One cliché that never loses its aptness is "end of an era." And it certainly applies to the passing on October 29 of SME’s founder, Alastair Robertson-Aikman. While there remain a handful of survivors from the original "golden age" of audio, few of them were still active in 2006. AR-A, as he was known to friends and staff, wasn’t simply still active: he was still tweaking his sound system and planning new products.
All but forgotten in the field of surround sound are the efforts of UK classical music label Nimbus Records. More than 25 years ago, Nimbus recorded with Peter Fellgett and Michael Gerzon's two-channel–compatible, matrixed UHJ Ambisonic Surround system, using multi-capsule Calrec Soundfield microphones. Other labels, including Unicorn-Kanchana, also supported Ambisonic, releasing such rarities as a UHJ Ambisonic recording of the soundtrack to North By Northwest on LP. Playback decoders were available from the UK's National Research and Development Council (NRDC) and speaker manufacturer IMF. As timing would have it, the Ambisonic releases appeared when users could still recall the unfortunate experience of 1970s quadraphony, and Dolby Digital was still some years off. However, those who have heard proper demonstrations maintain that the UHJ Ambisonic technique remains the most convincing surround-sound format ever.
Glasnost Mondial Supergroup: 1990 Aragon Jam Sessions
Anthony Federici, Michael Fremer, Roland Marconi, Bob Reina, Paul Rosenberg, Rob Sample, vocals; Frank Doris, Steve Harris, Roland Marconi, Paul Rosenberg, guitars; Elliot Kallen, Bob Reina, keyboards; John Atkinson, bass; Allen Perkins, Neil Sinclair, drums
Bainbridge GMS-1 (CD only). PJ Littleton, Michael Kusiak, Jr., engs.; PJ Littleton, Paul Rosenberg, prods. Recorded live with direct feed to the Colossus Digital Audio System from a single MS-4 surround 4-channel microphone. DDD. TT: 71:42
Richard Vandersteen doesn't look like a typical loudspeaker designer. True, he wears glasses, but his presence suggests a longshoreman or somebody who'd be played by Gene Hackman. And sure enough, he tells you in a quasi-Dukes of Hazzard drawl that he's been a construction worker, plumber, truckdriver, and electrician. Electronics had always been a hobby, but Vandersteen formalized his understanding by working in electronics during his stint in the Air Force. Back in civilian life, Vandersteen entered into speaker manufacture, producing the "baffleless" range, at least regarding the midrange driver and tweeter, which bears his name. The speakers, particualrly the Model 2 and its variants, have become, in a decade, one of America's most respected brands, despite RV's low-profile marketing techniques. I met with Richard at the Las Vegas CES in January and asked him what had got him started in loudspeaker design.
Editor's Introduction: One of the big industry stories of 1985 was the split, both personal and commercial, between the British Linn and Naim companies. Led by Ivor Tiefenbrun and Julian Vereker (footnote 1) respectively, both companies had started up in the early 1970s. Both men held similar views, both about the fat-cat complacency of British designers (which had led to a grievous sound-quality slump in the mid '70s), and about the system rethinking necessary for what some writers, unaware of the rigors of thought required by followers of that spiritual descendant of Fowler, William Safire, would term a "quantum leap" forward in sound reproduction.