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!