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by Harry Maynard
THE DEVELOPMENT of four-channel sound keeps bringing good news for record buyers and radio listeners. Yes, even for those of you who have decided you'll never go for four-channel stereo, these may be your famous last words! Four-channel sound has pushed forward the state of the art for both the software manufacturer and the hardware manufacturer.
Having participated in and closely followed the state of quadraphonic listening, I see a lot of happy fallouts for the listener. One reason for this--every system proposed for the disc is essentially compatible with two-channel listening.
I'll go out on a limb and predict that five years from now it will be just as hard to buy a two-channel disc as it now is to buy a monophonic record.
How can I make such a prediction? Because the technology is already here.
RCA has just announced that its four channel discrete disc will sell for the same price as its two-channel discs, and the first releases are being made as I write this in early May.
The challenge of developing this disc is an exciting story, which I'm sure will be told in the pages of this magazine in coming months. RCA and JVC repeat that we can look forward to:
1. Quieter record surfaces as a result of a new resin mix.
2. A better wearing record with better anti-static qualities, attracting less dust and dirt.
3. More refined techniques of cutting master discs that give better high end response.
4. Better styli, having better interface with the record. RCA and JVC claim a five-fold increase in record life, less inner groove distortion, less groove deformation, and improved signal-to-noise ratio, together with better mechanical resonance.
5. Improved phonograph cartridges with better high end response.
The matrix four-channel camp has also brought us some goodies. The most basic improvement has been better sound from our regular stereo discs.
Just listening through four speakers helps, and, of course, there are the especially processed matrix four channel discs. But consider the tremendous investment most people have in their current library of two-channel recordings. Now all of these existing discs can be significantly enhanced with a matrix decoder.
The matrix systems are an excellent bridge to the more refined, expensive, and complex discrete systems, which I-for one-am willing to grant are the state of the art of four-channel listening.
However, from present indications, we are several years away from having a system of broadcasting discrete four channel transmissions from a single station adopted by the FCC. In the meantime, stereo FM--the demonstration booth of the record industry--can broadcast matrix quadraphonic sound with no extra investment in hardware, and the listener can get enhanced listening by using his matrix decoder. Some of these units are now universal decoders and will handle any matrix system, of both conventional stereo broadcasts and especially encoded four-channel sound. All the listener need do is make a moderate investment in decoder, amplifier, and extra speakers.
Many audiophiles have been reluctant to admit the virtues of four channel sound, including some of America's leading audio critics. Listen to Julian Hirsch of the Hirsch-Houck Laboratory: "We had been highly skeptical of the early claims that four-channel sound was as much of an improvement over two-channel listening as the latter was over mono. At this point we are ready to eat crow. Going back to two channels after listening to four channel is like going back to mono.... It generates a sense of involvement with sound which is so easy to accept that after awhile one is unaware of its existence. On many an occasion we switched off the rear speakers and the contrast was most striking. It can only be compared to turning off most of the lights in a well-lit room after one has become adjusted to a high ambient light level." Brave and well said, Mr. Hirsch! These are my sentiments too. Four channel sound is well on its way to creating a revolution in both hardware and software at least as big as the one created by two-channel stereo. You and I, the listeners, have only begun to taste in hardware and recordings the serendipitous goodies which will result from four channel's evolution.
(Audio magazine, Jul. 1972)