Once upon a time, in a studio far far away, some engineers and musicians got together to create a surround sound experience – something took place way before the advent of Dolby Atmos and even 5.1 capable receivers. I recently got the chance to re-experience some of this early mixing magic at a Rhino Records event located deep in the heart of Los Angeles.
The listening session took place at Common Wave HiFi located in the Arts District of DTLA. A very enthusiastic group of music lovers gathered in the high ceiling (and well treated) rooms of the retailer to check out a new batch release of “Quadio” music under the Rhino Records banner. Led by directors of A&R Steve Woolard and Patrick Milligan, the presentation covered the “how’s” and “why’s” of the perhaps somewhat peculiar endeavor.
According to the pair, most of Warner Brothers quad audio mixing took place in a relevantly small time period, roughly 1972-1975. The available title selection also reflects that, but there is still a healthy 150-ish titles that could be released with a quad audio format. The current run of available products take form in the Blu-ray medium, in full 24/192 resolution. The material will play on a standard multichannel system and through any surround sound decoder, however it is important to remember that the mixes were intended to be played in equal parts though 4 channels positioned in 4 corners around the listener. This is a significant deviation from a typical 5.1 setup where the speakers and intent behind the listener are typically used for effects or reverb-style fill.
It was said that night by and attendee (and also from some producers of quad audio projects) that while hearing a guitar object located behind you might seem like a major shift in virtual perception, many on-stage artists and those familiar with the production of such things find the sensation comforting, familiar or maybe even sensible for some recreations.
I found the experience at Common Wave Hifi to be most enjoyable and enveloping while listening to some Jazz selections. Individual instrument have an inherent way of standing out (clarity and position) when designated a speaker all their own. The quad audio format really gives mixing engineers a platform to shine on. Some rock options feature the “guitar in back” positioning while others dazzle with a flurry of spinning effects – a bigger sandbox to play in, so to speak.
The quad audio setup in the main listening room consisted of a pair of the giant Klipsch 75th anniversary Jubilee in the front with a pair of matching Forte IV from the Heritage line in the back. Even with a big room and a large group of people the predominately Class A based system was rich with detail and full of life. Attendees were clearly excited to hear the results of both the source material and the top-tier system. To listen to both working in harmony was quite a delight to behold.
According to owner Wes Katzir, Common Wave HiFi is a healthy dealer of Devore Fidelity (they also hosted a launch event in the same space last year). Two very nice setups featuring this East Coast favorite were on static display flanking both sides of the bigger “social space”. A private listening room also featured the mighty Acora VRC-1 we last heard at FLAX 2023, fronted by a healthy dose of high-end Nagra and Naim gear.
Launch titles for the new Rhino Quadio release include Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, J. Geils Band, and Jefferson Starship.