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Esoteric Recordings Makes Good On Chris Squire Surround Mix In New Blu-ray

Esoteric Recordings Delivers On Chris Squire Surround Mix Blu-ray

Nearly four years ago, I wrote about a generally wonderful boxed set celebrating the lone solo album by the co-founder of progressive rock pioneers, Yes — Chris Squire (RIP) — Fish Out Of Water.  I was pretty much a happy camper with this collection except for one annoying detail: one critical corner was cut on one of the discs in the set.  

You can read my full review of the set by clicking here  but I’ll quote myself to recap my problem I discovered in the set:

“Probably my only disappointment is that the creators of this set (Esoteric Recordings) did not issue these fine recordings on a higher resolution media platform like Blu-ray Disc.  The 96/24 DTS track sounds real nice, don’t get me wrong. But it does make me wonder how much better it might have sounded in DTS HD Master Audio or Dolby TrueHD.  I guess I can’t really complain — it is ultimately remarkable that this remaster and reinvention materialized at all!” 

Well, a new version of the surround sound mix has emerged and it was worth the wait. Generally, I am quite pleased with this Blu-ray disc version of Fish Out Of Water as it presents the music in full 96 kHz, 24-bit fidelity and you can hear the difference compared to the DVD version.  

The orchestral strings are vivid. The drums and related percussion are more exacting. Cymbals decay naturally.  Overall you can hear many details that were kind of squashed down in the earlier surround mix.

Those of you who bought the earlier Fish Out Of Water boxed set might be wondering what my problem was as the DVD does offer a DTS 96/24 version of the surround mix on it. Well, in the early days before higher resolution compression codec formats like DTS HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD, “DTS 96/24” was a good interim solution. It presented a better sounding solution than regular DTS, delivering the essence (if you will) of a 96/24 encoded version of the soundtrack but still fairly compressed so it can fit on a standard DVD.  

If you look at the information screens I took here of Fish Out Of Water at the time of play you’ll see that the Blu-ray is delivering significantly more information at any given moment than the DVD could possibly offer.  I’ve posted pix from my screen to give you an idea of what I am talking about: look for the number in the upper left corner to see what I am talking about here. 

While I was going down this rabbit hole, I discovered something equally interesting but not entirely surprising: the LPCM version of Fish Out Of Water seems to be delivering more information still than the DTS HD Master Audio version! This makes some sense and I haven’t fully decided which version I like better.  The DTS version is louder and somewhat tighter sounding — again, this is a compression scheme so the final determinant of how things sound to you the listener is really about how it processes the sound and presents it in your 5.1 channel home theater system. 

The LPCM version is decidedly quieter volume-wise, yet appears to have more information being delivered. Accordingly, I hear a bit more air and sense of room/ambiance coming through. Yet… ultimately, it is not as tight feeling a presentation of the music as the DTS HD Master Audio version seems to come across.  

It is very curious… 

The great thing about all this is that you don’t have to make a choice of one verses the other as both are there on the disc available for your experimentation as to what sounds better to your ear on your home theater system. 

By the way, the new remix of the Stereo album is available as well in 96/24 LPCM as is the original mix. 

If I have any critique of the surround mix for Fish Out Of Water is that there are times when it feels a little light on the mid ranges. I’m not sure how much producer Jakko Jakszyk could have done about this ultimately given the way the album was made.

It was recorded in Chris Squire’s home studio which has a very specific sound to it.  I learned about this while reviewing Steven Wilson’s fine remix of Yes’ Relayer album which was also recorded there. I was surprised to discover that the somewhat boxy sound of that original vinyl album is actually forever embedded on the multi-channel master tracks simply due to how and where the album was recorded. You can click here to jump to my review of Relayer to read more about that process. 

The other reality of Fish Out Of Water likely impacting the flavor of the surround sound mix is that there are almost no guitars on the album. Squire is often playing lead bass lines up higher on his inherently more trebly Rickenbacker Bass.  I know there is some 12-string Rickenbacker on at least one track, also a fairly treble-y tonality.  So that combined with the notion that the rhythm section at its core is a curious power trio with drummer Bill Bruford and keyboardist Patrick Moraz or pianist/arranger Andrew Pryce Jackman, the flavor of the album can sometimes feel a little (for lack of a better word) hollow. Until, when — of course — the orchestra and pipe organ kicks in the sound gets nice and full again. This technicality does allow Mel Collin’s saxophone to shine on tracks like “Lucky Seven.”

The promotional videos look terrific on this Blu-ray version of Fish Out Of Water with a remarkable amount of detail showing up. This is impressive for films made in 1975 which haven’t even been digitally cleaned up (you’ll see some scratches and dust for sure, but in general it looks wonderful!).

My only critique of the overall Blu-ray production it is that the navigation screen is a little quirky to operate when trying to switch between different versions of the album. I am using an Oppo BDP-203, a pretty solid machine, so that wasn’t the issue. Ultimately I found that if I pressed down on the left arrow on my remote three times it would then let me switch between DTS HD Master Audio, LPCM and Stereo versions readily.

The only other oddity was that the Blu-ray Disc would not load on my much older Oppo BDP-83. I suspect this is a matter of outdated firmware on that unit (thankfully, I did buy the newer BDP-203 before Oppo discontinued their player line).

Your experience may vary of course, but I felt obliged to include these insights for those of you who might get befuddled by it (as I was for a bit!)

Anyhow, I suspect that this release is about as good as this album is going to get and that isn’t a put down. Just acknowledging certain realities and that should not sway your decision to buy this Blu-ray.  If you love Fish Out Of Water and Chris Squire’s music and that of his band Yes, you need this in your collection.

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