Surround Sound


Thomas Mowrey Archive

Thank you Mr. Thomas Mowrey for the Historic Articles about Quadraphonic Music. Much Appreciated!


PDF files are approximately 3.5 MB to 8 MB each. For non-commercial historical information only.

Stereo Review Sept. 1969

High Fidelity Sept. 1969

Time Sept. 1969

Electronics World Feb. 1970

Audio January 1970

High Fidelity December 1970

Sound December 1974

Stereoplay January 2015

1. From Rochester Into The Golden Age of Classical Music Recording, by Thomas Mowrey - Introduction (MP4) - Right Click to Download 5 MB file

2. From Rochester Into The Golden Age of Classical Music Recording, by Thomas Mowrey – Text of Speech (PDF)

Thomas Mowrey Discography, at Discogs


From: Thomas Mowrey, March 29, 2015:

I made about 35 quad productions totaling 50 LPs for DG in the 70s, and I estimate that these may be only about fifteen percent of the total DG quad recordings made at that time, as all my colleagues were producing everything in quad then too. Although these recordings came out in stereo, DG never released any of them in the quad home playback systems of that day. I will explain the reasons for DG's abstention below, but first some background information on the development of surround sound: 

Although experimental multichannel recordings were being made back in the 1930s by Walt Disney among others, to my knowledge the modern era of surround sound began in early 1968 during a dinner-table conversation at my home in New York between me and the late Robert Berkovitz (1927-2011). I was working at Vox Records at that time — my first job in the record business — and Berkovitz was an executive at Acoustic Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

We were speculating on the acoustical and aesthetic effects of recording music in a concert hall with four microphones placed in a rectilinear array so that direct sounds of the musicians would be picked up by the front pair of microphones in a normal stereophonic manner, and indirect sounds would be picked up by the rear pair of microphones, thus surrounding a listener sitting within four similarly placed loudspeakers with 360 degrees of sound — direct sound from the front, and reflected sound from the sides and behind. Over that dinner, Berkovitz and I decided to test this idea in some actual concert hall recording sessions with live musicians.

He went back to Boston and arranged to make some experimental recordings in this fashion at the New England Conservatory of Music, while I went to the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York and, early in 1969, made a series of “quadrophonic” recordings of the Eastman Wind Ensemble, which was famed for its “Mercury Living Presence” recording series. Some of my recordings were made in the same four-channel layout that Berkovitz was using in Boston, with the direct sounds of the musicians in front of the listener and only reflected sound coming from the rear and sides. 

However, at that time, in the spring of 1969, I made what I believe was the first quadrophonic recording in which direct sounds of musicians were recorded in a 360-degree array, immersing the listener in true “surround sound”. The music we recorded was called “Angels and Devils” by the Canadian-born composer, Henry Brant, whose compositional modus operandi was what he called “spatial music”. As specified by Brant, the musicians of the Eastman Wind Ensemble were scattered throughout the 3,000-seat Eastman Theatre, and we recorded them with a multiplicity of microphones that were mixed into four channels, to be played back with the listener at the axis of a four-speaker rectangle. For listeners accustomed to hearing recorded music coming only from in front of them, the effect was startling.

This four-channel master tape was played for executives at several American record companies, and within short weeks, one of them, Vanguard Records, recorded the Berlioz Requiem in this fashion with the Utah Symphony in the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah. Columbia and RCA records immediately started making quadrophonic recordings as well — some of them in true “surround sound” — especially pop musicians, such as Simon & Garfunkel — but most orchestral recordings were made with direct sounds coming only from the front, with the rear channels being used only for reverberation. News traveled fast across the Atlantic even before the Internet, and soon EMI started making quadro recordings.

Throughout this experimental surround sound recording period in 1969, I had been in regular contact with a former colleague of mine at Vox, Günter M. Hensler, who had returned to Germany in 1968 to work for Deutsche Grammophon. Günter told me that he had relayed news of my experiments and the consequent explosion of quadro activity among American record companies to the top commercial and technical managers at DG — in particular, to DG’s President, Kurt Kinkele and to the late Peter K. Burkowitz (1920-2012), the Vice President for Recording of Deutsche Grammophon and Philips Phonographic Industries (the two companies had joint ownership and common technical management by that time). Peter Burkowitz was in charge of all DG and Philips recording operations worldwide, and thus was the most influential person in those companies concerning the subject of quadrophonic recording More about Mr. Burkowitz below.

At the end of August, 1969 a musician whom I knew told me that he had a friend — a bassoonist — who had invented a system for putting Surround Sound on an otherwise conventional stereo LP or any other two-channel audio medium. I knew that if it was true, it would be revolutionary. The bassoonist’s name was Peter Scheiber, and I met him on Friday, August 29, 1969. Scheiber demonstrated his invention for me at my house in Rochester the next day, and I was convinced that even though it wasn’t yet perfected, it would become extremely important and valuable. 

On that Saturday 46 years ago, Scheiber and I formed a company called Audiodata to exploit his invention. The next day I called Ray Dolby in London to ask for advice on legal and marketing questions. I had met him three years earlier when he had demonstrated his A301 Noise Reduction System for me at a recording of Mendelssohn Cello Sonatas which I was producing at Fine Recording in the Great Northern Hotel in New York, and I had introduced him to producers at other companies at that time, including the late John McClure at Columbia Records, so we were on friendly terms. Ray was extremely interested and had a number of recommendations regarding development and patenting, and he followed up on those with a letter to me a couple days later.

Scheiber’s invention was the circuit which became known as “matrix quadrophony”. He and I immediately began demonstrating it for the press, which led to a firestorm of publicity and consequent interest from recording companies and audio equipment manufacturers. Before long, Columbia started releasing matrixed quadrophonic LPs, and other companies jumped on the bandwagon as well, including EMI. Deutsche Grammophon and Philips did not. Why? 

In November of 1969, Peter Burkowitz invited Peter Scheiber and me to come to Baarn, Holland to demonstrate Scheiber’s matrix quadrophonic system. All the top Grammophon-Philips Group commercial and engineering executives were there, including the president, Coen Solleveld, the top financial manager, Johannes van der Velden, the top lawyer, Wolfgang Hix, and Hans-Werner Steinhausen, the great technical and manufacturing genius who was largely responsible for bringing the DG technical and manufacturing tradition intact through the war. And of course, Kurt Kinkele, the president of DG itself, and Peter Burkowitz were there.

The demonstration was successful in that we played all of the demo material without any problems, but Peter Scheiber refused to answer all questions about how his system worked, and this engendered a feeling of suspicion among the DG-Philips executives. This suspicion was aggravated by the fact that there were inherent technical compromises in the matrix system itself. The main problem was that, while there was complete electrical separation between diagonally opposite channels in the four-channel layout, the separation between adjacent channels was only 3 decibels. 

On certain types of program material — for example, ping-pong balls bouncing around the room — this compromise was not audible. However, on complex program material in which all four channels were fully loaded simultaneously, the lack of adjacent channel separation was heard by most reasonably sophisticated listeners. It was perceived as a contraction to “smallness” or “tightness” in the sound field. The reason for this was that the matrix system converted the electro-acoustical phase differentials between channels into an actual (if compromised) fourth channel, and without those infinite phase differentials, the feeling of “openness” and “spaciousness” was missing. Scheiber and others eventually developed various circuits and schemes to overcome this limitation — some of them quite good — but the inherent compromise was never perceived to have been completely overcome. 

Returning (at last!) to Ubertrout's question "... about why DGG never went into quad and how far test efforts into quadraphonic sound went at DGG" — a few months after our demonstration for DG and Philips in Holland, Peter Burkowitz and others in the DG-Philips engineering establishment learned how Scheiber’s system actually worked, and they rejected it. I wrote Burkowitz to ask why, and I will never forget his answer: “Why should we buy clouds to bring rain when what we need is sunshine?”

Epigram: Although it had come on with a “big bang”, matrixed quad for home playback of music on LPs and cassettes had a short and ultimately unsuccessful life. However, a few years later, Ray Dolby put Peter Scheiber’s circuit into sound systems that he sold to the movie studios and cinema exhibition chains, where it was marketed as “Dolby Stereo” with enormous success. The electro-acoustical phase differential compromises which had doomed matrixed quad for home playback of music were insignificant when it was used in the context of cinema exhibition, but this usage gave rise to some patent infringement lawsuits, as Scheiber had been the true inventor of the basic circuit which Dolby exploited. See While Scheiber’s circuit provided the basis for Dolby Surround Sound in movie theaters for many years — until the advent of Dolby Digital — Scheiber never believed that he had been properly compensated for it. See (11-2-2003)

© Copyright Thomas Mowrey




For non-commercial historical information only.

© 2015 Thomas Mowrey