Supplement to Neil Diamond in Quad

This is an addendum to the original article,  Neil Diamond in Quad  on Honey Drippin' Times, for those who want additional information about Quadraphonic recordings, Neil Diamond's in particular.

The 3 Most Common Forms Of Quad Encoding

Why Does the Quad Serenade Sound So Different, Even When Played In Stereo?

I believe that the original sessions for Serenade were done on a 24 track machine. Based on what I know about recording sessions, a few of the tracks were used for "ambience" but the majority of them were used to hold separate instrumental and vocal tracks. Professional sound engineers (like Armin Steiner) would take these 24 tracks and mix them down to an aesthetically-pleasing 2-track stereo master, used to create a master tape that would eventually spawn LPs, CDs and cassettes.

In order to create a quad master to spawn quad albums, the producer and engineer had to get the original 16-24 track session tapes and remix them to create a 4 track master. This process was separate from the original 2 track stereo mixdown- basically they had to do the same thing over again. Naturally, since there were 2 separate mixdowns done a year apart (2 track and 4 track), they wouldn't quite be identical... it would be like getting lightning to strike twice. Invariably, *some* differences would creep in.

Serenade is especially intriguing for the mass-replacement of vocal tracks all over the place! Neil had done several vocal takes for the Serenade sessions, and the decision was made to use some of the alternates for the quad version instead of attempting to enhance-for-quad the original stereo mix. This can provide endless speculation as-to how many musical parts ended up on the cutting-room floor!

What You Need To Play Neil Diamond In Real Quad

Neil Diamond's quad album was on Columbia Records, so it used SQ matrix encoding. This is both good and bad. Good, because it's not too difficult to locate equipment to play it these days, bad because SQ was never the greatest-sounding thing in 4 channels. Columbia's SQ quad albums did not require a different turntable, or a different cartridge. Remember that playing it in stereo with 4 speakers attached is NOT quad! Originally, the SQ decoder was a separate box, hooked to TWO standard stereo receivers. This was necessary because the signals going to the front and rear speakers were not identical. Hi-Fi companies, by 1972, started to build quad receivers with the SQ decoder and two amplifiers built into a single box, making hook-up a lot easier. In short, all you really need is a quad receiver with the SQ or SQ-logic mode and 4 speakers.

You can also hook up your turntable to a modern Dolby Pro-Logic receiver, which has *some* compatibility with SQ quad. The matrix formula for Dolby Pro-Logic Surround and SQ quad is similar.

How Does It Sound In Quad?

I really wish I could say nice things about this, but no, I have to be honest. It's really not all that impressive. Some albums, like Sly and the Family Stone's Greatest Hits, sound terrific in quad. But not Serenade. One of my receivers is an early 70's Fisher, with SQ (no logic) and it's best described thusly: Imagine, if you will, a narrowed-stereo (almost mono) version of Serenade with a major cut in the bass and a discernible de-emphasis of some instruments and an odd emphasis on others. Then imagine this midrange-heavy version of Serenade played simultaneously with a full-ranged one on the front speakers.

My second receiver is of later vintage, a 1975 Kenwood, nicknamed "The Beast" for its sheer weight. It has SQ-logic, which is circuitry that tries to enhance the separation between channels. Tries is pretty accurate- in all honesty, SQ-logic is a little strange-sounding. The left/right stereo separation can be astonishing. The rear channels contain a considerably altered stereo image, and a very different emphasis on musical elements (echo effects, certain instruments) that are normally buried in the stereo mix. The real result is the infamous "SQ drift" where the center image doesn't always stay centered and sound has a tendency to cut in and out, especially on the rear (this is also called "pumping", when the SQ-logic circuits misinterpret SQ code and makes for odd volume surges at inappropriate times). Serenade's rear channels are almost unlistenable through headphones! Which really makes you wonder if the SQ code was applied correctly, and if the real intent of this album was to make a pleasing alternate version of a stereo album! I'd found the Sansui QS (RM) mode to be much more pleasant-sounding for 4-channel listening.

One Final Alternative For Serenade Fanatics

As you can see, storing 4 channels on an LP has some real disadvantages. There's a very real difference in how a quad LP decodes from receiver to receiver, since the quad effect is dependent on the SQ decoder and how well it can interpret the LP matrix encoding.

There is one final alternative- Quad 8-tracks. They open up their own can o' worms (poorer sound quality, fragile old tapes get jammed and damaged easily, tapes shed oxide, pads shred with age). Quad 8-tracks are not compatible with regular 8-track players and require a special player because the track configuration is different. Quad 8-tracks have 2 programs of 4 discrete tape tracks while normal 8-tracks have 4 programs of 2 discrete tape tracks.

On top of that, the Quad 8-track of Serenade had the track sequence altered, which can be jarring to those accustomed to the LP sequencing, and the front graphic was marred by overly-large print.

Columbia Serenade Q8

What they do have going for them is that Quad 8-tracks have all 4 channels locked into 4 separate tape tracks. Therefore, the 8-track would playback EXACTLY what producer Tom Catalano had intended, with no margin of error or odd decoding anomalies. This is as close to the 4-track quad master as a consumer would ever get. I just thought I'd mention the 8-tracks, although my true interest is in LPs, for compatibility purposes, longer shelf life and sound quality.

All this said, in reality, my quad copy of Serenade spends most of its time being played in the stereo mode!
CLICK HERE for an example.

Wannabe Quad

Thanks to a generous donation from Ralph Bukofzer, I have in my hands a very unusual item: A wannabe Quad 8-Track. At first glance, I knew that something was wrong- this cart has 4 programs, while real quad carts only have 2 programs. And this one lacks the quad groove that allows the sensors in quad 8-track players to switch it into the quad mode.

There's only one thing that this could be: a stereo 8-track cartridge. I mused that perhaps it contained a dub of the quad version of the album, so the quad encoding would be actually the stereo translation of SQ. Nope, not even that. I played it and it turned out to be a simple dub of the regular Serenade record album, actually recorded from a record, with authentic turntable rumble and occasional pops and clicks! And it was recorded somewhat off-pitch, playing faster than standard speed. But aside from that minor little thing, the sound quality is excellent.

Adding to the suspicion of the tape's origin is the large number of "bonus tracks" which actually came from Neil's Hot August Night on MCA. Since both companies did not work together, that basically means that this wannabe 4-channel "quad" Serenade is a pirate cartridge. Somebody did go through a lot of trouble to make this. Technically, the tape is a double-play, the equivalent of almost 2 albums, although pitched incorrectly. The front labels are cardboard, in color, and laminated. The back label is matte black and white, but clearly professionally typeset and printed- definitely above and beyond the abilities of a basement bootlegger.

It's bizarre to see items like this. Someone had put in a lot of work to create a bogus "4 channel" 8-track of Serenade, yet the charade could have been taken farther. It could have been recorded at the right speed... it could have contained a dub of the SQ album... but it didn't. This is just too weird for words.

Pirate Serenade

This article is Copyright 1999-2001, K.F. Louie. May not be reproduced without the written permission of the author.

Questions, Comments, offers of Quad equipment and/or records may be addressed to:

The "Thank You" List:
Iris Gerhardt, for providing the scans of the 8-track!
Ralph Bukofzer, for alerting me to the existence of the pirate "4-channel" tape and his donation of it to the cause.

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