Multichannel music is an avenue that audiophiles should explore and embrace. AIX and our partners demonstrated a real high-resolution audio system in the Lakeshore B Ballroom at Axpona and I know that Emotiva also featured surround sound sourced from an OPPO BDP-105. It’s coming…no, it’s already here! There are millions of home theater systems in homes around the country with surround sound. There are at least 16 different automobiles that can deliver surround sound and I count at least a dozen systems for delivering surround sound through a standard set of headphones.
There will come a time when the majority of room at one of the big trade shows will feature surround music. You heard it hear first.
I’ve been a huge advocate of surround music mixing and delivery since I first heard a surround music track over 25 years ago. The arrival of the DVD-Video format made it feasible for consumers to enjoy surround music. And the record companies produced and released a large number of albums remixed in surround…at least at the beginning of the 21st century. They don’t do very much now.
Audio writers like Robert Harley and Andrew Quint of TAS are supporters of multichannel audio. So why is it still so rare to find a demonstration room at a trade show like AXPONA playing music in surround sound? Every time I demonstrate the difference between a stereo mix and a “stage” perspective mix, there are very few listeners that don’t prefer the immersive nature of a good surround mix.
Artist’s support surround music. This is a quote from Steve Miller:
“With the Surround Sound mix, people will finally hear [Fly Like An Eagle] the way I originally intended it to be heard…I always tell people that making a stereo record is a trick. You go in and do all this stuff, and then you listen to it – and you can never get the full spectrum. You have to fool people into thinking they’re getting this big spectrum. It sounds a lot better than mono, but now, with surround, everything opens up and breathes. You hear the instruments. And on the new Eagle, there’s a lot of movement in the mix, but it’s not gimmicky.”
Producer’s and audio engineers love it, too. Here’s a quote from Grammy winning engineer Elliot Scheiner:
“Every person that I’ve taken into the studio or the car that is hearing it for the first time is completely blown away. They go, ‘Wow, I’ve never heard anything like this before, it’s incredible!’ And, then it’s hard to go back to stereo, and I agree! Once you’ve heard 5.1, it’s difficult to go back.”
And consumers find surround music a completely new…and better way…to hear their music. I got this comment from a member of the Bay Area Audio Society a few years ago following a demo:
“Nice thing from this event was that I got to walk out of there with a free sampler of AIX releases with DVD-A on one side and DVD-V on the other. Not having a DVD-A player, the choice of sides to play was pretty easy. So, I put this disc into my player last weekend to give it a fair shake. Knowing that both the ‘stage’ and ‘audience’ perspectives were available for each song, I opted to hear the ‘stage’ mix for all of my listening. Again, I notice right off that it is a bit weird having the drums in the right rear of the room, but after a while I also noticed that this mix is very easy to listen to and identify individual instruments in the soundfield. I stuck with it and listened to most of the extensive list of samples provided on this disc. At the second to last song, I decided to switch over to the ‘audience’ mix. Whoa! After becoming used to the ‘stage’ mix, the ‘audience’ mix literally folded into a flat plane along the wall that I have my front speakers on. Sure, this was now a very traditional mix, but I never realized how flat and lifeless it is. It was like looking at a picture hanging on the wall instead of literally experiencing the music around me. Even more interesting, to me, is that in the ‘audience’ mix there was still significant energy in the rear speakers, but it was a flat presentation in front of me. Going back to ‘stage’ mix all of the instruments opened up, got plenty of space around them and lost a lot of congested feeling in the sound.”
Give it a chance and you’ll find a new level of enjoyment…and then be frustrated at the lack of content.
The music industry is missing a huge opportunity. But there are signs that some hardware companies are pursuing multichannel music with the announcement of 8 channel DACs from exaSound, and Merging Technologies. I know I piqued the interest of Benchmark’s lead designer after the weekend in Chicago. The final line in a recent email closed with, “By the way, you have converted me from being a stereo-only listener.” They say the first step begins with acceptance…we’ll see where it leads.
To be continued…