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George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass 50th Anniversary, Part 2: The New High Resolution Surround Sound Remix

Mark Smotroff takes an even deeper look at an album he’s heard most of his life…

Yesterday we explored the fine new 50th Anniversary Stereo remix of George Harrison’s classic 1970 release All Things Must Pass. If you missed that review, please click here to catch up.

Today I will attempt to explore and describe the joys (and periodic hurdles) of enjoying the new surround sound mix of All Things Must Pass, crafted by Paul Hicks of Abbey Road Studios and Dhani Harrison.

While I don’t know exact details of how the mixes were made — and the original production realities which may have impacted critical remix decisions made along the way — in general I found the 5.1 surround sound version of All Things Must Pass quite enjoyable. As I don’t yet own a Dolby Atmos compatible system, here I have been listening to the DTS HD Master Audio version (192 kHz, 24-bit). For what its worth, when I engaged the Dolby Atmos version on my Oppo BDP 203 universal player, it defaulted to Dolby TrueHD at 48 kHz resolution; it sounded markedly thinner so I didn’t spend any time listening to it, realizing it was likely a compromised presentation of the music. 

That said, the 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio mix has its breathtaking moments with some curious twists and turns. At times the mix feels very discrete, other times less so. I suspect this may have something to do with the sound design by original co-producer Phil Spector. 

In many ways, his mix of All Things Must Pass was an extension of his “Wall Of Sound” technique which caused a sea change in music production and catapulted many artists like The Ronnettes and The Righteous Brothers to the top of the charts in the early 1960s. Thus, spreading out — and even removing — elements of his production elements may have been a challenge when making a surround sound remix given how tightly those parts may have been integrated for the original Stereo mix. 

Accordingly, most of the action for the 50th Anniversary surround sound remix of All Things Must Pass takes place in the front channels with lead vocals generally relegated to the center speaker. Periodically, you’ll hear harmonies in back channels as well as support instrumentation, from guitars and banjos to (what sound like) synthesizers. Other times, the mix takes a more soundscape-like approach and is less discrete, filling the room with studio ambiance (and a fair amount of reverb or echo/delay).

Like in the Stereo mix, the drums and bass have received a significant facelift and are much more prominent and distinct. The Tom Toms especially sound fantastic percolating across the front channels (typically).

I did notice that my usual “sweet spot” for listening was not necessarily always the best place to be when listening to this mix of All Things Must Pass. That is not a bad thing, mind you as it prompted me to stand up and walk around the room a bit more. At times I found standing a foot or two back further (ie. behind my couch) was preferable.  If I had to guess, perhaps this was some sort of trickle down effect from the producer’s work on the Dolby Atmos mix (which adds height channels to the surround).  But… I’m just speculating here folks, so take this with a grain of salt, for what it is worth.

Here are some track by track observations you may find tantalizing:

“If Not For You” (co-written with Bob Dylan) works especially well in surround sound, placing George’s big strummy acoustic and electric slide guitars around you.  The country-western flavored “Behind Locked Doors” is particularly gorgeous with great detailing of vocal harmonies and some guitars in the rear channels. Likewise, “What Is Life” places signature riffs and even some (what I think may be a) Banjo in the back speakers.

“Let It Down” rocks like nobody’s business and features some rich sax breaks and slide guitar parts popping up in the back channels. I’ve said this before about the Stereo mix but it bears repeating here as well: the drums are positively huuuuuge! here.  The room-filling acoustic guitars on “Apple Scruffs” sound fantastic and the layered acoustic intro to “Run Of The Mill” is quite spectacular.   

As on the new Stereo mix, “The Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp” takes on a higher profile than previous editions I’ve heard as that low voice now haunting the track is positively wonderfully creepy!

There are subtle details revealed in this new mix. For example, on the title track All Things Must Pass I never noticed that (I assume it is) Ringo is playing this tight doubled-up kick drum beat which helps to propel the song along with the bass lines. 

I admit that maybe I was imagining it, but it seemed like on “I Dig Love” there were subtle ascending and descending note sequences call-and-response criss-crossing one another diagonally across the room (ie left front and right rear and then switching to front right and left rear). As with much of this mix, even though it was much clearer with a lot of the Spector reverb removed All Things Must Pass remains a lush recording at its root so I suspect there will always be some inherent softness to the final sound.

I will continue to listen to to the 5.1 mix and may update this article with new observations in the weeks ahead. But I think this should give you a good preview of what to expect from the 50th Anniversary surround sound remix of All Things Must Pass.

Tune in next week when I’ll explore the wealth of Demos on the set and the eight-LP vinyl-only version of this fine boxed set series. 

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