• 03-21-2005, 02:30 PM
    kexodusc
    Hi-rez (SACD/DVD-A) review of the week: (still not a prog album...well, not really)
    After a surprisingly good response to the Beethoven 5th/7th thread from last week, I decided to come back with another highly album I've been spinning and loving in my new DVD-A/SACD player the last few days. No expectation here, just hoping to share one man's opinion on a decent release to any who care to read.

    Nine Inch Nails - The Downward Spiral (DualDisc)

    Well, it ain't exactly Beethoven's finest, but Nine Inch Nails have always been a favorite of mine (I'm not embarassed to say), though some of those goofy trench-coat wearin', make-up sportin', goth drab fans of theirs really spoiled the music for me at times. (incidentally, Reznor's cited a lot of prog legends as some of his biggest influences, too).
    Nonetheless, this was a helluva concept album when it came out back in the day (has it really been 11 years). I tend to prefer 1999's "The Fragile" quite a bit more, but there's no denying the big impact "The Downward Spiral" had on the scene back then. Still hard to believe these guys penetrated the mainstream. How many knock-off bands came out with a very Nine Inch Nails-ish sound in the mid-late 1990's? (anyone remember Stabbing Westward?) Once again, where this isn't a new release, I'm not going to review the music, just the execution of the format.

    I'd always felt that Nine Inch Nails would work quite well in a multi-channel format, and I'm happy to say that Trent Reznor and gang deliver the goods (again) on the SACD or DVD-Audio(dual-disc) releases of 1994's album of the year. The SACD version has a lot of extra tracks on it, but after hearing it, I decided to stick with the Dual-Disc (DVD-A one side, CD layer the other side for those who might not know) format for the video extras etc that come with it. Most of the SACD bonus songs are re-hash efforts that didn't impress enough to justify the cost - Nine Inch Nail fanatics might disagree.

    Whereas some multi-channel mixes seem to have been done too fast, or "overdone" just to show off the 5.1 abilities, I'm happy to say that Nine Inch Nails did a complete and thorough analysis of the material on this album, and appear to have done a bit of pickin'-and-choosin' the appropriate times to employ the surround efforts. In fact, in some songs, the center channel is used quite rarely, instead opting for a phantom image up front. The result is a multi-channel effort that doesn't leave you thinking "why did they do that to this song". Nothing ever takes away from the integrity of the song, just an enhaced, 3-D experience, the way it should be.

    The video image content works really well with the music...a bunch of still shots of...well, I don't know what they are, but they're colorful, organic, and work with the music...they could easily be part of the album insert (but they're not, I checked) a very nice touch that enhances the atmosphere. Really gets you in the mood to hurt yourself.

    The high-rez, 2-channel track is quite good. At first I thought that maybe Nine Inch Nails isn't the kind of music that would take advantage of a hi-rez format, but once I popped this on I was amazed at how much louder I could play this stuff, and how much less fatiguing it was. Dynamics and soundstage are the biggest improvements over the CD layer (which sounds the same as my old 1994 CD to me). The transition from "A Warm Place" to "Eraser" is a superb example of the use of the added dynamic capability...soft and reflective, to explosive pain and rage.

    In both the 5.1 and stereo high-rez tracks, there's a few more layers of information that shine through than before. I was a bit surprised by this, I didn't think the overall presentation would be much better, but I think this is a good indication that that most genres of music should be able to benefit from a superior format.

    This unit can be had cheap enough, and is an absolute must for any Nine Inch Nails fan, or for anyone looking for a good, loud and angry multi-channel album to listen to at night with a bottle of whiskey and all the lights off. In my opinion, this is a prime example of how these formats should be used - get a guy who started out working in a studio to buy into the format - then take the time to make it work - unlike Norah Jones "Come Away With Me" SACD disaster...but that's another review...

    Highly recommended!
  • 03-21-2005, 08:49 PM
    Dusty Chalk
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by kexodusc
    Most of the SACD bonus songs are re-hash efforts that didn't impress enough to justify the cost - Nine Inch Nail fanatics might disagree.

    I disagree. :)

    Especially on the remixes by Dave "Rave" Ogilvie and the version of "Closer to God", which I think were prime for inclusion as bonuses.

    A couple things that I'm surprised you didn't mention -- although if you're familiar with the original CD, you may have thought it not worthy of mention, since you're only reviewing the update -- is how harsh the mix sounds, and how minimal it is. I don't remember it sounding so harsh -- I think purposefully so. And I think the SACD stereo layer really captures that well. In terms of the minimalism -- an example comes to mind: the opening beats of "Closer" -- if you listen carefully, you can hear a version of one of the themes being played almost subliminally.

    I'm not sure why that's minimal, but...well, if you really crank it, there's only a couple of sounds going on, so...there ya go.
  • 03-22-2005, 04:43 AM
    kexodusc
    Dusty:

    The themes you speak of in "Closer" were always there, but I feel the new formats really let them shine through better...there is an amazing contrast between soft and harsh on this album...and the hi-rez formats really bring it out well, don't they.

    Yeah, I've got the SACD at home too. I like Closer to God, but a lot of the other stuff isn't necessary unless you're a big fan (maybe you and I are). My biggest beef was that it was DOUBLE the price of the DVD-A on most websites I looked at...considering the bonus stuff is "B" material, not as good as the original, no matter how good it is...it was the price factor I was more pissed off about...

    I cannot tell a difference in sound quality between the 2-channel DVD-A and SACD tracks in my quick a/b comparisons, if there is one, it must be pretty damn insignificant...both sound great.
    I'm going to do another a/b to see if the SACD and DVD-A were handled the same. So far I think they were.
    The one thing I've been impressed with the most is the effective way the team channeled the vocals.
    There's a solid center image when required, but Reznor and gang sure used the "in-your-head" effect well...I think intentionally, maybe we're suppose to be "hearing voices" so to speak. Lots of whispers and subtle chants coming from the surrounds. The cool buzzings flies or whatever circling the room are nice effect too.

    Upon further listening last night, I did notice quite a few instances where the multi-channel tunes have been "altered"...the changes are subtle, not your typical re-mix, and it's really like listening to these songs again for the first time.
    The good news is the 2-channel versions are the original for those that might complain.

    Man, I hope "The Fragile" gets the same treatment...

    As I mentioned earlier, I've wondered how "heavier" music would benefit from DVD-A/SACD remixing as they usually incorporate a ton of distorted sounds anyway...but the added dynamics, detail and improved soundstaging and imaging should be more than enough reason for a lot of groups to start exploring these.
  • 03-22-2005, 08:33 PM
    Dusty Chalk
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by kexodusc
    As I mentioned earlier, I've wondered how "heavier" music would benefit from DVD-A/SACD remixing as they usually incorporate a ton of distorted sounds anyway...but the added dynamics, detail and improved soundstaging and imaging should be more than enough reason for a lot of groups to start exploring these.

    Yeah -- I would love to hear Broken on high-res. There's something about "busy" music that I think would benefit from higher-res.
  • 03-22-2005, 08:35 PM
    Dusty Chalk
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by kexodusc
    As I mentioned earlier, I've wondered how "heavier" music would benefit from DVD-A/SACD remixing as they usually incorporate a ton of distorted sounds anyway...but the added dynamics, detail and improved soundstaging and imaging should be more than enough reason for a lot of groups to start exploring these.

    Yeah, I would love to hear Broken or some other really good hard heavy album receive the high-res treatment (have you heard Blue Oyster Cult's Agents of Fortune?).

    To hear a really well-recorded heavy album, listen to either of the Garden Of Shadows CD's. Short, perhaps a little too deathy for most, but you can really hear the layers of guitars...
  • 03-23-2005, 04:29 AM
    kexodusc
    "Broken" would be neat too...I can just imagine how sweet tracks 10 through 90 would sound in 2-channel DSD, or in hi-rez 5.1 MLP on DVD-A.

    I've been a fan of the recording job on Opeth's cd's for the most part.
    I'm going to try Metallica's Black album, though I wish it was "...And Justice For All" or "S&M"...

    Of all of Metallica's catalogue, I think ...And Justice For All deserves to be revisited the most. Their best effort IMO, with such a lousy job done in studio, I've always wondered how it could have been. Maybe someday we'll see.
  • 03-23-2005, 07:27 PM
    Dusty Chalk
    I concur -- ...And Justice For All needs to be remastered.