Review by Christine Tham April 16, 2003 (34 of 42 found this review helpful)
|This is either the most important title ever to be released on the Super Audio CD format, or yet another tired old reissue of an over-rated album from a band that nobody really cares much about these days.
Pink Floyd is arguably the third most influential British band after the Beatles and Rolling Stones. Although they never really reached the mass and enduring popularity of the Beatles, and did not last as long nor released as many albums as the Rolling Stones, there is an aura of cult coolness about them, plus a reputation for the best multimedia concerts (in the 1970s) that cements their status as cultural icons amongst their many fanatic fans.
Early Pink Floyd music was rather psychedelic and spaced out, and was dominated by Syd Barrett. However, his increasing mental instability led to the introduction of guitarist David Gilmour. The band's golden years literally started with this album, which almost singlehandedly spearheaded the popularity of "rock concept albums" in the 1970s. Originally released in 1973, it was a 'tour de force' that brought the band mainstream success. The album pioneered innovations such as significant use of synthesizers to add texture and complexity to the music, thematic linkage across songs and lyrics that appealed to every misunderstood and confused teenager. Of course, the album also gained a reputation as being best experienced whilst under the influence of strong and illicit mind-altering chemicals.
The band continued to release a number of increasingly dark and moody conceptual albums well into the early 1980s, but in my opinion never quite matched the genius of this album (although I am sure some fans would strongly disagree with me). Eventually the band broke up but reformed in the late 1980s minus their de facto leader Roger Waters, who has never quite forgiven his fellow band members ever since (although lately there are signs that a reconciliation may yet be possible).
For this review, I have decided to compare the 30th Anniversary Edition - remastered from the original stereo and multi-track master tapes into a Hybrid Stereo/Multi-channel SACD - with the following other versions in my possession:
- original International release CD (Harvest CDP 7 46001 2), released in the mid 1980s (cover printed in England, CD made in Japan)
- Japanese remastered "Eternity Gold" 24 carat CD (EMI/Harvest CP43-5771), released in 1989 (cover and CD made in Japan)
- "Limited tour edition in Pink Vinyl" Quad LP (EMI/Harvest Q4 SHVLA 804), purchased in the late 1980s (Australian pressing)
- bootleg dts 5.1 music CD (source unknown, CD-R copy)
To facilitate doing the comparison, I mainly concentrated on the songs on "Side A" - from "Speak to Me" to "The Great Gig In The Sky". I initially expected that most of the versions would be somewhat similar and any differences to be fairly subtle and hard to spot, so imagine my surprise when I discovered each version has a very unique sonic character.
First of all, the Quad LP, which I listened in stereo. This has been encoded using the CBS "SQ" system, resulting in a very expansive and enveloping soundstage. The phantom rear imaging on this has to be heard to be believed - I could have sworn I had engaged surround processing by mistake and the rear channels must have been active! I kept checking and rechecking my system to confirm that I was indeed listening in stereo and all the music came from the two front speakers. During the first three tracks I detected numerous instances of pans (synthesizer drones and noises, running and panting) around and behind me and the "explosion" towards the end of "On The Run" seemed to be all over the place. The vocals are somewhat sibilant and "brittle." The clock chimes at the beginning of "Time" are so eerily realistic they send chills down my spine. Finally, Clare Torry's voice in "The Great Gig In The Sky" sounded the most detailed compared to all the other versions - full of micro-dynamics and subtle phrasing. The album was quite pleasing to listen to and sounded "relaxed" compared to the digital formats.
Just as an experiment, I briefly engaged Dolby Pro Logic II (music mode) processing. Although this resulted in an even more expansive soundstage, in general I felt surround imaging was compromised compared to the phantom imaging I was getting from listening using two speakers. There was a tendency to steer things towards the front and to reserve the rear speakers for ambience, although certain instruments had a tendency to suddenly come from behind. However, the additional digital processing added a "veil" to the music that I didn't particularly liked, subtle though it may be.
And now onto the 30th anniversary edition. I first listened to the DSD stereo section of the disc. Initially I really did not like what I heard - I felt the vocals and instruments sounded somewhat veiled and recessed compared to the LP. When I turned up the volume, it sounded better, but also somewhat artificial. The first thing I noticed was the increased bass prominence. There seemed to be a lot of bass, but it sounded somewhat boomy and ponderous. In addition, the cymbals and the clock chimes (in "Time") sounded distinctly harsher compared to the LP, and the instruments in general slightly "pinched." This is obviously a different stereo mix from the Quad LP. The soundstage is much more front-centred, but still retains a fairly deep "3D" character. On the plus side, this version is noticeably better than the two older CD versions though not much better than the CD layer on the hybrid disc.
The CD layer in comparison sounded slightly more distorted, but at the same time the instruments were more "dynamic" and less "pinched." Overall, this is a more "relaxed" sound than the DSD stereo version, which was the opposite of what I expected. The cymbals sounded less artificial, and the bass smoother and not as boomy.
The less said about the original CD release the better. This sounds extremely muffled, dulled, blunt, and lacked detail or dynamics. It also sounded "softer" in volume levels than the other CD versions but even when I cranked up the volume levels the music still sounded uninvolving. On the plus side, the vocals on this version sounded the least harsh compared to the others, but that is due to a blurring and lack of low level detail.
The Japanese gold pressing was one the best sounding CDs I have ever heard when it was released in 1989, but now sounds somewhat dated and lacking in fidelity compared to the SACD. Of all the CD versions, it is probably the most "analog sounding" and closest in terms of sonic character to the LP. The high frequencies are well reproduced, despite the CD being mastered with preemphasis, and the clock chimes are quite impressive. Imaging seems sharper and more well defined on this version, although the soundstage was relatively flat and two-dimensional. Some instruments seem to be less pronounced on this version than the others, and the bass seems really "pinched" and boomy. The explosion towards the end of "On The Run" sound somewhat muddy and indistinct.
Comparing the multi-channel versions, I started with the DSD multi-channel version on the new SACD. This easily turns out to be the best sounding version of the bunch. Remixing from the original multi-track tapes seem to have removed an entire layer or "veil" and bring us closer to the music. The instruments are much better defined as they have been separated across more speakers, and I heard additional detail and instruments compared to the other versions. This also has the most "balanced" sounding equalisation, with tight bass, plus clean and clear cymbals. However, vocals are somewhat disembodied and sibilant. My biggest gripe is that the surround mix is somewhat "conservative" and "unadventurous" - the sound effects in the first three tracks are crying out to be mixed and panned imaginatively. After the zany imaging on the Quad LP (and also on the dts 5.1 music CD) I found the instrument placement and panning somewhat pedestrian. I did notice some instrument placement between speakers, not only across the front speakers but also between front and rear speakers and across rear speakers. The bass sounded very balanced and natural, with additional low frequency extensions that were reproduced faithfully by the subwoofer.
Lastly, the bootleg dts 5.1 music CD. This seems to have been mastered from a Quad LP that has gone through an appropriate decoder and then re-encoded onto dts 5.1 (or, actually, 4.0 as the centre channel and subwoofer appear to be silent). I can hear not only telltale pops and crackle (although there has been some attempt to digitally edit these out as well as surface noise). I can also hear inner groove distortion towards the end of each "side." The surround mix is quite interesting and feature interesting clockwise and anti-clockwise panning of sound effects. However, the surround imaging is highly unstable (as you might expect from any matrix decoding process) and will result in interesting anomalies and sudden shifts of instrument positioning.
In summary then, I would probably rank the different versions in the following order (from best to worst):
- DSD 5.1 on SACD (for the additional clarity, extended bass, but I wish the surround mix was more faithful to the Quad version)
- Quad LP (listened in stereo) (for the most relaxed and well articulated presentation, plus a killer soundstage and virtual surround imaging)
- CD layer on Hybrid SACD (I'm scoring this high mainly because it sounded the most "relaxed" compared to all the other CD versions)
- Japanese Gold CD (slightly flawed by today's standards but still holds up well)
- DSD stereo on SACD (this is a controversial rating since it mostly sounded better than all the other CD versions but I am marking it down because of the heavy and ponderous bass)
- dts 5.1 CD-R (gives a hint as to what the Quad mix is like)
- original CD version (last and very definitely least, it confirms every prejudice against CDs)
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Review by Joerg Schlüter November 1, 2005 (11 of 15 found this review helpful)
|First I come in contact with Pink Floyd music end 60s, beginning 70s. All on LPs and with cheap phono.
When this album first was on LP, I was impressed about the music and fascinated. The later, when CDs came, I bought the first CD. This was good, 'cause I could hear it in full length without changing the side. But I wasn't able, to say, whether it was a good recording.
Now I have a SACD/DVD-Player and what shall I say. Only "Wow"? It is too less. The LP-rocording and also the first CD-recording hidden too much of this complex work. This came clear, when I compared the CD-side of this SACD and the stereo-SACD with the multichannel recording. The stereo-SACD is better than the stereo-CD, but even the stereo-SACD is still hiding too much. Now, the whole complex of this work and the details, never heard before, came clear and understndable. This multichannel-recording is absolute fantastique it helps to understand the work.
Now, this is an example, how the complex work, which Pink Floyd has always recorded, can be done "visible".
This multichannel recording honours the work of Pink Floyds "The Dark SSide Of The Moon".
I hope, all their works, even the "old ones" (Atom Heart Mother, UmmaGumma etc.)will be soon available as multichannel-hybrid-SACDs and with same fantastique with love rerecorded.
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