When Amol Kitwadkar moved to Fort Collins, Colorado, in 2011 to pursue an M.S. in Environmental Engineering at Colorado State University, he also brought his musical ambitions with him. Originally from Sangli, in western India, he spent five years studying Hindustani Classical Music before moving to the US. In 2013, he started a band—Unified Diversity—inspired by his desire to bring people and sounds from around the world together. During the COVID lockdown, he watched a webinar starring A.R. Rahman, an Indian composer, who won two Oscars for original score and song written for 2009’s breakthrough film Slumdog Millionaire. After hearing Rahman extol the virtues of using spatial sound for music, Kitwadkar realized he wanted to make immersive technology part of his artistic strategy.
Blue Marble Sound was born from that epiphany, and the studio found a home in a former boxing gym in nearby Loveland, Colorado. Kitwadkar researched and implemented his new studio setup in a way befitting an engineer, meticulously and thoroughly. Those efforts involved taking his team—including Anthony J. Catalano, CEO of Denver-based pro audio vendor MediaVine Pro Audio/Video, and acoustician Tim Gulsrud of Soundpost Acoustics LLC—out to Los Angeles in June 2021. They met with Dolby and other potential equipment vendors and found a wealth of inspiration and resources.
While in LA, he popped into the L-Acoustics facility in Westlake Village, where he discovered the one critical thing he needed to settle his studio intentions—monitoring. Upon experiencing L-ISA immersive technology, he decisively tapped MediaVine to design Blue Marble Sound’s L-Acoustics system. The design features seven compact X8 loudspeakers: three for the LCR array and four for the surround array. Four smaller 5XTs comprise the signature Atmos overhead height array, while a pair of KS21 subwoofers provide the anchor for the 7.1.4 system, all powered by four LA2Xi amplified controllers.
“It was a lengthy process to design and build the studio and to source all of the components, which was made even harder because of the supply-chain issues during COVID, but when I realized the potential for immersive music and the fact that there were so few facilities that were capable of it at the time, I knew it was what I wanted to do,” Kitwadkar explains. “But one thing became clear after we heard the L-ISA demo—the monitoring system had to be L-Acoustics. The quality of the speakers and sound is incomparable and unmatched.”
Beyond the musical tonality of the L-Acoustics enclosures, he was also taken by their engineering. “The X8 and 5XT are coaxial, so they can be mounted very flexibly,” he says. “That was important early on as we were still finalizing the studio’s acoustical design. Also, the speakers are passive, reducing the cabling and power we’d need. But it was the clarity and sonic neutrality of all the speakers that was so amazing. Once we heard them, we knew that these would be our speakers. After nine months with them, we have found that ear fatigue is extremely rare, even after a full day in the studio.”
MediaVine, with guidance from the L-Acoustics application and sales teams, installed and calibrated Blue Marble Sound’s monitoring system. Kitwadkar and his team then completed the setup using L-Acoustics L-ISA Studio software in conjunction with Dolby’s rendering software. This combination ensures the proper management of mix-objects and metadata embedding, as well as compatibility with Apple Music and Amazon Spatial Audio. Kitwadkar has been pleased with the results, especially the characteristic height aspect of the Atmos experience.
“What’s great about the 5XTs mounted above is that they have a wider dispersion angle than a lot of other studio monitors, which allows us to have a wider overhead image,” he explains. “The dimensions of the speaker coverage are 19 by 10 feet, and the ceiling speakers are 13 feet from the ground, and those compact height speakers have no problem covering that much space. It does not feel like you lose sound in any part of the room, and the audio remains fully coherent when you walk throughout the space.”
“Using L-Acoustics speakers and L-ISA Studio software in a recording studio application represents an inflection point in the evolution of immersive audio,” says MediaVine Pro Audio/Video’s Anthony J. Catalano. “The beauty of this system is that it can support both Dolby Atmos and L-Acoustics L-ISA as immersive recording formats. The L-ISA Studio software can run natively on the studio computer, so both formats are instantly accessible.”
He notes that L-ISA is becoming a more widely used format for spatialized music recordings, a path Atmos has already taken. It’s also swiftly being adopted in live sound reinforcement, and Blue Marble Sound can derive significant work in the future from touring artists or other live event production teams that deploy the L-ISA format. “There is a lot of track-heavy content for those sorts of productions, and Blue Marble is the place they can go to pre-mix and map out the immersive sound stage.”
Catalano cites LifeGate Denver, the first house of worship in Colorado to install L-ISA technology—designed, supplied, and installed by MediaVine—as a potential future client for the studio as the church creates its own immersive content for its environment. “Once it’s all software-based, any user can mix in any format on any DAW,” he says. “You can really see the future taking shape here.”
Dolby engineer Jonathan Lessner tuned and approved the Atmos studio in October 2022. With projects for Denver-based label Bully Free Music artist Gareth Kelsall and an Atmos up-mixed version of New Orleans band Vivian already completed, Blue Marble Sound is on the way to achieving Kitwadkar’s vision of “using Atmos and L-ISA to ‘lift-up’ the community and myself.” He looks forward to participating in the Dolby Atmos Music Accelerator educational program with his talented team of staff audio engineers, stating: “There are so many possibilities ahead, and Atmos and L-ISA can help get us there.”