Wrap Your Ears Around QSound's 3D Audio|
[ No. 19 - May 1998 ]
Using our secret Fez-decoder rings we decrypted an urgent missive about
a small plug-in that supposedly makes Web audio "sound" better. Is it
more unsolicited email spam sucking us into the latest marketing hype?
Well, for once, no. We test-drove software from QSound Labs, and
frankly Scarlet, we're impressed. For $25 (US), you can purchase
the latest in "3D" audio
technology and, at the least, turn mono music into a stereophonic
experience. Though they'd probably prefer we tell you about their
amazing "spatialization" techniques, the most useful aspect of QSound's
iQ software is the stereo conversion it does before its special spatial
The iQ system operates on a stereo signal, converting from mono first
(as needed), and runs it through their QXpander technology. The 3D
"spread" is controlled with a simple slider on the iQ control panel.
Best results are acheived by connecting your computer's sound output to
your stereo system, and placing your speakers in optimal listening
position. If you are using a set of inexpensive computer speakers, you
may not be wowed at the 3D effect, but the mono to stereo enhancement
will be noticeable (and appreciated!).
A small 2 MB download (think 10 minutes' wait over a 28.8k connection),
iQ is available right now for Windows95 users. The Macintosh version is
in beta and may be available by the time you read this. Installation is
very simple and you should spend a few minutes familiarizing yourself
with the controls. If you have questions the included documentation is
iQ enhances just about all WAV-based audio-- that is, anything which
doesn't play through directly on your PC. CD audio and MIDI will remain
unchanged, but RealAudio, Shockwave Audio, AudioActive, MP3, MP2,
Netshow, games, and standard Win95 system sounds will all benefit from
the iQ engine. Other plugins (such as Cakewalk) are available for Win95
apps. The Win95 interface also provides a nice taskbar icon which shows
whether the iQ engine is enabled. With a single-click you can access a
pop-up control panel to modify the 3D spread, or put it into bypass
QSound is not an unknown upstart; they've been around since 1988 and the
younger generation (or at least young-at-heart) of faithful FezReaders
may recognize the name from a slew of traditional arcade games.
QSound's iQ won't turn your Soundblaster into a hundred-thousand dollar
sound system, but it will make the auido you listen to online
(especially streaming audio) sound better. The FezGuys consider the iQ
processor a worthwhile stop in our tireless pursuit of Internet audio
nirvana. It doesn't hurt that QSound is endorsed by Pink Floyd
co-founder Roger Waters. For that, we forgive the perplexing use of
backslashes in their URL in the included documentation. As of this
writing, RealNetworks is providing a $5 (US) discount if you order iQ
through their online store,
That's a good idea. The audio quality of RealAudio over modem speeds
needs all the help it can get!
Internet World - March 9th-12th
(Los Angeles, CA)
We enter the enormous Los Angeles Convention Center, passing
from stagnant daylight heat into cool, dry and flourescent
biospheres of blinding color, full-spectrum white noise at 100+
decibels and an overwhelming press of people. People
everywhere and everyone moving. Call it a ballet of sorts - a
clumsy ballet, full of hog-calling carny barkers in sharp,
double-breasted suits and futuristic headsets shouting phrases
like: "I'm gonna show you something you NEVER seen before!"
One hatchet-faced guy, preternaturally tanned and wearing, of
all things, an honest-to-God straightjacket, speaks the patois
of a used-car salesman, pronouncing all his soft "th" sounds as
a hard "t," making "get with this" into "get wit dis." It's a
living, breathing late night cable infomercial of massive
To obtain admission to this calamitous bazaar we're directed to
a rat-maze of knee-high aquamarine curtains. Back and forth we
wander, with thousands of others, souls in a Dante-esque
purgatory of convoluted seeking. At one arbitrary point in the
habitrail (we can almost smell the cedar chips) another
uniformed security woman asks to see our coupon. After
verifying authenticity she marks our paper with the cryptic
sigil "OS" in yellow highlighter and hands it back.
We continue down the slow-moving pipeline of people, eventually
directed to a monitor and keyboard, one of hundreds arranged in
long lines and hovered over by hundreds of bleary-eyed people
seeking admission to the convention. A personal monochrome CRT
thanks us for being where we are and asks us for our basic
marketing research data, prior to coughing up a convention
floor access badge. The interface is anything but GUI. In
fact, it's DOS, the stuff of bank-tellers, supermarket checkout
lines and the endless horrid drudgery of data-entry clerks.
After confessing to everything we are thanked again and
directed to a booth to pick up our badge. A seated woman with
a pleasant smile calls out our names. We drape the badge
around our necks and enter the arena.
There are multiple hangar-sized rooms, each packed to the far corners
with display booths dressed in breeding plumage that would obscure the
most frantic mating display of the baboon or cockatoo. After wandering
around for ten minutes we're sucked into a connecting corridor, a
conduit from this apparently medium-sized room, into an absolutely
enormous stadium-sized space vibrating within the measurable energy
spectrum; all the way from humming gamma-ray down to the deep sonic
footprint of plate tectonics.
Everywhere we look something is screaming for attention. An old
businessman crouches in a metal chair. He studies a piece of paper in
his lap, lank grey hair falling over one eye, legs tightly crossed.
Above him multi-colored lights whirl. Around him chemical fog drifts
slowly onto his shoulders. Loud, electronic dance-club music pounds.
The attack of technical theatrics doesn't seem to faze him. He
continues to turn pages, oblivius to the onslaught. Suddenly the high
black curtains close, obscuring his poignant pose.
Whew! Actually, from a business standpoint, Internet World is a very
useful event. It's easy to get in (just bring your business card) and
there's lots of little freebies. Except for the conspicuous absence of
Apple Computer, all the major players and most of the less well-known
organizations are present. This show is recommended for those with a
need for up-to-the-minute Internet-related information. The founding
fathers of the technology and infrastucture, the huge multi-nationals,
everyone with a stake in the creation of this culture-molding community
is represented. The size of the event mirrors the global nature of the
SXSW Interactive - March 15th-17th
Thousands of experienced multimedia professionals,
information-hungry artists and the merely curious gathered in
sunny southern Texas at the SXSW Interactive Festival over St.
Patrick's day. This event, held simultaneously with the SXSW
Independent Film Convention, is an offshoot of the much
celebrated SXSW Music Convention created sixteen years ago by
the publishers of the celebrated independent weekly
newsmagazine The Austin Chronicle.
Though by the standard of conventions like Internet World this
was not a Huge Industry Event; SXSW Interactive represented
local and national elements of the Internet Multimedia
community and boasted a very useful element: various panel and
educational seminars, featuring hundreds of respected and
successful pioneers in New Media.
Apple, Sprint and Macromedia represented some of the bigger
names in the industry while many smaller (but no less
important) participants with whimsical names like Team Smarty
Pants, Human Code and Tequila Mockingbird added welcome local
color and compelling evidence that the New Media community is
thriving in the Lone Star State. Prominant figures of the
Internet culture were also present, including award-winning
author Bruce Sterling (a local resident), Thomas Dolby
Robertson (Headspace, Inc.) and, curiously, representatives of
Whole Foods Market and National Geographic Magazine. All
discussed at length the nature and character of their
widely-divergent Internet presence.
One of the more interesting demonstrations, at the Knitting
Factory (N.Y., N.Y.) booth, was a live audio and video
connection with their venue in Manhattan featuring a piano
player onstage, available to play requests. It was authentic
interactivity, in real time, via an ISDN connection. It worked
The much ballyhooed Mac vs. PC discussion failed to generate
any heat. The welcomed focus of the multimedia professional
appears to thankfully be resting correctly on content.
Manufactured debates about the veracity of one technology over
anoother seem to fall by the wayside in the face of compelling
multimedia production. It ain't how you do it kids, it's what
you got goin' on!
While New Media "festivals" continue to spring up all over the
country, most, like the Austin-based SXSW, are focused
primarily on regional community. If you have any interest in
the interaction between the arts and the Internet in a given
geographical area there's no better way to get connected.
In The Fezguys column #17 ("Letters, etc...") we incorrectly listed the
URL for Headspace, Inc., as Beatnik.com. The correct URL should be:
The FezGuys apologize for any confusion.
Hi there! As my server doesn't offer a streamed-lined service, I
tried to download real audio's Realtime Streaming protocol from
their site but the shareware is not available for Mac, anybody been
in this situation [who] has a solution? Thanks very much. -Daniel
Dear Daniel, RealTime Streaming Protocol (RTSP) is RealNetworks'
proposed protocol for standardizing how media is streamed on the
Internet. Most likely, what you're looking for is the RealNetworks
player, which you can download at
You'll choose between
their free player or the $30 (US) PlayerPlus-- the free one should
be fine for nearly everyone. If your local ISP doesn't offer
access to a RealAudio server, take a look at our sidebar in "Geek
Thy Neighbor" (column 6, April '97, on our website) which details
using HTTP streaming to deliver RealAudio through a standard web
server. If you are, in fact, looking for RTSP documentation and
source code samples (Windows and Unix only), you can find that at
Unfortunately, Macintosh examples are
not immediately available. Contact
for more information.
We do the hokey pokey when you get involved in the online community.
Visit us at: <www.fezguys.com>.
About the authors:
Jon Luini is a working technophile, a musician (bass
player/singer) with full-blown facility and extensive
experience on the Web and no free time. He is a co-founder of
of Addicted To Noise, and
runs an Internet and music consulting and technology company,
Chime Interactive (formerly Evolve
Allen Whitman is a working musician (bass player/singer/producer)
with a keen, real-world interest in the practical use of the
Web. Music credits include:
The Mermen, "Brine-The
Antisurf Soundtrack, biL, Deep Field South,
Doormouse, Delectric and Drizzoletto.
He has written for the San Francisco Examiner, Wired, EQ, Revolution,
Yahoo Internet Life, Prosound News, Surround Professional, Replication
News and others.