Review: Is Quadrophonic Sound Back? Rhino Hopes So With Four Releases Pulled From The Vaults

Quadio Releases

Videos by American Songwriter

J. Geils Band-Nightmares…And Other Tales From the Vinyl Jungle

Alice Cooper-Billion Dollar Babies

Black Sabbath-Paranoid

Jefferson Starship-Red Octopus


All-2 1/2 out of 5 stars

In the early 70s record companies thought they found a new way to sell and enrich their product, and the equipment to play it on. Stereo had been around for about 20 years, so the idea was to enhance two-channel sound by doubling it into four (two extra speakers in the rear), peddle more equipment to could decode the audio, and re-jigger those stereo albums (and 8-tracks and reel to reel tapes) in the new format often called “quadrophonic.” To make matters more convoluted, there were two different systems, both incompatible with each other.

Despite plenty of publicity and marketing dollars, this was doomed to fail. The quadrophonic concept never caught on and once 5.1 surround arrived through DVD audio and SACD formats in the ’00s, those four-channel relics seemed to be another botched idea forever confined to the annals of tech history.

Not so fast.

Those quad mixes, laying dormant for decades, have recently been dredged up and reissued, both as streams and Blu-ray discs, that can now replicate the surround sound for today’s more common six and eight-speaker system setups. In the past few years, Rhino dug into their vaults to release two box sets of four-channel albums (now dubbed Quadio) created for ’70s bands still popular and touring—Chicago and The Doobie Brothers—to apparently impressive sales.

Enough so, that they return to that well, fishing out four more high-profile titles—available separately- for another shot at generating cash from tapes once collecting dust. The selections reflect some of the finest and most popular items from these bands, which seems like a reasonable idea. But the reality is less attractive.

Ignoring the music’s quality, the presentation is lackluster. Blu-rays can hold much more information than just the 40 minutes available here yet there are no extras (videos, B-sides, live tracks, rarities, pictures) or liner notes to augment the packages. The Alice Cooper edition doesn’t even list the band members.  

And although the tracks—available as high-resolution stereo and four-channel—are touted as derived from the original tapes, they are generally not substantially superior to what is already available. Most existing CDs can be had for less than $5 in their original incarnations but the list price for these is nearly six times that.

It’s not a total loss. The 1973 quad version of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid adds more muscle to the sound, especially noticeable on Bill Ward’s drums and Tony Iommi’s guitar. Some of the surround effects on the Cooper disc are also still effective. But generally, these aren’t worth the bloated charge.     

Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images

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