Sgt. Peppers in Surround 5.1 – Amazing! Part I
Summer has arrived. I gave my final lecture and final exams, turned in all my grades, and attended graduation to send off another crop of audio/media engineers a couple of weeks ago. The class of 2017 was among my favorites and it was great receive a round of applause following the senior crit. I’m quite sure not everyone appreciates the demands I place on them but those that accept and overcome the challenges will undoubtedly find careers in the field. Many others will not but they are prepared for life in other professions. Congratulations to all of my students that work so hard and find their way into the professional world of audio. Bravo. And a special shout out to Mitch and Tyler for your encouraging comments.
Fifty years ago, The Beatles released Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, a record that Rolling Stone magazine put at the top of their list of “the greatest albums of all time”. I wouldn’t disagree. It’s hard to believe that it’s been that long. I was 14 years old and living in Michigan when I purchased my copy — yes, I spent my hard earned money on a vinyl LP (there was no other choice)! I played that album countless times and have come to appreciate it all the more knowing that it was produced using only 4-track multitrack equipment. Geoff Emerick, the engineer at Abbey Road, and George Martin used a technique called “ping ponging” to record multiple microphones to dedicated tracks and then created submixes to the ultimate 4-track master. Interestingly, I have a copy of the 4-track master. A true appreciation of the craftsmanship can be seen when listening to the individual tracks.
The original release was in mono. Producer George Martin and band members spent about a week crafting the mixes and mastering the project in mono. Stereo was only starting to find its way into the production processes and distribution channels. As I understand it, the stereo release of Sgt. Peppers didn’t involve John, Paul, George, and Ringo and was completed in less than a couple of days. Simple stereo was an afterthought.
So imagine my excitement when I learned that the 50th anniversary re-issue of the Sgt. Pepper album would include new stereo mixes AND 5.1 surround versions of all of the tracks. Giles Martin, the son of the legendary Beatles producer and an accomplished audio engineer in his own right, was responsible for the new mixes — both the stereo and surround — on the collector’s edition. Knowing that the 4-track master has many of the individual instruments “bounced” together, I was particularly interested in hearing how Giles and his associates were able to extract each music part in order to take full advantage of the 5.1 speakers. I actually spent more than a few hours in my own studio trying to create a surround mix of a few of the tracks. It proved to be an insurmountable challenge.
But it wasn’t insurmountable for the engineers at Abbey Road. From what Giles has said in some online interviews, they were able to move back one generation to the 4-track submasters from which the “ping ponging” was originally done. They located them in the archives and painstakingly transferred them to Pro Tools (I’m assuming at 96 kHz/24-bits or more) and put them back in sync. Other exotic digital processing was used to separate additional “folded” tracks. Then the process of mixing and mastering was done.
I’ve read a couple of reviews that question the rationale of remixing the ultimate “classic” Beatles record. The sentiments expressed focus on the “original intention” of the producer and band and how to alter the balance or spatial placement of a single instrument or voice would somehow violate a revered piece of sonic art. Nonsense. If technology exists that can bring new life to the original production in a new way, then why not?
I received my copy of the 50th anniversary edition of Sgt. Peppers yesterday. With shipping, it cost me about $175 — money that was well spent. I listened to the new stereo mixes yesterday as I sat in my office and this morning I dedicated a block of time to listening to the 5.1 mixes in my home theater room (B&W FCM-8s, an Oppo DBP 205, Yamaha receiver, and zip cord for cabling). The last time I spent time actively listening to an album and doing nothing else was also a Beatles record — the “Love” album, which was also mixed by Giles with guidance from his father.
I’ll provide a track by track review tomorrow but let me just share what I told my wife as I asked her to sit in the sweet spot and experience the 5.1 surround Sgt. Peppers. “Anyone who prefers the mono or stereo version over the 5.1 surround presentation doesn’t know what they’re talking about!” It’s so amazing to hear the background vocals, audience noise, sound effects, and discrete instrumentation coming from all around you.
The Los Angeles Audio Show starts this Friday at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel at LAX. I’ll have my normal table top playback system (an Oppo Blu-ray player, Benchmark DAC2-HGC, Oppo Headphones AND the Smyth Room Realizer). But I’m also going to bring a YARRA 3DX “smart” beam forming, sound bar to playback the Sgt. Pepper Blu-ray in binauralized surround without headphones. The YARRA 3DX campaign is right around the corner. The tentative date is July 11th and the company will have a demonstration system set up on the Mezzanine level next to AIX Records. If you’re anywhere near Southern California, you should stop by to hear what this innovative technology can do. Imagine hearing The Beatles Sgt. Peppers in immersive 3D-audio without a home theater setup or headphones. I want to encourage my readers to stop by the YARRA 3DX website and sign up for the VIP list. There are well over 1000 names on the email list. I’ve been adding videos, specifications, FAQs, photos, and information to the site on a daily basis. It’s definitely worth checking out.
To be continued…
24 thoughts on “Sgt. Peppers in Surround 5.1 – Amazing! Part I”
In general, I advise that programs be listened to in the format in which the recording was made to fully ingest the original intent of the artist. For simple acoustic recordings, this is a must IMHO.
But pop, multi-track recordings w/ lots of out of phase information lend themselves to multi-channel ; there is no reality reference to begin with.
I have no trouble believing Sgt.P in 5.1 is big fun, with stereo occupying the middle ground between mono and multi-channel.
But please…don’t ever re-channel the Rolling Stones. The ABCKO SACDs are stunning.
To each his own Craig, but I can’t imagine any recording benefiting from being spread among 5.1 speakers and more…even The Rolling Stones. The problem is the original recordings don’t allow for surround mixing because of the limitations of the technology of the time. I’m amazed that they got the Pepper’s recording to sound so cool. I understand the principal of leaving a master the way it was. To colorize or make 3D a movie that was imagined and released in B&W or 2D is different however, than recasting a classic album is glorious surround.
Considering that the Stones original sonic model was a wall of mono, I’m thinking that taking that dense sound and opening it up, spreading it around a la 5.1 would take us quite far away from the sound they made in the studio.Even their many stereo releases aren’t exactly light and airy. Some music communicates better when opened up, and some lose the gestalt impact, put it that way. Best, Craig
I think if a record was originally made in two channel (or one as is the case with SP) then its important to preserve that original for posterity. Giles Martin appears to have done that as well as create the new 5.1 mix. I would be interested to know what Mccartney and Starr make of this – i’m sure they would have embraced the technology had it been available at the time. I have Seal’s first and second albums on DVD audio mixed from the original tracks to 5.1 and i think they sound superb, also Genesis albums SACD 5.1’s that benefit greatly from the layers of instrumentation being given more room to breathe. Kraftwerk have just released their latest collection on Blu-ray mixed to Dolby Atmos – not my cup of T musically but good to see some innovation and fun. Multi channel is the real game changer in listening to music not PCM vs DSD 96/24 vs 44.1/16 etc etc…
Took me right back to 1967, in my parent’s loving room with a couple of buddies, listening on the Motorola console. I’m sure the new reissue sounds much better, but the experience was the same. WOW!
” to send off another crop of audio/media engineers”
Too bad there isn’t any music around to record anymore. They’ll probably wind up selling life insurance to make a living.
I can’t wait to hear the sgt pepper in 5.1
the 5.1 Love album is such a treat and sounds wonderful on my Linn Exakt system
Thanks for a great review
I recommend the LP record for the 50th anniversary of “Sgt. Peppers”. There is too much compression on all of the digital releases and that is really a pity. A missed opportunity! In my opinion they should have given it to Steven Wilson because he is famous for his flat, non ear bleeding, transfers.
Here’s a quote from the Abbey Road mastering engineer:
Excerpt from Audiophile Review 5/22/17
“Something I have been doing of late when I know there is likely to be a vinyl release of a project, is to capture a parallel feed of the mastered signal to my digital workstation specifically for the vinyl version. This vinyl pass is without any extra digital limiting (used to make digital platforms sound LOUD) and is completely unnecessary for analogue records and the cuts sound a lot better without it. This was how I cut the masters for the new stereo mix of Sgt. Pepper. The master lacquer discs were half-speed mastered from an un-limited feed, whereas all the digital platforms will have digital limiting applied.
The limited version was used as the source on all of the digitally delivered formats. It was kept high resolution for the Blu-ray and down-sampled and dithered for the non high resolution formats (e.g. CD). I should point out here that I only applied very gentle (?) limiting as thankfully the brief for this album was not to slam it against the wall with excessive level and allow the whole thing to breathe. This is obviously a good thing for sonics.”
Miles Showell – Mastering Engineer, Abbey Road Studios
I’m also looking forward to hearing it. In fact I recently heard the Krafwert Minimum Maximum album in “5.1” as well as the mixes of Steven Wilson, Yes or Jethro, for example and many do not know what they are missing out on.
I believe its a gift from above to hear music in multiple channels. Many friends are musicians and for them creating music is what it is all about, usually 24/7.
We are audience members listening in on each Gig. The issue is not multi channel but the cost, in my opinion. If I were to obtain a Copland 6 channel preamp, 10 or 12 Bryston 7BSSt, Van Den Hul Carbon Cabling, Silver XLR and RCA connectors, 10 or 12 B&W 808 loudspeakers or if finances permitted-20 or 24 808’s, Build the sound room I have been dreaming of for over 40 years, fabricate the remote controlled arms to position each speaker or speaker columm in mid air and then find a suitable source to feed everything, I surely would need close to half to a million dollars or more if I did most of everything on my own and acted as the General Contractor on the dirt cheap.
The sound would be good and addictive with all frequencies and a low noise floor. I dont have that money only those thoughts.
Is this the reason why these “sound bars” for lack of better knowledge are being promoted by AIX? Economy of scale and direct not far away sound at an economical price point? I believe I would miss all the frequencies-especially the lower registers and the air movement a wall of sound creates by way of lots of drivers.
For the time being I will stick with my four 808 in stereo at low SPL nearfield and keep buying Lotto tickets.
Thank you for all AIX does-a real refreshing consistant, constant bunch of information flow that is especially appreciated.
I too was looking forward to listening to the remix(es).
Untill now just the stereo remix – and I did enjoy it.
Only problem that I have is, that I would have to buy ‘the whole package’ to get the version,
that I am most eager to hear.
What a cheek – they aren’t offering the BR seperately ;-(
Mark, I’d be interested in seeing you analyze these tracks vs earlier releases. The clarity is definitely better (you can hear a creaking chair at the end of ‘Day in the Life’, for example) but the compression sounds massive.
Sgt Peppers is rightly lauded as the best rock album ever. It’s up there as my number 1. I appreciate your review of the 5.1 mix, but I have a different request for you.
Have you tried, or would you be able to compare the HD stereo version against the regular 16/44.1 version? I see no reason at all why one should be better than the other, but I expect to see loads of people proclaiming that the HD version is better. The reason for my asking is because of the price difference. In the USA the delta is not too much, but here in Australia the box set with HD version is way more expensive than the regular version.
A tricky request I know, not just because I am asking some of your time, but also because it is likely to stir some controversy, which is not the purpose of my request.
Have you experienced the JMF Audio DAC ?
I can’t say that I have. Are they exhibiting at the LA Audio Show? I’ve have heard a lot of DACs spanning a wide variety of price ranges and haven’t found one that beats the Benchmarck DAC2 (they have a DAC3 but I’m not sure I need the upgrade).
That’s kinda question where to hear the equipment, except for Alsace and Munich. In general, they have been famous for their amplifier, but their DAC pretends to beat any other. As one can get, they custom-make the hardware.
I view 5.1 so called “surround sound” as son of quadraphonic sound which could have been called 4.0. Here are the differences. In 5.1 a center front channel has been added. This was necessary because the system is usually used for home theater where the direction of the dialogue has to appear to come from between the speakers somewhere near where the person in the video is located. Often if this is “derived” 5.1 this is just a monophonic composite of L+R. Only where a true center channel was recorded separately on the master tape is this truly 5 channels. In derived 5.1 receivers used in the “wide” mode increased channel separation of the front channels is achieved by using a variant of Ralph Glasgal’s “separation control” circuit which was patented under his name when he worked for Fisher Radio many decades ago. This concept uses a phase cancellation method similar to the dematrix circuit in FM stereo demultiplexers to isolate L and R channels from L+R and L-R signals. Ambiophonic sound is the acoustic analog of this electronic circuit.
The rear channels can be fully isolated from other channels by SACD technology as one example. But even in the days of quadraphonic sound, besides the multiplicity of matrix systems there were at least two true 4 channel systems, 4 channel audio tape and the RCA CD4 system for phonograph records.
IMO 5.1 like 4.0 fail to produce lifelike concert hall realism based on the same analysis that causes binaural sound played through headphones to fail, only the details are different. The rear or side ambiance channels are beamed at the listener from two points whose sources are easy to locate very quickly. This does not provide the envelopment that concert halls impart where reflections come from so many directions that you cannot tell where any of them are coming from. So unlike binaural sound 5.1 does provide vector fields, but these fields are way off the mark. Again they are based on the static notion of detecting the direction of sound which as I explained elsewhere is easy to prove wrong.
It seems you’re requirement is to replicate “concert hall realism”. That most definitely is not my goal in making a recording using either speakers or headphones for playback. I want my surround mixes to immerse the listener in a complete soundfield. Using stereo microphone techniques and careful distribution of channels, I believe I accomplish my goal. Using phantom imaging, the speakers do disappear delivering a very involving experience.
My experience is that the best so called surround sound systems can do is put the listener among the musicians. If that is your goal then you are right. But if your goal is to have the musicians in front of you and duplicate the immersive experience a fine concert hall like Boston Symphony Hall gives you, all too rare unfortunately, then neither surround sound systems nor binaural systems played through headphones will work. I heard the best Ambiophonic sound system probably in the world where I was surrounded by 360 degrees of electrostatic loudspeaker panels and that didn’t work either although the effect of the front speakers was interesting. The sound sources appeared to be a cross between listening to stereo speakers and headphones with the sources along a line about 150 degrees horizontally in front of me between me and the speakers localized with pinpoint accuracy. The real sense of immersion comes from the vast numbers of reflections arriving at just the right angles and the right times. Most concert halls don’t measure up to this. So far it is still a matter of speculation because a valid method to measure it and what distinguishes concert halls like Boston Symphony Hall which works very well from halls like Avery Fisher Hall which doesn’t work well at all hasn’t been developed yet.
My goal is to maximize the emotional and intellectual impact of a particular piece of music. The experience of a concert hall is a completely different thing. When I attend a concert, the music is distant and unfocused even when I have the perfect seats. It’s a requirement of the performance practice for ensembles and large audiences. When using technology and personal delivery systems, things can be different. The reproduction system and the environment become part of the creative process.
I have neither emotional nor intellectual reactions to music and other sounds. I either enjoy them to one degree or another or I am bored by them, or I am repulsed by them. Music cannot make be cry, laugh, or feel any emotions whatsoever. I know this is contrary to what most audiophiles and even music lovers say. I sometimes enjoy the sounds of live acoustic music if it is the a fine art, the product of a rare sequence of efforts by composers, artists, and instrument makers and well performed in a suitable space. The challenge of duplicating these sounds was strictly a science and engineering project for me and no emotion was involved in that either. As an engineering professional I cannot be influenced by anything except objectivity. I bring the same skills to this kind of effort as I bring to my day jobs where emotion cannot be allowed to intrude. If it does, I’ll be fired and out of a job. So the whole thing revolves around physics, mathematics, and electrical engineering. At the current state of the art, the limits of my efforts is constrained by my acoustic memory of sounds I enjoyed.
It’s sad that you’ve never felt an emotional or intellectual reaction to a piece of music. Including emotion and intellectual stimulation in your assessment of music is a necessary requirement IMHO. To listen to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, or Stravinsky’s “Rite” or “So Sad” sung by Jennifer Warnes can be a transformative event. Being objective doesn’t exclude having a heart, brain, or soul.
Why oh why this obsession with trying to replicate a live performance in your living room? i really do not understand it. It’s utterly pointless and unnecessary! A live performance is just that – a live performance. Enjoy it for what it is and then enjoy your recorded music for what it is – recorded music. Two different ways of experiencing music, both equally valid.
Well performed and recorded multi channel sound is stunning and allows the engineer to create the soundscape they want in a far more immersive way than standard two channel.