The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

28 August 2005

Hey, Four Ears!

One of the basic principles of bloggage is that for every factoid you're looking for, you'll happen upon a minimum of three that you aren't. Being basically lazy, I wasn't going to go into the next room and fish Switched-On Bach out of the shelf just to get the release date, which Columbia wasn't good about supplying in the late 1960s anyway, so I went to Wendy Carlos' Web site, where I was promptly sidetracked by a number of items, including this (it's about halfway down the page):

As a joke gift to a CBS Records producer who was championing a pseudo quad system at the time, CBS's "SQ" (we wanted a true discrete system instead, a topic for another time), Rachel Elkind and I put together this absurd contraption. It's a four-eared quad headphone set, which we called the "Tempi Quadnaural Earphones" (Two channel phones = Bi-naural, so four channels = Quad-naural...)

Actually, the Carlos/Elkind contraption didn't look that much different from the real four-channel headphones that appeared from Koss shortly thereafter, and which I actually bought. (They lasted about three years before it became impossible to repair the horridly-complicated cabling, which wanted to come loose from the control box every chance it got.) I couldn't find a picture of the actual phones out there, but I did catch a photo of the Koss sampler album Perspectives, offered to anyone who bought the Phase/2+2 Quadrafone (yes, that was the name) and sent in the certificate from the manual.

For your amusement, I present, from the liner notes of Perspectives, just what the controls on the box — um, the Programmer — were alleged to do:

  1. Quad Comparator
    In the "ch4" position of this switch the Binauralators and Quad Field switches are removed from the circuit so that normal 4-channel sound is fed to the headphones. The "Ø 2+2" position of this switch activates the Binauralators and Quad Field switches for enhanced psycho-acoustic sound. In either position of the Quad Comparator switch the Ambience Expander switches are active.

  2. Binauralators
    The Binauralator controls perform identical functions on the front or rear channels of 4-channel source material or different segments of 2-channel material. In the "on" position the performing musicians will seem to be spread around you in a circle. By activating the controls separately you will be able to highlight the broad spread of musicans to the front or rear. With either 2 or 4-channel source material, you'll be completely immersed in a totally new experience, amazed at the added presence and intimacy. These switches are operative only when the Comparator switch is in the "Ø 2+2" position.

  3. Quad Field
    In order for a sound reproducing device to capture the bigness and depths of sounds, it must be able to recreate the full spherical ambience of natural sound environments. The "4π" position of the Quad Field switch engages circuitry that is designed to recreate the full spherical environment in which the live performance occurred. The "2π" position reduces the sound sphere to a hemisphere or one-half sphere. The sounds are spread out in front and to the sides. This switch is operative only when the Comparator switch is in the "Ø 2+2" position.

  4. Ambience Expanders
    These switches function either separately or in conjunction with the other Programmer controls systems. In the "e" position each switch alters the ambience of the individual channel in relation to the other channels thereby acting as a reference to help you place yourself within the sound sphere. Each switch functions to change your position within the sound sphere, drawing you closer to one sound than another, as you choose. When all four switches are changed simultaneously there will be no sensation of movement. It is recommended, therefore, that no more than three switches be changed at once.

In other words, each of the Ambience Expander switches throws that channel 180 degrees out of phase; if you hit them all, they'll all be in phase with each other, but not with the source material. There is some doubt, at least in my mind, whether one can tell absolute phase without a whole lot of practice; I'm sure I can't.

The Quadrafone has two standard full-size phone plugs, which plug into the Front and Rear headphone jacks of a quadraphonic amplifier or receiver. (I still have my quad receiver, though it's driving only two speakers these days and I play an awful lot of mono records.) And interestingly, in the straight-quad mode — Quad Comparator switched to "4ch" — the rear-channel information was fed to the front drivers of the phones, which were angled in such a way as to create the illusion that their output was behind you. It was endlessly fascinating for about the first couple of weeks, after which playing with the little switches became more trouble than it was worth. I had about twenty actual quad albums; everything else got faked into surround inside the phones. (The receiver had its own circuitry to do this for the speakers.)

Well, it was fun while it lasted, anyway.

Posted at 12:01 AM to Tongue and Groove