Multichannel discs, and why.

There is a limited selection of Multichannel discs, and some controversy regarding the merits of multichannel. Certainly there are some inferior discs, but there are also a few that are superb, and demonstrate the potential of the medium to far surpass stereo.

Here are my thoughts on the subject, and I hope that others will offer similar info, perhaps with regard to pop/rock music where I am completely ignorant.

1. The most suitable type of music for multichannel is a small group of musicians like a classical quartet, or a jazz band. The recording can place one instrument, more or less isolated, in each speaker. This has the effect of transporting the musicians into your listening room, rather than projecting you into the performance space. The result is striking. The best examples are Tacet DVD-A discs of chamber music (Mozart Flute Quartets is a good one) and Warner DVD_A "The Bluegrass Sessions...Bela Fleck.

2. "Antiphonal" music is composed with two or more separate groups of musicians in mind, and is a natural for multichannel. A Sony disc of E. Power Biggs playing four separate organs at the same time in a cathedral in Freiburg is a good example. The music is Bach Toccatas and Fugues, and his performance, where the musical phrases are answered back and forth between instruments puts an interesting new twist into these old war horses. The music is very antiphonal, but we never realized this because you usually get to play only one organ at a time.

3. A Telarc SACD, "The Sound of Glory" illustrates another aspect of multichannel. This is a performance by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, 400 voices strong, and backed up by what must be the mother of all organs. It's a huge soundstage, and it takes at least five speakers and several powerful subwoofers to do it justice.

4. The Sony disc of Mozart Sinfonia Concertante (Midori, violin and Nobuko Imai, viola) is an orchestral piece which places a significant part of the orchestra (not just ambience)in the rear speakers. This troubles some listeners, who are used to hearing music from a distance of 100 feet or more. However, for anyone who has played in an orchestra, or sung in a choir this perspective is very realistic, and certainly more "involving" than straight stereo.

5. Polyphonic music, where there are about ten musical lines going on at the same time benefits from multichannel which permits better isolation of the different parts. Teldec DVD-A Chanticleer Magnificat (Gregorian Chants) is an example.

6. Last but not least there is some music that just asks to surround and roll over you like a wave. Of course the example is PentaTone SACD of Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2, famous as the world's most effective seduction music.
You used terms "DVD-A" and "SACD" in different sentences. Are they same in terms of multichannel? How are they different if any? Do they require multichannel components for sound effect?
Ddlpark...DVD-A and SACD are two formats of digital discs, neither of which will play on a regular CD player. Both formats provide for both Stereo and Multichannel playback. You need to have multichannel amplifier and five speakers.

Sony pushes SACD, and seems to have convinced a lot of audiophiles that their recording format provides greater fidelity. However, the very best sounding discs happen to be DVD-A., Go figure.
Give me my 2-channel SACD any day, it's just too bad that the better rock albums are all on DVD-A. Having listened to much of the best audio equipment in the entire world (Wilson Audio, Totem (the very high-end totems), Dynaudio etc.) I can honestly say that 2-channel music, especially in rock, sounds better than MC. I have heard some great MC rigs and have come away impressed but nothing compares to the wonderful pinpoint accuracy and deep soundstage that a really good 2-channel rig (especially on vinyl) can present. The MC rigs just don't sound natural (true I have not heard the recordings that you listed, but I live very close to Soundworks in DC who sells Wilson Audio gear to embassadors at full retail and has the best listening rooms on the East Coast and I have heard the discs they demo their equipment on) especially when instruments are playing behind my head. Fleetwood Mac's Rumors is one of the greatest albums of all time and on my Micro Seiki turntable it absolutely sounds perfect you can tell where every member of the band is standing and the soundstage is deep and wide as though you are in the studio with them watching them all play (not smack in the middle of them), on the MC DVD-A version the same effect is not there. The whole album sounds forced and while it might seem cool at first to have some nice rear fill, the longer you listen the more fake it sounds. That is my opinion and if I hear something that changes my mind I will admit it but as I own both a DVD-A and SACD player and have listened to many different rigs I just have yet to understand paying all the extra costs for a MC rig.