I was invited to join an audio centric web portal yesterday and while looking around on their site, I noticed the "We Support Real Stereo" logo. I've encountered it before and was aware of their campaign so I clicked on the link and read their "mission statement" and even visited a number of the sites that have signed up.
The few paragrpaphs extole the concept of stereo sound recording and playback as invented by Alan Dower Blumlein over 70 years ago. They describe his invention as a "method for capturing the spatial information inherent in live performance, including the sound and positioning of instruments and voices and a sense of the acoustic in which the performance was taking place." And I agree, it does a great job as far as two channels can muster. The world of quality music recording and reproduction owes a great debt to Alan Blumlein (as well as lots of other important contributors)…we wouldn't be where we are today without 2-channel stereo sound.
Blumlein stereo pair of bi-directional mics.
"True stereophonic sound, as devised by Blumlein, is quite capable of reproducing such an event with just two channels and two loudspeakers, so why complicate the issue with more channels and more speakers?", continues the next paragraph. Apparently, those of us who endorse and advocate for surround music playback and the whole home theater marketplace in general are a threat to traditional 2-channel stereo fans.
Hence, they've started the Campaign for Real Stereo. The objective is to, "draw attention to the often passed-over benefits of real stereo and, if sufficient support is forthcoming, highlight to the industry the fact that many people do not want Alan Blumlein's wonderful invention to be neglected and forgotten in the relentless commercial drive for new consumer market technologies."
I read this as an effort to stifle innovation and alternative approaches (multichannel or surround) to recording and delivering high quality music reproduction. Stereo is not going away. Blumlein's invention may be destined for retirement...in fact, those that use his method of capturing a musical event with two bi-directional microphones are few and are far between. Audio engineers have long since developed other methods of recording music (ORTF, close-up mono miking, Decca trees, spaced omnis, binaural, x-y, MS etc) and the then have the choice of mixing down to simple 2-channel stereo or spreading things out into an array of speakers like 5.1 or 7.1. Blumlein's technique is important but not at the expense of progress and continuing improvements to recording and capturing music.
I record my tracks using ORTF-arranged pairs of microphones in a live, acousitcally rich performance auditorium and then mix the multitracks into a 2-channel stereo mix AND two 5.1 surround mixes...both "audience" and "stage" perspective. Most of the people that hear our tracks in a good surround system are immediately aware of the additional depth of the sound and the disappearance of the speakers. Surround sound works.
My favorite comment came from a member of the Bay Area Audio Society after I gave a presentation a few years back. Here's a portion of his email:
"I thought I’d write a couple comments about the AIX demo we recently had at a BAAS event, since it turned out to be a good eye/ear opener for me. I attended the morning session, and got there early enough to sit down and acclimate to the sounds in the multi-channel room. First thing that came to mind was, “why are the drums coming from the right rear of the room?” Several decades of listening to two-channel music gave me enough background to KNOW that this was amiss and contrary to “how it should be.”
Eventually, the meeting started and Mark Waldrep gave his presentation which included his vision of sound recording, reproduction, and appreciation. I could appreciate his points that he made with respect to instrument placement in a multi-channel recording, and his whole ideal of the sound he strove to achieve in the final product he produced. I really liked his philosophy of obtaining the purest recording of an instrument, or voice, possible, and then not mucking with it further. Nothing in what Mark said indicated that he’d think it is a good idea to convert back to analog, record it to tape, then play it back from tape and redigitize. Dumbing down is dumbing down, and Mark just doesn’t entertain such stunts.
Later, we swapped rooms, and I got to enjoy many two-channel recordings of exceptional quality in a presentation that I was fully comfortable with.
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.
When I first heard the “stage” mix, I was unable to notice the clarity of the instrumentation itself, because I was too caught up with the uneasy feeling of the different mix. After I took the time to give this new (to me) mixing style a chance, I found I may actually like it a lot. It really seemed to add a new level to the appreciation of music that I haven’t experienced yet."
That about says it all for me. This gentleman was open to new ways of hearing music and "forced" himself to engage with a mix that was initially unfamiliar to him...however after listening for an extended period he came to appreciate the additional clarity of our 'stage" perspective mixes. Even solo instruments like a guitar or piano aound much more real and expressive when captured and played back in surround.
I'm thinking I should offer up a logo that could be placed on all of the web sites that support the improvements of surround music recordings and playback over traditional stereo.
At the end of the day, it's all about personal preferences...my gripe is few ever get the chance to hear surround music done right. Check out the a cappella choir free demo tracks on the iTrax.com site. They may just convince you.