Dr. AIX's POSTS TECH TALK — 04 November 2018

By

By now many of you must be thinking that I’ve retired or am spending countless hours at the local golf course. The regularity of my posts has slowed to a trickle but not because I don’t enjoy updating my readers with news about the world of high-res audio. And it’s not because the audiophile world has come to its senses with writers and marketing types suddenly reporting actual facts. As I scan promotional posts and websites of record labels and equipment manufacturers, I still see the same absurd claims about vinyl LPs, expensive cables, and new formats like MQA. I push back when I see a nonsensical post on Facebook about MQA or high-resolution versions of Bob Dylan’s catalog (HDtracks this morning – they were recorded as standard-res master and don’t get better at 96/24). The basics of high-resolution audio have been presented on this website for over 4 years and are explained at length in my book (Music and Audio: A User Guide to Better Sound Read to the end for a special holiday discount).

But an article in a recent issue of Digital Music News about a new release by electronic music composer/performer and surround music pioneer Suzanne Ciani titled “LIVE Quadraphonic” caught my attention. During my days of study at Cal Arts and my association with the “godfather” of electronic music Morton Subotnick, I came to know Suzanne’s work and actually composed works on the same Buchla 200 series analog synthesizers that she used for this recording/performance. The electronic music studios at Cal Arts were full of the latest Buchla equipment!

The interesting part of this project for me was the decision by the producer/label owner KamranV and artist to release the album on a matrixed QS quadraphonic vinyl LP! Here we are in 2018 — almost 2019 — and they actually believe that selling 227 copies at $227 each (they are signed and numbered and comes with a QS hardware decoder) is a wiser move than using traditional MCH formats like DVD, Blu-ray, or file downloads. The record company describes the project as “This is a live recording that was performed by Suzanne Ciani in San Francisco on March 5, 2016. It was Suzanne’s first solo Buchla performance in 40 years and was played on a Buchla 200e System. As all of Suzanne’s Buchla performances, the performance was quadraphonic. Suzanne has since toured the world, exclusively in Quad”.

The producer explained his decision after a YT reviewer posted a video:

“This project is academic. When I met Suzanne (who as been working in spatial sound since the 60s), I realized the opportunity to collaborate with her as we fast approach a completely immersive digital world (VR, etc). Unlike the 70s when quad really made its big push, the technology to create and enjoy is now much more sophisticated and much less expensive.

All of the other incredible immersive audio tech out there like Atmos, DTS-X, and high-order ambisonics is incredible and quite a huge positive step forward however what I realized is the reason why quad and even 5.1 music didn’t quite hit was it was actually a creative issue. With todays new formats it is very expensive to create; just the speakers and outputs, alone. Relatively speaking, it was the same with quad in the 70s. Think of it. Even in homes, people have so many more speakers: Sonos, Alexa, Computers, Bluetooth speakers, twenty sets of earbuds. In the 70s, if you had one set of speakers and one of those little white single-ear earphone things you were the coolest kid on the block and hosting parties every night. The creation tools were even more rare and expensive back then.

With quad today, not only is it fairly inexpensive to add a couple of speakers to some extra outputs on a DAW but more importantly its a hell of a lot easier for a musician or producer to get their brain around writing music in quad… even easier than in 5.1. Try it. You’ll be surprised. With today’s tools once you can create in quad, you can pretty easily render your work all the way out to the object-based formats like Atmos. Think of it like having a vector graphic on your computer then all of a sudden having more pixels to work with on your monitor… more resolution! Of course the other cool thing about Regular Matrix/QS/DLPII/Involve is it can easily be distributed through any existing format: Streaming, Download, Vinyl, Cassette, Youtube, Radio, whatever…

The goal of our release LIVE Quadraphonic is to a) pay respect to a true innovator: Suzanne Ciani. b) Inspire others fearlessly create in spatial audio. c) make this immersive audio better… generally VR sound isn’t great right now and the problem isn’t technical, it is creative. Not enough people are practicing spatial sound creation. Go forth.

Other notes:
– why vinyl? because its such a purely analog format that people understand, it very nicely illustrates the unique possibilities of matrixed spatial audio. Plus it looks cool.
– I worked on this project for about two years. One big part of that was research. I worked with folks from France, Japan, Australia and the US (all thanked on the record) to make this possible. Though its not perfect, I decided on Regular Matrix (QS) because of its excellent balance of quality, compatibility and accessibility. There are other ways to do quad or other spatial formats but in my opinion Regular Matrix (QS) has the best balance between these factors. Also, the Regular Matrix math is public domain. You can listen through any existing distribution channel. It sounds incredible without much hassle.
– Regarding the price. When we sell out of all of these we will be at break even for the project. We had hard costs of ~$50k to make it happen. The $227 and 227 copies for sale happened to work out close enough to $50k and the model number of the quadraphonic mixer on Suzanne’s Buchla is the 227. Fun, right? We tried to keep this as inexpensive as possible.
– The goal of this isn’t to sell a bunch of records or be everything to everyone. It is to inspire (see above). I personally hand numbered each record. Suzanne signed letters for each person and you’d be surprised how much work it is to make sure numbers in four places of the release are to assemble properly. The record is available on all streaming services too. You can easily use your vintage QS/Regular Matrix decoder, Pro Logic II decoder in music mode (i like dimension setting -2 or -3, depending on the music), our encoder or the Involve Audio decoder (its really the best out there).
– for those wanting an SACD, Blu-Ray, DVD-A or other physical format, we have no intention on releasing (or even making more vinyl of this release, for that matter). In fact, if you’d like to make your own, you all can download the masters at http://bit.ly/livequadraphonic …I have discrete masters and all kinds of different formats up there for you to burn/play from. Of course, we would love for you to also buy the vinyl and/or listen on Spotify or whatever you prefer so that we can break even and maybe even get paid a little bit for our work. You decide.
– In making this record, we learned a lot so we’re currently working on a FREE real-time plugin so that anyone can MUCH more easily make a Quadraphonic vinyl, streams, live broadcasts, cassettes or whatever. We don’t know when it will be done yet but you can sign up here and we’ll let you know when it is: http://cykik.com/quad

I applaud KamranV’s advocacy of surround music. He’s right on a number of points. We live in an increasingly immersive world and our entertainment outlets should embrace popular multichannel formats — 5.1, 7.1, 11.2, Atmox, DTS X, Auro 3D, and even ambisonics. However, choosing to use a dead format like QS quad doesn’t enhance MCH’s chances in the world. I seriously doubt there are more than a few audiophiles who remember and “understand” how matrixed quad works as he claims. It failed as a commercial format in the 1980s for a number of reasons. First, there were two competing formats (QS and SQ), second – the technology was half-baked, and finally, the weren’t enough installed systems or releases to make it commercially viable.

But with the popularity of home theater systems and the establishment of digital surround music formats (DVD, SACD, Blu-ray, and downloadable files), MCH is actually EASY to understand — hundreds of thousands of households have MCH home theaters thanks to their low cost and the popularity of movies and concerts in 5.1. Tens of thousands of automobiles have surround sound installed in them. Many artists, composers, and engineers DO know how to be creative with MCH music and it’s not expensive at all to mix in surround. In fact, I know a few engineers — including my Grammy-winning friend Robert Margouleff — who mix in surround using headphones. When working at home, I use my YARRA 3DX sound bar to mix in 5.1 without multiple speakers or binaural headphones. IMHO it makes no sense to reach back to a failed format and try to resurrect it when simpler, cheaper, and far better digital technologies are available. Three cheers for MCH music but let’s do it in an intelligent way — a vinyl Quad QS record and the required QS decoder for $227 are not the answer.

I was very impressed that Suzanne Ciani and KamranV chose to provide the discrete and matrixed files free of charge to those with no interest in the vinyl LP. I downloaded the files and was thrilled to hear the familiar sound of the Buchla 200 system! The music is very interesting, the recording quality quite high (there were the digital files – I can’t speak to the quality of the disc), the quad mixes compelling, and the sounds engaging. Kudos to Suzanne! Let’s push for more surround music in formats that make sense — DVD-Audio, Blu-ray, and downloads. BTW My iTrax.com site is unable to complete transactions for downloads right now…TLS version incompatibility. If you want to acquire some of my recordings — in any format — please write to me directly. I’m working on an upgrade but the site is problematic right now.

If you’re still reading this post, I would like to report to those with an interest in the YARRA 3DX 3D audio sound bar that I have been in regular touch with the Comhear CEO I’ve even spoken to him on the phone a couple of times. Unfortunately, I’m not able to share details about the company’s business outreach, the reasons why the manufacturing run hasn’t happened, or what steps are being taken to resolve the outstanding issues. But I can share that I’m pushing very hard to get the production run started AND the final units delivered to the backer community — one way or another. There are reasons to be encouraged. He has told me that official Comhear updates are unlikely, so don’t look for any information coming from the remaining company personnel. My responses to emails and comments will continue because I feel a personal and professional obligation to do what I can to bring the YARRA 3DX to the backer community AND eventually to the wider public. Please allow me to continue my efforts for the next couple of months. Hopefully, I will be able to share good news soon.

For those looking for the perfect holiday gift this season, I’m offering a discount on the physical book and Blu-ray Demo Disc. Use the coupon code XMAS2018 and get 30% off the retail price. Go to Music and Audio to order.

Forward this post to a friend and help us spread the word about HD-Audio Forward this post to a friend and help us spread the word about HD-Audio

Share

About Author

Dr. AIX

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.

(12) Readers Comments

  1. Mark,

    Interesting read, thanks again for what you do.

    I’m less than impressed with the Yarra 3DX current position, not even being at production is disturbing regardless of what steps are in place to fix problems.

    I’m going to take a privately expressed pessimistic position as of now (i.e. I will not bad mouth Comhear etc in public forums), in the hope that when I do recieve what I’ve paid for I will be suitably impressed.

    It is a shame that there is no feedback or explanation as to what issues are stalling delivery, and your words “remaining company personnel” doesn’t read well.

    Please carry on with pushing for production, I’m behind you 100%.

    Cheers,

    Les.

    • Everything is ready for production…the parts, the metal, the boards etc. All that’s needed is for the CEO to hit the “start” button.

  2. “I was very impressed that Suzanne Ciani and KamranV chose to provide the discrete and matrixed files free of charge to those with no interest in the vinyl LP” Can’t find anything via Google, do you have the link?

    • The link is in the comment from KamranV…I just made it a hyperlink.

      • I downloaded the files and played a couple of them. Definitely not what I expected. I’m glad I got to sample them though even though I wouldn’t consider buying one of them.

        • I actually like this type of music and was heavily involved with it during my university studies. Suzanne is one of the best…but it is definitely outside of the mainstream. A quad disc for $227 with a hardware decoder is a mistake in my opinion.

  3. Interesting that you made this post about matrixed quad stereo audio as I was just thinking about those albums last night. I happen to have several of that type of vinyl and was thinking of pulling them out of my stored vinyl and playing them. As far as I know, they have never been released in any other issues :-(. Before I saw your post I had thought that matrixed quad was a long-dead format :-(. Mike

  4. Thanks Mark for your continued effort regarding the Yarra 3DX project. I’m behind you 100% and am patiently awaiting my unit.

    I’ve been a Suzanne Ciani fan for many years now – going back to the the days when New Age was all the rage. I’ll have to check out the files you mentioned although right now I don’t have a working surround sound setup. I was expecting my Yarra soundbar any day and didn’t reset up my 5 speaker system when I remodeled my family room. But I’d like to grab them while I can.

  5. My first experiments with Quadraphonic sound in 1974 were a bitter disappointment. It did not work anything like the way the hyperbole advertised. It does not sound like hearing music performed in a concert hall. I concluded it was a technical failure which IMO is why it died, not because of the plethora of different systems. It doesn’t work and it can’t be made to work.

    Being a very analytical person and having had a superb education in math, the physical sciences, and many fields of engineering (my major field of study was electrical engineering and that’s much of what I do to earn a living) I wondered why it didn’t work and if anything would ever be made to work. That’s when I jumped down the rabbit hole. I forgot about it but my subconscious mind didn’t and evidently started working on the problem. Several weeks later like a bolt out of the blue it handed my conscious mind the answer. It was a startling moment, one I will never forget. It handed me a method for analyzing sound fields that upon further research no one had ever seen before. It showed me the effect of room acoustics for any room, the way sound is propagated into space, the way it arrives at the listener, the relationship between them, and it took apart the arriving sound field and showed me what room acoustics does to sound that makes you hear it the way you do. The analysis was straightforward based on vector analysis, Fourier Transform Theory, and mapping functions. Then I understood how concert halls worked, what had to be done to duplicate their effect, and why none of the systems developed up to that time came remotely close to working. I call the theory “Acoustic Energy Field Transfer Theory.”

    That sent me on a road that lead me down the path of Electronic Environmental Acoustic Simulation. My patent is 4,332,979. This is the kindergarten version. I watched the industry to see how long it would take for them to catch up. In 1988 at Delft University Wave field Synthesis was invented. Examining the two inventions very carefully it appears that the two inventions reach the same conclusion through entirely different paths. They are in all likelihood the same invention but the compromises they made on their demonstration prototypes were different from mine.They are the same in that the resulting equations can be manipulated to turn one into the other.

    If you read my patent, ignore the first three figures. They were part of a measuring system the Patent Office judged to be a different art requiring a separate application that was never filed. The most important equation describes the relationship of the first arriving sound to all of its reflections. It looks at them in 3 space. It uses a simple trick to untangle the Gordian knot of understanding it. Usually we look at waveforms as Amplitude as a function of time or of frequency. This does both at the same time. The relative location in time of each reflection is kept in the time domain but the description of its loudness and spectral change from the first arriving sound is in the frequency domain. This allows a complete description of every reflection of every of sound from every direction arriving from one specific point in space where the source is to another specific point in space where the listener is. Where there are multiple sources the resulting field is merely the superpostion of all of them. Move either point or reorienting the source and the relationship changes. Put people in the audience and it changes again.

    In speaking with people working with WFS they have several problems. One problem is measuring their relationships which they call “capture.” An impulse used as a source won’t work because it is impossible to separate the locations of the reflections in time from the spectral changes of each reflection. It took me several weeks to figure out a different method and I almost gave up the entire idea before I did figure one out. It’s probably the only secret about it I have left.

    The other problem they seem to have is that they must still rely on anechoic sources or recordings for their process to work. As I originally envisioned this idea as a scientific laboratory I had the same requirement. But fools rush in where angels fear to tread and I tried to adapt it to commercially made recordings. I didn’t have much hope for it but I tried anyway. And to my astonishment it worked far better than I expected. (I was sure I’d have been done in by the Haas effect. Didn’t happen and later I figured out why.) In this variant to keep things relatively simple and affordable (it’s not expensive but it is complicated) I used the listening room as a diffuser. Two criteria were, that the source of the reverberant field could not be detectable by audible cues and that the effect would be inescapable in the listening room. I’ve met both criteria. Quadraphonic sound meets neither.

    I’ve kept an eye on my competitors. Ambiosonic sound was a joke. Ambiophonic sound was interesting but ineffective. Its close relative 3D sound is also ineffective. Recent reports show that Edgar Choueiri figured out how directional detection really works (the typical explanation of first arrival in one ear, loudest arrival in one ear, and HRTF is wrong.) As a result he has managed to create directional effects from headphones normally not possible. The trick is simple based on how direction is detected. Through persistence of hearing when you turn your head sound arrives sooner in one ear than the other than it did before you turned it. That is compared to the degree you turned your head. It is no accident that your eardrums are directly adjacent to your inner ear that senses the position of your head. Choueiri delays both left and right signals and watches your head turn with a TV camera apparently. As you turn your head the delay in one ear increases and the delay in the other ear decreases. His 3D system still won’t work as intended. 3D sound and Ambiophonic sound are both variants on cross channel phase cancellation of acoustic fields. So far WFS is the only serious challenger and in its current form it is only a laboratory curiosity.

  6. Unfortunately Leo Beranek’s web site that had several of his published papers as free downloads is no longer available. Those which compared measured data of concert halls and opera houses with preferences of golden ears looking to find correlations between objective data and subjective assessment were extremely valuable explaining each variable as to how it was measured, what it meant, and its correlation to other parameters and relative importance in subjectivity.

    One parameter that was important is diffusivity index. This is a measure of the extent to which reflections of sound are defocused, that is a measure of directional uniformity of reflections. High is good, low is bad. Lateral reflections are important for another parameter called Listener Envelopment LE or in some texts LEV. In a subsequent paper Beranek increased the relative importance of both vertical reflections from the ceiling and reflections from the back of the hall in regard to computing LE.

    Quadraphonic Sound and its comparables has a very low effective diffusivity index, the reflected energy sounds coming from two very narrow horizintal angles generallly aimed at the listner. In the ultimate buildout of Both EEAS and WFS the ideal configuration is a dome of direct aiming speakers shoulder to shoulder. It should be kept in mind that while the uniformity of energy of reflections arriving at the listener in rapid succession from different directions is high, these are vectors that vary in loudness, time and spectral balance with direction of arrival. The EEAS prototype adapted for listening to commercial recordings which uses 16 small speakers around the perimeter of the room aimed away from the listener by location and baffling and aimed at the walls and ceiling instead has by far the highest equivalent diffusivity index of any electronic sound reproducing system. By adjusting these parameters very high LE levels can be achieved easily.

  7. A popular YouTuber that makes videos covering classic hifi components and “lost” media formats has made a video on the Quadrophonic album as well.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VMu-BoECblE

    Cheers.

    • I saw the video. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *