I must admit, the appearance of a boxed set featuring quadrophonic mixes from the legendary rock-jazz-pop band Chicago took me a bit by surprise when I first heard about it. Not sure if its release was triggered by the band's recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or was simply a long-brewed project which coincidentally came to fruition. Whatever the case, this set represents a huge archival undertaking -- to preserve all those deteriorating quad tapes lost in the vaults -- which should be applauded.
The Chicago Quadio box set covers most of the band's initial ascent from 1968-1977. That adds up to eight studio albums (and a Greatest Hits collection) each on its own individual, audio-only Blu-ray disc containing original Stereo and Quadrophonic mixes. All of the recordings are captured and presented at very high resolution (192 kHz, 24-bit).
This is a set for hardcore fans of the original incarnation of the band -- ie. the Terry Kath era. It is also a set clearly designed for the established home theater / surround sound enthusiast: there is very little information actually "in" the set apart from a useful info-graphic on the box which gives some instruction on how to deal with the absence of a sub-woofer channel (for those who pay attention to that sort of thing -- this is actually a good thing in many ways which sounds real good while remaining true to the original mixes). Rhino assumes that for the most part you know how to play a Blu-ray Disc and are set up to enjoy surround sound.
The relative lack of information doesn't mean this set is somehow bad or in complete. On the contrary: this set is lovingly made with beautiful miniature recreations of the original album covers... and all the posters ... and even a miniature version of the iron-on t-shirt decal that came with original pressings of Chicago VIII!
And, yeah, a little booklet might have been a nice finishing touch. Since this is targeting audio geeks like you and me, Dear Readers, perhaps offering a little detail on how the album was created/remastered/prepared for release would have been interesting for us.
But...y'know... if that is the only "problem" with the set, then so be it. The important thing is that the music and the original albums are very, very well represented here.
Chicago VII is especially impressive as it recreates the very detailed embossing that graced that album cover. Original inner sleeves from Chicago III onward are also re-created; if I remember correctly, my older brother's original first two Chicago albums had generic Columbia Records promotional inner-sleeves, so it is understandable that Warner/Rhino wouldn't be able to reprint those (ie. copyrighted material belonging to a competitor now owned by Sony).
They DID, however, create early record labels that mimic the look and feel of the old "two-eye" Columbia label from the late 60s as well as the version from the 70s (replacing the Columbia name around the perimeter of the label with the name "Rhino"). Its a nice touch.
Each Blu-ray also comes in a protective plastic inner-sleeve so there is very little chance of discs getting scratched in shipping or in regular use. Someone in production thought this set through.
And this is a set you'll probably enjoy getting some regular use out of as the Quad mixes sound pretty fantastic.
In general the mixes are not gimmicky. While I haven't played every album yet, those I have heard tend to keep the drums, bass and lead vocals front and center, with the drum kit Tom Toms and cymbals percolating in the right or left front channels. Keyboards, primary guitars and other rhythm instruments also fill the front channels usually. Horns, harmonies, some lead guitars and other accents tend to occur in the rear channels.
Before I go into how the new Quadio discs sound, a little aside on the prior DVD-Audio releases is in order...
Chicago II and Chicago V had been previously issued in 5.1 surround sound back in the early days of the home theater boom (ie. the early 00s) to mixed response -- some loved those DVD-As, others hated them.
I have Chicago II on DVD-A and in comparison... well.... there really isn't a comparison... they are both quite different beasts.
Here is why: The Quadio mixes are taken from the 1/2-inch, four-track, 15-IPS quadrophonic master mix tapes made back in the 1970s.
According to notes on the 2003 DVD-Audio (aka DVD-A) release of Chicago II, that 5.1 mix was made off the master multi-tracks. So assuming that really is the case, then that would in fact place the DVD-A version digitally a generation ahead of the Quads fidelity wise...
That doesn't necessarily make it better.