The Production Of Quadrafile

The making of Quadrafile, quadraphonic system comparison record, by Mike ThorneClick on any picture to see enlargement

In 1972, the first commercial disk systems for surround sound, at that time using four speakers and called 'quadraphony', were introduced. Four competing systems wound up fighting it out in the market place, resulting in the eventual alienation of the listening public. Working at a premier stereo monthly and then editing Studio Sound, at the time the world leader in studio technology writing, it seemed obvious to propose a double album with one system on each side. Collecting the source material, dealing with the corporate politics and guiding all the production elements to final pressing in Japan would be a huge logistical exercise, eventually taking well over a year and ending with publication in 1976 just as quadraphony was finally winding down.

I proposed the project to my editor at Hi-Fi News and Record Review, John Crabbe. The budget looked reasonable, helped by technical assistance from the big companies and some elastic sessions courtesy of EMI's Abbey Road studio. The interest we might stir up would be considerable. It was an obvious thing to do.

The four competing companies were CBS (with SQ), Sansui (QS), JVC (CD-4) and Nippon Columbia (UD-4). Since I knew the principal technical people at CBS and JVC, it was simple to present my case for giving them all identical master tapes for them to encode and cut one side of the four in a double-album set. Once these two companies had agreed, Sansui and Nippon-Columbia were happy to follow.

The next task was to collect varied tracks on four-channel tape. Each tape was assembled by copying directly from the master. Securing cooperation from the record companies was surprisingly easy. Even though they stood to gain from the publicity anticipated from the project’s launch, at that time companies were very protective of their recordings, and compilations were not the commonplace release they are now.

In the years leading up to the introduction of quad, there had been several notable recordings made in anticipation of its arrival in the home. One was of Mahler’s Third Symphony (Jascha Horenstein with the London Symphony Orchestra) using just four microphones. The opposite of this extreme purism was a section from Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra, recorded by Columbia with Pierre Boulez and the New York Philharmonic, with the orchestra arranged in a circle around the conductor. The commercial disk issue was issued in SQ, but Columbia had also recorded and mixed it to four-channel tape.

The pop side of quad productions was less adventurous at the time, paradoxically, although Moody Blues’ producer Tony Clarke had remixed all their albums for release on 4-track cartridge, a doomed format popular in US cars and, to a much lesser extent, in the home. However, Alan Parsons had just remixed Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon in quad, and he offered to present my case for its inclusion on Quadrafile to the group when next in the studio with them. Two weeks and a very polite letter later, I had the nod from the superstars. The last pop clip was a special remix in Abbey Road Studio Four of two sections of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, done by Alan with the participation of Tom Newman, the original record’s producer.

All the systems claimed various successes in aurally locating sounds, so with engineer Tony Faulkner (who is now one of Britain’s top classical engineers) I put together an ‘electronic footsy', with various signals moving around the sonic room.

Assembling the four master copies was tricky, because we couldn’t rely on multiple copies from CBS, EMI and so on. To ensure parity between all the recordings, the copies had to be made on the same machine, so we had to borrow the masters from the companies concerned. My paranoia at having the quad master of Dark Side Of The Moon in my safe keeping was considerable. During its brief stay in my basement apartment in South London, it lived inside the piano, which I didn’t play for the time and which I assumed would be very low on a burglar's acquisition list.

The tapes were then sent to Stamford, Connecticut, USA (CBS SQ), London (Sansui QS), Los Angeles (JVC/RCA CD-4) and Tokyo (Nippon Columbia UD-4). The masters were collected in Tokyo and pressed by JVC, then shipped to Hi-Fi News in England, united with their sleeves and numbered for a limited edition. They sounded wonderful. Unfortunately, we got the record out just as the quadraphonic tide was ebbing. But we had created a marvelous collector’s item, and some people even bought them.


Surround Sound at the Stereo Society:
To Surround Sound, an Introduction
by Mike Thorne.
Where are we now?

To Quadraphonics and Music (1974)
by Mike Thorne.
Originally published in Hi-Fi News and Record Review Annual, UK, 1974
About the musical possibilities of quadraphonic surround sound, and some speculation about potential future developments. The ideas still apply in today's 5.1 surround sound environment.

To Recording Gurrelieder (1975)
by Paul Myers (Director, CBS International Masterwork) and Bob Auger (Bob Auger Associates).
Originally published in Studio Sound, UK, June 1975.
In fall 1974, in one of the most complex sessions London has seen, Gurrelieder was recorded by CBS for stereo and eventual quadraphonic release. The musical, production and engineering background is covered, from both stereo and quadraphonic viewpoints.

To Four Sides of the Moon
by Alan Parsons.
Originally published in Studio Sound, UK, June 1975.
Pink Floyd were among the earliest innovators to use four channel sound, and Dark Side of the Moon has won many awards, including several for sound engineering. The author, who engineered these and many other sessions for the band, discusses the quadraphonic record production, and contrasts it with the presentation of multichannel sound on stage.

To the Production of Quadrafile (2001)
by Mike Thorne.
Four sides and four quadraphonic systems, this double album released in 1975 had identical musical sides which differed only in their quadraphonic surround system. The music varied from Pink Floyd's Money to a special remix of parts of Tubular Bells. It sounded really good, but then quad went and died on us.