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Multichannel System for Music - Standards, Setup, Thoughts, etc.

Fitzcaraldo215

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#1
In the Genelec on Audio Science thread, it was suggested that a new thread be opened to discuss multichannel (Mch). Many aspects of Mch seem perplexing and mysterious to a lot of audiophiles, although Mch audio has been around for decades. But, not too much of interest happened with it commercially in music until about 15 years ago when Mch SACDs started to appear.

So, here is a summary and outline of some things I have absorbed in 10 years as a dedicated multichannel music listener and collector. I will not attempt to justify everything. The underlying facts or detailed reasoning can be independently checked by those interested. I hope this is helpful.

I will emphasize a basic 5.1 Mch music system which can also used for video material. I do not recommend 7.1. It is similar, but there are more possible variations in angular setup, hence less standardization, and I do not find it offers a great deal more than 5.1. Most 7.1 is on video BDs, not on most music, and the total number of 7.1 disc releases has been disappointing. Immersive 3D, while interesting, is still way too complicated for me, and its commercial survival is not guaranteed at this point, so I will not touch on it. But, 3D additively builds on the same basic 5/7.1 architecture. It is still an early stage technology worth following.

Most Mch music today is on 5.0/.1 SACD, period. BD-Audio is much less common and much less significant. Mch downloads are also increasingly becoming available, normally just replicating the discs. Older attempts on DVD, HD DVD, etc. are few and don't really interest me that much. Most BD Videos are also compatible with 5.1 Mch, as are many earlier DVDs.

This excellent site, which has been my Bible in building my music collection, lists virtually all Mch music releases on SACD and BD-A:

https://www.hraudio.net/

Note that many releases may now be OOP. Note also that new releases still continue to appear. It is a niche, but not a dead one.

The prevailing mixing/mastering standard on most all 5.0/.1 music recordings is based on ITU-R BS.775-1. There may be a few insignificant exceptions, such as 4.0 recordings, Quad-era remasters, and '50's 3-channel recordings, but they also work just fine with the ITU standard. Here is Genelec's description of that ITU standard for monitoring plus related matters for setup by recording/mastering professionals:

https://www.genelec.com/documents/publications/PlacementandRoomAcousticsInteraction.pdf

The ITU Mch standard can be summarized as requiring 5 identical, equidistant, monopole speakers at 0, +-30 and +-110 degrees relative to front dead center from the Main Listening Position. Subwoofers are optional, and I do recommend them. All channels are level trimmed for equal volume on reference level test tones at the Main Listening Position.

Note that mic placement and recording techniques, minimalist 5.0 vs larger multi mic arrays, etc. are of secondary importance as long as the final mix and mastering are done according to the same consistent standard, which is overwhelmingly the case. That, and recording engineers do not like to share too many details of their "art". Listeners might favor one engineering approach over others. But, the same final mastering and playback standard prevails, fortunately.

However, we can successfully "cheat" on the ITU standard in a number of ways in home playback setup and still achieve success, as follows:

--nonidentical speakers might work satisfactorily, if they are reasonably timbre matched, as from the same mfr. Smaller surround speakers need not be a problem with adequate matching, particularly with subs offloading the bass. A horizontal center channel, very useful with a video display and properly matched, can also work surprisingly well. Do not underestimate the importance of the center channel, even with just music.

--full range DSP EQ might be of great help to voice all channels near identically at the sweet spot via the same target curve.

--DSP distance (time) compensation and channel level trims in most all digital Mch AVR's and prepros can transparently fix level and distance inequalities between channels, totally alleviating a major potential setup issue.

--I use electrostat dipoles frontally aimed at the MLP, and they work quite well in comparison to all-monopole setups I have heard. A recording engineer friend uses 5 humongous Sound Labs electrostats.

The system calibration, usually via a simply automated setup process using a supplied mic and generated test tones with most Mch processors, sets distance, channel level trims, possibly subwoofer xovers, and it may also simultaneously calibrate an onboard DSP EQ tool for "room EQ".

In simple summary, that is about it. But, easier said than done.

Here are some caveats:

-- Obviously, you need a source(s). Universal CD/SACD/DVD/BD players will output Mch from SACD digitally only via HDMI to the processor. I personally use USB from a PC into a Mch DAC, and all DSP is done in my PC by JRiver and Dirac Live software. But, mine is an esoteric approach.

--DSD from SACDs or downloads must be converted to PCM either by the player or by the processor in order to use any DSP features - speaker distance correction, bass management, room EQ, etc. This can be done "on the fly" in real time from DSD discs or files, which is how I do it.

--DSD from SACD, with some effort, is also now able to be ripped to hard drive for computer playback using certain specific PS3, Oppo, Pioneer, Sony, Cambridge, etc. players plus hacking software. Mch Flac, etc. downloads are increasingly available, usually from the label's site. BD-As can also be ripped, but require extra effort to segment the BD chapters into tracks. BD Videos in Mch are also easily ripped, but they are necessarily huge in size.

-- Analog Mch preamps and analog interconnections are not recommended for Mch, although analog is what goes to the amps and speakers. There are only a few such choices, and they are lacking in features like DSP, and too limiting. There is no possibility of speaker distance/time correction in a Mch analog preamp, and they often lack bass management. However, some purists prefer an identical, equidistant speaker setup and analog Mch preamp for direct DSD to analog playback. It is not worth it in my view.

-- A single master volume control is a necessity. Don't believe you can achieve success cobbling together several old stereo integrated amps or preamp/amps. Each time you adjust overall volume on the several resulting volume controls, you are messing up the interchannel level calibration, which is very important to maintain.

-- What about video? If you look at the speaker layout standards, which are also the mastering standards, for 5.1 Dolby True HD and DTS HD Master Audio, you will find them completely congruent with the ITU standard described here. Mch with video works quite well for me on my music-oriented system.

I will recommend a number of SACD labels I have found to consistently deliver high quality, discrete Mch music newly recorded over the past 15 years or so, as follows:

--BIS
--Channel Classics
--PentaTone
--RCO Live
--Reference Recordings
--Telarc (defunct)
--Harmonia Mundi
--Chandos
--2L, many also on BD-A
--Linn
--many other small European labels, though LSO Live I find sonically mediocre

Also, major labels like DG and RCA have released some good ones, but many fewer than any of the above.

The good or bad news, depending on your viewpoint, is that it is mostly all classical. The Mch Dark Side of the Moon remastering is initially striking, and probably the largest selling Mch SACD ever, but it is a simple repanned "surround sound" mix from the multitrack originals. I don't think it successfully illustrates what Mch can really do, a familiar story with Mch rock, unfortunately. I do very much like the Allman Bros. Live at the Filmore East and Eat a Peach, remastered from Mch Quad era originals from live concerts. I have not found much jazz or other genres that are really good Mch, but I have not searched and listened that extensively for them.

I have built my library around discrete Mch music recordings. Is upmixing from stereo sources to Mch nearly as good? It can be good and preferable to stereo, but, frankly, it does not come that close to discrete Mch in my experience, and it will not reveal how good Mch can really be. I do not listen to much from stereo on my main system, and I prefer to leave that in stereo rather than upmix it.
 

NorthSky

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#2
Good post, good thread's subject, good luck.

* I too am into multichannel audio, since 1969 (fifty years, atmost).
It's the new audio world expanding more and more, like quad vinyls, like 3D movies, like The Matrix with Dolby Almos.
 

Kal Rubinson

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#3
Excellent summary. I will add to your comment:
BD Videos in Mch are also easily ripped, but they are necessarily huge in size.
that one can extract the audio tracks without the video, if one wishes, and those are not as large.

Let me add, also, that the need for a multichannel master volume control is one reason for considering a multichannel analog preamp.
 

Guermantes

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#6
The good or bad news, depending on your viewpoint, is that it is mostly all classical. The Mch Dark Side of the Moon remastering is initially striking, and probably the largest selling Mch SACD ever, but it is a simple repanned "surround sound" mix from the multitrack originals. I don't think it successfully illustrates what Mch can really do, a familiar story with Mch rock, unfortunately. I do very much like the Allman Bros. Live at the Filmore East and Eat a Peach, remastered from Mch Quad era originals from live concerts. I have not found much jazz or other genres that are really good Mch, but I have not searched and listened that extensively for them.
I think many non-classical multi-channel re/mixes are lazy -- the people who mixed them don't really know how to work creatively in surround. Perhaps those engineers should spend some time working with the motion picture surround people to get some new ideas.

DSOTM already had a quadrophonic mix and I think there was some perceived responsibility to not veer too far from the classic template, however it has been some time since I listened to it. I have heard some other albums that were more engaging in their SACD Mch mixes such as Avalon by Roxy Music and Vespertine by Bjork.

But there are two aesthetics here (in both multi-channel and stereo recordings):
(1) Authenticity -- capture/reproduce a performance and acoustic faithfully;​
(2) Creativity -- take the sonic elements and create a synthetic experience.​

So (1) is the aesthetic at work in many of the Mch classical recordings and the one probably most represented here at ASR.

(2) ideally is a smooth space which sound elements inhabit without restriction -- a clean slate. I think this aesthetic is one that could be productive for non-classical genres. But this has been explored by classical composers,too, e.g. Pierre Boulez' Répons.

In reality, there is a mixture of both aesthetics (perhaps a continuum) and a concession to what is deemed appropriate. If we think of a traditional jazz or rock trio or quartet then the genre probably doesn't lend itself to (2) very much. More progressive genres probably do. Early work by The Beatles is probably (1), though some of those stereo mixes sound unusual to modern listeners, later Beatles may be more conducive to (2). The recent Mch remixes of Yes albums by Steven Wilson (on Blu-Ray) are very engaging because the dense textures are now somewhat separated and yet he is still faithful to the original sound.

It would be interesting to peruse some of the winners and nominees in this category from the Grammy Awards to see what makes them stand out:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grammy_Award_for_Best_Surround_Sound_Album
 

RayDunzl

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#9
Anyone with interest for Auro-3D for music, with a 13.1-channel setup?
Yes, if it's set up well, and it's at your place, and there are free burgers.
 

NorthSky

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#10
I was expecting something like that, or zero interest; that's why I deleted it. Auro-3D is dead on this American continent. ...Just like 3D Blu-ray movies.

About Gladiator in Dolby Atmos instead (7.1.4), the soundtrack is pretty good...Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard. You don't have to watch the movie, you can listen just to the audio with the TV off. Or buy the film soundtrack on CDs, and up-mix it in surround.

That one doesn't come on SACD multichannel. It should.
Blu-ray Audio has replaced DVD-Audio, but it's not a big trend.
Those are in 5.1

* I didn't remember about my sig here...the musical notes...they lead to SACD.
...Just by clicking on them musical notes.
 
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DonH56

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#11
I still have the quad version (LP) of Wish You Were Here, someplace... A very, very brief foray into quad back in HS. I liked the surround concept, but there were several competing formats, and far too few recordings in any of them. Decades later I appreciate the MCH decoders in my processors and have a tiny but growing collection of SACDs and DVDs.
 

Sal1950

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#12
Pink Floyd's live concerts were often done in multch sound from the very earliest days. They were many times at the mercy of the venue but of the three times I've seen them, SQ was at least good. The 8-94 outdoor Division Bell (AKA Pulse) concert at Soldiers Field in Chicago set a personal all time high in SQ for a rock performance with a excellent surround mix that enveloped the audience. I feel sad for those who never experienced the Floyd live.
https://www.wired.com/2009/05/dayintech-0512/
 

Fitzcaraldo215

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#13
A 1975 article by Alan Parsons on mixing the quad version of DSOTM: http://stereosociety.com/20/FourSides.shtml
From this it appears that many of the elements were originally recorded with surround in mind.
Yes, no doubt they had Quad in mind with a "surround" concept, most notably in the clocks episode. 2L has done that also with certain classical ensembles, placing you inside the performance.

But, I don't like the idea of being in the middle of the performance, myself. I think where Mch really distinguishes itself is in recreating a more realistic, enveloping image from an audience perspective of the concert experience, as one would hear it live, including the enveloping effects of hall reflections and ambiance. In discretely recorded Mch, it has other advantages over stereo in portraying the frontal soundstage, as well.

Obviously, that heavily favors classical music, but classical is my main musical interest. I also attend many live classical concerts each year, about one/month minimum. Based on my recollections of that experience, I find Mch delivers a much more satisfying sonic replica of live. Apparently, the market, small though it is, for Mch music reflects that, and the thousands of Mch classical releases and ongoing Mch recording sessions by the niche labels dedicated to it would indicate the market also confirms that.

Whether it is the Berlioz Requiem, with huge orchestra and chorus and surrounding brass choirs, or solo piano, guitar, etc., I find Mch is much more effective than stereo in creating a "you are there" listening experience. And, it is one that can be verified subjectively by attending live classical concerts in a decent hall. I heard this quite obviously within the first 30 seconds of playing my first Mch SACD on my newly setup system. It changed my life more than any other audio listening experience. I remain quite happily hooked on it still 10 years later.
 

oivavoi

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#14
Here's what I got on the cheap today, off our local craigslist:



The inspiration came from this thread. Reason I got it is because of Logic 7. It seems like all people who have tried it think that Logic 7 does upmixing from stereo to multichannel much better than any other algorithm. And for me, enriching stereo recordings spatially seems like a worthwhile thing to experiment with. It seems like some of these old Lexicon processors get sold cheaply on the second hand market, because they don't have hdmi, and also require separate amps or active speakers. "Music only" guys like me are probably a small demographic.

For the time being, I will use it with the D&D 8Cs, and add two surround-speakers. No center speaker for now. Will try upmixing, and also see if I can get hold of some discrete multichannel (I don't have a computer connected, so that would have to be physical SACDs). It has a remote with easy option of turning upmixing on and off, so it will be easy to compare. Then I just need to decide for what surrounds to use... They will have to be cheap! Let me know if you have any suggestions, guys.

EDIT: And the idea is exactly to recreate even more the "you are there" feeling, which @Fitzcaraldo215 writes about as one of the virtues of multichannel. For my coming omni setup in the living room the goal is the exact opposite, to recreate a "they are here" feeling. But I'm way too schizofrenic audio- and music-wise to be happy with just one setup.
 
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Sal1950

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#15
Here's what I got on the cheap today, off our local craigslist:
An interesting thought, I've heard the Logic 7 receiver based version before and liked what I heard though it was a short demo.
Let me know how you like it, I'm a bit less then impressed with the DTS and Dolby upmixing codes included with the Marantz 7703 I just purchased, liked the included ProLogic II that was in it's 7701 better.
 

hvbias

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#17
My main complaint (as I've been vocal about in the past) is the lack of exceptional classical performances in surround. I actually think it's a better format for rock/pop fans since they are remixing a lot of classic rock to surround though often fleecing people to buy the expensive deluxe/super deluxe box sets to get the surround mix.

In my hundreds of classical surround discs I have (and I do make a strong effort to research and buy discs with good performances) I estimate fewer than 10% if I'm being generous would have exceptional performance and be in surround compared to recordings that are in stereo or mono. But then those moments when everything does align like Mahler's second symphony with Abbado (great hi def video as well) it's truly stunning on a big screen with good speakers. But those instances are very rare.

Then again I should probably be turning in my audiophile card as I'm currently listening to a Naxos digital transfer Benno Moiseiwitsch playing Chopin's Ballades... scratchy 78 rpm surface noise and all :rolleyes:

I think many non-classical multi-channel re/mixes are lazy -- the people who mixed them don't really know how to work creatively in surround. Perhaps those engineers should spend some time working with the motion picture surround people to get some new ideas.

DSOTM already had a quadrophonic mix and I think there was some perceived responsibility to not veer too far from the classic template, however it has been some time since I listened to it. I have heard some other albums that were more engaging in their SACD Mch mixes such as Avalon by Roxy Music and Vespertine by Bjork.

But there are two aesthetics here (in both multi-channel and stereo recordings):
(1) Authenticity -- capture/reproduce a performance and acoustic faithfully;​
(2) Creativity -- take the sonic elements and create a synthetic experience.​

So (1) is the aesthetic at work in many of the Mch classical recordings and the one probably most represented here at ASR.

(2) ideally is a smooth space which sound elements inhabit without restriction -- a clean slate. I think this aesthetic is one that could be productive for non-classical genres. But this has been explored by classical composers,too, e.g. Pierre Boulez' Répons.

In reality, there is a mixture of both aesthetics (perhaps a continuum) and a concession to what is deemed appropriate. If we think of a traditional jazz or rock trio or quartet then the genre probably doesn't lend itself to (2) very much. More progressive genres probably do. Early work by The Beatles is probably (1), though some of those stereo mixes sound unusual to modern listeners, later Beatles may be more conducive to (2). The recent Mch remixes of Yes albums by Steven Wilson (on Blu-Ray) are very engaging because the dense textures are now somewhat separated and yet he is still faithful to the original sound.

It would be interesting to peruse some of the winners and nominees in this category from the Grammy Awards to see what makes them stand out:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grammy_Award_for_Best_Surround_Sound_Album
There are two surround mixes of DSOTM, 5.1 and the quad, I like both.

Meddle is going to be getting a surround mix as well. It was included by accident in the big Early Years box, but they will be releasing it outside the box.
 

Dialectic

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#19
For the time being, I will use it with the D&D 8Cs, and add two surround-speakers. No center speaker for now. Will try upmixing, and also see if I can get hold of some discrete multichannel (I don't have a computer connected, so that would have to be physical SACDs). It has a remote with easy option of turning upmixing on and off, so it will be easy to compare. Then I just need to decide for what surrounds to use... They will have to be cheap! Let me know if you have any suggestions, guys.
If you're using analog active surrounds, you'll need to run the 8Cs in low-latency mode.
 

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