Written by 10:51 pm Blu-ray Disc, Audiophile, Audiophile Music, Audiophile News, Blu-ray, Dolby Atmos, Quadrophonic, Surround Sound

Joni Mitchell’s Mid-70s Asylum Records Years Deliver Warm Surround Embrace Via Hi-Res Blu-ray Disc in Quadrophonic / Quadio, Stereo, Dolby Atmos

Mark Smotroff enjoys Joni Mitchell’s music in four channel quadrophonic sound…

By Mark Smotroff

Much music magic has been emerging from the Joni-verse in recent years. Beyond the remarkable aftermath of Joni Mitchell’s life-threatening illnesses and her recovery to perform live concerts and even issue new albums, there have been a steady flow of enthralling releases from the archives.

The latest in the series is a four disc box set celebrating Joni Mitchell’s early 70s releases for Asylums Records, now issued on high resolution Blu-ray Disc format.  Each album contains remastered stereo and quadraphonic mixes of seminal albums recorded for the pioneering singer-songwriter oriented music label, Asylum Records. 

From the official announcement about the set, we learn:

“Rhino’s acclaimed The Asylum Albums (1972-1975) boxed set from 2022 returns as part of the ongoing Quadio series. The Asylum Albums (1972-1975) [Quadio]  features remastered Hi-Res Stereo, Dolby Atmos mixes by Grammy® Award Winning producer Ken Caillat and Claus Trelby, and Quad Mixes of For The Roses (1972), Court And Spark (1974), Miles Of Aisles (1974), and The Hissing Of Summer Lawns (1975). A brand new 2023 Quad Mix of For The Roses was done by Bruce Botnick.”

The Asylum Albums (1972-1975) [Quadio] documents Mitchell’s remarkable transition across four albums as she left behind the folk-pop of the ‘60s for more jazz oriented vistas. These albums include her first top 40 hits, Grammy nominations and wins.

Overall, I am very pleased with Joni Mitchell’s The Asylum Albums (1972-1975) [Quadio] boxed set. For me, the stars of the show are in fact the four-channel quadrophonic “quadio” mixes which are all presented in 192 kHz, 24-bit resolution (as are the Stereo two-channel mixes). The Dolby Atmos mixes cap out at 48 kHz, 24-bit fidelity.

I prefer the Quadio mixes for several reasons over the Dolby Atmos mixes. First and foremost, the difference in overall fidelity is palpable. The Dolby Atmos mixes sound thin and unexciting, comparatively. The Quadio mixes are rich and room filling. While they are either original mixes from back in the day — or a new mix created by Bruce Botnick (For The Roses) —  the Quadio presentation is far more discrete and compelling without being gimmicky. The Dolby Atmos mixes are less interesting in that regard.

While I especially enjoyed hearing The Hissing Of Summer Lawns and Court & Spark in Quadio — both albums historically audiophile demo disc favorites — one of the big surprises was the newly discovered and previously unreleased four-channel mix of Joni’s smash hit live album, Miles Of Aisles. A classic concert recording in many ways, here the rear channels are largely used for venue ambiance and crowd applause, it becomes especially immersive on tracks like “Circle Game” when Joni invites the audience to sing with her. It is about as close as one can hope to experience  a “you are there” time-travel like sensation. I find this new presentation of this album enlightening as I never fully connected with the original LP version for some reason. It was good, but this Quadio version makes for a much more vibrant listening experience.

The Dolby Atmos mixes, comparatively, were disappointing in that they felt surprisingly flat and un-exciting. The height channels don’t seem to be used for much more than a bit of room ambiance. The rear channels seem to be used less frequently in Atmos than on the Quadio’s. 

And as I mentioned earlier, the difference in fidelity — perhaps due to the capping of audio at 48 kHz — feels like a missed opportunity. However, in defense of the producers, as I understand it the Dolby Atmos system has this limitation built into its standard.

That said, this difference never really bothered me significantly previously, especially on new music such as on albums by Steven Wilson. Even the recent Frank Zappa Atmos mixes sounded much fuller and more dynamic than these. Just speculating here, but I wonder if these Atmos mixes were something of an afterthought compared to the overall more interesting Quadio mixes. 

This, of course, leaves us with the question as to whether you need to own Joni Mitchell’s The Asylum Albums (1972-1975) [Quadio] boxed set?  If you have a surround system and love Joni Mitchell’s music, by all means get it!  And if you just want a high quality Stereo mix in a high resolution digital form that is not tethered to the internet (ie. streaming) which honors the original album feel, these Blu-rays are top drawer. 

And, if you are listening to your Dolby Atmos via a sound bar or headphones, I’m sure these discs will sound pretty decent even at 48 kHz.  

Personally, I like these mixes so much I am contemplating purging some of my vinyl versions. Miles of Aisles was never a favorite for me on LP for some reason and in this new Quadio presentation the concert recording brings the music to life. Additionally, For The Roses feels much more alive in this presentation than my original vinyl edition.

Additionally, the packaging is exemplary, recreating in miniature LP form the original album designs including embossed printing elements. No doubt that much love and care went into the making of this set. For approximately $20 per disc, this feels like a very fairly priced set. Get it while you can.

I’m so pleased with this set I hope the producers issue a sequel set in similar form factors. Joni Mitchell’s The Asylum Albums (1972-1975) [Quadio] is an essential listen for Joni fans who want to hear some of her most popular music presented in its best possible light. 

[Mark Smotroff has been reviewing music at AudiophileReview for many years but can also be found at AnalogPlanet.com. In the past he has written for Sound & Vision, DISCoveries, EQ, Mix and many more.  An avid vinyl collector and music enthusiast who has also worked in marketing communications for decades you can learn  more about his background at LinkedIn.]

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