Friday, March 2, 2018
Unlike stereo, quadraphonic reproduction would be complicated by a variety of competing formats and reproduction issues that would both confuse and frustrate consumers. It wouldn't be hard to get to the point where a typical music consumer would just throw in the proverbial towel and give up on multi-channel music for good. The results often fell short of the promises, at least from the earliest available gear. What is interesting from a classical listener's point of view is how most (if not all?) classical music LPs bought into the SQ matrix format for vinyl LPs. Although many different companies issued classical albums in quad - none that I know of bothered with the competing matrix format - QS. Columbia Masterworks, EMI Angel, Vanguard and all the other smaller companies in the US and abroad like Vox Turnabout and Supraphon stuck with the SQ matrix format. How did this happen? Why did so many companies buy into that particular matrix? Unfortunately, the critical listening reviews would dash the whole enterprise right into the ground - mostly because of how SQ sounded when reproduced in plain stereo. Without getting too technical - it can be obvious to even the casual listener when a recording is processed through the SQ matrix system since the process relies on sending certain elements of the recording into complicated sonic "phase shifts" which can be decoded to rear speaker channels. Complicated? Oh yeah! So complicated that most affordable SQ decoders sucked big time! The most successful decoding units didn't even arrive on the consumer market until the late 1970s and by that time most people decided to give up on quad LPs. (Tape formats fared better since they were ultimately discrete from the get-go. Open reels and 8 tracks never had to suffer with matrix encoding issues.)
What I discovered along my own path of research was how much better the competing matrix format - QS - was when both decoding to quad AND listening in regular stereo. No discernible "phasey" sound in stereo and the quad decoding units were FAR SUPERIOR than the SQ units. (It should be noted that RCA and the WEA group labels - Warners, Elektra and Atlantic - all stuck with the unique 3rd option for vinyl - CD4 / Quadradisc. This format did not require a phase shift and therefore the stereo sound was not impacted. The only labels that issued classical titles in this format were RCA and Elektra Nonesuch and they work wonderfully when decoded through the proper gear.)
All of this is explained in far better detail at other internet sites like the great QuadraphonicQuad forum. The sad reality for classical music is that it generally was not served well by the quad era because of the SQ format's phasey sound quality embedded into the LPs. Audiophiles quickly learned to shun classical quad LPs since the sound was so tampered with it could dramatically impact the intended balance and dynamics of what an orchestra sounded like naturally. Oh well!
Now, for the adventurous listener on a tight budget this whole situation is actually a benefit. Me being the case in point. With so many quad classical LPs available it can be a cheap way to hear different performances of well known pieces. And, if one also happens to be a quadraphonic enthusiast - the experimenting can lead to some interesting conclusions! My own quad adventures have expanded into other popular genres - rock, jazz, etc......yet the ubiquity of classical quad LPs was something that got me ready to listen beyond those realms. With popular titles, part of the quad fun is hearing things in the new mixes that are either buried or totally missing from the normal stereo (or mono) mixes. So, in order to fully appreciate a quad mix - the best thing to do is get familiar with a given piece of music in its mono or stereo form. THEN you will be able to spot stuff in the new surround mixes that should render the music fresh and exciting.
After enough years of listening to mostly the mono and stereo records I finally decided to start breaking into the quad LPs in a serious way. Of course it helps to have the excellent Surround Master decoding unit from Involve Audio to extract that snarly SQ-encoded data (which is, by the way, the most expensive piece of equipment in the whole gear chain but totally worth it). Now, much of this research is being conducted in the living room which I recently designed as the second vintage surround system in the house. This came about mostly because I was unhappy with the limits of the quad amp in the main vintage setup in my study / office space. Just not getting enough juice to the speakers when I had the chance to really crank it up! So I revised the main system with the Kenwood amp powering the KLH 38s in the fronts and the modern-ish Pioneer powering the Dynaco A25s in the rears. Hence the tower of power:
So what's been playing? Here are the records I've transferred so far:
Along with the recent quad adventures, I've been trying to re-connect with some open reel tapes lately. Open reel tape is just about as much of a pain in the rear as quad LP is (and my reel to reel machine is stereo only alas). Yet, it sure is interesting and fun to hear some vintage recordings via the open reel format - like some of those early stereo recordings..........
And even with all the quad and reel stuff happening - there's always the standard LP and CD spinning going on - like this Liszt LP by Edith Farnadi:
Friday, November 24, 2017
|My low-budget tribute to Storm Thorgerson! Ha!|
The Technology Challenge:
In a fit of supreme irony, I am finding myself exiled from my usual technologically-dependent downtime by the very technology I have come to depend on! A few weeks ago I had another desktop computer meltdown and after several attempts to revive the hard drive I opted to buy a replacement laptop instead. (Of course I was anticipating the meltdown for awhile and backed up all the important files, thank goodness!) Up ‘til now I would describe myself as a reluctant laptop user – never cared for them. Yet I took the plunge to shift gears for a variety of reasons – not the least of which is seeing the computer towers of yore piling up reflective of the general trend towards obsolescence. Maybe the laptop will leave a smaller “footprint” ? Yet, when I finally make the decision to compose another (long overdue) entry here – the new laptop goes into hyper “update” mode. For the better part of the evening I’ve been watching this nifty little image on my screen while I sketched out this entry on blank paper:
Well, being a determined listener – I snagged this set anyway and, while handwriting the notes to this entry, I listened to Bartok’s string quartet #1. Now this is probably not what experts would suggest to do. Though I will say, there have been other examples of challenging music I’ve cracked the code of via casual initial exposure. Ornette Coleman started out for me like that. Yet, by the time I hit the 3rd movement of Bartok’s 1st string quartet I had to stop writing. That’s when my dedicated listening kicked in (right about the 6 minute mark actually). So my first dip into Bartok’s string quartets was successful and, more importantly, enjoyable. There was a lot of cool stuff going on during that 3rd movement – I need to hear it again soon. Yet, I want to move on to the others – maybe one at a time. Perhaps a good approach.
After Bartok, I decided to troll the CD stacks to see what discs I’d forgotten I’d had – to see if there was anything interesting to check out since I was doing the CD thing that night. I pulled off the shelf a Dorati Living Presence disc of Scheherezade by the Minneapolis Symphony.
By this point I’d written about three pages of notes to get me rolling on what you are reading now, but I was pretty tired. I scrounged around for another CD and found one of those Naxos historic CDs sourced from 78s – in this case early performances by Erich Kleiber conducting the Berlin State Opera Orchestra with none other than a recording of “The Moldau” from 1928. Cool!
The Vinyl Thing:
Speaking of Bartok – earlier in the summer I chanced on a nice Westminster LP of piano works performed by Edith Farnadi. I mainly was attracted to the LP cover because it was so cool, but I was blown away by the music too!
Late in the summer I hit on a pretty good vinyl cache of early 50s LPs at a thrift store I’ve been cruising for the past few years. It was one of those moments where – there was so MUCH available I couldn’t think straight. There was no way I could bring it all home – so I went for the most unique-looking records with stuff that might appeal to me. In the record cover department, it is hard to beat the early 50s sleeve designs. Just look at these great album covers:
As much as I’ve had my imagination stimulated by Sir Edward Elgar over the past few years, I’d have to say I prefer the music of another English composer Vaughan Williams a bit more. I have a handful of LPs of his music and a few new ones have come in the door lately, such as these:
To round off this segment, here is some nice footage of the inaugural opening of Abbey Road Studios (then called HMV Studio) in 1931 featuring none other than Sir Edward Elgar conducting his most famous composition. Notice the prominent display of the Nipper logo on the wall:
The Unapologetic Truth:
The simple fact of what motivates my continued toe-dipping into the classical realm goes something like this: Sometimes classical music is better than silence – sometimes not! Nearly a decade ago I started noticing how comfortable I was getting spending long stretches of my downtime not listening to any of the music I normally would listen to – the great rock, jazz, blues and folk stuff. And, quite literally, I decided to at least take up some of the silence with some OTHER kind of music that I’d never spent much time with before. Since classical was one of the genres I’d not quite gotten a better grasp of, I just dove in. So, the majority of my listening has been perhaps more informal than what most serious listeners would advocate. Yet, it is all in the name of exposure – hearing the darned stuff first! As the past few years have flown by – my dedicated listening time has been impacted by family stuff – mostly good, but certainly time-consuming. I figure it this way – I may not always be sitting attentively in front of the stereo speakers with a notebook in hand to jot down the minute details of every platter I spin, but I am at least playing the records and giving the music a good hearing. I also reckon, this is good groundwork to do in preparation of a (possible) retirement downtime exit-strategy. I am figuring there will not be much room for being bored if I can latch onto the classical thing a bit more because – I will never live long enough to attain fluency in any one direction of this music. And who cares if I don’t? I’m enjoying myself thoroughly – I’m not hurting anybody and the whole exercise is relatively sane in the grand scheme of things. There are far more destructive ways of spending my time for sure. And as I keep advancing in years the notion of living how I want to live –as best possible – is a recurring theme. My desires are relatively small. My enjoyment from listening to this music and having the chance to write about it is a pretty low-budget way to spend my time. To the point where I would openly advocate similar adventures for the like-minded. In an era of intense interactions and blowhard rhetoric – the world of classical music is like a beautiful refuge of sanity amidst the garbage. Of course I consider myself lucky enough to have these moments in the first place. Yet, I also see it as a healthy alternative to the current habit of mind – reacting to every hideous stimulus laid out like one more current-events version of a coke-line for the bad-news addict. Better to sharpen that BS detector from a safe distance – instead of getting sucked up into the malevolent maelstrom of crapola. Music by itself cannot make the world a better place, but it sure can remind us all of what good to stand up for and what bad to take courage against. As I was finalizing this latest entry, I listened to Mahler's Second Symphony - the Resurrection Symphony - for the first time in a LONG time - on HEADPHONES!! Quite amazing music indeed!
For this inspiration – handed down from mind to ear, generation to generation - I am thankful. Along with your continued interest in my philosophical adventures here. As always – thanks for stopping by and keep those records spinning in the proper direction.