Moody Blues: Music Made For Surround

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I own almost all of the Moody Blues' albums in 5.1 surround sound. Did you know that much of their classic catalog was available on SACD and DTS surround discs?  We didn't think so. Thus, a little overview is long overdue.

First off, its important to approach these discs with the knowledge that for the most part they aren't really 5.1 surround discs, but more repurposed Quadrophonic mixes made in the early/mid 1970s, when The Moody Blues were still a force to contend with and when they happened to own the one of the first Quad studios in the UK (possibly first, actually). Unfortunately, by the time they got the albums remixed to Quadrophonic and ready to release, the format had stalled and was pretty much dead in the water. Thus, for the most part, people never got to hear these mixes, which if I'm not mistaken were mostly issued only in the UK anyhow; there were apparently Quad 8-tracks around in the US (which you can find up on eBay).

Fast forward to the "dawn" of the new era of surround sound and we find DTS putting out some of the Moody Blues' classic albums on 5.1 CDs but those too proved to be a little too EARLY in the surround marketing lifecycle and education of the public on the new formats. Years later, nice import SACD sets became available in 5.1, but, alas, those apparently were issued too LATE in the game (2006) to make much of an impact.

Well, perhaps not...

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With people like me around -- and YOU, Dear Highly Engaged and Interested Home Theater 'n Surround Sound Enthusiast Reader! -- perhaps, just perhaps, we can entice the industry to bring back these kinds of titles with the proper strategic marketing necessary to sell these things through (blatant self serving plug here gang: I am available for consulting gigs, Mr. Music Industry person).

Anyhow, here's my take on the magnificent Moodies in surround:

In general, all these albums a better listening experience in surround sound. Most seem to be pretty much based on the original Quad mixes, not using the center channel or subs very much (if at all -- left and right front channels are blended a bit into the center). I'm not going to get into all manner of hyper tweaky detail here (there are plenty of online forums for that where people are still discussing this topic, btw).

For those of you who never even KNEW that the Moody Blues music was available in a surround sound format -- and I suspect that is many of you, given the fairly abysmal level of publicity given these releases (and I say that as an entertainment tech publicity guy myself) -- the thing that I LOVE about this music in surround is that the mixes bloom and flower right before your mind's eye.

Moody Blues music is often times fairly dense, bearing layers of acoustic and electric guitars, vocal harmonies, Mellotrons, strings, drums and percussion into a lovely cacophony. In surround sound you can hear all the individual instruments, yet the mixes don't fall apart. It still sounds like a great Moody Blues album.

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In general they keep the soundstages in the front of the room (drums, bass, lead vocals) with support vocals, keyboards, percussion bits and such coming from the surrounds. It is all very immersive, yet not gimmicky. It IS entirely UN-realistic which, if you think about it, is just great as this music is surreal to begin with -- it has every right to sound different! (Thus, a big heads up for those of you who look for your surround music to simply reproduce a live soundstage. That ain't happenin' here.)

The packaging on the SACDs is exemplary with high quality glossy laminated digipack style sleeves, informative booklets and some with bonus discs and tracks including tasty outtakes, alternate mixes and BBC sessions from the period.

I'll begin at the (almost) beginning with Days of Future Passed, the album which reinvented The Moody Blues as pioneers of what would become known as progressive rock music, fusing classical and pop elements with the drama and flair of theater. This album is a must own in surround as the music just begs you to sit down and listen, start to finish. I have both the DTS and SACD versions and both have their charms. Specifically, the SACD has a brighter overall sound to it, possibly with a greater dynamic range as it is (theorhetically) uncompressed audio. However, the DTS CD sounds much more discrete in all the channels -- it is more of a 5.1 experience than Quad. Either way, you won't go wrong.

Albums like On The Threshold of a Dream and Every Good Boy Deserves Favour shine in surround, especially on haunting tracks like the ominous cellos opening "Have You Heard/The Voyage" and the majestic choral rock of "One More Time To Live."A Question of Balance proved to be an eye opener for me as it was never my favorite Moodies album and now it ranks high at the top -- the album opener "Question" is just spectacular filling the room in an immersive swell of powerfully multi-tracked fast strumming acoustic guitars, orchestral drums, Mellotrons and passionate vocals (this was about as angry as the Moodies ever got and they did a great job of it).

The DTS disc of Seventh Sourjon also opens up nicely in surround, especially on the moodier (if you will) pieces like "Isn't Life Strange."

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If you are a Moody Blues fan you are probably asking about the surround mix for In Search Of the Lost Chord. Guess what? I am too! Apparently, they never were able to mix that one into surround because master multi track tapes were lost. Really! I'm forever amazed when I hear stories like this but it seems to have happened a lot back in the day. A shame really as that album is among their best.

While these discs were a bit pricey upon original release they are now commonly found for under $20 so you would be wise to grab them while you can. The packaging is superior and you'll have as near a definitive version of the albums to listen to until we get a complete restoration with flat transfers of the original quadrophonic mixes and true remixes into 5.1 surround on Blu-ray audio.
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