Sound Is All Around

The concept of surround sound reproduction has been around for almost as long as loudspeakers have; in fact, the first movie to feature surround sound was Walt Disney’s Fantasia, which boasted an eight-channel orchestral score. As the theatres of the time were ill-equipped to reproduce such aural extravagance, the Fantasound technical crew (and their innovative equipment) toured the production around the States until it was cut short by the advent of World War II…

For the Fanasia production, the separate tracks of music and effects were actually panned and mixed live by the engineers, to provide the audience with an immersive sonic experience that was literally unprecedented. The multichannel work of Disney and Bell Labs paved the way for the stereo two-channel standard that has endured virtually unchanged for nearly 70 years. In fact, the term stereo is derived from the Greek ‘stereophony’ which means solid sound, and most of the early stereo projects actually employed more than two channels, which was later reduced to the dual-speaker format we know and love today.

Although the cinematic implementation of surround sound required a dedicated touring party back then, nowadays we can bring a surround sound recording system with us in our pockets. The recent and much-anticipated release of the Zoom H2 portable surround sound recorder means that one can make four-track field recordings of a decent quality at a fraction of the price of similar professional devices. There’s a fairly extensive review of the H2 over at O’Reilly, and it certainly seems to be a powerful package.

The H2 features four inbuilt microphones, which can record to a stereo file (either mp3 or WAV) using all four microphones, or to two separate stereo files, one file being recorded from the front mics and one from the rear. The audio quality of the recorded files can be set in the range 64k-320k as an mp3, or 16 bit 44.1kHz – 24 bit 96kHz in stereo WAV. The current price tag for the unit is £159 at Dolphin in the UK, which equates to approximately 235 euro – not bad at all, considering what the H2 is capable of. Check out the review here, which also features quite a few audio samples to demonstrate the quality of the H2 recordings.


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