and to her panicked desire to escape.

Some of the challenges for “The Embassy” included getting enough iteration time for such a lengthy mission and achieving the real-time effects of sounds on the other side of bulletproof glass. My favorite sound effect assets in the mission are the initial helicopter missile impact and the player mortar ready and fire.
Call Of Duty Modern Warfare game audio

We wanted to make sure the player felt like they were responsible for the innocent civilians, and the addition of voice talent helped that emotional connection.

What was the most challenging mission in terms of sound? What were your challenges?
DR: The most challenging mission was “Clean House.” We decided to take traditional Call of Duty aggressiveness and loudness and strip away sound until we got this awesome player suspense. This also meant being very selective and controlled with the sound that remained. Each event would be absolutely necessary for gameplay or story purposes, so we had to make sure they were of the highest quality and were contextualized properly for the player.
 

What was your approach to Foley on Modern Warfare? What did the Foley team cover? How did those sounds fit into the game?
Chris Egert (CE): We spent 32 days at the Sony Foley stage with walker Gary Hecker for this project. We focused on capturing great performances to picture as you would with film. The amount of dynamic range in this game is insane — more than we have ever had in any Call of Duty title, and the Foley is a major cornerstone of many big scenes. In the level “Hometown,” the player awakens under a pile of rubble after their village has been bombed.

The Foley in this intro scene … is so much more than mere background noise; it is the entire focal point and the emotional element used to ground the player in the scene.

As they slowly come to terms with what has transpired, they must claw their way through the debris and very primitively bang on a piece of metal with a rock to alert a nearby rescue team to their location. The Foley in this intro scene is intimate and in your face; we hear the tiniest speck of dust, followed by giant rocks crumbling, footsteps desperately searching, hands digging, and then the jarring sound of a concrete saw cutting rebar to free the player. The Foley here is so much more than mere background noise; it is the entire focal point and the emotional element used to ground the player in the scene. Moments later, as you are pulled from the debris, an explosion rocks the village and chaos ensues. As the scene unfolds, the character and environment Foley are the human elements that glue all the action together, and keep the player immersed in the cinematic experience.
 

What was your approach to dialogue on Modern Warfare? What did the dialogue team cover? How did those sounds fit into the game?
Dave Natale and Chrissy Arya: We have 40,000+ unique lines of dialogue in Modern Warfare per language, with a total of 11 recorded languages.

We tried a more natural approach to our capturing process by using microphones specifically selected to create the feel and tone of each element. This relates across the entire game based on whether or not it was cinematic, in-game, radio or other unique environments. Recording the dialogue in this natural approach created a sound that is impossible to replicate even with the best plug-ins and IR convolutions. By giving the actors the same physical environment or elements that they are using in-game to communicate with the rest of the other actors it helps to elevate their performance and make it more believable.

Recording the dialogue in this natural approach created a sound that is impossible to replicate even with the best plug-ins and IR convolutions.

For example, we created a custom 3D printed microphone mount for use on all of our gas mask recordings. In essence, our microphones became props for the performance. In certain cases when we captured the actor’s pre-life and the space between words, it often told as much story as the words themselves.
Call Of Duty Modern Warfare sound design

 

The guns aren’t the only things reacting to the spaces the player is in; the voices and Foley sounds interact with the environment, too. How did you keep the mix sounding clean with all this processing happening?
DR: We always try to keep the player focused towards their next objective without punishing player control of the scene — lead them to where they naturally should go but maintain immersion when they veer off and do their own thing. To do this, we create a lot of audio systems that support different real-time mixing decisions. These become pillars of the mix, and we start by mixing around them.

Another important element is keeping a wide dynamic range. Any mission-critical dialogue and some large set pieces get real-time special treatment. More importantly, not everything is meant to pop through, so you end up with a soundscape that creates diversity, depth perception, and variation to pull the player through the experience.
 

Modern Warfare uses a new game engine, allowing for more detailed environments, and advanced photogrammetry (for efficiently creating intricate textures). What did this new engine mean for the sound team? What advanced capabilities did it afford you? With clearer, more detailed images, how did that impact the work required from the sound team?
(TS): The hyper real visuals in our new engine led to us push boundaries towards realism in several areas. Since weapons in the game are now actual projectiles instead of hitscan technology, it afforded us the ability to play more realistic whiz-bys, correctly timed with a projectile’s approach, which cut off at the point of impact. The whole game has a concept of the actual speed of sound — sounds at distances have the correct real-world delay on them. This is something we’ve wanted to do in the past but it felt like a bug without the entire game being grounded in reality.

Since weapons in the game are now actual projectiles instead of hitscan technology, it afforded us the ability to play more realistic whiz-bys, correctly timed with a projectile’s approach, which cut off at the point of impact.

With every gunshot or explosion, ray-casts are drawn to find collisions with geometry where positional sound reflections are played in 3D space. These, too, playback with delays according to the speed of sound. The dimensions of your location and the way you hear sound in them brings every environment in the game to life.
 

What are you most proud of in terms of sound on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare?
SM: The sound design in Modern Warfare helps to draw the player into the reality of the game world. Instead of just being background noise in a bombastic action movie, it sets the stage for a visceral experience — creeping through the rickety hallways of a townhouse, crawling through the dirt and grime of a prison cell, and listening for enemy movements in a mansion. The overall dynamic range supplements this experience, creating a more realistic soundscape that leaves room for a natural eb and flow. From the ambient elements, the realistic echo of your weapon in the distance out a window, to the cohesive sound aesthetics blurring the line between in-game and cinematics, the audio in this game surpassed my own expectations. I’m honored to have been given an opportunity to work with a lot of incredibly smart and talented people. Not just in sound, but all the other aspects as well. It takes a village to complete a game like this, and I’m both grateful and proud to have been a part of it.

A big thanks to Stephen Miller, Stuart Provine, Tim Stasica, Dave Rowe, Dave Natale, and Chrissy Arya for the story behind the sound for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare – and to Jennifer Walden for the interview!

 

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  • Environments Sci-fi World Swarm Play Track 141 sounds included, 120 mins total $39 $34

    The latest installment in the Epic Stock Media Sci-fi World Sound Effects Series has landed on planet earth. Sci-fi World – Swarm presents a meticulously designed ambience loop library inspired by an insect-like alien race and their quest for dominance in the galaxy. Sci-fi World – Swarm is a collection of over 2 hours of interior and exterior sci-fi background loops.

    With a selection of 141 designed sci-fi loops, you’ll be able to create new worlds effortlessly. Dramatic room tones, custom sci-fi interior and exterior scenes, ambient sounds like; alien cave, energy lab, transport hangar, termite mounds, and Queen’s chambers are all ready to mix, match, stack and layer for the perfect vibe in your production.

    Loops are approximately one minute in length and the ambience loop files include one or two minimal or alt mix versions. Also, sounds are pre-mixed and mastered to high volume so you can mix your tracks for optimal immersion and sonic dynamics without losing fidelity.

    Product details:

    • Sci-fi Ambience Loop Library
    • Includes a variety of locations, tones, and ambiences
    • 24 ambiences loops like alien cave, energy lab, hangar, sub bay & more
    • 49 minimal versions or alt mixes of full loops
    • 68 loop-able layer loops like Queens Chamber, Termite Mounds, Insect Engines & more!
    • All royalty free SFX

    Of course, it’s ready to use in any multi-media production. All of the recordings are royalty-free and RTU-OTB. Need more ambience loops? Be sure to check out Swarm sister sound libraries – Sci-fi World Colony and Sci-fi World Guardians Ambience Loop Libraries.

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  • Environments Sci-fi World Guardians Play Track 141 sounds included, 120 mins total $39 $34

    Sci-fi World Guardian is a library geared towards multiplayer games, space, dystopias, utopias, fantasy, magical places, serene game moments, RPG, MMO, and sci-fi games all alike and showcases sounds like automated shipyard, electron flow, data mining, engines, mothership hums, conversions, moons of Venus, deserted area, bioengineering lab, desolate space, holy house, a variety of pulses, tech-based loops, winds, & more.

    Each loop is game ready, seamlessly loopable and around 1 minute in length. Each main ambience includes 1-2 alt mix versions + you get a variety of layers to accent your scene and games ambience. Having both full ambiences, alt mixes and layers allows you to truly orchestrate your game’s background sound how you want it. If the full loop has too much going on, then try using the minimal version without the sound you don’t like or by stacking a layer loop to boost the dynamic of the atmosphere.

    Product Details

    • Sci-fi Ambience Loop Library
    • Save time, energy and get quality game audio assets!
    • Includes a variety of locations, tones, and ambiences
    • 25 ambiences loops like an alien cave, energy lab, hangar, sub bay & more
    • 50 minimal versions or alt mixes of full loops
    • 66 loop-able layer loops like Queens Chamber, Termite Mounds, Insect Engines & more!
    • All royalty free
    • RTU-OTB (ready to use out of the box)

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  • AUDIO LAYERING WIZARD


    SoundWeaver helps you design new sounds from existing audio material in less time.

    CREATE MORESKIP THE BUSYWORK

    USE CASES

    • Produce more assets and increase productivity on tight schedules
    • Set up your sound design session with ready-to-use sound combinations
    • Generate variations with ease instead of manually tweaking everything
    • Find new combinations, discover and create new flavors and variety within your library

    WHAT DOES SOUNDWEAVER DO?

    • SoundWeaver automates and randomizes certain parts of your sound design workflow.
    • SoundWeaver searches your sound library with the help of keywords or folder paths and picks matching sounds for your project.
    • Sounds are automatically sorted, grouped, layered, aligned and split into regions (if files contain multiple variations).
    • Now you can pitch, offset, gain, shuffle and randomize individual sounds, groups or the whole project. The possibilities are endless.
    • Take snapshots of your favorite combinations and settings. Create as many variants as you like and return to them later in the process.
    • Drag’n’drop the project into your DAW for further editing or export the final mix.
    • SoundWeaver can generate countless variations from your project during export via pitch, offset and take randomization.


    HOW SOUNDWEAVER HELPS YOUR WORKFLOW

    MORE VARIETY ON TIGHT SCHEDULES
    We all know the situation: A client has asked for 100 new sound assets, 10 variations each, delivered as soon as possible.
    Creating variations in particular requires a lot of meticulous pitching, shifting and switching out elements within your original design.
    With just a few commands, SoundWeaver will automate all of those time-consuming steps for you and generate as many suggestions as you like – so all that’s left for you to do is have a quick listen and keep the ones you like best.
    Focus on your creative process while SoundWeaver takes care of the rest.

    INSPIRATION THROUGH NEW COMBINATIONS
    Speaking of creative process: Once your library has grown beyond a certain point, there is only so much experimenting you can do manually. SoundWeaver’s powerful Randomize feature often generates combinations we’d never think of trying in the first place.
    This opens up a world of new possibilities and is a great way of starting a project.
    Already have an idea? Tell SoundWeaver to build on it and create different flavors.
    Starting empty-handed? Let SoundWeaver set up your session by putting all layers in place.
    Done, but missing that special something? Try out more unlikely sounds with just a few clicks.


    SOUNDWEAVER At A Glance

    KEY FEATURES

    • SoundWeaver automatically picks, slices, aligns and layers sounds
    • Search by keywords, folders or drag’n’drop
    • Pitch, offset, gain, shuffle and switch out individual sounds, groups or the whole project
    • Each of the previous parameters can be randomized.
    • Export: Drag’n’drop the project into your DAW
    • Export as: Individual layers, groups or mixdown
    • Export features: Generate variations using pitch, offset or random takes
    • Take snapshots and return to your favorite combinations, parameter settings and sounds at will

    TECH SPECS

    Format: Standalone Application for Windows & Mac
    Required Hard Disk Space: 30 MB
    Manual: PDF
    License Agreement: PDF
    Available As: Download

    REQUIREMENTS

    SOFTWARE
    SoundWeaver is a standalone application and works without any host audio software.

    SYSTEM
    Windows 7 (64-bit), 8 GB Ram, Intel® Core i5
    Mac OS X 10.9, 8 GB Ram, Intel® Core i5

    ILOK
    SoundWeaver requires a free iLok account

    Available licensing options:
    Machine License activation and USB Dongle (iLok 2 or higher)

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  • City Life Buenos Aires Ambiences Play Track 71 sounds included, 200 mins total $39.99

    Buenos Aires Ambiences features 71 beautifully and professionally recorded ambient sounds of downtown Buenos Aires, Argentina, with their rich and unique Spanish dialect, a variety of perspectives, locations, and times of day, everything is categorized with metadata input via Basehead Ultra, and mastered in Protools HD.  We originally recorded over 80gb of data which translated to 42 hours and meticulously cut it down to 6.5gb/3 hours and 20 min of the best and most useful ambiences.

    Included is: City airs, botanical gardens, parks, markets, cemetery, city plazas and squares, nature reserve, busy and quiet streets, traffic, crowds, early morning bird chorus, evening airs, construction, airport, department stores, cafes, restaurants, library, church and cathedral, train station, public transit, museum, roomtones, rain.  And a variety of each, with different perspectives and amounts of walla and voices.

    Thank you and we hope you enjoy our recordings

    Buenos Aires Ambiences includes 3 hours of beautiful ambiences of downtown Buenos Aires, Argentina, with a massive variety of locations and times of day, this album will not dissapoint!

  • The Siemens Valero is a high-speed train that is an engineering marvel and a staple of modern high-grade national and transcontinental rail transport, with various versions zipping across the UK, the EU, Russia, and the far reaches of Asia including China. This is a train capable of 290 kilometres per hour (180 mph), it is the high-speed joiner of distant cities such as Moscow and Saint Petersburg. For our recording project, we captured it across a comprehensive range of its speeds. Sennheiser Ambeo microphones were used throughout.

    Recordings were made inside carriages, inside a compartment, down gangways, across the ever-dramatic space connecting railcar vestibules, and also less glorified but vital locations, e.g., the loo. All relevant background sounds are there, including door movements, passenger chatter, objects in motion, and the sounds of the restaurant car. For the characteristic sounds of a great ‘iron horse’, inside and out, this is it. Flysound… Putting the ‘track’ into soundtrack!

 
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