I feel a little ashamed of myself right now. For the past few months, I’ve been pimping the DTS Headphone:X download included with the Man of Steel: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Limited Deluxe Edition as if it were the second coming of Superman himself or something.
And with good reason. The Headphone:X demo at CES was noodle-blowing. The vocal channel ID demo included with the Z+ Music App released this weekend was slobber-worthy. The score itself — well, I suppose some critique of that is in order, even though most of you are probably already familiar with the music from the trailers, preview clips, and even leaked bits of the score that have surfaced recently.
I’ve finally settled down for a complete play-through of Hans Zimmer’s Man of Steel score — twice now — and despite my previous hesitant assessment that it lacked the melody and majesty of John Williams’ original score for Superman: The Movie, as a work in and of itself, when taken as a whole, I’m digging the hell out of it.
It’s much more memorable than Zimmer’s work on Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises, which all worked within the context of the film’s themselves, but I double-dare more than a handful of you to hum a single bar of any of those scores. Granted, some cuts of Man of Steel are more memorable than others, but standouts like “This is Clark Kent” (the piece featured in the third theatrical trailer), and the ever-popular-already “What Are You Going to Do When You Are Not Saving the World?” are, to me, some of Zimmer’s best work since The Lion King. Not that it sounds anything like The Lion King, mind you. In fact, if anything, at times the Man of Steel score evokes Blue Man Group, especially in cuts like “Oil Rig.”
The Limited Deluxe Edition also includes a second disc with a half-hour “Man of Steel (Hans’ Original Sketchbook)” that I can already see myself returning to again and again. Despite its name, it’s a really polished work that explores many of the themes fleshed out in the individual tracks, and works as a sort of aural color study for the emotional and musical ups and downs of the finished work. The bonus tracks are also a very welcomed inclusion, especially “Are You Listening, Clark?” which sounds like an early, alternate take on “This is Clark Kent.”
Seriously, at this point I cannot wait to hear these tracks in surround sound. If only. Yes, I know I’ve been touting the amazing surround processing of DTS Headphone:X. Yes, I know the format is capable of such an incredibly realistic 11.1-channel simulated surround soundfield experience from regular old headphones. Sadly, though, that potential isn’t even hinted at in the Man of Steel Headphone:X experience via the Z+ App.
After downloading the tracks into the app (via the download code included in the Man of Steel: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Limited Deluxe Edition packaging), I tested it out with in-ear monitors (RBH’s amazing EP2 noise-isolating earphones), on-ear headphones (B&W’s P3), and over-ear cans (V-Moda’s M-100 and Audeze’s LCD2), and via all three, the DTS Headphone:X experience exuded the sort of midrangey, bloated, smeared audio experience you get with really bad DSP surround processing, with a hefty helping of cheap electronic reverb dumped on top of it all for ill effect. The change in tonality and muddying of the music are bad enough; what’s worse is that there really isn’t any appreciable surround effect. At all. I thought I heard a bit of a distinct spatial effect in “Oil Rig,” only to switch over to the two-channel version and find that it was there, too. With no processing of any kind. All of which leads me to believe that, when encoding this mix, some sort of processed two-channel version was used instead of an actual 5.1, 7.1, or even 11.1 discrete mix. That’s a guess on my part, but for the future of this format, I really hope it’s a correct guess.
Worse still, the fidelity of the audio from within the app is really bad. Seriously horrifically tragically bad. You can easily toggle between the DTS and non-DTS version of the soundtrack at the press of a button in the app, and when comparing the standard stereo experience to even a middling 256kbps variable bitrate rip of the CD on the same iPhone, the CD rip delivers way more in terms of not only detail and clarity, but dynamic range, as well, and lacks of the popping, clicking, and stuttering that plagues the DTS Headphone:X version. Whether that’s the fault of the encode, the mix, or the Z+ app, I don’t know, but it’s troubling nonetheless.
Thankfully, the DTS Headphone:X download isn’t the only mobile extra included in the package. The booklet also includes a number of glyphs at the bottom corners of select pages, and when you aim the WaterTower Music app at said glyphs, you’ll be treated to some neat (if terribly compressed) behind-the-scenes videos of Zimmer at work, all of which I hope end up on the eventual Man of Steel Blu-ray. Unfortunately, they’re not included on the CDs themselves, which is a shame, because I’d really like to watch them in higher resolution, with better sound. Nonetheless, their inclusion from within the app is appreciated.
Despite all of the negativity above, I feel like the Man of Steel: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack Limited Deluxe Edition is a worthy purchase. The steelbook packaging is super swanky and the bonus disc is one I think I may end up listening to more than the main disc itself. It’s just a shame that the DTS Headphone:X experience is so lackluster.