Quadraphonic Sound Died In the 1970s. So Why Is Somebody Bringing It Back?

Miles Davis' Live-Evil LP in Quadraphonic, 1972
  • Save

Miles Davis' Live-Evil LP in Quadraphonic, 1972
  • Save
Miles Davis’ Live-Evil LP in Quadraphonic, 1972

Quadraphonic sound was one of the earliest surround sound technologies that emerged in the 1970s. It was technically known as ‘4.0 surround’ in audiophile speak. The idea was to have 4-speakers in each corner, which was a significant breakthrough in audio technology. However, quadraphonic sound did not survive for long and faded away from the music technology landscape in the late 1970s. It was considered cumbersome, extremely expensive, and accessible to only a slim group of artists.

Once the format was released, it could only be played with complicated 4-speaker systems, which also required lots of space and disposable cash. As a result, quadraphonic sound was not widely adopted, and the introduction of the CD further sealed its fate. The 2-channel stereo surround technology, on the other hand, stuck around and became the standard for surround sound.

Fast forward to the present day, and surround sound audio technology has leapt through numerous generations. Most movie theaters have surround sound systems that put quadraphonic to shame, and higher-end home theater systems are also deploying sophisticated spatial audio solutions. Despite this, LA-based audiophile, studio owner, and entrepreneur KamranV is bringing quadraphonic sound back.

One of the reasons for the revival of quadraphonic sound is accessibility. According to KamranV, it’s much easier for a creative person to think in four corners and make creative decisions in four corners. Modern-day spatial audio technologies are extremely technical and out-of-reach for most artists. “Many of them are done by technicians and not creative people. And the reason is that to achieve what that technology is asking of you, it requires a great deal of work,” KamranV explained.

Quadraphonic sound is more musical and creative, according to KamranV. He can think that way and write a song that way. It’s easier to create a soundscape that is immersive and engaging with quadraphonic sound. KamranV has already released a live quadraphonic album involving electronica artist Suzanne Ciani. He released 227 copies at a clever price of $227 each, and they sold out quickly.

KamranV is not the only one bringing back quadraphonic sound. The German audio company, Sennheiser, has also released a new soundbar that supports 3D audio, including quadraphonic sound. The soundbar uses 13 speakers to provide an immersive audio experience, and it also works with Dolby Atmos and DTS:X codecs. The Sennheiser Ambeo soundbar is more accessible than the quadraphonic sound systems of the 1970s, but it’s still expensive at $2,500.

Quadraphonic sound is not a new technology, but it’s making a comeback because it’s more accessible and creative than modern-day spatial audio technologies. It’s easier for artists to create immersive soundscapes that engage listeners with quadraphonic sound. KamranV is leading the revival of quadraphonic sound, and he’s already released a live quadraphonic album that sold out quickly. Other companies like Sennheiser are also bringing back quadraphonic sound in new and innovative ways. It will be interesting to see how quadraphonic sound develops in the coming years and how it compares to modern-day spatial audio technologies.

Here’s our deep-dive exploration into this curiously attractive audio technology, recorded from the Making Vinyl Conference in Detroit.  Enjoy!

9 Responses

  1. KamranV

    Thx for this Paul. Was a fun hang with you in Detroit.

    We do have just a few copies available direct still at http://CyKiK.com/quad and if you’re close to an Ace Hotel (even in London!) you can grab a copy at their hotel shop too.

  2. sutMarion

    Андрей Викторович П. кидала
    Республика Татарстан
    Дата рождения 14.08.1989
    Машина Камри госномер У033ВС 116 vin XW7BF4FKX0S0007025
    автомастерская г. Казань, Восстания 8А
    адрес проживания город Казань, улица Лукина дом 41, квартира 126
    номер телефона +79510697947

    техцентр субару

    этот товарищ-обманщик
    он обманывает постоянно
    говорит, что работает над вашим вопросом, а сам и пальцем не шевелил
    я хочу, чтобы вы сохранили свои деньги и не доверяли ему
    он берет предоплату и навсегда исчезает.

  3. Gerd Diederichs

    Could it be that quad sounds intriguing because of a misconception that it would work well on analog vinyl? It probably would ne much less attractive under the name 4.0, wouldn’t it?

    The reason stereo made it and quad didn’t, on the days of vinyl records was that you could have two orthogonal directions for the pickup needle without problems, but not for – at least not in the 3.1 space-time continuum. Putting the rear channels onto carrier frequencies out of hearing range was probably pushing the vinyl-stylus technology beyond its natural boundaries. Tape might have worked, but tape was always suspect because it was too easy to bootleg.

  4. Peter

    I don’t see the point in putting quadraphonic systems in the same pot with types of clothing and afro hair, and then claiming that only one is having a comeback.

    Afro hair is not a trend or a hype, it’s a genetic trait and shouldn’t be on a list with outdated technology and past fashion trends.

    • joe

      Eh? What does hairstyles have to do with it the subject?!

  5. Jake

    Several reasons were the cause of the demise of Quadraphonic systems. First can be answered with a question about two essentially defunct video systems. I say essentially because someone, I’m sure has a VHS or Beta recorder for sale on Ebay. Why did Beta die and VHS survive? Economics. Beta was so much better than VHS, but Beta was so much more expensive than VHS. Most people buy the cheaper, and so they did. Secondly, Compatiblity. There were numerous platforms in play during the Quad-Craze and none of them were compatible. SQ Matrix from CBS, the QS Matrix from Sansui, JVC devised the CD-4 which was a carrier signal based system, Regular Matrix (RM), 45J by the National Research Development Council, Stereo 4 by Electrovoice, Dynaquad by Dynaco, and Matrix H by BBC. The problem with this is if you buy one system, thinking “OK, it’s Quad.” Then discover your favorite artists are all on a record label that decided to go with a different system, you ended up buying Henry Mancini Quad albums to demonstrate your cool new Quad system to your friends when you really wanted to be listening to Deep Purple. There are a number of personal choice reasons as well. Most folks don’t want their living room layout dictated by their sound system. Placement of Quad speakers is very restrictive to get the true effect, and even moving slightly off-axis can throw the sound field way out of kilter. I could go on for days but I won’t. BTW I have three Sansui Quad receivers, yes one is in the living room….turn up that volume will ya? and move that sofa, it’s blocking my right real channel.

  6. John Sather

    Being 62 years old and living thru the Quad record days, the cost of a new Quadraphonic record/disc was $6.99 plus tax when the same stereo disc cost was $1.99 plus tax. That was a lot of money for a high school student. Plus you needed a receiver, quad amp, four speakers and extra speaker wire. Most people were not into electronics enough to figure out how to hook all that up also. If you had an 8-track tape you needed an quadraphonic player to get the true “bounce” or ”whip
    ” effect, especially if you had it in a van with a speaker in each corner of it.
    I have never stopped listing to my albums to this day and still scour thru thousands in stores and flea markets looking for quad albums. At first all my collection was classic rock and roll, but not if I find one and the price is reasonable it will add to my collection. Hope it does return for a second coming.

  7. John Sather

    Being 62 years old and living thru the Quad record days, the cost of a new Quadraphonic record/disc was $6.99 plus tax when the same stereo disc cost was $1.99 plus tax. That was a lot of money for a high school student. Plus you needed a receiver, quad amp, four speakers and extra speaker wire. Most people were not into electronics enough to figure out how to hook all that up also. If you had an 8-track tape you needed an quadraphonic player to get the true “bounce” or ”whip
    ” effect, especially if you had it in a van with a speaker in each corner of it.
    I have never stopped looking for quad albums to this day and still scour thru thousands in stores and flea markets looking for quad albums. At first all my collection was classic rock and roll, but not if I find one and the price is reasonable it will add to my collection. Hope it does return for a second coming.

  8. midimagic

    Actually, Dolby Surround was so much better than any of the quad systems that it because the de-facto standard for years.

    And here is the secret: The Sansui QS, the Stereo 4, and the Dynaquad records all play on Dolby Surround and sound just like they were intended. So quad didn’t die, it just evolved.

    That new record also plays on Dolby Surround. And all of the newer Dolby systems can play Dolby Surround.