Life's full of compromises. Each day we make choices if only to render our lives more enjoyable. Adamantly staying straight on the line only causes harm to others and ourselves. The results of hard-lining are very visible in the news every day. Many times a day we arrive at a crossroad. We have to decide about going left, turning right or forging straight ahead. And there's always a reason, conscious or not, that we make the very choice we make. Why did you take the direction that leads home? It could be that someone is waiting for you there. Alternately, you might veer the opposite way and for the same reason. There's always something beyond our control that more or less prompts us to make the decisions we make and not others in their stead. So much for free will.

The last couple of weeks saw us come to an audio-related crossroads. The first is called the Dutch HVT days. HVT stands for Hifi Video Test and is the leading Dutch audio magazine. As the title suggests, it covers audio and video. Being contributors to the magazine, we concentrate on the audio part of the show format. Video is "luvely dahling" for a couple of no-brain hours when you are in the mood to get entertained and distracted. For that purpose, we own a very simple 5.1 setup with a no-region-restricted DVD video player. Sometimes it is very pleasing just to let things passively wash over you. But thus far, nothing about video has yet reached the quality of the bedtime storytelling of many years ago when half-consciousness was mixed with a trusted voice and pictures appeared on the insides of your eyes. Nowadays reading a book is perhaps the closest thing to bring back those early feelings and experiences.

Recovering from nostalgia to a couple of weeks ago, HVT together with Polyhymnia organized a three-day show on their premises. Polyhymnia is a recording and post-processing company which evolved from the world-famous Philips Classical division via a management buy-out. The people behind Polyhymnia, advanced in both mastering techniques and music learning, have embraced multi-channel audio as the format of the future. This means every recording they produce for one of their many customers is in DSD. To facilitate this exclusive SACD focus, Polyhymnia has developed their own recording tools from microphones to mixing consoles.

The motivating force for everyone at Polyhymnia is a love of music. Without this, the job of -- for instance -- a balance engineer becomes downright impossible. In a live recording of a large orchestra, there's always that one missed or out-of-tune tone, unwanted noises and interferences from the hall that must be edited out. If these distortions were left in the recording, you would not enjoy that perfect multi-channel recording. Nobody would want to listen to that record with the funny GSM ring tone! Next to the editing out of extraneous noises, other parts of the recording should be redone for a variety of reasons. Such partial re-recording is done later without an audi-

ence. That means the hall sounds differently. Something has to be done to match this new ambience with the rest of the recording. The balance engineer has to know the score and should be able to read along. This enables him to identify the most opportune splice points. And this is just a minimal fraction of all the work that goes into a final SACD product. That the skills at Polyhymnia are well recognized is shown in the extensive list of labels they collaborate and work with.

Multi-channel audio is really nothing new. In the early 70s, such experiments ran the abundant gamut of Quadraphonics and Quadro. Just as today, various systems and concepts existed then to record and play back multi-channel music. A thoughtful initiative of HVT was to invite one of the balance engineers from that era to give a presentation on the subject.

Linn representative Latham had equipped Studio 2 with a choice of the latest Linn loudspeakers, amplifiers and digital and analogue transports while Hans Lautenslager came to share with attendees his adventures in the villa which Philips Polygram in those days called home. During his 40 years at Philips, Hans had experienced the heydays of vinyl, the launch of the CD medium and Quadro in-between.

According to Mr. Lautenslager, stereo recordings then were exclusively on two tracks until the end of the 50s. Many recording engineers eventually felt that part of the musical hall environment wasn't properly captured. More modern techniques eventually enabled them to record to four tracks which were subsequently mixed down to two. This stereo signal now contained a portion of the ambient data. Some of these four track-recordings were luckily preserved.

In the early 70s and with a sophisticated matrix in combination with an encoder, CBS was able to squeeze four recorded channels into the groove of an LP. A playback decoder was needed to retrieve all four channels, otherwise you'd hear a normal stereo image. CBS called this SQ for Stereo Quadraphonics. There was little success for this system, mainly because the channel separation was very limited. Just as unsuccessful as CBS was Sansui in Japan with their QS system. Philips Polygram expressed interest in their techniques but an appropriate hardware playback system to protect the reputation for high quality PPI was keen on maintaining never formalized.

JVC then invented a better way. Based on the theory that human hearing was limited above 15KHz, JVC placed an FM carrier signal in the freed-up LP bandwidth to encode two additional channels. A special pick-up with an elliptical needle plus a demodulator made true 4-channel surround possible. Though the JVC CD4 technique seemed promising and Philips produced some special recordings in support of this technique, success remained limited. On the other hand, EMI did invest in CD4 and outfitted its Abbey Road studio accordingly.

Through the Linn installation adapted with a specially equipped turntable and CD4 demodulator, Hans Lautenslager played us a sample from a Rachmaninov CD4 EMI recording. The ultimate success of these 4-channel recording was compromised by a run-time differential between the front and back channels, with the physical location of the front and back microphones ideally duplicating the distances of the loudspeakers to the listener in the playback situation.

Many of these 4-channel recordings from the Philips archives are nowadays processed by Polyhymnia and re-released by Pentatone whose Job Maarse elaborated on the recording made in Moscow's Bolshoi Theater, of Mikhail Glinka's opera Ruslan and Lyudmila wherein a special ceiling-suspended micro-phone spider array captured the distinct sonics of this famous venue. Also special about this production is that the orchestra was placed on stage together with the singers, rather than off-stage in a pit. That
makes this recording very coherent. Talking about music and mastering is one thing of course,
listening to one even better. Linn's new Unidisk SC multi-format player with built-in surround processor was now put into action. Not all listeners enjoyed the perfect 3-D sound due to a standing-room crowd but subsequent demonstrations of the Linn equipment in less-crowded circumstances allowed us to hear the system as intended.

After this fascinating presentation, it was time for us to make the rounds. For the HVT days, a large tent connected all the buildings on the lot not only to protect attendees from the unpredictable Dutch weather but also to create additional exhibition space. With two days open to the general public, the third day for press and industry only, we made the choice for day one.