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Stereophile's Jim Austin Says Streaming Atmos Sucks

MattHooper

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I’m pretty sure that no one here needs instructions on how to listen to music.
 

Vacceo

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I’m pretty sure that no one here needs instructions on how to listen to music.
I´m still quite interested to read such instructions. I got a set of instructions from a toothpick box I bought years ago, so...
 

jooc

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"... Stereophile has had its head on backwards towards surround sound ever since J. Gordon Holt left over the issue and the loss of Kal's Rubinson's "In The Round" put the final nail in its coffin at this magazine. [ASR OP Note just fyi: Kal has said that it was he who decided to sunset his column.] While over at The Absolute Sound multich coverage continues and expands with things like Robert Harley's October 2023, eight page article on the building of the new HT/Music room in his home."

Just gotta say it doesn't get much more Inside Baseball than this ^
 

Sal1950

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BTW The Feb 2024 issue of TAS has reprinted a 5 page article from Princeton's University Press called
Going Spatial.
So the interesting beat goes on with TAS showing interest and giving coverage to immersive audio while the SOP at
Stereophile is to continue pissing on it at every opportunity. :mad:
 

Brian Hall

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I've listened to several Atmos tracks over the last couple of days. I don't think most albums or groups will benefit from Atmos capability.

But when it fits the music it is impressive and sounds great. Check out the Atmos version of Dark Side of the Moon.
 

Sal1950

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I don't think most albums or groups will benefit from Atmos capability.
I guess that depends on the type of music you listen to?
For classical that may be correct, most listeners want that upfront concerthall type soundstage and the immersive aspect
of multich serves to do little but add a lot of room ambience.
But I've found little over the years in rock or most modern music that couldn't benefit from it's presentation in immersive
formats such as Quad, 5.1, or Atmos mastering unless the engineers dropped the ball.
 

SIY

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We had an immersive experience last Thursday. Visiting New Orleans, we went over to the Mother In Law Lounge, sat in big comfortable easy chairs, and had the band all around us. Live, acoustic, unamplified (except the vocals, which were a minor part of the show). I would LOVE to be able to recreate that sound in my music room.
 

Brian Hall

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I guess that depends on the type of music you listen to?
For classical that may be correct, most listeners want that upfront concerthall type soundstage and the immersive aspect
of multich serves to do little but add a lot of room ambience.
But I've found little over the years in rock or most modern music that couldn't benefit from it's presentation in immersive
formats such as Quad, 5.1, or Atmos mastering unless the engineers dropped the ball.

What would be a good arrangement for a band like Kiss? When we see them live, they are on a stage in front of us. What Atmos positioning would make more sense that the normal stereo field?

Should the bass drum be behind me? Left cymbols up in the air to my left and right cymbols up in the air on my right? Have one singer to my direct left and another slightly forward on the right? Bass guitar coming from the left side and down a little lower than me? Guitars floating around in the air up high in front?

Atmos is great for positioning things all around you. I just don't see how that makes sense for normal groups.

It worked great on Dark Side of the Moon where the whispering and talking voices and sound effects can be logically be placed around you and closer or farther away. I think it would work just as well for parts of The Wall. I'm trying to think of other groups where it would make sense and mostly coming up empty.

I guess it would make sense to try to recreate the echo and reverb sounds of a certain arena with crowd sounds around you for a live concert.

How would you change the mix from stereo to Atmos for a standard album from someone like Creedence Clearwater Revival for example?
 

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Sal1950

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What would be a good arrangement for a band like Kiss? When we see them live, they are on a stage in front of us. What Atmos positioning would make more sense that the normal stereo field?
Brian, you do have to accept the modern surround paradigm for the presentation of music, whether it be quad, 5.1, or Atmos/Auro3D as a completely different listening experience than the old stereo front stage perspective. It's a completely different thing and if it doesn't work for you I understand that.
Should the bass drum be behind me? Left cymbols up in the air to my left and right cymbols up in the air on my right? Have one singer to my direct left and another slightly forward on the right? Bass guitar coming from the left side and down a little lower than me? Guitars floating around in the air up high in front?
That's the thing, the idea is for us to be immersed in the music and instruments all around you. To answer your question above is "its an artistic decision" make by the artists and mixing engineers. Stop by Steven Wilson's (a most celebrated recording artist and mixing engineer in immersive music" and ask him how he makes those determinations. Or maybe ask Mark Waldrep (Dr. AIX) another producer of original immersive music? Or Alan Parson's who made the original Quad DSOTM mix and has done tons of original surround recordings
You can enjoy a painting in a few ways, one on a canvas across the front of the room.
Or another where you walk into a room with the walls and ceiling painted all around you.
A few artists back around the 1470s brought us that first AFAIK

Sistina-interno.jpeg
 

MattHooper

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Looking at your post:

No artist ever ‘intended’ 2-ch stereo. They made music, and translation to a recording was in the hands of the producer.

Certainly many artists intended their work for 2 channel stereo. Many artists worked intimately with that format, forming the work for the format. Every band I played in and everyone I knew that recorded were part of the mixing choices, even the mixing process. That goes for tons of bands. That was especially the case before digital mixing consoles - it often took several band members mixing tracks at the same time. Online music guru Rick Beato's recent talks with ABBA's Bjorn or members of The Police talk about their process, and they mention being very hands on in the mix. You can find that for plenty of bands. And obviously the decisions were all arranged for the 2 channel format.


Even in the case where the musician(s) are deeply involved in the production, it is usually at the mixing of the tracks stage, hence, still part of ‘making music’ such as where to cut in an instrumental or vocal or sound effect, at what level, etc.

Right, all intended for and designed for 2 channel stereo. So they certainly intended their art/music for 2 channel stereo.


Not so much about how many tracks to end up with.

That depends. Sometimes it was only up to the engineer to make those calls. But especially in the days when tracks were limited, and with the bands being hands on in the mixing theater too, they were also making essentially technical decisions as to how many tracks to use, what to bounce, keep, get rid of etc.

As for multichannel, music producer and engineer Mark Waldrep used to say, “Show me an artist that’s heard great high-resolution multichannel and I’ll show you a surround sound convert.”

A good example is King Crimson. Clearly they worked together with the sound engineers to craft all their special effects, fades, etc. And decades later, when Steven Wilson approached Robert Fripp about accessing the recording tapes and making fresh multichannel mixes, Fripp was very negative about the project, but agreed to let Wilson do just one song as a demo. When he heard it he completely flipped his opinion and said something like “that’s the way we would have wanted it to be at the time, if we only had the technology”. And a major project was born to remix their albums into surround.

That could be the case for some artists, not for others. But it's a misleading way to think about it. Intent, in any realistic sense, is constrained to what you can actually produce. All art is constrained to one degree or another by what is available to the artist. That goes for everything, engineering or what have you.

You could take any old recording or any old movie and speculate "if they had X or Y technology at the time they would have used it" but even IF it's true in some cases, that in no way negates their art was deliberately crafted within the times and that the art wasn't "what the artist wanted it to be." We have tons of artists/musicians/film-makers telling us "this is how I wanted the art to be and why" and anything else like "well they would have wanted differently if X and Y" is unsubstantiated speculation and usually irrelevant. It's just a non-sequitur to move from "technology advanced" to "therefore artists working in previous technologies did not intend their work for that technology."


So I reckon there is about a 1% chance that 2-channel productions are all the artists ever wanted their work to be, in terms of sonic production values.

That truly makes no sense at all. There's no reason whatsoever to think the gazillion artists who worked in stereo were kept up at night wishing they could have worked in surround sound. People were utterly passionate about music in the stereo era and few were thinking "we really need surround sound to create or appreciate music."
That's just nerd-fantasy stuff. If there are some artists retroactively saying "hey that would be neat" that's an entirely different thing than proposing that, for most of their work, their two channel releases did not represent what they wanted.
 

Newman

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My post is perfectly logical and reflects the experiences of sound engineers. Take it up with them as ‘making no sense’, see how you go. Then get back to us.
 

MattHooper

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My post is perfectly logical and reflects the experiences of sound engineers. Take it up with them as ‘making no sense’, see how you go. Then get back to us.

That's merely to wave away anything that doesn't fit your conclusion. I'm familiar with sound engineers. Do you remember which business I'm in? Not to mention I have been in bands where we recorded in studios, and I have known tons of different bands who recorded in studios, so I'm actually pretty familiar with how things can go.

Your claim was that: No artist ever ‘intended’ 2-ch stereo. They made music, and translation to a recording was in the hands of the producer.

That didn't make sense either in reality, or even within the statements you made in your own post. You recognized that bands could be involved in the 2 channel mixing decisions as well, and yet refused to acknowledge this obviously means they did so with intent aimed at 2 channel stereo!

My band certainly did so. My brother who has his own studio and mixes/produces his own work certainly designs his music for 2 channel stereo. So did every band I knew.

And you can see countless examples of big bands who were quite involved in the mixing room. Here is Bjorn Ulvaeus of ABBA describing their mixing process, which included Bjorn and fellow songwriter Benny Anderson creating the mixes along with their engineer, to get mixes perfect:


Now explain to me how they would NOT have been "intending" their music for two channel stereo. The musicians themselves were mixing in two channels, because that was the main format of the time. Their artistic mixing decisions were therefore MEANT for 2 channel.

How could they NOT have been intending their artistic creation for 2 channel stereo???!!! You have to do some really bizarre mental somersaults to suggest otherwise.
 
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Brian Hall

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It makes sense to capture and reproduce a band's music as they are during a real live performance.

I know when bands I was in recorded, we had the drums mostly centered with cymbals slightly left and right. The bass drum was always dead center.

Rhythm guitar would be slightly to one side of the other. Keyboards opposite side unless multiple tracks then split. Bass slightly closer to the middle. Lead vocals in the center, dual backup vocals to either side.

Lead guitar more to one side or the other and possibly moving from side to side as could happen in a live performance.

The recordings were always done to mimic how the band was setup in live performances. In ideal setups we would all play live as much as possible, but if not possible, drums were recorded first as a base. Then bass, then keyboards and rhythm guitar, then lead guitar parts and lastly lead vocals and then backup vocals.

We didn't usually have extra sounds effects to mix in other that a few storm sounds centered and sometimes machine guns which would be left and right, but not at the same time.

I can see where the storm sounds would be good in Atmos (overhead and surround). The machine guns would work being moved around to different places in Atmos.

BUT, how does it make sense to move the band members around a center position?
 

MattHooper

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It makes sense to capture and reproduce a band's music as they are during a real live performance.

I know when bands I was in recorded, we had the drums mostly centered with cymbals slightly left and right. The bass drum was always dead center.

Rhythm guitar would be slightly to one side of the other. Keyboards opposite side unless multiple tracks then split. Bass slightly closer to the middle. Lead vocals in the center, dual backup vocals to either side.

Lead guitar more to one side or the other and possibly moving from side to side as could happen in a live performance.

The recordings were always done to mimic how the band was setup in live performances. In ideal setups we would all play live as much as possible, but if not possible, drums were recorded first as a base. Then bass, then keyboards and rhythm guitar, then lead guitar parts and lastly lead vocals and then backup vocals.

We didn't usually have extra sounds effects to mix in other that a few storm sounds centered and sometimes machine guns which would be left and right, but not at the same time.

I can see where the storm sounds would be good in Atmos (overhead and surround). The machine guns would work being moved around to different places in Atmos.

BUT, how does it make sense to move the band members around a center position?

I have musicians who bring their work over, be it different masters to evaluate or finished product CDs/digital/vinyl, on my system over the years.

I have a surround system in the very same room as they well know. None of them ask me to play it on the surround system because of course they mixed in, and for, 2 channel.
 

Axo1989

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What would be a good arrangement for a band like Kiss? When we see them live, they are on a stage in front of us. What Atmos positioning would make more sense that the normal stereo field?

Should the bass drum be behind me? Left cymbols up in the air to my left and right cymbols up in the air on my right? Have one singer to my direct left and another slightly forward on the right? Bass guitar coming from the left side and down a little lower than me? Guitars floating around in the air up high in front?

Atmos is great for positioning things all around you. I just don't see how that makes sense for normal groups.

It worked great on Dark Side of the Moon where the whispering and talking voices and sound effects can be logically be placed around you and closer or farther away. I think it would work just as well for parts of The Wall. I'm trying to think of other groups where it would make sense and mostly coming up empty.

I guess it would make sense to try to recreate the echo and reverb sounds of a certain arena with crowd sounds around you for a live concert.

How would you change the mix from stereo to Atmos for a standard album from someone like Creedence Clearwater Revival for example?

I definitely get your argument. While my general listening doesn't often stretch to music my dad can barely remember (cf Kiss or Pink Floyd or CCR) I happily listen to a range of music via two-channel stereo speaker setup at home. I'm not averse to multichannel as a concept, and when I replaced a broken DAC I allowed for that option (albeit unrealised in the amp/speaker department so far).

Yes, live performance with venue ambience is a possibility for multichannel with more conventional music (where the performers traditional line up in front of you). Especially for the classical concert hall. Also, it's not hard to imagine a studio spatial mix for electronic stuff ranging from Autechre to FKA twigs to Ryoji Ikeda. Meanwhile my main enjoyment of Atmos is the binaural mix for headphone listening to most music, as I'm one of those people who perceives conventional stereos via headphones on a soundstage between my ears, and I'm not a fan of that.
 
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Sal1950

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BUT, how does it make sense to move the band members around a center position?
It's a different perspective, period.
Stereo is no more "correct" than multich today or mono before it..
Sticking your head in the window of the concert hall is just one perspective.
As would be sitting up on the stage with the band all around you.
But I guess you didn't read my first response to you, I'll try again.

Brian, you do have to accept the modern surround paradigm for the presentation of music, whether it be quad, 5.1, or Atmos/Auro3D as a completely different listening experience than the old stereo front stage perspective. It's a completely different thing and if it doesn't work for you I understand that.
 

Brian Hall

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It's a different perspective, period.
Stereo is no more "correct" than multich today or mono before it..
Sticking your head in the window of the concert hall is just one perspective.
As would be sitting up on the stage with the band all around you.
But I guess you didn't read my first response to you, I'll try again.

Stereo reproduction done well reproduces the soundstage to go with what our eyes see when we attend a concert or even see a video of a band playing. Would it make sense to see the drummer center stage in front of me and hear the drum sounds coming from behind me?

I can imagine an elaborate stage setup where the band members are on moving platforms and Atmos has the sound tracking them as they move around, over and behind me.

Atmos makes sense in some non-live performance music videos to reproduce things that are we are seeing on the screen, just like a movie. Fire sounds, thunder, explosions, animals barking, water running, sails rippling in the wind, waves crashing, a helicopter or plane flying overhead, etc.
 

Sal1950

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Stereo reproduction done well reproduces the soundstage to go with what our eyes see when we attend a concert or even see a video of a band playing. Would it make sense to see the drummer center stage in front of me and hear the drum sounds coming from behind me?

I can imagine an elaborate stage setup where the band members are on moving platforms and Atmos has the sound tracking them as they move around, over and behind me.

Atmos makes sense in some non-live performance music videos to reproduce things that are we are seeing on the screen, just like a movie. Fire sounds, thunder, explosions, animals barking, water running, sails rippling in the wind, waves crashing, a helicopter or plane flying overhead, etc.
You don't seem to even attempt to understand what I'm telling you so we're going no where.
 
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