Why does multichannel sound better

Discussion in 'Playback Devices' started by rick_sullivan, Aug 12, 2003.

  1. rick_sullivan

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    I've been a moderate hi-fi person for better than 40 years so I'm not new to the game but one thing has me puzzled, and I don't see very much about this in print. Since I recently went to a surround system I have noticed that all things being equal the sound is "better" in a surround system.

    Obviously it is a perception thing. Like I found a couple of 15 dollar speakers I had in the garage speakers and hooked them up to my new AV amp as surround , and hoopdeedoo, my system sounded "better." I am not talking just about the surround effect but the sense that the bass was "better," the highs "better," and the all around sound was cleaner and better. Standard wisdom is that adding a couple of crap speakers to a system will degrade it. That the sound is only as good as it's weakest link.

    I listened to a $99.95(!) surround system at my local Sav-on drugstore sitting next to the ATM machine and was amazed. I flipped the switch to stereo and it sounded like crap.

    The is quite a perceptual illusion effect to all of this surround business that I don't think is really understood at this point.

    My take on it is to advise someone to spend $1500.00 on a surround system instead of $3000.00 on a stereo 2ch rig. The former will give more better sound. All things being equal surround is cheaper.
     
  2. ChrisWiggles

    ChrisWiggles Producer

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    I disagree strongly when it comes to music.
     
  3. Michael St. Clair

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    While I like (some) music surround mixes, well-done stereo doesn't sound like crap...it can be downright astounding.
     
  4. rick_sullivan

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  5. Michael St. Clair

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    Rick,

    I can't criticize...my main system is a surround system.

    Financial realities mandate that my system do triple-duty (movies, stereo music, surround music), and I care enough about surround music that I don't want to compromise the surround playback...which, under my constraints, requires me to compromise the stereo playback somewhat.

    I'd love to also have a dedicated stereo-only rig, and I aim to do that...in a few years, in a better economy, and in a new house.
     
  6. Kevin C Brown

    Kevin C Brown Producer

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    Two very knowledgeable people have told me the same thing: listening studies have shown that "average" multichannel audio can be perceived as preferred by people over "very good" stereo reproduction just because of the 3-D encompassing nature of surround sound.

    I will always prefer a good stereo mix to a mediocre surround mix, but if you do flip band and forth casually, the surround mix will, at first listen [​IMG], appear to sound fuller, have more depth, etc. Just the human brain and psychoacoustics at work.
     
  7. ManW_TheUncool

    ManW_TheUncool Producer

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    Well, there is the law of diminishing return which probably should favor a true discrete surround setup in this context.

    Also, the vast majority of people aren't concerned w/ high fidelity (ie. accurate reproduction of the recorded sound and/or original performance) as much as w/ what sounds "good" to them given their set of listening habits. Most of the benefits of high end audio requires listening w/in a smallish sweet spot and close attention to the music, which are both either low priority or completely undesirable to the vast majority of people. While a surround setup still requires one to sit and listen, its requirements are nonetheless less restrictive for a decent enveloping sound that most people can easily appreciate (or be impressed by) under casual listening.

    Just my 2 cents worth...

    _Man_
     
  8. rick_sullivan

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    All comments appreciated.

    I don't mean to come off sounding naive. I've spent as much time, if not more!, listening to my system as I have listening to the music if you get my drift. This may be the unsung evil of our kind.

    It is interesting to know that this surround effect has been tested. I may be naive however in thinking that surround and superbit cd's are the wave of the future. My youngest son (31) just bought a flat panel tv and I've tried to get him interested in surround as well but he shrugs it off. He really does get into the high res visual and not the sound.

    I have a 10 year old 35 inch RCA that my mother left me. The picture is ho-hum but adding the surround makes the viewing of a good DVD a much more rewarding experience than a good tv listened to throught the speaker on the tv.

    Just my take.
     
  9. FeisalK

    FeisalK Screenwriter

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    because real life isnt stereo... its surround! [​IMG]
     
  10. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    Rick, you're not being naive. You're being honest.

    At the moment, you're being swept up by the novelty of mutichannel surround sound.
     
  11. ManW_TheUncool

    ManW_TheUncool Producer

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    Rick,

    I certainly can agree about movie surround sound for the most part (and probably most anyone who frequent this forum site would also), but music is different though.

    My best example of low quality surround sound ruining the music is the soundtrack on the West Side Story DVD. The DD 5.1 soundtrack sounds awful compared to my old redbook CD. Oddly, I've never heard any complaints about it, but always praises, if anything. Maybe I'm just too familiar w/ what it can sound like on a higher quality format, even on a cheapy portable player.

    And no, I wouldn't consider myself a real audiophile. Usually, a recording has to be quite mediocre to bother me as much as the West Side Story DD 5.1 soundtrack.

    _Man_
     
  12. rick_sullivan

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