Hugh Robjohns
Something that seems to interest and intrigue almost everyone involved with audio recording at some point is the topic of stereo arrays: crossed pairs, spaced pairs, Blumlein, and all that. There are various books on the market that cover this area with varying degrees of success, but amongst the best, in my opinion, is The New Stereo Soundbook by Ron Streicher and F.Alton Everest — and I’ve had a well-thumbed copy on my bookshelf for over a decade. This superbly readable reference book was first published in 1991 by TAB Books (a division of McGraw-Hill), but the second edition (in 1998) and this latest (2006) incarnation have been published by Audio Engineering Associates (yes, the big ribbon-microphone people). This third edition has benefited from some useful expansion of detail and new diagrams in almost every section, increasing the page count to around 280 pages (from about 270).

This hardback book starts off with a clarification of the meaning of terms such as monaural, binaural, monophonic and stereophonic, and then moves on to an overview of the earliest (if accidental) experiments involving stereophony by Clement Ader at the Paris Exhibition of Electricity in 1881, before discussing the pioneering but independent work of Blumlein in the UK and Fletcher in the USA during the early 1930s. Blumlein’s original patent is reprinted in full as an appendix and is still fascinating to read.
The next three chapters deal with how stereo sound information can be conveyed (in terms of intensity and time differences between channels), how the human auditory system works, and the underlying philosophy of what stereo recording is all about. With those solid underpinning concepts in place, the book moves in to the meat of the subject, with dedicated and expansive chapters on the basic principles of two-microphone techniques, binaural recording, coincident techniques, the influence of reflected sound, spaced microphone techniques and multi-mic approaches — which takes us all the way to chapter 10.

With the bulk of the meaty practical material now behind us, the book moves on to ‘pseudo stereo’ and what is required to create a sense of spaciousness, before an expanded chapter on multi-dimensional and surround-sound techniques, with lots of good, practical advice and clear explanations. Perhaps the final chapter (14) should have appeared towards the front of the book, since it discusses how to optimise the listening environment, covering room modes, the effect of reflections on loudspeaker imaging, room treatment and so on. Without a decent listening environment, many of the more subtle aspects of microphone technique discussed throughout the book would be lost! After the Blumlein appendix, the book closes with a comprehensive glossary of terms and an exhaustive index.

This book should be required reading for every student (of any age) of sound recording, and a standard college text — in fact it already is in many cases. (Fittingly, UK distributors Affinity Audio also say that they’re happy to offer educational discounts). The writing is clear, concise and unambiguous throughout, and the diagrams equally so. Although the authors burrow quite deeply into the physics and science of their subject matter, it is not a hard book to read (unlike some of the very dry academic tomes out there), and while I would recommend reading it from cover to cover several times, it is also very easy to dip quickly into specific topics when appropriate, because it’s easy to navigate and most sections are nicely self-contained.

The more you know about a subject, the more you realise there is still yet more to know, but this book does a far better job than most in quenching that thirst for knowledge and information. If I was cast away on a desert island with a pair of microphones and a recorder, this is the book I’d want to have with me. More than recommended, this is a must-have for anyone with an interest in stereo and surround microphone techniques.

The New Stereo Soundbook (third edition) by Ron Streicher and F Alton Everest. ISBN 978-0-9665162-1-0, Audio Engineering Associates, £70.

Published in SOS November 2009