Dr. AIX's POSTS — 24 October 2014


It strikes me as odd that the only labels that are actively producing and releasing surround music are focused primarily on classical repertoire. This was brought to fore when all of the participants in the AES panel on DXD and DSD played classical music during their demonstrations. Morten Lynberg is well known for his recordings that employ an array of microphones in the center of an ensemble. Robert Friedrich (Five Four Productions), Jared Sachs (Channel Classics), John Newton (Soundmirror), and others (Pentatone) are all recording and delivering multichannel surround productions. And I’m with them. All of my productions have multiple surround sound mixes too.

I don’t know if my recording of the Zdenek Macal and the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra performing Beethoven’s 6th “Pastoral” Symphony and Respighi’s “The Pines Of Rome” was the first classical DVD-Audio titles but I can tell you that it was the first with multiple mixes AND the first to use the LFE channel (the subwoofer). Classical music benefits from using more speakers. And some months prior to that we release the Brahms Piano Quintet in f minor in DVD-Audio.

But why are most of the surround recordings being produced these days in the classical genre? Why aren’t the pop/commercial engineers being asked to provide surround mixes as part of their deliverables to the major labels? The reason is the additional cost associated with making a mix in 5.1 surround and the fact that there is no demand for the end product. Additionally, the type of productions that 2L, Five Four, Channel Classics, Pentatone, and AIX release are recorded in live performance spaces with everyone present at the same time. Capturing the ambiance of the recording venue is easy under these circumstances and mixing a surround version of the session is as simple as putting the ambiance in the left and right surround channels.

Things are not so easy when it comes to the pop/rock releases. The added costs, format issues, lack of demand, and delivery challenges have taken surround music off of the table for virtually all major record labels. The recent Tom Petty “Hypnotic Eye” is a notable exception. I’d like to find out why Reprise Records decided to make a Blu-ray version of this titles available. Perhaps Tom and his engineer were the catalyst behind this high-resolution, surround BD disc that exists. Tom certainly has the clout to make it happen. But the disc disappoints.

It’s not really high-resolution and the surround mix is basically a 2.0 channel stereo mix played through more speakers. If you’re hoping that there would be guitars and drums and vocals spread all around you, you’ll be disappointed.

The cost of mixing a single track by a respected mixing engineer can range from $500 to $5000 per track. The number of hours isn’t taken into consideration. The track is done when the artist and producer given their approval. It would make the most sense to have a surround mix done at the same time as the stereo version, but rarely is this done. I spoke to Bob Clearmountain and he told me that he does a 5.1 mix to every album project that comes his way. He doesn’t charge for them and he doesn’t deliver them. I guess he’s hoping that the labels will come back sometime in the “surround music” future and want them…for an additional charge.

Don’t hold your breath.

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About Author


Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

(20) Readers Comments

  1. I suspect that the percentage of classical music listeners willing to sit in one place and focus on their musical experience is higher than that for listeners of other genres.

    I don’t have your Pines of Rome recording. Are the antiphonal brass parts in the surrounds? That’s a surround mix that even the documentary performance crowd can get behind.

    • They are and the recording of the birds circles around your head.

  2. You forgot to mention some absolutely stunning surround mixes that I have of Dire Straights : Brothers in Arms (2005), and two of Pink Floyd’s greatest albums – Dark Side of the Moon (2003) and Wish You Were Here (2011). These re-mastered, re-mixed albums are among the best surround albums I’ve ever heard! (P.S. I have several AIX discs).
    Hoping to see you at Taves in Toronto next weekend.

    • With so much listening being on smartphones, tablets and laptops, it’s hard enough to get people to sit in front of two proper speakers.
      The new (supposedly “final”) Pink Floyd album is available in 5.1 surround: 48kHz/24 bit on DVD, or 96kHz/24 bit on Blu-Ray.
      If Universal Music expand their Blu-Ray Pure Audio catalogue, we may see a few more titles emerging, but it seems like that format might be a short-lived venture.

      • I’m hoping that the catalogs will continue to open up…but I’m not sure about Blu-ray Pure Audio. Too expensive and the same old standard definition quality.

        • Blu-Ray Pure Audio is supposed to be at least 96kHz/24 bit, according to Universal:


          Once again, we don’t have detailed information about the actual sources, but the potential seems to be there.

          • …with the ‘DTS-HD Master Audio’ option, anyway?

          • DTS HD Master Audio is another lossless audio compression scheme.

          • The potential is there…but again we’re dependent on the sources.

          • No one…least of all me…ever said that the writers of articles in the audiophile magazines cater to the advertisers. However, the owners, editors, and management do make decisions around revenues. I can distinctly remember being told by a publisher of a major magazine, “buy and ad and we’ll cover your stuff.” I was surprised.

  3. Yeah I agree that there are no takers when it comes to pop/rock recordings not being in surround, I imagine that there really are none of the listeners of that stuff really interested. They feel Mp3 does just fine why waste the money. I would love to have some of the good Contemporary Jazz that has been published and is published done in Hi-Res. I am a real fan of DVD-Audio but when I saw that most all that was being produced was classical I had a sneaking suspicion that it was going to be short lived, I still invested heavily in it anyway. I still get AIX DVD-Audio’s occasionally because there is nowhere else to turn. Classical is all there is in Hi-Res I like it too but it is just a shame, I would love to have a rendition of Jazz at the Pawn Shop in Hi-Res two Channel and surround the ambience would be fantastic. But since that will not happen I will continue to make my Hi-Res purchases from AIX I am grateful for your diligence and the only way I can show it is with purchases. I am now looking to get the Pines of Rome recording keep up the good work.

  4. Mark, aren’t you overlooking the vast catalog of pop and rock music videos, available in surround sound on DVD and Bluray?

    It probably well outstrips the entire surround sound repertoire of classical music.

    • Music videos in surround? I can’t say that I’ve purchased a lot of music videos. I did work on the Tool project (stereo only) and purchased a U2 Collection for a birthday present…again all stereo. What am I missing?

  5. Partly it’s education I guess. Anyone with a decent DAW, Asio4all and a 5.1 set of speakers can mix in 5.1 (or 7.1 depending on output channels available) with just the standard onboard soundcard. I have been doing it since I bought a 5.1 card in 2003 when motherboards weren’t so adequate. It wasn’t even touched or discussed in my apprenticeship or any of the music/recording related tertiary education I undertook. I never pursued it beyond making the odd mix just for personal use (tortured guitarist haha) but with most now having the capability to at least experiment it’s all about lighting that fire in them at a young age.

  6. Really, there aren’t that many homes that have at least a 5.1 set up, especially in comparison with stereo. Therefore the actual market for such releases is very small which is probably why you see the surround mixes limited to the classical world, where I would guess, a higher percentage of the listeners have at least a 5.1 set up.

    • Joe, according to the CEA, there are 45 million households with home theaters using 5.1 surround. That’s a lot…and doesn’t count soundbars.

  7. Which is interesting in that outside of friends in this industry, I know only one household that has a 5.1 system. I know some with soundbars and they wouldn’t think to buy multichannel music discs. I have demoed them for them but they have no interest. I also have many audiophile friends and quite a few of them have no interest in MC either for audio or video. Don’t understand it or them but to each his own. I can understand perfectly why the industry has little interest in MC audio. I love it for concert discs and releases such as Mark’s but I think I am in the distinct minority, except for those that visit this site!

  8. Doc,
    I have been a Broadcast Engineer and Pseudo guitarist for 30+… Which means nothing to the young guns making money pumping out there “Work”. If I were to teach a course on modern Poular Music that moves the cilia in my ears as well as the hair on my neck, I would spend many hours on What Brian Eno, Robert Fripp, and David Bowie did 73-78. Only one made piles of cash, while the other two made headway into new frontiers of what sounds move you as an individual, or not. But, not all for the buck. Thus they are and shall always be my “Heroes”. I was present for several early Frippertronic sessions that some critics called the most boring stuff ever made, but I am sure they had there reasons. But why knock what you don’t understand? Fripp wrote a white paper (now, this is a guitarist), circa 1982 indicating the cd format was limiting and devastating to any real worthwhile musical event to be captured. Now, this is way before 192Khz/24 or 48 bits/Sample were feasible. He put forth that at that time, Dolby SR. applied on 30IPS properly biased tape was a minimum Mastering format, no matter the # of channels, just make sure you obey basic physics, like wavelength crossing over guard bands. Today, not enough people respect Shannon and Nyquist’s work. It’s an ever evolving learning process. I am the eternal student. Thank you for your column…I mean Blog.

    • Thanks Bobby…I’m with you on these guys..and there are lots of others.

  9. Sorry, missed a point: obtain the 40 Yr Anniversary Of Crimson’s “Lizard”. On a decent 7.1 System, it’s incomprehensible to think how high the bar was set for these guys, who did NOT have the tools back then to appreciate what they had made. But they strived to make Music that was deeply moving. Some people feel the same way about The Stones, and I love a lot of tracks, but it’s on a different plane. Bowie was the crossover between. Thanks for allowing me to yammer.

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