Graham Nash – Songs for Survivors (DTS)
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Of course we all know Nash from Crosby , Stills, Nash, and Young fame, but, not knowing what to expect from this DVD, I cracked the case and looked inside.
From the DVD insert:
The album was recorded directly to hard disk using DB Technologies analog to digital converters. All signals were recorded through class A discreet analog circuitry and always bypassed as many stages of amplification as possible. Microphone preamplifiers included GML and API while GML EQ's and GML limiters were used exclusively. Microphone pre amps were, whenever possible, placed right next to the microphone stand. The recording also employed Cello and Wireworld high resolution audio cables. The very best of all possible microphones were chosen for each instrument.
Sounds like someone that cares about audio quality and isn't afraid to do anything and everything to get the best possible sound. Time to see if they did.
Discs are listened to a minimum of twice with at least a 24 hour separation between the listening sessions. During session one, notes are taken on the subjective experience of the implementation of the DTS surround sound mix (in this case, except track 1 - mixed in DTS-ES) along with notes on other features. During session two, the original notes are compared and expanded upon during the listening experience. Additional listening sessions are added as needed. Before each session, speaker calibration is checked using an SPL meter and the test-tones on the receiver, in this case the Denon AVR-3805 .
See Audio Quality
1) Dirty Little Secret - Rock/Pop
2) Blizzard of Lies - Ballad
3) Lost Another One - Rock/Pop
4) The Chelsea Hotel - Ballad
5) I'll Be There For You - Ballad
6) Nothing In The World - Ballad
7) Where Love Lies Tonight - Ballad
8) Pavanne - Ballad
9) Liar's Nightmare - Rock/Pop
10) Come With Me - Ballad
Two words sum up the audio quality of this album: consistency and integrity. Generally, I write up each track individually highlighting the highs and lows. With this DVD, it is more efficient to talk about the Audio Quality as a whole. There is such a consistency from track to track that I'm afraid that describing the same thing 10 times would either a) bore you to tears, or b) bore me to the point that I start nitpicking simply to have something to say.
One of the things that you will notice is that occasionally you will hear what I'll term as "off" notes. I mean "off" in the sense that they are not perfect - sometimes during harmonica sections, or the occasional weird little reverb that comes through as a song fades away, stuff like that. It gives you the sense that you are listening to consummate professionals that rarely make mistakes and when they do, they would not be termed "mistakes" by most mere mortals and are left in to protect the integrity of the performance. This album doesn't sound like a live album, but you get the impression that there wasn't a whole lot of takes involved.
The fact of the matter is that this is some of the best recorded music I have ever heard. Every track is crystal clear, most all the levels are set correctly (no straining to hear a voice or wishing something was just a tad louder), and there is absolutely no noise floor on any track. This album is so consistent that I literally sat there, pencil in hand, at the end of each song with nothing (or nothing different) written after each track. My only negative comment is that on track 5 the kick drum/bass guitar was a little strong.
This is the formula - most tracks start softly primarily through the front speakers. As instruments (particularly percussion) are added, the surrounds slowly start to blend into the overall sound. As soon as either the tempo increases or backup singers start, the surrounds really start to make their presence known, but quickly fade as the tempo decreases/backup singers break off. This is not to say that there were not minor issues. Track 4 had a Cabasa (sounds sort of like a maraca) anchored at the Right Rear that with a guitar in the Front Left. In tracks 3 and 9, there was a guitar solo that seemed to come exclusively from the right side of the room. Track 8 had the female singer exclusively in the back of the room (with a chorus of backup singers I usually prefer this, but with one other person singing harmony, felt a little weird).
As a general comment, I wasn't much impressed with the surround implementation. It's not like anything was heinously wrong, it never really had the cohesiveness that I was expected. This may be a function of the clarity of the audio. It may be that audio recorded at such high fidelity precludes the ability to blend everything together well. Hearing each instrument so distinctly may inhibit the surround mix. I don't know. I guess, to summarize, while there were some questionable surround decisions, for the most part the implementation was acceptable - some venial sins but few mortal ones.
For the number of menu items on the page, there were surprisingly few actual extras. There were tracks, lyrics, gallery (94 black and white pictures), DVD-Rom, links, credits (including bio's), audio selector, and DTS story. Playing the DVD got you a close up of the album cover negative as the background for every song, with credits at the beginning of a track and lyrics displayed during playback. If you inserted the disc into a computer, you got the choice of reordering playback, random play, and displaying pictures from the gallery instead of the lyrics - a nice bonus if you have your main listening area at your computer, which I don't.
The gallery is composed of all black and white pictures of people (including Graham Nash as the photographer, quite a few of David Crosby, and others), objects (lots of things casting shadows), and events (baby breastfeeding, car driving away, cat on woman's back). Mostly, seems to be a collection of pictures favored by the artist, taken by the artist, or perhaps both. This is the perfect example of when no extras would have been better than extras of limited replay value.
So what is this album? The audio quality of this album is superb. It is to my experience without peer. The surround implementation, for the most part, is unimpressive. The extras are interesting…once. So what is this album? Many of the lyrics have a politically charged (if somewhat heavy handed) feel to them while some feel like they are written specifically about a person or event (and as a listener, you are compelled to find out about this event/person so as to not feel left out). Regardless, you feel confident that each phrase (while perhaps not inspired) was penned with purpose. Each word was chosen, not settled on. So what is this album?
Herein lies the crux: Excellent audio with mediocre everything else. How to rate, how to rate. I feel like the artist is making a statement through the extras that the most important thing is the audio - but then the surround implementation tells me that, while the direct recording is extremely important, the surround format, not so much. The fact is, no matter how wonderfully an album is recorded, if the surround mix not up to par, it suffers. If I'm thinking about the Audio Quality, I want to give the album a 4, if I'm thinking about the Surround Implementation, I want to give it a 3. If I think about the extras, I want to go to sleep. Let's put it this way, if they had spent a tenth of the time on the Surround Implementation and Extras as they did worrying about which high-end cable or microphone to use, this album could have been my first 5.