Stereo vs. Surround with Steve Guttenberg - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 42 Old 12-03-2013, 10:51 AM - Thread Starter
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Audio journalist Steve Guttenberg talks about the difference between recorded music and movie soundtracks, particularly in terms of dynamic range and compression, and how those differences affect the type of audio system to install. Related topics include why the dynamic range in so much music is heavily compressed, 2-channel versus multichannel systems, multichannel music recordings, 2-channel movie systems, the role of a subwoofer in a music-based system, answers to chat-room questions, and more.

 


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post #2 of 42 Old 12-03-2013, 12:37 PM
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Stereo is ideal for listening to music whereas surround sound is ideal for recent movies.
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post #3 of 42 Old 12-03-2013, 02:57 PM
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I really enjoy listening to electronic music rendered through surround-sound. Some producers know exactly how to exploit the phase, turning 2-channel sound into a 3D wonderland. Steve Guttenberg really knows his stuff, I read his articles all the time. Great guest.
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post #4 of 42 Old 12-03-2013, 03:08 PM
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Scott, I'd really like to hear the compression/ no compression audio track Steve commented on.
Please post a link if/ when one becomes available.

I'm so exited, I just can't hide it........
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post #5 of 42 Old 12-03-2013, 04:15 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by brwsaw View Post

Scott, I'd really like to hear the compression/ no compression audio track Steve commented on.
Please post a link if/ when one becomes available.


He's developing that for CNET, but I don't think it's available yet. I will certainly post about it when it is.

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post #6 of 42 Old 12-03-2013, 06:50 PM
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Scott, the conversation about having a good home theater room vs a good music (stereo) room was interesting. Also, at least to me, somewhat confusing. When my home theater music room was built, we spent a week just getting the 2 front speakers dialed in for precise imaging. Once we had the 2 channel locked in, we moved on to the 5.1 and it fell into place seamlessly. Steve's view, and i believe yours is you can't have both, please clarify. Thanks.
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post #7 of 42 Old 12-03-2013, 07:26 PM
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Originally Posted by Scott Wilkinson View Post


He's developing that for CNET, but I don't think it's available yet. I will certainly post about it when it is.

Thanks

I'm so exited, I just can't hide it........
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post #8 of 42 Old 12-03-2013, 08:55 PM
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Very interesting and educating interview ...


Thank you
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post #9 of 42 Old 12-04-2013, 02:45 AM
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Originally Posted by Orbitron View Post

Scott, the conversation about having a good home theater room vs a good music (stereo) room was interesting. Also, at least to me, somewhat confusing. When my home theater music room was built, we spent a week just getting the 2 front speakers dialed in for precise imaging. Once we had the 2 channel locked in, we moved on to the 5.1 and it fell into place seamlessly. Steve's view, and i believe yours is you can't have both, please clarify. Thanks.
If the sound of system makes acoustic instruments sound real then movies are easy. Yes you can have both.

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post #10 of 42 Old 12-04-2013, 05:41 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tenthplanet View Post

Quote:
Originally Posted by Orbitron View Post

Scott, the conversation about having a good home theater room vs a good music (stereo) room was interesting. Also, at least to me, somewhat confusing. When my home theater music room was built, we spent a week just getting the 2 front speakers dialed in for precise imaging. Once we had the 2 channel locked in, we moved on to the 5.1 and it fell into place seamlessly. Steve's view, and i believe yours is you can't have both, please clarify. Thanks.
If the sound of system makes acoustic instruments sound real then movies are easy. Yes you can have both.

Speaker positioning in a home theater will never be optimum for ideal 2-channel listening, because you'd basically have to put the speakers in front of the screen. I think that was the point. Guttenberg said you can have both "if you throw enough money at it." and that you should decide which way to "skew" it—and they are only talking about the ideal.

I gotta say, I run into tons of home theater junkies who think their system is the best-ever—without fail, those systems are not capable of the same kind of holographic imaging and sublime rendition that one gets from a properly configured 2-channel rig.
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post #11 of 42 Old 12-04-2013, 07:42 AM
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That is what acoustically transparent screens are for - so you can optimally place the speakers behind the screen, including the center channel.

IMHO, an AT screen is the only way to go if you want great 2 channel AND great home theater from the same system. Anything else, like a TV or a solid screen, will always be too much of a compromise for me.

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post #12 of 42 Old 12-04-2013, 07:54 AM
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That is what acoustically transparent screens are for - so you can optimally place the speakers behind the screen, including the center channel.

IMHO, an AT screen is the only way to go if you want great 2 channel AND great home theater from the same system. Anything else, like a TV or a solid screen, will always be too much of a compromise for me.

Suffice to say that many 2-channel audio fans would retort that putting speakers behind a screen is far from optimal placement. and is too much of a compromise versus listening to a pair of tower speakers that are set up properly for 2-channel audio reproduction. Putting speakers behind an AT screen severely limits placement options.

That said, I agree that an AT screen is a great feature for a proper, front-projection home theater.

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post #13 of 42 Old 12-04-2013, 08:10 AM
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Originally Posted by imagic View Post

Suffice to say that many 2-channel audio fans would retort that putting speakers behind a screen is far from optimal placement. and is too much of a compromise versus listening to a pair of tower speakers that are set up properly for 2-channel audio reproduction. Putting speakers behind an AT screen severely limits placement options.

That said, I agree that an AT screen is a great feature for a proper, front-projection home theater.

Hi Mark. Agreed - that is why I use a motorized, RETRACTABLE AT screen from Seymour AV!! I even got the new dual-roller masking version that has a second motorized roller for masking material. So, at the touch of a button, I can mask my 16:9 screen down to 2.35:1 for scope movies when needed.

But the point is, I am an audiophile first and foremost, so I just raise the screen when I want to listen to music, and my speakers are then unobstructed! I have full range Legacy Focus SE towers, so I just switch my Onkyo 5508 pre/pro over to Direct mode for 2 channel listening, which bypasses the Audyssey room correction, and sends a fullrange signal to the Legacies without the subwoofer.

Place your speakers optimally for 2 channel, and use the room correction to compensate for the screen during movies. Get a retractable AT screen. This is a great way to go when trying to combine a 2 channel system and a home theater surround system in one, and optimize the sound of both!
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post #14 of 42 Old 12-04-2013, 08:47 AM
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This issue is why I have HT in one room and my 2 channel in another. They just don't mix very well, IMHO.
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post #15 of 42 Old 12-04-2013, 08:57 AM
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Seperate is best of course, but not everyone has the space and/or money to build two complete systems...

A combination 2 channel/HT system CAN be very excellent and rewarding for both music and movies, if some thought and effort is put into it, as I described above.

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post #16 of 42 Old 12-04-2013, 09:37 AM
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If the sound of system makes acoustic instruments sound real then movies are easy. Yes you can have both.
Yup, once you set up L/R speakers for stereo, no reason to change that placement for surround.

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post #17 of 42 Old 12-04-2013, 10:23 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by imagic View Post

Suffice to say that many 2-channel audio fans would retort that putting speakers behind a screen is far from optimal placement. and is too much of a compromise versus listening to a pair of tower speakers that are set up properly for 2-channel audio reproduction. Putting speakers behind an AT screen severely limits placement options.

That said, I agree that an AT screen is a great feature for a proper, front-projection home theater.
So a AT screen is not as acoustically transparent as a speaker grill is? I would have thought you could just take the grills off and store them and you would be fine.

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post #18 of 42 Old 12-04-2013, 10:38 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ellisr63 View Post

Quote:
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Suffice to say that many 2-channel audio fans would retort that putting speakers behind a screen is far from optimal placement. and is too much of a compromise versus listening to a pair of tower speakers that are set up properly for 2-channel audio reproduction. Putting speakers behind an AT screen severely limits placement options.

That said, I agree that an AT screen is a great feature for a proper, front-projection home theater.
So a AT screen is not as acoustically transparent as a speaker grill is? I would have thought you could just take the grills off and store them and you would be fine.

My point has almost nothing to do with acoustic transparency, it's really about being able to properly position your speakers for optimum 2-channel listening, and that's not going to be up against the back wall of a rectangular room, so unless one wants to give up a whole lot of space and have (let's say) six feet of space behind their HT screen, it's not going to make for an ideal 2-channel setup. It's also quite likely that the speakers will be a bit too high up for proper optimal 2-channel listening, based on what I've seen in the vast majority of home theaters with AT screens.

I'm not saying that a home theater can't be a great listening space, I'm just saying that when you are looking for the optimum configuration, it is not the same for a home theater and for 2-channel music.

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post #19 of 42 Old 12-04-2013, 01:20 PM
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So many approaches to the end result and all dependent on the environment. A superior amplifier can't make up for poor speakers or a horrible environment. Adding better speakers will not always solve the problems created by hardwood floors, carpet, drapes, open window spaces, trapped corners and many more things that keep a good sounding system from sounding like trash. Rugs, blinds, wall hangings can all be good and bad, variables that can be controled or adjusted. If a media source has been Dolby processed, surround can be created from two channel stereo, then added effects for different settings. True Dolby encoded surround will include a center channel, sub woofers are an artifact of the amplifier. Surround is not as effective with music with the exception of live recordings. Movies can be an huge resource to check out the decoding schemes your system may have. Live concert DVDs or other live events can become a satifying experience when presented properly.
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post #20 of 42 Old 12-04-2013, 05:26 PM
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Excellent discussion, but not one mention about his experience working on those silly Police Academy movies?
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post #21 of 42 Old 12-04-2013, 07:27 PM
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Outstanding discussion. I am an avid multichannel music nut, but I agree with most of what is said here. Those of us who actively listen to music without multitasking are the lefties of the music world. In a thousand subtle ways, the world had come to favor those for whom music is the backing track for some other activity.

I found so much hope in the description of younger folks taking vinyl home and listening. That is so much more important than how many channels they are listening to.

That being said...as fantastic a work as "The Raven That Refused To Sing" is in purely musical terms, the multichannel experience is vastly superior to even a high resolution stereo mix on a good system. It is that good. I am over 50, but find the attitude that recordings are only good if they place you in an audience to be thoroughly close-minded and antediluvian. Try standing on the conductor's podium for a listen. See what happens when 6 voices in counterpoint are coming from all around you.

I have only one room for media-based entertainment, and music takes precedence over movies in our house - we have another room devoted exclusively to actual musical instruments. (Movies are still important though). Like others here, I find that if I optimize the system for music first and adjust for movies, then the audio is great for both.

Oh yeah...and if your surrounds are only a foot or two from your couch then your listening space is WAY too small to have a couch in it....and no wonder your sweet spot is so small.
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post #22 of 42 Old 12-05-2013, 05:29 AM
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Quote:
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Outstanding discussion. I am an avid multichannel music nut, but I agree with most of what is said here. Those of us who actively listen to music without multitasking are the lefties of the music world. In a thousand subtle ways, the world had come to favor those for whom music is the backing track for some other activity.

I found so much hope in the description of younger folks taking vinyl home and listening. That is so much more important than how many channels they are listening to.

That being said...as fantastic a work as "The Raven That Refused To Sing" is in purely musical terms, the multichannel experience is vastly superior to even a high resolution stereo mix on a good system. It is that good. I am over 50, but find the attitude that recordings are only good if they place you in an audience to be thoroughly close-minded and antediluvian. Try standing on the conductor's podium for a listen. See what happens when 6 voices in counterpoint are coming from all around you.

I have only one room for media-based entertainment, and music takes precedence over movies in our house - we have another room devoted exclusively to actual musical instruments. (Movies are still important though). Like others here, I find that if I optimize the system for music first and adjust for movies, then the audio is great for both.

Oh yeah...and if your surrounds are only a foot or two from your couch then your listening space is WAY too small to have a couch in it....and no wonder your sweet spot is so small.

+1

I, too am over 50, and multichannel music has reawakened in me the joy of just listening to music. I don't care to enter the two channel vs multichannel debate, but I will say that a lot of the multichannel music that has been and continues to be released is sublime.
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post #23 of 42 Old 12-05-2013, 07:47 AM
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I enjoy both 2 channel and multichannel. However, I find that with the exception of live concert recording on BD, the multichannel recordings I have on SACD and DVD-A are way to gimmicky. I don't want the drums or the trump in the rear speakers. LIve concert recordings with the instruments and vocals up front and the hall ambiance in the rears can sound sublime.
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post #24 of 42 Old 12-05-2013, 08:17 AM
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Scott, Why don't sound engineers mix surrounds in stereo?
Given stereos ability to place you in the music, wouldn't this be beneficial around a room?
In theory, an exceptional surround image could be produced this way. And, the sweet spot wouldn't be, you would have an actual sphere of sound. No?

Hoping to clarify, this would mean using 2 speakers as left surround (in stereo), 2 speakers as right surround (in stereo)etc. etc.

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post #25 of 42 Old 12-05-2013, 08:22 AM
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There is plenty of music out there that is well recorded, is not over-compressed, and uses phase to create a sense of space—or even explicit, surround-style effects. The Orb is one of my favorites. Modern digital audio workstations make 3D placement as easy as pointing a mouse to the spot where a sound should come from, including locations that are outside of the listening area—from a production standpoint, making good music that exploits surround-sound is not that tough.

Here is some classic Orb from 1991, which was around the same time I obtained my first surround-sound system. It was my first encounter with music that was totally deliberate about its surround effects.

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post #26 of 42 Old 12-05-2013, 08:44 AM
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Quote:
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I enjoy both 2 channel and multichannel. However, I find that with the exception of live concert recording on BD, the multichannel recordings I have on SACD and DVD-A are way to gimmicky. I don't want the drums or the trump in the rear speakers. LIve concert recordings with the instruments and vocals up front and the hall ambiance in the rears can sound sublime.
I suppose that depends on what recordings you have then, doesn't it? I mean, if you are listening to an orchestra or jazz combo and expecting it to sound like they are playing on a stage that has replaced the front wall of your room, then you probably wouldn't need much beyond ambience in a surround mix. There are exceptions, of course. Frank Ticheli's "Angels in the Architecture" would benefit greatly from having the solo soprano voice above and behind the audience - where the composer placed her in the first place, and where nearly every major stage presentation of the piece puts her.

And the world of recorded music is way wider than that anyway. Take a listen to the multichannel mix for Roxy Music's "Avalon", or Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here", or Donald Fagan's "The Nightfly", or nearly any of the work that Steven Wilson has done. Most of this music never HAD a "natural" environment - and was not mixed, even in stereo, to sound natural. In such cases, the "unnaturalness" of a surround mix is perfectly natural and sounds fantastic. It is certainly distracting when a mix just puts ambience and then a few pops and pings in rear speakers. It is the same with ping-ponging in stereo. But place instruments all around the listener, consistently, in the mix, and have them move only when the art REALLY calls for it, and it is a real eye opener.

I will take an album from a band that is NOT everyone's cup of tea as an example. Dream Theater's new album is loud, and that has its own issues as regards listening fatigue. (They PLAY that loud all the time too, so I can't fault the recording or mastering for this phenomenon. You don't go to a DT concert for dynamic range ;-) But the surround mix of their new album is exceptional. The best way I can describe it is that you are sitting on the drum throne (somehow, as the drummer is playing...talk about a fabricated environment) with the rest of the band arrayed in front and to your sides a little behind you. It has that huge, U-shaped feel that Steve Guttenberg was talking about. It might even be more "horseshoe shaped." The result of the mix is something that nobody would every hear live - not even Mike Mangini, who hears the music from that throne with fair regularity.

I will also say that the quality of surround speakers for music listening has to change in many people's setups. In surround, we sometimes call the FL and FR speakers the "main" speakers, with center and surrounds relegated to some specific secondary role. In surround music, all five speakers (SL, SR, FL, FR, C) are "mains". The optimal setup is to have exactly the same make and model on the surrounds that you have in the front. Same drivers - same crossover - same cabinet - same everything. Optimally, the center should also be as sonically similar as possible to the other speakers. Your AVR/Pre-pro can restrict or enhance the frequencies it feeds to the center for use with movies to enhance dialog. (If you buy a speaker that does it, it does it to everything - which is not good for music.) If you have surrounds that are only there for effects, and are sized accordingly, you can't be surprised when surround mixes that assume at least roughly equivalent performance seem off-kilter.

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post #27 of 42 Old 12-05-2013, 10:52 AM
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Although I have not had the opportunity to hear this Blu-ray Disc, I believe I would expect the 5.1 DTS-HDMA 192kHz/24bit and 7.1 DTS-HDMA 96kHz/24bit mixes of SOUVENIR by TrondheimSolistene on the 2L label (link) to deliver significant content from all surround channel speakers.






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post #28 of 42 Old 12-05-2013, 03:27 PM
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I'm in the 50+ club and grew up listening to vinyl on a belt or direct drive turntable with the typical large 3-way floor standing speakers (12" to 15" woofers) using D3 Discwasher cleaner, a Zerostat Anti-Static gun static remover and Audio Technica stylus cleaner with a turntable pad and then we would diligently record our favorite albums to cassette tape ( via Maxell UDXLII or XLS or Metal tape using a demagnetizer on the tape/recording heads first) in order to conveniently play on our Nakamichi tape deck or a Blaupunkt tape player in our car...and then when the CDs hit the market in 1982 we thought (at the time), the CD will be the "Holy Grail" of recorded music (the sound quality of Digital must be better than Analog, right?) and the CD is more convenient (less work to play an album and NO skips, ticks or pops) but in 1982 the first Sony CD player was $800 and there were virtually no good sounding CDs and the range in sound quality was all over the place, you really didn't know what you were going to get SQ wise until you played the CD (Hmmm...same as today, things really haven't changed in 30 years) you don't know what you're buying SQ wise (MP3s, AAC, PCM, FLAC, ALAC, DSD, DFF etc. SACD, DVD-A, BR).

One of the positive experiences in playing vinyl is; with all the preparation of taking care of your vinyl and placing it on your turntable is that you actually sat back in your favorite chair (or couch with your friends) and marveled at the sound of your speakers. I don't recall ever putting on an album and then leaving the room to do something else. Also, with vinyl was the excitement of going to your favorite record store and seeing the album cover artwork on a new album, let's see what they came up with this time around, remember Roger Dean and the Yes albums.

Anyway, a two speaker set up for playing vinyl has been and continues to be the accepted method using your preferred audio equipment, i.e., what sounds best to you. I have several friends that use two separate audio systems, one system dedicated to vinyl only (amp, turntable and L/R 3-way floor standing speakers (sometimes a separate subwoofer) and one system for surround sound (typically 5.1 but mostly for movies, some music).

However, I really enjoy multichannel SACD, DVD-Audio, Blu-ray and digital music files, (multichannel lossless 96/24 PCM, FLAC) on my 5.1 surround system. It's not a "better" sonic experience than two channel stereo, it's just different. I do agree that some 5.1 recordings are haphazard and distracts from hearing channel separation, confusing the experience and making it less enjoyable. Done "well" (recorded, mixed, engineered and mastered appropriately) and the sonic experience can be sublime, assuming that all of the different variables to capture this sonic bliss have been accounted for e.g., room acoustics (size, dimensions and construction materials), speaker placement, subwoofer(s) placement, speaker distance, speaker specifications (if the speakers specs don't match e.g., watts, crossover or frequency response - a big mistake for surround music) primary listening position SPL speaker measurements (this is where AVR automatic speaker configuration can be helpful, e.g., Audyssey). I use Audyssey for all of my multichannel music and movies and I clearly hear the difference, but, you need to be in the "sweet spot listening position" to hear the subtleties and nuances in high dynamic range recordings (non-compression recordings). It's great if you're the only one listening to surround music in the primary listening position, however, no one else sitting in the room can enjoy the music as intended, they will be "out of place" and the surround music may sound "off". I use my surround system mainly for music. As for movies, I'm less concerned about being in the sweet spot, most of the dialog comes from the center speaker and the ambient sounds come from the surrounds and the LFE track from the subwoofers.

I do think there has been much discussion and acknowledgment that the future of music (SQ wise) is in the recording and engineering realm. I won't address the debate over sample rates and bit depths for digital audio files, there's enough written about the subject on the Web, however, what I will say is; "garbage in, garbage out", and most audiophiles should be able to identify "garbage in" terms of sound quality, (except the record labels..."loudness wars"...LOL). The point that Steve makes about highly compressed "loud" recorded music files is true though, most people that are active when listening to their iPod or MP3 player are not listening for SQ, it's not their primary activity and listening to music on a portable device is essentially a background activity. The record labels match one another in dBs (recordings) so they can be competitive in the marketplace. It's been proven (or at least written about) that humans will perceive a "loud" music file being played sounding better than a "soft" music file, regardless of dynamic range. For the average music listener who is preoccupied with other activities, highly compressed, loud music files will suffice, unfortunately, SQ and dynamic range are superfluous.

Lossy compressed (128 kbps) music files like MP3 and AAC were initially created to save memory (RAM) or hard disk space on the portable music players, basically inducing the record labels to be the low cost provider of loud, compromised SQ songs to the masses, you can fit more songs on your player, therefore, you can buy more songs. Now that storage is essentially no longer an issue cost wise, thus creating and delivering lossless music files (FLAC, ALAC, PCM) and / or disc media (DTS-HD Master Audio, Dolby TrueHD / SACD / DVD-A) for portable music players, smartphones, set top players e.g., Oppo BDP-105, DLNA devices, multi-terabyte Network Storage Devices, is no longer an issue; the artists, the record labels, the recording studio engineers should now be able focus on SQ and dynamic range of the recorded music and set minimum standards for production e.g., 96kHz/24bit as opposed to 44.1/16 for PCM and perhaps one day music will be labeled with an industry standard dynamic range value and/or dBs/SPL range of each recording. Maybe it will make the record labels honest and we as consumers will know what to expect from the recorded music before we purchase. There first needs to be unsatisfied demand for "high definition audio" before the record labels commit to investing the necessary capital to produce it for the masses. There seems to be a confluence of encouraging trends, younger people are discovering and appreciating the sound of vinyl and are acknowledging that SQ and dynamic range are important to the overall sonic experience.

There is a lot to consider when choosing a sound system to match your sonic preference. Today, it's not as simple as it was 40 years ago.

My list has some new stuff and some really, really old stuff...LOL

What I like (so far) is being able to play 2.1 / 5.1 multichannel lossless FLAC / WAV (PCM) music files from my wired NAS via the Oppo BDP-103 thru my Onkyo TX-NR 3009...nothing like listening to 96kHz / 24 bit lossless...
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post #29 of 42 Old 12-06-2013, 07:59 AM
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Personally, I'm hoping Sony's (PS4) new service will bring back high quality recordings and that it will be simple and inexpensive to use.

I'm so exited, I just can't hide it........
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post #30 of 42 Old 12-07-2013, 06:20 AM
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Great interview scott. very informative. the information about why the music industry uses so much compression makes a lot of sense. some of my favorite songs are very heavily compressed, but still quality recordings (madonna's vogue is a good example) so the use of compression doesnt bother me unless i percieve that it compromises the integrity of the sound quality.

As far as home theater rooms having to be a compromise between music and movies is concerned, i would think that which compromises are necessary depends on your room and how you decide to set it up. as mentioned by several posters above, if you can optimize your system for musical playback, it will sound great for movies as well. as long as you can properly place your surrounds and subs, there should be no problems with how you set up your L/R speakers for music playback. if you are working with a large screen, then a retractable screen seems like a no-brainer to me (ceiling mounted, several feet away from the back wall to give your F/L room to breathe and side mounted curtains that flank your screen on either side that gives you the old theater look).

Thanks for posting the video. i hope to see more in the future. gonna go to youtube and subscribe to your channel right now and listen to some of your past show during my long drive home..

Stand tall and shake the heavens...
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