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If your studio doesn't have surround sound, you are a dinosaur. Here's why...

Still monitoring on two speakers? That is the past - the dead past. You need to have at last five speakers plus a subwoofer or you simply cannot compete.


Here is a good question... Quadraphony failed miserably in the 1970s. So why is 5.1 channel surround sound such a hot topic now?

Quadraphony failed for two reasons. Firstly, the technology of the time wasn't capable of reproducing four channels successfully. Even now, I doubt if anyone could devise a workable means of getting four good quality channels from a vinyl disc.

Secondly, the premise of Quadraphony was that there had to be four equal speakers, one in each corner of the room. So what's better - a stereo system with two really good speakers, or a Quad system with four lesser speakers, budgets obviously not being infinitely stretchable?

Also, how many living rooms are there that don't have a door in one corner?

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But 5.1 solves all of this. You can have three reasonably good speakers for left, center and right. They don't have to be big because the bass can be handled by a single subwoofer. And the surround speakers can be tiny - emphasis is given to the front of the sound stage, and the surround channels are additional to that.

But music in 5.1? Is there any merit in that? I would say no. For most people, stereo gives everything they could possibly need from a recording. Most people don't sit directly in the sweet spot of a stereo system, and they are not going to do that for 5.1 unless forced (but there's a way).

Also, people listen on headphones, on their iPods. Headphones in 5.1? That's never going to work.

So there will always be a need for a stereo mix, and making an additional mix in 5.1 is a burden.

But where 5.1 does excel is for film and TV. When you watch TV, you automatically position yourself in the sweet spot, so that problem is solved. And since movies are made with 5.1 stereo, why not enjoy them in a similar way at home?

In fact, DVDs now have mixes that are tuned to the domestic environment rather than simply being a copy of the theater mix.

In the movie theater, it is difficult to use panning because different sections of the audience will hear different things. But in the domestic environment where people sit in front of the screen, panning is now a viable option.

The reason why you should have a 5.1 system in your studio is to gain experience. Music as a standalone art form is shrinking, and multimedia presentations are very much in growth.

There is bound to be a learning curve here, and even for top professionals it is some way from its peak.

Get onto that curve in the easy slopes and you will learn as the pros learn, and stand a chance of competing with them.

Stick to stereo and you could well find yourself stuck in the past.

Something to consider perhaps?

By David Mellor Monday February 20, 2006