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

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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.

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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.

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