|Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon|
|Music Disc Reviews SACD|
|Written by Jerry Del Colliano|
|Tuesday, 25 March 2003|
Without question, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon is the most anticipated release in either of the competing high-resolution surround sound formats. Ironically, it comes as an SACD from EMI UK. EMI US has been a public supporter of DVD-Audio in the States. Fans of high-resolution audio, surround sound music or, more importantly, this masterpiece of an album, Dark Side of the Moon, really don’t care. They just want to hear Dark Side of the Moon sound better than ever before.
Dark Side of the Moon, when considered as a piece of art, was always intended for higher consciousness listening. Whether that meant an audio experience that included firing a Bob Marley-sized spliff in the back of a plushly carpeted 1971 Dodge van or tripping to the record through the finest surround sound system known to man, this is a record that commands your attention. If you are like me, you have heard each and every note of DSOTM thousands of times. But prepare yourself, this James Guthrie mix of Dark Side proves that you can in fact teach an old dog new tricks.
I refuse to give away each and every detail of the mixing trickery longtime Pink Floyd engineer James Guthrie has in store for you with the surround mix of this record, but I will capture the highlights of some key areas. First is the introduction, “Speak To Me,” which quietly builds from a heartbeat into the spacious tune “Breathe.” The surround mix compellingly implodes as the two tracks segue. The surround effects leave you with a definite WOW. David Gilmour's voice sounds better than I remember from either the Mobile Fidelity CD or the Shine On CD boxed set mixes. The biggest difference is the increased level of texture and overall sonic depth.
On my first three spins throughout the surround SACD version of Dark Side, I took exception the sound of the high hat on “On The Run.” I felt as if it was too bright and I still do. In comparison to the CDs I have of Dark Side, it is consistent, but it doesn’t show the same audio improvement that I heard on the SACD surround mix on other parts of the record. The addition of the 360-degree panning on “On The Run” is definitely cooler than the stereo mix. It makes you feel like you need to hang on for your life as you sit in your easy chair and listen. At the end of the cut, the explosion is perhaps mixed too loudly for my tastes. Even with four spins through the record, I never was able to resist the urge to reduce the volume at that point. The blast sounded cluttered, albeit with very low energy information, on my system, which has 350-watt Krell amps, professional EQ and set-up on speaker and subwoofers. It left me wondering what this section sounds like on a more modest SACD Dream System.
Another highlight on a very familiar track is the way the drums, which sound to be floor tams, are mixed all around the sound field on “Time.” The drums sound more three-dimensional and rich on the SACD and really work well in a surround sound environment. The vocals beam back from the center, which sounds more like what we are all used to. The backup singers are focused both dead center in the rear and in the front. I am not sure I can remember hearing anything like that before in a surround mix, but it certainly works.
Perhaps the biggest hit and the most recognizable track from Dark Side is “Money,” which for years was used at every high-end audio boutique I have ever worked at, ranging from Bryn Mawr Stereo in Philadelphia to Cello Los Angeles. We all talked about the track’s depth relative to the stereo system being auditioned at the time. Nothing compares to what you will hear on the SACD surround mix today. The cash register ping-pongs in a zigzag pattern from right front to rear right to rear left and so on. The bass sounds better than ever and is mixed in the fronts very neatly. While seemingly lower and or possibly louder than on the CD mixes I have in my collection, the bass never seems to localize the two subwoofers in my system. It sounds targeted right in the front. The vocals are center images and not gimmicky, but the guitars twang clearly and confidently in the rears in ways that make you wish you had invested more on the speakers you use for surrounds. In my opinion, film soundtracks rarely put such critical audio information in the rear speakers.
I’ll leave some mystery with tracks like “Us and Them” and “Any Color You Like” for your own listening sessions. “Brain Damage” uses the surround speakers to expand the sound field to make the tune exude more lunacy than ever. The bass from the organ (and guitar) is the absolute best I have heard on SACD to date. When the lunatic is in Waters’ head, it resonates in the rears in such a way that make you believe he might be in your head, too. By the end of the track, you are humming the melody of the tune along with Waters and the backup singers. It is a pretty powerful experience.
The only way to describe “Eclipse” is to call it triumphant. It builds in lyrical and musical intensity like few other tracks in history and sounds even better in surround on SACD. By the last organ chord, you need to take a deep breath as the heartbeats return from the very beginning of the record. More evident than on the CD mix of Dark Side is the spoken word vocal saying, “There is no dark side of the moon.” I had never really paid attention to this line during the previous thousands of times I have heard the record. On the surround mix, it is as clear as day in the rear speakers.
If you were to only own one SACD, Dark Side of the Moon is it. Even if you don’t have an SACD player yet, it is a worthy addition to your collection to replace older CD stereo mixes. Hopefully it will inspire you to invest into a surround sound system, complete with SACD, DVD-Audio and all of the speakers needed to make an incredible record like Dark Side of the Moon take on new creative life.