Time Warp: Surround sound revolution in the home

Wouldn’t it be great if you could have witnessed the whistling bullets and screaming drill sergeants of Platoon or screeching, scuttling Aliens come alive in the relative safety of your own living room, instead of hauling the whole family off to the cinema to properly appreciate the impact of the soundtrack of those epic movies? Or feel the shattering, supersonic speeds rattle your bones as the ace pilots of Top Gun tore around in the skies seeking out the Ruskies?

That’s what the boffins at Yamaha must have thought too, because just as those seminal films hit the cinemas way back in 1986, the Japanese company’s R&D department proudly bore the fruits of its recent labour, the Yamaha DSP-1, from the lab.

The same year, almost prophetically, that the wondrous Pixar Animation Studios was opened, Yamaha introduced the floppy-haired, flared jeans-wearing world to the concept of home theatre, changing the face – or rather ears – of home entertainment for ever. In one fell swoop, it provided a whole lot more exercise for our ears, plus the introduction of that trademark ‘DSP’ moniker to befuddle millions of tech newbies for generations to come.

Yamaha’s ‘Digital Sound Processing’ machine took the accustomed stereo audio signal and created from it six channels of sound. So, thankfully, DSP was a better innovation than it was an abbreviation, because it heralded no less than the advent of surround sound in the home of a regular Joe. Previously, you’d have to go to the cinema to experience the sound in its full glory as (directors like to tell you when they release Director’s Editions of their movies on DVD) “it was originally created and intended to be heard”.

If ever there was a friendly red flag to the bull of home entertainment junkies, the DSP-1 was it, none-too-subtly intimating that if you didn’t have surround sound in your lounge then, well, you had not in fact – as you might have previously thought – seen and heard it all.

Your ears and, perhaps more importantly, those of your mates who you intended to invite round to your place and demonstrate your God-like foresight, audiophilic erudition and immensely good taste could now enjoy up to 16 different ‘sound field’ programs to suit the source material.

So, in 1986, that meant you could hear John Farnham’s brand new release Whispering Jack play out on the ‘concert hall’ setting or watch Mike Tyson win his first world boxing title under ‘stadium’-like audio.

From here, it would only get better, but to be credited as the pioneer of domestic surround sound (and the home cinema phenomenon that grew from it), as the DSP-1 surely was, seemed like a pretty good start.