How could surround sound be used in an audiophile system?

I am an audiophile with a dilemma. I do not like two channel stereo, because the speakers are only 45 degrees apart. This gives me a bad case of tunnel sound. I realize that high end systems have excellent sound dispersal, but only within 45 degrees. That is not enough spread if one is listening to orchestral music. Separation of the speakers gives better sound dispersal, but it leaves a hole in the center. I could place an equally sized speaker in the center powered by an amplifier of equal quality. The problem is that there is no such animal as a three channel preamp with a mono center channel. Next, I would like to use back speakers to smooth out the sound of the front outside speakers. While the three channel stereo has better dispersal, the sound ends too abruptly at the corners of the room. This now would require a five channel preamp (two left signals, two right signals, and mono center).

I know, I know, this sounds like home theater. However, home theater processors are notorious for distorting sound as they "interpret" where different parts of the two channel signals are positioned. Even more distortion is added as the processor adds reverberation.

My goal is to have a pure sounding system that fills the whole room with the undistorted sound of an orchestra. I would like to be able to pin point every instrument in the orchestra from one side of the room to the other. What I need is a five channel preamp with a mono center channel. The problem is that this preamp does not exist, and never will. The artificial sound of five channel home theater is here to stay. This is really depressing. This is a real dilemma. Does anyone have any ideas how to solve this problem?
The Meridian 861 will do all you ask. It will handle/synthessize/balance any number of channels from a stereo source and is capable of handling multichannel inputs if you go that way. Furthermore, I see no valid reason for not going all the way to multichannel since, I suspect, that's where you will get the satisfaction you are driving at.

OTOH, you can get wider spread than 45degrees with correctly set-up decent speakers and center fill should not be a problem either.
Problem 1
Most audiophile music is recorded in 2 channel and was not recorded to be played back in surround.

Problem 2
Even if multi-channel audio evolves (i.e. multi channel SACD or DVD-A) folks are still going to need to run obscene amounts of speaker cable to read speakers. Are rear speakers to be judged the same way we judge the front channels in a hi-end stereo system? This is going to be a rough hurdle to overcome. Even running balanced IC back to monoblock amps that sit next to your rears... How will we judge the sound of the rears?

Conclusion 1
Rears cannot sound as good as front channels. They will always have more often than not always have more distortion and lower sound qualities than front speakers.

Conclusion 2
Multi channel audio is a pipe dream left alone. Until we come up with a way to transmit a signal 30' or so with the same degradation as 10', muilti channel will NEVER have the same fidelty to a source as 2 channel.

I think you need to examine your system. You did not let us know what your 2 channel setup consists of. You say you are an audiophile, but your description of yourself sounds more like music lover. There are speakers that can cast a soundstage on certain recordings that can fill a better part of half a room (180 degrees) depending on how you set the speakers up. I think you need to re-examine your system and figure out what you may be happier with. I would not knock two channel much, for really good 2 channel can effectively sound like surround if it is recorded in a particular way (out of phase signals can effectively sound like they are coming from directly behind you).

This and $2 will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks.


It's sad when really good ideas get lost because something supposedly "better" comes along. It's not a question of how could it be used, but how was it used, and why did everyone give up on it? In the '70s and '80s some small companies made available ambiance or "time delay" units which took the main stereo input signal, delayed it and rolled it off, and fed it, either by means of a small built in amp or by use of a small external amp, to smaller, less expensive speakers made by the same manufacturer as the front speakers, or at least of a similar nature to the front speakers. The rear speaker systems were supposed to be set to play just loud enough so that they were not separately audible, and the millisecond delay and rolloff ensured there was no discernible directional sound coming from the rear. The effect was remarkably like sitting in a concert hall, and while it was subtle, it was very significant. The real key was that these units did not require the front channels to go through them, only the rear, fed from the preamp's auxiliary out. The last and best of these units, so far as I know, was a very quiet digital unit, the SONY 505ES, available in the mid-80s, which incorporated the best features of earlier analog units, and which, tweaked and rebuilt, I still use. (From time to time I see one advertised used.) The next year's SONY unit was much more ambitious in delay settings, and did require the front channels to pass through it. Then along came Lexicon, with major programming of delay parameters required, and then home theater, all of which required passing a megabuck front channel signal through a dubious black box. Any number of golden-eared friends and acquaintances have marvelled at how much is lost when I turn off the front channels, even though those consist of megabuck speakers, amps, and signal sources, and the rear channels cost less than 3% of the total system. And as to leaving multichannel sound to the recording engineers, they screwed it up with quad, and does anyone seriously believe they won't again? The choice has become purist audio or ham-fisted multichannel, but it never had to be that way.
If you want to stick with two channels, you might try a pair of speakers from Dunlavy, if your room allows for their setup - they're recommended to be placed at about a 120-degree angle with the listener.

There are a lot of people who are enjoying matrix'd two-channel sources through various processors. Meridian, as previously mentioned, does this very well. Lexicon also makes processors (they are HT processors, but do music processing as well) that are highly regarded for their surround-sound extraction processing. A used DC-2 can be had for around $2K, while the new top-of-the-line MC-12 goes for close to $9K retail. JGH, previously of Stereophile, now of TAS is a big proponent of this type of playback (he uses the DC-2) and you can read his exploration of this topic regularly in TAS. -Kirk

i would help certainly if we new what your system was. i think you are in bad need of tubes and some good speakers. if set up right you will hear every thing in the sound stage, clear as a bell.
Read the book "Joy of Audio Electronics" sold by Old Colony Sound Lab. You will find what you're looking for...
Thanks for your suggestions so far; all of you have been a big help. You are correct in saying that you need to know what my system has. Here is the setup: Klipschorns for the corners, Belle in the center, a pair of Forte II for the rear, Mark Levinson 334 amp for the corners, and 434 for the center, and a Proceed amp for the rear. The CD is presently a Proceed CDP. I have no preamp as you could surmise. I am splitting the two channels into five, and controlling the signal with a box I made myself from a schematic diagram given to me from Klipsch. It uses resistors to create a mono signal from the left and right.
I hope that this gives you some insight. Thanks again for your help.
You might be interested in the discussion of this very topic on the Chesky site. They hope to go with 6 speakers, ("6.0" instead of "5.1,") to enable the full feel of a concert hall ambience, etc... Check it out in their chat forum at
I share the same dissatisfaction with two channel as you do and use a Meridian 568 in trifield mode. Meridian is the answer and you owe yourself a duty to audition a Meridian processor. The Meridian 861 is prohibitively expensive whereas you can pick up a used Meridian 565 for a reasonable price and will perform almost as well for what you require. Until you hear two channel music played through the trifield mode, you will continue to experience that frustration.
I still have and use a JVC XL Z 1010 surround unit. This, I am sure, will horrify most dyed in the wool audiophiles but so what. The sound is much more alive when the effects speakers are running. The question of the quality of the effect speakers is bogus since the level at which they have to play to recreate ambience is so low that any decent speaker driven by a low power, clean amp will do the trick. Trying to get "soundstaging" and a broad, wide and deep image with two speakers is mission impossible. Audiophiles love to hear the illusion of music appearing not to come from the speakers themselves, so they set them up as far as they can from the front and side walls getting what I have always heard (my latest auditioning of a state of the art system consisting of Pass electronics and Dynaudio speakers having yet confirmed this) as an "outside looking in" sort of presentation. The use of dipoles, be they electrostats or dynamic panels or conventional dynamic driver speakers, confirms that openess is due to the later arrival of the wave coming from the back of the speaker. Don't get me wrong, I am not stating that electrostats get their sound solely from usually being dipoles, but I digress. With ambiance synthesis, you walk into a room where the system is playing and, unless you get a cue from looking at the additional speakers, what you hear gives you the distinct impression that you are inside the acoustic space. No it's not all perfect, since recordings normally have some ambiance built in, the whole thing can be overdone by layering on too much ambiance. Likewise, some of the settings are just way too obvious (who actulally needs stadium or cathedral, except, in the latter case, maybe for pipe organ or sacred music). I do not know where new formats will go in terms of additional ambiance channels, but one thing is certain: the purists will cringe and will bring out the purity and naturalness arguments and will trot out every well worn cliché to convince one and all that what is really needed in an amplifier with more "air", or some magic cable or better yet an a.c. cord that transcends the laws of physics... I am sure that if you took the guts out of a JVC unit, installed them in a chassis weighing at least 50 pounds, put in six regulated power supplies, cones instead of feet and a facaplate at least 3/4 of an inch thick, build it in America or Europe, associated it with the name of some ex-NASA scientist or Bell lab genius,and asked $20,000.00 for it, a goodly number of audiophiles would go for it. I am sure you could find a used JVC for little money to at least experiment. Simply hide the whole thing if any true blue audiophile friends show up. It avoids arguments to the effect that you are not hearing pure music, the occasional sneer and allows you to save face. Remember, the whole thing with reproduced music is that it is an illusion to start with. Sometimes it simply is a better illusion, you decide.
Whoah! Can't get soundstaging depth or width with two channels?? You gotta be kidding!? Alright, maybe if your room is a mess, or you are forced to set up your pair very near the front or sidewalls (ala typical HT setup), then synthesizing space requires more drivers.

But believe me, a tight triangle of a well-matched pair of great speakers, when set in the nearfield WELL out from the front wall, and at least reasonably away from the sidewalls
(more a function of furniture, dispersion, blah blah blah) will throw a HUGE soundstage!

To wit: I have a 7.5 foot equilateral trangle set in a 14x24
x8 room. The stage extends EASILY 10 feet BEHIND the speaker plane, and a couple of feet outside each speaker, too (12-15 feet wide). I credit this success to cheap and easy sidewall reflection control (furniture and pillows),
proper toe-in, and extremely well-matched speakers (Parsifal Encores). I have NO problem experiencing large and small concert halls, and have truly palpable, 3D imaging of full-sized soloists several feet behind the speaker plane.

As a somewhat-silly earlier-era experiment I set up a couple of old small cheap speakers in an adjoining small room behind my listening chair, in a "Dynaco" style rear ambience pair, with a 50 ohm pot via solid 20-AWG "invisible to Ellen" wire to my listening chair. Whereas I NEVER introduce any rear ambience in classical or most jazz recordings, I sometimes crank up a bit of rear level; I never hear it, per se, but sense a shortening of stage depth (darn!), but a sensation of moving closer to the front of the hall. This non-delayed ambience inducement is useful only for a fuller sense of immersion with rock or electric jazz recordings, especially if audience applause was mixed in too far forward. Whereas it can be a bit novel to dial in these rear speakers, I find that best staging depth is obtained with only the front pair on! I have several friends with high end 5.1 systems, and they're shocked at what can be done with 2 channel in a carefully designed setup. This room is also our formal parlor, and therefore has to be VERY acceptable to Ellen...and sports my Steinway B behind the speakers, too. (It's wonderful to see Tony Bennett standing BEHIND the piano belly while Bill Evans lyricizes with him on that great XRCD remaster!)

Sorry to belabor this, but I also consider the prospect of having to stare at a CENTER speaker where Sonny Rollins or Stan Getz like to prowl around is heretical...and a travesty. And what am I gonna do, sit it on top of the Steinway, where Diana and Kendra, or Jessica sit? Gimme a break!
Two channel is NOT anachronistic, nor necessarily limiting.
Good night, all. Ern
A bit of a stretch on my part, saying that you can't get soundstaging etc. with just two speakers. Should have said that with a lot of dry recordings, early CDs, inauspicious room conditions, mono recordings and the like, the JVC XL Z 1010 can provide a significant improvement in the listening experience. As I indicated, the option is always there to take it out of the system and use it as and when required only. I still feel that additional speakers for ambiance is a good thing. How the whole thing can be implemented is another issue altogether. I agree on one point however: with two channel stereo there simply is less to screw up. Again, though, if we step back every time we are faced with more complex solutions, we would all still be listening in mono with horns and the like. I can see the question better now that I have taken a look at the home theatre front, centre channel and all. Moreover, in looking at SACD players and, more specifically, at the Philips 1000, and reading the literature available on line, I realise that all is not as simple as I first thought. Philips indicates the use of six identical speakers: I now understand the misgivings of a lot of people in the audio press. Six speakers would almost invariably mean six mediocre ones. Also, what the hell are they going to put on the additional tracks that requires more than small ambiance speakers driven with low power amps? Does give one pause, no? I do see the (and I use the term loosely) corrupting influence of home theatre on audio only systems. The problems with inventory in numerous formats is well documented and was the main factor having brought down quad so many years ago. I understand that the technology is apparently there in these two layer discs to insure a level of compatibility. At this point, I think what I am favouring is actually ambience synthesis, obviously in the digital domain, which listeners can use as and when they want, over some overbearing, ham fisted, un-defeatable system that is imbedded in the recording itself. Unfortunately, the window of opportunity seems to have closed on such systems, firstly by the advent of 5.1 HT and, secondly, coming, despite the nay sayers, to stores near you, by the multi-channel SACD format. It's too bad that the technology, pioneered by Audio Pulse many years ago and vastly improved by JVC, Lexicon and, I guess, Yamaha, will never be developed into a fully mature and generally accepted system. So, Subaruguru, you have a valid point, good two channel systems do image, but there is room for improvement by adding more channels. How many more, where in the room to install the extra speakers and what to put through these are the obvious questions. I do hope it's not going to be dopey effects, but something more subtle which, in fact, would create the apparent sound field of actual famous venues. Yes, good two channel does beat annoying poorly conceived and set-up multi-channel systems, but the times are a changin'... lets hope for the better.
To redwoodgarden, here's what I do. get a cheap DD surround processor (Onkyo, Sony or other Japanese). run your 5 channels from the processor to your amps. Now if you have a passive box, run your front speakers into the amp and connect with monster cable dual female connectors. Voila, turn on the processor for movie sound and shut off processor and use passive box or other output switcher for two channel.
Subaruguru, great post. I have achieved similar results with a pair of tweaked out MGIIIA's in a large room. Incredible soundstaging and much more natural to my ears than the "forced" soundstaging of most of the multichannel systems I have heard. Regards.
C'est rien. Je suis un "frogman" aussi! Ern
subaruguru gave the essence of what I was going to say

A well setup two channel setup is much superior to the compromises of HT. I have a pair of Von Schweikert Vortex Screens that just disappear in my room with soundstage well behind and outside their setup.

I sold hifi in the early 80's and recall the ADS time delay system, quite nice for it's time for a deep room.

Redwoodgarden - you owe it to yourself to audition some excellent speakers that truly image.

hi redwood,

here's what i'd do - lose all but the two front corner horns 1st. then get a *good* tubed preamp. then, lose the levinson amps - overkill for klipschorns, imo. i'd bet a $238 pair of 8wpc asl wave amps wood sound better w/the klipschorns. get a decent vinyl rig, also, if ya *really* want a good soundstage. ;~)

the jvc xpa-1010, as mentioned above, really *is* a cool piece of equipment - i have one set-up in my system (out of the signal path, when not in use). considered the absolute best of its kind, when in production - better than the lexicons, yamahas, etc. it really *does* have some amazing processing built-in, to give *only* the acoustic cues from 20 different pre-programmed venues. that said, since i've gone to a tubed preamp, it hardly ever gets used, cuz the soundstage w/simple two-channel is now so awesome, the jvc is redundant most of the time.

doug s.