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A view on Blu-ray Audio discs by Daniel Lalla

Beck - Sea Change [Blu-ray Audio]  

 

  

  

 

Review by Gary Tooze

 

Producer: Universal Music Group (Geffen Records)

 

Disc:

Region: FREE! (as verified by the Oppo Blu-ray player)

Total Music time: 0:52:24

Disc Size: 25,965,887,488 bytes

Bitrate: Audio is encoded at 24/192 (24 bit depth and 192kHz sampling rate)

Chapters: 12 (one per song)

Case: Transparent Blu-ray case

Release date: October 30th, 2013

 

Audio:

2.0 Stereo LPCM or DTS-HD 24 / 192 (24 bit depth and 192 kHz sampling rate)
5.1 Surround 24 / 192
Note: this marks the first time this stellar album is released at this bitrate
Note: as for most Universal Blu-ray, none of this is indicated on the package

 

Extras:

Foldout with photos and lyrics.
A paper with a code to access the Blu-ray disc digital downloads online

 

Supertramp - Sea Change Track Listing:
1. "The Golden Age" (4:35)
2. "Paper Tiger" (4:36)
3. "Guess I'm Doing Fine" (4:49)
4. "Lonesome Tears" (5:38)
5. "Lost Cause" (3:47)
6. "End of the Day" (5:03)
7. "It's All in Your Mind" (3:06)
8. "Round the Bend" (5:15)
9. "Already Dead" (2:59)
10. "Sunday Sun" (4:44)
11. "Little One" (4:27)
12. "Side of the Road" (3:23)

 

 

NOTE: Japanese CD and MFSL editions feature a 13th track ‘Ship In The Bottle’

 

Comparison material:
Japanese CD edition UICY-6154
• Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs Original Master Recording 24k Gold CD - UDCD 780
NOTE THAT THE MFSL IS A SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT ALBUM MIX with different intros and outros
Most of the songs on the MFSL edition are 2-10 seconds longer
• Original Geffen SACD release - 069493537 2 – NB: Long out of print
• Original Geffen DVD-Audio release - B0001840-19 – NB: Long out of print (24/88.2 release)
Japanese SHM CD from 2012 - UICY-25180
 

 

Description: Beck was turning 30 when he found out his girlfriend of 9 years was cheating on him. The resulting melancholy, heartbreak and loneliness led to the mostly acoustic and partially orchestral based tracks on ‘Sea Change’. An intensely introspective work, it marked a departure from the electronic, retro and sample based styles which brought Beck Hansen to wider notice with albums like ‘Mellow Gold’. It was not a completely stylistic sea change (pun intended) as the previous work ‘Mutations’ also featured some of the same lush treatment. The album is frequently pulled out at audio shows and is a favourite with audiophiles. The recording is stellar and much of it was recorded in a live style with little overdubbing/additions later.

 

RIAA Sales: Certified gold

Singles: "Lost Cause" and "Guess I'm Doing Fine"

Awards: Rolling Stone 5 star album and best album of 2002
Billboard #8 on USA charts
UK #20 charting

Charting:

Interesting trivia : The 2nd track ‘Paper Tiger’ is essentially a reworking of the song ‘Melody’ from ‘Histoire de Melody Nelson’ by Serge Gainsbourg. Beck is paying hommage to one of his favourite tracks. Furthermore, Beck produced (and wrote most of) the album ‘IRM’ by Gainsbourg’s singer-actress daughter Charlotte. Her mother is Jane Birkin. ‘Histoire de Melody Nelson’ is a classic and is also available as a Blu-ray PureAudio disc!
Link:

Also, Beck’s new 2013 album ‘Morning Phase’ is a companion piece to ‘Sea Change

 

 

The Album:

The album starts with the deceptively folksy/bright ‘The Golden Age’ which is really rather bleak. ‘These days I barely get by, I don’t ever try. It’s a treacherous road with a desolated view’ is a lyric which sets the tone for the album. ‘Paper Tiger’ is a standout where Beck reminds us that ‘We're just holding on to nothing, To see how long nothing lasts’. The track ‘Guess I’m Doing Fine’ sounds like a broken man trying to convince himself of something while his world falls apart. Songs like ‘Lonesome Tears’, ‘Already Dead’, and ‘Lost Cause’ all progressively seal the deal. However, the beautiful ‘Sunday Sun’ and ‘Little One’ change the tone a little towards the end of the album, hinting that ‘Yesterdays are mending’ and he might just survive. If the best way to deal with heartache is to put it all out there, Beck must have become the most emotionally healthy person alive after the catharsis of ‘Sea Change’.

 

Audio: I’m not certain why, but the DVD Audio and HDTracks release of this album are in the 24/88.2 kHz format, leading me to wonder if it was originally recorded this way. The DVD-Audio and SACD originally included a surround mix, so it’s a no-brainer to have it return on the Bluray edition. The Blu-ray is in the 24 bit / 192 kHz which is essentially the highest bitrate we’ll see in this format. There are some audiophile specialty labels releasing data discs with 32 bit or 384 kHz recordings, or double DSD, pushing the boundaries of digital audio further but these are not mass market yet.

(1)
Japanese CD

 

 

(2) Japanese SHM CD: little difference. Perhaps a slight audible bass improvement. SHM materials in the optical layer are supposed to improve the information retrieval from CD players. I am not convinced I hear much difference here.

 

 

(3) MFSL Original Master Recording 24K Gold Disc: Mastering volume reduced. This results in a tradeoff of wider dynamic range however perhaps slightly less detail overall. Totally different sound!
 

 

(4) Geffen DVD Audio – Stereo Track: Sounds wonderful, much more presence and soundstage than the CD editions, if a little compressed.

 

 



(5)
SACD: There is no photo without conversion to a PCM based format as it is a DSD technology but it sounds very similar to the DVD Audio, also includes a surround mix, and perhaps subjectively a little more detail to my ear

 

(6) Blu-ray Audio – Stereo Track: Bears tremendous resemblance to the now out-of-print SACD and DVD-A. Plenty of detail, lots of air around the instruments (soundstage seems wider and more open, slightly longer decays on bells for example in track one)

 

 

RECOMMENDATION: You should immediately run to your computer or retailer and get a copy of this Blu-ray. Although perhaps not perfect (whatever that means anymore), the other high resolution formats are all long out of print and worth a king’s ransom. This Blu-ray edition marks the return of the surround mix as well if you are a fan of multichannel audio. If you just want a CD edition, the MFSL seems to be a great value and features the bonus track. The Japanese edition suffers from modern remastering for an album that, frankly, doesn’t need it and only declines as a result. The DVD-Audio is the winner for bonus material, but is also slightly punched-up and compressed. If you can happen to get your hands on one, I’d recommend it as well for the bonus material but be prepared to pay well over $100. All high resolution and vinyl editions have shot up tremendously in value in the past. The bluray may as well if and when it goes out of print.

My recommendation to Universal would have been to give it the full treatment and include the same videos and menus on the DVD-Audio. It’s not in keeping with the PureAudio program, but frankly I see nothing that would degrade the sound quality by including separate video material in different chapters. I also would recommend they improve the cover information and include downloads at the same 24/192 quality, but the Blu-ray PureAudio release program only includes lower resolution versions. PS: If I can dream, if an album ever deserved one of the Universal ‘Super Deluxe’ treatments, it’s this one. A double vinyl, bluray wih all the videos as well. It would be a gift to all music fans. Perhaps combine it with the new companion piece ‘Morning Phase’? (Hint… hint…)

This is an excellent example of the DR value not really fully reflecting what’s going on. There are two camps that are set up (1) espousing as much dynamic range as possible and (2) another arguing it makes no difference at all. There’s a highly technical article based on research of thousands of tracks in the EMI catalog at Sound on Sound which claims that the whole term ‘DR’ (Dynamic Range) means little and doesn’t reflect the variability seen in the loudness of the track fully. I disagree – there are clear examples such as REM’s Life’s Rich Pageant – 2 CD Deluxe Edition that sound, frankly, ruined to my ears. I had listened to that CD and record for years and the new version sounds like an FM radio compressed edition. Conversely, some older CDs that are mastered ‘low and true’ are simply flat mixes with little detail. I think each recording must be taken on a case-by-case depending on the source material.

As Gary runs a video site, the best analogy I can give is with photographic dynamic range. Photos with dark shading and bright areas can hide or reveal a great level of detail in either light or dark sections; the challenge is to see as much detail as possible in both. Selective boosting of certain brightness areas, if used judiciously, can reveal detail without ruining the look and feel. Overdone, it looks terrible. But it does depend on the source material – night scenes and darkly lit scenes such as Lynch’s ‘Lost Highway’ look terrible on some DVD editions. If overboosted, it would all just look grey and noisy.

So all editions of Sea Change released by Geffen / Universal seem to have a lower DR than the MFSL release, but they still sound wonderful. The DVD-A/SACD and Blu-ray releases all have similar DR and analysis curve that surpass the CD. MoFi always keeps it ‘old school’ on the mastering. You’ll have to turn up the volume quite a lot to compensate and fully hear all the echo and width of the soundstage in this recording, but it still sounds great. Audiophiles will lambaste me

 

The Oppo has identified it as being a region FREE disc (like CDs) playable on Blu-ray machines worldwide.

 

Extras :

A foldout with photos and lyrics and extensive description of the recording process of the album. A paper with a code to access the Blu-ray disc digital downloads online

 

BOTTOM LINE:
Buy the Blu-ray for an amazing 24/192 stereo and surround mix, use download code for portable devices, get the MFSL for an alternate take on the mix and the mastering of this wonderful record. The songs are all slightly longer and the DR confirms a completely different take on the CD mastering; This could be an 'educational' purchase to own these two editions !

 

Summary: Worst to Best (*** TOO CLOSE TO CALL *** Multiple excellent editions!)
 

Format Release: Dynamic Range Score Notes
Japanese CD edition 8 Suffers from mild compression.
MFSL Original Master Recording 24k Gold 13 A totally different sound. Honest, and requires more volume. More ‘purist’ but perhaps I would say perhaps less engaging on first listening in this specific case but recommended nonetheless.
Geffen DVD Audio Disc 9 Winner for value and bonus material. Out of print.
Geffen SACD 9 Truly a wonderful release. NB: There is a stereo and multichannel track but no CD layer.
Universal Blu-ray Audio 9 Too close to call but SACD is unavailable! So I recommend this as a must buy.

 

Daniel Lalla

March 23rd, 2014

  

  

 

Tools Used:

MacPro with iTunes 11 using AudirvanaPlus.
XLD used for all file format conversions where needed.
AudioLEq Version 3 (paid version) for analysis and histogram
Output through TEAC UD-501 USB DAC (driverless in Mac OSX) with direct DSD support
Parallels Windows partition with Foobar 2000 with SACD and Dynamic Range plugins, using TEAC ASIO driver
Some album information is drawn from Wikipedia and other sources on the internet.

Daniel Lalla

 

     

 




 

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