1What is Mono?
Mono is sound coming from one point in the room. From all positions in the room everyone will point to the same position, if asked where is the sound. While mono can be technically HiFi it totally lacks any sense of width or depth (front or back).
Mono is very artificial except when playing back a solo performer, most music (in bands and orchestras) have a sense of left and right and depth of ambiance.
The advantage of mono is that it requires the minimum data storage space or bandwidth and can be played with minimal cost equipment.
2What is Stereo?
A simple answer is dual mono but in many ways this is a great understatement. Stereo adds an extra dimension to the sound- width. In addition IF YOU SIT IN THE SWEET SPOT you will be able to position precisely all the instruments/ performers on the sound stage.
In general the vast majority of people prefer stereo for the additional feeling of “life.” One other less talked about effect is that people perceive more detail and information with stereo as the separation of sound sources make it easier for the listeners brain to concentrate on detail within the performance.
3What is Surround Sound?
Walk outside, close your eyes and listen to the world around you. You will hear sound coming from the front, rear, above – all around. This is true natural surround sound. The aim of surround sound is to place the listener into the same environment as the performance was recorded.
If it’s a movie you might hear planes and thunder overhead, traffic noises behind you and people talking in front of you. If it is a concert you will hear the performers in front of you and ambience and audience sounds behind you.
In many “modern” forms of music often the artist will chose to have instruments or noises coming from all around the listener (listen to Pink Floyd’s “Money”).
Many attempts at surround sound have been attempted over the years – notably the 70’s with the failure of the quadraphonic systems as a result of:
1. To many confusing non compatible formats
2. Problems with sonic artefacts such as pumping, clicks and leakage
3. Quadraphonic recorded music did not play well in stereo
4. Blurring of the sound image
After the failure of quad, Dolby entered the scene with Prologic 1. The system provided minimal surround decode and the 2 channel stereo encode sounded very wrong, but due to the Dolby name being a unifying force the industry standardised to it. Later in the mid 90’s Dolby released the improved Dolby Prologic 2, which was an improvement but did not compare well to the data and bandwidth hungry Digital surround formats by Dolby and DTS.
All of these surround systems after 1985 were in the 5.1 format, using two front speakers, two side speakers, a separate woofer and a center channel. These systems created a point source surround impression with a sound stage that was heavily biased to the front center and offered token sounds from 4 other points in the room. This was all fine for effects and general impact in movies, but in no way did these systems reproduce a life like surround sound environment.
Involve surround sound technology has been specifically designed to address and correct all of the previous system shortcomings.
4What would represent a perfect new industry standard stereo/ surround system?
In recent years with the advent of the CD, DVD, SACD, DAT, Blueray and several other transient formats we seem to have forgotten the lessons of the longest surviving and most successful formats STEREO and the cassette. Even today stereo is the most dominant format in the world as it is used for AM, FM radio, TV, FOXTEL, mp3, and is still available as a fall back in most other formats. It offers the great advantage that everyone can use it with even the most basic equipment (even mono) right up to the most exotic systems. Furthermore, everyone understands stereo with no fear; that cannot be said of any of the new multi band systems.
When Philips created the cassette in 1961 they were very insistent to not allow any variations to the original format. They even opposed Dolby noise reduction and chrome tapes as it would exclude some users from the cross compatibility of the system. Maybe they went overboard on Dolby and Chrome, but the result was a format that lasted say 40 years – and yes, it was STEREO. You can grab any old stereo cassette and play it on today’s systems, and if you want surround sound there is an exceptional decoder called INVOLVE!
For any system to succeed and not add to more market confusion it must be fully backwards and forwards compatible to STEREO, and not in anyway have any detrimental effects.
In short a future industry cross compatible system must:
1. Be able to be played by all existing stereo equipment with NO audible deterioration.
2. Must be able to be carried/ transmitted in all media such as AM/ FM radio, YouTube, MP3, CD, DVD, BluRay, Foxtel, records, cassette…….
3. The encode must sound identical to the stereo
4. The decode must sound identical (or better than) discrete 5.1 systems
5. Must have no pumping, clicking, breathing, whistling sonic artefacts.
6. Be able to synthesise with a high degree of accuracy a surround from non encoded material
7. Preferably get rid of the image skewing center channel.
8. Provide a consistent image in all seats of the house with no sweet spot.
9. Be able to be transmitted in low bandwidth media such as AM radio, mp3 and YouTube.
10. Must become the new UNIVERSAL music/ cinema recording format to eliminate market confusion and customer isolation
11. Be able to produce 2, 4 and even 5.1 (if you really insist) surround.
INVOLVE with Sweet Spot™ Technology (SST) does all this
5How is surround sound produced?
A true natural surround can only be achieved with a system that has no directional bias or dominance. In addition, when using video with the audio, the sound image must come from the same positions as shown on the screen. Currently with the use of center channel speakers the voices appear to be coming from under the screen and not where the mouths are!
In a true surround system each person in the audience should hear sounds in all seats in the room as they would if performers were actually in the room.
6What is Dolby?
Dolby is and was the first great uniting LOGO in consumer electronics marketing
The commercially acceptable surround sound industry was born in around 1985 when Dolby released their original Prologic 1 system. Commercially it was a master stroke as it offered a simple “band aid” quick fix to the major problems of the 70’s quadraphonic era. These were:
1. Non standardisation of formats – Dolby were really the first LOGO that had become “standard” in the public mind as a result of their domination of the cassette noise reduction market from the mid 1960’s. People had begun to accept if it was Dolby it was the standard – even if it was inferior.
2. Dolby adopted the myth that we could not directionalize bass under 80 Hz. This was great commercially as the major CE’s could spend less on the 4 or 5 main boxes and reduce their visual size
3. Quad only really worked in the one central seat of the room, move left or right and the central vocal went hard left or right. The center channel provided a stable point . The initial Prologic 1 was very dumb and only summated left and right but did not remove hard left or right components – this resulted in a diminished left right stage width. In addition the center sound came from UNDER the TV not from where the actual image should have been. But still it semi solved an issue, and so the messed up surround era we are in now was born.
From a technical point of view, it was a complete mess, but from a commercial perspective it was a master stroke.
Subsequent to this Dolby released their much improved PL2 that offered improved center channel separation and better rear full bandwidth decode thanks to Tate / Fosgate. The only real problem was that it still suffered badly in comparison to true discrete media in terms of image smear and separation. Along came the digital world with bigger data storage capacity and speeds, next thing you know the DVD’s released movie sound tracks in 5.1 channels of compressed and some uncompressed discrete surround.
This was a great improvement to accuracy but still had issues of poor cross compatibility with the user having to use menu systems to select the appropriate format, high bandwidth overhead prohibiting transmission on radio, TV, Mp3, Youtube, CD’s, Ipods, records, cassette’s, internet TV etc. In addition most recordings just offered 70% of sound coming from UNDER the TV with the odd ping sound coming from the left/ right and rear (really side) speakers. Clearly this really did not produce a true sound “environment”.
Still it is the Dolby LOGO that actually unites and drives the surround revival.
7What’s wrong with my existing Surround Sound Receiver?
Most people adopt surround via one of the many generic “receivers” now available for between say $400 – $4000. These “receivers” are jam packed with “LOGO’’s of all descriptions and most of which the general public have no idea what they are all about. When it comes to selecting a “receiver” most people assume the one with the most LOGO’s is preferable and then you look for the biggest lie of Wattage.
Have you noticed how similar they are all now in terms of form and function? Central digital display, mode knob on the left, volume on the right and a bunch of difficult to understand buttons with non descript nomenclature sometime hidden under a panel.
Now can anyone really state that these units are in anyway a real advancement in surround? They are all growing in terms of electronic complexity but where is the sonic gain?
Involve has stood away from the pack and asked the question – is their a better way to make it simpler and better?
8Is there public confusion and dissatisfaction with existing surround equipment?
Aside from the fact that people are told what to buy (fear of being different) we have a situation that most people really do not know how to operate their “receivers” with their multi levelled digital menu driven systems. Most people older than 50 understand knobs not menu’s!
And history repeats we currently have a multitude of incompatible digital formats that are not DOWNWARDS COMPATIBLE to the most fundamental and still most used format STEREO. I have said it many times – the most used format is stereo, just look around……AM/ FM radio, TV, Foxtel, Internet TV, IPod, MP3, YouTube, CD’s, records, cassettes. Yes we have DVD’s, Bluray’s but they all have the STEREO down mix track available.
Overall there has been a return to stereo (remember what happened in the late 70’s). A Philips survey they found that in 60% of surround systems they sold, the user either did not connect the rear (side) channels or just put them up front.
In addition vey few people choose to play their stereo recordings in 5.1 channel simulated surround as existing decoders basically make a mess of it.
9What does the Involve Decoder do?
The involve decoder detects, separates and extracts surround sound information from both standard stereo and deliberately encoded material with super high accuracy and linearity.
• It has no pumping, no surging, no smearing, no audio artefacts, no additional echo and a flat frequency response.
• It is able to decode all known encoding matrices from Dolby, DTS, QSOUND etc, as good or better than each system’s own decoder.
• It is able to extract surround information from existing stereo-only tracks, and presents a very convincing surround stage with no preference to the front or back of the setup. The transition from front to back is every bit as smooth as the transition from left to right. The system also places instruments and voices, and sound effects, accurately and completely; instruments aren’t smeared between two speakers or across the room diagonally.
• Voices stay at the front of the stage where they belong, with only echo and ambiance at the rear, unless the voices were intended to be elsewhere in the room.
• The system minimizes bandwidth requirements.
• The system is also capable of delivering true 3D sound
10What problems have existing surround decode systems have?
There are a number of encoder-decoder solutions available in the market today, with Dolby’s Pro-Logic II being the most recognized. Other companies such as DTS and SRS also offer solutions for this market. However, these systems suffer to a greater or lesser degree from a variety of well documented issues, such as:
• They are not capable of delivering a true circular surround sound.
• They have a preference to the front of the sound stage, arguably decreasing the audience perception of a “surround” stage.
• All existing stereo-to-surround matrix decoders have problems with audio artefacts, pumping, breathing, colouring and compression, rely on reverb and echo effects, and often require a carrier signal to steer the audio.
• On complicated program content most offer poor separation.
11How does the Involve decode work?
Sound enters our heads via two inputs – our ears, and yet we hear sounds coming from all around us. The involve decode works on the same principle; by listening to a stereo source in the same way that our brains listen to the world around us.
For example, deciding whether priority should be given to louder sounds or closer sounds, we can mathematically determine which sounds are supposed to go to each speaker. All the information we need to do this is contained within those two channels, a single stereo source. That source could be recorded from two microphones, where the surround information is inherent in the recording process, or even deliberately created as a surround sound recording and then encoded into our Involve format, indistinguishable from stereo.
With only four evenly-spaced speakers, we can create a completely symmetrical sound field – just as natural and instinctive as if you were in the place where it was recorded.
12What is the problem with discrete channel surround?
With online movie streaming fast becoming a reality (Netflix launching HD movie streaming in the US and Australia on XBOX360), our Internet capability is strained as it is, coping with 1080p content will be hard enough; any advantage that can be gained in bandwidth is highly desirable.
There is also a push forward for 3D television broadcast, with one full 3D broadcasting TV station being slated in Europe by the end of 2010. This increases the broadcast bandwidth requirement significantly.
A perhaps less well-recognized issue is that surround sound mixing is only as good as the person who mixes it.
If the sound requires mixing a complex environment, it doesn’t just mean putting the sounds where they belong. Other factors such as ambient noise, audio reflections and surfaces within the environment – all of these things contribute to how the human ear detects sound. In an industry where speed and efficiency is often valued as much or more than the quality, the pressure is intense on recording engineers, and these factors are easily overlooked or ignored. Additionally, there is a wealth of stereo and surround-matrix material from over the last century which already has the cues and hints that the human ear uses to determine the audio environment it was intended to be in.
13Can Involve accurately decode Dolby PL2 recordings?
Involve successfully decodes Dolby PL2 recordings and typically extracts more detailed and circular surround than a Dolby PL2 decoder. Our trials of listener preference showed almost universal preference to Involve decode.
14What is the Surround Master?
The Surround master is a user friendly unit that can connect between your stereo music source such as CD, DVD, radio and your amplifier so you can have an economical system upgrade to the most powerful stereo- surround sound available.
15What is the Involve encoder?
The Involve encoder has been designed for recording studio’s so they can master all new surround sound recordings into a fully stereo compatible 2 channel involve stereo. The unit accepts either 4 or 5 channels
Most importantly the Involve 2 channel down-mix is indistinguishable from stereo, meaning it can be used as a recorded format for to CD, DVD, broadcast on FM, television, or over the Internet, with no fear of incompatibility with current stereo equipment.
Is Involve recording format compatible with stereo
Involve encode is indistinguishable from stereo and can be broadcast in full detail and accuracy even in compressed formats such as MP3. There are no user downsides to Involve encode but there is the huge bonus of accurately encoded surround sound when used with an Involve decoder.
16What is SST – Sweet Spot Technology?
SST eliminates the requirement for a center channel in a surround sound system and enables all listeners to point to the same spot in space to where the image belongs. SST creates a true freedom in your listening area with no more fighting over the central sweet spot chair!
17Can SST be used with my current Stereo System?
SST is perfectly suited to the automotive environment. Both stereo and Surround Sound in cars has always been difficult as all 5 seats are positioned outside the sweet spot. SST can be easily implemented in cars to allow all persons to be in the sweet spot.
18What are Sonic Panels?
Our Sonic Panels are in fact a new generation of an old but difficult to produce technique of speaker called “electrostatic speakers”. These speakers do no use magnets, boxes, ports or crossovers, they work on an entirely different technique of electrical attraction and repulsion.
The cone diaphragm is replaced with a sheet of Mylar that is as heavy a 6 mm of air. These speakers feature 20 times faster response compared to cone speakers, far lower distortion and a real life like quality to the sound. Additionally they are only 5 mm thick and semi transparent.