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Listening Report: Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas Super Deluxe Edition Boxed Set Including Dolby Atmos Surround Sound & High Resolution Stereo Remixes

Mark Smotroff loves almost all of a sparkly new edition of a holiday favorite…

If you are a fan of Vince Guaraldi and his legendary soundtrack to the classic Peanuts TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas you owe it to yourself to get the Blu-ray edition Deluxe Edition of this set. It features a lovely brand new Stereo mix created from the multi-channel master recordings and mixed down to 192 kHz, 24-bit high resolution digital. The new mix retains the heart and soul of what this best selling — 5x Platinum, right up there with Miles’ Kind Of Blue! — album was always about, but delivers more air and presence around the instruments and an overall greater sense of detailing.

To put my appreciation for this new edition to the test, I have compared it to my beloved SACD of the original mix. That disc has long been my go to version of this holiday classic for many years given the lackluster vinyl pressings that have been issued over the years. (More on that later… *).

The benefit of doing a new remix from the original two- and three- channel multi-track tapes is obvious if you stop to think about it: since it is a digital mix, now we get to hear all the recorded parts in first generation quality, not mixed down to another analog generation where there is some loss of fidelity. The difference is palpable. 

Also, because this is being mixed for higher resolution media (and modern turntables for the vinyl version) there is less need for the compression constraints which may have been necessary for the vinyl pressings of 1965 and into the 1970s.

This new mix of A Charlie Brown Christmas playing from the 192/24 Stereo version on Blu-ray Disc is thus more open and alive sounding than the original mix I heard even on my SACD of the album. The new mix is really quite wonderful. 

I know what I’m about to write is a cliché, but it does sound like you’re closer to being in the studio with the band! 

The drums feel more present, especially the cymbals. Vince Guaraldi’s piano sounds much more alive and open. To my ear, the latter always sounded a little bit on the boxy side at times; perhaps frequencies were reined a bit so as to not challenge the grooves of the average record players back in the day — if the vinyl grooves were too dynamic, many record players would skip and there would have been lots of returns at retail (which would have been a bad thing).

In case you are wondering, I am going to keep my SACD because I want to be able to hear that original mix as it was prepared in the 1960s in the best possible fidelity. It does have a certain charm to it with all its bits of hiss and likely additional compression and such.

But now, even Guaraldi’s charming child-like take on Beethoven’s “Für Elise” is a wonder to hear via the Blu-ray Disc version. On the SACD there is a lot of tape hiss present on that track but on the new version it appears remarkably clear and clean. 

Of the three versions of the album included on the Blu-ray disc I preferred the 192 kHz, 24-bit Stereo incarnation the best. The 96 kHz, 24-bit version is quite good but in comparison you can hear that it takes down the fidelity a notch when you toggle between the different versions. 

Unfortunately, for me, the weakest performer of the three options on the disc is the 48 kHz Dolby Atmos mix which ultimately seemed inconsequential. On a basic fidelity level, comparatively, it sounded relatively dull — it might have been stronger if everything was presented at full resolution. Both the height channels and the rear surrounds seem to be simply filled out with reverb or some sort of surround sound approximation of the studio ambiance.  To be fair, as I understand, A Charlie Brown Christmas was recorded on a vintage early three-track recorder so the remix engineers no doubt had challenges / limitations with regards to what they might be able to do with a 7.1 channel Dolby Atmos mix while still retaining the overall feel and integrity of the original Stereo mix.  

Fortunately the 192 kHz, 24-bit high resolution Stereo version of the new mix of A Charlie Brown Christmas sounds so very good, I won’t really need to play the Atmos version again. 

The other big benefit of buying this super deluxe boxed set edition of A Charlie Brown Christmas is that you get four CDs full of studio session outtakes and alternate versions which are a fascinating listen. An audio documentary of a sort, playing the session tracks in chronological order is compelling as over time you start to hear the performances you know and love take shape across a series of live-in-the-studio takes.

Also on the CD version you get the original stereo mix which is handy, enabling relatively easy comparison between the two versions of the album contained there (I do, however, wish they had also included a high resolution version of the original mix on the Blu-ray!). 

Bound in a lovely hardcover book, this super deluxe edition of A Charlie Brown Christmas is lovingly prepared with detailed liner notes, great photos and drawings of the Peanuts characters from the film. 

I was also impressed with the very sturdy cardboard pages provided for storing the discs and the way they lock in. This may seem to some like a waste of space, but I think it’s much nicer looking and more functional the traditional jewel-style trays. This feels more secure and protective of the discs. Somebody put a lot of thought into this package design!

So there you have it: if you love A Charlie Brown Christmas you really need to hear it on Blu-ray in 192 kHz 24 bit Stereo. This is a joy.

Wishing you all a very safe and happy holiday season ahead!

* PS: Look for my review of the new two LP vinyl edition of A Charlie Brown Christmas over on Analog Planet! 

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