Surround sound

December 6, 2016
 by Paul McGowan

One of the joys of the upcoming holiday season for me is music. The best venue is right around the corner.

The University of Colorado is within walking distance of our home and each year the college of music puts on a sold out spectacular in the university’s Macky auditorium—one of the better sounding venues I have attended. Just take a look at this gorgeous architecture, including the horn loaded stage.

Macky Auditorium

Two of the more remarkable highlights of the Christmas show: real, traditional Christmas songs + Santa, and surround sound.

Indeed, surround sound. Terri scored for us orchestra seating and midway through the event the balcony pews are filled with choral singers. Voices surround you while the orchestra croons. Amazing.

The finale is Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus from his masterpiece The Messiah. Closing my eyes for the sound to wash over me in full 360˚ is Christmas present enough.

Of course I cannot listen to the hifi for some time after an event like this.

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27 comments on “Surround sound”

  1. But didn’t you tell us earlier, Paul, that you had build a home theatre from the scratch. This should give a nice surround sound, doesn’t it. Or are the recording techniques used for surround sound even more ill-conceived than those for stereo? However having read the article series about subwoofer installation in copper magazine it would be nice to learn how the sound in your home theatre has progressed.

  2. Paul, you are telling a truth:

    Most people who truly love good music, after attending a non-amplified concert, are reluctant to turn on their equipment and try to listen to music, no matter how sophisticated their systems are.

    Is that, they are aware that trying to reproduce at home the music as it sounds in the concert hall, is utopian.

    1. That’s it. It is about music! It is a no-brainer to let sound at home a news anchorman or a single singer as realistic as in the studio. The problems (deviation from real life) grow exponentially when the size of the sound source grows (grand piano, multiple singers or instruments) as well as the number of loudspeakers increases.

  3. Wow Paul that is a gorgeous hall, how nice to have it in your backyard. Our church had a Christmas worship service Sunday and I counted 11 microphones that I could see. 3 main singers, full choir, orchestra with Piano and it sounded really good except I thought the sound levels on the front 3 singers were low. The first time I heard the horns blast I felt like I was hearing some compression. Other than that it was all impressive and we were only about 6 rows from the stage. The church invested and employed many people in the sound system and accoustics. Midas digital of the UK, Telex, Sony, Shure and others along with integrators installed the system and treatments in 2006. Enjoy your holiday or Christmas.

  4. I recall the 1st time I heard surround sound. It was in the mid 70s at Gordon Holt’s home and it was artificial but well done. You didn’t notice the surround affect except when it was turned off. The most surprising affect noticed when it was turned off was that the bass quality went down.

  5. I have absolutely no problem enjoying both home and concert venues in their place. They don’t compete with each other. At Disney Hall, one of the finest concert halls in the world, I enjoy the moment with perfect acoustics and world-class artists. Since I can’t live there, I can fully appreciate the intimate music space I’ve created in my dedicated room without detraction from the live event. It fills my musical needs until the next live concert. Isn’t that why we love this hobby ?

  6. Hi Paul, I’m reminded of my experience attending the LA Philharmonic at the Mondavi Center in Davis, CA a few weeks ago. I was in row 6, middle–far and away the best seats I’ve ever had for a concert there or anywhere–and Dudamel led them in Mahler’s 9th. It is impossible to compare that experience to anything I’ve ever heard, anywhere. Part of this was being in the artistic moment with everyone else. I was so aware that our efforts in hi-fi are a feeble (but noble) approximation of this in an artificial (viz. home) setting. Yeah, I, too, gave my stereo a break for a couple of days!

  7. Rarely does the concept of ‘Surround Sound’ ever enter content on the pages. In the pre-Home Theater days prior to THX and n Digital Audio formats, Jim Fosgate had designed his Pro Plus circuitry using L-R technology. 60dB separation between all 5 channels, stereo rears, full bandwidth. Opposed to Dolby Pro Logic 45 dB separation and mono rear surround bandwidth limited to 12kHz. Jim designed this circuit with intent on music enhancement for vinyl, revealing the hidden ambient info in Hard Right & Hard Left rear channel info. He did not realize it would work with stereo VHS or Laser Disc. When Charles Wood traveled to HP and provide a demo, Harry was quite impressed. Unlike all other manufacturers ‘Jazz’, ‘Coliseum’, etc EQ settings. Many purist naysayers, Thiel, Classe, Mark Levinson, etc. It didn’t take long for them to figure the math, sales of 2 speakers and amps or 5 speakers and amps?

  8. You either figure out how the real thing works or you don’t. If you figure it out you have a fighting chance of duplicating something like it if you are a good engineer. If you don’t figure out how it works, you haven’t got a prayer. Trying to do things that don’t work better than they’ve been done in the past doesn’t really get you any closer. Why does it matter? There are a lot of reasons, too many to mention but the bottom line is that the real thing is beautiful to listen to, very pleasing. The qualities that make it that way are entirely lacking in even the most expensive home sound systems.

  9. Live is better than recorded, at least for acoustical music. It is one of the things that make living in the NYC area tolerable, given the amount of great musical events available. That said, I can’t go back and here Munch conducting the Boston Symphony in 1960 at Symphony Hall in Boston in a live event, or Coltrane playing at the Village Vanguard. There is a vast quantity of great performances that you can acquire recordings of, and even with all the live activity here, the great performances are rare, and they only happen when you are there; the recordings can bring a lot of there to you (if not 100%).

    1. “…..; the recordings can bring a lot of there to you (if not 100%). ”

      Clearly anyone can realize that you have not heard Mahler’s fifth live and non-amplified, or any other masterpiece that resembles it.

      1. Well, I have heard Mahler’s 5th being performed by the BSO in Symphony Hall, and it was a fabulous performance, and I had front-and-center seats to boot. I have been fortunate enough to have traveled Europe and North America attending equally great and greater concerts in some of the best concert halls in the world (including Paul’s beloved Mackey), and I still agree with nydo. As much as I love great performances in great venues, I also love what my sound system brings to me at home.

      2. Perhaps you just misconstrued what I said there, with my somewhat awkward phrasing of the last sentence. Put slightly differently, recordings can bring a portion of something to you that you are, for whatever reason, unable to hear live, for instance, historic performances. I didn’t imply that they were better than live performances; not sure where you got that idea.

        BTW, I have heard Mahler 5 live many times, with Bernstein/Vienna, Maazel/Vienna, last week with Bychkov/Concertgebouw, Chailly/Concertgebouw, Tilson Thomas/San Francisco, Abbado/Berlin, Barenboim/Chicago, and a number of others.

        I have also performed with the New York Philharmonic and the Boston Symphony, and a host of other lesser orchestras. Perhaps you shouldn’t be making snarky remarks like that to me :).

        1. “Live is better than recorded, at least for acoustical music …”

          …. “; the recordings can bring a lot of you there (if not 100%).”

          The clear contradiction contained in these 2 sentences has rarely been in this forum, not at least in the same post.
          I understood that you meant that the recordings could bring up to 100% of a live, non-amplified concert.

          Now I am more confused, reading that you have witnessed the performance of great masterpieces so the last sentence of your post I understand less.

          1. Recordings can bring a lot of the original sound to you (if not 100%). A slight rewording, meaning that recordings have value, and can give you a taste of what a live event brings, but not 100%. There is no contradiction there. Better? You need to understand the use of the phrase “if not”.

  10. I know it is hard for audiophiles to believe that there is an affordable, hi rez alternative to stereo reproduction that can deliver a much better replica of concert hall sound than the antique stereo loudspeaker triangle, its 5.1, Dolby Atmos, or Auro 3D cousins. I call it Ambiophonics, but there are now a bunch of other names out there like BACCH, Ambidio, Aria3d, True Stereo, and more coming. One ;audiophile in Malaysia using JRiver to do this says ” Dear Mr.Glasgal, I have no words to describe what I am experiencing now. Even with just two convolution speakers, the experience is just awesome. So far, I am using 6 speakers and I just can’t imagine what your system would sound like with 28 speakers. Thank you so much. ST Chelvan” I have no financial interest in this and sell nothing but I would be glad to help anyone interested in having a “Domestic Concert Hall” get started or have them here for a demo.

  11. “…Clearly anyone can realize that you have not heard Mahler’s fifth live and non-amplified, or any other masterpiece that resembles it.”

    Clearly anyone can realize you think you can tell anyone what they ought to hear/experience or not when listening to music.

  12. Not quite the experiences you have at Macky Auditorium, Paul, but I’ll never forget my one and only visit there. While in Denver on business in 1984, I traveled to Boulder to see R.E.M. for the third time (my first was in an abandoned hockey rink here in Salt Lake).

    Finally hearing them in a high-quality venue was a revelation. I sat first row center in the balcony as Michael Stipe opened the band’s encore with an a capella rendition of “Moon River,” and it was stunning. The whole night was so, so memorable.

  13. Paul and others,

    unless you acknowledge that a recording is an independent form of art, you will never be as satisfied with canned music as you are with a live performance.
    You know Rene Magritte’s painting “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”.
    Even if Magritte would have done a sculpture of a pipe he would have said “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”.
    An image is not identical with the original object.
    For those who do not understand what i mean just read „La trahison des images“.

    This said, I’ve to admit it takes a day or so before I can listen to one of my stereos with pleasure after I’ve been to a concert, no matter if it was a classical concert or opera or popular music.


  14. If it was naive to think that two speakers aimed at a listener could recreate the impression of a full symphony orchestra, it was ludicrous to think that two more speakers could create the impression of the acoustics of a vast room. The problem does not relate to the quality of the equipment. No amount of improvement will overcome the conceptual fatal blunders given the nature of the sound fields and the nature of human hearing. The differences in the fields heard live and from recordings are far too great and human hearing ability far too acute to be fooled for even a second.

    There are two possible ways to solve the problem. One is to accurately record what is heard by the listener. No one knows how to do that. If there is a way it would involve a large array of directional microphones and a large array of speakers to reproduce many dozens of channels. The other way is to reconstruct it by observing a fixed relationship between the first arriving sound and all of the reflections. A scientifically accurate reproduction would require careful measurements of these relationships, recordings made in an anechoic environment, and a very complex machine having hundreds of speakers and channels each producing its own directional contribution to the listener. The other way is to simplify, adapt, and in short to re-engineer the playback system using a smaller number of speakers and channels reflecting their sound off the walls and ceiling of the listening room to create the diffuse reverberent field of the live performance using many time delays, equalizations, and mixers to arrive at something qualitatively similar if not identical to the live performance at the performance venue.

    The number of qualitative changes to sound that the live venue makes are many and they are interdependent. Change one variable and the rest change too. Each circumstance is unique. However, for a particular venue or type of venue there are commonalities as well as differences. To duplicate the pleasing sound of the live performance at the live venue, it is necessary to duplicate the attributes of the sound fields heard live by understanding them and engineering them. That is what I’ve tried to do. Insofar as anything you can buy, that equipment is not nearly up to the task and no one seems much interested in studying it anymore including me.

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