I am fay-moose, got this one published in TAS:
I am always interested in your updates on the world of surround sound. As an SACD aficionado, I think it prudent to not always include "surround" and "SACD" in the same thought. They are different and, to my mind, SACD was intended as a modernization of the audio process and not necessarily as a surround medium. While many SACD disks have multi channels, many people buy them just for the stereo. I have been collecting SACDs and have a number of disks touting surround channels but have never set up for surround.
Like many audiophiles, my peers and I like to get together to discuss the hobby. I volunteered at our May event to do a surround demo thinking I had all the gear around and I could really make a show of the new format. Like most projects I take on, I began with the thought, "how hard can this be?" My vision was a decent room with a small cluster of people huddled in the middle ooing and ahhing at the great sound. I hoped to find a couple of good tracks and just let people take them in. I would have to drag them out to make room for the next listeners.
I lugged 500 pounds of speakers into a not-too-great room on the second floor and balanced the speaker levels. A number of people were showing up for the different programs and there were only two rooms. Luckily, someone showed up with an expensive five-channel preamp. We were good to go. Right off the bat we had trouble finding good surround music. We had maybe 15 disks between us and all seemed . . . well . . . bad. Someone had Toto, a very good recording of a group for which I don't care. DSOTM was cool but it has zero resemblance to live anything. A Telarc Berlioz disk had great three channel and terrible rears. Same with Ray Brown "Live at the Loa". In fact, all of the rear tracks sounded out of place and distracting. I tried toning them down and it did not help at all. People started floating in an out of the room because they were bored and there was a mixing demo in the next room.
Finally, I shut off the rears and the whole scene changed. People came back oohing and aahing at the wonderful three channel front stage. It was really nice; instruments placed well, nice depth and open. Especially the Ray Brown and Berlioz. That was the best we could do. I am sure someone will write that I had the rears improperly set up or the room was faulty, but I don't think so. The rears simply did not provide any assistance to the overall program material on any disk.
So my take on surround it that three channels in the front can really add depth and stage. There are some good disks out there but not all are well done. Rears have no value yet. Surround is a new medium and perhaps like CD, the engineers will figure out how to make them work and I will give it another chance in a year or two. For now, I will make room for a center channel in my listening room.
Copyright Peter Jay Smith 2005 Return to helarc.com