Written by 6:59 am Audiophile Music

Close To The Edge in 5.1 Blu-ray Is Pretty Much Perfect

Not much in this world is without flaws, but Mark Smotroff finds something…


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Here’s the short review for all the hardcore prog rock fans who are on the fence about buying yet another version of their favorite album, Close to the Edge, by Yes, which has just been released on Blu-ray Disc in a new remix done by the masterful Steven Wilson:  This is an essential release. Get it!  Its great! 

If you don’t have a surround system but are a Yes fan, this may be the one disc that will send you scurrying to wherever you buy electronics to update your system so you can play Blu-ray Discs in 5.1 surround sound. This is what surround sound is all about, an experience you really can’t get with just two speakers. Headphones never quite cut it. Go on, admit it — you know you’ve laid on the floor listening to this album at least a dozen times with your head stuck between the speakers trying to get inside the music. Now you can do that from the comfort of your favorite living room chair or couch and it sounds better than ever. If you don’t have a Blu-ray player yet, there is also a CD+DVD-Audio Disc package available which –according to the Burning Shed (distributor) website — is compatible with all DVD players & DVD-rom drives. 

Ok, enough preaching. 

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Now, here is the review for the rest of you who are probably wondering what the fuss is about. Some of you 40-to-60-somethings might remember this album from your youthful partying days in high school and college. Some of you 20-to-30 year olds might have had an older sibling or parent who had this unusual green-colored album around too. All of you reading this who are under 30, consider this one of the seminal recordings that likely influenced The Flaming Lips, Tame Impala, Sigur Ros and a host of progressive-leaning rock bands that are out there making new music these days. A staple among audiophiles and pot heads alike, Close to the Edge has had a major influence on other musicians. It was a huge selling chart success. According to the Wiki: “It peaked at number number 3 in the United States and number 4 in the United Kingdom.”

 

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What you probably don’t know is that for many many years, the original multi-track tapes that were used to create Close to the Edge have been partially lost (this seems to happen a lot in the music biz), thus preventing any sort of true remixing of the album for 5.1 surround sound as well as to make a new stereo mix that might be a bit clearer to the listener. 

With analog recording, every generation of dubbing down lost precious fidelity. So while it sounded great before, in theory it could sound even better if the producers were able to go back to those individual tracks, transfer them over to a modern, high resolution digital recording format and remix them with ZERO generational loss. This was done to great effect recently by the likes of King Crimson, Jethro Tull, XTC and ELP. Curiously, those were all handled by one person — the adopted wunderkind of prog rock, Steven Wilson. Leading his own band Porcupine Tree into the upper echelon of modern prog rock royalty, he also has clearly earned the respect of his (if you will) prog forefathers due to his gift for remixes which honor the artist’s original intent. Wilson is a musician’s musician and clearly the progressive music community is rallying behind him to preserve their work for generations to come. 

So, with this new release, quite obviously, the band seems to have finally located the missing tapes!   

And, accordingly, Mr. Wilson has been brought on board to work on the entire Yes catalog. His first effort is their landmark 1972 album Close to the Edge (CTTE). He’s done a magnificent job of it creating a new surround mix that I think even the most calloused of hard core Yes fans will likely appreciate. 

 

Why? 

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While I personally am a fan of reinventing a classic release for a new medium, many other fans don’t feel that way. In the relatively recent past, fans of Yes as well as The Grateful Dead, Fleetwood Mac and others have been vocal in their disdain for the sometimes massive re-think that went into making earlier surround sound releases (on DVD Audio and SACD). For example, even though The Grateful Dead were up front about their intent with expanding and re-inventing their classic albums (American Beauty and Workingman’s Dead), many fans balked at the expansion because “it didn’t sound like the original.” Well, that was the point. But, heck, I can understand some people’s frustration. I balked when Frank Zappa radically revised many of his classic album in the early 90s with new bass and drum parts. So as much as I like hearing new stuff, I appreciate the importance of maintaining the essence of the original mixes for the ages. 

Naysayers might say, smugly, that the Mona Lisa doesn’t need to be done up like an Andy Warhol silk screen print.

But, come on, admit that it IS fun to see how she would look that way, right? We can always return to look at the original Mona Lisa. She’s not going away any time soon.

That said, I think Wilson’s 5.1 mix shines brightly with all the breathtaking joy of the finest immersive surround sound experiences while carefully preserving the flavor of the original stereo journey. Everything is tastefully expanded for a whole room, multi-speaker listening experience that is both enveloping and comforting. The immersion starts right from the get-go as you enter the album’s cavernous world of chirping birds and atmospherics which set the stage for the band’s monstrous entrance. Rick Wakeman’s synthesizer noodling percolates around you until the massive harmony break bursts through the surrounds. Bill Buford’s drums are massive sounding, yet natural and very detailed with a presence you’ve not likely heard before. Steve Howe’s electric sitar springs out of the the surrounds. And this is just the first few minutes of the introduction!

It sounds as if layers of muck have been removed and in a way, they have. We are hearing here — essentially — the entire album in the same fidelity as the master multi-track recordings. So there isn’t the muddying effect on the sound from multiple dub downs to an analog tape source and then applied additional mastering effects (consider that, essentially, some parts of the original album master recording would have been as much as two generations from the multi-track master takes). So there is incredible clarity here, not unlike what Pink Floyd achieved in their 5.1 remix of Dark Side of the Moon. And, this 5.1 mix is all in 96 kHz / 24-bit fidelity. Note that according to the Burning Shed website, the stereo mixes are presented in 192 kHz / 24-bit resolution! 

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Moving on to “side two,” the acoustic guitars that often sounded jumbled on “And You & I” now fill up the listening room in 5.1 surround. Until the band kicks in, its almost like you are sitting around around a campfire with Yes! 

Album closer “Siberian Khatru” — for the first time to my ear, ever — sounds genuinely awesome! I have always had a problem with this amazing song simply because the recording was so dense; I often felt like I wasn’t seeing the whole painting, if you will. The song still rocks madly yet now you can really hear everything that is going on in there. 

I expect you are wondering how the rest of the Blu-ray Disc sounds? Across the board I can say: fantastic.

In addition to getting the 5.1 surround mix you get four more versions of CTTE!

Mark gets into the original versus the re-release of Close To The Edge even more on Page 2

]]>The original stereo master is reportedly a “flat transfer” of the original master mix down tape done at 192 kHz / 24-bit.  A”flat transfer” means no additional compression or mastering effects have been applied to it, as would have been done to ready the album for pressing on LP back in the day — or today even!. Accordingly, the volume level is a bit lower so you’ll have to turn it up a bit; but by doing that you get to hear the original album mix in all its wide dynamic range analog glory. Well, as close to the analog glory as you and I are likely to get in out lifetimes unless we happen to be invited into the studio to hear the original master tape played for us. It sounds great, with much more definition than I’ve heard before (on LP and certainly more than any CD versions that have been out). The drums are fuller, less compressed sounding. Chris Squire’s bass is (if you can believe it) more defined while Steve Howe’s guitar jumps out of the speakers. Because this is an analog master tape you are hearing, there is some tape hiss — that is the nature of magnetic tape, folks — which becomes evident on the “I Get Up, I Get Down” section of CTTE. But that is a small price to pay to be able hear new details like I’ve never noticed before. Again, its like a layer or three of gauze has been removed.

The stereo “needle drop” of an original UK pressing sounds great, if a bit compressed — you are effectively listening to a record via Blu-ray. Humorously, it even includes a bit of the distortion commonly heard on pressings as the tone arm reaches the center of the disc. No scratches or skips on this virtual disc however (from what I could tell). 

The stereo Instrumental version of CTTE is fascinating too — yup, there are no vocals on this version, so now you can sing along and reach for those golden notes as if you were Jon Anderson singing in the shower.

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The new 2013 stereo mix sounds really excellent too but be forewarned — it IS different than the original, as it should be. What would be the point of making an exact copy (which would nearly be impossible anyhow) given that the original master tape still sounds great. No, the new mix is simply a clearer interpretation of what the band and and its original producer, Eddie Offord, created back in 1972. Is it a replacement? Not by any stretch of the imagination. But it is a compelling listen that some people may like better simply because it is cleaner sounding and — as explained previously — has eliminated the sonics-degrading effect of roughly two generations of analog dub downs found on the original LP master.

Oh, did I tell you that you also get a whole slew of 45 RPM single edits (including one promo single off an actual record? There are outtakes and even a new 5.1 surround mix of Paul Simon’s “America” which was a single back in the day and eventually released in a full length version on the Yesterdays compilation in the 1970s. (note: a different 5.1 mix of “America” can be found on the DVD-Audio of Yes’ Fragile album, if you can find a copy of that now-rare disc).

So, even if you have the 2003 Rhino CD, which sounds pretty good all things considered or an original LP, I think you’ll want to get this Blu-ray Disc version of CTTE. Even if you have other super duper gold CD versions of CTTE on disc — which will always just sound like a CD given their 16-bit, 44.1 kHz red book spec — you’ll at least want this simply for the convenience and joy of having it all sounding SO good at twice the resolution in one place. 

The packaging is exemplary on this new edition — they finally got most every detail on the cover right including the proper colors, hand written titles on the spine and properly exposed (ie. not-washed-out) photos on the back cover. In fact, Roger Dean himself oversaw the artwork in creating this new edition. There is an informative book on the history of the album. Probably the only thing missing is detail on the restoration of the music — but I guess we’ll have to wait until Mr. Wilson does an interview with one of the recording industry publications to find out those details. This time I can wait ; I’ve got plenty of CTTE music to listen to. 

And frankly, now I really more than ever want to hear is a similar surround sound restoration of Yes’ Tales From Topographic Oceans. That will make this writer a very happy camper, indeed.

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