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QSound 3D audio
technofile  by al fasoldt
Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology 
Simple gray rule

QSound puts 3D audio onto your computer
 

Technofile for Feb. 9, 1997
This is an expanded version of the column that appears in print.

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1997, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1997, The Syracuse Newspapers

It rains every time my computer starts up.

It rains all over my family room, thanks to QSound. I don't get wet, but anyone who's new to QSound tends to head back out the hall when the thunder starts rolling out from the wall. When visitors hear the sound of raindrops falling down all around, the illusion is complete.

QSound is a way to turn two speakers into many. It's a method of getting surround sound out of an ordinary stereo system—or out of an ordinary PC or Mac that has ordinary stereo sound built in.

QSound's sonic trickery comes from an audio file that Windows plays each time the computer boots up. It's a large WAV stereo sound file—a digital recording, in other words—of a rainstorm in a forest. It's encoded in the most amazing 3D sound you're ever likely to hear out of two speakers, and it's free. You can get it and many others from the QSound Internet Web site, http://www.qsound.ca/.

(The site can get very busy, so keep trying if you can't get in the first few times.)

QSound has been around since 1988, but didn't catch on big until the multimedia PC revolution put stereo sound on all new personal computers. QSound seems ideal for the tiny speakers that are used with most PCs and Macs, because it creates 3D effects that can turn tiny speakers into Goliaths.

In a QSound recording, sounds come from the far left and far right and even from over your head. If you're like me, you'll be continually amazed at how a QSound recording can make sound come from places no speaker has even gone. In audio, magic like this is hard to find.

Unlike earlier attempts to get 3D sound out of just two speakers, QSound doesn't sacrifice quality to create the illusion. The QSound files available at the company's Web site are as close to Super-Fi as any recording could be, and they can twiddle your tweeter and rattle your woofer with great force if you turn the sound up too high.

I've heard QSound compact discs that make every listener a believer in no-frills surround sound, but I didn't start having fun with QSound audio until I tripped across the company's Web site while looking for something else. (This happens all the time on the World Wide Web. It's called serendipity.) Visitors to the site can choose from many different QSound recordings, and they're available in heavy-duty and "lite" versions—huge files that meet high-quality studio-sound standards or medium-size files that meet typical hi-fi computer-sound standards. All of them are free.

Be prepared for a lengthy transfer if you choose one of the super-fi recordings. Some of them are monster files, as much as 13 megabytes in size—about 100 to 150 times the size of a typical WAV stereo file—and they won't show off their pedigree unless your computer's audio playback system is in top shape.

No special decoding is needed to play QSound audio files. To your computer, they appear to be normal WAV sound files, so they require nothing extra if you're using Windows. Apple Macintosh computers need additional software, available free or at low cost. A popular WAV player for modern Macs is available on the Internet as sound-machine-262.hqx. If you can't find it through a search, go to this site to download it: http://hyperarchive.lcs.mit.edu/HyperArchive/Archive/gst/snd/sound-machine-262.hqx (yes, the name is very long).

Windows 95 users can also get a new QSound converter from http://www.qsound.ca/qs07.html. The converter changes normal sound files into QSound audio files on the fly—while you are listening to them—and costs $15. You get a month of free use to try it out.


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