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All Mixed Up, Part 1

All Mixed Up, Part 1
by Gary Woods

Almost from the beginning of sound for film there has been a movement to have multiple channel audio and hence multiple speakers placed around the room. Disney’s 1940 Fantasia was one of the first big productions to use multiple channels with 6 being used to record different sections of the orchestra while the seventh channel recorded a mixture of the first six and the eighth captured the overall sound of the orchestra at a distance. The problem was that there were only a very few theatres that could accommodate this 8 channel mix so most everybody ended up hearing it in mono anyway.

As far as motion picture sound and television audio for that matter is concerned we’ve been using a 5.1 system for a long time with a Left-Center-Right configuration plus 2 Surround speakers which are sometimes still strapped together in Mono with the point one being a Sub-Woofer. Even though this configuration had been around for quite a while it was really codified in 2005 when the Digital Cinema Initiative standard brought in the largest wholesale change in motion picture audio presentation since the arrival of widescreen cinema and stereophonic sound arrived in 1953.

This Initiative meant that all theatres were expected to have basic 5.1 systems with the standard actually allowing for a total of 14 channels. There were also two additional channels reserved for mono mixes for hearing impaired people and visually impaired people with one channel providing narration on top of the mix.

After a while, along came a 7.1 system with the addition of two more surround speakers placed along the side of the room. What was interesting about 7.1 is that it actually came from the Home Theatre side of things with manufactures pushing this standard to sell more AV Receivers and Speakers and then it found its way into public venues.

Next week we’ll talk about a new system for Cinema Audio called “Immersive Sound.”

If you have any suggestions or questions for me please drop me a note at or see my column on the Internet at or call me at (805) 729-0910

Gary Woods is the Computer Trainer for the Santa Barbara Association of Realtors and he is a Broker/Associate at Sotheby’s International Realty.