Technical & Editorial

TVs? We Don't Need no Stinking TVs - Third Generation Multi-channel Audio - Part 1



Conceptually, multichannel audio makes abundant sense. Practically, however, it has failed with a critical mass of listeners. Quadrasonic sound, circa 1971, was the first setback. While modern analysis of optimal multichannel reproduction now reveals the unfavorable placement of the rear channels, its primary undoing was the intractable challenge of lifting four high-quality discrete channels off a vinyl record.

Ten years ago, the industry tried again with optical disc media. A format war, coupled with the need for special equipment, resulted in little consumer interest, which was already a crowded space with the advent of home theater and portable MP3 players. The Blu-ray audio disc is the new promising third iteration owing to its seamless compatibility with home theater installations.

The audiophile and videophile have not merged into one species. At this point, audiophiles are staunchly holding onto stereo. A Hi Fi show dedicated to audiophiles, like the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, has room after room filled with two speakers and no TVs. Accordingly, audiophiles must lead the way for multichannel Blu-ray to successfully penetrate the consumer market.

This three-part series outlines the general concepts of an audiophile-friendly third-generation multichannel audio system, by definition, a system for which the TV set is unwelcome. The core is the Blu-ray Universal player, but it cannot stand alone; other hurdles must be addressed to enable optimal reproduction of the sound field from premier multichannel recordings.

Part 1 highlights the required equipment and offers the basics for systems setup. A clash between optimal approaches towards viewing a film and listening to music will be evident.

Part 2 drills down further with respect to the selection of a Blu-ray player in the absence of a television. The vernacular of the multichannel audio geek is also reviewed.

Part 3 is an introduction to the salient aspects of downloadable multichannel files. A companion analysis reviews selection and setup of Audio Video Receivers (AVR) for multichannel audio. This section demonstrates that a top of the line unit is not required for state-of-the-art sound.

This three-part series should help in deciding if it is worthwhile for you to move forward by adding three speakers to your current music system and replacing some electronics.

The sentiment expressed in the article's title is a paraphrase from the movie, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, "We don't need no stinkin' badges",  and is often shared by audiophiles who prefer to listen to multichannel audio without a TV monitor. Blu-ray and Universal DVD players are the required front ends for systems that can deliver audiophiles improved realism with multichannel media. This guide explains the general concepts of a multichannel setup with the focus on the new Blu-ray Universal players.