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  1. #1
    Forum Regular stereophonicfan's Avatar
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    Stereo versus surround sound

    What is your opinion?

    When listening to music on a surround-sound system are missing something or gaining something as opposed to listening on a stereo-system.

    It's my experience that surround sound is indeed great for movies, but lacks realism when listening to music. The highs can be reproduced by any speaker performing it's duty in a surround-set. The lows however in a surround system are reproduced by a subwoofer. This device perhaps gives you all the bass and warmth you'll need but it's 'non-directional' sound. It doensn't really matter where you put the woofer, but is that really so? Is bass-sound non-directional?

  2. #2
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    Well...

    I found when listening to music in surround sound, it brought a new depth to the music. I heard things that I never knew were in the music. It does seem less lifelike, but I like these rear effects. That's just my preference.
    Now for subwoofers. They just give the real lows and rumbles in movies. They still work for music, but some people just prefer the 2 channel setting on their reciever using large speakers when listening to music. Hmm. Is Bass non-directional...I think so. I had my subwoofer at the front of the room then moved it to the back. There wasn't too much difference, the bass still traveled everywhere. I could sort of pick ouut where the sub was but I think that was because I moved it there and I knew where it was...

  3. #3
    Forum Regular stereophonicfan's Avatar
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    right...

    Me, personally, I prefer the good old stereo experience for music.

    There are actually technical reasons why a stereo-setup is more accurate than a surround system. The bass produced by a subwoofer is the weak bit, I hereby don't mean to completely disband the surround system.
    My point: e.g. when listening to a random classical piece (not that I only listen to classical music, I listen to pretty much anything) containing the sound of instruments like cello's, hobo's and other instruments producing sound with double tones (a higher one and a lower one), the lower tone should, when the sound is right in the stereo-image, be heard right (and left when left).
    It's the basic assumption that bass-sound is non-directional that bothers me. Yet most surround systems have only on woofer unit, only few have two directional subwoofer-units. Bass-hits are less direction sensitive but sounds from a bass-guitar are.
    Again, I don't hate the surround experience, I actually love it. But as most manufacturers think you only need one bassdriver and I'm more a music-type than a movie-type, I chose the stereo-setup.

  4. #4
    all around good guy Jim Clark's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stereophonicfan
    I listen to pretty much anything) containing the sound of instruments like cello's, hobo's and other instruments
    Surround really makes those hobos come to life. Funny typo, thanks. In the US, a hobo is defined as: One who wanders from place to place without a permanent home or a means of livelihood.
    I mention it only since you are from Belgium and may not get why it's funny.

    Regards,

    jc
    Last edited by Jim Clark; 12-12-2003 at 06:25 AM.
    "Ahh, cartoons! America's only native art form. I don't count jazz 'cuz it sucks"- Bartholomew J. Simpson

  5. #5
    What, me worry? piece-it pete's Avatar
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    Well I prefer stereo for music. I've found the various soundfields available do IMO weird things to at least the overall presentation.

    But I haven't heard a discrete multi-channel music-only recording on a good quality 5.1 system, either. Perhaps good things are in store for us :). (Of course the manufacturers are going to continue to push/develop 5.1. More amps, more speakers, and maybe, more realistic sound?)

    For HT surround rocks!! I don't think anything can replace the point source of the rear channels.

    They say any sound below about 80hz is non-directional. It used to be higher (I've seen mention of 120hz). And I'll say if Richard Bassnut Greene believes it it's probably true.

    That said :), I'm very stubborn & run stereo subs. My unscientific, totally biased "tests" show (me at least) that the stereo setup has a wider soundstage vs. switching to mono. I think it's possible that we feel the sound as well as actually hear it.

    It's also possible I'm kidding myself - and that's no joke.

    But it makes me happy.

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  6. #6
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    I find listening to music in surround sound to be nothing more than an novelty. The rear surround speakers are there for nothing more than effect. In my opinion it's a gimick, nothing more. I would rather listen to music in stereo thanks.

  7. #7
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    stereo for music,

    Music is recorded in two channel and is meant for stereo listening. HT systems are for movies and nothing else in my view. There may be some new CD types in which music is recorded in a different way but stereo is able to be so good that making it better seems nearly impossible. I have heard that HT uses a mono signal and splits it up a number of ways. I'm not sure if this is true but that would ruin the stereo effect of any recording and may be why stereo listeners are so opposed to the sound. Even if this is not the case, splitting a stereo signal further makes no sense to me. How many concerts have you attended where part of the band or orchestra was behind you and the rest scattered elsewhere?
    I don't like the single subwoofer concept either. Had a big arguement with Mr Greene about this, I think he finally decided that I'm just too old and stubborn to change. Anyway, I've never had a system that tells the woofers to stay below 80hz and I'm in no hurry to get one. I have 4, 12 inch woofers that are xo'd to 200hz and below, reaching 18hz. What the hell would I want a single sub for? RG may be right about 80hz and below being non directional but it doesn't fit my system or any other system that I would care to have.
    Bill

  8. #8
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    You can have both.

    This is where you can have cake and eat it too. You can still have a surround sound and stereo. On my Sony reciever, simply push 2CH and you're back to classic stereo. Press mode until it says NORM SURROUND, and you're all set for movie playback!..As for preferences on where sound is coming from. I'm not one of those people who are all for reproduction exactly how the music was recorded. I like the rear effects. I don't care what way the stage was arranged...Thats just my preference. I like the cool effects. I haven't got the chance to listen to DVD-Audio or SACD but I think a Pink Floyd albumor something on SACD would sound pretty cool with all those neat sounds..It may not be lifelike, but it sounds pretty cool.

  9. #9
    Suspended markw's Avatar
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    Well, that depends. I'm assuming you are refering to recordings origiinaly made in a two channel mode. That's what I'll be addressing here.

    With any two channel recordings, any attempt to get more than two channels out of 'em is trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. REalism is not even a concern here. Different effects, some pleasing and some not, may be achieved, but enhancing realisim is not about to happen.

    With my old HT system, which had only DPL and a few hall type modes, no music sounded anywhere near listenable using that or any other enhancement mode it offered. So, two channel it always was.

    I've recently jumped to the 21st century with a Denon 2802 receiver which offers DPL2, Neo, and 5 or 6 channel stereo. Space being somewhat limited for now, I am only running a 5.1 system although it can handle 6.1. in time...

    One thing to consider as far as the subwoofer is concerned... Bass management is nowhere near consistent throughout all receivers and all modes. For instance, I have my sub set at 0 for DPL2, Neo and Stereo 5 while in two channel stereo, it's set to -12 db. Otherwise it is overpowering.

    Anyhow, I've taken to experimenting with these various modes with two channel recordings. Some interesting results... Some recordings sounded "better" in either DPL2 or stereo 5. I can't think of any that sounded "better" in both. Of course, many recordings did not benefit from either, so two channel is the way to go for these.

    Interestingly enough, the recordings I seemed to prefer in DPL2 were those recordings that "seemed" to provide some ambiance thru the rears. Insturments coming from them were an instant turn off.

    On the whole, I gotta say I prefer two channel over any enhancements on most of the recordings by a wide margin.

    Again, it's like steak sauce. Some people have no problem slathering a fine porterhouse in A1 and others find it a sacralige to profane a fine piece of meat. It's nice to have a choice. Unless I'm gonna eat it, I keep my mouth shut.

  10. #10
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    You're forgetting about Hi-Rez, guys!

    Don't forget about SACD and DVD-A in multi-channel, hi-rez. DVD-A in multi channel is actually pretty cool. One song that was particularily memorable was America's "Ventura Highway" (for all you old schooler's out there) that really utilized the surround aspects quite well. The Eagles "Hell Freezes Over" live concert is also very cool in surround w/ the audience applauding behind you. While I still do all of my critical listening in two channel and w/ the sub turned off, I could easily see jumping into the sacd/dvd-a fray if for nothing else because it makes some of the old classics new and fun again. Isn't that what our love for music is all about?

  11. #11
    Forum Regular Woochifer's Avatar
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    I think it's pretty simple. If a soundtrack was originally done for two-channel, then you play it back in two-channel. If it was mixed for surround, then you're best served playing it back with a surround setup.

    The thing about surround music is that it's really in its infancy. Sound engineers are just learning how to work with the new medium and already you see a lot of compelling examples of what's possible with 5.1 channels. Some are good, some are bad, some are mixed to make it sound like you're in a concert hall, others are mixed to put you into a completely different world of sound. It's like the early days of stereo where the early recordings took some wildly different approaches. Just as some of the left to right panning effects in early stereo recordings now sound cheesy, I'm sure that some of the early attempts at surround music won't be looked upon too favorably 50 years from now.

    And even now, there's disagreement as to the best approach to surround music. Some producers and engineers prefer to mix without the center channel active, some prefer to go full range on all channels and keep the subwoofer track silent, some recordings put you in the audience near the back of the room, some recordings put you inside of the instrument. All I know is that the better surround music recordings are very compelling. Audiophiles typically look for loosely defined attributes such as imaging, soundstaging, "air", etc. and the better surround recordings provide all of these qualities in abundance and sometimes better than with any high end two channel setup I've ever heard. If you listen to a high quality surround recording and cannot denote these attributes, then you need to make sure that the system is setup correctly.

    In order to get the maximum benefit from surround music, two factors are absolutely critical -- speaker placement and timbre matching. The studio monitoring setup with surround music mixing is typically done in the ITU multichannel reference configuration (diagram below)



    Ideally, you would setup your speakers in this configuration as well. Placement with a surround system is more difficult to get right just by tweaking than with two speakers, so this is where you should start.

    If you plan on also using your setup with movies, you should make a compromise by raising the surround speakers at least 1' above ear level and pointing them directly at one another. This is the configuration that Dolby recommends for home systems used for both surround music and movies because it retains the precise imaging mixed into surround music mixes while imparting some diffused sound with ambient movie sound effects. If the surround speakers are closer to your ear than the mains, then you need to increase the delay time to the surrounds.

    Timbre matching is also absolutely critical if you want to hear what surround music is capable of. With movie soundtracks, the sound that gets sent into the surrounds is not often mixed at the same levels as the front, and more often the sounds that go into the surrounds are ambient effects separate from what's going on up front. Timbre matching in this case is still desirable, but not crucial. (Although more and more, you see much more aggressive sound mixes with movies that steer a lot of the music and action from the front three speakers into the surrounds)

    With surround music (including a lot of concert DVDs), the surround channels very often get the lead instruments and vocals at roughly the same level as the mains. Any timbre mismatches significantly diminish the imaging quality. When I timbre matched my system after going almost two years with mismatched surrounds, surround music soundtracks gained an almost eerie three dimensionality. The soundstage across the front is now exceptionally wide, and the side imaging is solidly anchored in a way that's impossible for two-channels to achieve.

    Aside from the higher resolution that topspeed also mentioned, surround music has further benefits in that the 5.1 mixes require going all the way back to the multitracked master tapes. In many cases, the two-channel "master" tape was originally prepared with the vinyl medium in mind, and got directly transferred to CD without any other preparation (which explains why so many early CD transfers sounded harsh and tinny compared to the LP versions). With new 5.1 mixes, the soundtrack can now be done specifically with a high res digital format in mind.

  12. #12
    DIY Dude poneal's Avatar
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    Here's my take on the surround issue. Sometimes, with some songs, and seated in the right position it adds depth to the music. For the most part it distracts me. I do however have the receiver in theater mode when watching TV. I say this because I can have the receiver at a lower volume level and still hear what they're saying through the surrounds. Even in 3 channel stereo ( stereo + combined l/r mono to center) it sounds distracting. Movies are fine, kinda cool hearing someone creep up behind you. I'm waiting to get a sacd/dvd-a player to check out that sound like topseed mentioned. Those sacd discs are recorded with multichannel in mind and stereo is not. Is prologic II better than theater, hall, and all those others choices, yes, in my opinion it is. In the end, it is a personal preference.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by stereophonicfan
    What is your opinion?

    When listening to music on a surround-sound system are missing something or gaining something as opposed to listening on a stereo-system.
    As someone who has experimented with surround sound for almost 30 years and who has listened to a lot of live music both inside and outside of concert halls, it is clear that ordinary 2 channel stereo is very inadequate. The larger the hall would be for a given musical group, the greater the disparity between what a recording can offer under the best of circumstances and what you would hear live will be. Unfortuantely, modern multi channel systems developed for the home are entirely inadequate for reproducing concert hall acoustics which contribute so much to music.

    If you think acoustics at a live performance are unimportant, consider that not only do acoustic architects and engineers get to spend tens of millions of dollars of other people's money to build rooms for listening to music, change them around, tear them down, and build them back up again, but one famous electrical engineer from MIT whose name inspires so much anger measured that a mere 19 feet from the performing stage at Boston Symphony Hall, America's acoustically best room for listening to music, the audience hears 89 percent reflected sound and only 11 percent direct sound and as you move farther back, the percentage of reflected sound continues to increase (this has almost nothing to do with his product.)

    As for the bass from subwoofers, while it is true that a separate subwoofer can often increase both the loudness and range of bass, integrating it with the rest of a sound system to accurately reproduce music is not a particularly simple task. At the point where it crosses over to the rest of the system, there is evey likelihood that there will be major frequency response anomolies due to interference patterns. The best and most accurate loudspeakers for reproducing music have the woofers or subwoofers built into them in a way that indicates that the manufacturer has considered and dealt with this problem. Case in point, Bill's Teledyne AR9s.

  14. #14
    Silence of the spam Site Moderator Geoffcin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic
    The best and most accurate loudspeakers for reproducing music have the woofers or subwoofers built into them in a way that indicates that the manufacturer has considered and dealt with this problem. Case in point, Bill's Teledyne AR9s.
    While I have to agree with Skeptic that full range speakers always the best choice, for the most part they are much more expensive than a sat/sub system. A modern speaker with the frequency response of the AR9's would cost thousands. I think it's unnecessary for most HT application. i.e. If you want to listen to movie tracks, sat/sub is a good value.

    HT is in the process of growing up now, while stereo is fully mature, and is specifically designed for High Fidelity sound reproduction, not music & movie sound. Does this make them incompatible? No, but it's going to take some time before engineers are able to understand the surround process enough to make the surround mix sound "better" than stereo. My guess is that there's going to be at least a 10 year learning curve, and we've only just started. There is great promise there though, and I see more and more of the quality names in hi-fi designing amps, and processors for HT.

    Right now the only "surround" music that I prefer to stereo is live performance DVD's. The Eagles, "Hell Freezes Over", and Fleetwood Mac's "The Dance" come to mind.
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  15. #15
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    HT and stereo

    Well, I had the chance to hear another HT system the other day at a coworker's home. He's been bragging it up for months for both music and movies. First, he had to demonstrate a movie and it impressed me the way that all of these systems have. When a horse hoof hits the ground or a door closes, it sounds like a bomb went off. Throughout, there is a bass rumble which is unidentifiable noise. To me, real life does not sound anything like this. Maybe he has his bass turned up too far, I don't know but this is always the feeling that I get when I hear one of these systems.
    Then he played a CD both in stereo and surround mode. It sounded best to me in stereo but I would not call it good, one sub, off to the right and stereo speakers in front, I can't get used to it and the sound quality just wasn't there. I'm sure there are systems that do it better but he has a fair amount of money into this, one of the biggest Yamaha HT receivers and all JBL speakers. Probably a middle of the road system but I'm in no hurry to go to this type of system.
    I have heard of people using AR9's with HT but I'm in no hurry to try that either. The amp I'd want to adequately drive so many speakers would have to be too heavy for me to want to pick it up. The effect is nothing I'd strive for anyway. If I ever get into HT, it will be a small modest system that won't overwhelm me with unidentifiable bass sounds and it will be a completely separate system from my stereo.
    The AR9's are the most accurate speaker that I have ever had and I am pleased in nearly all aspects of their sound. I don't sense the depth that I used to get with 901's but I have better accuracy. I think the reason is simple physics. I think Dr. Bose made an amazing discovery in the reflected sound principle and the little 901 is able to reproduce the depth of a concert hall better than any speaker that I have ever heard. Unfortunately, it is limited in how well it can do this by the small drivers, too small for the deepest bass and too large for the highest treble, especially when they have to do it all at once.
    If someone were to combine the theories and principles of Bose and AR, they might have something really special. I intend to build something along these lines, just to satisfy my curiousity once and for all. As I said, it is simple physics, when you reflect most of the sound, there is a slight delay in the arrival. Call it a reverberation, echo, whatever you like but it gives the sound depth. It's fast enough that you don't hear it as echo or reverb and it does mimic a concert hall. I'm not aware of any other speaker system that utilizes this technology, some do it partially.
    With any forward firing systems, all the sound arrives at the same time and to me sounds rather lifeless. There were some time array type systems in which some was delayed, I think Polk dabbled in this and Dahlquist but it's not the same as reflecting like what happens in a concert hall. I think Bose made one of the greatest discoveries in acoustic sound reproduction but in making an affordable system (and 901's are overpriced), he missed the whole package. You'd need loads of power to drive such a vast array of speakers but I for one, completely believe in the concept.
    Bill

  16. #16
    Forum Regular Woochifer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jbangelfish
    Well, I had the chance to hear another HT system the other day at a coworker's home. He's been bragging it up for months for both music and movies. First, he had to demonstrate a movie and it impressed me the way that all of these systems have. When a horse hoof hits the ground or a door closes, it sounds like a bomb went off. Throughout, there is a bass rumble which is unidentifiable noise. To me, real life does not sound anything like this. Maybe he has his bass turned up too far, I don't know but this is always the feeling that I get when I hear one of these systems.
    Problems with bass can usually be blamed on room acoustics, which for a typical small to medium sized room will affect the overall sound much more in the low frequencies than in the midrange and highs. Boominess like what you observed is room induced peaking at specific frequencies caused by standing wave formation. In a lot of situations, these peaks can be upwards of 20 db or more, which can easily drown out other sounds and give you bass that's loud and overwhelming with certain sounds and empty otherwise. The only way around this is careful measuring of the in-room response and room treatments and/or parametric equalization.

    Quote Originally Posted by jbangelfish
    The AR9's are the most accurate speaker that I have ever had and I am pleased in nearly all aspects of their sound. I don't sense the depth that I used to get with 901's but I have better accuracy. I think the reason is simple physics. I think Dr. Bose made an amazing discovery in the reflected sound principle and the little 901 is able to reproduce the depth of a concert hall better than any speaker that I have ever heard. Unfortunately, it is limited in how well it can do this by the small drivers, too small for the deepest bass and too large for the highest treble, especially when they have to do it all at once.
    If someone were to combine the theories and principles of Bose and AR, they might have something really special. I intend to build something along these lines, just to satisfy my curiousity once and for all. As I said, it is simple physics, when you reflect most of the sound, there is a slight delay in the arrival. Call it a reverberation, echo, whatever you like but it gives the sound depth. It's fast enough that you don't hear it as echo or reverb and it does mimic a concert hall. I'm not aware of any other speaker system that utilizes this technology, some do it partially.
    I think you're going at this from a flawed assumption. Just because concert halls have reverberant acoustics and scads of reflected sound does NOT mean that home speaker systems should try and emulate that. Why? Because the playback chain is different than a live performance. One is an actual event, the other is a reproduction of that event. If a recording already captures that reverberant effect from a live performance in a concert hall, the last thing you want is for the playback to add even more reverberation and echo.

    And to me, that's the fatal flaw of the Bose direct/reflecting design. It sounds good in marketing literature, but it's not based on sound acoustic principles. The sound quality of the speaker itself with that design is dictated almost entirely on the distance from the walls, the room acoustics, the reflectivity of the surfaces, the placement, etc. Any asymmetries, odd shapes, open spaces, etc. will affect that type of speaker far more than with a direct firing speaker. The type of sound you get is much more unpredictable. And even when placed optimally, a direct/reflecting speaker introduces time domain errors and distortions that reduce dialog intelligibility, muddy up the imaging (because the head-transfer effects necessary to discern a three-dimensional sound image have to interpret smeared sounds), and have less than optimal tonal response.

    There's a reason why mixing studios are soundproofed to minimize the reflected sound, why the best sounding movie theatres have acoustic controls in place to reduce the amount of echo, and why high end demo rooms are typically built with acoustic panels, bass traps, and other room treatments in place. Because a live sounding room will impose its own signature on top of what was already recorded. If the goal is to reproduce live sounds as accurately as possible, then any kind of alteration in the playback chain, whether that be an overly live sounding room or speakers that spray the sound in a random pattern, constitutes a distortion and deviation from that goal.

    Quote Originally Posted by jbangelfish
    With any forward firing systems, all the sound arrives at the same time and to me sounds rather lifeless. There were some time array type systems in which some was delayed, I think Polk dabbled in this and Dahlquist but it's not the same as reflecting like what happens in a concert hall. I think Bose made one of the greatest discoveries in acoustic sound reproduction but in making an affordable system (and 901's are overpriced), he missed the whole package. You'd need loads of power to drive such a vast array of speakers but I for one, completely believe in the concept.
    Bill
    It may sound lifeless, but that very well may have been the intent of the recording engineer. Or it could be an overly dead sounding room, or the speakers were not placed correctly. If you're doing a blanket condemnation of all forward firing speakers and saying that Bose's approach is the correct way, then I think you're way off base. Bose is the only speaker company that takes the approach that they do, and I don't think it's because they know something that everyone else doesn't. Other manufacturers have tried to impart greater spatiality by tinkering with the phase relationships (which is what Polk did with their SDA speakers) or going with a bipolar design (forward and back firing drivers in phase with one another, which is very different from the almost random off-angle driver placements that Bose uses), using an omnidirectional driver, or simply designing a forward-firing speaker with a wide dispersion pattern. But, those designs are based on much more solid research than Bose's "discoveries." (Their marketing brochures look good, but their products are based on principles that predated them by decades)

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    Random spray?

    I don't think that there is anything random about what Bose designed. Change the angle, change the distance from the walls or turn them around and the desired effects are lost. Placement of the 901 is absolutely critical with very little adjustment available for different situations. Most people have never had them in the correct placement or had enough power to do them justice. Rest assured that a great deal of research went into their simple design. Dr. Bose is a highly regarded professor and either did or still does teach at MIT. He's ahead of most of us.
    I do not want to alter a recording either, this is why I don't like equalizers and I have no tone controls. This leaves everything up to the recording engineers to get it right for me. If adding depth to the sound by strategically bouncing it out of corners is wrong, I guess I like being wrong. It creates a 3 dimensional image of sound better than anything that I have ever heard. The main flaw is a general weakness in the upper treble and a slight weakness in bass. They will reach 22hz which is lower than most high end speaker systems with 8 inch or even 12 inch woofers. If you ask me, it sounds better in person than it does on paper. I haven't read any of this stuff in years and I realize that the vast majority of audiophiles hate 901's. They can't do everything well but they do some things extremely well, mainly create a huge spatial sound experience.
    Anyway, I'd take a pair of 901's over any HT system or multichannel system that I've ever heard anywhere, store demo or in a home. Overall, I'm happier yet with my AR9's, I just miss that depth of the 901. This is why I say that I'd like to build something that can do both accuracy and create the three dimensional quality achieved through direct reflection.
    Don't worry, you won't change my mind. I'm old and stubborn and I've heard lots and lots of music live and recorded for my entire 51 years of life.
    Bill

  18. #18
    Forum Regular Woochifer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jbangelfish
    I don't think that there is anything random about what Bose designed. Change the angle, change the distance from the walls or turn them around and the desired effects are lost. Placement of the 901 is absolutely critical with very little adjustment available for different situations. Most people have never had them in the correct placement or had enough power to do them justice. Rest assured that a great deal of research went into their simple design. Dr. Bose is a highly regarded professor and either did or still does teach at MIT. He's ahead of most of us.
    I do not want to alter a recording either, this is why I don't like equalizers and I have no tone controls. This leaves everything up to the recording engineers to get it right for me. If adding depth to the sound by strategically bouncing it out of corners is wrong, I guess I like being wrong. It creates a 3 dimensional image of sound better than anything that I have ever heard. The main flaw is a general weakness in the upper treble and a slight weakness in bass. They will reach 22hz which is lower than most high end speaker systems with 8 inch or even 12 inch woofers. If you ask me, it sounds better in person than it does on paper. I haven't read any of this stuff in years and I realize that the vast majority of audiophiles hate 901's. They can't do everything well but they do some things extremely well, mainly create a huge spatial sound experience.
    Anyway, I'd take a pair of 901's over any HT system or multichannel system that I've ever heard anywhere, store demo or in a home. Overall, I'm happier yet with my AR9's, I just miss that depth of the 901. This is why I say that I'd like to build something that can do both accuracy and create the three dimensional quality achieved through direct reflection.
    Don't worry, you won't change my mind. I'm old and stubborn and I've heard lots and lots of music live and recorded for my entire 51 years of life.
    Bill
    If your mind's made up, then that's fine. I have no problem that you like the 901s, I just happened to not like them or most of Bose's other products very much. I've heard the 901s many a time over the years, and I agree that the placement is crucial to getting them to sound right. But, so is the room configuration. I've not heard the 901s in an asymmetrical room, but I have heard other Bose direct/reflecting speakers in odd shaped rooms and the results are very inconsistent. The only shared trait from room to room is that the stereo imaging sound totally collapsed into the middle.

    Dr. Bose might be an MIT trained engineer (I don't think he ever taught there, but he does hold a degree from there), but that doesn't mean that his approach supercedes all the other talented designers in the business. If anything, his talent has been matching decades-old design concepts with perceived gaps in the market. (I don't think anybody else would have thought that the market needed a $500 alarm clock or $1,200 boombox)

    Even when done right, the 901s to me sound like "mono everywhere" because the imaging gets so smeared that I can't place from where the sounds are supposed to originate. It's a big sound yes, but some things are not meant to sound like they emanate from inside a giant concert hall, and the 901s tend to make everything sound like that. Also, I've never heard of anyone actually measuring the 901 to extend down to 22 Hz. Much like other Bose products, the 901 has a bump up in the midbass that can make them sound punchy, but that's not necessarily true full range extension.

    The notion that the 901s can sound better than any surround setup does not make logical sense to me. The 901s can produce a larger soundfield than just about any two-channel setup out there, but in terms of creating a coherent soundfield encirclement, I just don't see it happening with the 901s, especially in a 5.1 setup. The 901's approach just runs contrary to how multichannel soundtracks are mixed and intended to get played back. With 5.1 movie soundtracks, the intelligibility of the center channel is essential for dialog clarity and seamless timbre matching with the mains. Having a center channel speaker that purposely distorts the time domain would be like listening to a movie in an old echoey theatre with no acoustic controls in place. (In that kind of setup, the most frequent reaction to a movie is usually, "What did they say?") THX certified movie theatres are required to construct a baffle wall behind the screen speakers specifically to maximize the time coherency of the audio, and control the reflected sound. In my own home setup, I put acoustic panels behind the front three speakers, and they substantially improve the overall coherency of the sound, smooth out some rough edges, and improve the image clarity.

    In a timbre matched 5.1 setup using good speakers, proper placement, and a properly integrated subwoofer, the spatiality is huge but you don't lose the imaging coherency in the process. Not only can you place instruments and/or sound effect locations, but the front-to-back acoustic image and side imaging in particular are rock stable and very coherent. No two-channel setup I've ever heard can duplicate that. In a way, well done 5.1 setup gives you both accuracy and presence, and eliminates the need for a lot of the gimmickry that some speaker companies have deployed to get around the limitations of two-channel systems. Surround music is just getting started, and engineers are only beginning to learn how to work with the new tools. There are plenty of great examples out there already.
    Last edited by Woochifer; 12-16-2003 at 06:15 PM.

  19. #19
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    Yup, he's a great marketeer

    I won't argue that. $450 clock radios and he's probably sold millions of them. I have never owned any Bose products other than 901's nor do I intend to. I have owned 4 different series of them and find the oldest two series to be the best. The series ones are about 35 years old and show no deterioration of any kind. They do seem to last. My son has a pair of 501's but I was never overly impressed by them and they do need repair.
    What decades old concept in employed with the 901? Paper speakers? Wood cabinets? I don't see anyone else designing a full range direct reflecting speaker but I see many using it for a part of their system. I don't really know if it would work out or not, as I said, I intend to give it a try. The room has to have two perfect corners and nothing else. Too small and they'll overwhelm you, they need a pretty large area.
    I have no idea what you listened to that gave you a mono everywhere effect. I have never heard greater separation or spatial response than from a pair or two pair of 901's. I have always appreciated this more from vinyl than CD, I don't know why. Yes, they sound big but IMO not too big. Listen to a grand piano at a church or concert hall, it sounds big. The same is true of a single voice in an acoustic structure, the idea is for everyone to be able to enjoy it. I've never been to a concert anywhere that sounded focal or small. It always sounds big to me. As for their ability to reach 22hz, you'd have to ask Skeptic. Something about working together and adding up their individual small dimentions to act as one large woofer. Sounds nuts but they will reach very low. The later series don't get much below 40hz but are ported and the bass sounds boomier, more ever present but won't go as low.
    I know very little about the 5.1, 6.1, 7.1 etc. except that they exist and I haven't heard any that I like for music. I definately would not recommend the 901 for surround although some people use them this way. Quadraphonic albums were tried but never caught on. I guess not enough people wanted to go out and buy a whole new stereo. There might be some great sounding stuff being made with the new CD formats and surround type systems, I have not heard them and can't speak for or against them. What I have heard is two channel CD's played on 5.1 systems and didn't care for it.
    I remain completely amazed at what can be done with two channel stereo and don't see a need for improvement or change. I like it all out in front of me (like a concert) and I like it to be difficult to tell where my speakers are. Better yet, I like to imagine that they are not even there and I get mighty close with two channel stereo.
    Don't think that I'm calling the 901 the greatest speaker ever because I'm not doing that at all. I'm just saying that they create a depth and sense of spatiality better than anything that I've heard. They still have their shortcomings and I choose to listen to my AR9's.
    Bill

  20. #20
    Forum Regular Woochifer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jbangelfish
    I won't argue that. $450 clock radios and he's probably sold millions of them. I have never owned any Bose products other than 901's nor do I intend to. I have owned 4 different series of them and find the oldest two series to be the best. The series ones are about 35 years old and show no deterioration of any kind. They do seem to last. My son has a pair of 501's but I was never overly impressed by them and they do need repair.
    What decades old concept in employed with the 901? Paper speakers? Wood cabinets? I don't see anyone else designing a full range direct reflecting speaker but I see many using it for a part of their system. I don't really know if it would work out or not, as I said, I intend to give it a try. The room has to have two perfect corners and nothing else. Too small and they'll overwhelm you, they need a pretty large area.
    I have no idea what you listened to that gave you a mono everywhere effect. I have never heard greater separation or spatial response than from a pair or two pair of 901's. I have always appreciated this more from vinyl than CD, I don't know why. Yes, they sound big but IMO not too big. Listen to a grand piano at a church or concert hall, it sounds big. The same is true of a single voice in an acoustic structure, the idea is for everyone to be able to enjoy it. I've never been to a concert anywhere that sounded focal or small. It always sounds big to me. As for their ability to reach 22hz, you'd have to ask Skeptic. Something about working together and adding up their individual small dimentions to act as one large woofer. Sounds nuts but they will reach very low. The later series don't get much below 40hz but are ported and the bass sounds boomier, more ever present but won't go as low.
    I know very little about the 5.1, 6.1, 7.1 etc. except that they exist and I haven't heard any that I like for music. I definately would not recommend the 901 for surround although some people use them this way. Quadraphonic albums were tried but never caught on. I guess not enough people wanted to go out and buy a whole new stereo. There might be some great sounding stuff being made with the new CD formats and surround type systems, I have not heard them and can't speak for or against them. What I have heard is two channel CD's played on 5.1 systems and didn't care for it.
    I remain completely amazed at what can be done with two channel stereo and don't see a need for improvement or change. I like it all out in front of me (like a concert) and I like it to be difficult to tell where my speakers are. Better yet, I like to imagine that they are not even there and I get mighty close with two channel stereo.
    Don't think that I'm calling the 901 the greatest speaker ever because I'm not doing that at all. I'm just saying that they create a depth and sense of spatiality better than anything that I've heard. They still have their shortcomings and I choose to listen to my AR9's.
    Bill
    Obviously, you like the 901s in concept, even if their tonal response is not as good as the speakers you currently use. My comment about decades-old concepts had more to do with products like their Wave and Acoustimass products, which market old transmission line designs as if they were stunning new breakthroughs. The 901 is a more original concept, although I believe that experiments with spherical or ominidirectional speakers did predate the 901.

    My mono everywhere assessment of the 901s is similar to what I've noticed with other Bose direct/reflecting speakers. Getting the correct spatial imaging from a two-channel source relies on the majority of the sounds reaching your ears at the same time. Overabundance of reflected sound diminishes your ability to locationally pinpoint where a sound originates, and the reflected sound can vary significantly from room to room.

    If your whole experience with 5.1 is two-channel CDs played through those systems, then you really need to give high resolution discrete 5.1 sources like SACD or DVD-A a try. The whole rationale for going to a 5.1 system applies only if you're talking about full-range and discrete channels all the way around. Putting a two-channel source through a surround processor does not count.

    The better 5.1 surround music mixes out there rely on very precise and deliberate spatial cues. Getting the time domain and tonal matching right between all five speakers is absolutely essential. But, when done right, to me it produces an overall effect that's impossible for a two-channel system to replicate. And the fundamental difference with this type of system as opposed to Bose's approach is that the big spatial cues from a 5.1 music source are deliberately mixed into the soundtrack. With a two-channel Bose setup, the spatiality may not necessarily be part of the recording, but get added by the speaker regardless of whether or not it's appropriate or intended.

  21. #21
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    Forget all the other Bose products

    I don't really care about any of them. I did listen to an acoustimass setup as a store demo and was impressed by what the system did for how small it was. Didn't make me want to rush out and buy one though.
    I consider all of this stuff to be overpriced including the $1500 price tag on new 901's. I've never paid over $500 a pair whether buying new or used 901's and at that price, I consider it reasonable. My pair of series VI was purchased through a buy back program from Bose in which you could send them your foam rotted series IV's and for $400, they'd send you a new pair of VI's. I bought the IV's for $200 as scrap and traded them in so I guess I have $600 in my newest pair which I don't like as much as the 35 year old pair of series I.
    Don't think that I'm in love with the company as I am not at all. If you call for any kind of help or want to buy a new part to repair an old speaker or even a new one, you are SOL. They are definately a marketing company and not much else. I just like the direct reflecting concept as you already know. That and I'm very impressed by the longevity and power handling ability of the old series I and II 901.
    As for all the relfection business and not being able to tell where it is coming from, I like that and I thought that it was a goal of a stereo system to do this. To be able to tell the entire stage setup and where each instrument actually is, seems impossible. I can't do this at a concert either without looking. In a very small venue, sitting close to the performers, then maybe but I don't very often listen this way.
    We have a 10,000 seat metro center in our area which has concerts, basketball games, hockey games, rodeos, you name it and to me it is very poorly designed acoustically. It seems that everyone plays overly loud to compensate for the poor acoustics and I'm not fond of concerts at this place. I have heard much better at other venues of about the same size (and quite a few smaller) and many outdoor arenas where the sound has someplace to go. In these large arenas, I am never able to pinpoint individual sounds as to where they origniate from, except that they are out in front of me somewhere.
    Anyway, I've defended the old 901 here to the best of my ability (and taken plenty of flack for it) and I've never called it the best of anything except maybe for it's depth and largeness of soundstage. What they do is play extremely loud with minimal distortion which works out for most rock listeners. They need lot's of power to do what they do and most people have not provided them with what they need powerwise or placement, both are critical to their performance. Enough about these damn old things.
    I have not heard any of the new CD concepts and will soon try SACD as many speak of a higher quality of sound. I mostly prefer vinyl and two channel does everything that I could ever expect a home stereo to do. Don't expect me to go out and buy all new components so that I can have a 5.1 setup. Perhaps someday (but I doubt it) as I said, I have heard two channel stereo sound so good that I don't need it to improve for my tastes. I don't think I'll ever buy into the single sub, or rear channel concepts of multichannel. Two channel stereo has the ability to sound absolutely amazing and good enough for me to never want more. If I ever have a surround system, it will be for movies only and even that doesn't interest me a whole lot.
    Bill

  22. #22
    M.P.S.E /AES/SMPTE member Sir Terrence the Terrible's Avatar
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    Bill,
    It took me a few posts to figure out where you are coming from.

    [quote]I mostly prefer vinyl and two channel does everything that I could ever expect a home stereo to do.[\quote]

    This combined with your love of the Bose 901 completes the picture. You LIKE distortion, not accuracy.

    Vinyl records are loaded with distortion. The needle tracking the groove walls creates distortion. There is absolute nothing clean or accurate about listening to vinyl records.

    Two channel stereo is a distortion of a live event. If you every want to hear an audience clap BEHIND the orchestra(instread of behind you as the listener) during a live recording, listen to two channel live recordings. The only reason two channel exists today is because that was all that could be fit the the grooves of vinyl records. The first "High Fidelity" vinyl records where mastered from 3 channel tapes(left, center, right) and mixed to stereo. It is simply impossible to capture and map the acoustics of a venue with just two speakers. Its is barely passible with 6 speakers.

    The Bose 901 distorts the soundstage in exchange for spaciousness. The problem of Dr. Bose's perspective is we don't listen to music in our homes like we listen in concert halls. In the concert hall you are listening to the hall first, and then the orchestra. At home, you are listening to what the microphones picked up during recording. That may or may not have the halls ambience. Microphones DO pick up the precise placement of the musicians within the soundfield even if we don't hear it that way in the concert hall. Remember, a RECORDING is what it is, and recording. Not a seat in Boston Symphony Hall.


    [quote]I think Dr. Bose made an amazing discovery in the reflected sound principle and the little 901 is able to reproduce the depth of a concert hall better than any speaker that I have ever heard[\quote]

    The only amazing thing that Dr. Bose did with the 901 was to introduce the world to tone, phase and image altering reflections. These random reflections are NOT in any recording, they are in the room itself. And unfortunately the room was not the recording venue so these are NOT actual concert hall reflections, but artificial reflections introduce by the speaker. I think DSP's do a better job because they at least get the artificial reflections in the right place, behind you!


    [quote]With any forward firing systems, all the sound arrives at the same time and to me sounds rather lifeless[\qoute]

    Judging from this line I ask this question....Do you like accuracy?


    [quote]HT is in the process of growing up now, while stereo is fully mature, and is specifically designed for High Fidelity sound reproduction, not music & movie sound[\quote]


    Sorry to dissapoint you, but stereo is not specifically designed for high fidelity sound. With the exception of classical music it take a whole lot of eq and post processing to squeeze a mix into just two channels. Especially the phantom center image that is usually occupied by the bass and vocals, and awful lot of eq goes into to making bass sound right, while vocals remain intelligible.


    [quote]Music is recorded in two channel and is meant for stereo listening. HT systems are for movies and nothing else in my view. [\quote}

    Sorry man, but your way of thinking is totally old school. I know of no studio that mixes totally in stereo anymore. Everything now is recorded in multichannel, and downmixed into stereo using protools. I know, because I do it everyday.


    [quote]I don't like the single subwoofer concept either. Had a big arguement with Mr Greene about this, I think he finally decided that I'm just too old and stubborn to change. Anyway, I've never had a system that tells the woofers to stay below 80hz and I'm in no hurry to get one. I have 4, 12 inch woofers that are xo'd to 200hz and below, reaching 18hz. What the hell would I want a single sub for? RG may be right about 80hz and below being non directional but it doesn't fit my system or any other system that I would care to have.
    Bill {\quote]


    It sounds to me that that Doc Greene was right on ALL counts. Multiple subs and a very high crossover=terrible acoustical problems in the bass, and VERY visible subs. Not a very good reciepe for great sound. Its amazing how we can always justify our stubborn ways, even when someone points out how wrong they are.

    Wooch, once again your comments are profound, conscise, and totally accurate. Kudos to you bud!
    Sir Terrence

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  23. #23
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    We go throught this Bose 901 thing every few months. I've never seen any product which could generate so much hatred and invective from people.

    Well I also still own the original 901s and mine are in perfect condition just like Bill's. I also own AR9s and prefer them just the way Bill does although I have enhanced my AR9s (that's another story) and I used the Bose equalizer just as it was meant to be used.

    Therefore, I am in a position to be objective about the strengths and weaknesses of Bose 901. The original speaker introduced around 1968 has many design similarities but some important differences to later versions. It still uses 9 four inch full range drivers in a comparably sized comparably shaped direct reflecting enclosure and it still uses an equalizer. That's about where the similarity ends. Drivers, enclosure, and equalizer are radically different and there are many performance differences as well. IMO, the first two versions performed the best.

    What are the innovations?
    Direct/reflecting principle
    Full range no crossover network design
    active equalization
    Acoustic suspension design (series one and two)

    The magazines of the day (Audio, Stereo Review, and High Fidelity) verified through their published tests very low distortion and linear response down to 23 hz and it competed very favorably with respect to bass response against other low frequency champions of that day including JBL Paragon and AR3. It easily beat just about every other speaker in this regard and certainly anything remotely close to its price. Starting with the ported versions (possibly 3 but definitely by series 4) they can't compete with series one or two either.

    When properly installed, the Bose 901 creates a stereo image second to none and unequaled by any other pair of loudspeakers. It successfully eliminates the hole in the middle. Anyone who complains that it makes a piano sound 10 feet wide has obviously never seen (or heard live) a Steinway "A" or "B" concert grand, or a Bosendorfer.

    The speaker even when performing at its best has two main failings IMO which make them unacceptable to audiophiles;

    It cannot reproduce the highest octave of music very well. This is because the moving mass of the 4 inch driver has so much inertia that it cannot have an extended flat high frequency response of a tweeter. It also cannot radiate what little high frequencies it does reproduce without strong directionality from the front driver. The rear driver hf dispersion is of course much more effective. This is strictly due to the diameter of the drivers. I will one day attempt to improve mine with a direct/reflecting array of tweeters.

    It does not have an accurate tonal balance. This can be corrected with additional equalization but until the first problem is fixed, it is pointless to work on the second.

    To those music listeners for whom these two factors are not a significant problem which mean most of the general population, and who have a suitable place to install them which can take full advantage of their unique radiating properties, this may be the best speaker they can buy. (That of course lets out all audiophiles.) This is why despite their relatively high cost, when all 6 series are taken together, in terms of units sold, total revenues, and longevity of one model on the market, they are almost surely the most successful product in the history of high fidelity. And yes Dr. Amar Bose was (and may still be if he hasn't retired) a professor of electrical engineering at MIT.

  24. #24
    RGA
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    There is nothing wrong with liking the Bose 901. The fact that some people dislike them and I am one of them does not mean much...that is why there are so many speakers on the market. For instance I have read numerous discussions of the AR9 and there is certainly no consensus on that speaker - a lot of people are put off by its numerous phase poblems(too many crossover points) lack of treble response, lack of detail and some just complain that it's dull and lifeless.

    What does that tell you? It tells you that YOU and THEY hear differently the speakers in question. That is why it's called a Preference. Ever wonder why magazine reviewers can give the same high mark to two or twenty COMPLETELY DIFFERENT sounding designed speakers? I personally don't like any of the newer(last 8 years) AR, NHT and Snell designs using side-firing woofers(built in subs) etc (Make me nautious and they cost at least double or triple the price of speakers that sounded much better but were not as big and didn't have 6+ drivers with fancy looks. Neither AR nor Snell makes those side-firing noisemakers anymore. Polk does but that explains their poor reviews in the blind sessions at Hi-fi Choice.

    I digress, Bose 901s have a unique sound. Lots of people love horn speakers too, and planars and electrostats, some swear by Paradigm. I say buy what sounds good to you, but do make sure you listen to as many different speakers as possible. The more you listen to the more informed is your selection.

  25. #25
    Forum Regular Woochifer's Avatar
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    Overall a good defense the 901's strengths, but a few things need noting.

    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic
    What are the innovations?
    Direct/reflecting principle
    Full range no crossover network design
    active equalization
    Acoustic suspension design (series one and two)
    The acoustic suspension design predated the 901 by about 15 years.

    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic
    When properly installed, the Bose 901 creates a stereo image second to none and unequaled by any other pair of loudspeakers. It successfully eliminates the hole in the middle. Anyone who complains that it makes a piano sound 10 feet wide has obviously never seen (or heard live) a Steinway "A" or "B" concert grand, or a Bosendorfer.
    The problem I've had with the 901 is that it makes EVERYTHING sound like it's the width of the room, whether it's supposed to or not. If the original recording was done in an acoustically dead environment, then its playback should not make it sound like it originated from inside Carnegie Hall. Even a Steinway concert grand will not sound huge and resonant in every possible room configuration.

    More so than just about any other speakers I've heard, the 901 is wildly inconsistent from room to room. The active equalization can only do so much to address the room acoustic anomalies, particularly with the time domain, which by reflecting 90% of the sound is intentionally distorted to create that huge sound effect.

    I will agree with you about the high frequency response and nonlinearities in the overall tonal balance.

    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic
    To those music listeners for whom these two factors are not a significant problem which mean most of the general population, and who have a suitable place to install them which can take full advantage of their unique radiating properties, this may be the best speaker they can buy. (That of course lets out all audiophiles.) This is why despite their relatively high cost, when all 6 series are taken together, in terms of units sold, total revenues, and longevity of one model on the market, they are almost surely the most successful product in the history of high fidelity. And yes Dr. Amar Bose was (and may still be if he hasn't retired) a professor of electrical engineering at MIT.
    That point presumes that people want the radiating properties of the 901, which is entirely possible but not likely in an era of 5.1 home theater systems. I'm also not sure about your assertion that the 901 is the most successful product in the history of high fidelity. It certainly sold a lot of units, elicited a lot of controversy, and is still being made. But, has its laundry list of purported innovations really left a lasting legacy with the audio industry as a whole? Judging by the number of speaker manufacturers that have adopted Bose's design approaches with the 901, versus other landmark designs like the AR1 or the Klipschorn or various stat, ribbon, and planar designs, I would seriously question that assertion.

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