Stereo sucks! That is the message on the front of my old DTS Entertainment t-shirt. I’m not sure I would be quite that harsh, but it is absolutely true that listening to a great recording in surround is much, much more involving than listening to traditional stereo. Of course, there are all sorts of reasons why audiophiles generally don’t embrace surround music. They include having limited space, limited funds to duplicate the great signal path and speakers that they have in their dedicated stereo system, the spouse acceptance factor and the lack of content in the genres they prefer. All valid issues…but it’s doesn’t mean that you can’t use you “home theater” for music enjoyment.
When I get the chance to chat with new customers at trade shows, I routinely ask anyone that approaches whether they have a Blu-ray player. I’m interested because those that answer that they do; get the pitch to try my 2013 HD-Audio Sampler (which has 41 tracks, multiple mixes including two 5.1 surround mixes and HD-Video of the productions). I know that all they have to do is spend about 30 minutes with that disc and they’ll be hooked.
Many times the response to the question is, “I have a Blu-ray player…but it’s not in my audio room. It’s used in the home theater for watching movies.” Audiophiles segregate their “real” music listening between their man caves where expensive turntables, phono preamplifier, stereo tube amplifiers, and speakers dwell and the home theater where everyone is welcome and the equipment more pedestrian.
My pitch then continues by urging the visitor to “just try the sampler”. By sitting in their home theater and skipping through the tracks, they will learn three things. First, they will finally have a chance to hear real HD-Audio tracks (those made from the start at better than CD resolution and unfettered by all of the usual processing), get familiar with the artists and repertoire that AIX Records has recorded, and stretch beyond the world of stereo music by switching to one of the alternate mixes. I’m especially interested in getting them to experience the aggressive 5.1 “stage” surround mixes, which are my favorite.
Most of the time it works. If the attendee has a reasonable 5.1 surround home theater, they will purchase the sampler and give it a shot…AND they will understand why I prefer sitting in the middle of the music. But there’s a problem. We’re living in an age of downloadable or streaming content. There are very few music productions and download sites that make surround music available.
I know Channel Classics and 2L sell surround versions of their productions but they are exceptions not the norm. All 85 of my productions have multiple surround mixes AND they are all available on the iTrax.com website. But what do you do with the surround files after you’ve downloaded them? How do you play them? What sort of hardware do you need? You’re going to find that your Mac Mini with Amarra or Audirvana or your PCM music server running JRiver can’t handle multichannel music.
Discs are easy. Your multichannel SACDs, DVD-Audio discs, DTS CDs, Blu-ray Pure Audio discs and even DVD-Video titles deliver surround music easily. Simply slide the disc in the player and presto…out comes decoded 5.1 music. But when you have a downloaded surround music file, you have to be a little clever to get your 5.1 surround music fix.
Tomorrow, I’ll share some of the easiest ways to play surround downloads.