After two fairly immersive and discrete-leaning surround sound remixes of classic Pink Floyd recordings – – Dark Side Of The Moon and Wish You Were Here – – I did at times wonder how the producers would approach the next album in that series, 1977’s Animals.
Earlier this year Pink Floyd’s new Animals reissue series was announced and this past weekend the first pieces of that puzzle have been released: a new Stereo mix on vinyl and — the focus of our report today — a Blu-ray Disc containing multiple versions of the album. Here you will find not only that new Stereo mix (in 192 kHz, 24-bit fidelity, in both uncompressed LPCM and DTS HD Master Audio formats) but also a 5.1 Surround Sound mix. The latter also comes in 96 kHz, 24-bit Fidelity DTS HD Master Audio as well as uncompressed LPCM.
The Blu-ray Disc also includes an uncompressed version of the original 1977 Stereo mix (again, both codecs at 192 kHz, 24-bit fidelity). So in total you get six — count ‘em, 6! — different versions of the albums on one disc!
Got that? To that point, the cover art on these new editions are very appropriate as they likewise show different views of the classic original cover design, taken from different angles around the now-iconic Battersea Power Station in London.
I’ve found Animals in 5.1 quite fascinating. Perhaps it was the nature of the recording or perhaps it was intentional aesthetic of the original recording. I do need to go back to re-listen to Dark Side Of The Moon and Wish You Were Here, but my first impression — and this review is admittedly a first impression — everything feels some how softer and less discrete than the surround mixes of the two preceding albums, yet overall the band seems to be rocking harder.
The surround mix presents Pink Floyd’s core rhythm section and lead vocals in the front channels — very much a “rock band” kind of vibe, if you will. Keyboards, occasional guitars and periodic special effects emerge subtly from the rear channels. It’s a little hard to pin down to any one “thing,” but it becomes especially apparent on this Blu-ray Disc of Animals that the band feels somehow a little bit rawer here. There is always multiple causation for all things in history and this instance is probably no different. It might be in part due to a new studio environment in an — effectively — repurposed church space. Britannia Row Studios (according to the Wiki) was built out of “a three story block of church halls.” So that alone could result in a very different sounding album than prior Pink Floyd efforts, especially if there was a lot of stone around those original rooms.
The influence of punk rock emerging at the time is probably creeping around the edges of the music here (punk was in many ways an opposite reaction to the supposed indulgences of progressive rock precisely like Pink Floyd). Also, from what I’ve read online this was apparently a tense period for the band personalities-wise, so that sort of edge comes through in their playing.
In other words: Animals rocks madly!
Animals in surround sound on the new Blu-ray Disc strikes a happy balance, delivering a nicely immersive experience yet without hitting you over the head with it in any sort of gimmicky, speaker-to-speaker manner. While I personally would have probably loved hearing a bit more of that ping pong flavor, in general I have no complaints here as the the imaging is really fascinating and the band is playing with all cylinders firing. The music sounds rich and warm. Most importantly, it sounds like Animals should sound, if that makes some sense.
I love how the guitars emerge from the rear and sort of gently wash over towards the front almost in slow motion right at the beginning of the album after “Pigs On The Wing” as “Dogs” begins. Keyboards also emerge from the rears like a slow fog creeping into a valley, so before you know it synths are gently percolating in time side to side. This sort of floating approach to the surround mix continues through the album. It’s almost like they were trying to soften the impact a little bit, especially since so much of the instrumentation is actually very simple. The lead vocals sound like they have had layers of reverb removed, adding to that in-your-face sort of feel.
The instruments sound wonderful here, especially Nick Mason’s drums which are very present and full. Roger Waters’ bass is clear and punchy without overwhelming and David Gilmour’s guitars are clean, distinct and soaring as ever. The acoustic guitar parts sound especially woody and full bodied.
Of course it’s great hearing some of the actual animal sound effects in surround but again the producers have kept them corralled in a sort of universal pool in the middle of the room, so it’s hard at times to pinpoint one animal coming out of a particular speaker. Its at times more like you are hanging out in a farm yard or barn, than hearing a pig in a corner or a dog barking from behind you.
For a moment while listening to this album, I set my personal “wayback” machine to college days and high school days, when I would hang out with friends listening to music. This was a time when if you played the music loud enough and as long as you weren’t right next to one speaker, everyone in the room pretty much got a good Stereo listening experience.
With that in mind, I got to thinking that this new surround mix of Pink Floyd’s Animals would be great for group listening. You don’t really need to be in the so called ‘sweet spot” to enjoy it, yet it still feels gently immersive.
As far as my feelings between the two different formats, oddly enough I’m leaning towards the LPCM uncompressed version of the Animals surround mix as opposed to the DTS HD Master Audio version. Usually I prefer DTS versions as they often present a tighter sense of imaging and such. But, in this case with the band and music so super focused (another way to say: its rocking from the front channels mostly), that bit of softer immersion somehow balances out the experience. More directly, somehow the DTS version feels less warm and inviting than the uncompressed PCM this time around.
Of course, it is also really interesting to be able to compare and contrast the new Stereo mix of Animals to the uncompressed 1977 original mix. I like both versions but the new version has much more detailing apparent and is less bathed in reverb (again, especially on the vocals).
If I have any disappointments with this new Animals it’s that there are not many bonuses. None, really. I did not get to see Pink Floyd on this tour so I don’t know if were any films shown like on the Dark Side Of The Moon and Wish You Were Here performances (which were included in the high resolution Blu-ray Discs for those albums).
And it would have been nice to include the semi-rare 8-track cartridge version of “Pigs On The Wing” which features a solo from support guitarist Snowy White. Judging by this video found on YouTube, it seems there is some very interesting promotional footage out there from this period of the band, which would have been great see fully restored for this disc. Perhaps these will be included in the Blu-ray Disc included in the upcoming boxed set edition, TBD.
Also for what it’s worth there is no Dolby Atmos version of the mix present. I don’t necessarily view that as a negative as there may have been good reasons why it was not made.
I’ve been exploring Dolby Atmos in recent months and most of the mixes I’ve heard thus far have mostly underwhelmed me because there’s not much in the way of discrete information being put in those height channels — just room ambiance. It is nice, but for me it becomes a sort of “what’s the point?” kind of scenario ultimately. But that is another discussion for another time and place really…
Anyhow, for about 25 dollars, Animals on Blu-ray Disc is still a great value and a joy to hear. I’m looking forward to getting the vinyl box set to review in the near future, but for now I’m thrilled to be able to experience Pink Floyd’s Animals in 5.1 surround sound.