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.