Robert Margouleff, my famous, Grammy winning engineer friend, came by this afternoon for a few hours. We’re working on creating some demos of headphone surround processed classic recordings for potential clients. He managed to secure a few tunes from another engineer (the person that mixed the 5.1 surround versions for DVD-Audio release) friend and we took a first stab at remastering and reformatting a few tracks in the studio. After a while, we had the entire signal path working.
But we both realized that these tracks sounded less than ideal and would require a bunch of work to get them up to audiophile standards. What was wrong? The two tunes by Frank Sinatra sounded a little thin and lacking in warmth. The Who’s “Tommy” was nice and punchy but isn’t really a bona fide 5.1 surround track. All of the tracks that we listened to seemed to be “extractions” or conversions from stereo to 5.1 surround versions. I can only guess that this was the only option available to the mixer. The multitrack masters may not exist or the logistics of actually remixing the tracks from scratch would have been prohibitively expensive and require artist approval. And without a sufficiently large market, the numbers just wouldn’t pencil out.
The down and dirty way to create a “5.1 surround mix is to take the left and right front channel, add some delay and reverb, and swing them around to the left and right surround. This method results in what I call a “5.1 stereo mix” because the distribution of the instrumental and vocals are exactly the same as they were in the stereo blend…but they aren’t locked to the front wall. I recognize the problem and even contributed to it back in the heyday of 5.1 DVD-Audio releases.
Immergent Records had us prepare a whole bunch of their releases using a similar process…just repeat the left and right fronts with some processing and put them in the rear speakers. Then slap a label on the disc saying it has a 5.1 surround mix and you’re done. Needless to say, the company is no longer in business. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that Ministry in “5.1 stereo surround” didn’t really work.
If you can deliver the real deal, then don’t proceed with the project. Or at least tell the unsuspecting customers that the product they’re purchasing wasn’t actually remixed from the multitracks into surround. It would be the same as telling customers of PonoMusic that 99% of their “hi-res” releases are actually CD quality…not hi-res. Honesty doesn’t seem to be a quality that marketing people have in abundance…it’s bad for commerce.
After Robert left, I spend some time listening to a bunch of music with a couple of audio enthusiasts from San Diego.
They are big fans of analog tape and have extensive, high buck systems for stereo and surround sound. They wanted to come by and verify the sound of the analog tapes that I finished transferring some weeks ago. And as long as they were here, why not treat them to some of the recordings I’ve assembled on the new Ultra High-Res Sampler. The one that I’ve been working on for over 8 months. The one that doesn’t seem to want to mux successfully in the authoring tool.
What would a couple of analog fans think of my AIX Records high-resolution music releases? They loved them…a great performance on a great system can turn your head around.
I played the master tapes of Christian Jacob on my lowly Nagra IV-S with QGB large reel adaptor. One of the gentlemen mentioned he owns a Nagra IV-S and QGB…and a Nagra I machine (one the truly amazing pieces of tape recording technology), and a Studer A820. He’s collecting professional equipment to use in his own playback setup. Amazing.
It was an afternoon of listening. Unfortunately, it’s not something that I do often enough.