Talk about a transparently biased question!
Yes, multichannel can and, usually, does, surpass 2CH reproduction. Where it cannot compete is in breadth and depth of repertoire.
Agree with Kal whole-heartedly. Plus, there seems to be an avalanche lately of new multichannel SACDs.
I have both! Depends on my mood. Tell you what though, Pink Floyd in multi-channel is nothing like I've ever heard on 2 channel. While James Taylor on multi channel sounds "weird".
I prefer 2-channel, but enjoy multi as well.
I'm committed to 2-channel for several reasons:
O The experts and enthusiasts alike remind us almost daily that we are lucky if even the very best of our playback systems can capture 5% or at most 15% of the magic of a live performance and nobody ever disagrees with that.
Translation: Through our own ignorance and/or ignorance of component manufacturers every last one of us is incapable of producing anything better than a lo-fi (15%) sounding 2-channel system. In other words, if we cant be successful with just 2-channels, why would anybody think that adding more channels somehow automatically puts us back on the right track?
O Some to many recording engineers have difficulty producing superior 2-channel recording so adding more channels can easily lead to more opportunity to go further astray.
O If the 2-channel system has been optimally assembled and synergized and all kinks and bottlenecks absolutely minimized to the point where the speakers have utterly disappeared and there is a half-sphere of music coming from the soundstage then the need or desire for multi-channel should also become absolutely minimized.
O Every last one of us has a budget for which to spend. Dividing that budget by 2 or by 6, 7, or 8 should provide a no-brainer answer as to whether a 2-channel or multi-channel system stands the better fighting chance at getting the sonics right.
O The vast majority of our listening room sides and front and back walls are far closer together than even a small commercial theater room. Hence, the need for a center channel at home is not required and the need for rear speakers is greatly minimized. (Assuming weve done our homework with our own systems, ie proper speaker placement, etc.).
O The multi-channel purists tell us that the rear speakers are used for ambient information only. But if my room is only 21 ft. deep and my speaker fronts are 7 ft. out from the wall behind them and the back of my listening chair is 4 ft. from the opposing wall behind it, will I not also get ambient information without rear speakers? And in such a room as this if I were getting ambient information with just two channels what would I really be getting if I then install rear speakers?
O Last and perhaps most important, if our playback systems are truly able to reproduce the absolute volumes of air captured by the microphones in the recording hall, like the kind of air one hears when they walk into an empty gymnasium and start to dribble a basketball, then our need to retrieve ambient information by adding additional speakers is all but eliminated.
Fundamentally, I despise the thought that I might have 5 to 10 speakers and extra pairs of amps and cabling all over a room.
Did I mention that I favor 2-channel?
Oooh, I like the way you said that, Stehno.
Stehno wrote: "The multi-channel purists tell us that the rear speakers are used for ambient information only. But if my room is only 21 ft. deep and my speaker fronts are 7 ft. out from the wall behind them and the back of my listening chair is 4 ft. from the opposing wall behind it, will I not also get ambient information without rear speakers?"
Sure you will but it will be the wrong ambient information and it will be constantly superimposed on all recordings regardless of their original venues.
For clarification, in case...Kal is referring to the reflection you'll be listening to and not the intended ambient information. You'll be hearing the speakers...and the room; regardless of what you information you play.
IMO, it seems there's more to multichannel than what is first thought.
When you use 2-channel playback, your own room creates its own ambience by the way the two speakers energize the room. In other words, it puts the performance in YOUR room.
When you play back with multi-channel, it places YOU in the original recorded venue, because the original delays and directionality are captured and played back.
It doesn't matter if the hall was 80'x120', the time delays built into the recording and your surround processor should maintain the timing cues of the original venue.
I don't consider one superior to the other. I have both and like both, mostly for different applications. I absolutely prefer 7.1 surround for film soundtracks.
I prefer 2-channel (especially with LP source) for most studio-recorded rock/pop/folk, as well as jazz and chamber music.
For large-scale orchestral music recorded in large halls, a good surround system definitely does a better job of transporting you there.
I have another theory in all this. It all comes down to connecting with the music. When I have an LP source, I don't much care about surround; in fact I often don't care if it's stereo or mono because there's such a strong connection with the music and the performers. With digital, I think the inherent connection is weaker, and the surround experience helps enhance it.
On thing really cool with surround playback: I have some Haydn symphonies recorded at the great hall at the Esterhazy palace. Haydn was the Esterhazy court composer, so this is where these symphonies were originally performed 200 years ago. I like the idea of being able to hear not only the music but the signature of the original performance venue as well.
Likewise, with surround you can hear the Boston Symphony at Boston's Symphony Hall, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra at Music Hall, New York Phil at Lincoln Center, etc. You can even adjust the surround delay and volume to pick what row you're sitting in.
My experience with two-channel and multi-channel music is that two channel recordings sounds flat and lifeless, no matter how good it is, when you go back to it from the multi-channel version of the same recording. It takes some two-channel listening time to readjust and enjoy two-channel again. Multi-channel recordings seem to energize the whole listening room to a much greater degree than a two-channel recording can. IMHO.
I don't know, maybe it's the wonderment of hearing a 3 dimensional sound coming through 2 speakers that make me like stereo better. In my case I do prefer to watch concert DVDs with MC but most music in 2 channel. What's up with that?
Sometimes 2 channel just sounds more "natural"?
I cannot imagine how 2channel can sound more natural in a good home system unless the multichannel version was done incompetently. (Of course, that certainly is possible.)
PS - I wrote my response before I read the whole string. I think I am 2nd'g Stehno's position.
Johnnyb53 raises some good points. I was thinking about multi-channel solely as delivering discrete audio signals from other than front L & R. Great for trippy type Pink Floyd stuff maybe ... I hadn't considered what surround might contribute relative to "hall ambience".
I think I still prefer 2 channel if only because I have a better chance of being able to afford and implement significant quality changes to my 2 channel system compared to a 5+ channel system.
I think one reason quadraphonic didn't catch on in the LP era in the early '70s is because LPs were already very musically satisfying and people weren't hankering for something more. The CD4/SQ format wars and extra hardware costs didn't help, either. LPs with the right cartridge could already fill the room with broadly dimensional sound.
In the digital age the opposite is true. Several things are missing from musical satisfaction in digital playback, and people are desperate to improve it--through cables, footers, pucks, racks...and more speakers and spatial cues (i.e., surround sound). One of the things that was missing in early digital and slow to make progress was imaging. I remember my first CD player (after years of listening to LPs) and I was shocked at how it sounded like threadbare music coming out of two separate speakers, whereas my LP rig threw a wide, deep, seamless soundstage.
Surround sound is one way to help fix that, since 2-channel analog playback--as much as I love it--won't be returning as the de facto standard.