Lights in a Box? SG page 3

Jimi Hendrix: Woodstock (MCA MCAL-11107, LD; MCA MCAD-11063, CD), though not a great recording, is still an inspired performance from the master. On laserdisc, most of the beautiful distortion from Jimi's Strat is smoothed over, the visceral excitement reduced. The ring of Mitch Mitchell's snare drum on "Red House" is lost; Jimi's vocals sound as if he's off-mike; the LD loses vital information. To render Jimi Hendrix boring should be a criminal offense!

Bertrand Tavernier's Round Midnight is a wonderful, moody jazz film starring Dexter Gordon as an expatriate jazz musician living in late-1950s Paris. Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Billy Higgins, John McLaughlin, Freddie Hubbard, and many others also appear. The film is unusual in that all the music was recorded live in the film studio, as the cameras rolled. I compared the laserdisc of Round Midnight (Warner Home Video LD 11603AB) to the LPs of the film's soundtrack (Round Midnight, Columbia SC 40464) and an outtakes collection (The Other Side of Round Midnight, Blue Note 85135) (footnote 2).

Same story: the big black 12-incher clobbered its 12" silver rival. Although the laserdisc sound was above average, the LPs were far ahead. On laserdisc, cymbals were hashy; the frequent brushwork was almost beyond recognition, with no sense of wire brushes on drums; Ron Carter's subtle bass shadings and fingerings were vague compared to the LPs; the late-night, smoky jazz-club ambience was much more "there" on the LPs. All this good stuff is lost to the Home Theater viewer.

The video professionals I queried about this sonic discrepancy were rather matter-of-fact in accepting these sloppy transfers, but they reminded me of the many generations that a typical laserdisc goes through. This involves many A/D and D/A transitions, which are at least partly responsible for the rather high jitter and loss of resolution found on these soundtracks.

Stereo & the Visual Image:
Home Theater aficionados invest much time and energy in "steering" the sound to match the picture; that's what the fuss over surround processors is all about. As I've already shown, sound quality itself is in short supply, so all we're left with is, can these processors accurately place the sound? These demands are created by that large projected image, which emphasizes discrepancies between picture and sound placement.

Back in the cinema, the left/center/right speakers are all behind the screen---that's how the sound is mixed. All the Home Theater setups I've seen have the left and right speakers on either side of the screen. Hey, guys, let's get all our ducks in line! Back to that mid-fi sound again! Indeed, most sound (certainly dialog) is from the center speaker. Effects and music are where the stereo information is present.

Footnote 2: Analog playback: Linn LP12/Lingo/Ekos/Klyde feeding a Steve Berger/J.C. Morrison phono preamp: the Gracenote.