Roger Waters in 5.1

On Saturday, April 12, John Atkinson and I fought our way through toll plazas, endless New Jersey traffic (is there any other kind?) and one really annoying traffic jam (but hey, it was only one!) to go to a listening session in McAlpin Hall in the Woolworth Building on the campus of Princeton University, that was part of an interdisciplinary conference, Pink Floyd: Sight, Sound, and Structure.

There we heard longtime Floyd engineer James Guthrie (above, right) play the 5.1 surround mix of Roger Waters' Amused To Death followed by the playing, on the same custom surround setup using ATC speakers, of the previously released surround mixes, of Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here.

Touching in an ungentle way on war, capitalism and God, Amused will never be easy listening. And the fact that the room was not ideal and the volume was entirely too loud (my ears were ringing afterward) took some of the luster off Guthrie’s meticulous mixes. Still, by panning the crickets, the voice of a Royal Fusilier and the other samples that Waters used in tunes like “Ballad of Bill Hubbard,” and “What God Wants (Pts 1, 2 and 3)” around and behind the audience, made listening a much different experience than hearing the usual two-channel mixes. Better? That’s a decision left to everyone’s own ears and sensibilities. Certain bits, the money and the cash register noises in “Money” for example, seem to particularly lend themselves better to surround panning than just music.

Chad Kassem of Acoustic Sounds (left) arranged the Princeton playback system, based on five massive ATC powered monitors. Chad, helped by SACD mastering engineer Gus Skinas, also did his best to damp the music auditorium's lively acoustic with mats on the floor and blankets hanging from the ceiling.

These new mixes will be released sometime in 2014—the date is not fixed—will be available as high-resolution downloads via Chad Kassem’s Acoustic Sounds website and in a CD/DVD package via Sony Legacy. See Michael Fremer's report for more details.

Stereophile senior editor and editor Michael Fremer (seen above with Chad Kassem), Sound & Vision editor–in–chief Rob Sabin, Sound & Vision contributor Mike Mettler, video blogger Peter Breuninger, and Andrew Quint of The Absolute Sound also made the trip to Princeton where the over–entitled music composition majors running the show needed to seriously chill out. Either that or allow those Ivy Leaguers with actual people skills to run the events. I seriously doubt, as we were informed, that having a tin of cookies in the room where we listened, would draw rats! And even if it did, the lack of any street signs on campus or in the town of Princeton would keep any big city rats so befuddled that they’d never find any tiny butter shortcakes to nibble on anyway!!!

Robert Baird mentioned how loud the playback was. Here's a screen capture of the Studio Six S spl meter on my iPhone. The peak of 108.4dBC occurred during the airplane panning from rear to front, while the music generally cruised close to 100dBC at my row 3 center seat.—John Atkinson

Archimago's picture

Looking forward to the release of a real multichannel mix of "Amused To Death"!

The Q-Sound processed CD already adds quite a bit of surround effect but it would be great to finally hear true discreet multichannel out of this classic album.

Sorry to hear about the loud volumes used for playback. Did others in the audience complain? Maybe deafness due to excess ipod white headphone usage!

Tweeterdome's picture

Look like SCM 300's ATC. Max SPL on those is 121 db... At 108db, you had room to spare.

mauidj's picture

Amused to Death is Roger Waters' magnum opus, in my opinion.

I can't wait for the Vinyl release.

jimtavegia's picture

It seems that all to many think that loud is what people want.   80-85 db would have been more appropriate I would have thought. 

I hope that if there is a 2 channel layer it maintains the SQ part of the stereo Cd mix, but with higher resolution.  

Packgrog's picture

I'd personally prefer a revised, better-mastered, hi-res digital version of the already excellent original stereo mix (which you mentioned being on the way). I've heard a vinyl recording that sounded better than the CD pressings (both original and MasterSound), but there's obviously room for improvement over all of those. I'd love to hear an album like that treated with the same care as a good jazz DVD-A. Most official hi-res rock downloads have been fairly lousy, IMO. It'd be shameful to ruin an album like this with the kind of dynamic compression that's been rampant in the industry for years.

Musically, I still have the biggest problem with "Watching TV", which is just an atrocious song. Apart from the awful lyrics, the veers a bit too far into misogyny to make its point effective. The rest of the album is pretty excellent, though, particularly Ballad of Bill Hubbard, which is just absolutely chilling.

cgh's picture

I recall in the other hotel at RMAF11 hearing the pink floyd multi-channel with some of the same group as above.  WAY too loud.  It was an assault.  I'm 37, and not averse to louder volumes, but it wasn't enjoyable.

ElementAudio's picture

Instead of battling with 5.1 and special equipment I suggest the use of an enhanced stere panner like the Duplex Panner by Element Audio Group

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With your contribution on the Kickstarter campaign , I will be able to fully develop this product to include suggested presets, have a fully functional mono/stereo mode, and most notably be the first all-in-one master bus panner where you can pan all your sources rather than scrolling through all your tracks. Please visit the Kickstarter campaign for more info and don't miss out on the future of music.