Surround Albums to AVOID!!!

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RustyStatic

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In a season of weeding out right now, to try to get down to physical copies of my definitive go-to versions of albums. Like, if I’m home and have access to surround in my listening room, is that the hands-down no brainer (as it is in many cases) or can I just be honest and say “no, it’s really not.” So subjective, and that’s the fun of it in my opinion... but anyway, it brought me back to this interesting (and fun, in a masochistic sorta way) thread. My latest conclusions?

BAD. Black Sabbath: Paranoid quad on the 2009 deluxe. I mean, a curiosity for a one-time listen, and who knows, maybe included just for the sake of it being such a rarity (like the Syd live show on the Floyd Early Years box - although they were at least very upfront about the reason for the horrible quality and inclusion)... but I can’t imagine ever reaching for it as a definitive listen. Hissy, sludgy... sounds 15 generations deep. Oof.

MEH. Beastie Boys: Hot Sauce Committee 5.1. While not “bad”, there’s nothing exciting about the mix and there’s just no power in it. The songs that should SLAM (OK, Too Many Rappers) just sound like easy listening versions of the stereo mix. And even the stereo mix on the Blu Ray is weaker than the version that streams from Qobuz. If I’m reaching for this album I wanna get my ass kicked, not have a polite acid-jazz romp.

MEH. I know this one is gonna get me flamed but that quad mix on the new Mott the Hoople from Vocalion? I love those guys (the label AND the band) so no shots at them but the stereo just SMOKES the quad. No comparison. The quad isn’t “bad” but I just don’t know why I’d ever reach for it.

WEIRD. M. Sasaji & L.A. Allstars: Afro Blue. The music on this is decent I’d say (not a huge fan of the vocalist on those few tunes), but because it was recorded live in a small club? There is actually a whole conversation going on in the rears between two nitwits at a table. I kept turning around thinking “WTF? Can that be on the RECORDING?” And it is. Completely bizarre and distracting. No thanks.
 

Wagonmaster_91

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[MEH. I know this one is gonna get me flamed but that quad mix on the new Mott the Hoople from Vocalion? I love those guys (the label AND the band) so no shots at them but the stereo just SMOKES the quad. No comparison. The quad isn’t “bad” but I just don’t know why I’d ever reach for it.
I am a huge Mott The Hoople fan, but sadly I must agree. I hadn't played the quad LP version in awhile so I had forgotten how this mix sounded. I got the new Vocalion release and had the same reaction. Bad quad mixing choices on many songs (buried lead vocals or guitars) and lack of punch overall. After listening to the quad mix, I then switched to the stereo mix decoded through a QSD-1 and thought it sounded much better.

And just to stir up some trouble...I had the same reaction to the first Santana quad re-release. For example, compare the dynamics and punch of the quad and stereo mixes of "Soul Sacrifice". The stereo mix is exciting, quieting down near the end to rise up and roar to the finish. The quad mix seems reserved, as if the mixer was trying to tame down the overall feel to appeal to listeners that considered (at the time) Blood, Sweat & Tears a light Jazz group rather that a Rock/Pop band with Jazz sensibilities. The mix on Abraxas is much better IMHO. (But the packaging on both releases makes me glad I bought them.)
 

RustyStatic

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More casualties...

I sold a bunch of stereo equipment over the last two years and plowed the money into snatching up copies of surround titles, even at some pretty stupid prices (ah, hobbies). This is because I ended up deciding that for me, the polls here certainly help give me some direction—and for stuff I'm not familiar with that is pretty universally panned, I'm good to just avoid—but for content I know and love, I've learned that it's probably worth hunting down the disc if I can to give it a spin and come to my own conclusions (I don't have any major issues with Hemispheres, Agents of Fortune, Ziggy Stardust, etc.). The below are probably not a surprise but I didn't see all of them represented here, so...

MEH/BAD. Bowie: Station to Station. Plenty has been said about this but I'll echo an earlier comment that it's simply a "waste of plastic" mainly because it's a wasted opportunity. Is it listenable? Overall I felt that was a "yes", but it doesn't come anywhere near to the stereo mix and I don't know why anyone would reach for it, for any reason. There's really nothing at all to recommend. Not even for historical or curiosity's sake. Just a non-event. And if that's what you're getting the box for, there isn't even a lot of cool stuff in there, just minor paper reprint paraphernalia you look at once and never again.

WEIRD. Eric Johnson: Ah Via Musicom. Much has been said about this too... funny thing is that it's actually pretty enjoyable sound-wise and there are some "oh, that's interesting when opened up like that" moments, but it's impossible to get past the artists's own complaints that they weirdly used scratch tracks and such on this mix... Cliffs of Dover is just ridiculous in this sense and it's kind of embarrassing... I was thinking "if I wanted to blow someone's doors off with this unbelievable tune, I would NEVER play them this version because the virtuosity of the real final track is so severely undercut by using the scratch rhythm tracks here..." to me it's the equivalent of a demos disc in a super deluxe that you listen to once, it gives you some insight into the creative process, and then you never revisit. And at the price this thing goes for, that's really tough to justify.

DUPED. Yes: Open Your Eyes. Learned elsewhere on this site that despite the elevated price and it being called the limited "Surround Sound" version, it's just a goofy faux surround mix (in stereo, no less) that sounded no different to me then the other version I have. I didn't get too surgical doing A/B tests... because, why would I?

MEH/WEIRD. Uriah Heep: Gold From The Byron Era. I am not "on the fence" about early Heep, I grew up with this band and they're near and dear to me. But the folks that have been handling their reissues over the past 20 years-ish have been releasing one head-scratcher after another. For instance, the 2-disc BMG/Sanctuary releases had fantastic remasters on the first discs and the most amateurish, goofy "alternate versions" on the companion discs that I have ever seen or heard, anywhere... glitchy "jump cut" versions with obvious edit points that simply doubled bridges or repeated riffs for inexplicable reasons other than the editor and his childhood buddy "thought it'd be cool"... I'm all for buddy stories and am not trying to be a jerk but I can't imagine why they thought anyone else would be interested in it, or who could have heard the result and green-lighted it, because they're literally embarrassing to even listen to. And that's kinda how I feel about"Gold" too... if I want to listen to these albums, I want the real performances, not these obviously inferior alternate takes mixed into 5.1. Availability and legal issues notwithstanding, I still just can't imagine why I'd reach for this when wanting a Heep fix. All it does is make me want the real thing and it ends up not satisfying. The quality ranges throughout... some tracks sound better than others (Bird of Prey is pretty great, Look at Yourself sounds like it's coming from under a pile of blankets) and use more of the performances that we know than others... but I've found myself saying out loud "what the heck is this?" (and also as others have said, you can only listen to the DTS version in surround because there's a delay issue on the Dolby that is so baffling that tells you right there what kind of quality assurance we're dealing with—more evidence would be the tape speeds varying in the middle of songs).
 
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steelydave

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MEH. Beastie Boys: Hot Sauce Committee 5.1. While not “bad”, there’s nothing exciting about the mix and there’s just no power in it. The songs that should SLAM (OK, Too Many Rappers) just sound like easy listening versions of the stereo mix. And even the stereo mix on the Blu Ray is weaker than the version that streams from Qobuz. If I’m reaching for this album I wanna get my ass kicked, not have a polite acid-jazz romp.
Having recently ripped my Blu-Ray of this, I think the issue here lies with the fact that the stereo mix is mastered with the compression level set to STUN (DR4 to DR6) and the 5.1 mix isn't, averaging anywhere from DR11 to DR14 (!) which is at times, 3x more dynamic range. I think when you're used to a compressed version of something, a more dynamic version can sound soft, or floppy, or underhwelming, or lacking power, but I think when you get used to it, it ends up becoming a more rewarding listen, because there's a lot more variation and nuance in the mix, instead of everything being the same volume as everything else, and strident at that.

Having said that, the 5.1 mix isn't really anything to write home about - the guy who mixed it (Paul Hsu) is really a sound mixer for film by trade, and the 5.1 mix very much employs the kind of 'most things up front' mix that movies have. There are certainly discrete elements in the rears, but there are also long stretches (mostly, it seems, during the rap verses) where the rears are entirely silent.

It's a shame we most likely will never get any other Beastie Boys albums in 5.1 - I think the legal morass of re-clearing samples for a surround release will scupper that for all eternity. When they did the deluxe edition of Paul's Boutique, they weren't even allowed to add tracks or a second disc of B-sides to the release because it would've constituted something "new" and required them to re-clear every one of the hundreds of samples on that album, so they offered a 45 minute 'commentary track' as a free download on their website instead.


And just to stir up some trouble...I had the same reaction to the first Santana quad re-release. For example, compare the dynamics and punch of the quad and stereo mixes of "Soul Sacrifice". The stereo mix is exciting, quieting down near the end to rise up and roar to the finish. The quad mix seems reserved, as if the mixer was trying to tame down the overall feel to appeal to listeners that considered (at the time) Blood, Sweat & Tears a light Jazz group rather that a Rock/Pop band with Jazz sensibilities. The mix on Abraxas is much better IMHO. (But the packaging on both releases makes me glad I bought them.)
I couldn't agree with this any more fully, but I never posted on the poll thread because I didn't want to ruin the buzz of everyone who enjoyed it so fully. Almost every track has a buried lead instrument or vocal that's egregious enough to make it unenjoyable for me. The diagonal panning (front left/rear right) of the drums doesn't work at all either - unlike 70's recordings where they'd sometimes do this and it actually sounded like a stereo mix, the two parts of the drum mix on this album sound like they're meant to be stacked on top of each other in mono, and when you spread them out like that they sound totally discombobulated. The lowlight in that regard for me is the drum solo in Soul Sacrifice, which has none of the excitement of the stereo version (and especially not a glimmer of the Woodstock performance, especially when the overdubbed cymbal hits come in in the front and just seem like random noise rather than the crescendo of a performance.

Unlike you, however, I don't think this was done by design - to me it sounds like Larry Keyes was unfamiliar with the material and/or the nuances of the stereo mix. I'm not sure why they didn't go back and make more attempts at the quad mix, but I'm guessing it was time constraints, or money, or both. I also believe this was probably mixed, if not in 1969, close enough to it, when CBS (and Keyes himself) were still learning the ropes with quad - the fact that Keyes name is on the tape box for the quad mix of Paul Revere's Hard 'N' Heavy (with marshmallow) (along with a 1969 date) confirms that he was definitely mixing quad that early. My feeling is that Keyes and Al Lawrence mixed all those early Santana quads in sequential order around the time the stereo versions came out (69/70/71) and then when CBS put out their big first batch of quad releases in January 1972, they issued Abraxas and Santana III because they knew those mixes were good, and held back the quad mix of the 1st album because they knew it was anything but. But by 1974, Santana was deep in his commercially not as successful jazz-fusion phase, and Columbia probably wanted to make a little money off these old mixes of his best selling music, so they issued the 1st album and Santana's Greatest Hits (which is just material from the first three albums) in quad.

Conversely, I think the quad mix of Abraxas is something of a minor miracle, especially for being one of Columbia's first quad releases. Keyes and Lawrence seem to have learned a ton between these first two Santana albums, and it really shows. A vast majority of what we've come to call the "Gold Border quads" (the CBS albums issued in the LP sleeve with the gold border around the album artwork) aren't really cohesive mixes - they can often sound like 4 independent mono channels battling against each other, like the Sly & the Family Stone Greatest Hits, for example. Abraxas isn't like that at all, creating a convincing surround "sound field" throughout, and it isn't a "set it and forget it" mix either - some tracks have the bass in the front, some in the rear left, and some in the rear right. I also like the "swirly guitar" leslie effect - this album gets a lot of stick for having too many "ping pong quad" effects, but it's not like that's on every song, they chose it for a specific track, and I think it works. Keyes also employs an engineering trick involving 3 different delay units to get the lead vocals in Black Magic Woman in all four speakers at once, a trick I don't think he used again until one of his very final quad mixes, The Isley Brothers Go For Your Guns, in 1977. Not only is the SACD a massive sonic upgrade on the old DTS CD, but the channels are much more balanced (ie the rears are appropriately loud) which really makes it a great listen. My only niggle is that in pumping up the bass (a welcome addition) they got a little too much of the upper bass range (probably in or around the 200Hz range) which can occasionally make it sound a little bit wooly.
 

RustyStatic

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Having recently ripped my Blu-Ray of this, I think the issue here lies with the fact that the stereo mix is mastered with the compression level set to STUN (DR4 to DR6) and the 5.1 mix isn't, averaging anywhere from DR11 to DR14 (!) which is at times, 3x more dynamic range. I think when you're used to a compressed version of something, a more dynamic version can sound soft, or floppy, or underhwelming, or lacking power, but I think when you get used to it, it ends up becoming a more rewarding listen, because there's a lot more variation and nuance in the mix, instead of everything being the same volume as everything else, and strident at that.
That is super insightful and yeah, I was having some second thoughts about that one and why I might be feeling the way I was... especially because the 5.1 is nowhere near BAD, it's just a different vibe. But you're right, even when I was typing "have my ass kicked" I realized that a lot of tracks I equate with that feeling are heavily compressed. It made me realize once again that "well, to everything its own time and season", and if it does the trick from time to time... no matter how sacrilegious...

It's this thinking that is making me consider grabbing a copy of Snakes & Arrows to see how much I mind it. Don't kill me. :LOL:
 

ar surround

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And just to stir up some trouble...I had the same reaction to the first Santana quad re-release. For example, compare the dynamics and punch of the quad and stereo mixes of "Soul Sacrifice". The stereo mix is exciting, quieting down near the end to rise up and roar to the finish. The quad mix seems reserved, as if the mixer was trying to tame down the overall feel to appeal to listeners that considered (at the time) Blood, Sweat & Tears a light Jazz group rather that a Rock/Pop band with Jazz sensibilities. The mix on Abraxas is much better IMHO. (But the packaging on both releases makes me glad I bought them.)
I couldn't agree with this any more fully, but I never posted on the poll thread because I didn't want to ruin the buzz of everyone who enjoyed it so fully. Almost every track has a buried lead instrument or vocal that's egregious enough to make it unenjoyable for me...
Wow. Having never owned the debut Santana album until the release of this quad SACD, these are shocking statements for me. I need to listen to the stereo layer on that SACD. I hope you two haven't ruined my life. LOL
 

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Geez, with ALL these recent revelations that SO MANY of our treasured Surround albums, including Santana's debut, have multiple deficiencies, wouldn't it be a hoot to finally discover they were ALL supervised by none other than:


See the source image

PHIL~I~BUSTER...a master of time delay
 
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sjcorne

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Obviously, what makes a 'good' or 'bad' surround mix is incredibly subjective--but I thought this thread was meant to weed out the truly awful discs with no redeeming qualities, like Bowie's Station To Station. The quad mix of Santana's debut isn't flawless by any means, but I certainly wouldn't want anyone to read this thread and get the impression that it's one to avoid entirely. It's currently got 49 "10" votes on the poll thread, with the lowest score being an "8". If you're a fan of that album and surround sound, you should have that disc.
 

Clement

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I have never heard the surround mix of Station To Station, but i do LOVE that album, so–despite what i read on the POLL thread–i had my eye out for the box. Here's how bad it must be: i found a copy at Electric Fetus in Minneapolis, and the clerk who helped me locate it (i had asked for multichannel mixes; they don't have a separate section, but somehow they had some set aside . . . perhaps another surround head in the twin cities . . . ?) told me in no uncertain terms that i did not want to buy "that dreck"! He even went so far as to say he could not, in good conscience, sell it to me! Now that's some serious customer service!
 

Old Quad Guy

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I too want the box because it’s Bowie. Yes, I’ve heard the mix. I imagined something different, but we’re not likely to get another surround mix anytime soon. And price doesn’t go down either, regardless of how one feels about the mix. I find it strange that people will complain about a mix, but won’t sell the title and get a lot of money for it.
 

edisonbaggins

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Obviously, what makes a 'good' or 'bad' surround mix is incredibly subjective--but I thought this thread was meant to weed out the truly awful discs with no redeeming qualities, like Bowie's Station To Station.
It was, but this is QQ! There's precious little consensus even on some atrocious titles!
 

Monkish

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A vast majority of what we've come to call the "Gold Border quads" (the CBS albums issued in the LP sleeve with the gold border around the album artwork) aren't really cohesive mixes - they can often sound like 4 independent mono channels battling against each other, like the Sly & the Family Stone Greatest Hits, for example.
I’ve never been able to totally put my finger on why the Sly Greatest Hits quad is so disappointing to me, beyond a feeling that the mix isn’t cohesive at all. Your quote about the channels battling each other totally does the trick.
 

Wagonmaster_91

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Obviously, what makes a 'good' or 'bad' surround mix is incredibly subjective--but I thought this thread was meant to weed out the truly awful discs with no redeeming qualities, like Bowie's Station To Station. The quad mix of Santana's debut isn't flawless by any means, but I certainly wouldn't want anyone to read this thread and get the impression that it's one to avoid entirely. It's currently got 49 "10" votes on the poll thread, with the lowest score being an "8". If you're a fan of that album and surround sound, you should have that disc.
Santana: And, like Steelydave, that is why I didn't post my reaction on the poll. If 10 of your friends are raving about how good a new restaurant is, but you ate there and thought it was pretty average, you probably aren't going to try to convince them all they are wrong. I have heard the first album hundreds of times - one of my all-time faves - but the lack of punch, gimmicky reverb flourishes and lack of dynamics in some of the tracks makes me prefer the stereo mix. I wouldn't suggest someone "avoid" it as long as the $50 price tag doesn't bother you. And, ARsurround, don't worry. You have both mixes on your disc. :)
 

ar surround

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A vast majority of what we've come to call the "Gold Border quads" (the CBS albums issued in the LP sleeve with the gold border around the album artwork) aren't really cohesive mixes - they can often sound like 4 independent mono channels battling against each other, like the Sly & the Family Stone Greatest Hits, for example.
I’ve never been able to totally put my finger on why the Sly Greatest Hits quad is so disappointing to me, beyond a feeling that the mix isn’t cohesive at all. Your quote about the channels battling each other totally does the trick.
Funny, I was just listening to it yesterday afternoon. I wouldn't call it a surround album album to avoid, but the mix is definitely as you both have described. But when I play it with Logic7 converting it to 7.1 it actually sounds great. On a good multichannel mix, putting a Logic7 overlay results in a mess, but on the 4-independent-mono-channels type of mix it works wonders. I wonder if any of these fancy newfangled codecs can put an overlay on these old quads to make them sound better. :unsure:
 

J. PUPSTER

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Santana: And, like Steelydave, that is why I didn't post my reaction on the poll. If 10 of your friends are raving about how good a new restaurant is, but you ate there and thought it was pretty average, you probably aren't going to try to convince them all they are wrong. I have heard the first album hundreds of times - one of my all-time faves - but the lack of punch, gimmicky reverb flourishes and lack of dynamics in some of the tracks makes me prefer the stereo mix. I wouldn't suggest someone "avoid" it as long as the $50 price tag doesn't bother you. And, ARsurround, don't worry. You have both mixes on your disc. :)
I remember posting about the mix on the song Samba Pa Ti on the Abraxas title, and how I didn’t care for the new mix for the guitar compared to the stereo version. But, I can usually nitpick most mixes/masters and come up with something I’d prefer differently; and I might even spell it out in a Poll, but maybe take off half a point (1/2 out of 10) and round up to 10 just because everything else is pretty darn amazing. I believe I did that for the Doobies Quadio, as some songs have too light front vocals IMO. But, nah nothing to keep me from buying them for sure.
My vote is for a Bruce Springsteen’s Devils and Dust type of title with too little action in the rears (and also Santana Lotus.)
And another one is Silverline’s Don’t Tell The Band by Widespread Panic ( just a mess!)
But hey, if you really dig the music and can’t resist, who am I to spoil your spending habits :)
 

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Yeah, and I know Silverlines are pretty iffy in general but I finally got to The Best of Colosseum this morning... and... hoo boy, that one is a hot mess. Kinda hard to even put into words what's going on there. Not much surround to speak of and even what's going on up front sounds nothing like the recordings I've heard before... just like, pulled apart in weird ways with no power or presence... super strange.
 

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Yeah, and I know Silverlines are pretty iffy in general but I finally got to The Best of Colosseum this morning... and... hoo boy, that one is a hot mess. Kinda hard to even put into words what's going on there. Not much surround to speak of and even what's going on up front sounds nothing like the recordings I've heard before... just like, pulled apart in weird ways with no power or presence... super strange.
I would put the SACD Santana quad ahead of every Silverline multichannel disc ever made.
 

ar surround

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I would put the SACD Santana quad ahead of every Silverline multichannel disc ever made.
I was thinking the same thing. But then I came across the Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band 5.1's. Unbelievably, I never noticed...or maybe I just forgot...that these two fantastic sounding discs are SILVERLINE titles.
 
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