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Is surround sound worth it? Here is a link to an interesting discussion on the B&W website.

The discussion seems to be more about the music side of things. I found it really informative.
 

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Interesting that B&W would bring this up for discussion. When I listened to the 802d, I was blown away by the imaging. I really could concieve of using a stereo pair for movies. They image that well. Obviously the effect is diminished for anyone not in the sweet spot, but for a single guy like myself, it is definatly impressive. If I had just invested $16,000 on fron speakers, odds are I'd be in a position to enjoy six more of the same series though. In real lif though, I'd be perfecly content tradiing my current 7.1 setup for a pair of those.:bigsmile:
 

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As far as music goes I don't like surround. If you listen to acoustic music, as you would in a hall, makes no sense to have surround, except perhaps to recreate the reflections of the/a hall. The recording would have to be done with that in mind and with microphones placed at different seating position, etc... Then, re-mixed in 7.1 (but, even that wouldn't be enough speakers...) But, even using a multi-speaker set up it would be a gross approximation of the real hall.

You could more simply do that by using a listening room that is appropriately diffused and reflective of course. Perhaps with moving panels to increase/subtract reflections as needed. Would require knowledge and thought but, could be done.

I personally don't care to have people (instruments) arbitrarily spread out across the room. If you have good speakers and a good listening room you'll be surrounded by sound as it is, the right way.
 

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As far as music goes I don't like surround. If you listen to acoustic music, as you would in a hall, makes no sense to have surround, except perhaps to recreate the reflections of the/a hall. The recording would have to be done with that in mind and with microphones placed at different seating position, etc... Then, re-mixed in 7.1 (but, even that wouldn't be enough speakers...) But, even using a multi-speaker set up it would be a gross approximation of the real hall.
An approximation but inordinately superior to making no such effort or simply folding it all into two channels.

You could more simply do that by using a listening room that is appropriately diffused and reflective of course. Perhaps with moving panels to increase/subtract reflections as needed. Would require knowledge and thought but, could be done.
This is impossible, to a great extent, simply because the dimensions of most listening rooms are an order of magnitude smaller than those of most performance spaces.

I personally don't care to have people (instruments) arbitrarily spread out across the room.
I entirely agree.

If you have good speakers and a good listening room you'll be surrounded by sound as it is, the right way.
Nope. Wrong room, wrong ambiance.

Kal
 

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There only exist the room in which a performance is played. Be it a live or recorded performance. As such, there is really no wrong room (except a bad room of course).

If the goal is to recreate the exact size of, say each concert hall in which an orchestra is recorded that would be a rather futile attempt. Even the best approximation (which would require a setup no one could afford) wouldn't exactly duplicate the original. And for a variety of reasons.

I think if you have a a good two channel system and a good room you can enjoy the music as it sounds in that room, with a sound stage that is full and well defined, without the trickery of surround.

One of the issues, at least with orchestral music, for example, is that ambience is recorded along with the performance. So, you have reflections from the hall recorded along with the instruments. Even with a 7.1 recording and playback those reflections would not sound as natural as the original. But, you would have an approximation of the original space.

A way out of the problem would be to record each instrument with a close mic, using gobos, even iso boots which of course, no orchestra would do. But, if in theory you had a dry recording of each section of the orchestra along with either a separate recording of multi-channel ambience and/or impulse response of the hall to use in a convolution reverb, you could concievably come up with an esoteric playback system in which the orchestra comes from a number of speakers in front (to match the location of each group) and then, a multi-speakers setup covering ceiling and all walls would play back the ambience microphones. And because the system could be adapted to each room size and shape it would come closer to replicating the original.

If someone builds such a system, I'll take three ;p

Even the best convolution reverbs do not really equal the real thing. There are many variables.

Ultimately, when I listen to music I am looking for this:

1-performance
2-rec. quality

in that order.

But, even in movies, is surround really necessary? if I hear an helicopter coming from rear left but, see nothing on the screen...it's confusing. WE just assume that copter will come into the screen and we naturally expect to see it show up any second. But, that's not always the case. It would be different with a surround screen :)

I think surround helps to 'immerse' the audience in the action but, other than that we are still limited by not having a surround screen. And, why stop there: it should actually be a sphere in which the audience is suspended in the center, thus being able to see above, below and all around, with sound to match.

I think virtual reality will do the trick and will be cheaper than my imaginary "sphere theater". I see VR as a near future vehicle for motion picture (or even education for that matter).
 

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There only exist the room in which a performance is played. Be it a live or recorded performance. As such, there is really no wrong room (except a bad room of course).

If the goal is to recreate the exact size of, say each concert hall in which an orchestra is recorded that would be a rather futile attempt. Even the best approximation (which would require a setup no one could afford) wouldn't exactly duplicate the original. And for a variety of reasons.
The first statement is irrelevant since reproduced music superimposes the acoustics of the listening room on top of the acoustics of the performance. Basically, corruption. The second statement throws the baby out with the bathwater. If you want to give up, OK.

I think if you have a a good two channel system and a good room you can enjoy the music as it sounds in that room, with a sound stage that is full and well defined, without the trickery of surround.
Only if it was recorded under anechoic conditions. Besides, a symphony orchestra in any domestic room cannot sound right.

One of the issues, at least with orchestral music, for example, is that ambience is recorded along with the performance. So, you have reflections from the hall recorded along with the instruments. Even with a 7.1 recording and playback those reflections would not sound as natural as the original.
But that, in fact, is what discrete multichannel can do. An approximation, of course, but to a decent degree, of exactly what one wants.

A way out of the problem would be to record each instrument with a close mic, using gobos, even iso boots which of course, no orchestra would do. But, if in theory you had a dry recording of each section of the orchestra along with either a separate recording of multi-channel ambience and/or impulse response of the hall to use in a convolution reverb, you could concievably come up with an esoteric playback system in which the orchestra comes from a number of speakers in front (to match the location of each group) and then, a multi-speakers setup covering ceiling and all walls would play back the ambience microphones. And because the system could be adapted to each room size and shape it would come closer to replicating the original.

If someone builds such a system, I'll take three ;p
Red herring.

Even the best convolution reverbs do not really equal the real thing. There are many variables.
Who said anything about reverbs? I am talking about recording multichannel and with as little fiddling as possible. Take an ear to what Pentatone has been doing.

Kal
 

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What about the center channel? I've always wondered why they needed one. Good stereo imaging actually makes you think your center channel is playing (when it's not).

I could see a few reasons: 1) It's easier when mixing the soundtrack AND/OR 2) It combats off axis seating AND/OR 3) Cheaper sound systems or poor layouts will not suffer as much from poor stereo imaging
 

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The topic is interesting because of several factors:

1) only very FEW people have real home theaters custom designed and built by professionals, such as Russ Berger, etc...

2) only few people can afford esoteric, high-end audio components (with or without a custom built room)

3) market is driven by the least common denominator, what people buy the most...(see iPods)

The vast majority of people simply get whatever the salesman pushes on them when they buy their big TV. And that's fine. For most people, surround is enough of a satisfying experience in and of itself and any decent component can get them there.

When you get into building a theater room and using super-high end audio you are of course at the other end of the spectrum. But, that's the few and it doesn't drive the market as a whole.

I think that companies may be looking at cheaper ways to provide the same or better experience, which made me think of a virtual reality-type of system. You'd wear a helmet of sort which would provide the visual and sound playback. It's a lot easier to control sound in that environment than it is in a room. It would also provide for some visual and audio tricks which would require far too expensive a set up to do any other way. Also, each person would have independent control of their volume, video brightness, etc...

For what we have now, I personally can do with or without surround. It's fun but, not necessary IMO. Companies are in business to make money and they make money with what the masses buy.

A lot of media content nowadays gets played back on iPods, video pods, and all sort of 'pods' so, in the end that's what it is. Music which is recorded with hand-built pre amps, super high-end microphones, multi-thousand dollars converters, etc... ends up on a nano pod! Again, we are talking about the majority of music listeners, not the audiophile or even the aficionado.

Regardless of how home theater sales are doing at present, it's possible that with the current economic downturn, along with the need to compete at a large scale by providing more for less, companies have effectively reached the end of the scale for surround systems that MOST people buy. So, it's plausible that some companies may be thinking of putting out 2/3 ch systems instead, if they think people would go for it. A lot of it it's psychological. With digital cameras most buyers believe, for example, that more megapixel means "better". That is not always the case. The same goes for audio: a good 2/3ch system could sound better than a mediocre 7.1 system of comparable cost.

It's hard to know exactly what companies are thinking but, the ones who do well usually do so by being slightly ahead of the competition and sometimes you have to think out of the box to do it.

Personally, I think it's great that such discussion is taking place at the B&W's site, speaks volume for their forward thinking and/or their marketing plans...perhaps.
 

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What about the center channel? I've always wondered why they needed one. Good stereo imaging actually makes you think your center channel is playing (when it's not).

I could see a few reasons: 1) It's easier when mixing the soundtrack AND/OR 2) It combats off axis seating AND/OR 3) Cheaper sound systems or poor layouts will not suffer as much from poor stereo imaging
The reason for a center speaker is to lock the dialog to the screen, so if you're sitting off center the voices stay locked on the screen. Which is going to be the case when more than one person is in the room.

If, on the other hand, you're sitting in the center, listening to music or watching movies, you don't need the center with good imaging mains. Most MC music recordings I have either don't use the center at all, or only for some of the instruments, with the lead singer's voice coming from the L/R, so you're back to a phantom center.

But to create the best possible soundstage, either stereo or MC, the speakers need to be located perfectly for that room. Not up against the end wall and/or stuck into the front corners. One another forum I saw a pair of % of room width to find the best locations for the L/R speakers in a rectangular room.
I wanted to know if this info was good or bogus, as I had played around with my locations until I thought I had it as good as I could get it.

So I ran the numbers (.276 x width of room for the distance from side wall to speaker; and .447 x width of room for the distance out from end wall). For my 17.5 ft wide room I got the locations of 58" from the side walls and 93" out from the end wall.
I then measured from the walls to my speakers. As it turned out the distances to the side walls were almost right on the money, within an inch of the 58". The distance to the end wall I already knew wasn't close, 56" to the baffle, instead of the 93".

I then pulled out the mains to that 93", pushed back the RPTV right against the end wall and removed the center speaker. I also pushed back the seating the same distance as I pulled out the speakers. The result was that with some recordings having the speakers out 93" produced a deeper soundstage, other recordings, it made no difference. As for the width of the soundstage it was already maxed as I was at the 58" locations.
 

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But, that exactly where people listen to it.
Most? That depends on the segment of society you survey.

My point is that the sound of an orchestra in one's room is weird and unsatisfying. There's a neat Denon CD of a 25min program with the Osaka Philharmonic recorded in an anechoic chamber and it is really strange to hear in all the listening rooms I have played it in. The small room acoustics are simply inappropriate for it and the ear/brain knows this immediately.

Now, normal recordings are made in normal reverberant spaces but, when playing them back in a domestic listening, the listening room's acoustics are conflated with the acoustics of the recording site and the latter is corrupted to a fair degree. Certainly, any reflected sounds are entirely spurious.

You might try reading Floyd Toole's "Sound Reproduction" for a more scientific exposition.

Kal
 

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What about the center channel? I've always wondered why they needed one. Good stereo imaging actually makes you think your center channel is playing (when it's not).
It does a pretty good job of faking it but it is audibly inferior to a discrete center channel. The original multichannel experiments (Blumlein in the UK and at Bell Labs in the US) determined that 3 channels was the absolute minimum to achieve decent spatial imaging but technical limitations restricted the commercial products to two channels, unfortunately.

Compare one of the RCA Living Stereo SACD stereo tracks with the 3 channel tracks to hear the difference. A good example is the Reiner/Chicago Scheherazade which is widely accepted as an outstanding stereo recording but which is substantially better in 3 channel.

Kal
 

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The topic is interesting because of several factors:

1) only very FEW people have real home theaters custom designed and built by professionals, such as Russ Berger, etc...

2) only few people can afford esoteric, high-end audio components (with or without a custom built room)

3) market is driven by the least common denominator, what people buy the most...(see iPods)..................................
Personally, I think it's great that such discussion is taking place at the B&W's site, speaks volume for their forward thinking and/or their marketing plans...perhaps.
Sure but that's not my problem. :jump:

My arguments are about the potential of the media to provide better, more accurate, reproduction. Most people don't care (and that's OK) but it doesn't change the science.

Kal
 

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The reason for a center speaker is to lock the dialog to the screen, so if you're sitting off center the voices stay locked on the screen. Which is going to be the case when more than one person is in the room.

If, on the other hand, you're sitting in the center, listening to music or watching movies, you don't need the center with good imaging mains. Most MC music recordings I have either don't use the center at all, or only for some of the instruments, with the lead singer's voice coming from the L/R, so you're back to a phantom center.
For movies, sure. For music, there's good reason for a discrete center and I state some in another post.

Kal
 

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I like the fact that multichannel audio lets you get closer to the concert hall ambiance. But it really helps to have a room without a lot of reflections (treatment) to get closer to the goal.

And yes, the center channel helps to more accurately locate the center instruments for classical orchestras. Flutes, piccolo's, sax's, french horns, etc.
 

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The topic is interesting because of several factors:

1) only very FEW people have real home theaters custom designed and built by professionals, such as Russ Berger, etc...

2) only few people can afford esoteric, high-end audio components (with or without a custom built room)

3) market is driven by the least common denominator, what people buy the most...(see iPods)
I don't think you need 1 or 2 for a satisfying result, but I do agree with number three and think it's too bad.

You won't really ever be able to replicate the recording in a home environment exactly as it was heard when recorded. There are simply too many variables, the greatest of which is room size and acoustics and the recording engineer's interpretation of the material. I rather like the discussion on B&W's website as it speaks of recording for maximum impact and I highly agree with this. Why not make it sound better in home... we have the tools.. use them. It's futile IMO to chase down this notion that your home should sound exactly like the symphony hall. Though I couldn't help but notice that all of the quotes were geared to sell more speakers :R

Something I think we all forget from time to time as we tweak, adjust and tweak some more in pursuit of perfection, is that this is supposed to be fun! Surround sound is cool!
 

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I don't think you need 1 or 2 for a satisfying resul
t

I agree, you don't but, like everything else, it can be taken to extremes. The entire audiophile industry, for example, is based on that. But, doesn't drive the market, hence my statement.

I suspect that companies are looking for something new and, again, the only thing I can come up with is some sort of virtual reality system. It would be relatively cheap to make, affordable for everyone who can afford an average surround sound now, flexible and upgradeable.

I think the improvements in video quality add more to the experience than esoteric audio systems. I'd rather watch a Blue Ray DVD on a 2 ch system than a standard DVD on a 7.1, for example. Audio has been ahead of video for quite sometimes in home theater systems so, it's nice to have video catch up a bit.

I used to go to a lot of the Digital Screenings at the Entertainment Technology Center (USC) in Los Angeles. They show uncompressed movies in a state of the art theater. I was really impressed by the HUGE difference in video resolution, color and contrast between the uncompressed movie VS what you see in a theater. The audio, while also state of the art, wasn't as much of a jump from regular theaters.

IMO surround is here to stay, at least for a while but, it may well be that companies are looking for something new and as usual, the first to come up with a new system that takes off will enjoy the benefit from licensing their patent(s) to the rest.
 

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Personally, i think all the statements posted before hand are taking it too black and white.

For the foundation of the question; "Is surround Sound worth it?", there was never implied it had to be expensive to be surround. Surround sound is surround sound, whether it be good, bad, cheap or expensive.

But is "surround sound worth it?" Worth what, Time, Money, Effort? It all depends on the person.

But with the masses buying surround sound left and right, i think the mass is telling me it is worth it. It is highly sought out in many households. And if you didn't pursue it, than why are you here? Its a Home Theater forum, thus mainly focusing on a System that re-creates theatrical experiences such as large picture, and sound and usually high quality sound.

With those 2 factors it increases the likelihood of being more engaged in movies, and instead of watching them, feeling more immersed in the movie itself.

When you watch a good movie, that has good action, as well as good sound recording quality, having a tank shoot a shell from behind the microphone as you watch it hit the target, you hear the cannon fire from behind, and the echo from the shell exploding. Surround sound is meant to put you more into the movie rather than just watch the movie.

So, "Is Surround sound worth it?" Yes, I feel surround sound is worth every penny. It immerses me into the music, movie, or game more than just hearing it on 2 channel stereo. If I want music in the background while I do something, 2 channel stereo will work. But if im going to concentrate on the music, movie or game, than I want to be immersed and hear more than whats in front of me, because, almost always is there more going on in the background than we think.
 

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For movies, sure. For music, there's good reason for a discrete center and I state some in another post.

Kal
Actually, I think its the other way around. As I stated before, the majority of my MC music collection does not use the center channel at all or just barely. If the center is so important to music playback why do so many MC recordings not use it?

When we only had PL the industry didn't give much thought to the center. Hell, my first MC receiver, a Sony, only had a center preout, as the "normal" setup was using the TV speaker. Which also resulted in speaker companies designing really bad center speakers.

But as soon as digital came on line, then the movie industry realizes how important the center channel is. Thus the speaker companies started making better center speakers.
If I'm sitting somewhere other than center, while watching a movie its no problem as the center is locking the dialog to the screen. But put in a MC music disc most likely its only a phantom center, of the ones I have anyway.
 

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Actually, I think its the other way around. As I stated before, the majority of my MC music collection does not use the center channel at all or just barely. If the center is so important to music playback why do so many MC recordings not use it?
Habit. Do you think recording engineers (and I use that term functionally and without reference to academic credentials) are any less influenced by their years of doing things one way than are listeners?

When we only had PL the industry didn't give much thought to the center. Hell, my first MC receiver, a Sony, only had a center preout, as the "normal" setup was using the TV speaker. Which also resulted in speaker companies designing really bad center speakers.
Your Sony was not the cause of that. The cause was the recognition that (1) a center speaker was a necessity for HT but that (2) the vast majority of HTs would have neither an AT screen nor otherwise accommodate a full-size vertical center speaker. I'd sooner blame that on the ubiquity of fireplaces than on anything Sony did.

But put in a MC music disc most likely its only a phantom center, of the ones I have anyway.
I have many with a discrete center but that issue has less to do with the demonstrable validity of having a discrete center channel than it does to habit, history and other non-technical issues.

BTW, you can test this with the RCA Scheherazade SACD I mentioned before.

Kal
 
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