Back in 1958, just 10 years after the introduction of the long-playing microgroove disc and following some experiments with two-track "binaural" records from one manufacturer that required a forked tone arm to play them, the stereo disc was put on the market.
The first year or two saw some variables in quality compared to the respective mono editions of some recordings, but it did not take long for stereo to establish itself as definitely advantageous, or for the "hardware" to catch up with the best that had been produced for mono reproduction.
When quadraphonic sound was announced, barely more than a decade after stereo, some enthusiasts welcomed it as the ultimate breakthrough in creating the "original hall ambience." Others welcomed it no less enthusiastically for opening up a new and unlimited assortment of listening possibilities not based on the concert hall orientation and still others exalted in what they saw as a needed shot in the arm for both the record and equipment industries. Some of us wondered about its real value, and questioned the willingness of already cramped music-lovers and audiophiles to find more space to allot to the reproducing paraphernalia.
It can be shown that both the equipment business and the record business did indeed take an upturn after quadraphonic discs and playback equipment were introduced, but it can be shown, too, that the upturn had little directly to do with the four-channel phenomenon.
It has been estimated that only about 5 per cent of sales of quality audio equipment can be accounted for by conversion to or initial investment in quadraphony, and some record manufacturers have even marketed quadraphonic recordings without identifying them as such, lest two-channel listeners be scared off. By this fall, several of the better audio shops had actually discontinued their quadraphonic equipment lines altogether, guiding their grateful customers instead in the selection of first-rate two-channel gear.
The failure to catch on by now does not reflect an antiprogress attitude on the public's part, but more likely something between mild resentment and burning outrage over the record industry's unconscionable irresponsibility in foisting three different playback system on us. This exceeds any of the industry's past offenses, including RCA's hold-out for 45 r.p.m. in the face of the public's overwhelming response to 33 1/3-r.p.m. LPs in 1948-50.
When the possibility of marketing stereophonic discs presented itself in the mid-1950s, there were also three or four different systems available, but on that occasion the industry did act responsibly, and not a single disc was released until all companies had agreed on the Westrex 45/45 system, the one still in use today. That meant that the simple term "stereo" was the only identification the consumer had to be concerned about in buying records or the equipment on which to play them.
In the quadraphonic mess, however, no fewer than three major systems in are circulation now: the two "matrix" systems (CBS's "SQ" and Sansui's "QS"), which at least require no special pickup, and the generally superior but more complex CD-4 "discreet" system, which requires both a special cartridge and low-impedance connecting cables from turntable to pre-amp. No wonder collectors are scared off - and this muddle plays hob with both those who do convert to quadraphonic sound and those who don't.
The former discover that no manufacturer so far has produced a playback unit capable of dealing with all three quadraphonic systems equally well. Perhaps the all-round most versatile unitl is Sansui's QRX-7001 receiver, which carries a "suggested list price" of $880. The QS function in this unit is superb, of course, since that is Sansui's own system, and the built-in CD-4 is very good, too, but the SQ function is less satisfactory - and, since SQ is the system in most widespread use among "classical" record companies, this means the serious listener may want to add on, say, a Sony adaptor which costs more than $200. Playback units made by other companies, which may be superior in SQ performance, are only so-so in one or both of the others, and many simply do not accommodate more than one.
No less seriously penalized are the 95 per cent of the buying public who still use two-channel equipment. In order to avoid double-inventory for dealers, most record companies that use quadraphonic matrix systems are now issuing these discs in "compatible" pressings. Many of them are not fully compatible, though; in some cases, such discs show a significant loss of presence when played back in two channels. In recent months the companies involved seem to have taken steps to correct this irritation for the majority of their customers - and, ironically, the consequence would seem to be a reduction of actual four-channel separation.
Some recent developments: Angel, which for a year or two issued quadraphonic discs without identifying them as such, now does so identify them, but does not label its new quadraphonic cassettes (the only ones form any source, so far) as such. Columbia, which formerly issued separate stereo and quadraphonic editions, now issues "compatible" discs instead, and plays down the four-channel aspect, with only an inconspicuous box on the back of the jacket and no reference at all on the front cover, the only giveaway on the disc label itself is the letter Q before the matrix number.
RCA, on the other hand, which had issued its CD-4 discs in that form only for some time, now brings out separate stereo editions; there is probably fuller compatibility in CD-4 than in either of the matrix systems, but production costs are higher and the market, as noted above, is still very much a two-channel market.
Should the industry grow up and agree on a single quadraphonic system for all records and playback equipment, I could be persuaded, and so could millions of others. I'm sure. With a single system to accommodate instead of three different ones, an integrated four-channel amplifier or receiver could be as powerful and distortion-free, perhaps, as the best two-channel units are now.Until that happens, though, I am not alone in offering fervent thanks to Philips London/Decca. Deutsche Grammophon and the other companies that have shown the judgment and [WORD ILLEGIBLE] tude to refrain from offering [WORD ILLEGIBLE] own four-channel recordings [WORD ILLEGIBLE] they have been making for several years, of course) to the public in [WORD ILLEGIBLE] form until their more reckless industry colleagues get together on a single format.