Moss: Is Dead Air Better in Stereo?


Brett Moss is RW gear and technology editor.

SRS Labs’ recent announcement of SRS HD Audio Lab might normally go unnoticed by broadcasters. It certainly wasn’t of the magnitude of “Mr. Watson, come here …” or even “Dewey Defeats Truman” but it needs to be treated with more than what would seem to be the first reactions of “Yeah, yeah, yeah, more of that flash-in-the-pan fad of so-called surround sound. Nothing can beat a good vinyl stereo recording!” or “Wow! My kids’ computer games are going to sound even cooler! I think.”

SRS HD Audio Lab is designed to improve surround sound processing and playback in consumers’ computers. It is supposed to be compatible with all current media players (an accomplishment of no little note). It has controls for customizing your surround sound output and environment. It is also supposed to be compatible with all manner of speaker configurations up to 7.1. That would include Internet radio stations and streaming.

Vice President of Marketing for SRS Labs Allen H. Gharapetian stated in the announcement: “Gone are the days when the primary use of PCs was data crunching or word processing. Today, consumers regularly use the PC as their own personal jukebox and enjoy movies and other video/audio content from many sources streamed or downloaded online. Our all-new HD Audio Lab gives consumers the ability to completely customize and fine tune the sound settings for all their content, enabling them to experience remarkably more natural and higher quality audio with restored depth and clarity — the way the artist intended it to sound.”

And it does windows as well … make that Windows.

Putting hype to the side, HD Audio Labs (nicknamed HAL [groan]) handles discrete surround channels, and has onboard algorithms for generating surround sound channels out of non-surround sources, i.e. stereo or mono feeds.

So why is this important if you only care about two speakers, you ask?

Because a lot of other people, especially those crazy kids and their newfangled video games, care about more than two speakers. They also expect their sound to sound “good.” An old-fashioned AM radio signal or an FM signal with phase problems is not going to be listened to. Weak signals are going to be ignored. And even Internet streams that are being pumped through a straw will not be on the Favorites list.

Every radio broadcaster out there needs to understand this. Your audio output needs to sound good. No, make that great. Better than the competition. Your listeners increasingly expect no less.

Pleading poverty is just the first step to dead air.

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