If you are like me, you might have overlooked Nine Inch Nails or not had the opportunity to connect with their music. If that is the case, then you do owe it yourself to explore how they sound in surround sound. I was first turned onto the band via a friend who made a great playlist for me as an introduction. The first disc I decided to buy however is one of their most popular, The Downward Spiral; the the distinction is that I found an import SACD version which contains a sweet 5.1 surround sound mix on it.
Sweet really isn't the word for Nine Inch Nails music, but it does sound pretty amazing. It's worth it if only for the final track,"Hurt," which became mainstream-famous when Johnny Cash recorded it quite magnificently on his last album; it can be argued that Cash's version took full ownership of the track for the ages, so strong was his interpretation. However, when you hear Nine Inch Nails singer/writer Trent Reznor doing his original in 5.1 surround sound, it is a pretty compelling performance in its own right. Especially when you find pounding drums hitting you from behind while ambient noises and the whirling wind envelope you. One gets immersed in the great sense of despair that the artist had in mind and wanted to convey.
This ain't sunny day music, kiddies.
Other tracks like "March of the Pigs" percolate amazingly in the surrounds. Again for those of you in the audiophile world were looking for a standard concert type soundstage presentation for a surround mix, this may not be your cup of tea. But if you are looking for an immersive, intense, surround listening experience, The Downward Spiral is one to seek out in 5.1. Beyond this SACD, I have read about the existence of a DualDisc/DVD-Audio Disc also with a 5.1 surround mix on it, so keep your eyes peeled for that as well.
Dynamic range on this disc is is a very wild ride of low-fi / hi-fi beauty and anger, from treated pianos and acoustic guitars to the squelchy dialed-in sound of things banging against one another. And of course there are the many electric guitars.... Lots of big, fat electric guitars.
For what its worth, the two-channel stereo mix is what you might expect from this album and Nine Inch Nails: bright and squelchy sounding, to say the least. Clearly, at least for this reviewer, the real appeal of going to the trouble to find this deluxe SACD set is to get the 5.1 mix. Well, its also cool to get the second disc with b-sides, demos and non-album tracks. One of the coolest of that batch is the "quiet" version of "Hurt" which is not exactly quiet.
But, quiet is a relative term now, isn't it...
Nine Inch Nails is on tour now, so perhaps the time is right for you to experience them in 5.1 surround before catching them live.
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, BigPictureBigSound.com, 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