The Queen’s Gambit, California

The Opportunity

The Queen’s Gambit is a 2020 Netflix limited series about a troubled chess prodigy who makes a meteoric rise in the world of professional chess during the 1950s and ‘60s. The series became an instant success, with a record 62 million households watching within the first four weeks of its release. However, with post-production complicated by COVID-19 restrictions, some of the team had to work from remote locations instead of collaborating in person. Achieving a consistent sound under these conditions required adopting a common monitoring solution.

The Solution

In order to provide the team with a common sonic reference point, Sound Designer Wylie Stateman provided Director Scott Frank, Picture Editor Michelle Tesoro, Composer Carlos Raphael Riviera, Music Editor Tom Kramer, and Re-Recording Mixers Eric Hoehn and Eric Hirsch with JBL 708p and 705p monitors. Stateman and the rest of his team worked out of 247SND’s editing and mixing suites, which were already equipped with 7 Series monitors, AC28/95 cinema surround speakers and Crown DCi Series amplifiers. The decision to supply everyone with the same monitors was part of an initiative called ‘Cutting Room 2.0,’ Stateman’s approach to streamlining the post-production process.

The JBL 7 Series includes the self-powered 708P and 705P master reference monitors as well as the passive 708i and 705i. All models feature JBL Differential Drive low-frequency drivers and 2409H high-frequency compression drivers for extended dynamic range, ultra-smooth frequency response beyond 36 kHz and extremely low distortion at high sound pressure levels. JBL’s proprietary Image Control Waveguide provides a wide sweet spot with consistent, detailed sound on- and off-axis. Mounting points on the top, bottom and rear make 7 Series monitors ideal for installed applications such as Dolby Atmos mixing setups that require overhead speakers. Additionally, the 708P and 705P feature built-in digital signal processing (DSP) including EQ and delay for easy room calibration, plus an RJ-45 port for HARMAN HiQnet connectivity.

The 5.1 and 7.1 editing suites at 247SND feature JBL 708P monitors for the left, center and right channels, with 705i models powered by Crown DCi 8|300 amplifiers for the surround channels. The remote members of the team received a similar package consisting of all powered speakers for easier setup. Additionally, the main mixing and editing space at 247SND, where the final mix was created, features 28 JBL AC28/95 dual 8-inch loudspeakers in the surround positions.

The Queen’s Gambit aired on October 23, 2020 and quickly became one of the most-watched shows of the year. Critics and audiences praised the sound design and music, and the series won numerous accolades including 11 Primetime Emmy Awards, two Golden Globe Awards and three MPSE Golden Reel Awards for its sound effects, dialogue and music. The series’ positive reception is due in part to Stateman’s commitment to giving his team the most high-quality, consistent monitoring experience possible—something he’s been doing for years and aims to continue.

The Impact

“In 2016, we committed to a project that we codenamed ‘Cutting Room 2.0,’ with the goal of facilitating a more streamlined approval process by bringing the sound and film editing processes more closely into alignment,” explained Sound Designer Wylie Stateman. “The mission was to perform sound editing and film editing together, working in parallel so that the picture editor, director and producers could hear the real soundtrack at each step of the way, rather than settling for a proxy of the mix during editing. One of the challenges we faced was to find a monitoring system that was up to the task. In terms of what we needed to create our 5.1 and 7.1 playback systems, the 708 just rang the bell. It covered all the bases—it sounds great, it’s very dynamic and it’s easily tunable. The compression horn and the overall design of the 7 Series was perfect for us.”

“JBL had the wisdom to build the 7 Series around compression drivers for the high frequencies, which are much more predictable than dome tweeters when it comes to approximating the environment that the mix will ultimately be judged in, which is more like a theater,” added Stateman. “The design of it is really reassuring in terms of translating to the larger auditorium sizes. I’m confident in what we’re producing, so whether you’re watching and listening on a smartphone or in the 15,000-seat main room at ComicCon, it’s going to sound right.”

“Post-production sound is a team sport, and it revolves around the approval process,” explained Stateman. “Being able to have a common monitoring experience is very important in terms of sound. That common experience allows us to benchmark sound pressure levels and frequencies that are appropriate to the story we’re trying to tell. Speakers play a very significant role in developing a common experience for listening to sound pressure and frequency response.”

“Over the years, I’ve set up several dozen sound editing bays, purchasing more than 50 of the 708s and 705s,” said Stateman. “They’re reliable, interchangeable and easy to swap out quickly. It’s a very consistent, well-manufactured product. I think the 7 Series is a milestone creative asset in terms of post production sound and truly a crowning design and manufacturing achievement for JBL.”