Top 10 surround sound recordings you should own

Surround-Sound-Top-10

We are very proud to be able to make seminal recording Tubular Bells available as a 5.1 surround sound mix on Society of Sound. To celebrate we asked Jason Kennedy to look into which other indispensable surround sound recordings you should own.

Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon

Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon

SACD EMI 2002

 

Best for: Bettering the original

Pink Floyd originally recorded their most enduring work as a four channel album and in all honesty you have not heard it until you’ve not experienced the surround version. It was originally released on Quadraphonic vinyl but the album’s 30th Anniversary saw its return when the band asked James Guthrie to create a 5.1 mix. It garnered numerous awards and remains the best selling SACD on the market.

Stand out track

The key track from a surround perspective is Money, in particular the beginning where cash registers are chinging open all around you, the extra channels really open up the piece and reveal the potential that surround has to enhance the music.

Beck - Sea Change

Beck: Sea Change

SACD Geffen 2002

 

Best for: full immersion

Beck’s 2002 album Sea Change had the unusual honour of being released in both SACD and DVD-Audio, this presumably being so that almost anyone could appreciate the effort that went into the surround mix. It finds Beck in downbeat but inspired form using all 5.1 channels to create a wash of sound, or indeed a sea. It is comparable to Dark Side of the Moon in its imaginative use of surround but because of its relative youth sounds considerably cleaner.

Stand out track

There are several contenders but I would plump for Paper Tiger because it’s a strong tune and the way that the channels are used to place you in the centre of the stage. Sea Change is truly immersive experience with perfectly orchestrated waves of sound that soothe you from all sides.

Genesis - Selling England by the PoundGenesis: Selling England by the Pound

SACD Virgin  2008

 

Best for: flights of mellotrons

A few years ago Nick Davis, Genesis’ long time producer, decided to remix the band’s back catalogue for SACD, and with the classic albums from the early seventies, the Gabriel era, he did this in 5.1 surround. His intimate knowledge of the material meant that these were done extremely well, the result being an opening up of the often very dense progtastic mixes. As this was arguably the band’s most fertile period there is an awful lot to savour and I picked Selling England primarily because I got to hear it on a full scale studio surround rig the like of which I’ve enot encountered since.

Stand out track

The opening track, Dancing with the Moonlit Knight, is a tour de force of the band’s capabilities, it’s a pointer to the of the album as a whole but has a stronger rock feel than much of it. The surround mix takes the legendary ‘flights of mellotrons’ and sends them around the room in spectacular fashion. The stereo mix doesn’t come close.

Joni Mitchell - Both Sides Now

Joni Mitchell: Both Sides Now

DVD-Audio Reprise 2000

 

Best for: emotional impact

This album of jazz standards with a sprinkling of Joni originals was made with a orchestra of highly talented musicians including Wayne Shorter, Peter Erskine and Herbie Hancock. It finds her voice in dusky, intimate form and stands out among her later work for its powerful emotional depth and the expansive nature of the recording.

The surround mix takes a natural approach with ambiance in the rear channels and plenty of space for the gorgeous tone of the massed instruments. But above it all Joni’s mature voice tells a tale of finding and losing love before finally coming to terms with the cyclical nature of romance.

Stand out track

For all the classic tunes on Both Sides Now, A Case of You, one of Joni’s oldest stands out. You don’t really have to be told as much because it combines her personality with her style in such evocative fashion that you can feel the emotion.

Peter Gabriel - New Blood Live in LondonPeter Gabriel: New Blood Live in London

Blu-ray Eagle Vision
2011

 

 

This recent London concert featured Gabriel backed by his New Blood Orchestra, a 46 piece ensemble in the classical style. Gabriel plundered his rich back catalogue for this project and it makes for a powerful event, thanks in no small part to the man’s remarkable stage presence. He has always known how to entertain and the use of dramatic projections and an onstage camera that can be manipulated by the singer combine to keep you enthralled.

Stand out track

There are a number of highlights on this disc, the version of Biko is very moving, but the most powerful moment is when the audience joins in for the classic Solsbury Hill. It’s a genuinely uplifting moment that will bring a lump to the throat of even the hardest hearts.

Gaudeamus - Sacred FeastGaudeamus: Sacred Feast

SACD DMP
2000

 

Best for: natural acoustic

This early SACD recorded in 1998 was a showcase for the fledgling format. Sponsored by Sony and recorded in Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut. It was mixed in two, five and six channels with full range sent to each channel rather than being separated for a sub. Gaudeamus is a choral ensemble which was directed by Paul Halley and the work they cover is classic choral fare from Thomas Tallis, Oliver Mssiaen, Pablo Casals and more.

Stand out track

Beati Quorum Via is one of several pieces by Irish composer Charles Villiers Stanford on the album and showcases the remarkable vocal talents of the ensemble as well as the fabulous acoustic of the recording venue.

Billy Cobham - Spectrum Billy Cobham: Spectrum

DVD-Audio Rhino
2001

 

Best for: powerhouse playing

One of it not the greatest jazz-rock album ever was resurrected with a DVD-Audio remaster by Rhino in 2001. It combined the forces of drummer Cobham, Jan Hammer on keyboards, guitarist Tommy Bolin and bass player Lee Sklar. An outfit that delivers groove and power in equal measure. Cobham’s explosive style was at its peak and Bolin and Hammer spark off of each other to produce some of their finest work.

Stand out track

The 24/96 5.1 mix of Stratus adds high octane fuel to the fireworks layed down in the studio. The surround mix is not the most natural on the block but if you like power it leaves the alternatives in the dust.

The Eagles - Hell Freezes OverThe Eagles: Hell Freezes Over

DTS CD Digital Sound
1997

 

Best for: hi-fi deluxe

A long time staple of surround sound demonstrations this is a superb sounding album that was produced to show the benefits of DTS surround and mixed using a relatively natural approach. The rear channels are used for ambience rather than instrument or voice placement and this creates a shockingly real sense of being at the live event. The other reason it’s so popular is the kick drum, rarely has this instrument managed to sound so substantial, it must be the most fulsome example on record and one can only wonder when the hip hop world is going to sample it for a new audience.

Stand out track

On a Dark Desert Highway… There was always going to be one killer tune on an Eagles revival and it had to be Hotel California. The title track of their platinum selling album sounds better on here than it did on the vinyl and subsequent CDs because recording quality has always been a strongpoint and this version is luxurious.

Steely Dan - Everything Must GoSteely Dan: Everything Must Go

DVD-Audio Reprise
2003

 

Best for: sophistication

Becker and Fagen have a tough job to scale the giddy heights of their former work but Everything Must Go has more than a little of the edge that made them so successful back in the day. This album is as slick and polished as you could ask for with supreme musicianship and some decent tunes in the Dan’s cool west coast style.

Stand out track:

The track Green Book is the most reminiscent of the band’s heyday, what’s more the recording is sublime, easy and yet taut with gorgeous bass. It has excellent presence and sparkly highs that give a very classy sound, it’s one of the best.

AC/DC - Let There Be RockAC/DC: Let There Be Rock

Blu-ray Warner Bros
2012

 

Best for: raw power

This Blu-ray release of a film made in late ‘79 captures AC/DC at the peak of their powers, playing their glorious primitive riffs in front of an audience that cannot help but be swept away by the sound. It’s mostly concert footage but has a few amusing clips of the guys in the band at their leisure, with Bon Scott seeming as sweet as can be, quite the opposite of his stage, and one suspects, real persona. This proved his final tour with a band that has never been quite the same since.

Stand out track

Live Wire, a song and a title that sums up what AC/DC is all about. Lead guitarist Angus Young is electrifying, he never stands still, his head is always banging and his playing while hardly technical is totally exhilarating. Put this into 5.1 channels and you will know all about it.

3 Comments

  • Adam McC says:

    Considering how ground-breaking and recent it is, Steven Wilson’s “Grace for Drowning” should be on this list (even if just to commend Wilson for his hard work in recent years, bringing the idea of sound quality and musical creativity back into the public mind, in both his own work and his work remastering the likes of King Crimson).

    In fact, Bowers & Wilkins should consider doing some work with Wilson. It would be a grweat match – the best audio equipment in the world pairing with one of the best songwriters and producers in the world.

  • Gareth says:

    I really like Metallica – S & M, it sounds great in Dolby Digital. Will check out Santana, The Eagles and AD\DC. Music in 5.1 can be awesome.

  • Peter Ring says:

    Lindberg Lyd (2L.no) and Aix (aixrecords.com) makes the most immersive real recordings.
    All are recorded exclusively for multi channel at live venues.
    Both have free samplers, so go off and be amazed!

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