MedianiX Shows Virtual Surround-Sound at AES Meeting

Silicon Valley, Jan. 28---John Sunier, host of the nationally syndicated radio program Audiophile Audition, and I were here last night at Cogswell College for an Audio Engineering Society-hosted lecture and demonstration by MedianiX. The Mountain View-based semiconductor company has pioneered a "virtual multi-axis" ("VMAx") surround-sound technology using only one pair of closely spaced loudspeakers.

Senior Product Marketing Manager Larry Gaddy discussed the conceptual and perceptual limitations of traditional two-channel stereo. One of the format's primary defects is that sounds from both channels are heard by both ears, creating difficulties for listeners attempting to localize those sounds in apparent space. Quoting work originally done by Don Keele of Audio magazine and misattributed to Floyd Toole, Harman International's VP of Engineering, Gaddy mentioned that one cure for this would be to build a wall between the loudspeakers almost up to the listener's face, thereby allowing each speaker to reach only one ear. A more elegant solution is decoding the left and right signals so that they create a more realistic soundfield, he said.

MedianiX does this with a pair of closely spaced nearfield monitors. When heard at a distance, the sound resembles ordinary stereo, but stepping in close to the speakers reveals an extraordinary depth of soundstage.

Applications engineer Ron Knapp conducted demonstrations using a Panasonic SL-5400 portable CD player feeding a three-piece Boston Acoustics Media Theater System set up on a table on one side of Cogswell's auditorium. Using a Dolby Surround demonstration disc (Surround Test CD 1, Helsinki Media HFICD-2), Knapp convinced this skeptic of the potential of his company's technology.

Field recordings of insects buzzing, a tractor starting and driving past, and a subway train arriving and departing, were all rendered with an amazing degree of realism. I almost slapped the side of my head to ward off an approaching mosquito. The subway was palpable even way off-axis.

Another demo, which I did not listen to up close, was a replay of an action movie with plenty of bombastic sound effects. I long ago learned to distrust the usefulness of such pieces, but the buzzing insects and the subway train's opening door---which felt like I could walk through it---have really piqued my interest.