The issue of sound balance in any given broadcast is likely to divide opinion. In sports commentary for example, some may like their commentary as audible as possible, whilst others may prefer to savor the sounds of the crowd and the athletes.

Others, it’s probably fair to say, have never given the subject a second’s thought.

One of the problems here is that the experience is entirely subjective and broadcasters can’t cater for everyone. But the BBC has announced an experiment which it hopes will give users more choice in terms of how they experience audio streamed online.

Rupert Brun, Head of Technology for Audio and Music, announced in a blog post today that he’s running an experiment which lets listeners decide on the sound balance they want for some of their Wimbledon Tennis coverage. Brun says:

“We receive regular feedback about sound quality on both radio and television and the most common complaint is that the speech (commentary or dialogue) is too quiet compared with the sound effects or music.”

Users can now download a special player called NetMix allowing people to tailor the sound balance in real-time to the tennis. The sound mix can be adjusted from one extreme – with loud crowd noises, base-line grunting and the commentary in the background, to the other extreme where the commentary is very much in the foreground. Users are invited to play around with it and then complete an online survey to give some feedback:

NetMix The BBC lets online Wimbledon listeners control the sound balance

Having tested it out for the Wimbledon Singles women’s match between Sabine Lisicki and Marion Bartoli this afternoon, I can say that it definitely works. Though from a radio perspective, it would be difficult to see why anyone would want the extreme with very quiet commentary, given that you can’t see what’s happening on court.

With the fader in the centre ‘0’ position, the commentary and court are heard at normal broadcast levels. When the slider is shifted towards ‘court’, the commentary gets quieter but the court atmosphere remains the same. And if the slider is moved towards ‘commentary’, the court sound gets quieter and the commentary stays the same.

Neither the court or the commentary are ever amplified – for the experiment the effect is achieved by reducing the volume of the sound users want to hear less.

For rights reasons, the stream is only available in the UK but as far as an experiment goes, it will be interesting to see what the uptake and feedback is like and, indeed, whether it does anything with this technology following Wimbledon.

Following a similar experiment last year, during the final week of the BBC Proms, the BBC permanently implemented an extra-high quality audio stream for BBC Radio 3, known as ‘HD Sound‘. So, if the Wimbledon experiment proves successful, this is something that could be rolled-out across the board at some point in the future.