Tom Petty’s new album sounds great on Blu-ray

Tom Petty’s album Hypnotic Eye on Blu-ray

Tom Petty’s new album, Hypnotic Eye, was released yesterday on Blu-ray Audio. It’s on CD and vinyl too, but this review will focus on the Blu-ray.

Let’s get the music out of the way. It sounds like you think a (good) new Tom Petty should. It’s got a mix of his deceptively simple well-crafted rockers, mid-tempo songs, and a really cool smoky ballad. Even my wife likes that song. This album won’t create many new fans (besides my wife) but old fans certainly will enjoy it. Audiophiles who think Petty is OK should buy this because…

The Blu-ray is fantastic. Don’t let anybody tell you can’t hear the difference. You can!

It contains stereo and 5.1 mixes of the album and very limited video content. Both mixes contain the same bonus track that is on the LP.

The stereo mix is the same as the CD, but the Blu-ray allows for 256 times greater resolution than the CD. That means that the more complex sounds such as distorted guitars and Petty’s gravely voice have a lot more presence and detail. Can you hear the difference? Yes, you probably can, if you listen on a half-decent system and pay attention. You don’t need fancy equipment or special training.

It’s also more dynamic, meaning that the subtle changes in volume human musicians make are better reproduced. You shouldn’t notice that. Most likely you will think that the music is really expressive, and rocks when it needs to.

There is a huge difference between the blu-ray to the mp3 album preview streams you can find online. The blu-ray has way more bass and power. Petty’s vocals jump out at you. The drums sound much better, etc. It’s night and day.

Some 5.1 mixes have the music swirl around you. That’s prefect for Pink Floyd and Beck, but for a rock record, surround sound should be much more subtle. Here most of the action is in the front three speakers. Some of the instruments creep towards the sides a bit, but that sounds very natural, like you’re in the studio with them. Petty’s vocals and some guitar solos sometimes come out of the center channel. This nicely emphasizes his singing without having to actually make him louder. Sometimes it sounds like he is singing directly to you.

Don’t think for a minute that you can’t appreciate the better sound. You will feel like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are giving a private concert in your living room. Trust me. If you plan to buy the CD and have a Blu-ray player, consider getting the Blu-ray. You’ll be glad you did.

4 comments

  1. Thank you for taking the time to write such a long comment. I will respond quickly to a few of your points. As I’m sure you know, at Bull Moose we don’t do “marketing hype.” It doesn’t do anybody any good to misrepresent something. My enthusiasm for this title is genuine.

    Regarding the sampling rate, I understand the science behind it, but some mastering engineers still think higher sampling rates matter. Either way, the sampling rate on this title is only 48kHz, so let’s set that aside.

    The real benefit is the difference between 16-bit and 24-bit. I don’t know if you have ever had the opportunity to do a controlled test comparing the same master at different bit rates through the same signal path. If so, surely you heard the difference. It’s hard to describe beyond saying that “everything sounds more better” but that’s really what it is.

    The comparison to the mp3 was made to the Blu-ray audio disc, not a stream of the Blu-ray. As you say, that would be pointless. It’s important to remind people that streaming is convenient, but music can sound a whole lot better. (For the record, the mp3 stream I used was the NPR First Listen stream, because a lot of people listen to that before to decide if an album is worth buying.)

    There is exactly one moment in the 5.1 mix when sounds bounce around. It’s just kind of a cool echo effect at the end of a song. Everything else is much more natural.

    Thanks again for writing.

    Chris

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    1. Chris, I didn’t mean to suggest that Bull Moose is being paid to put up this review or anything, but I do think it was was subject to confirmation bias. I’ll just post my quick points now:

      16-bit and 24-bit music sound exactly the same. Everything that 24 bits offer over 16 lies outside of the human range of hearing, and fails to hold up in blind AB testing. The only reason 24-bit audio exists, at least from what I’ve read, is because it is more practical during mixing for reasons unrelated to its increased fidelity (I don’t know why that is, unfortunately). Mixes are generally done in 24-bit in the studio then downmixed to 16-bit during the mastering.

      And I think I misread you when you wrote “there is a huge difference between the blu-ray to the mp3 album preview streams you can find online.” I thought you meant you were comparing a preview stream of the blu-ray disc to an mp3 stream. There is still a major flaw in that paragraph, in that the mp3 stream is likely at a much lower bitrate than the CD, probably at 128 kbps. 128 kbps is where you start hearing a lot of audio degradation, so the stream you were listening to was not representative of the CD quality. If it were a 320 kbps stream that would be different, as at that point I don’t believe anyone can reliably tell the difference.

      Normally with products like this I’d let the hype run its course; if people want to spend their money on hifi audio gear, let them. However, lately with the Neil Young’s Pono and the resurgence of vinyl sales, I’m seeing more and more people becoming convinced that CDs are of insufficient quality and that their own listening experience is subpar. What irks me is that this is not happening because that’s what they’re hearing with their ears, but because they’re reading stuff that is telling them that it must be so. In the domain of audio, there are only two arbiters of worth: the constraints of the physical world and your own ears. Everything else needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Hopefully this does not offend, I appreciate that you replied and everything that Bull Moose does for music (except what they do to my wallet!)

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  2. I love bullmoose but this is typical marketing crap. Assuming a CD and Blu-ray disc contain the same mix, you will hear no difference through the same speakers and DAC. At 44.1Khz, a CD can already produce every frequency in the range of human hearing. This is not subjective, it is established fact (see the Nyquist–Shannon sampling theorem).

    “It’s also more dynamic, meaning that the subtle changes in volume human musicians make are better reproduced”

    The dynamics of a record are determined by the mixing and level of compression, so if the blu-ray disc and CD used the same mix, the dynamics will be exactly the same. Perhaps you mean that the blu-ray disc allows for more fidelity in the dynamics, but irrelevant since the bottleneck there is by far your speaker system, which is physically constrained to resolve dynamics only to a point.

    “There is a huge difference between the blu-ray to the mp3 album preview streams you can find online. The blu-ray has way more bass and power. Petty’s vocals jump out at you. The drums sound much better, etc. It’s night and day.”

    That isn’t how the internet works. The blu-ray previews would stream at a low bitrate, probably around 128 kbps, as would the mp3 album. Unless you have business-class internet, you wouldn’t be able to stream blu-ray quality sound. And even if you could, your computer’s DAC is only able to handle 16-bit, 44.1khz audio, meaning it would be downscaled to CD quality. In short, if the preview streams sound different, that’s an indication of either confirmation bias or different mixes for the two media.

    If someone is considering buying this, it should only be for the 5.1 mix. Personally I find the rear speakers distracting with most 5.1 music, but with a good mix they can add a cool ambiance.

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