Universal are releasing a handful more of their classic back catalogue on Blu-Ray around now. This allows for what they call High Fidelity Pure Audio. But is it really worth it? I mean, CD was the pinnacle, right? Well, until 320kbps mp3 downloads came along. And FLAC.
The current release schedule includes the following:
- The Velvet Underground – White Light / White Heat
- The Rolling Stones – Let It Bleed
- Genesis – Selling England By The Pound
- Lenny Kravitz – Are You Gonna Go My Way?
- John Lennon – Imagine
- Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks
- Tears For Fears – The Hurting
- Sam Cooke – Portrait of a Legend
All of these were released on the 20th of January and I apologise for being a bit late with the review of the Genesis disc they sent me. Thing is, I don’t own a Blu-Ray system, so I had to wait until I could pop round to see a work colleague who got one (and all the audio kit to go with it) for Christmas.
First, though, the album itself. It’s proper prog. From when Genesis were pretty much inventing the genre. If you think “Genesis” and the first person who springs to mind is Phil Collins then this may not be the album for you. Another work colleague is a huge fan of the band from this actual era. In fact track two, “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)”, was the second single he ever bought with his own money. He very kindly loaned me his recently purchased CD copy of the album to use in comparison when I checked out the Blu-Ray.
At the time, the CD version was classed as the “ultimate” edition. Cleaned and tidied from the original analogue recordings, resampled and remastered and remixed and re-everything-else-d. It’s as good a CD version as you’re going to get.
Comparing it to the quality of the High Fidelity release is almost like comparing vinyl to CD. Almost.
The jump in audio quality isn’t quite that high, but what does hit you is how the sound surrounds you. Remember the first time you experienced a DVD film with 5.1 surround sound when all you’d had in the past had been VHS tapes? It’s like that. From remote stereo to “Holy crap, it’s all around me and I can hear everything as if the guitarist is stood by my left shoulder and the drums are stuck to the ceiling”.
There are, on this particular disc, six different audio versions of the tracks: 2.0 PCM, 2.0 Dolby TrueHD, 2.0 Dolby DTS, 5.1 PCM, 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, 5.1 Dolby DTS. Some will work better than others depending on what equipment you have, so it’s worth flicking through them if you’re an audiophile who knows what they’re doing. We couldn’t spot any huge difference with the kit we had, but I’m sure someone with a very expensive setup will be able to (or claim to, to justify the extra £1000 they coughed up for their amp).
So a big plus for the audio quality. It simply is superb and the closest I’ve heard to “being there” that I can say I’ve ever encountered. People often say that a recording should be as the artist intended – I don’t think the artists at the time could ever have intended their music to be heard like this in the home. Technology has advanced way past what they could have envisioned – this is better than they could have intended.
But what are the downsides? Well, the disc is barren apart from the audio and a very basic menu which just lets you skip between tracks and codecs. Now, this could be down to space (though I doubt it – but in honesty I’m not sure how to check how much of the disc has been used and how much spare space there is) or a limitation of the audio specification.
Universal are the only company using High Fidelity Pure Audio and it’s possible, like the original Red Book CD-DA standard, that it simply doesn’t allow for anything other than audio information. This is a shame because many of the discs only include the album tracks. A few do offer extras (Never Mind the Bollocks has what looks like an entire live set on there), but they’re also just audio tracks.
Given that the discs retail at £16.99, some may find this a bit of an expensive re-purchase of an album they already own. With all the additional space, a nice collection of HD videos could be thrown in, or some trivia on the songs/album (making of, history and so on) – something just to add some extra value.
However, that’s about the only quibble we could come up with between us.
The purpose of HFPA is to provide the best audio experience currently available. I’m not an audio snob (I listen to most of my music from 128kbps mp3 files in the car or on £20 speakers on my laptop), I can tell you right now that I’d be staggered if anything else in the consumer market can match this. If I can spot and appreciate the difference, then those who really care about audio quality will be probably be jumping for joy and clapping their hands like a excited schoolchildren.
Annoyingly, I now want… sod it, need to buy a Blu-Ray player and a new surround sound system. And get that house we’re trying to buy. And refurb the loft to house the audio kit. And then convince whoever owns the Iron Maiden back catalogue to release them in this format.