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Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here SACD preview Print E-mail
Written by Ken Langford   
Wednesday, 07 December 2011

Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here SACDLong awaited, the SACD edition of Pink Floyd's 1975 album Wish You Were Here is now with us. It has been released by Acoustic Sounds, on the Analogue Productions label. A fine job has been done by Acoustic Sounds, and also by StormStudios, with the disc contained in a book-style package, with a number of images - click the thumbnail to the left.

Released on the same date as the Experience and Immersion editions of WYWH, the SACD can be ordered direct from Acoustic Sounds. You can also order through this link to Amazon.com, who charge around the same price, but are cheaper on shipping. Other Amazon stores who now stock this are: Amazon UK, Amazon Germany, Amazon Italy, and Amazon Canada. International/European orders are best placed through this direct link to JPC.de, a German based retailer that ships worldwide, and who are charging a very reasonable price for this item.

During the weekend of October 14th -16th, the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, in Denver, Colorado, held a very special, and exclusive event - a preview presentation, on top quality equipment, hosted by James Guthrie. Amongst the handful of people lucky enough to be there was BD contributor Ken Langford, who has very kindly sent in the following report on the event. The report includes input from Guthrie and Joel Plante, and others involved in the SACD release and the staging of the preview...

It was a beautiful warm sunny Colorado autumn afternoon... and I could not wait to get inside. This was a day I had been looking forward to in a sense for years: the public premiere of the new SACD surround sound mix of Wish You Were Here, hosted by none other than the producer and mixing engineer himself, James Guthrie.

The first word I heard of this arrived in an email from my friend Rob on September 18th directing me to the Brain Damage website Latest News page, and this story about the Wish You Were Here SACD preview. I want to extend my kudos and thanks to the webmasters and contributors of Brain Damage for keeping the Floyd flame flickering with such timely reporting. This report was especially important to me because even though I live in Colorado, I might never have heard about this event otherwise.

So it was on that on Friday October 14th I made my way to the Hyatt Regency hotel in the Denver Tech Center and found the Highlands Amphitheater.

My first impression was that the room was rather small to possess such a lofty name. The empty room capacity could not have been much more than 100 people. Inside the room was dimly lit, such as one might see in a movie theatre before the start of the previews. The inside walls were almost completely obscured by special hand-crafted acoustic baffles. These baffles were designed by Ben Lilly of the Acoustic Transducer Company (hereafter, ATC), who was on hand to help optimize the room for sound. ATC was one of the sponsors of the event, and it was through their speaker system that the recording was mixed, and in fact through which WYWH would be presented in this room. In the middle of the room was a small group of 24 standard-issue stackable hotel chairs placed in four rows and facing three speakers, with two more speakers flanking the rear of the seating area. There were two sub-woofers as well, hidden behind the baffles.

The ATC model SCM150 powered speakers were physically impressive – nearly as tall as a man on their two-foot high stands, and weighing 64.8kg/143lbs. The media being played was a test pressing of the recently mastered Wish You Were Here SACD disc. It was played using a Playback Design SACD player designed and built by Andreas Koch, which has built in DACs (digital to analog converters). Using XLR cables, the signal was sent to a Meitner 'Switchman' monitor preamp and then on to each individual speaker via XLR. Remember, these speakers are active, meaning that no external amplification is used. Each speaker has its own built-in power amplifier.

The audio system was silent as I walked in, and a few people were milling and chatting in the back of the room between a product display table and a small hors d'oeuvres table. Things were pretty informal, with no special greeting or instruction at the door. As every listening chair was open, I decided there was no time for goodies. I wanted that center-center seat, which is the sweet spot in any surround listening environment.

After ten minutes or so I had still not been joined by anyone in the seats, so I left a pile of stuff on the chair and went to explore. I began chatting with Chad Kassem of Acoustic Sounds, Inc, another of the sponsors of the event. It is Chad's company that has won exclusive distribution of the Wish You Were Here SACD, which is to be sold separately from the forthcoming Immersion box set. This is good news for those who only want the new remastered CD and surround mix, as it will be less expensive than the box set. The Immersion box will have the same Guthrie surround mix in two formats: DVD audio and Blu-Ray PCM, and as part of the other archival offerings will also include the 1970s quad mix of Wish You Were Here in both formats.

I heard James Guthrie called by name, and as he posed for a photo he wondered aloud if anyone was here for the Wish You Were Here playback. I piped up immediately and two seconds later nearly all the chairs were filled. I was able to make my way back to the center position, and we awaited the moment of truth.

Chad had revealed to me that this would actually be the third playback of the day. I was just glad to be there! After a brief wait James stood at the front of the group and made very brief comments, saying that these were the same model of ATC speakers he used to mix the recording, and he hoped we would enjoy it.

I cannot imagine that anyone reading this review is unfamiliar with the album, so I will limit my comments to my technical observations.

The album starts quietly, but the volume of the first sound made it evident that things would be plenty loud at the peak passages. This would allow for scrutiny of even the most subtle details of the recording. As the silky smooth, just Wright, G minor rolled out of the speakers like dry ice fog, I immediately noticed something major: NO HISS! Every other reproduction I have ever heard of this album has had audible hiss at the very start of Shine On part 1. On this reproduction there was zero. Fantastic! This can almost certainly be attributed to remixing the album from the original multitrack masters. At last!

My first digression here comes from a later conversation I had with Joel Plante, who is the assistant engineer to James Guthrie. Joel was very generous with his time, and I may try to transcribe our entire conversation at a later date. I asked Joel if the multitrack masters were transferred to digital and mixed from those transfers. To my delight, they were not! The master tapes were played back on analog tape machines through an analog mixing board that is digitally controlled. This allows fader movements and channel modifications to be automated, making them perfectly repeatable, but allowing the playback to remain 100% in the analog domain.

As the music swells I hear the familiar accents: the descending spine-tingler, the delicate chandelier tinkling, all crystal clear. As for surround movement effects, it was these sorts of more “theatrical” accents that tended to receive discrete placements in the sound field. Passages such as the machine welcoming and the genie-back-in-the-bottle conclusion of Have A Cigar receive special treatment.

In general, the mix is not aggressive. I asked James Guthrie about this after the playback, and he shared his philosophy with me. He says that this music occupies such a strong emotional space in most listeners that he feels the 5.1 mix must retain the emotional impact of the original stereo mix and, in an ideal world, even enhance it. In other words, he does not wish to take liberties with the music that would make it seem unfamiliar to the classic mix. In an interview with Nick Sedgwick, Roger Waters had this to say about playing Dark Side Of The Moon live in 2006 & 2007: “Since the piece has become so iconic, I think that it's important that it sounds very similar to the original album.” I believe that this surround mix of Wish You Were Here reflects that same philosophy. Guthrie makes the piece more spacious and open, adding theatrical movement where the music is theatrical, while staying true to the content of the stereo mix.

As a fan of quad and surround sound, I like an aggressive mix. This is why I am grateful that the older mix will be included in the Immersion box. I have already heard that mix, although not in perfect quality, but I love it. Having said that, I also love the new mix. For me, each mix and version broadens my perspective on the piece, and I never tire of variations.

As the music built to a crescendo, I heard something different. It was a purely technical observation (I also work in audio and video production), but it made me curious. At that moment I longed for a direct analog comparison to vinyl.

Here is my second digression. When I got up the next morning at home, I headed to the turntable. While my system does not compare with the ATC system, it is not shabby. I put on my Japanese Master Sound Wish You Were Here vinyl LP (cat #30AP 1875) and listened to the same section through a pair of Dahlquist DQ-10 speakers. Sure enough, though never previously noticed, the same detail was there, albeit not as easily observable. What this told me is that what I was hearing on the SACD was the cleanest, most accurate reproduction of this recording that I had ever heard, and that this had revealed detail that was unfamiliar to my ears, even after years of listening.

It was then that I realized that audiophile listening can be a potentially losing game. For me, the normal purpose of listening to music is to get lost in the soundscape and allow it to transport me. Here I was getting lost in thought about the technical minutiae OF the recording, rather than getting lost IN the recording. As the listener I take full responsibility for this, as it is no fault of the reproduction or the delivery system. Rather, I was simply struck with the new-found ability to listen to what is essentially the master tape, without any flaws or compromises in the translation from storage medium to sonic image. In other words, I was hearing the choices that the musicians and engineers had made during the recording process, fully un-obscured. Wow!

I have mostly referred to the surround mix here, but of course the SACD also contains the newly remastered version of the original stereo mix in 2 formats: one in high-resolution DSD and the other as a standard 'Redbook' CD layer.

In summary, I can report that the experience of listening to the new SACD was wonderful. I plan to buy both the SACD and the Immersion box. Some may not wish to spend money on two versions of the same recording. Personally I am ecstatic that Pink Floyd are finally digging around in the archives, and I will personally do anything I can to encourage that behavior. As a side note, I took advantage of speaking with these men directly by delivering to them the dates that Meddle was mixed to quad and debuted to the press. Neither James nor Joel were aware of even a rumor of an existing quad mix of Meddle. Thankfully they are in a position to look into it, and both said they would look. Fingers crossed!

The following individuals were very friendly, gracious, and helpful in this experience: James Guthrie and Joel Plante of das boot recording, Chad Kassem of Acoustic Sounds, Inc, Ben Lilly of ATC UK, Gus Skinas of Super Audio Center LLC (who did the DSD authoring for the SACD), and Marjorie Baumert, Director of the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest.

Ken Langford
Mr. Random Enterprises, Inc.
Colorado, USA

 
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