One of the most enjoyable things about upgrading your home theatre system - aside from running through the original Star Wars trilogy at wall-rattling volume, of course - is discovering all the hidden bits and pieces buried within your favorite recordings. It can be very rewarding to turn off the lights, turn on a lava lamp and just devote an hour or so to an old friend. Zeppelin IV. Are You Experienced. 1984. Take any stereo recording, flip on surround sound mode and you're in for an immersive experience. But it gets even better once you start to explore the world of dedicated surround sound mixes. Here are a few albums - some classic, some new - given the dedicated 5.1 surround sound treatment. All reveal new details and new perspectives on the material that you simply can't access with a standard stereo mix on two speakers or a pair of earbuds.
Dream Theater - Dream Theater
Prog legends Dream Theater released a 5.1 surround sound mix as a bonus disc with the special edition of their latest, self-titled album this year, and it's the perfect way to take in what the band is trying to present with this album. The perfect example is the song "The Looking Glass," which is enhanced with additional surround sound vocal delays that add a new layer of hugeness to the mix. And the 22-minute album closer "Illumination Theory" really comes to life when it's coming at you from five speakers and a subwoofer.
Dire Straits - Brothers In Arms
This 1985 classic was given a substantial overhaul in 2005, when it was released in multiple formats to celebrate its 20th anniversary. The album was remixed in 5.1 by Chuck Ainlay, and was awarded a Grammy for Best Surround Sound Album at the 48th Grammy Awards ceremony.
Derek and the Dominos - Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs
This classic has surfaced in many different versions over the years (a 1993, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab version removed some of the 'wall of sound' effect added during the album's initial mastering for vinyl, for instance) but perhaps the definitive version is the "Super Deluxe" set released in 2011 for the album's 40th anniversary. This set includes a two-CD "Deluxe" version of the album, a newly remastered In Concert two-CD set, a double LP version of the album, a hardcover book, and a 5.1 Surround Sound DVD which, like the Brothers In Arms disc, won a Grammy for Best Surround Sound Album.
Steven Wilson - The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories)
Modern progressive rock auteur Steven Wilson is particularly renowned for his surround sound work, having mixed numerous classic albums for the format. And Wilson's own work is the perfect candidate for his surround sound escapades, where the multi-directional mix can become a part of the creative process itself. Wilson artfully moves instruments around the soundstage for emphasis, drawing attention to different members of his virtuoso band (including guitarist Guthrie Govan of The Aristocrats) as the material requires. And Wilson extends the experience to the live arena, bringing a full quadraphonic sound system with him on tour.
Foo Fighters - In Your Honor
The surround version of this Foo Fighters double album - one rock disc and one acoustic - is presented as two Dual Discs. The first features a standard stereo mix on side one, with an enhanced stereo mix and a video documentary on side two. The real star though is disc two, the acoustic album, which features standard stereo on side one and a full 5.1 mix in addition to the enhanced stereo mix on side two. The mix is subtle but effective, rather than showy and flashy.
Yes - Close To The Edge
Featuring brand-new stereo and 5.1 mixes by Steven Wilson (as well as some additional bonus material and the original stereo mix in high resolution) and with the approval of Yes, Close to the Edge was released this week, after many years appearing high on the wish-list of surround sound fans.
Pink Floyd - Dark Side Of The Moon
Mastered by original Pink Floyd producer/engineer James Guthrie from the original 16-track tapes, this is pretty much as close as you can get to the dark side of the moon without jumping in a lunar rover and going over the horizon. Of course, the original album was released on quadraphonic tape back in the 70s as mixed by Alan Parsons, and if you'd like to compare this mix to Guthrie's, both were included on the Dark Side Of The Moon 'Immersion' box in 2011.
Nine Inch Nails - The Downward Spiral
Trent Reznor's alternatingly manic and atmospheric musical creations are perfectly suited to the surround format, and The Downward Spiral really brings it all together: the aggression, the moodiness and the sonic experimentation.
Fleetwood Mac - Rumours
This DVD-Audio disc remix involves many members of the original production team including Ken Caillat, James Stone, Rich Fowler, and Bob Ludwig, and it includes previously unreleased studio track "Silver Springs," which was recorded during the Rumours sessions. Interestingly, "Silver Springs" is inserted in the middle of the album - as track 6 - rather than held off until the end like most bonus tracks. Instead, original 'track 6' "Songbird" has been moved to 12.