Surrounded in Manhattan Letters part 2

Kessler's dreaming

Editor: Flattered as I am that Sam Tellig quoted me twice in his August column, I must clear up a matter lest I appear a Luddite. My remark about CD via the MartinLogans sounding good enough "to make you wish that SACD and DVD-A would just go away" has solely to do with my fear and hatred of another format war. We all know what they do to consumer confidence. My dread of SACD and DVD-Audio is not an indicator of my feelings toward multichannel, which I welcome.

In fact, I am considered a "traitor" by elements of the UK audio community precisely because I adore multichannel. But not without reservation, as is reflected in Sam's second reference, about my being aghast at what might be in store for existing material, which we know will be reissued ad nauseam.

As was evident elsewhere in the issue, in particular others' reactions to the horrifying demonstrations at AOL Time Warner during your excellent New York show, I'm not alone in fearing for the integrity of existing recordings (surround-sound Kind of Blue?!?!?). As I also wrote recently, in Hi-Fi News, I believe that the recording industry should leave mono originals in mono, stereo originals in stereo, and should use multichannel only where applicable: for movies originally recorded in multichannel, for live recordings where the extra channels provide the sound of the hall, or—most important in the context of SACD and DVD-A—for music written for or recorded to suit the medium (eg, Tubular Bells).

The August issue makes it clear that adherence to the original "layout" is shared by Stereophile's other contributors. Maybe if we all insist on "the correct number of channels according to the material," we won't suffer the modern equivalent of the debacle that was early quadraphony.

But then, I'm dreaming, aren't I?—Ken Kessler, Senior Contributing Editor, Hi-Fi News

Don't blow your opportunities

Editor: I hope that the editor and staff of Stereophile realize that, regardless of their personal preferences, they owe it to their readers to give a comprehensive and unbiased evaluation of the new surround technologies. Don't assume that your readership is willing to settle for articles about the latest and greatest Krell dinosaur, the newest Faberg;ae egg from Lamm, or the monthly fantasies from the Ribbon Chair. Also, it should be obvious that if you ignore or slight surround sound, you will blow your opportunity to influence its development.—Malcolm G. Balfour, Acme, PA

The closest approach

Editor: It seems that there are some who believe that Stereophile's name is a barrier to its promotion of multichannel surround sound. I would remind them that stereo does not mean "two channels only," but is derived from a Greek word meaning "solid." I interpret this as multidimensional.

It is ludicrous to maintain that surround sound will become a reality only if the big companies push it. This may have been true 30 years ago, when quadraphonic sound was being pushed by the recording companies (EMI, CBS, RCA, etc.), which controlled not only the recorded repertoire and the artists allowed to become famous, but also the pressing facilities and the recording technology. But today all that has changed, and many classical musicians who had been made famous by these same companies are now without recording contracts. At the same time, thanks to digital technology and the Internet, control of the production and distribution of quality recordings is no longer in the hands of the few.

In his June "As We See It," Kalman Rubinson wrote that when he plays multichannel recordings at home he is "inhibited from doing anything but paying attention to the music." I fail to see the problem here. Is music made for listening to, or for ignoring? Composers, performers, engineers, and producers spend a lot of time taking care over details in recordings and controlling quality so that something enshrined in a piece of plastic can give the impression of live music and communicate with us; and this gentleman now complains that they have done their jobs too well!

What has become of the slogan "the closest approach to the original sound"? If Peter Walker and others had not had that ever in mind, it is doubtful whether we would have progressed beyond mono LPs. In this context, stereo as we know it is but a staging post on the trail; yet I have in front of me a letter, published in April 1950 in the British magazine Wireless World, in which the chief engineer of the BBC assured readers that the BBC had no plans to "radiate binaural transmissions"—ie, stereo. His argument was quite succinct, and was along the lines of there being no public demand for it. Like stereo radio, sooner or later multichannel surround sound will become the norm—and I hope that Stereophile will be up there with the real leaders.—David Pickett, dap@advnet.net

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