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Peter Gabriel on Super-Audio CD - SACD

Here comes the format flood – now we get everything on CD, and it feels as if they were trying to pull our legs. The remaster editions were announced as Japan mini-sleeves, jewel cases and vinyl editions. What we got in the end are jewel cases, limited edition CDs in a sumptuous cardboard box (a bit like the Genesis mini-LP series) and no vinyl. You could also shell out and import the whole series as beautiful digipaks from the US. Lots of work for collectors, one might say.

Peter is, as we all know, always there when it is about using new technologies. Therefore we need not fear that his remaster CDs would be done as carelessly as parts of the Genesis Remaster Edition. No, Gabriel’s CDs are fine throughout, and the sound is delicious. But why were Secret World Live and the 2CD version of Plays Live not remastered? The latter release was available in Japan – again for a lot of money. The problem about this is that the fans agree that there has been no remastering about the release. That’s sad. And the German versions were not remastered either. That’s sad, too.

Back to the music. It is remarkable how big a difference there is between the original pressings and the remastered CDs. The first four albums in particular have a much clearer bass and more brilliant trebles. Passion, too, is much more enjoyable. Perhaps the biggest surprise was Us. If you consider that this album was produced only eleven years ago with state-of-the-art technology the improvement is remarkable. Come Talk To Me sounds much fresher and the voice more dynamic. This is actually the case with all of the first four albums. Thank you for that!

Now we have another format, the SACD stereo hybrid. All remaster CDs were re-released with a high-resolution DSD (Direct Stream Digital) as Super Audio CDs (SACD). Another format and one may get miffed at the flood of different versions. So now these are the Gabriel albums in their definitive format. All CDs have stereo mixes that are no longer restricted to the 44100Hz of a CD. This only works with an SACD player, though. More about the technology involved in a separate special.

Is SACD stereo really audibly better than the normal stereo from the remaster edition? The answer is a resounding yes. Every time the bass becomes fuller or thinner, every time the treble becomes more dynamic or the vocals more intense – that is when you hear the difference. The overall impression is that you are listening to a superior recording, and that is really what it is.

While the remaster edition of So did not have an intense sound (compared to the original pressing and the other CDs) the sound of the SACD nearly jumps out of the speakers. Cymbals, bass, Peter’s voice – it is all so much clearer and more direct. You will hear more than in normal stereo, even if you listen at low volume. And if you crank it up it will still sound clearer than the normal CD. Even the third album which was recorded without cymbals sounds superior. Us makes another leap forward quality-wise. Check, for example, the treble in Blood Of Eden and the compact sound of Come Talk To Me or Only Us. The near-instrumental Fourteen Black Paintings reveals a whole new quality. Almost every song on the album has improved and sometimes it is as if you were listening to the song for the first time again. If we move backwards in time, Passion turns out to be a pure fountain of sound. All the details in the album stand out for the first time. The second album has probably most improved, while the fourth is least different from the original. The reason for this are the original recordings on the master tapes themselves. – But listen to Biko or Here Comes The Flood: Breathtaking!

Peter Gabriel’s SACD series outstrips all other recordings  from the Genesis camp. The format is reaching mass-compatibility with SACD-hybrids costing less than 18 EUR – it has not been long since you would have had to pay up to 10 EUR more than that.

If you are thinking about buying the stereo-SACD you need to consider that the acoustic improvement of the normal CD layer over the remaster edition is so small that you will hardly notice it on most hifi equipment. If you already have an SACD system you will be delighted. It is actually quite unfortunate that no album of Peter’s back catalogue has been produced in SACD multichannel 5.1 surround sound.

If you would like to know how Peter’s recent masterpiece UP sounds in multichannel sound you could read up on it in our UP 5.1 review – though we recommend you listen for yourself.

by Christian Gerhardts
translated by Martin Klinkhardt

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