to stereo or not to stereo … that is the question.

There’s a bit of a discussion going on the Ambisonia Yahoo list…. should Ambisonia offer Stereo decodes or not? Might seem like a simple question, but it touches on the heart of what Ambisonia is about … I guess it is a ‘Mission Statement’ defining question.

There are lots of different possible stereo decodes, and one of the empowering things about Ambisonics is that an Ambisonic recording can yield all of them. We could do UHJ, Blumlein fig-8’s at 90, back to back cardioids, ORTF, spaced cardioids etc.

But some contributors are arguing that offering stereo will ‘dilute’ the site a little. I agree. On the other hand, it will expose lots more people to the contens of the site…
Here’s an email I posted on the Ambisonia Yahoo list:

I’d like to keep this discussion going a bit because I think Ambisonia is reaching a point where it it will need a clear definition of what it is about. This whole stereo discussion really nails the identity issue, I think.

Again, I’m thinking out loud …

One of the issues with ‘Surround Sound’  is that it rarely stands on its own. Its never a ‘must have’ its always an ‘optional’, or a ‘nice to have’… there’s always a “you can listen to this (DVD) in stereo if you dont have a surround sound system at home”. etc.

There are no movies which depend on Surround for plot-critical development.

A lot of music is ‘post-produced’ in surround … not ‘produced’ in surround.

And there’s not much material which is _only_ available in surround sound…. exclusively surround.

All this really produces a kind of ‘undermining’ of surround.

A while ago I was having a conversation with Paul D about how a ‘true’ surround composition would be a composition which had a different (higher?) meaning/communication/worth in surround than when cut down to stereo.

For to say “here, download it in stereo”, continues this undermining. And that’s bad. Ambisonia could represent that ‘exclusivity’ of surround. “Surround Sound isn’t stereo with a bit behind, its something else altogether”…

But offering stereo also dramatically increases access to the content on the site. And that will pull more people who might then go on and upgrade to a proper surround system.

This is one of those difficult product management questions … reduce the purety of the product, or compromise a bit to pull more people in …

.. and I think answering that question can only be done by defining what Ambisonia is about … what it’s mission statement is.

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3 Responses to to stereo or not to stereo … that is the question.

  1. crispin14 says:

    I had a friend over to expose him for the first time to ambisonics at least the the DTS mode. He was astonished, but also noticed that the music (except for the gamelon orchestra was in the front. He asked what it would sound like in stereo. I was playing the Nimbus Walton DVD and switched to the UHJ track, but it was confusing as soon as I hit the surround button, the system went back to DTS.

    In any event he really heard the difference even though the stereo sounded pretty good.

    I also found that I get pretty good stereo from the DTS tracks if I just hit the stereo button and it seems to fold down the surround tracks into the stereo mix quite convincingly.

    On another tack, I’ve been reading the binaural websites and see that there is software or players that condition binaural recordings for stereo. This might be an approach. Also with the widespread use of iPods, binaural files might be all that is needed.

    It would be really cool if the binaural mixes cold include height information, particularly for the tracks like fly over’s that really involve height.

    If the computer conversion to binaural does not include height, is it possible to re-record using a “head” with ear pinna a system set for full periphonic reproduction. This would be analogous to what Nimbus does with old acoustic recordings: they used a state of the art horn and new stylii and just record the experience of listening to the equipment that the recordings were originally intended to be played on.

    I know I haven’t suggested an answer. Just more questions.


  2. nick says:

    Regarding stereo mixes “diluting” the site mission, I suppose that really depends on the mission – certainly stereo dilutes the focus on SURROUND, but doesn’t necessarily dilute a focus on AMBISONICS, since one of the great strengths of ambisonics is the fact that it is so easily convertible to multiple playback formats, which includes stereo. Maybe there should simply be more graphical and textual emphasis on differentiating between the *pure* ambi recording versus the decodes (maybe the colour of the download button could be changed for example to denote that any of the decodes are not the real thing in maximum periphonic glory)

  3. That’s right … is the site about Surround or is it about Ambisonics.

    I think it is about Surround.

    But that’s a sticking point with me … I created the site yet I am having trouble defining what the site is about. I guess that’s because in reality, the site is about “having fun building something”.

    There’s probably a gap between what the site is to ‘me’ and what the site is to the ‘community’… and maybe what the site is to the outside publc.

    This is a really difficult part of evolution of Ambisonia.

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