Feb 122010
 

Here’s one hrrundivbakshi and I should check out!

RTH: Both quad and 5.1 are or were promoted as “surround sound.” 5.1 seems to have won the technological battle. Is quad better, and if so why?

armyofquad: First of all Dolby doesn’t = 5.1. There are other 5.1 digital formats. But I’ll spare you all the boring technical details. One of the differences between quad and 5.1 is the number of channels, with 5.1 you have the addition of the center speaker and subwoofer. I’ve found that the center speaker isn’t essential, but there are benefits to having a center. The subwoofer can be helpful with the low end. But, it isn’t necessarily essential to have a subwoofer channel; most systems with a sub will feed the sub from the other channels using a low pass filter, so you don’t need a designated channel devoted to the sub to enjoy the benefits of it. The biggest difference between quadraphonic and modern 5.1 is the technology. Releasing quad onto tape was easy enough, just use 4 tracks. But the real challenge for quad was releasing things on the common format of the day, vinyl. There were several different formats for quad vinyl, with 3 of them being the most common, SQ, QS, and CD-4 (also called Quadradisc). They each had their limitations, and were basically different ways to try and get 4 channels of audio onto a 2-channel format. With modern digital technology, there aren’t the same limitations that had to be dealt with in the days of vinyl. You no longer have to figure out a way to get 4 channels of audio onto something that can really only hold 2.

Lenny is fired up over quad!

RTH: Do you remember the first quad album you bought to hear on this system?

armyofquad: Finding quad recordings was a bit difficult before I discovered eBay. My first quad 8-track tape was Highlights from Leonard Bernstein’s Mass. In high school I was in the marching band, and our show’s theme my senior year was Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, so that one grabbed my attention when I saw it for sale on a website somewhere.

RTH: Could original quad mixes of albums like Metal Machine Music be issued in 5.1 format, possibly with the center channel suppressed?

armyofquad: Yes. You can leave the center and sub channels blank and issue quad mixes on DVD, or other digital formats. That’s exactly what is being done with this Metal Machine Music reissue. You don’t have to use all channels when creating a 5.1 disc. But, at times some discs have been issued of quad mixes with center and/or sub channels derived from the quad channels.

RTH: While following this specific medium of recorded music, I’m sure you’ve come across some unlikely quadraphonic releases. What’s the least expected quad release you’ve heard?

armyofquad: Well, I’d probably put Metal Machine Music into that category. To me it makes sense that Lou created a quad mix of Metal Machine Music, but that it was released, and released in quad, is a bit of a head scratcher. I’m very glad it did get a quad release, though.

Another one I find particularly strange is a quad release of John Cage’s Winter Music. Winter Music is a piece for piano that consists of 10 pages of music with different chords on them and spaces between the chords. It can be played by 1 to 10 musicians, each musician grabs one or a few pages and plays the chords. There is no indication of dynamics on the music, or the amount of time that should be waited between chords. As you can see, randomness is a large part of this piece; no two performances would ever sound the same. This particular recording, the musician played the piece four times, not listening to the previous performances when recording the next one, and one is put in each speaker. It is an interesting idea to record it in that way, and it is interesting to listen to. The idea of recording a piece of music that is never supposed to sound the same for any two performances is a bit silly, though. It also makes me think of the John Cage interview I once saw where he stated he disliked the idea of recording music, because he once overheard a kid at a performance of a Stravinsky piece conducted by the composer state “that’s not how it’s supposed to go” due to the kid being used to a particular recording.

This one will spur alexmagic to try quad!

RTH: Is there music more or less suited for quad? It seems like the point of quad or surround sound is the feeling of being immersed in music. So is something like MMM the perfect music for the medium? Is rock music, based on the image of a band onstage with the music coming at the listener from one direction, the “wrong” music for quad?

armyofquad: There can be varying opinions on this, but I think most kinds of music work great in surround. There is a big difference in seeing a live performance and listening to an album. Albums are studio creations, different takes are recorded, parts overdubbed, sounds tweaked, which is very different from a live experience. As many have demonstrated, one could really use the recording studio itself as an instrument in the creation of an album. When you add surround sound to that, it expands the possibility of what you can create in the studio, allowing you the freedom to place instruments and sounds anywhere around the listener. There are people that prefer stereo to surround, because they feel its “unnatural” to hear something come from behind you, when at a live concert you would see the band in front of you. It’s a personal preference thing. But, I must also point out there have been live concerts done in quad/surround. Pink Floyd and ELP have done quad concerts.

RTH: Is there any one album that you wish could be released in quad or some other surround-sound format that never has been?

armyofquad: Many. I could make quite a long list of things I wish I could get in surround. In particular, I’d really like to hear Stereolab’s albums in surround. Their music just screams for it.

RTH: If someone wants to try checking out quadraphonic sound, how would you suggest they get started?

armyofquad: I would suggest reading up on it a bit. There is a wealth of information on www.quadraphonicquad.com. You want to know a bit more about the various formats and equipment so that you know what you’re buying before putting any money into putting together a quad system. It might be better to start by getting a modern 5.1 system (still doing research before buying anything). There have been many DVDs, DVD-As, and SACDs of surround music put out that one could easily play by purchasing a 5.1 system and the correct players. Oppo makes a nice blu-ray player that can play SACD and DVD-A. Also, for those that want to get into quad, but don’t want to track down hard-to-find, out-of-print recordings, deal with vintage decoders, and figure out how to properly setup and calibrate decoders for quad vinyl, there are many of us that convert quad material to newer digital formats as hobbies, and share these. I’m not sure how much discussion of bootlegs is allowed on your site, so I won’t go into too much detail. But with a little searching and asking, one should be able to find these things.

RTH: Finally a somewhat funny question before we enter our Dugout Chatter segment, but how deep are you into surround sound? Can you still listen to regular albums in stereo, or do they leave you wanting too much?

armyofquad: I own many stereo CDs and records; there’s no way I could give them up. I listen to music for the music first. Surround is the icing on the cake. However, there are many times when listening to something in stereo I find myself wishing I could hear it in surround.

RTH: Following are some questions in our Dugout Chatter segment.

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  10 Responses to “It Takes an Army of Quad”

  1. alexmagic

    I’m insulted by the implication that I don’t already own several ELO releases with quadraphonic mixes on them. My copies of the quad mixes of “Mr. Radio” and “Whisper in the Night” and I say good day to you, sir.

  2. Mr. Moderator

    I owe you one, Magic Man! Sorry.

  3. alexmagic

    I SAID GOOD DAY!

  4. A brilliant and informative interview with a REALLY cool and helpful person. My compliments to all extraquadinary town peoples involved.

  5. Well said, writehear now. I heartly concur.

    I believe the new Nick Cave reissues come with 5.1 mixes. He’s certainly not an artist one associates with audiophiles. I have the reissue of The Firstborn is Dead, which has a big, spooky, cavernous sound, and I can see how that would sound pretty awesome with the right equipment.

  6. diskojoe

    That was a pretty good interview & a good read.

    If any of you are interested in researching Quad in the ’70s, Google Books has back issues of Billboard Magazine from that period that has articles and ads for the equipment & records & even special issues dedicated to Quad.

  7. 2000 Man

    I had a Quad 8 Track when I was a kid. The stereo it was part of originally only came with two speakers, and you were supposed to buy the box next to it with two more for just a little extra. I ended up with some kind of Radio Shack’s for my second pair, and they sounded pretty good. I remember having several Quad 8 tracks, like The Best of The Doors. I didn’t really like the way that many speakers presented the soundstage. I kind of just like two speakers.

    My other complaint about Quad was everything was more expensive. The receiver, the cartridge and turntable (that’s why I just did the 8 track in Quad) and another pair of speakers. It turned whatever room you put it in into a decorating nightmare, trying to fit a stereo and four speakers in. My mom demanded it be in my room, not the extra room because then I’d move the furniture so I could hear all those speakers.

    I’d probably like it more if Malaysian kids had built stereo equipment in the 70’s. Then I could have afforded all that equipment. As it was, I felt that if I spent the same amount on a two channel system, I’d get a better stereo.

    That Doors album didn’t seem to benefit from the Quad experience at all. Dark Side of the Moon and Edgar Winter’s album with Frankenstein were kind of cool, but only in parts. It seemed to me that a lot of time it was like General Motors’ four speaker stereo setup in the old man’s Olds. They called it “Crossfire Stereo” and in the front, the left channel was on the left and the right was on the right. In the back, the right was on the left and the left was on the right. The effect was essentially mono using four speakers.

  8. @ 2000 Man

    I really enjoyed the clear sightedness of your recall. VERY interesting memories popping up there with the 8 track stereo in cars thing. I remember having ELP’s Brain Salad Surgery on 8 track in quad. I believe the case was pink in color. I also remember listening to Physical Graffiti on 8 track in the car only I am pretty certain it wasn’t Quad. I think the last 8 track I ever bought was Grand Funk’s Born To Die.

    You’re whole offering was great. Thanks!

    PS. You most likely already know, but just in case you don’t: I bet you would really enjoy the SACDs that have been released of some of those old Quad mixes. I think most of them sound much better than the original Quad mixes. (sacrilege!) That center channel action does a lot for the sound imagery. With the delay settings that one can control on most AVRs these days, you can get some awesome imagery and detail.

  9. BigSteve

    I wonder if they do quad mixes of string quartets where each instrument is in its own channel. Wouldn’t that be weird, to feel like you were sitting in amongst the players?

    When I’m at the movies, I always think it’s weird when sound comes from behind me. I don’t like the feeling of being ‘in the middle of the action.’ Come to think of it, I don’t like that feeling in real life either. I guess it’s just my nature to keep my distance.

    I will refrain from mentioning Brecht’s concept of the ‘distancing effect,’ and I won’t use his word — Verfremdungseffekt — because you guys might think that was pretentious.

  10. I’ve not heard a string quartet quad mix done like that, but there have been classical quad mixes done that put the listener in the middle of the orchestra, which is an interesting way to listen. But that seems to be frowned upon now. There was a quad release of Bartok – Concerto for Orchestra that had this kind of mix. The album cover artwork shows the arrangement of the instruments around the listener, and has an explanation in the gatefold cover. This performance was reissued on SACD, with the same front cover artwork showing the layout of instruments around the listener (the same artwork was used for the original stereo issue as well), and the SACD also included 5.1 surround. Except that they didn’t use the quad mix, or attempt to mix it anything like it. They just put some reverb in the back to try and simulate a concert hall. It was quite disappointing.

 
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