Depeche Mode has a new album out in living stereo, on 44.1 kHz/16-bit CD, 44.1/24-bit download (via HDTracks.com) and LP. So what better time to take a look at some of their old albums in 5.1 surround, right? What's that? You didn't know Depeche Mode had remixed most of their albums into 5.1 surround?
Why am I not surprised?
The music industry did a fairly abysmal job of promoting their surround releases back in the day -- why, I don't know. Talk about a missed opportunity! What I do know is that at the time these things came out, not enough was being said to make bigger noise about it, a phenomenon not unique to Depeche Mode; for example, I did all I could to let my friends know about the REM 5.1 mixes that had been (basically) snuck out without much fanfare in the guise of deluxe edition CD+DVD sets. I just thought, and still think, 5.1 audio is pretty cool and that a lot of great stuff was unfairly back burnered for whatever reason.
(whine whine whine... I know....)
Anyhow, I recently came across a curious version of of Depeche Mode's 2005 release Playing The Angel not on CD or a CD+DVD Audio package, or even an SACD, but a dedicated, stand alone DVD Video disc containing regular DTS and Dolby surround mixes as well as traditional stereo. It was only $10 used at Streetlight Records so I figured I'd check it out -- and I'm not disappointed. All things considered it sounds quite good and certainly sounds better than a CD would. The music itself is somewhat reminiscent of the band's classic 90s release Violator, particularly on tracks like Precious, yet with its own twists and turns.
"A Pain That I'm Used To" and "John The Revelator" make nice use of the surrounds as do tracks like Macro, which bounces sounds between front L-R and center channels as cool effects percolate in the back of the room. From spacey keyboard patches to raw electric guitar sounds, Playing The Angel showcases a very good discreet 5.1 surround mix that is not afraid to play with the room space. All things considered, I'm pretty happy with this disc which also includes bonus videos and a photo gallery.
Violator was the first Depeche Mode album that I ever bought as it had a sound I liked a whole lot better than the early synth pop era of the band. I liked it so much that when I found out about the 5.1 mixes I ordered the British version which includes both a DVD Video with DTS and Dolby mixes and an uncompressed 5.1 mix on SACD (with, of course, a standard CD layer as well). Comparatively, the SACD version clearly out paces the DVD versions of the 5.1 mix. And its nice to also get the CD layer so I can take the music with me in the car and on my portable devices if I so desire.
The 5.1 Violator mix is very aggressive and would make a wonderful demo for showcasing your surround system. I personally like aggressive, non-standard mixes but if you are looking for a disc that recreates a "traditional soundstage," this isn't your baby. However, if you are looking for a fine discreet surround experience, this is may be your baby. It is especially powerful on the opening track, "World In My Eyes," with its drum sequencing and synth percolating in time back and forth around the room, with you the listener immersed in the center of the action. Tracks like "Personal Jesus" and "Policy of Truth" have never sounded better and "Enjoy the Silence" takes an already great song and notches it up many levels, wrapping the listener in a warm, pulsating leather jacket of sound from all around.
I'm still kicking myself for not ordering UK versions of the other Depeche Mode 5.1 deluxe editions back when they first came out, but, hey, this does give me something to search for, right? High on my list to find is Songs of Faith and Devotion, which I'm pretty sure will sound at least as good as Violator. But I also have gotten more into the band so will try to check out any others I can find. When I get them, I'll be sure to do an updated review.
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Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer who's songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he's written. www.smotroff.com