5.1 Audio

Roger Waters 5.1 Listening Party Thursday

Hear the new 5.1 mix of Roger Waters 1992 concept album Amused to Death before you can buy it.

Join us at the Gray Public Library Thursday at 6:30 pm for an amazing musical experience. Visit us Friday and buy the album on CD, vinyl, Blu-ray, or SACD and get a free poster while supplies last.

While not as well-known as many of his albums with Pink Floyd, Amused to Death, deserves careful listening. Waters comments on many things we may have missed because we are “amusing ourselves to death” watching television. Fans will be in familiar territory while finding new ways to think about the world.

The original mix was known for its expansive stereo image, with some sounds seeming to come from outside your speakers. The barking dog at the beginning truly sounded like it was coming from the house next door. The new surround sound mix builds on this, creating an immersive environment in which the listener is enveloped by the sound effects and music. This cinematic experience suits the album perfectly. My dogs ignore my home theater system. The war scenes near the beginning of Pink Floyd: The Wall don’t affect them no matter how loud I play it. The barking dog at the beginning fooled them and thought their buddy Sawyer was outside.

The sound effects are really cool, but it’s the music where the mix really matters. There is a lot going on, so pulling some of the instruments around the sides and to the back makes everything a little easier to hear. And you do want to hear Jeff Beck’s guitar solos, don’t you? (Side note: If you ever wondered how Jeff Beck might have handled the opening of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” from Wish You Were Here, find out here.)

The album was very well engineered to begin with and sounds fantastic in stereo or 5.1. The big songs are huge. “What God Wants” is nice and heavy, the gentle moments are super quiet, and the all the vocals jump right out at you. Waters uses all his vocal tricks while often sharing the mike with some incredibly strong female singers. (Another aside: after my first complete audition of the Blu-ray, I checked out Audio Fidelity’s new SACD release of Joe Cocker’s With A Little Help From My Friends. I’d have to give the sonic nod to Roger Waters and sounding better than an Audio Fidelity release is no small feat. I still recommend the Cocker disc, naturally.)

I encourage anyone who is curious about listening to music in surround sound to attend Thursday’s event. It’s an amazing way to experience great music. I promise you will be blown away. (Also, Sony was kind enough to donate a CD, a CD/Blu-ray package, and some posters to give away Thursday night. )

Quick note on the packages available Friday

The album will now be available in five versions:

  • Standard CD with new stereo mix
  • CD (new stereo mix) and Blu-ray (new stereo and surround sound mixes) in a nice book-like package
  • 2LP Picture disc
  • 2LP audiophile vinyl release from Analogue Productions
  • SACD from Analogue Productions

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.

(Not) The Best of Atomic Rooster in 5.1

Do you collect old DVD-Audio titles? Feel free to avoid The Best of Atomic Rooster unless you find a cheap copy. This is a great example of when a good stereo mix crushes a poor 5.1 mix.

Atomic Rooster is best known because Carl Palmer was on their first album They released an excellent proggy doom metal album, Death Walks Behind You after he left in 1970It’s dark like early Black Sabbath, but the grooviness reminds one of newer bands like Graveyard and The Sword. Much of the prog feel comes from Vincent Crane’s piano and organ.

Doom metal fans certainly should get to know Atomic Rooster–just not with this release. The label that released this has been accused of creating fake 5.1 mixes, but this sounds like a genuine 5.1 mix to me. Unfortunately, it’s not a good mix and the fidelity is disappointing.

Last word: great band; inessential purchase


Note: This is the first in a series of reviews of music for people with surround sound systems. Coming soon: The Yes Album, Quadrophenia, and some older hard-top-find titles.