Spatial Is the Place

A regular complaint aired in Sound & Vision’s Letters section is that the 5.1 surround discs covered in our Remaster Class column are 1) out of print, and 2) too expensive to buy on e-commerce and collector sites like eBay and Discogs. And while I commiserate — the multichannel SACD version of Roxy Music’s Avalon goes for around $160 (glad I picked up that one back in the day!) — the reality is that disc releases don’t remain eternally in print. That’s why there’s a thriving market for vintage vinyl, and why albums and movies are regularly remastered and reissued on disc.

You can always expect to see evergreen titles like Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue pumped out in some new Ultra-High-Quality form on vinyl every few years, but the sad truth for surround music fans is that most of the original multichannel SACD and DVD-Audio, and later on High Fidelity Pure Audio Blu-ray, discs were one-shot deals — if you didn’t grab ‘em when they were first released, you missed out.

Fortunately for serious music collectors, record labels have been offering some of those same surround mixes on a Blu-ray disc included with deluxe edition box sets along with remastered versions of the original albums on vinyl and CD. (S&V regularly covers such releases.) Which brings us to two more related complaints: Deluxe edition box sets are too expensive! And why don’t they make that included Blu-ray available separately?

I don’t claim to have knowledge of the inner workings of record label marketing departments, but I expect the reason why standalone discs aren’t sold directly comes down to profit margins — or rather a lack of them. But there is hope on the near horizon for multichannel music fans. Apple Music’s new Spatial Audio option comes as a free addition to that $10/month music streaming service. Spatial Audio is music mixed in Dolby Atmos, which is typically what you’re getting on the Blu-ray discs included with fancy new deluxe edition box sets.

Music editor Mike Mettler and I recently dug deep into the Apple Music Spatial Audio library (see Apple Music: Spatial Audio Relations). And while the classic rock offerings in that format are still relatively limited, we did find a few choice examples to listen to in surround. Comparing these to the original mixes, mainly on Blu-ray disc, we were surprised to hear how well many held up. Although we’d like to see significantly more titles in Spatial Audio, the good news is that Apple is adding tracks and albums on a weekly basis, and not just rock, but classical and jazz as well.

If Apple Music Spatial Audio’s trajectory follows our desired path for it, fans of surround sound music may soon have a wealth of Atmos classic rock albums and other music at their immediate streaming disposal. No more paying $160 for discs on eBay — plus the cost of shipping from the U.K. or Germany.

In case you missed it when it posted in August, check out our annual EISA awards feature, which includes products we’ve reviewed and plan to review in the future. Even with the pandemic limiting or completely halting international travel altogether, EISA has become a well-oiled online machine, with manufacturer briefings, seminars, and expert group meetings all conducted via Zoom.

How did that work out for the 2021-2022 awards? This edition of EISA is the largest yet, and a testament to the ability of A/V brands to deliver innovative products even during a time when supply chain shortages create ongoing challenges. Sound & Vision is proud to be part of this global group, and we’re already looking forward to next year's nomination process.

COMMENTS
mars2k's picture

On a recent foray onto DisCogs to pick up Marely's Legen in 5.1. I found several offers, one legit for $180 sourced stateside and 5 or 6 out of China for $20. Wow! blatent IP piracy.

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