How quaint. We only have 2 ears, so why have 4 speakers? No wonder these things stopped being made; people must have seen through the marketing hype and stopped buying them. Or did they?
Well, what if I told you that Quadraphonic stereos are still around and quite popular too? What if I told you they renamed them Dolby Surround Amplifiers and gave them an appropriate hike up in price? But wait, you say, I can find old 4 speaker receivers gathering dust on the shelves at Value Village and Pawn Shops everywhere and you're telling me they're the same thing as the expensive new Dolby Surround receivers?
Just about. Let me explain. First of all, the speakers in Quadraphonic setups were meant to be placed in the four corners of a room, while the speakers in Dolby Surround are usually configured with two placed on either side of a TV and two placed either behind the listeners or on either side of them, depending on who you ask.
Well, that sounds easy, it seems like pretty much the same setup - but not so fast! There are a few subtle differences that are nonetheless vital to know if you'd like to set this up yourself. The first is that the two rear speakers in Dolby Surround are actually producing the exact same sound; whereas in Quadraphonic you have four speakers with four distinct sound channels, so you could have John, Paul, George and Ringo each coming out of their own speaker. In Dolby Surround, George and Ringo would have to share coming out of both rear speakers together because the two rear speakers share a sound channel. So that means that to correctly hear Dolby Surround using an old Quadraphonic amplifier, you actually need to hook up the two rear speakers to the SAME output jack (labeled left rear) on the amp.
To recap, the left-front and right-front speakers are hooked up the as you would expect, the two rear speakers are wired into the left-rear jack, and that leaves one jack unused.
Counterintuitive, I know, but there is a method to their madness. It turns out that jack is outputting the centre channel of a Dolby Surround System! That's right, with this little bit of knowledge, you now have yourself a snazzy FIVE speaker system from a $10 Goodwill stereo! Add a subwoofer and you have a complete Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound system that will knock your socks off.
This trick works because both Quadraphonic and Dolby Surround use the exact same encoding techniques. It has to do with phase shifting and other technical minutiae that all sound rather Star Trekish.
Ah Star Trek. Remember that episode where due to some rip-in-time/parallel-Universe thing Tasha Yar came back to the show after having been killed off a few seasons back? She was the same dazzling Tosha Yar as before, except now she was wearing slightly different clothes, and not dead. Well, isn't that just like Quadraphonic after all? It too suddenly came back from the dead wearing slightly different clothes, pretending never to have died.
Yes, we can all certainly learn a lot from Tasha. And now you can enjoy her voice in glorious Dolby Surround too.