Adventures in Surround Sound, from 7.2 to Quad 
(personal and historical notes, basics, and acoustic realities often forgotten)
= P a r t  6 =

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Shoulders To Stand On
(or: "How Bert Whyte Turned Me On to Multichannel Music")
Go To Column One -- An Unusual Concert
Go To Column Two -- Irresistible Invitation

We all have to get our start and the "flame of inspiration" from somewhere, or it may never occur at all. And each of us who creates anything, of large or small value, will be found standing on the shoulders of the giants who came before us. I find myself often looking back to those pioneers who set the stage for my own life's work and contributions. I owe them an unpayable debt. But as Robert Heinlein, the great SF writer, once observed in replying to the question, "How can I ever repay you?", "You can't. You pay forward." This has been borrowed recently as: "Pay it Forward," so may already be familiar to you. It's an insight not to forget.
Among those who got my own wheels spinning in the direction of music making and audio engineering is the writer of the next two sections below. I was in grade school when the columns first appeared in what was called: Radio and Television News (later: Radio/TV News). It was a hybrid magazine of many related topics, which began by aiming at those who built, repaired, and tinkered with sound and video equipment. The magazine became much more varied than its name might suggest. There were unusual "do-it-yourself" construction projects (who "does it themselves" these days?), reviews of the technology of the day, early computer articles, theremins and music making devices (yes), and even a monthly recorded music column called the "Certified Record Revue." Wotta name! The reviewer was Bert Whyte.
In the decades since that column appeared, many folks have asked me just how I got started, why did I pursue what then was once a nearly unknown field? This webpage is a partial answer to those queries, and I hope you will get a taste of the excitement Bert so ably put into words, which captured and enthralled me, even though I was only a kid. If the seeds of curiosity in matters musical and scientific / technical were already within you, this kind of gusto is seductive. Look how long I've remembered these columns, and would have loved to see them again somehow.
To cut to the chase, it was on the ubiquitous eBay web auction site than I stumbled upon most of a year's worth of issues of R/TV News around the summer of 2000. I'd discovered a few other antique bits of nostalgia previously, and had bid on a few bargains, sort of fun. This one was a shot in the dark, I couldn't remember the exact year (it was 1956), and I hadn't seen the original dusty old issues since starting college and discarding a lot of stuff in my parent's cellar. This time my gamble paid off, and in the first shot I hit the target -- both reviews were in two of the issues (June and September) I'd obtained -- BINGO!
I'd forgotten most of the details by now, of course. And all the old ads -- how quaint. But the first reading brought it all back, and still seems worth a little adrenaline. Gee, there was a take-it-for-granted interest back then in non-superficial music (how sad the narrowed choices of the present -- devoid of human expression, a dusty desert for heart and intelligence). I don't know how many of you will share in my feelings, but here goes nothing. Take a read below and see what sparks are conjured. Think about how it would feel if mono audio was all you ever heard. Oh, yes -- I did eventually meet Bert Whyte and his wife, Ruth. That was at the 1969 NYC AES show, when The Well-Tempered Synthesizer had just come out. Bert knew Mark Aubort, a master audio expert who was then also the USA importer of the first Dolby A-301 units (we were among the first studios to use a few on our multitrack and mixing sessions), and we all were introduced.
"Oh, BOY, am I happy to meet you!", I greeted a cheery, rotund, pleasant looking man somewhere in his middle years. Ruth was a little shyer, but quickly Rachel and I learned that she had also been Bert's collaborator for years, the assistant engineer to him on those legendary Everest stereo recordings of the late 50's and 60's. (Ya gotta hear their recording of Respighi's "Roman Festivals" on a big system! EVC 9018) We chattered about a lot of things, made far too many jokes and puns (even spelled backwards, "a nup is a nup... "), but only after playing mutual admiration society. I praised the columns (and others later, like "Behind the Scenes" in Audio magazine) for jazzing my interests in matters musical and multichannel, and Bert and "Ruthie" praised S-OB and the just released W-TS. We went out for a lunch together, and a good industry friendship was kindled.
Rachel and I drove out to see the Whytes several times during the 70's, to their home plunk in the middle of Long Island (a town aptly called: Centereach), filled with so many cool "toys." Then Bert and Ruth came to have offbeat dinners with us, long visits at Rachel's brownstone, where soon after we relocated the studio. Tapes were brought by the visitors either way, to enjoy together on our big systems. Music of all kinds was discussed, played and dissected, from Carly Simon and Dave Brubeck, to Eugene Goossens conducting the LSO playing Rachmaninoff. We didn't get together so often in the 80's for the usual reasons, when you're not living in the same town (or even when you are...). By the early 90's Bert investigated and wrote about another versatile surround sound idea: Ambisonics. Sadly, it has never gotten its day in the sun, either. I'll add more about it on these pages soon. Then just as all their ultra hi-fi Everest recordings were being released for the first time on CD around 1993, Bert became sick and died. He did see the initial tests of the audio transfers and new graphics for the first few, I'm pleased to note. Ruthie and I continue to speak on the phone every few months; we love to chatter with one another about music and audio and life.
I do believe Bert would get quite a kick out of seeing these particular two columns appear on this website, a concept he never got to explore. You'll discover in reading below, perhaps, that the "push" to get multichannel sound is nothing new. Here it was for true three channel stereophony. Two decades later a fourth track was added, and quad got run up the flagpole. And now 25 years beyond that we're about to add yet a fifth track (and ".1 of a track," for the subwoofers!). Have things changed so much? I hope one thing HAS changed. Both three channel and quad went nowhere (you heard it here first *wink*). Bert's barely contained excitement and "news" below turned out not to be prophetic (at least basic stereo came out two years later). Quad was messed up by ignorance and record company greed. Sound familiar? I wonder if in another three to five years we'll look back on 5.1 plus Surround Sound as merely the most recent failure to move past two tracks (need it or no)...?

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Column I -- An Unusual Concert 
Review by Bert Whyte

A FEW months ago, a very interesting and significant hi-fi sound demonstration was presented in San Francisco. Picture this scene if you can . . . you are sitting in a great concert hall and the San Francisco Symphony is about to perform the Overture to the "Marriage of Figaro" by Mozart . . . conductor Enrique Jorda raises his baton, gives the downbeat and the first bars of the familiar music reaches you. As you listen, you note the precision of the first violins, they are all bowing together in near perfect unison; observing the woodwind section you focus your attention on the flautist and the pure sound of his instrument comes to you from the middle of the orchestra where he is sitting. Your eyes and ears move back to the right where several contrabassists are busily sawing away at their ponderous instruments. As the score develops, you are aware of the constant activity of the instrumentalists.

Now we are about two-thirds of the way through the work and at the beginning of a crescendo, suddenly you can't believe your eyes! The musicians have stopped playing and have laid down their instruments, but the
music continues to its triumphant conclusion! You are as bewildered as everyone around you, when three floodlights illuminate three huge theater-type speakers placed at equal intervals across the back of the stage, and another flood shines down upon the familiar heads, reels, and tape of an Ampex tape machine and you realize you have been hearing a three-channel stereophonic recording of the work that has just been "played"!

A moment later a narrator assured everyone that this is in fact, the truth . . . that right from the very beginning of the Overture the musicians were merely pantomiming their playing in concert with the tape which had previously been recorded! "Oh come now," says the True Audio-doubter, ... "do you mean to say the realism was so great that everyone was fooled ? You must have had some inkling that the reproduction didn't sound 'quite right' and that it had a mechanical quality."

Now friends, this situation actually existed at that demonstration, and in subsequent numbers, other stereophonic trickery was shown. Now whether the same sense of realism was perceived after the audience knew there was stereophonic reproducing equipment on the stage, I don't know. However it is well known that there is an interrelationship between the eyes and the ears when both senses are used simultaneously as in listening and looking at a live concert. The eyes and the ears can easily deceive you. With the musicians going through their motions in perfect synchronization with the stereotape, if there were differences, the mind was not psychologically prepared to accept these differences.

With three-channel stereo the highest pinnacle of the audio art to date and with the demonstration under absolutely ideal conditions, the difference between live and recorded was of a very small order at any rate and the mind of the individual listener, having preconditioned itself to the fact that it was going to hear live music, accepted what it heard and saw without question. To further the deception so that even the most astute music lover or knowledgeable hi-fi fan in the audience would find nothing amiss, very special machines and recording techniques were utilized. The Ampex machines were special three-channel Model 300 units, modified to use half-inch wide tape, instead of the one-quarter-inch standard width. This eliminates what was one of the problems with the original one-quarter-inch three channel machine, the deterioration of the signal-to-noise ratio. With less than 45 dB signal-to-noise ratio in the standard machine, at high levels some sharp-eared hi-fi fan would have heard the tape hiss, and even in a preconditioned state, he would ultimately realize that he was not hearing live music.

The half-inch wide tape allows each of the three channels a much wider area with subsequent improvement of the signal-to-noise ratio. The tapes made before the performance had to resort to special microphone techniques. No omnidirectional pickup here . . . all recording had to be very close-up and as non-reverberant as possible, otherwise you run into double acoustics, in other words, in a normal recording session you want some of the hall reverb in your recording to lend "liveness" to the sound. If that had been done at this demonstration, it would have spoiled the illusion desired since you would be playing back the recording in the same hall and you would have produced double reverberation.

The speakers used were the Cinemascope type developed by Ampex in conjunction with Jim Lansing and have extremely broad coverage. With their exceptionally high efficiency, it was found that 30 watts of power was sufficient to cover the audience of over 3000 people. Now the crux of this whole thing is this, among those 3000 people were many hi-fi fans who no doubt were vastly impressed, to say nothing of the many people who had never heard real hi-fi sound let alone three-channel stereo! Undoubtedly many of these people, affluent or otherwise, will want to know if there is anything available that will give them this three-channel sound in their homes. The answer of course, is yes, but you must be prepared to pay roughly 2900 dollars for a standard Ampex three-channel machine, and set up three amplifiers and three speakers as well. Assuming some millionaire indulges himself in one of these rigs, do you know what will be available to him on three-channel recorded tape? Just one reel of some organ music. There may be one or two others somewhere but I have no knowledge of anything outside this one commercially-made tape.

I'm a lucky guy. I'm one of the few people who have had a three-channel Ampex stereo machine in his home. And Ampex supplied me with not one but four or five different tapes. I lived with that machine and it was one of the biggest thrills I've ever had in audio, but even the fabulous sound of three-channel stereo begins to pall a little when you hear the same music continuously. The lesson to be learned from this demonstration is this . . . stereo whether two or three channels is here to stay. The public is impressed and the public likes it and will buy it if a way can be found to get the cost of the equipment down to an approachable level. The Ampex 612 was, of course, a big step in the right direction and if the production rate and availability of two-channel stereotapes can be stepped up, they will enjoy a brisk market. But going one step further, why not take the final plunge and try to produce a marketable three-channel system. Two-channel stereo is great, but nonetheless there are many people who have difficulty in perceiving its depth and directional qualities. With a three-channel unit the fact that you have something
different, something that sounds incredibly alive and natural is immediately apparent even to the most untrained ear. It is well known that a two-channel stereo system using very modest amplifiers and speakers, will sound better than some of the most expensive and elaborate monaural systems. With three-channel stereo you can literally, "get away with murder" in the matter of speakers and amplifiers and even with units no better than are found in today's inexpensive tape recorders! Knowing a bit about the economics of producing tape recorders, I say that the logical step up to three channels is neither technically difficult nor financially unfeasible.

The big problem to overcome is the matter of the recorded tape. But that was the problem of two-channel recorded tape and it has been largely overcome and the situation will be well in hand by the end of this year. Many people, some of them placed very high in the music and audio fields, feel that monaural tape is now merely a transitional thing, and that stereo will be the medium used for music on recorded tapes. I'm inclined to agree, but why stop there ? Why not start beating the drums for three-channel stereo, which believe it or not, I feel has a larger sales potential than anything in the field of home music entertainment. The fact that three-channel sound is so startlingly better than conventional sound, leaves open avenues for some smart manufacturer to produce a complete packaged system at a price the public can afford. I sincerely feel that three-channel stereo is in much the same position as was television some years back. It's new, it's different, it's good and, like television, I think there are plenty of people who would be willing to pay the initially higher costs for the privilege of hearing it before it reaches the price level of the masses. As to the music . . . well you just see how fast the big record companies will produce three-channel stereo, when they smell a new market.

As a matter of fact there is an even easier way of getting the necessary music. I don't have to tell you about the success of the various record clubs . . . it's an accomplished fact and they are growing bigger all the time. If one of the big ones, like the "Record of the Month Club" were really on the ball, they would get themselves three channel tape recorders and record everything they do in the stereo medium as well as on monaural tape and offer the resultant tapes on their usual subscription plans. I'd join instantly and so would thousands of others.

These big clubs have the money, they have no restrictions on what they record and actually this would be the ideal time for them to start, since they are slowly recording the standard repertoire. This would make a more easily assimilable choice of music available on stereotape. This is when they are recording the Dvorak 5th, and the Tchaikovsky 6th, etc. For the most part, the big record companies would be reluctant to record these warhorses again due to the plethora already in the catalogue and while no one wants to discourage them from recording their current repertoire, you can readily understand that it would be easier for them to sell, say, a Beethoven 5th, rather than a "Mathis der Maler" by Hindemith, if-- they could justify the cost of recording a new Beethoven 5th just to have it on stereo. Since most of them would probably not change their recording plans, (at least not initially) due to the cost factor, the logical method of supplying the "warhorse repertoire" on stereo tape would be through the clubs.

Well, it's a fascinating subject but I'm running out of space. I'll conclude with this. If a club comes out with a subscription plan which would guarantee the release of a certain number of three-channel stereotapes each month, and someone puts out a three-channel stereo system for around a thousand dollars (and I think it can be done for far less) this I'd like to sell, and given proper demonstration facilities, I'd have writer's cramp taking the orders!

Equipment used this month: Pickering "Fluxvalve" cartridge, Pickering arm, Components Corp. turntable, Marantz "Audio Consolette," two 60-watt McIntosh amplifiers, Jensen "Imperial" speaker, Electro-Voice " Georgian," and Ampex tape equipment.


Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Aram Khatchaturian.
Angel 35277. RIAA curve. Price $4.98.

This is the fourth performance of the "Gayne Suite" to appear in the LP catalogue, and is by all odds the best. For a starter, the composer himself is conducting, and while it is true that some composers make awful botches of conducting their own scores, such is decidedly not the case here. Rather, Khatchaturian adds a new dimension to the work, in an interpretation entirely different ;n concept from that of the other conductors. To my ears at least, there seems to be a great deal more material in the score than my previous experience with the work would indicate. I would say that Khatchaturian, secure in his grasp of the work, manages to imbue his colorful score with considerably more power and vigor than the other conductors could summon.
(continues, including several more reviews...)

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the reviewer and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the editors or the publishers of this magazine.

Copyright 1956 Radio TV News -- All Rights Reserved.
Transcription and HTML version
© Copyright 2001 Wendy Carlos

Comment: for many year we tried to get an orchestra excited to pull off a new version of a similar stunt as Bert describes here. This time we wanted to have an ensemble of about eight synthesists on stage at the rear, actually replicating a big symphonic work. And then the musicians would put down the instruments, but the sound would continue. It would be provided by us, of course, and would show how far the technology and performance mastery of it by good musicians had come, to replicate and surprise an audience into thinking it was "the real thing." But no one seemed interested. I still think it would create a smashing stunt and make a genuine statement. Bert was also ahead of his time. Three track stereo never got much past the stage he describes above, and what continues below, from a few months later.
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Column II -- Irresistible Invitation
Review by Bert Whyte

I DON'T know quite how to begin this month's column. Regular readers will recall that in the past two issues I have been promising some sensational news concerning three-channel stereophonic sound. This "scoop" was promised for this, the September issue. Fortunately, the news will be presented this month, but unfortunately it will be nowhere near as detailed a report as I had hoped to bring to you. As I have said in previous issues . . . writing a column two months in advance has its drawbacks and in this case there was many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip. Don't get me wrong! This will still be one of the most sensational, provocative and industry-shaking announcements in the brief, but spectacular, history of high fidelity! However, I know that if I were not bound by certain restrictions, this report would have had twice the impact. Perhaps, remembering the obstacles and frustrations I encountered during the labor-pains and birth of binaural and two channel stereo, I have tried to go too far too fast, in an effort to circumvent these difficulties. I guess I'm just a hot-headed Irishman, boiling with enthusiasm for hi-fi in general and stereophonic sound in particular, with a burning desire to help bring this fabulous sound to fruition and make stereo available to everyone! Well, restrictions notwithstanding . . . what I've got is great and a big step forward, so here goes . . .!

You will recall I reported on the 3-channel Ampex demonstration with the San Francisco Symphony, and then got up on my soapbox and blithely asked why not 3-channel sound for the home? I acknowledged the multitude of difficulties such an undertaking would entail, daydreamed a little . . . and then got down to the brass tacks of what would be necessary to bring 3-channel stereo to commercial reality. In summation it was concluded that even if there were large numbers of people who could afford the great expense of existing 3-channel tape machines, or even if a relatively inexpensive 3-channel tape playback machine became available, they would all be quite useless without a source of recorded 3-channel stereophonic tapes. Yessir, we were right back at the old bug-a-boo . . . without a continuous source of good recorded tapes the stereo balloon would never get off the ground. I use the words "continuous" and "good" advisedly . . . drawing on the experience with binaural and two channel stereo, where a good many enthusiasts of the early days rushed out to buy the necessary equipment to play stereo and then were subjected to the frustration of having only the most sporadic trickle of tapes released, and even these were generally of very indifferent quality. Some of the most inane, rankly "gimmick" type repertoire was thrust upon these poor souls with the excuse that it was "stereo" which made everything "all right"! I must insist that this is a ridiculous attitude.

Generally, if a person thinks highly enough of his hi-fi to indulge himself in stereo equipment, he is usually a few cuts above the average in musical discrimination and stereo or not . . . he wants either good classical or good jazz material . . . sensibly chosen repertoire, performed reasonably well by professional executants of known reputation, and it goes without saying, the highest degree of technical excellence in the tape he buys. Happily, the days of the "gimmick" releases is about over with 2-channel stereo since the advent of the stereo tapes by RCA Victor and other forward looking companies. I think a lot of people have learned a lesson and the buyer of 3-channel stereo will be a more cautious fellow than his 2-channel predecessor, and the same can be said of the recording companies who, as you shall see, will offer tapes of genuine musical substance with the added plus of 3-channel stereo, rather than issue tapes where the stereo "effect" is the thing and the music merely subsidiary.

So, realizing the problem confronting three channel stereo for the home was largely a question of recorded tape availability, I decided (without much hope of success I admit) to sniff around the recording companies and ferret out as much information as I could on the possibilities of their producing 3-channel stereophonic tapes. Being a reviewer one naturally gets to know a lot of people in the recording industry, so at least I had the advantage that I wasn't approaching this thing "cold turkey"! My first inquiries were treated about as I expected.... Boy, you should have seen the raised eyebrows! I guess most of them figured I had flipped my lid, and I could see the prevailing attitude was that I was strictly for the birds! Not that I blame them very much. While most outfits have been recording 2-channel stereo for some time, few had released any as yet and here I was madly yakking about 3 channels! I must admit things were more than a bit discouraging and I was about to concede that 3-channel stereo was still quite a few years away, when I got the first faint flickering of hope! One of the big record clubs had been recording 3-channel stereo for some time . . .
but not for the purposes of issuing the results in the form of recorded tapes! They were using a technique which was fairly common with 2-channel machines in making monaural tape masters for subsequent disc transfer . . . that of post-mixing. In other words after the actual recording session, the engineers would play back the 3-channel tape and then, mixing whatever percentage of each channel they wanted, they obtained the desired monaural signal which was recorded on a standard monaural tape machine. It is not my purpose here to debate the pros and cons of this technique, but one fact is of course quite obvious . . . here is a source of 3-channel stereo tape, since there is no law that says one has to post-mix and use the 3-channel master for no other purpose!

While this certainly was encouraging, it didn't help too much as I drew a blank as far as being able to determine if the release of any 3-channel material was ever contemplated. I would have pursued the matter further (even though my contacts with the clubs are second and third person since I do not review their products), when I got a phone call that changed everything. "Would you care to hear some white labels (test pressings) of some new material tonight?" inquired the feminine voice with the soft Texas drawl.... Would I! This is tantamount to offering a man dying of thirst a bucket of ice cold spring water! Naturally, I like to avail myself of every opportunity to observe and hear the work of the professional recordist in his native habitat. The caller was the very charming and talented administrative director of Mercury Records, Miss Wilma Cozart. I was to meet her and Mr. Bob Fine, chief engineer of Mercury in Studio C in the 5th Avenue, New York headquarters of Mercury Records.

That night, I had no sooner stepped through the thick soundproof door of the studio and was shaking hands all around when my eyes riveted themselves on the familiar sight of an Ampex 300 tape console with the most unfamiliar addition of oversize tape guides, tape gate, and capstan and capstan roller designed to accommodate the half-inch tape that was threaded through the machine. A wild thought ran through my head and I looked at my hosts who by now were both wearing big grins. "Could this be a 3-channel stereo setup?", I inquired rather warily of Mr. Fine. Both he and Miss Cozart laughed and said that knowing of my interest in stereophonic sound they had rigged up a demonstration that I might find entertaining. By Gadfrey if that wasn't the understatement of the century! Studio C is a room about 35 ft. wide by roughly 60 feet deep and with a nice 20 foot ceiling. Near the entrance is the glass enclosed control booth and at the far end a big curved projection screen that receives its images from the projection booth high in the back end of the room. Behind the screen are three monster Jim Lansing theater speaker systems, driven by three 60 watt McIntosh amplifiers! This studio is ordinarily used to score movie films for various types of multi-channel sound, including Mr. Fine's own "Perspecta" sound process. Being obviously all set up and prepared for me, Mr. Fine punched the start button on the Ampex and the big reel of half-inch tape began to feed through the tape gate. In a few seconds a slight increase in tape noise over the normal background told me we had reached the "live" portion of the tape and an instant later my astonished ears heard the purest, cleanest, most fabulous sound I have ever encountered as the speakers gave forth with the striking opening bars of "Tabuh Tabuhan," an exotic work by Colin McPhee . . . a new Mercury release featuring the Rochester Symphony Orchestra conducted by Howard Hanson.

The disc is reviewed later in these pages and it is an outstanding recording in every respect . . . but good as it is, it was pallid in comparison to the incredible realism of the 3-channel stereo. I am sincere when I say I was literally stunned with what I was hearing. It was hard to believe the Rochester Symphony Orchestra wasn't there before me on the stage. No, that isn't quite correct really, because in many ways this was far better than the real thing! I mean it . . . it would be a rare seat in a rarer concert hall where all that I heard on this stereo tape could be heard equally as well. The most startling aspect, of course, was the infinitely greater sharpness and delineation of the inner orchestral details. This was quite unbelievable and I heard things on the tape that were but tenuous hints on the discs. String tone? You've never heard anything like this! Even in the highest registers of the first violins there was no screech, no eardrum piercing edginess, rather there was a smoothness only previously encountered in the confines of the concert hall. The richness of the second strings, the mellow throb of the cell), the dark sonority of the contrabass), all were vibrantly alive with realism. The contrabassi were especially spectacular. Ordinarily even on good records and through good hi-fi equipment, the bass viols have a sort of "voom-voom" sound . . . low enough in frequency to be sure, but without much character. Here on the 3-channel stereo, you can begin to appreciate the throbbing power they generate, and you can perceive the individual tones and timbres of each string, you can feel the deep resonance, hear the higher harmonics, detect subtleties and nuances of bowing and fingering impossible to hear on a disc.

With 3-channel stereo, brass sonorities are breathtaking. Trumpets have a clean brightness equaled only by the real thing. And with this brightness there is a roundness and fullness of tone, a sense of swelling power not found on discs or on regular tape either. In staccato and other rapid passages, there is no blurring or fuzziness whatever . . . all is sharp and incisive. Trombones have their characteristic blare, but again with a rounder, fuller tone, and when they are guttural and growl "way down in the low frequencies," you can still perceive the timbre of the instrument . . . it isn't lost in muddy distortion as on so many discs. The woodwinds are quite extraordinary. The stereo probes extremes of the various instruments in a fashion almost totally alien to discs and monaural tapes. The characteristic breathiness of the flute and piccolo is almost palpable in its liveness and realism. Vibrato is noted to a much greater extent than on the other media. The clarinet, bassoon, oboe, English horn, are heard with exceptional purity of tone.

Returning for a moment to the brass, that most difficult of instruments to record&emdash;the French horn is heard on stereo as a very clean, full-bodied and richly resonant sound. Its heroic sound, embellished by the spaciousness of stereo is a thing of unearthly beauty. Percussion on 3-channel stereo is best described as awesome. On bass drum not just the whump and the thud is heard, but the tone as well. More than this, you can feel the tremendous power as the sound envelope hits you. Tympani are super clean, crisp, and precise, and you can feel the tautness of the stretched drumskin. It is also a great deal easier to discern whether the tympanist is using hard or soft mallets or bare sticks. Snares, whether gut or wire, are easily distinguished, cymbals, gongs, bells, triangles, xylophones . . . the whole percussion battery can be heard with a cleanness and articulation not possible in anything but 3-channel stereo.

The directionality of the 3-channel stuff I heard was fantastic and actually I was surprised at the degree of superiority over two channel stereo. With tri-stereo, it was not necessary to stay in a more or less circumscribed spot, to obtain the maximum directional effect. Positioning oneself right or left of the center line naturally threw into focus the instruments which prevail on one or the other side of the orchestra, yet there was little difficulty in perceiving the interplay between the various choirs. Best of all . . . the "hole"
(in the middle --ed.) which is more or less apparent in many bi-stereo tapes, was no longer evident. In fact this elimination of the center "hole" with the third or middle speaker seems to have much more significance than I would have believed. With the three channels no matter where you stand or how uneducated your ear, it is completely and instantly obvious that you are listening to stereophonic sound. Probably the most important aspect of the third channel, however, is not the increased "right-to-left" directionality that it affords, but that it adds the new dimensions of "front-to-back." This is truly the crux of the case for 3-channel stereo . . . the attainment of depth for a true three dimensional sound. The third channel is cumulative in its effects, and the totality adds up to the fact that when it is combined with two other channels, it is markedly superior to the two channels alone. The addition of the depth makes the illusion of presence complete and unless you hear tri-stereo, you won't believe the fantastic difference that third channel makes in terms of musical realism.

"Tabuh-Tabuhan" came to its triumphant conclusion and I was sitting with mouth agape when I suddenly woke up and started firing questions. IS there any more . . . Is this just experimental . . . etc., etc., ad infinitum! Well good people,
here is the thing that is going to stagger you! Mercury has been recording 3-channel stereo since the beginning of the year and already has built up an impressive backlog! This is a continuing program and everything Mercury now records for disc is also recorded in tri-stereo! WHY is Mercury doing this? They are recording 3-channel stereo with the intent and purpose of releasing recorded tapes for public consumption! No, I'm not kidding you . . . it's a fact ! ! !

What repertoire is now available you ask? Sad to relate my friends but, at the moment, nothing is available. Oh yes, like I said, they have tapes all right . . . that same evening I was treated to parts of many works. Dorati and the Minneapolis doing the Brahms "Third," reviewed in these pages last month, the same conductor and orchestra doing Tchaikovsky's "Cappricio Italien" which I reviewed two months ago, Paul Paray and the Detroit Orchestra doing Debussy's "Iberia," the same conductor and orchestra in new items like Chausson's "Symphony in B Flat," and some Wagnerian works, Dorati again with Richard Strauss' "Till Eulenspiegel" and there are many others. As you can see, I was literally drowned in gorgeous tristereo and I can tell you that this was the hi-fi experience of a lifetime. It was simply an overwhelming thing and I hope that before too long others will be able to experience the same thrills. I said nothing was available at the moment and here are the whys and wherefores. Remember, I told you this material was all on special half-inch tape instead of the standard quarter-inch. Reason for this, of course, is that the wider tape and the extra width of the gap in the three special heads will afford a better signal-to-noise ratio which is important if quiet tape dubs are to result. So that's the first reason . . . non-standard tape width. I suppose that if some millionaire were to indulge himself with a tri-stereo Ampex 300 modified for half-inch he might be able to get a stereo tape dub from Mercury.

Quite obviously, if Mercury is to release this 3-channel stereo, the economics of the matter dictate that 3-channel
quarter-inch tape will be the medium. Now here is the rub . . . the number of 3-channel quarter-inch Ampex units that have been produced is quite minute. To my knowledge there is but one unit on the whole East Coast! Again it is obvious that although Mercury could dub its half-inch stuff down to one-quarter, this machine-to-machine at regular tape speed hardly constitutes a method of quantity production. So the problem is really one of duplication.

I have been given to understand that Mercury is trying to work out a feasible method of quantity production and if they are successful, they hope to be able to release some tri-stereo this fall or winter. I might add here, that like any new development, initial costs will probably be fairly high although every effort will be made to keep the tapes as reasonable as possible.

By now the thought has probably occurred to you that even if the Mercury tapes were ten cents each and plentiful as potatoes, they wouldn't be much use to you without a tape playback machine which could handle 3-channel stereo. And so we have come full circle and we are back at the other end of the problem. I think everyone will agree that the prime problem with 3-channel stereo is tape availability. Now that we know at least one company is doing something about it, it is safe to assume that other companies will soon follow suit. So having gotten a good start on the tape problem, there is now the question of the tape playback and who makes it and for how much? I wish I could give you more information about this. . . for the affluent there is of course, Ampex. For "Joe Doakes, music lover," I cannot give much encouragement beyond this . . . one company, well known for its inexpensive "component-type" tape machines has gone so far as to build prototype 3-channel, 1/4th-inch heads. If successful, and there is every reason to believe they will be, these heads would be available with their regular production tape mechanisms and as a replacement or addition to heads in existing units. What will these units cost? I have no way of knowing but the fantastic figure of "under $200" has been bandied about and if this were to be true, it means that with three of the most modest amplifiers and three small but reasonable quality speakers a 3-channel stereo system could be had for about 400 to 500 dollars. This still isn't chicken feed I'll admit, but I will guarantee to you that it will sound better from a musical standpoint than the most expensive and elaborate single-channel system. So there you have it friends.

We are on the threshold of fabulous 3-channel stereosound, years earlier than we had any right to expect. That there are still problems to be solved with both tapes and machines is evident, but at least a start has been made and if the hi-fi public will get behind the idea and show the various manufacturers that they are really interested . . . you'll see the problems cleaned up in short order. I will watch the progress on this matter and try to keep you well informed.

As you can see, this important report was quite lengthy, but I certainly think it was worthwhile. In consequence of its length, we won't have much space for reviews so I'll make up for it next month with literally no introductory yak and as many reviews as we can squeeze in the column.

Equipment used this month. Components Corp. turntable; New Weathers viscous damped arm, cartridge, and oscillator; Marantz audio consolette; 2-60 watt Mclntosh amplifiers; Jensen "Imperial" speaker; Electro-Voice "Georgian" speaker; and Ampex tape equipment.


Julius Katchen, pianist with New Symphony Orchestra of London conducted by Peter Mang. London LL1357. RIAA curve. Price $3.98.

Another London contribution to this Mozart year, this recording is especially welcome for the fine version of the "13th Concerto " which is not heard very often. Katchen is in fine form here with vigorous and well paced readings. His phrasing and dynamic shading seem much improved over some of his recent work. His tone is quite big, but fortunately he avoids excesses like percussive harshness. His reading of the "13th Concerto" certainly is the best that is presently available.
(continues, including several more reviews...)

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the reviewer and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the editors or the publishers of this magazine.

Copyright 1956 Radio TV News -- All Rights Reserved.
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© Copyright 2001 Wendy Carlos

Comment: And this seems to be as far as three-tracks ever went. I never learned why Mercury and the other companies mentioned never took this to the next stage. We can assume that two track stereo provided enough problems for listeners less than two years after these columns were written. Bert wrote a second column for the same magazine starting a year later, called "Sound on Tape." It reviewed the newest stereo prerecorded tape medium, which actually could sound very good. Tapes continued for many years, giving rise to prerecorded cassettes and good old eight-track cartridges. But stereo LP's became the major release medium for stereo, and it couldn't provide three distinct channels in any direct fashion. The center channel, by the way, has remained ignored until the newest 5.1 surround disks appeared, DTS, Dolby Digital, and now DVD-A's. Used well the C channel fills the front of the soundfield nicely, and is a worthy addition that has been waiting in the wings for only half a century!
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