Love Hz: Discs with that “Wow” Factor

Sections: Love Hz

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Music geeks like me (and you?!) all have our favorite discs we use to wow our friends with our nifty stereos and surround sound systems, often on formats our acquaintances don’t even own. (All the better, right? What better way to spread our audiophile addiction than to hook ’em with a great music demo they’ll never forget?) Here is the first of an ongoing series where I’ll share some of my favorites and why:

Beach Boys: Pet Sounds DVD-AudioThe Beach Boys: Pet Sounds (DVD-A) — A great big pile of win on one DVD-Audio disc with original mono plus stereo and 5.1 remixes (all 96k/24bit high res!) in one place. The album we all know and love sounds amazing in all three incarnations, but the real kick is a brief bonus track that is quite possibly the single best demo for surround sound: a 60+ second intro outtake of “Don’t Talk.” First Brian lays down a single channel guide vocal for about 20 seconds or so. And then all five Beach Boys fill the room with a blast of pure harmony coming from every direction. After hearing that brief clip, 99% of the time people say to me “Ok, now I get what surround sound is about!”

Solomon Burke: Don't Give Up on MeSolomon Burke: Don’t Give Up on Me (LP) — Listening to this album on thick vinyl (2 LPs) lets you feel Solomon’s every breath as he sings, arguably, the best — and best recorded — collection of songs in his entire career. You might have to look around for this on LP from Fat Possum Records, but the CD isn’t a bad substitute, either, if you don’t have a turntable.

Yes: Fragile DVD-AudioYes: Fragile (DVD-A) — Some purists hate the remix on this DVD-Audio disc, but as a hardcore lifetime Yes fan, I love it. This discs presents the prog rock classic in a new light. Crank up “Long Distance Runaround” in 5.1 and I dare you to not to be awed by Chris Squire’s bass punctuating the mix as never heard before in lock step with Bruford’s drumming (who feels like he’s right there in the room with you). “Five Per Cent for Nothing” will put your system’s multi-channel separation to the test too. This has become something of a rarity (even for DVD-Audio), but it’s worth seeking out.

The Beatles in MonoThe Beatles: Rubber Soul (from the Beatles in Mono box set) — The version on the recently released Mono CD box set is amazing if only for it allowing me, for the first time, to hear “Drive My Car” as the great rocker it is instead of annoying thorn in the Fab 4 catalog. This version has the cowbell way further back in the mix (The Bruce Dickinson be damned), locked in tight with the rest of Ringo’s kit. Compare it to the stereo versions and people go “Wow, the Mono mixes do rule!” Capitol pressed more of these “limited edition” box sets (a good thing ultimately, as they are really nicely done) so you should be able to get it pretty easily.

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  • Ivan Thalasso

    I wonder why classical music or groups such as Queen did not make the list…

    • Mark Smotroff

      Hi Ivan: I just saw your comment from last month so apologies for the late reply.

      There are MANY great surround discs and certainly Queen’s Night at the Opera is among the top of that list. However, the focus of my article was about demo discs that make a very quick, immediate impact that even the complete novice can comprehend. I have played these SHORT demos for friends who claim to be tone deaf and they get it!

      Classical pieces are great but require a more advanced listener who has patience and has spent a lot of time both listening to classical recordings as well as in the concert hall. Many people haven’t — especially “younger” people who haven’t even been exposed to classical music since their music programs were cut in grade school (this is a very big problem for the music industry as a whole but that is another issue altogether).

      Back to Queen: when I have sufficiently roped in a new prospective surround sound fan with the quick demos above, then I will offer up other nuggets. Oftentimes it is Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody off the DVD Audio disc version. I also like using The Beatles’ LOVE DVD A disc (deluxe edition) to wow people but, again, that often times ends up in a longer listening session just to Beatles (vs. listening to the surround mixes, if you get what I mean). Same issue with classical — I love playing Mahler’s 10th conducted by Sir Simon Rattle on DVDA, but that requires a more trained listener to appreciate the nuance (it really puts you 5th row center!).

      Hope that explains things a bit. Thanks for checking out the story.