Long before 5.1 Surround (let alone 6.1, 7.1 and now even 13.2), Doby ATMOs, DTX and THX, sound engineers sought to expand the music listening experience beyond just two stereo channels. In the early 70s, quadraphonic records and amplifiers were briefly all the rage. I used to lust after the gear in the annual Radio Shack catalogue.
In today’s parlance, quad (which is what the cool kids called it) was 4.0 surround sound. Discrete signals were sent to left and right channels at the front as well as left and right speakers in the rear.
The format was problematic from the start. Not only were two more speakers and a special amplifier required, the source material needed to be encoded in quad. New gear was required at every stage of the recording process so that it could pressed onto special vinyl with four channels’ worth of music in the grooves. That also necessitated a special stylus for the turntable.
Quad never really got off the ground. Competing technologies didn’t help (think VHS vs. Beta, HD-CD vs. SACD, Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD, etc.). All the equipment was too expensive to produce and too expensive and cumbersome to enjoy, so almost no one adopted the new format.
There was also a dearth of quad vinyl. Record labels weren’t keen to press up special quad editions when they were already issuing albums on vinyl, cassette, and 8-track.
There were, however, some bites. The Eagles, Santana, Carly Simon, Sly and the Family Stone, The Doors and Joni Mitchell were among those who had quadraphonic releases. (Oddly, they don’t seem to be very collectible. You can easily find factory-sealed versions of these albums for under $30 on eBay.)
By the end of the 70s, quad was much dead. Multi-channel sound didn’t return until digital technology came along, making it possible for 5.1 sound (at a minimum!) to be enjoyed on even the most basic of home theatre setups.
But what’s this? A return to quad vinyl? This is from ProSoundNetwork.com (via Chris)
Is the world ready for the return of quadraphonic vinyl records? KamranV, co-founder of Bedrock.LA, a multi-room rehearsal and production facility in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles and former president and CTO of Moogfest, believes the answer is yes.
In March 2016, keyboardist, composer and sound designer Suzanne Ciani gave her first solo performance on a Buchla synthesizer in nearly 40 years, at Gray Area in San Francisco. The presentation was in quad, mixed live by Ciani from the Buchla 200e, a twenty-first century recreation of the classic early-seventies synthesizer. The performance, recorded by Vance Galloway, was played back later that same year at the North Carolina Museum of Art at Moogfest.
Kamran says he learned a valuable lesson while he was helping program Moogfest: “You found that you learned a lot by looking backward to look forward.” And when he saw the reaction to Ciani’s piece, he says, “Something clicked; I realized there was an opportunity here.” The result was that he wanted to release Ciani’s performance in an analog format that, much like the Buckla synthesizer, would harken back four decades ago: quadraphonic vinyl. The challenge, however, was to figure out how to make that happen.
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