Quadraphonic

Quadraphonic

Well, there’s one that didn’t fly. A wrong turning. Also known as 4.0 surround, as in 5.1 Surround or 7.2 Surround. It used the two walls of a stereo disc, but encoded a new layer of information which could then be decoded by the decoder built into the amplifier.

Tape

Labels were greedy for the sort of boost that stereo had given them a decade earlier. The easiest way of achieving four channel sound was obviously open-reel tape, already designed to hold four tracks. Stockhausen’s Kontakte utilised that back in 1954, but this is at the far-out far end of experimental.

Vanguard introduced Q4 Tapes in 1969, using open reel four track machines, but with everything playing in one direction instead of two tracks of stereo in each direction. They called it Quadrasonic, or Stereo Surround. As ever with novel formats, the impetus was hardware driven … note the Akai demonstration tape. Akai, TEAC and Technics all tried producing open reel surround stereo machines. Semi-pro machines could switch anyway … whole track, half track, quarter track, stereo both ways, four track one way.But … and it’s a very big BUT … you needed an amplifier, four speakers and many yards of cable in those days.

Akai demonstration tape

A year later, RCA produced Quad-8 using 8-track tape cartridges in 1970, with in-car systems as well as home players … and these lasted until 1976. You could even buy blank tape cartridges and a machine to record them on … Pioneer made one. I don’t believe they were ever sold in the UK where 8 track lost out to cassette early on.

Quad 8: Capitol / EMI demo

Most of the 8 tracks were RCA or Columbia.

Vinyl

Vinyl records came in 1972. and again RCA / JVC and Columbia / Sony plus EMI were the main players.

So what was the point? You could see the possibilities for creating records for a four speaker system, but they would need to be conceived as such. Classical was always the driver of new formats, so what would you get out of the back speakers from a classical concert? I suppose in a natural hall ambience you could have a few people coughing and sneezing behind you, just so you could feel you were there.

Back to (mono) quadraphonic

There was a desire to crack quadraphonic. The BBC fiddled around with four channel radio broadcasts, and they weren’t alone. But then the BBC circa 1973 started putting concerts on TV and stereo FM radio simultaneously, advising you to place your stereo speakers either side of the TV, tune in the radio and switch down the TV sound. And yes, we did it. I recall King Crimson live at the Concertgebouw.

Quadraphonic died comprehensively. Surround sound home theatre systems could install a 4.0 surround switch among all the other possibilities like DVD-Audio and SACD … my old Pioneer would embrace any known format just about. Except quad. Why would they? It would need four phono inputs and a phono stage … surviving quad turntables pre-date optical and HDMI leads, and anyway how many decks were there?

EMI

EMI used the Sony SQ system.

Quadrophonic Classics: HMV LP 1973

Or as EMI puts it:

For recordings of Symphonies or Orchestral music the two additional channels add a sense of spaciousness and realism which takes you into the concert hall or opera house.
Pop recordings have a new dimension added to conventional stereo sound. With appropriate music instruments can be made to move or even change direction but the principal advantage is for the producer and musical arranger to create an entirely new experience in recorded sound.

So, the answer is that you could use sound reflections, seemingly pulling the soundstage towards you in classical music. OK, but with your stereo speakers wouldn’t the reflection off back wall of your listening space do that? For ‘pop’ music (EMI’s quote marks) you could get Enoch Light’s bongos bouncing around the speakers.

Frank Pourcel’s Westerb thems were “Studio 2 Quadraphonic” and are on EMI’s Columbia label.

Judging by Pye’s first venture with Quadraphonic Sampler you get the kind of Easy Listening highly exaggerated stereo effect on Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep by John MacLeod and His Orchestra and Blood, Sweat & Tears Spinning Wheel by the Dennis Lotis Latin Sound. Then you get Oh, You Pretty Things by The City of Westminster Band. For Bowie completists?

They were all designed to be compatible with stereo, so playable on stereo turntables. This was the cleverness of the pitch, which had worked with stereo and mono. You may not have a quad machine, said EMI, but you will in a few years time. So start buying quad records now. You can play them on your current stereo, then when you do buy quad , you won’t have to upgrade your LPs. That fooled me just once.

A Man For All Seasons: John Gregory, United Artists, 1974

I think it was the only time I heard quadraphonic in a domestic setting, and it was John Gregory’s A Man For All Seasons in 1974. Die cut metallic sleeve, too. It was hugely impressive at the time, and I bought into ‘It’ll all be quad one day. Might as well get it in quad.’ Listening to the LP (in stereo) with Cockles and Mussels from Thanksgiving Day Parade with crowd noises and fireworks as I write this, I’d have to revise that rating from hugely impressive down to misguided crap. OK, After The Goldrush does work to a degree, but I fear the mellow mood when listening to it in 1974 was not induced by the music.

Quadrophonic Sampler: Pye 1974

Pye proudly boasts that Quadraphonic Sampler was recorded on a 16 track Ampex machine using two inch tape, then mixed down using Sansui QS. Trouble was, that every label seemed to use a slightly different system. First came EV4 (which didn’t work well). Pye used Sansui QS. EMI, United Artists and CBS used Sony SQ. Then JVC had CD4, and Denon had UD-4. You needed a deck with a quadraphonic cartridge, a quadraphonic amplifier and four speakers. And you still needed a lot of connecting cable running around the room.

CBS SQ sticker

Quadra disc

A Warner Elektra Atlantic format and name, developed by JVC:

WEA sampler disc using the JVC Hi-Fi Quadra disc format.

The inner sleeve explained the system.

WEA / Atlantic’s sampler was gloriously eclectic. Frank Sinatra to Bette Midler to the MJQ to Robert Flack to Gordon Lightfoot to Charles Mingus and Frank Zappa. The LP has an Atlantic label on one side and a Warner Bros label on other.

The trouble is that it’s very quiet. I switched from this to the Sony sampler below without adjusting the controls, and the Sony was about twice the volume and had greatly more punch and drive. In comparison, the WEA disc sounds really poor.

Panasonic’s sampler was the diametric opposite in musical selections, distributed as a 2 disc set by RCA in 1973. Classical … Eugene Ormandy, Arthur Fiedler. Then Hugo Montenegro, Danny Davis, Henry Mancini. The stuff of hi-fi samplers of a decade or more earlier.

Note the names … JVC, Panasonic, Sony. All hardware manufacturers.

Mostly the market was so small that American pressings were sold in other markets. So Bill Wyman’s Monkey Grip is an Atlantic USA pressing (they distributed Rolling Stones Records), so part of WEA. They used a JVC system under the name Quadra disc and called it CD-4 CHANNEL DISCRETE. The word Quadraphonic doesn’t appear anywhere on it. Such naming did not help the market grow. JVC v Sony was VHS v Betamax. Now it was JVC’s Quadra disc v Sony’s Quadraphonic SQ. (There is much more good material available on Quadraphonic SQ).

Monkey Grip: Bill Wyman , Rolling Stones Records, 1974

The issue was that mainly labels saw it as an opportunity to sell back catalogue again – so in effect most quad releases were the equivalent of the dreaded and loathed electronically processed stereo.

Sony SQ

Sony were already positioning for the eventual Columbia / CBS tie-up then buy out. I’m a Betamax fan, so biased to Sony’s choices on most things. and the best back catalogue releases were Columbia / CBS (i.e. Sony SQ). EMI also used the SQ system.

See above on the WEA sampler. They’re chalk and cheese, with the Sony disc winning in every area.

Is that the pressing? Is it that Sony took more trouble in remixing? Or is it that SQ is better than CD4? We don’t have the equipment to compare, but Sony has an inner sleeve explaining how to add on a quad amp and speakers to an existing amplifier. They were focussed on compatibility. As these are all being played on a stereo system, it may just be that Sony SQ’s quad / stereo compatibility is superior.

The inner sleeve pushed the hardware:

Software from CBS

Desire: Bob Dylan, CBS Quadrophonic, 1975

So quadraphonic LPs. Straight to the skip?

No, send them to me. I don’t have and never have had a quad deck. Fortunately someone tipped me off. Quad was pressed on the highest quality vinyl with great care . It also had a remix. The result is very good records indeed when played on a conventional stereo system. Some are known to be valuable … The Dark Side of The Moon by Pink Floyd is the obvious leader.

I did a listening test in stereo with Bob Dylan’s Desire. This is not a hi-fi sampler, just one of the greatest records of the 70s. So it’s a “why bother with quad. Dylan wouldn’t have messed about with it … or let anyone else do much.” In stereo there is very little difference to me, though the basic LP sounds just a tad crisper than the quad to my ear. The quad has a tiny bit more hiss between tracks, but then I bought it secondhand, so who knows? However, some online forums suggest quad shows greater signs of wear than stereo. It figures. Stereo often shows more wear than mono.

If you see a quad version of a CBS classic it may well be cheaper than the LP and will sound fine. While I was about it, I put on the 2003 SACD version, and with apologies to analogue fans, the SACD trounces both the stereo LP and the quad LP comprehensively. The trouble with playing Desire as a listening test is that you just end up listening to Desire.

Super Session by Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper and Steve Stills is one I had on LP and CD … and yes, I bought the UK Quad one when I saw it in 2021. I fell to the temptation of many record collectors. I had an original disc in my hand in a listening booth when the record first came out, but I couldn’t afford it. Then when I could afford it, I got one. Then I got the CD. Then this one.

The inner sleeve shows others in the Quad series from CBS, as well as an advert for a Sony Decoder … the CBS / Sony tie-up becoming most obvious. Note that the outer sleeve and inner sleeve have a CBS sticker over ‘Columbia’ (so American made) while the actual disc is labelled CBS . However it says CBS Inc, so I’d guess is also American. It was unusual for Columbia to trade as CBS in the USA which indicates their eye was on one pressing for world sales, at least initially.

This one is an American pressing. The sleeve has a CBS over sticker, as does the inner label. Columbia was deleted with marker pen at the bottom copyright line (so on every copy) :

Upendo Ni Pamoja: The Ramsey Lewis Trio, 1973

Upenda Ni Pamoja is one I’d never heard of. I just bought it because the vinyl looked near mint and it was quadraphonic. The sound is astonishingly good.

In 1973, CBS couldn’t decide how to stick the CBS logo over ‘Columbia.’ It’s crooked on the back, and a spare one is wrapped round the spine … see bottom left. There Goes Rhymin’ Simon has quite a crude sticker. It’s another Quad album where tracks sound different to the original stereo. Presumably the Quad remix rebalanced instruments which carries over to stereo.

There Goes Rhymin’ Simon: Paul Simon, CBS Quad, 1973

My secondhand copy reveals this alleged ‘Quad wear’ issue. Side one with Kodachrome sounds superb, but side two, especially American Tune have a lot of surface noise and crackle. I guess American Tune was the previous owner’s favourite track, but it’s also one with complex orchestration and one where they may have tried to be clever with the surround sound. In stereo, it has muddy passages. The next track Was a Sunny Day is far simpler and sounds great, but still suffers some surface noise.

A recent find was also CBS, but a CBS Sony Quadraphonic pressing from Japan, of Paul Simon, his first solo LP. This one is a major victory for the Quad LP over original LP or the original CD version. It is the best of the three. It is much brighter. Then we put on the remastered CD, and I think the recent CD has less immediate impact, but more subtlety.

However, now we’ve added another layer for the LP … a Japanese pressing. We’ve also added Paul Simon’s obsessive perfectionism in the studio, a very different mindset to Dylan. It was originally recorded with the greatest care, and the quad pressing shows that. Look at the basic overprinted track list on CBS-Sony’s base centre label design. It’s like the print on a short-run reggae pressing, so they didn’t expect to sell in great numbers. There were US and UK pressings too, and in Rare Record Guide Paul Simon quad discs are listed, but not the stereo LPs, which are so legion they fall below the £12 MINT barrier for inclusion. The Quad versions are rated at £20.

CBS / Columbia developed the largest quad catalogue of the major labels, virtually all remixes of earlier stereo albums.

Blu-ray Quad

WARNING: I had problems getting this to work with my Sony Blu-ray. When it was connected to HDMI on the AV Receiver it was a garbled mess, it only worked when connected to the HDMI input on the receiver which said BD/DVD (audio).

There have been a few releases of quadraphonic recordings on Blu-ray … but then you’re into listening on a Home Theatre system with its speakers, designed in a very different way to a stereo hi fi.

Deutsche Grammophon (DGG) recorded several classical pieces in four channel in the 1970s, another company hoping for quad to take off. Instead of remixing an existing recording in Quad, DGG started out with a four channel concept and recorded it as such.

Some have been released on Blu-ray … as four channel utilising the surround system. No subwoofer or centre speaker involved. It’s easy enough, you’d think – just send out no signal to centre and subwoofer.

That’s not so. It does need the Blu-ray play to be programmed to be able to access it properly. It’s not supposed to be “4.1”, but then without the subwoofer, most surround sound systems are ill-equipped to handle bass through the four corner speakers. The best way to do it would be to roll off low frequencies to the sub-woofer, which is non-directional so shouldn’t hamper the sound stage, though then it would be 4.1 not 4.0. I don’t know what they do.

The Planets / Thus Spake Zarathustra: William Steinberg / Boston Symphony. DGG Blu-ray, 2018
Recorded with four channels originally, in 1970 and 1971

A review of that one:

It’s stunning, sounding better than plenty of super audio CDs. The music is brilliantly executed, the recording is top notch. If you have good speakers and a quality Blu-ray player it’s airy, expansive, atmospheric and very exciting. The rear channels add so much depth and spaciousness that if you close your eyes you’ll waft along on a wave of music that seemingly has no boundaries. The word immersive is frequently used in audio but here it’s at last accurate; this is an immersive experience. And you’ll get down on your knees to check that the centre channel really isn’t operating. Actually I did this more than once.
Rod Easedown, Sydney Morning Herald, 27 September 2018

OK, he says ‘better than SACD’ but you can play SACD on a normal hi-fi system. Blu-ray audio is home theatre multi sound. It is not a direct comparison. Also, quad imagined the listener sitting in the centre of the room, equidistant from the four speakers. A 5.1 or 7.2 system imagines the listener near the rear wall with the rear speakers close behind.

For rock fans, The Best of The Doors was a much sought after quad disc. It had already appeared as an SACD disc, but in August 2020 a Blu-ray version was released using that rare 1973 quad mix. It’s hard for me to assess. We all have blind spots, and mine is The Doors – apart from Hello, I Love You and Light My Fire.

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