Stereo and Multichannel Goals

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by jeffmackwood, Oct 12, 2019.

  1. jeffmackwood

    jeffmackwood Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Ottawa
    Reading a comment in another thread got me thinking, to the point where I think it's worth discussing in its own thread.

    The comment (and I'll paraphrase, and perhaps modify, in order to frame this discussion - so my apologies to the author of that post) is that the sonic goals for a multichannel system are completely different than for high-end stereo.

    In semi-random order here's some of the thoughts that come to my mind.

    Are the sonic goals, whatever they are, completely different, somewhat different, or perhaps not at all different. My own basic sonic goals are to reproduce sound, across the entire audible spectrum, cleanly, and at realistic volume levels. All sources should be reproduced accurately, with the system contributing as little to the source as possible, except where I might want to modify that source on purpose.

    Some of the characteristics that help achieve those goals are a flat in-room frequency response, negligible noise and distortion, accurate soundstage, and a feeling of size.

    And for me, all of that applies whether the source is stereo or multichannel.

    Now in my case I cannot claim to be swimming in the "high end" pool. High end in comparison to budget systems, but not high end. Regardless the goals remain the same, I think.

    And if I were truly afloat on the high end ocean, could I not have the same basic goals whether the source is stereo or multichannel? In simplistic terms, start with five of the same high end speaker, driven by five channels of the same model of amp, in a room properly treated acoustically for those five speakers, rather than just for two? Or is the definition of multichannel itself meant to convey inferiority to stereo, and thus they can never share the same basic goals?

    Personally, I don't think so. But then again, as I've found through many of my other posts, I don't think the way many other forum members do (on multiple subjects.)

    So what do you think?

    Can multichannel be as high-end as stereo? Can the basic goals in putting those systems together not be one and the same?

    What additional goals are there that are unique to each - assuming there are?

    Again I recognize that the comment that sparked this thread was personal to the person who posted it. I'm taking it and using it in a somewhat different context for the sake of this discussion, not as a criticism of that comment.

    Jeff
     
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  2. Bill Mac

    Bill Mac Forum Resident

    Location:
    So. ME USA
    I'm definitely not swimming in the "high end" pool either ;). Great topic of discussion! I feel multichannel can be just as "high end" as stereo. My main system combines multichannel and stereo. I feel the two can coexist quite well together. Some with true high end stereo systems might disagree and I respect that.
     
  3. c-eling

    c-eling Love has no date of expiration...

    From the 5.1 titles I've had over the years, my preference has been the multi-channel mastering, less modern mastering compression than it's two channel counterpart.
    Like any other format it's probably going to be case by case.
     
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  4. avanti1960

    avanti1960 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Chicago metro, USA
    people who favor one or the other seem to have different goals in mind- mainly the addition of video with a multi-channel system and with that the need for a focus on dialog, directional special effects and impact special effects. therefore center channel speakers, rear speakers and subwoofers.
    while these items are not needed for "audiophile" musical reproduction, they are not necessarily mutually exclusive but need to be carefully tuned for best realism when listening to music.
    rear channels would be best suited for reproducing the space of a large hall, for example, and not used to duplicate main musical content. subwoofers should be smoothly integrated and not overdone. center channel can work quite well for "audiophile" music but again not needed.
    as for my own preferences i feel multi-channel movies or music to be something i have no need for- i tried it and found that it did nothing to help make a bad movie any good or a good movie any better. same thing for multi-channel music. they contain fun effects that did not make the music any better and often distracted from it.
     
  5. aarodynamic

    aarodynamic Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Seattle
    An excellent multichannel system can definitely be an excellent stereo setup. It primarily depends on the room, speakers, speaker placement, and seating location.

    I think the notion that multichannel setups aren't good stereo setups is the result of multichannel being able to get away with cutting a lot more corners than stereo while still sounding good. The trick with multichannel is that sound is coming out of more speakers simultaneously which tricks your brain into filling in the "gaps" and not hearing the system's deficiencies. Stereo demands a more competent system as a result... this doesn't directly correlate with budget, but a bigger budget often helps.
     
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2019
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  6. Claude Benshaul

    Claude Benshaul Forum Resident

    I don't see why the goals of stereo or multi-channel audio must be mutually exclusive or why one can be considered more high end than the other. To me it smells of snobism because IMHO, a good multi-channel system is based on good stereo setup.

    The only reason I can find for such opinion is because most of the titles are mastered and sold in stereo while multi-channel audio is a niche market and is strictly in the digital domain.
     
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  7. vinylontubes

    vinylontubes Forum Resident

    Location:
    Katy, TX
    I tend to think if your budget is limited and we are going for excellence, there can be constraint one away from the other. Granted it's obviously much easier if you have the means if you can afford the speakers required for multi-channel alone. But, rather I am speaking about the amplification. With multi-channel you are drawn toward a high end AVR to handle the signal processing. With the money spend toward a higher end AVR, you could purchase an integrated tube amp or even monoblocks. Now back to speakers. Obviously, you could go up a tier if you only have to purchase a single pair of speakers. But there is also the issue of a subwoofer. On multi-channel, there is a separate LFE signal/channel. With stereo, you have to crossover from the stereo channels. The topic is actually goals. I think they can be the same, but, handling constraints, will pull you to focus toward one of the sound matrices.
     
  8. The Pinhead

    The Pinhead SLEAZY SOUTHAMERICAN CAVEMAN

    It can. That said, I hate multichannel audio.
     
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  9. Bill Mac

    Bill Mac Forum Resident

    Location:
    So. ME USA
    I'm curious as to why you are not a fan of multichannel music.
     
  10. The Pinhead

    The Pinhead SLEAZY SOUTHAMERICAN CAVEMAN

    Simple. To me, my stereo emulates a live(ish) experience in which the sound is frontal, regardless of whether the recording is a studio or live one. Having sound coming from the sides and rear, even if it's only audience sound, is annoying to say the least. Now for movies, at a movie theater, I love it. Just not at home.
     
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  11. Bill Mac

    Bill Mac Forum Resident

    Location:
    So. ME USA
    Cool. Totally respect your thoughts on multi-channel music. It's not for everyone.
     
  12. The Pinhead

    The Pinhead SLEAZY SOUTHAMERICAN CAVEMAN

    Absolutely ! That doesn't mean I can't understand the appeal of it, or be glad that fellow audiophiles enjoy it:cheers:
     
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  13. jeffmackwood

    jeffmackwood Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Ottawa
    All great comments!

    Ignoring whether one likes or does not like multichannel sound, and focusing only on music (not movies - although I acknowledge the overlap in some cases), what about the sonic goals? Strictly from an audiophile perspective. I personally don't see a difference (and I listed some of those goals in the OP) but is there something that I'm missing? Sonically, is there something fundamental (or even tertiary) that sets stereo completely apart from multichannel, and even more so when we're talking high end?

    Some of the multichannel recordings that I listen to make equal, or almost equal, use of all channels. If any channel (centre), or set of channels (surrounds), is not up to snuff, then for me, the listening experience is less enjoyable. Having those goals then led me to build a system that could achieve them - and that, for example, meant identical speakers in all of the "5" positions, being driven by identical amp channels. For reasons mostly of space, I could only pull that off in my main HT. My family room, with less available suitable space, is where those goals become compromised. But in both cases (in fact all cases) my sonic goals do not change. And I don't think they would if I afford to play in the high end ocean.

    So even if you don't do multichannel, imagine you do. Do your stereo sonic goals translate to multichannel ones? Continuing that thought exercise, if the goals do translate, then what do you need to do to achieve them?

    Jeff
     
  14. Kyhl

    Kyhl formerly known

    Location:
    Savage
    Multiple channels means multiple budget, all things being equal. If budget was no object I'm sure I could do a great multichannel system. But budget is a constraint in my life.
    Take speakers, I don't want to afford four identical speakers of the same caliber as two stereo speakers. Plus a nearly equally expensive center channel speaker. With a $5k budget, I prefer the refinement from a pair of $5k speakers versus two pairs of $2k speakers plus a center. That variances scales to two $10k speakers versus four at $4k a pair plus a center.

    Same for the amp. $2k for a stereo amp, or $4k plus to do surround.

    Preamp? Again, a $4k stereo preamp will be more refined than a $4k AVR because the stereo amp can focus just on stereo playback. The manufacturer doesn't have to pay extra licensing fees. Doesn't need extra processors. Doesn't need multiple channels of preamp sections.

    Then there are differences to setup where stereo is more critical of setup. HT can have the mains wider because it has a center.

    I used to have a 5.1 system with separate preamp and amps. Yes plural amps where the mains ran off a stereo amp and the center and rears ran off another amp. Then I dropped the rear speakers doing 3.1. Now I'm down to 2.1 with purely stereo amplification and don't miss multichannel. Not even for movie watching.
     
  15. Kal Rubinson

    Kal Rubinson Forum Resident

    I fully agree with the above statements.
    I generally agree about such recordings but you are being annoyed by silly decisions and invasive manipulations done in the studio. Such recordings are no more a blot on the principle and success of multichannel than were the old ping-pong stereo recordings on 2-channel reproduction.
    Yes but even before one gets to an unlimited budget, there comes a point in the return-on-investment curve where any increase in the cost of components brings only a small (or deceptive) increment in performance while the same expenditure on a multichannel expansion brings macro returns. IMHO, that point is not beyond the reach of many enthusiasts.
     
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2019
  16. Claude Benshaul

    Claude Benshaul Forum Resident

    I agree that having a multi-channel system has inherently a larger financial burden than focusing solely on two channels, but this is confusing means and methods with goals and targets and I hope you will agree with me when suggest your goals didn't change because you found them to be incompatible with each other. Or lets put it as a question: Assuming finances are no longer an issue, would you refrain from reinstating a multi-channel system because you think that adding speakers will inevitably crappify a 2 speaker high end system?
     
  17. quicksrt

    quicksrt Senior Member

    Location:
    City of Angels
    I had on this last Friday night Fleetwood Mac - "Rumours" from DVD-A 5.1 mix, for a friend I played "Gold Dust Woman" as a format demo. A sound quality demo, a performance, production, and mix demo.

    Infinity speakers, Yamaha 100w x6 AVR, Oppo 105, and the high heavens listened in too.

    Ummm..., yeah.
     
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  18. Dillydipper

    Dillydipper Sultan Of Snark

    Location:
    Central PA
    Pardon me if I'm overplaying my hand here, but perhaps there's some conceit about what the "proper" use of the stereo "soundstage" is for...?

    There appear to be a lot of stereo purists ("not that there's anything wrong with that...") only appreciating the "proper" stereo stage as a place where "natural", "studio" sounds exist as God and nature intended...just like it was recorded, in a single take, with real live instruments existing in their preferred positions. Which of course, hasn't happened since far before the days of Mickie Most, in general. That "natural", "honest" function you may be appreciating mistakenly, is also an illusion, the same as the surround "stage" of instruments "assigned" by the producer to be positioned in specific places in some imaginary reality.

    My point is, whatever you may expect out of the reproductive powers in a stereo situation that is far more "accurate" than the surround stage, is a vague figment of your own imagination, reaffirming your own prejudice of what "stereo" "is", as opposed to what that gimmicky nonsense is happening all around you, so unlike the midway-from-the-stage position you enjoyed at the symphony performance. And this is leading you disingenuously to expect more somehow from your stereo setup, that you do not expect in 5.1.

    This is much akin to expecting Granny to be transported more "naturally" in a truck than in a sub-compact, because you saw her at the opening of The Beverly Hillbillies appearing so comfortably-nestled in her rocker in the back of the truck bed. What you fail to realize is, this is a shot created with the truck loaded and actors placed into a truck, with a film of the L.A. landscape behind it. The fact is, she could be positioned just as naturally in a Thunderbird convertible, her rocker wired to the back seat to give her ease of rocking in a similar fashion. But, neither the film nor the camera would be of any different caliber in real life, to expect a more "natural" effect of Granny rocking comfortably out in the open air, as trucks and other traffic whizzes past her at 60+ miles-per-hour, scaring a real old lady to death while she hangs tenaciously onto the handrests for dear life, fearing a sudden stop or a sharp turn.

    So as not to belabor the point, yeah...I agree with them.
     
  19. dennem

    dennem Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Bangkok, Thailand
    It’s not hard to build a multi-channel system that matches a stereo one in sound quality if your budget permits. I have both in my setup with the focus on stereo reproduction first and foremost. If I wanted my multichannel to sound as good as my stereo I just need to spend an extra $15000 on matching speakers, a better multichannel pre-amp/processor and additional tube power amps. Now that would have costed me 2.5x more comparing to my current setup and I do not care about multichannel sound that much to justify such investment.
     
  20. Kyhl

    Kyhl formerly known

    Location:
    Savage
    Had to think about that one and the answer is, I don't know. I've never been at a point in life where finance was not an issue. It is difficult for me to conceive. Everything has a budget. Even the Fed, who can print their own money, has a budget. This would be a mind exercise only.

    From experience I can say, having gone down that road, I preferred stereo over surround on the same given setup. Using the same amp and speakers and stepping up to a more expensive stereo preamp the stereo presentation was much improved over the AV preamp. The sound is more realistic.

    Going through the mental exercise the other way around, let's assume that there is a point where they both play back perfectly. It might be easier to imagine something we strive for while knowing it isn't possible. Ignoring a budget, would it matter which was chosen if they are equal?
    Now throw in budget and space constraints. Which would you choose?
     
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2019
  21. Kal Rubinson

    Kal Rubinson Forum Resident

    That is the nub of the issue. Since multichannel is capable of reproducing the soundfield of the entire venue, it is inherently closer to perfection than is stereo, which cannot. I do demand low distortion, tonal balance and transparency but I also dote on the natural reproduction of the musical event in its original ambiance and that heavily biases me towards multichannel. It is necessary to assess the various parameters and weigh them by your personal preferences.
     
  22. Kyhl

    Kyhl formerly known

    Location:
    Savage
    Somehow I knew you were going there. :D

    Take Roger Waters Amused To Death. From stereo playback I hear sounds all around the room. I know it isn't perfect because my room isn't perfect.
    I understand that surround sound would do it better at a lower price than stereo but what fun is that?
    I like the challenge.
     
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  23. Hymie the Robot

    Hymie the Robot Forum Resident

    Location:
    USA
    My simple goal is creating a rear sound stage that equals or betters the front sound stage.

    Building a quality surround sound setup is the same as a stereo one...times two.
     
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  24. Claude Benshaul

    Claude Benshaul Forum Resident

    I understand the argument you are presenting here but the introduction of an external constraint was not part of the OP presentation and I still believe there is no basis for stating that the goals of multi-channels and stereo are fundamentally different.

    Of course, this discussion will never reach a conclusion because we are arguing about listening to audio and enjoying music as a human experience and in this context the definition of perfection is not exactly objective nor is it universal.
     
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  25. dennem

    dennem Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Bangkok, Thailand
    I believe it can, but I prefer to invest most of my budget in a much better stereo setup, since 99.999% of music is not recorded in multichannel anyway.
     
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