Quad failed in the 70s. Might it work now?

Pentatone, the boutique Dutch label, think we might be able to hear on  multi-channel Super Audio CD all the directional stuff that got lost in the grey old world of four speakers and a cat.

They’ve reissued some prime DGs of those distant days. Press release below.

quad pentatone

The seeds were already planted in the early 1970s, when Deutsche Grammophon realised what amazing results could be achieved with quadraphonic tapes. But it was not meant to be – back then –, as imperfections in the playback equipment of the day made it impossible for musical connoisseurs to enjoy these recordings in the way artists, producers, engineers and others who had created them intended – the new recording technology was clearly way ahead of its time.

Now – more than a quarter of a century later – with the advent of the multi-channel Super Audio CD, there is finally a system that makes it possible to release these magnificent recordings in the quality they already deserved back then. There is finally a system that enables these magnificent flowers to come into full bloom!

In re-recording and re-mastering these multi-channel tapes – most of which had not left their boxes for 30 years ­­– it was possible to involve the original recording engineers, as well as to use the original testing and tuning tapes, in order precisely to tune the analogue reproduction machines used. And the analogue machines were directly connected to state-of-the-art DSD analogue-to-digital converters, without the intervention of any mixing consoles and/or other special equipment which could have influenced the sound.

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  • The DVD-A format works with six channels of 24 bit, 48khz sound and sound far better than CDs. (They are burned on normal DVD-Rs but the entire bandwidith is used just for audio with no video. I master my quad works in the DVD-A format and it sounds incredible. (I leave the center channel empty since I don’t need it.) The DVD-A offerings are fairly limited but it is a wonderful format that I wish were used more. When engineered well they are a pure joy.

    With streaming music audio quality went down from CDs, but DVD-A is a huge advance beyond CD sound. Maybe this will be the new trend now that one can stream 5.1 Dolby Surround — even if very few are using it for streaming at the moment.

    • Just in case it isn’t clear, these recordings are being released in multichannel (in this case 4.0 channel) SACD format, which also contains a stereo CD layer.

      I worked as an advisor to PentaTone’s original US distributor, and discussed these recordings with PentaTone’s visionary founder Giel Bessels in light of their plans to plumb the Philips quad catalogue, which they have released in surround sound over the last decade

      If you have a decent home theater setup and a disc player that accommodates SACD format (as most modern players can), you are in for a major treat if you re only familiar with the stereo versions, I recommend you track down PentaTone’s remasterings of Colin Davis’s first go at the Berlioz Requiem and the Sibelius Fifth and Seventh Symphonies, Mahler’s Fifth and Eighth Symphonies conducted by Haitink, and some gorgeous lieder recordings with Elly Ameling, to name my own favorites on the label. The difference is not at all small; in fact, it’s revelatory, at once more intimate and more thrilling.

      Audio Blu-Ray remains the ne plus ultra of audiophile formats, but SACD also boasts excellent sonics and a loyal audiophile following. Can’t wait to hear the Ozawa/Boston recordings in particular.

  • I myself prefer two-channel listening, because in my home, with its comparatively small listening room, it is much more practicable to set up. Plus, I do a lot of listening with headphones, which of course obviates the need for more than two channels.
    That being said, I have attended demonstrations of both multi-channel SACD and DVD-A at dealers and at record company rollouts in large rooms – and the sound is FANTASTIC!
    I listen to two-channel SACDs on my own system (Sony SACD/CD player, McIntosh vacuum tube preamp and power amp, and Klipsch large floor-standing horn-loaded two-way bass reflex speakers), and SACD is audibly superior to the standard 44.1 kHz/16-bit CD. It is difficult to put into words why I find it so.
    Clarity? Depth? Air? Ambiance? Sweetness?
    As good words as any, I suppose…..
    I do not have a DVD-A playback unit at home.
    Just my two cents worth…..sorry to be such an audio nerd…..

  • Pentatone have been reissuing quad recordings from the 70s for years now and also record everything in surround sound. Among other notable companies recording routinely in surround are Gimel (the Allegri Miserere sounds terrific) and Tacet (complete Haydn string quartets on BluRay). Even the BBC is catching on and streamed the Proms live this year on the internet (the Last Night was like being there).

    Stereo is gaslight by comparison to good ambisonic 4.0.

  • Great initiative by Pentatone to release these old quadrophonic recordings.
    But please cut the bullshit in the marketing.

    “…And the analogue machines were directly connected to state-of-the-art DSD analogue-to-digital converters, without the intervention of any mixing consoles and/or other special equipment which could have influenced the sound…”

    That’s a dumb statement. A tape lying in a box – even under ideal circumstances, constant temperature, low humidity etc. – for 40 years has deteriorated. Time has influenced these recordings already, as have other factors as well. To present an (almost) transparent reproduction of these tapes as “the truth” and truthful to the intention of the creators back then, is quite a fallacy.
    A mixing/mastering desk more or less in the chain would probably help more than damage to create the original sound, if operated skillfully. These statements of “purity” are fishing in very dark waters of esoteric “high-end-sound” so to speak.

  • There are a number of record companies recording in surround and releasing on SACD and the new Pure Audio Blu-ray format (surround sound but played via a Blu-ray player) – LSO Live, BIS, Mariinsky, Chandos, Choir of King’s… even Hyperion have been known to dabble, as well as those listed above. Great that so many are still investing in high-quality recording and sound reproduction. Many are also recording with DSD, the highest quality audio capture technology.

  • Very interesting.

    Quadrophonic, BTW, should not be confused with Quad, maker of very successful electrostatic speakers for decades.

  • I’m also looking forward to the Ozawa/Boston recordings, and perhaps a few of the recordings in Boston with other conductors?
    It would be interesting to know which recordings have four channel tapes.

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