Surround Gift Guide

With more and more titles being released in surround sound, it’s tough to figure out which ones to buy. We’ve asked our friends at to condense some of the reviews on their Web site to provide some guidance when shopping for surround. To see these reviews in their full glory — as well as the latest surround news and other reviews — visit

Mozart: Symphony No. 26, Symphony No.41, The George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra (Mandeal) –AIX Records (DVD-Audio)

Mark Waldrep, the founder and chief engineer of AIX Records, has the rare and wonderful combination of technical skill and golden ears. This recording made in Europe features beautifully recorded mixes in MLP 5.1, DTS 5.1, and stereo PCM, as well as an enterprising “stage” 5.1 mix, which puts you on stage amidst the orchestra. Too bad it’s not a better orchestra, though. This eastern European band plays pleasantly enough, but they are not the world-class ensemble that such a world-class recording technique deserves. One would hope some enterprising philanthropic organization might recognize the potential artistic glory to be found in funding a recording engineered by Waldrep featuring the likes of the Cleveland Orchestra or one of the other great American orchestras currently not being recorded. Hint, hint.
–© Mark Jordan, 2004

Blood on the Tracks, Bob Dylan — Columbia (Hybrid SACD)

This is a glorious reworking of one of Dylan’s finest albums. The sound is incredibly fresh and immediate, with far more color and impact than the previous CD incarnation. Re-mastering engineers Phil Ramone and Elliot Scheiner have gone for a delightfully aggressive mix, putting different instruments in each channel on the more fully scored songs, yet without distracting from the central focus on the vocal lines. This puts you in the room with the musicians, and allows many previously submerged details to shine. For long-time Dylan fans, it’s like getting to know a dear old friend all over again. And for those who have yet to dip into the craggy bard’s songbook, well, what are you waiting for?
–© Mark Jordan, 2004

Still Not Getting Any…, Simple Plan — Lava (DVD-Audio DualDisc)

Albums are slowly starting to appear in the much vaunted and already much maligned (unnecessarily) DualDisc format, which, it is hoped, will rekindle some of the record-buying public’s enthusiasm for a physical product. One of Warner’s launch titles is a DVD-Audio hybrid version of angry young grunge rockers’ Simple Plan’s Still Not Getting Any…and it’s… simply awful. The album’s fidelity is decidedly low resolution; there is no bass to speak of and the high-end is a mess. The surround mix (and I use that term loosely) is a joke, essentially front L/R with a low-level fill from the center and surrounds generated by a 1970s passive matrix. Avoid at all costs.
–© Stuart M. Robinson, 2004

The Trumpets That Time Forgot (Music of Rheinberger, Strauss, and Elgar), Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, John Wallace and Colm Carey — Linn Records (Hybrid SACD)

Citing the dearth of a suitable repertory of romantic trumpet music, these assembled musicians raid the nineteenth century and create arrangements for trumpet duo and organ of some substantial pieces. Most of it comes across reasonably idiomatically with only a few lines laying awkward on the brass instruments. Rich, vibrant brass tones combined with a full-bodied organ recorded in Hereford Cathedral make this an enjoyable journey into a familiar yet new landscape. The Rheinberger suite is the largest piece here, but the Elgar is arguably the most effective, easily passing for the sort of beautiful, poignant arrangement he might himself have fashioned.
–© Mark Jordan, 2004

The Shape of Punk to Come,
Refused — Burning Heart Records (DVD-Audio)

The Swedish band Refused issued their final album in 1997, and then split up, proving that their anarchism was no mere pose. That album, in all its futuristic hardcore glory, now comes to DVD-Audio on Epitaph’s Burning Heart Records label. The 5.1 surround-sound technology intensifies the attack of the band’s anger, for now you are likely to be ambushed from any of the speakers around you without warning. Punk traditionalists may find themselves perplexed by the refusal to stick to the usual power chords, instead they ramp with uncanny skill through punk, jazz, pop, electronics, and noise, somehow still making it all seem part of the whole. Whether or not this is truly the shape of punk to come is for posterity to decide, but it is certainly a potent reflection of this age of political and social extremes.
–© Mark Jordan, 2004

Too Darn Hot!, Claire Martin — Linn Records (Hybrid SACD)

Jazz singer Claire Martin has enjoyed a fruitful relationship with Linn Records, and her latest release is no exception. The album contains classics such as “Something’s Coming” and “These Foolish Things,” yet due to Claire’s unique interpretations she manages to give these standards new life, largely because of her untypical and approachably smoky vocals together with the performance of some accomplished backing musicians, most notably saxophonist Nigel Hitchcock, who at times is in danger of stealing the show. The multichannel SACD mix is subtle but still wipes the floor with the stereo version, which fails to convey the same sense of space or intimacy.
–© Stuart M. Robinson, 2004

Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake,Utah Symphony (Abravanel) — Silverline (DVD-Audio)

Abravanel conducts an abridged version of the full ballet score, not the “complete” score as billed, but admirers of this fine conductor will hear this 1967 recording in a higher fidelity form than ever featured on any previous release. That said, it isn’t as impressive as the Abravanel Brahms recordings from the 1970s in terms of sound (titles also available from Silverline in multichannel). Also, the leanness of the Utah strings suits the Brahms far better than it does Tchaikovsky’s passionate style. For lush Tchaikovsky, Karajan, and Previn are still hard to beat, but this disc also includes the same impressive supplementary extras such as an artist tribute and documentaries featured in the other releases in this series.
–© Mark Jordan, 2004

The Curse of Blondie, Blondie — Silverline (DVD-Audio DualDisc)

The band’s eighth studio album, The Curse of Blondieis a far superior example of what the DualDisc format has to offer than the Simple Plan disc. This title boasts an enveloping, discrete surround mix, and while it’s true to say that nothing really radical happens, it’s an entertaining one all the same. The fidelity is a little hit and miss, but on the whole is acceptable for a pop album and “Good Boys” has never sounded so alive. In other areas, such as supplementary extras, Silverline has excelled themselves, especially with the DVD-ROM content that enables users to download bonus material from the Internet and provides both AAC and MP3 versions of the entire album for those who enjoy (lossy) music on the move.
–© Stuart M. Robinson, 2004

Verdi: Requiem, Renée Fleming, Olga Borodina, Andrea Bocelli, Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, Kirov Orchestra and Chorus (Gergiev) — Deutsche Grammophon (DVD-Audio)

Valery Gergiev stamps everything he does with character, and this recording is no exception. It features great dramatic contrasts, with the bass drum pounding away furiously in the “Dies Irae.” Fleming and Borodina are magnetic, while Bocelli brings a typically honeyed but straightforward manner to his parts. D’Arcangelo is a little underpowered but stylish in the bass solos. The fidelity is good without being ideal. The orchestra is close and full-blooded, but the chorus can seem veiled. The recording is advanced (not high) resolution, the surround track is a disappointing 44.1 kHz/16-bit offering, while the stereo is 48 kHz/24-bit, but it is deeper and more involving than the regular CD. The surround channels are aggressive, sounding more like medium-distance ambiance microphones picking up direct sound. A short documentary of the recording sessions is included.

Surround Professional Magazine