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Boulez Conducts Bartok- "Concerto For Orchestra" (MQ/MAQ 32132): Q8 Vs. Sony SACD

sjcorne

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#1
Hey everyone,

Not sure how much interest there is on this subject, but I’ve been meaning to look into it since I saw a couple of posts by @ubertrout ruminating about whether or not those classical Single-Layer SACDs put out by Sony in the early 2000s are actually sourced from the quad masters. Hopefully this post will offer definitive answers to the questions/assertions posted below.

Obviously Sony had its own SACD program at one point, where they horribly botched two of their most obvious classical quad releases - the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra with Boulez and New York, and the Holst Planets, with Bernstein and New York. In both cases they did an artificial mix from the stereo instead into surround.
So, we've not had confirmation that the Masterworks recordings reissued by Sony in the early days of SACD are actually the quad mix or something else created more recently. I wish there was a good way to make a better determination (I have the SACDs except the Biggs but I don't have an analog setup).
Totally and bizarrely misbegotten efforts from Sony. They would have done fine if they'd just released the quad mixes - with a center channel created by summing the FL and FR channels if they really wanted to. Instead they upmixed the stereo channels into 5.1. The result is that in The Planets the organ which used to be in the surround channels of the quad mix is no longer present. And the Bartok, one of Columbia's most aggressive quad mixes (the cover shows the distribution of instruments in quad), it's just flat and artificial instead of being the experience of the orchestra surrounding you that was originally intended.

I've seen rumors that essentially all of the early Sony classical reissues from the analog era were upmixed instead of new proper surround mixes from original multitracks, but these are the ones where it's most obvious. Dutton has already released a number of discs closely related to these, including the Boulez/Stravinsky disc and the Bernstein Haydn disc - I'm hoping they get to these as well.
Admittedly, I’m really not much of a classical listener, but I have always loved this recording since I first heard the SQ LP. Maybe it’s just the cool diagram on the cover, or just the concept of miking an orchestra specifically for immersive surround that caught my attention.

This quad mix was done by Ray Moore, who is credited with 40+ Columbia quads (see @fredblue's quad mixers listing), including Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew.

I’ve got 3 sources lined up- my SQ LP (Involve decode), my recently-acquired Q8, and a rip of the SACD provided by a kind fellow member. Let’s see how they compare!

First off, one of the neat things about this recording is that the SQ LP gatefold jacket gives you a pretty detailed explanation of how exactly the orchestra was miked, recorded, and mixed.

The front cover shows the placement of each section in the final quad mix. Note that this cover scan (clearest I could find) is actually from a stereo LP copy, only the quad version shows an ear in that center circle.
Bartok Front Cover Graphic.jpg

I also made my own graphic (inspired by @steelydave's work here) to show the channel positions.

Bartok Q8- Channel Map.jpg

One thing that’s confusing me is identifying the different string instruments. Based on the illustrations on the cover graphic, I assume Cellos are center right and Bass is rear right, but I can’t quite tell the difference between the 3 distinct string sections up front (color-coded blue, yellow, purple). Based on the usual composition of an orchestra, I’m gonna assume some there are two Violin sections (first and second), and one Viola section.

Something that immediately stands out to me about this mix is that it uses all four corners and all four side-wall positions, which is against the “rules" of mixing for SQ. Though obviously, mixing a live orchestra in Columbia's usual style would never really work because of the massive amounts of leakage between the channels. It’s not like you can record each section of an orchestra in an isolation booth.

The back cover shows the placement of mics during the recording. The orchestra was arranged in a circle around the conductor, with 20+ microphones placed in strategic locations (with the quad mix in mind).
Bartok Rear Graphic.jpg


The inside cover shows this was an 8 track recording, with 3-4 microphone feeds recorded onto each track.
Bartok Multi Graphic.jpg


Here’s a general breakdown of what exactly is in each track:
  1. Violin
  2. Violin, Viola, Timpani, Harp
  3. Violin, Viola, Cello
  4. Violin, Harp, Chimes, Triangle, Gong
  5. Cello, Double Bass
  6. Trumpet, French Horn, Crash Cymbal, Bass Drum
  7. Woodwinds, Bassoon
  8. Trombone, French Horn, Tuba
The graphic then implies they went in and basically created each channel in the quad mix from combining two of the multi stems.
  • Tracks 1+2= Left Front
  • Tracks 3+4= Right Front
  • Tracks 5+6= Right Rear
  • Tracks 7+8= Left Rear.
Bartok Multis to Quad Mix.jpg

This was all done with quad in mind: the arrangement of the orchestra, the placement of the mics, which instruments were recorded to what track, etc. The entire project was conceived from the ground up for quad. Unfortunately the SQ matrix system couldn’t really handle the complexity of the recording.

Now here’s Waveform representations of the entire piece from each source:

SQ Decode:
Bartok SQ.jpg
Q8- Discrete Quad Mix:
Bartok Q8.jpg

SACD:
Bartok SACD.jpg


Obviously the 5.1 mix (or 5.0, as there is nothing in the sub channel) doesn’t resemble the Q8 visually at all. The rears are much lower than the fronts, and the 3 front channels look almost the same. My initial spot listen seemed to suggest that the center channel is a sum of the two fronts (with seemingly greater emphasis on the brass), and the rears are a lowered volume copy of the fronts.

So yeah, I’d definitely say that the multichannel track on Sony disc is some sort of electronically-assisted upmix from stereo. It sure as hell ain’t Ray Moore’s original quad mix, and if it is an actual remix from 8-track multis shown on the LP jacket, then it’s terribly unimaginative.

It's real shame, because we know the lengths that the folks at Columbia Masterworks went to make this a demo quality classical quad recording, and then when technology catches up to the point when their vision could be realized, it's botched.

The Q8 is truly amazing, but with one flaw: the third track (movement?) "Elegia" is split between the programs. There's a few copies over on 8-track shack if anyone wants to pick one up. Maybe this title will get its proper due someday...
 
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M-D-Z

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#4
It was quick and easy to find on line nice copies in Q-8 and vinyl, but I could not find an SA-CD multichannel copy.

Are there any you know of?

I’d like to find a 10.5” x 1/2” (or 1/4”) open reel 4-Ch-Quad copy at 15 IPS on 3M 996 or Tape Project quality ATR mastering tape. With zero NR, processing or compression!
 

4-earredwonder

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#6
Excellent overview, sjcorne. Indeed, in the early 00's when SONY was releasing SACDs [first stereo then the transition to 5.1] one would think the inventor of the SACD format would embark on a rigorous program to PROPERLY promulgate their newest 'brainchild.'

Not only was their initial hardware offering, the SCD~1 stratospherically priced at the time [$5K] and was ONLY capable of playing single layered STEREO SACDs/RBCDs which put it in the High End category, but their software was hardly indicative of popular tastes of the time, as well.

When they transitioned to multichannel to compete with DVD~A, one would think the powers that be at SONY would've stepped up their release schedule to include software to 'show off' that new transition, but instead opted to up mix and denigrate some of those discrete classical QUAD masters of the 70's further confusing an already lukewarm public whose initial reaction was tepid, at best.

Very poor press in the audiophile magazines further deepened the divide and even DVD~A, the competing format which I embraced at the time over SACD, was met with equal rancor.

Fast forward to the present: Dutton Vocalion has released some exquisite examples in sterling QUAD SACD transfers of what those Columbia engineers captured on analogue tape in the 70's and in comparison, one can EASILY see why the SONY 00 launch failed so miserably. And one can only HOPE D~V further explores the Columbia Masterworks' catalog by righting those egregious botch jobs those clueless SONY engineers perpetrated in an attempt to 'rearrange' those Bernstein and Boulez Planets and Bartok QUADs, respectively.
 

fredblue

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#7
It was quick and easy to find on line nice copies in Q-8 and vinyl, but I could not find an SA-CD multichannel copy.

Are there any you know of?

I’d like to find a 10.5” x 1/2” (or 1/4”) open reel 4-Ch-Quad copy at 15 IPS on 3M 996 or Tape Project quality ATR mastering tape. With zero NR, processing or compression!
there's a new and sealed copy of the Sony Single Layer MultiCh SACD from a U.S. seller here on eBay

https://rover.ebay.com/rover/0/0/0?mpre=https://www.ebay.co.uk/ulk/itm/153226819257

(caveat emptor: i should add, the MCh on the SACD is, unlike the old Q8, ambient surround bollocks imho!)
 

4-earredwonder

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#11
true Ralphie.. but i dunno, in a way i'd rather they focus at this stage on Quad stuff that hasn't been previously released/ruined in 5.1 by Sony..
That's why WE need you and Master Smithers to 'saunter' down that Yellow Brick Road to Watford UK and become the Wizard's Apprentices, liberating ALL those QUAD masters from extinction!



The Queen doesn't need saving....but God SAVE the QUADs!
 
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fredblue

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#12
That's why WE need you and Master Smithers to 'saunter' down that Yellow Brick Road to Watford UK and become the Wizard's Apprentices, liberating ALL those QUAD masters from extinction!



The Queen doesn't need saving....but God SAVE the QUADs!
well i'd be up for lending the Wiz a hand on these long winter nights (as Johnnie Taylor would say however; "not like that"..) but seriously, i doubt he needs us to do anything but liberate the product from his warehouse by buying the titles we fancy!

alakazam! grab that mouse by the pants and lets do some "tale spinnin"! :geek:

ps. this queen needs saving from the wrath of the Quads! I've been taking pics of discs all bleedin' night and now my batteries about to conk out! wah wah wah! :ROFLMAO:
 

4-earredwonder

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#13
well i'd be up for lending the Wiz a hand on these long winter nights (as Johnnie Taylor would say however; "not like that"..) but seriously, i doubt he needs us to do anything but liberate the product from his warehouse by buying the titles we fancy!

alakazam! grab that mouse by the pants and lets do some "tale spinnin"! :geek:

ps. this queen needs saving from the wrath of the Quads! I've been taking pics of discs all bleedin' night and now my batteries about to conk out! wah wah wah! :ROFLMAO:
Adam, perhaps taking a SELFIE with the MOUSE might break up the monotony of photographing those discs! It could be the start of a 'beautiful friendship!'




Seriously, I NEVER accused you of being MOUSY!
 

M-D-Z

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#16
there's a new and sealed copy of the Sony Single Layer MultiCh SACD from a U.S. seller here on eBay

https://rover.ebay.com/rover/0/0/0?mpre=https://www.ebay.co.uk/ulk/itm/153226819257

(caveat emptor: i should add, the MCh on the SACD is, unlike the old Q8, ambient surround bollocks imho!)
Never thought to go directly to the bay, but at $50 for a disappointing rendition, it won't feel like smart purchase. I'll take my chances with the Q-8, I can always run it through the open reel machine to extract the best signal and then re-adjust the actual play speed. None of M y 4-selectable track machines will turn 3.75IPS. ... 7.5-15-30 only.
Thanks!
 

4-earredwonder

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#17
Never thought to go directly to the bay, but at $50 for a disappointing rendition, it won't feel like smart purchase. I'll take my chances with the Q-8, I can always run it through the open reel machine to extract the best signal and then re-adjust the actual play speed. None of M y 4-selectable track machines will turn 3.75IPS. ... 7.5-15-30 only.
Thanks!
Agreed, I have the Bernstein mch [?] of the Planets and the Boulez and both are hardly indicative of the original QUAD masters.

BTW, can you correct the track interruption [on the Q8] of "Elegia" when transferring to Open Reel?
 

M-D-Z

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#18
Agreed, I have the Bernstein mch [?] of the Planets and the Boulez and both are hardly indicative of the original QUAD masters.

BTW, can you correct the track interruption [on the Q8] of "Elegia" when transferring to Open Reel?
I am an old school type, so no digital magic will be used to save my day.
Plus, I don't yet have the Q-8, so I can not comment on any peculiarities for the moments of interrupted program, but I can always refer back to another source to make a believable transition happen.
 

4-earredwonder

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#19
I am an old school type, so no digital magic will be used to save my day.
Plus, I don't yet have the Q-8, so I can not comment on any peculiarities for the moments of interrupted program, but I can always refer back to another source to make a believable transition happen.
My very brief excursion into Stereo 8 track was maddening enough, most especially with those interruptive track breaks, sometimes even during a song. I started collecting Open Reel instead and it further drove me insane when the majors, intent on SAVING tape, opted for 3 3/4 ips releases. And of course the best was saved for last .... releasing Dolby b encoded OR 7 1/2 ips tapes as the decks in those days were not exactly S/N ratio champs [unlike those super duper $8K Open Reel Decks of today].

And now Acoustic Sounds and Elusive Disc are offering 15 ips STEREO Open Reels with laser imprinted graphics on metal reels for $450 ~ $600 EACH! Good Luck with THAT!
 
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M-D-Z

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#20
BTW, can you correct the track interruption [on the Q8] of "Elegia" when transferring to Open Reel?
I normally wouldn't go back to record onto another open reel tape from a Q-8 - I'm better off sending in quad to a Tascam 234 recording on Maxell XLII --- but if it were stereo, I'd send it to the Nak CR-7 or Denon DN790R, more than good enough for the 1/4" 3.75IPS 8-trk tape recordings. My Nak 680ZX has a 15/16" speed which helps out in cases like these too,
The problem is tape speed, all Q-8s play @ 3.75" and my decks are all too fast, so that requires another step. The Otari MX5050 BQII can be configured to turn at 3.75 but I have to go inside the machine to do that, and recalibrate to the lower speed. (a reel PITA) pun intended.

There is no quad cassette better than the 234 that I have seen.
 
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