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Why are we still satisfied with stereo PA? Why can't it be Quadraphonic?

Haven't we become rather boring in recent years? We never try anything new, we let good ideas slip through our fingers. Perhaps Quadraphonics could relight our fire...


Oh my goodness, how boring we have become...

We always pan the vocal, kick and bass dead center, we always edit on the beat, we always tune to A = 440 Hz.

And concerts always have stereo PA systems.

I suppose we could go back to mono and just have a single loudspeaker system. (We call that a center cluster, and yes that's what they always do in musical theater.)

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Equipping Your Home Recording Studio

But there was a wonderful idea back in the 1970s that got left by the wayside just because it didn't work in all applications...


"Thank god that's over", says the voice of an audio die-hard from the back.

Well yes, the idea of having four channels for home listening was ahead of its time. Many people now have 5.1 systems at home, which is a full 1.1 channels in advantage over Quadraphonics.

But not quite...

The principle of Quadraphonics was to have four equally specified channels, with the loudspeakers arranged at the corners of a square, for preference, or a rectangle.

5.1 systems in contrast favor the front speakers with the surround channels being little more than an occasional filler.

But four equal channels - if you have heard Quadraphonics done well, then you will know that it is an impressive experience.

There are two reasons why Quadraphonics didn't succeed in the domestic environment. Firstly, back in the 1970's, technology wasn't ready to deliver four channels to the home. By the 1980's, when CD came along, which actually does have a four-channel option, people were already tired of the idea.

The other problem with Quadraphonics in the home is that the speakers are supposed to be placed in the corners of the room. Now show me a room that doesn't have a door in one of the corners!

Wives didn't like having four speakers either. (Don't bother sending me flames - just do your own poll on whether it's the man or the woman who likes big speakers and lots of them!)

But in PA, none of these problems applies. It is perfectly straightforward to have a Quadraphonic PA - you just need twice as much equipment. Some bands indeed did in the 1970s, and to my mind the idea is overdue for a revival.

There are some caveats however. Firstly, the audience really does expect the sound to come from the stage end of the auditorium, so don't imagine panning the instruments all around the room, although there's no reason why you shouldn't try.

Secondly, if you have a channel routed say to the front left and rear right speakers simultaneously, anyone sitting near the front will hear a delay on the sound coming from the rear. This can be a serious problem that you would need to be on guard for.

But coming full circle, we really have become very unimaginative and the time is well overdue to try out some new ideas. Quadraphonic PA is an old idea that seems well worthy of revival.

Anyone got any new ideas?

By David Mellor Wednesday September 7, 2005