Putting Surround Sound In Its Place.

Posted by in Technology

speakerSince I program custom home automation and A/V systems for a living I am around some really nice, high-end audio equipment all day, every day. This being said, what I am about to say might come as a surprise. Surround sound is WAY overrated. People have bought into the sales pitch that has been going on for years. Don’t take this the wrong way, I do believe there is a great place in the world for surround sound, but I don’t think it is the best format for everything.

Movies are one on the only things that should be listened to in surround sound. When audio engineers sit down to record the sound track to a movie they spend a lot of time trying to make it feel as if you are immersed in the film. This can be done with little things that make a big difference, a bird chirping behind you, or a car driving by on a busy street passing from front to back. At the same time if this is over-done then it can be just down right distracting. One of the most common mistakes made when hooking up a surround system, just as often by a professional as a consumer, is turning your side and back speakers up too much. This will became more of a distraction then anything else.

Music should never be played in surround sound. If you are watching a live concert on Blu-Ray then you may be able to get away with this, but if there is no video to go with your music then never use the surround modes and under no circumstances should you ever use the BULL S@#* mode 5 CH stereo.When an engineer sits down in a studio with an artist his goal should be (notice I said should) to make as clean of a copy as he can that will also make the listener feel as if the music is being played right in front of them. Stereo is the way to pull this off. When you are listening to music on a stereo set up, it should sound like there is a third speaker in the center playing also. You should hear the main vocals if not directly in front of you, off to one side or the other just slightly, as if they were trying to make it sound like they stand when they are playing live.

This might sound like something that only high-end, high-dollar gear can pull off. It’s not, I have been able to get some stock radios in cars to pull off some amazing stereo effects If you just work with the settings a little and you are listening to a good recording. The recording is the most important part of this process. Most of the brand new stuff I have heard recently is not the best because of the iPod Generation. We have lost a lot in recording quality because, lets face it, we can’t get great quality out of a credit card-sized device. Some of the stuff I like to show off with is music from about 10 years ago. My favorite is Sister Hazels Somewhere More Familiar, look for Starfish at the end of the album. Also you can never go wrong with Counting Crows August and Everything After. For some cool stereo effects with the drums look into Red Jumpsuit Apparatus and their bonus track. Now dust off some of your old CDs, close your eyes, and just listen.