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Author Topic:  Is stereo all it's cracked up to be?
Ian Rae


From:
Redditch, England
Post Posted 16 May 2017 2:19 am     Reply with quote

My father was a physicist who enjoyed music. He grew up in the thirties when boys put into building radio sets the energy they put now into computers and social media. He always made sure that his own kids had decent gear (mostly home-made) to listen to.

Round about the time he acquired his first stereo hi-fi, when I was still young enough to believe everything he said, I remember him telling me that Beethoven found it frustrating to have his orchestra spread out across the stage, and wished that one day there would be a way of making the sound come from just one spot.

I don't think he had read a great many composers' biographies, so I suspect it was a scientific joke; but in that case, is it original?
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Charlie McDonald


From:
out of the blue
Post Posted 16 May 2017 4:16 am     Reply with quote

It could be that Beethoven wanted the audience to experience the music the way he heard it. He would have loved Toscanini recordings.

My uncle the psychiatrist and professional listener, said that stereo couples with the room better.
So yes, stereo is all it's cracked up to be, particularly with vinyl records.

I haven't encountered the story about Beethoven; it could have been folklore for early hi-fi buffs, or your dad's original observation.
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Frank Markow


From:
Dallas, TX
Post Posted 16 May 2017 7:14 am     Reply with quote

Too much water under this bridge, I think we are now so accustomed to stereo that life without it would be like, well, watching black and white TV.

Case in point: listen to the 2015 Mavericks record "Mono." Apparently someone in the band thought it would be a clever idea to do a modern record in mono... great tunes, great band, but I just don't like listening to this record. My brains refuses to accept it...

Sure, many great old artists records were done in mono, but once they discovered stereo, I don't think any one of them said, "no thanks... we'll keep recording in mono"

Now digital vs. analog... that is another story ; )
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Charlie McDonald


From:
out of the blue
Post Posted 16 May 2017 8:32 am     Reply with quote

Frank Markow wrote:
Now digital vs. analog...

The big difference. I'm not sure digits couple with the room as well as waves.
Stereo spreads out the source--not what Beethoven wanted--and creates an illusion from two mono tracks.
In my opinion that makes stereo easier to listen to.
Plus, without it, you could never lie between the speakers and listen to Grand Funk Railroad.
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Barry Blackwood


Post Posted 16 May 2017 8:54 am     Reply with quote

Quote:
Is stereo all it's cracked up to be?

Well, we have two ears, so I'd have to venture yes..
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J Fletcher


From:
London,Ont,Canada
Post Posted 16 May 2017 10:09 am     Reply with quote

One nice thing about mono is that you can be anywhere in the room and get the same mix.
I recently bought Louis Armstrong plays W.C. Handy , recorded in 1954, so it's mono , and it sounds great. In the 60's many LP's and perhaps all 45's had a separate mono mix. There some pretty bad stereo mixes where instruments were panned hard left or right that sound unnatural.
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Ian Rae


From:
Redditch, England
Post Posted 16 May 2017 2:10 pm     Reply with quote

I listen to a lot of old mono records - if the performance is compelling enough you soon become oblivious of the technical limitations.

Stereo (which means "solid") was originally conceived as a means of lending realism by reproducing the layout of the performers and their acoustic surroundings. Of course the technology soon got used to create artificial layouts and ambiences. Those recordings where everything is either left, centre or right predate the invention of the pan pot, for which we are all eternally grateful.

When I was a BBC engineer we were conscious that most listeners were not sitting in a hi-fi armchair environment, but more likely listening on a portable radio. So once we'd set up a mix that sounded good in stereo, we always did the final balance listening at quite low level in mono on one speaker. This was the only way to ensure that the balance of any soloist (vocal or instrumental), the bass content and the overall reverb level were correct for everyone. It would still automatically sound good in stereo, which is much more tolerant.
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Bill Hatcher


From:
Atlanta Ga. USA
Post Posted 17 May 2017 9:04 am     Reply with quote

Barry Blackwood wrote:
Quote:
Is stereo all it's cracked up to be?

Well, we have two ears, so I'd have to venture yes..


theres your answer! lol
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Rich Upright


From:
Florida, USA
Post Posted 17 May 2017 12:21 pm     Reply with quote

Whatever happened to Quadraphonic? I got 4 speakers in my car & truck & it sounds great; also saw Emerson,Lake& Palmer play Madison Square Garden in Quad, and it was the best of 17 later concerts that I saw them at.

I run a stereo delay onstage & it makes the steel sound very "big" without getting loud. 'Course it doesn't work when I am playing a gig with PA support.
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Charlie McDonald


From:
out of the blue
Post Posted 18 May 2017 4:44 am     Reply with quote

Ian Rae wrote:
... stereo... is much more tolerant.

I agree. I think the level of competency required to mix Motown hits was greater in mono.
And there was a thrill to that sound coming out of one speaker in the center of the dash, a central focus for all in the car.

My uncle had one large Klipschorn in the corner (with an 8" driver). When he went stereo, the quality of the components could be lower.

I can begin to see Beethoven's reputed point.
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Larry Carlson


From:
My Computer
Post Posted 18 May 2017 7:17 am     Reply with quote

I remember the first time I heard stereo.
An AM radio station set up the left channel on one frequency and their sister station set up the right channel on another frequency.
Then with two AM radios you heard stereo. It just blew me away.
They did this just for a few days as an experiment. Back then it was amazing.
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Charlie McDonald


From:
out of the blue
Post Posted 18 May 2017 8:18 am     Reply with quote

I remember that.
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Ian Rae


From:
Redditch, England
Post Posted 18 May 2017 9:08 am     Reply with quote

Larry Carlson wrote:
I remember the first time I heard stereo.

So do I - around 1968 when I was 17 or so. Up till then I had been listening on a turntable with a stereo pickup through a single amp and speaker. A friend of my father's who was branching out into stereo donated another amp and speaker, totally dissimilar but I didn't care. I hooked it up and listened to Jethro Tull's This Was album which had just come out. Blown away is about right. It was a few years before I could afford a matched system but it didn't bother me.

Rich Upright wrote:
Whatever happened to Quadraphonic?

The problem with surround is that to get the best result you need to sit in the middle of the room, which excludes the mass market of people in modest dwellings. And who wants to sit for hours in a chair with no headrest? (Cinema surround is much less critical). Add in the problem that there were two competing systems for encoding on to vinyl, and it's no surprise it never took off. One of the studios I worked in the 80s had a console with a quad output but we were never called upon to exploit it.
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Joachim Kettner


From:
Germany
Post Posted 18 May 2017 9:30 am     Reply with quote

I think it's called panneling, when a sound shifts from one channel to the other and back. I think Hendrix and surely the Moody Blues did this. Here's a good example, produced by Eddie Kraemer, with the great Doug Rodriguez on guitar at around 1:50
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xlVh45yyBUY
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Scott Baker


From:
Upland, California, USA
Post Posted 18 May 2017 9:58 am     Reply with quote

Frank Markow wrote:
Too much water under this bridge, I think we are now so accustomed to stereo that life without it would be like, well, watching black and white TV.

Case in point: listen to the 2015 Mavericks record "Mono." Apparently someone in the band thought it would be a clever idea to do a modern record in mono... great tunes, great band, but I just don't like listening to this record. My brains refuses to accept it...

Sure, many great old artists records were done in mono, but once they discovered stereo, I don't think any one of them said, "no thanks... we'll keep recording in mono"

Now digital vs. analog... that is another story ; )


I agree with your comments on the Mavericks "Mono". Doesn't sound right sounds like your listening through a storm drain pipe.

However, listen to Bob Wills Tiffany Transcriptions recorded in the late forties, in Mono. It sound like the whole band is in your living room!!!. Recording Technology is a mystery and I believe it's largely the Recording Engineer.
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Scott Baker


From:
Upland, California, USA
Post Posted 18 May 2017 10:01 am     Reply with quote

J Fletcher wrote:
One nice thing about mono is that you can be anywhere in the room and get the same mix.
I recently bought Louis Armstrong plays W.C. Handy , recorded in 1954, so it's mono , and it sounds great. In the 60's many LP's and perhaps all 45's had a separate mono mix. There some pretty bad stereo mixes where instruments were panned hard left or right that sound unnatural.


I have read recently that the Beatles stuff was done in Mono I think up to and including Sergeant Pepper's and then the albums were re-mixed in Stereo for the U.S. Market. Apparently the English weren't impressed by Stereo right away
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Scott Baker


From:
Upland, California, USA
Post Posted 18 May 2017 10:05 am     Reply with quote

The thing is most Stereo is fake. It is the deliberate positioning of Mono miked isolated instruments to create a fake illusion.

I am surprised no one has mentioned real Stereo ( probably because there are so few examples ). Real Stereo is done with a single Binaural Mic which is two Mics arranged to simulate the placement of Human ears on the head. Pure stereo image.

I have a Direct-to-Disc vinyl recording of Harry James from the seventies or eighties. It was done at a recording studio in LA with a chapel across the alley.
The band was set up in the Choir loft, with a binaural mic (pair) at the head of the aisle (where the preacher would be) with a pre-amp. From there the Line-Level cable ran out the door across the alley straight to the record lathe.

No digital, pure image. The sound of his performance is unbelievable.

There is also an Asleep at the Wheel song from one of my early AATW albums that was recorded in a radio station that just used two separately placed mics. Great presence
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Ian Rae


From:
Redditch, England
Post Posted 18 May 2017 12:04 pm     Reply with quote

Scott is right about the Beatles - their early stuff was recorded on a 4-track recorder (using ½" tape if I remember right) and mixed down to mono. I'm sure he's also right that EMI had to rehash it to sell abroad.

As for real (as opposed to fake) stereo, most classical recording is still based on a pair of microphones, although circumstances may dictate additional "spot mics". While recording companies are in the business of creating an experience, at the BBC we were in the business of transporting the listener to the concert and reproducing one, warts and all. The standard method was a coincident pair of figure-of-8s in the "preacher's position" and another pair towards the back of the hall, whose function was to compensate for the reduced reverb from rehearsal to performance when the audience came in. People are very absorbent, especially in winter (when they also cough a lot more).
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Martin Abend


From:
Berlin, Germany
Post Posted 18 May 2017 1:44 pm     Reply with quote

His hearing was severely impeded so he might've come from a different angle.
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Guy Cundell


From:
More idle ramblings from South Australia
Post Posted 18 May 2017 2:57 pm     Re: Is stereo all it's cracked up to be? Reply with quote

Ian Rae wrote:
I remember him telling me that Beethoven found it frustrating to have his orchestra spread out across the stage, and wished that one day there would be a way of making the sound come from just one spot.


Well, Beethoven and many other 19th century composers did write in stereo. It was standard then (unlike today) to have 1st and 2nd violins on opposite sides of the stage and so themes passing from 1st to 2nd violin had a spatial dimension as part of the composition.
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Charlie McDonald


From:
out of the blue
Post Posted 19 May 2017 4:16 am     Reply with quote

Scott Baker wrote:
I have read recently that the Beatles stuff was done in Mono I think up to and including Sergeant Pepper's and then the albums were re-mixed in Stereo for the U.S. Market. Apparently the English weren't impressed by Stereo right away.

I had thought the Beatles' producer misunderstood stereo, having Lennon sing on the left and Paul on the right, and everything else in mono.
I guess it's the same as the left/right positioning of the violins as Guy said.

A lot goes on in the brain to synthesize everything around you into a single multidimensional image.
So it's possible you don't get 'real' stereo except live.
A friend tried to recreate this with mics in his ears as he recorded me playing piano. It left a big hole in the middle.
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Ian Rae


From:
Redditch, England
Post Posted 19 May 2017 5:43 am     Reply with quote

Guy is right about the split 1st & 2nd violins. In Western Europe the practice is often revived especially by performers on period instruments. In the conservative East I'm not sure it's ever gone away. Beethoven had to walk right over to the 1sts to hear them, whereupon he could not hear the 2nds, and so on. No wonder he wished evrything could be condensed into one place.

Charlie, consider how you would remix a 4-track tape which was never intended to be mastered in stereo. Each track can go left, right or centre. So the vocals either go left and right or both in the middle, in which case mono vocals even with left-right backing would not have provided anyone who bought the disc with the revelation they were expecting.

Now that we have pan pots (praise be!) you can create a pretty realistic stereo effect with mono mics. I regularly recorded a 20-piece string section at the same time as the rhythm (no time for overdubs) so a stereo pair would have pulled in way too much drums. But 10 mics (one on each desk) panned across from left to right with some tasteful reverb sounded totally convicing; and I could swap the second violins to the right in a matter of seconds if the arrangement worked better that way.

A quick note about the "hole in the middle" effect. If you use a coincident pair of mics sent left and right, there is no problem. If you use a spaced pair, as Decca did in Europe and RCA in America, then you get a more interesting (although less realistic) stereo picture, but you need a 3rd mic in the middle to fill the hole, which of course suited the L-C-R consoles of the early days.
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Charlie McDonald


From:
out of the blue
Post Posted 19 May 2017 6:45 am     Reply with quote

Ah. Pan pots.
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Daniel McKee


From:
Corinth Mississippi
Post Posted 19 May 2017 6:25 pm     Reply with quote

Everybody has a preference but coming from years of record collecting, I'm a huge fan of stereo. I just prefer the sound.
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Ian Rae


From:
Redditch, England
Post Posted 20 May 2017 12:14 am     Reply with quote

I'm sure most people would agree with Daniel's commonsense assessment. It's no accident that we've settled on stereo as the best value for money. It gives a great enhancement at little extra cost to producer or consumer. Surround sound is expensive and complicated to use fully.

It's the same with TV and film - we take it for granted that colour is worthwhile, but 3D has not really caught on. And we still revisit the great black and white movies.
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