I used to write a blog post everyday. These days it’s harder to find the time and I apologize for being out of touch for these past few weeks. My days have been filled with producing the website and pitch video for the YARRA 3DX campaign and pushing ahead on the book and Blu-ray disc (more on that in a moment) and meeting the obligations of my professorship. Now that summer has arrived and I’m no longer heading to the studio everyday, life is a little more sane. I still sit in front of my computer too many hours everyday, but most days result in progress on a number of fronts.
Today, I thought I would talk about the world of immersive, 3D audio — or at least 5.1 surround music. I’m a strong advocate for surround sound. It’s a mystery to me why the music industry hasn’t moved to multichannel delivery like the movie studios and game companies. Maybe it’s because music consumption is a regular part of our daily lives, we listen on portable devices (cars, smart phones, DAPs etc.), through the radio, and in rooms dedicated to 2-channel playback. We’ve been programmed to believe that music is a stereo experience. That listening in stereo is enough. There are even people that would prefer to listen to monophonic recordings — because that was the artist’s original intent. Show me artist that’s heard a great high-resolution and I’ll show you a surround sound convert. Records were available in mono because the technology for stereo and multichannel didn’t exist yet. Do we really want to return to the “golden age” of mono HiFi systems and black and white TV?
I wrote a lengthy article for an online audiophile site recently. I wanted to share my post LA Audio Show impressions on surround sound. There were a couple of rooms demonstrating Dolby Atmos in a room full of speakers, amplifiers, an UHD projector, a screen, and plenty of processors. The price tag was near a quarter of a million dollars. Ouch! When they played sections of several action movies and a segment of a live music concert, I have to admit I was impressed. It was loud and completely enveloping. But really — how many people have the space, the budget, and the inclination to bring a system like that into their lives? I’m guessing not very many. I’m a fan of surround and I wouldn’t do it.
When I submitted my write to the publication, they had one of their writers read through it to make sure it wasn’t just a commercial for the YARRA 3DX sound bar. It does talk about the sound bar approach to surround sound as one of the three options for getting surround sound but doesn’t dwell on the product (BTW – The three options are: a multispeaker home theater setup, “binauralized” content through headphones, and sound bars). The editor wrote a comment in the sidebar that illustrates the problem us “surround sounders” have in the audiophile world. He wrote, “I think the author needs to make a convincing case for why he feels music recorded in 2-ch isn’t good enough. When 2-ch music is played back through, say, Dolby Pro Logic II, the results are excellent and quite satisfying. That’s very likely why native 5.1-recorded music doesn’t really exist. It doesn’t need to.”
When I hear this type of comment, I can only imagine that he’s never experienced a great surround sound music presentation. His mention of Dolby Pro Logic II processing, which simply synthesizes rear channel information from the left and right front stereo channels, delivering “excellent” results that are “quite satisfying” is scary. In his opinion and probably most audiophiles, 5.1 music doesn’t need to exist. Wow.
How to respond? I tried to talk about how much additional space there is to mix to in surround music, how you hear things you’ve never heard before, how enveloping the sound is, and how much more depth there is in surround mixes but I doubt that he opinion was swayed.
More thoughts to follow…
After being locked out of my Kickstarter account for the last week, I posted an update today. If you’ve pre-ordered the book and Blu-ray or backed my Kickstarter campaign, you’ll be glad to know that it’s heading to the printer shortly. The disc has been fully proofed and will sent to the replicator next week. Here’s the link to the update: