I’ve always been a Stereo purist.  There’s something within the concept of 5.1 applications where classic music is concerned (outside the scope of the original recording), that makes it seem wrong to me.  In fact, I liken 5.1 mixes to be a vision of the remixing engineer and not the original band, who, often, cannot, or may not, be actively involved in the reconstruction of the recording.  But that’s me.

I understand that many fans of classic bands, and those bands’ great albums, are often very appreciative of a surround mix.  Decades past, there was the failure of four-channel Quadrophonic, a format that I immediately bought into.  Thinking that I would be whisked into a magical state, I set about acquiring as many available titles of favorites that I could only to be deflated afterwards.  Soon, I would simply abandon the format because, well, it didn’t work for me.

When SACDs and DVD-Audios created a resurgence of interest in multi-channel forms, I, once again, held some hope of being wowed by the “magic” of re-engineered track manipulations.  With the exception of a few (for the obvious reasons) that included Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon (because Pink Floyd WOULD have used it to create their music if the technology had existed back then), I quickly discovered that I had little to no use for 5.1 remixes.

Being a Stereo purist, I hunger and clamor for the beauty often found in DSD or newer technologies to create hauntingly beautiful unmaskings of old favorites.  Today’s tech can revitalize old masters that often you find yourself hearing something for the first time.  That’s magic!  For example, I am in love with the Vic Anesini remaster of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence”, and it isn’t even a hi-res version.  The Steven Wilson remixes of Aqualung was revelatory and important.  As were the recent ELP titles.  I CANNOT wait to hear the magic visited upon Trilogy, my most favorite of ELP recordings.  There are others!

But we could go on and on on the merits of hi-res or remixed titles.  Yes, I have mentioned hi-res formats such as SACD, and the emerging Blu-ray Audio, but those are not the only thing.  As I have said, well remastered or remixed Stereo tracks are just as satisfying.

Recently, our writer, Bob Metcalf, wrote on several classic albums that were remixed to include 5.1 surrounds.  He is also a Stereo purist who prefers the original audio presentation as laid out by the band and their then producers. Those mentions got me to thinking about the formats and developed an interest in bringing it into a public forum for discussion.

Now, please (PLEASE) bear in mind, that I have no qualms with fans who enjoy such a style of playback.  In fact, I totally understand it.  Music is of a highly personal experience.  If spreading those notes and instruments around the room to create unique stages does it for you, then, who’s to argue?  Certainly not me.

So, note the intent of this article and request for discussion, is not an opposition piece designed to decry the merits of 5.1.  The article was written to try and gain a better understanding of why some enjoy the 5.1 remixes that, for the most part, accompany some SACDs, DVD-Audios, and Blu-ray Audio of high profile albums.

Mobile Fidelity typically do not include such mixes into their Stereo SACD releases.  But there are some that feel that it is an imperative inclusion, and, therefore, are found in Jethro Tull’s recent reissues, and the current reissues of the Stephen Wilson mixes of ELP’s first two albums.

SO, chime in and tell me which format you often prefer, Stereo hi-res mixes, or the promise of 5.1 Surround mixes.  I’ll be very, very interested in the outcome of these statements.

By MARowe

24 thoughts on “Poll: Are 5.1 Surround Remixes That Important?”
  1. I prefer stereo because of all the concerts I have been to. The bands are always in the front, stretched across the stage, as are their loud speakers. I want my listening experience to reflect that; for me it’s as simple as that. A few 5.1 remixes have been incredible, especially the recent Larks’ Tongues, and the details emphasized brought new dynamics to hear. But in the end, those little bits were not pronounced on the original stereo mix, and therefore I climb back into my chair and sit in the sweet spot and enjoy my good old stereo.

  2. I enjoy the 5.1 mixes and have quite a few discs. I won’t say I enjoy them more or less than the original stereo mixes but a good 5.1 mix does turn something old and familiar into a new experience. You will hear some details that weren’t as noticable in the stereo mix. For the most part stereo works just fine, as it always has but, if nothing else, a 5.1 mix can give you a new/different perspective.

    One other important note (for me at least). I have bought some of these albums 5 or 6 times over my life. In many cases a 5.1 mix included with the remaster will tip my decision on whether or not I should buy that remaster for a 7th time. I call it value added. In many cases the difference between the previous stereo edition and the remaster edition is subtle and therefore purchasing it is debatable. Having that 5.1 mix may be how I can justify buying something I already have.

    Finally , I do like the feeling of immersion that a 5.1 mix can create however no one should expect it to, as you say, ” whisk you into a magical state” (you need something a lot stronger to do that…LOL), That was probably my biggest misconception as well when 5.1 releases first became availabe.

    Overall I feel a 5.1 mix is a nice alternate way to explore music. Not better, not worse, just another take on an album that allows the listener a different perspective.

  3. I actually really enjoy the 5.1 mixes. Many of the concerts I’ve attended including Pink Floyd, ELP, etc. used a non-traditional set up that was not in the front stretched across the stage. I’m happy either way, but I think some artists are better represented in 5.1 and some are better in stereo. Would I want a Robert Johnson recording in 5.1, probably not. King Crimson, Pink Floyd, ELP, etc., most definitely. As a reference point, I grew up listening to a hand held AM radio with one 2 inch speaker, or a single ear plug.

  4. I personally love 5.1 mixes, but I think there are artists that warrant the treatment and those that do not. Floyd is almost a no-brainer, but I also own box sets by Bjork and Gabriel-Era Genesis which also provide a worthwhile listening experience.

    I also own some of the Talking Heads amp; Depeche Mode Surround mixes which I don’t really find to benefit from the treatment as much.

    I looking forward to Jimmy Page putting out Deluxe Versions of the Zeppelin catalog in 2013, I could see a 5.1 mix of IV (Four Sticks!) through Physical Graffiti being awesome, but the other records wouldn’t necessarily warrant it…

  5. I prefer 5.1 surround because I like hearing the sounds spread across the room and getting the feeling like I’m sitting in the middle of the music. I hear so much more detail in 5.1 mixes that tend to get lost sometimes in their stereo counterparts. Most of my favorite 5.1 mixes still retain the feel of the original album, and I’m always of the opinion that if a 5.1 surround or stereo remix of a classic album is released in a package, that the original stereo mix should always be included to satisfy the ‘purists’. No doubt though that high-res makes everything sound better, in stereo or 5.1

  6. I am set up for stereo only so I have no “preference” since my experience has almost solely been stereo. I think the remixes have been fantastic. Each format, vinyl, CD, SACD, DVD-A, Blu-ray, etc has there own strengths and weaknesses. The original mixes catered to vinyl so having remixes for other formats are a very good idea. I like the way the Wilson, Thick as a Brick, release was done. You get the 5.1, the remix in stereo, the flat hi rez original and a straight CD. Let’s face it, the discs are cheap to manufacture, adding one to a release costs next to nothing and giving all the options is much preferred. I know some have wanted a Blu-ray, with TAAB and I can understand that. Give as many options as you can and sales will go up and people will be happy. This Tull release was much better coordinated than the Aqualung one as far as options go. Give it to us all please, especially hi rez stereo. Original mixes are fine tasteful remixes are great too.

  7. My preference is a well done stereo remaster of the originals. A great example is the 2009 Beatles remasters. They were cleaned up, but not “corrected” My priority is to retain the original that I grew up with. Now I also very much enjoy a good surround recording (quad or 5.1) However, to me these are “new” recordings. The same as a remastered stereo version. They are all different from the original. An example is the recent first ELP album. A classic by all definitions, and very much enjoy the remix. But even the split second of added guitar prior to the solo in Lucky Man, makes this a new song. I can’t replace the original stereo for the remastered version. I enjoy them both on their own merits. The best thing about a remaster and especially a 5.1 mix is that it will typically uncover hidden instruments lost in a stereo mix (as stated by another reader). I find that after listening to a 5.1 mix, I tend to appreciate the original stereo version a bit more as I listen to it differently.

  8. It depends on the mix. Some engineers get caught up in the gimmick of multiple channels. Some actually use them to great effect.

    Dark Side of the Moon is the best example of this. I’ve been a Floyd fan since about the time I could drive (which is a while). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to this album. I was able to get a good copy of the Alan Parsons quad mix on DVD-A a few years ago and it to me is the definitive version of the album. The use of the 4 channels is outstanding and gives the music a texture the 2 channel mix simply can’t. The Guthrie mix is good, but that recording attacks the tape hiss at the expense of the high end. Guthrie also doesn’t make the music come alive as well as the Parsons mix.

    I have some other recordings that are hit or miss. I love Guthrie’s work on Wish You Were Here. Stings Brand New Day DTS CD goes from entertaining to gimmicky depending on the track. Sheryl Crow’s the Globe Sessions DTS also goes from good to gimmick.

    Where I think multichannel shines is when the mixer doesn’t get caught up in the novelty and really thinks about where it makes sense to use it. Some of the best uses are simply to add spacial ambiance. Widening the soundstage beyond what 2 channel can reproduce.

    Blu Ray concerts, although new and not really the intended subject, also offer an excellent use for a multichannel setup. Even though the extra channels may not stick out, they make for a much fuller sound than the 2 channel mix.

    So is it a necessity to get me interested in buying a new remaster? I’d say it is. Unless something is very lacking in the existing 2 channel recording I’m not moved to replace it with another remaster with the same setup. Though a good 24/96 remaster can get my interest if priced right. The Wall Immersion set is a good example. It does not offer a multichannel or a 24/96 2ch option. And it’s the only one of the 3 currently available I don’t own. A remastered Zepplin set with just 2ch material would be a “wait until it’s on sale” to replace my current remastered box set purchase. A remastered Zepplin with 24/96 multichannel would be a day one purchase based on my curiosity alone.

    1. Agree 100% on The Wall. Although I still got it because I wanted the complete collection (yes there is one born every minute). Without a doubt, The Wall” Immersion set had the least value added. Bascially two discs of demos. yippeee.

    2. After all these years, I still didn’t buy The Wall in CD, waiting for the perfect edition. I wonder if now the experience set would do (Immersion is way too expensive)..

  9. Matt – read your own comment re: the Steven Wilson 5.1 mix of Lark’s Tongue In Aspic;

    qAbout the 5.1 mix:

    Okay, so I was wrong about this ever being any better – this is even more amazing! Regular readers might recall that I am not in love with 5.1 mixes of my favourite albums. Nothing against them, but I can give them a pass in favour of stereo. This surround mix could certainly change my mind. By increasing space between Jamie Muir’s percussion and Bill Bruford’s drums, the detail that it brings astounded me. Never mind that the bass and violin are more pronounced, but you hear, perhaps for the first time, the intricacies of Fripp’s playing in more detail than I can ever remember. In much the same way that a good Classical recording lets you experience the intimacy of the bow on strings, this recording lets you into the inner circle of the musicians like never before.q

    5.1 mixes in the right hands (albeit a select few) – can be illuminating – revealing layers and nuance not possible in stereo. Steven Wilson is certainly the standard bearer these days – and he learned from the best in Elliot Scheiner (Steely Dan, Donald Fagen, The Eagles, etc, etc, etc), Greg Penny’s Elton John remixes – especially on Tumbleweed Connection are spectacular.

    5.1 enthusiasts are starved for new content so typically they will go after anything resembling a discrete 5.1 mix only to complain bitterly when it falls short of their expectations – such is life! When done right 5.1 is the bees knees.

  10. I own plenty of music in 5.1 and all the formats its been released on and enjoy them and probably the best example of why its so good is listening to genesis seconds out and when the bass pedals kick in it can take your breath away especially if you own a quality surround setup which I’m lucky that I do

  11. I really enjoy 5.1 mixes but it has to be something that lends itself to the format. Surround mixes of the Sex Pistols or hair metal bands would be pointless but classic music by Pink Floyd, the Doors, and many others can be revelatory in a 5.1 mix. Some of my favorite multichannel mixes are by those great bands but Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode have also had great 5.1 mixes too. My personal favorite is Roxy Music’s Avalon.

  12. I love the 5.1 mixes, but have some issues. #8 talks about the 2009 Beatles remasters. Well, if you read Steven Wilson’s review of those albums, he wanted high-def and surround versions too!. The previous versions all were made from the original master tapes anyway, so there’s a slight lift in volume, and clarity, but no significant improvement (IMHO). I believe that was an opportunity missed. I love Revolver and Rubber Soul (and bought them to test the remasters, but can’t listen to the ridiculous seperation on headphones. The new “stereo” remasters of the early records are the same. In that respect, the mono set is more useful!
    I also object to getting ripped off, and Tull got it so wrong with Aqualung, then so right with TaaB! I don’t need or want LPs or even CDs when I can get the DVD-A (like TaaB). I would have got the Blu-ray if it were available seperately. Ditto for the PF Immersion sets.
    Grace for Drowning from SW was another one who got it right, I just got the blu-ray (home listening) and the 320 download for my iPod. The KCs another case in point, Anything related to SW is mind-blowing and perfect (Aqualung the exception although the mix is awesome). I just love the surround ones, but stereo in 48/24 or 96/24 is superb too. Listen to the 5.1 TaaB to be blown away.
    Sorry Matt, for once I don’t agree with you :-)

  13. I, for one, am a big, big fan of 5.1 mixes of albums. They provide a different experience to the traditional stereo versions. In some cases, they can be like a wild rollercoaster ride (Queen’s A Night at the Opera, and The Beatles’ Love) or a pschedelic experience (Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, and Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway) or just a smooth, immersive experience (Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms).

    These are different experiences. Not better, not worse, just different. And they’re fun! Even music I don’t like can sound great in surround. There is no way in hell I’d ever buy Britney Spears’ In the Zone album as the music appeals to me not one whit. But the surround experience is a fun one, strangely enough.

    So key is “different” and “fun”. That’s why I got into surround music. And some artists really embrace it. Peter Gabriel was quoted as saying that writing for 2-channel music feels very limiting. And his Up album is absolutely stunning in surround! I’ve only one Porcupine Tree album (In Absentia), but it is so tastefully done and immersive, that I feel like Steve Wilson wrote it with surround in mind.

    I really get excited about 5.1 mixes, even the “gimmicky” ones. They provide a fun alternative to stereo. I’m hoping that more artists will take advantage of the Blu-ray format to release their albums in 5.1. It’s such a fun way to experience music!

  14. The use of 5.1 in music opens up the recording to reveal all the instruments in their own space , as opposed as to be squashed in two channels. We cant all afford expensive stereo systems that can do justice to stereo recordings . But with a 5.1 system and recording done with taste and style on a middle class budget, it is like a little bit of heaven, when done right.
    My vote favors 5.1.

  15. I am a huge fan of surround music and have been since the 70’s. I have discovered bands like Porcupine Tree specifically because of 5.1 releases. As a hobby I take quad tapes and LP’s and create discs from them. I got more than a little excited by news of albums like Thick As A Brick, Aqualung and 2112 in surround and, in the case of the first two, have been completely blown away. I will search out and purchase surround discs just to support the format. Yep… it’s surround music for me all the way!!!

  16. I prefer 5.1. When I first listened to 70’s Chicago in quad 8-track form, I was blown away. I could hear the instruments better, more space between them, and I was hearing things I had not heard before. AND, it was like sitting in the middle of the band and listening!

  17. I’m a surround guy all the way. For me, there’s no stereo mix that can match a good surround sound mix. I hear the music in a different way and can hear the separate instruments in a way that I can never do in stereo no matter what. I was a quad fan back in the 70’s also.

  18. BUT, I really just prefer a disc and receiver that will let me turn down up and 16 to 32 channels (like the engineers get to do). That’s what I am waiting on.

  19. It took me years and years to build a 5.1 decent rack at home, so I’m just starting to buy stuff (still my speaker distribution is not the best but oh well), Dark side SACD was the first one (as was my first standard cd too!) and it blew me away. Then I bought Tommy SACD, as I had a horrible edition.. Currently trying to find what’s wrong that I cannot get to hear all the voices.. (yeah I’m not an expert here..)

  20. HUGE 5.1 fan! An enthusiastic absolutely; if possible in DTS, then by all means, do it!! Steven Wilson is a genius!

Comments are closed.