Saturday, January 21, 2006

Rush turns 30 and gives us a present!

Artist: Rush
Title: R30
Format: DVD-Video

Surround Mix By Richard Chycki, Alex Lifeson and Adrian Lifeson

Rush is 30 years old???? Good Lord, that makes me feel old. I still recall getting Hemispheres for my 15th birthday, putting it on and saying OH MY GOD!!!!!! I was always impressed with their musical prowess, and loved their sound from the get go. I've been a fan for over 25 years, so this will be a biased review!

The R30 DVD is a celebration of their 30th anniversary tour. Recorded in Frankfurt, Germany, the band retains if not exceeds the energy that they had onstage in their prime of the late 70's. They pluck some gems from the entire Rush catalog and as a longtime fan, it's a very rewarding performance.

The music: Starting with an amazing animated history of Rush's album covers which morphs into a "dream" by the always funny Jerry Stiller, who introduces the band, Rush kicks off the show with an instrumental medley of their earlier songs, including Finding My Way, Anthem, Bastille Day and Hemispheres, finally concluding the opening sequence with The Spirit Of Radio. The band tears through songs from every album you can think of, and the performances are fantastic. They're tight as usual. More obscure songs such as Force Ten and Between The Wheels are treats for Rush fanatics. Alex Lifeson plays with his usual precision and class. Spot on like always. Neil Peart, considered by most music fans as one of the best drummers in the world, plays his special 30th anniversary drum kit as perfectly as we would expect. Geddy Lee is, well, Geddy Lee! Tirelessly playing bass, keyboards, foot pedals and finally sitting down for 2 acoustic numbers, Resist and The Yardbirds' Heart Full Of Soul. And excuse me for almost blowing a fuse when they launch into Xanadu!!!! Wow!!!!
Score: 10/10

The mix:
After the giant mush ball that was Rush In Rio ( which was supposed to be a "from the 15th row" type of mix). R30 offers 5.1 fans a great mix. The opening "dream sequence" is fantastic! Sounds swirl around and make full use of all 5 speakers. Once the band kicks in, we get a mix featuring drums and bass up front, guitars that seem to be in every speaker at times, and some keyboard and effects in the rears. I've read some complaints of "digital distortion" in Alex's guitar sound, but I hear no evidence of this in the 5.1 mix. Alex's sound is big, wet, fat and very enveloping. After the overpowering crowd noise of Rush In Rio, R30 keeps the crowd noise to a respectable level. I'm satisfied with the 5.1 mix. Sure, it's not perfect, but hey....The Eagles Farewell Tour DVD may be a perfect sounding disc, but it's as exciting as watching oatmeal soak up hot water! I don't mind a live DVD sounding live!
Score: 8/10

The sound:
As stated above, it's not perfect, but it's a great sounding DVD. It could use a bit more definition in the bottom end and Neil's drum sound is a bit thinner, but this is more due to his "new" drum sound, which is higher pitched and a bit hollower. Highs are much smoother than Rush In Rio, and Geddy's voice is much clearer this time around.
Score: 8/10

Overall: 8.5

Alex Lifeson was once quoted as not being much of a surround fan. Looks like he saw the light! There has been much speculation that Rush is working on 5.1 mixes of their older catalog. Let's hope there is some truth to these rumours! Rush remains one of the classiest, hardest working bands in the world. Here's to many more years of great music.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Sorry everyone. Not much time or energy for posting. The wife has a broken collarbone and she's taking up most of my time. Here is some Rush news from our friend Ron at surroundablog (see my links). Thanks Ron!
If R30 is any indication, then Rush is becoming more 5.1 friendly. That DVD has good use of the rear channels. Hopefully "Exit..." will continue this trend


RUSH: 'Exit...Stage Left' DVD Delayed - Jan. 3, 2006
According to a posting on the RUSH fan site Power Windows, Zoe/Rounder has pushed back the projected U.S. release date of the the DVD version of RUSH's classic "Exit...Stage Left" concert film to March 7 from the previously announced February 7."Everything's been remixed to 5.1, and that was the intention — to keep it all intact, except for the remix," guitarist Alex Lifeson recently told "So it's available in surround."Lifeson told he enjoyed taking a trip down memory lane while refurbishing the material. "It was interesting to see the development in the arrangements, and how our sound changed over the course of a decade," he said. "I definitely found it fascinating, looking at that. And how the stage show changed over the years — of course, [in] 10 years a lot of stuff changes. But it was a little fascinating to watch that, actually.""Exit...Stage Left" was filmed at The Forum in Montreal, Quebec on March 27, 1981 and was issued in 1981 on VHS/Laserdisk (out of print). The 60-minute video featured the following track listing:
01. Limelight
02. Tom Sawyer
03. The Trees
04. Instrumental
05. Xanadu
06. Red Barchetta
07. Free Will
08. Closer To The Heart
09. YYZ (with voice over)
10. By-Tor and the Snow Dog/In The End/In The Mood/2112 Finale

Sunday, December 18, 2005

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Superdisc!

Artist: 3 Doors Down
Title: Live, Away From The Sun
Format: DVD-Video "Superdisc"

Surround Mixes By Ryan Williams and Noel Lee
Mastered by Steve Marcussen

DVD-Audio....Super Audio CD....Dual Disc....Eggo Waffle (ok, just kidding on that one)...consumers can be confused to death by all the different surround formats (and in the case of some Dual Discs, NON-surround formats!). Different players needed, some discs incompatible .....CALGON, TAKE ME AWAY! However, nothing is simpler or more readily available than the plain old DVD player. Everbody has one! So along comes Monster, the company better known for interconnects and speaker cable, to try and bring some calm and some much needed value to the surround picture! Ladies and Gentleman....SUPERDISC! Essentially a DVD-video disc, but with so many goodies packed into it the thing might explode! This concert DVD by safe-rockers 3 Doors Down features:

A Stereo track

Dolby 5.1 "In The Audience" track (music in the front, crowd and ambiance in the rears)

Dolby 5.1 and DTS 5.1 "On Stage Mix" (discrete surround mix)

Dolby Headphone Surround music files (AAC and WMA)

Along with other extras and Home Theater Performance tips. Quite the bang for the buck!

The music: 3 Doors Down are a non-offensive hard rock band that are perfect for Clear Channel. It's music that Frank Zappa might have described as "safe for white teens and their even whiter parents!". The band plays their big hits Kryptonite, When I'm Gone and Here Without You to a very clean looking audience made up of everything from toddlers to teens to old fogies. The band plays with great energy and come across much better in a live setting than in the studio where they are slightly more glossy sounding. Kudos to them for a very professional stage presentation and for seeming to truly care about the audience. The music is maybe a bit more "Mom and apple pie" than I prefer, but the band's onstage presence made it enjoyable.
Score: 7/10

The mix: I initially tried the "In The Audience" mix for a minute or two, then started over and went for the DTS "On Stage" mix. It was like going from black and white to Technicolor! The sound opened up nicely, with guitars coming from everywhere, drums spread across the fronts and rears and vocals seeming to come from just in front of the center channel. Very enjoyable mix! I didn't even think about going back to the "Audience" mix again, and probably never will. All live surround mixes need to be this good!
Score: 9/10

The sound: Very clear and detailed sound, if just a bit bright and lacking some nice bottom end growl. Drums were punchy and clear, vocals very present and guitars had a good crunch but could have their top end shaved off a bit.
Score: 8/10

Overall: 8.5/10

Save for a few cheesy moments ( a toddler coming on stage, THANKFULLY with ear protection!), and some U-S-A, U-S-A Rah Rah patriotism that seemed too contrived, this was a very enjoyable disc and I hope Monster continues to do more. Check for further info and releases.

Let's keep em coming, Monster! Maybe Sony and Universal will wake from their surround slumber!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Surround Award Winners

Thanks to Ron Wheeler from surroundablog ( for the following article. Ron's having technical difficulty and I'll post this on my blog for him.

Take it away Ron!

The winners were announced at last night's 2005 Surround Music Awards. As expected, The Talking Heads "Brick" was the clear darling of the show by capturing 4 honors. As an aside....this writer hopes that Jeff Jampol of The Doors Management team takes notice and speeds up their own efforts to release a Doors retrospective that is "Brick" like in its DualDisc presentation and advanced resolution surround. None of that Dolby Digital crap please. And while we're on the subject of the 2006 awards....hurry up Rush...I need a little somethin' somethin' in the ways of "xanadu". I'm so hip hop I can hardly stand myself...ahem...

It was good to see that Phil Ramone received his proper due. Afterall all is said and he can get back to work on the surround sound remixes of Paul Simon's "Graceland" and "Rhythm of the Saints"...

The awards weren't without controversy. Most disappointing was the omission of Dire Straits 20th Anniversary edition of "Brothers in Arms" on SACD. Another glaring omission was the outright disregard for Jeff Wayne's "War of the Worlds" excellent package and terrific mix. Surround Sound fans are also scratching their heads over the honor bestowed on Jackson Browne...a man who's released 1 surround sound recording period. Me thinks this award should've gone to Eric Clapton...whose albums have been reissued on DTS dvds, SACD and has embraced DualDisc for his latest.

John Hiatt's "sonoma-ized" "Master of Disaster" won accolades through a write-in poll on "High Fidelity Review's" listener's choice category. Thankfully the real surround sound fans numbered more votes than the Rob Thomas "but he's so cute" vote..
Most intriquing is the awarding of "Most Adventurous Mix" to N.E.R.D. for their "In Search Of...;" release...a recording hitherto unknown to this surround head. If it is indeed better than NIN "With Teeth" than I'll have to put the studs on my wheelchair and cruise on over to Sam the Record Man...anyways...

Surround Artist of the Year
Jackson Browne

Surround Pioneer Award
Phil Ramone

Best of Show
‘Brick’ DualDisc Box Set, Talking Heads (Rhino Entertainment)

Best Additional Features
‘Rumor Mill’, The Carl Verheyen Band (AIX Records)

Best Concert Video
‘Live at the Apollo’, Ben Harper and the Blind Boys of Alabama (Virgin Records and 5.1 Production Services)

Best DualDisc Release
‘Brick’ DualDisc Box Set, Talking Heads (Rhino Entertainment)

Best Menu Design
‘Brick’ DualDisc Box Set, Talking Heads (Rhino Entertainment)

Best Mix: Non-Orchestral
‘Brick’ DualDisc Box Set, Talking Heads (Rhino Entertainment)

Best Mix: Orchestral
‘Reich at the Roxy’, Alarm Will Sound (Sweetspot Music)

Best Multichannel Reissue
‘Captain Fantastic’, Elton John (UME/Chronicles)

Best Standard Resolution Title
‘One Soul’, E3 (Sweet Spot Music Group/3 Bone Audio, Inc.)

Horizon Award
‘Feels Like Family’, Lauren Ellis (Silverline Records)

Most Adventurous Mix
‘In Search Of…’ N.E.R.D. (Virgin Records/DTS)

High Fidelity Review Listener’s Choice Award
‘Master of Disaster’, John Hiatt (New West)

(Thanks Marty, forgot these:)

Porcupine Tree (DTS Entertainment)

Beck (IGA/Interscope)

Dave's Notes:

I'm really glad to see Talking Heads get so many awards. "Brick" is spectacular! The Jackson Browne award is a joke as this stupid release was delayed and delayed and delayed. Not only one really seems to think it's all that great! I would have given it to Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads. VERY happy to see Deadwing win one too! Great disc!

Don't understand the Hiatt SACD winning a listener's poll. I think it sounds terrible.

Looks like I may have to check some of the other winners out. Especially the Ben Harper DVD!

Friday, December 02, 2005

A SMiLE from ear to ear!

Artist: Brian Wilson
Title: Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE
Format: DVD-Video

5.1 Mix by Mark Linett

For those not familiar, SMiLE was the project Brian Wilson was working on after Pet Sounds, the brilliant masterpiece that finally showed the world that Wilson was a musical genius. A combination of drug abuse, mental illness and band infighting prevented the project from seeing the light of day, until Wilson's band leader Darian Sahanaja encouraged his boss to finally face his past and give the world what they waited almost 40 years for. With the help of his stellar band, Wilson brought SMiLE to life, and the joy and sorrow heard on this incredible work was worth the wait! The live DVD of SMiLE, recorded on a soundstage in Los Angeles, is another step forward for the once bed ridden and reclusive Beach Boys leader. Brian Wilson is back!

The music: How to describe SMiLE? Part Americana, part pop, part classical, part Tin Pan Alley....pure heaven! Starting with the angelic Our Prayer/Gee, Wilson and the band are in great voice. Heroes and Villains, with it's modular form and sudden changes, chugs along nicely. The band and orchestra really hit a high point on Cabin Essence, with it's dynamic and forceful chorus rising to a thunderous climax to end the first "suite". The second part of SMiLE is possibly one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written. Wonderful, Song For Children, Child Is Father Of The Man and Surf's Up cement Brian Wilson as one of the greatest composers of the twentieth century. I defy any music lover to not get a lump in their throat listening to the melodies and harmonies as they soar higher and higher. Part three brings us some humorous moments during Vega-tables, but they are short lived as the bombast of Mrs O'Leary's Cow shakes things up, and the show closer, Good Vibrations provides a fitting end to an overall fantastic performance. The band is top notch vocally and musically, and the picture quality is excellent as well.
Score: 10/10

The mix: The 5.1 mix does not offer too many moments of discreteness, save for some effects during Mrs' O'Leary's Cow, but instead offers a superb "you are there" feel. The soundstage is nicely spread out across the front with some vocals and instruments wrapping around the sides. Fitting for the music.
Score: 9/10

The sound: Quite possibly the best Dolby Digital DVD I have ever heard. Incredible dynamics and clarity. Had this been a less compressed DTS 5.1, my head might have exploded!
Score: 10/10

Overall: 9/10

The DVD also comes with the excellent documentary Beautiful Dreamer, which gives a history of the SMiLE project and the trials and tribulations Wilson faced. Overall this is one of my favourite DVD packages. It's great to see Brian Wilson SMiLING again!

Friday, November 25, 2005

Talking Heads build a masterpiece...brick by brick!

Artist: Talking Heads
Title: Talking Heads Brick
Format: Dualdisc (CD/DVD-Audio)
5.1 Mixes By E.T. Thorngren & Jerry Harrison
Mastered by Ted Jensen

Finally! I've finally been able to digest this entire box set of the Talking Heads complete studio releases. Never before has an artist's complete works been released in surround all at once, at least not to this extent. All I can say is this might just be the greatest surround reissue to date, for almost every reason you can think of!

Talking Heads burst onto the scene out of New York in 1977, with a New Wave-ish, energetic style of pop fronted by the geeky, gangly David Byrne, supported by guitarist/keyboardist Jerry Harrison and the rock solid rhythm section of bassist Tina Weymouth and drummer Chris Frantz. As they evolved they ran the gamut from funk to African rhythms to simple pop and rock. This collection of 8 studio releases shows off their ability play music that is smart, clever and at the same time very danceable! Keeping ones foot from tapping is a difficult task when playing this set!

The music:
Starting with 77, the Heads show some great pop sensibilities with songs such as Uh Oh, Love Comes To Town and the classic Psycho Killer. With Brian Eno taking over the producer's chair for More Songs About Buildings And Food, we hear things start to change with a more atmospheric sound, such as the classic swamp drenched cover of Al Green's Take Me To The River. Eno would produce 4 consecutive Heads albums (Buildings....followed by Fear Of Music, Remain In Light, and Speaking In Tongues). Each successive one getting more intricate and syncopated, with killer tracks like Crosseyed and Painless, Once In A Lifetime, Burning Down The House and Swamp. The next two albums, Little Creatures and True Stories, found the band producing themselves and returning to a more pop oriented sound, with songs like Stay Up Late and Wild Wild Life, before finally getting back to the heavy funk and African influenced sound of their final release, Naked, with the beautiful track (Nothing But) Flowers and the horn driven and super bad beat of Mr. Jones.

It is rare to find a band's body of music to be almost flawless and so consistent. Other than some self indulgence on Fear Of Music and Remain In Light, this band basically blew me away, as I was always a casual fan and considered them to be rather smarmy and stuck up. My opinion has drastically changed! They are one of the most important bands in music history and current bands such as Franz Ferdinand and The Killers are forever indebted to the Heads.
Score: 9/10

The mixes:
What can I say, these might be the best surround mixes ever! Thorngren and Harrison's use of space and their speaker placement is impeccable. As with any good surround mix, not only are the speakers used but the space between the speakers! They were not afraid to put sounds dead rear center, just behind the listener's head. There is plenty of movement as well. Vocals appear out of every speaker. Just perfect! If one had to find one song to single out from all of these great tunes, it would have to be Burning Down The House. A 5.1 showcase if there ever was one!
Score: 10/10

The sound: Ted Jensen's mastering is superb. Everything sounds warm, full and vibrant! Guitars ring clearly and bass and drums pound with force without sounding too aggressive. No shrill highs. No faults at all!
Score: 10/10

Overall: Despite the 9 for music....a big 10 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

A must for any lover of surround......or music for that matter!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Some cheap tweaks for your music room!

Here is some advice from Steve Hoffman Music Forum member Ron Stone. I followed some of Ron's recommendations and they made a world of difference in the sound! Bass is no longer boomy and blurred, and the sound seems more defined. Take it away Ron!

Dollar for dollar, you can do a whole lot more with cheap acoustic tiles and foam mattress covers than you can with expensive equipment upgrades. I often wonder how many audiophiles ceaselessly improve their equipment without addressing the room, or cripple their STEREOPHILE-approved purchases by planting a fifty-inch monitor right between their speakers. These tips come from observing an audiophile buddy of mine. He has methodically maximized an unlikely living room into a very good listening room, without paying through the nose for the sort of dubiously priced room treatments you see advertised in the back pages of equipment journals. FWIW, he's a professional statistician not prone to hype or fads, and I have A/B-ed almost every change to his room listed below.Once you've established where your speakers sound best, the near walls must be treated for soundstage width. Determine where the sound from each speaker reflects off both side walls and treat those hot spots with an ear-level acoustic tile. The easiest way I've seen to determine these four reflection spots is to put a candle on each speaker and move a mirror along the sidewall until you see the candle's reflection from your listening position. (Needless to say, this process is much more efficient with another audiophile in the listening seat or holding the mirror.)If you have an uncarpeted floor, you need a good rug between you and your speakers. Windows need winter-insulated drapes (not blinds), and a television screen must be covered, preferably with two acoustic tiles back-to-back; a beach towel thrown over the monitor doesn't cut it. Framed pictures and posters, etc., need to go in another room: sorry, honey, but your mother's portrait just looks better over the commode. And you already removed any variable light switches or adjustable halogen lamps from the stereo's electrical line, correct?Treating the back wall behind the speakers is crucial for soundstage depth. If the expense of professional wall treatments leaves you as shocked as I am as to how much someone will charge for articulated foam, you can treat the wall behind the speakers with the hospital mattress covers sold in discount stores, which come in a wide assortment of hideous non-neutral colors. It sounds like it would look horrible, but if you install it neatly -- keeping in mind you cannot paint acoustic treatments without greatly compromising their efficacy -- it looks almost normal when the wall's done. I said "almost." You don't need to cover the entire back wall with foam. A couple covers should do it. (One of the ironies I've observed about room treatment is that audiophiles, excited by the changes they can wring from such inexpensive tweaks, tend to overdo it and kill the room.)After these hot spots are addressed, the next step is to tame the corners of the room. Half an acoustic tile mounted diagonally across each corner, the long side of the rectangle positioned against the ceiling, has a surprising effect on the sound's vibrance or liveliness, smoothing out excitable frequencies from the midrange up (assuming you've taken care of the bigger problems above). In fact, you may end up removing one or two of these corner treatments to regain some brilliance.Buy two more hospital mattress covers, and roll them each into a big pillar-- snugly, but not so tight as to squash the articulation of the foam flat -- and move those into the corners of the back wall behind the speakers for bass control. These pillars could be covered with very light fabric, and mounted on a piece of plywood should you find their effect too pronounced by simply leaning them in the corner. Again, these could be made look almost normal, depending on your HGTV skills.

I used the rolled up mattress pads for the corners and built screens out of 1x2's and drop cloth material to hide the rolls (they looked pretty goofy!). Used the same drop cloth material to cover the acoustic tiles on the side reflection points. I played some of the Herbie Hancock Gershwin SACD, and the acoustic bass finally sounds amazing. Things just sound so much better!

For under $100, you can do the same. Give it a shot.