Yourself in Surround Sound
Headphones/ Cars Go Multi-channel
By Jim Bray
Surround sound technology is poised to make inroads into some new areas.
Headphones, for example. Getting the sound of multiple speakers from
two headphone cups is at best a challenge. It was attempted some years
ago with a crop of generally crummy quadraphonic headphones, an experience
that was enough to convince me it couldn't be done.
That was then and this is now, and the always-innovative engineers are
again promising to free humanity from the slavery of their couches and
Why would you care?
Well, many wouldn't, but one fact of life with audio systems is that
of the so-called "sweet spot" - the one place in the listening room where
the sound from all the speakers comes together in the most delightful
way possible. In a surround sound system, and all things being equal,
this is generally someplace in the middle of the room. Chances are it
may be nowhere near where your favorite armchair rests, however, which
means you may be getting more sound from some speakers than from others.
This imbalance can be fixed somewhat by using your balance controls,
especially in conjunction with the surround sound processor's test tone
generator, but all you really end up doing is moving the sweet spot somewhere
else and that means everyone else in the room could be thought of as sitting
in varying degrees of "sour spots."
Sony's MDR-DS5100 is the first of a new generation of product designed
to ensure that anyone with $500 can have a sweet spot, and carry it around
the room as they move. Billed as the world's first headphone system to
carry both the "Virtual Dolby Digital Certification" and DTS (Digital
Theater Systems) Virtual 5.1 Certification" the company claims it offers
"best seat" theater-quality listening regardless of your location in the
Meant to be used with DVD Players and other audio components that offer
Dolby Digital, Dolby Surround or DTS Surround Sound, the "open air" phones
(they don't have big cups that shut out the world when you wear them)
are also wireless - so you can supposedly wander around at will, within
reason. Sony says the phones' transmitter has a range of about 33 feet,
so it should work in most home theaters.
The transmitter uses infrared light to get the signals from the transmitter
to the phones. This is the same basic technology as what's used by most
remote controls, so it shouldn't pose a problem. I hope the audio transmission
quality has been boosted a tad, however; I tried some IR wireless headphones
several years ago and thought the audio quality was far too buzzy. With
luck, this has been addressed by now.
Sony' system includes built in Decoders for Dolby Digital, Dolby, and
DTS Surround modes, as well as Dolby Pro Logic. Audio signals get to the
transmitter via either an optical digital input or a gold-plated analog
The Sony product may be the first to hit the market, but more are expected
Another new place for surround sound to surface is in your vehicle, thanks
to some automotive-based products that are being unleashed onto unsuspecting
rush hour traffic.
One of the first is Fujitsu Ten's Eclipse DVD 5.1-channel sound/visual
entertainment system, a setup up that combines front and rear speakers
with a front-center speaker and rear subwoofer. Add the Digital Decoder
unit (Model 39011), and your favorite wheels are transformed from a mundane
piece of transportation into a "home theater to go."
The company claims the system lets its lucky owners "experience reference-quality
sound from any seat in the vehicle," boasting that they've used some high
tech digital wizardry to address the abovementioned sweet spot issue to
the satisfaction of everyone in the vehicle, regardless of where they
sit (except the trunk). We'll see.
The Eclipse DVD system can be operated hands-free by hooking it into
a separate voice-controlled vehicle integration system that also controls
a GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) navigation system.
Naturally, such stuff doesn't come cheaply. Fujitsu's suggested retail
price for the DVD unit is $1,599.99, with the DTS/Dolby Digital Decoder
retailing for an extra $799.
Oh, and did you want a TV monitor to go with that?
A nice little LCD monitor will cost hundreds of dollars more - and don't
forget to mount it in the back, where it won't distract the driver.
Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.
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