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The Pleasure That It Brings

Here comes the sound flood for your living-room: UP in SACD 5.1 surround

UP – Peter Gabriel’s most recent masterpiece in SACD 5.1 multichannel surround sound

Many of us will have experienced this: Everytime you listen to it, UP reveals more details to the point of sensory overload. All the while the personal favourite keeps changing because of a newly-found detail or simply a different mood.

All this becomes terribly unimportant as soon as you put the multichannel SACD into the player. So much has been written about the music on UP and its quality. Does it really matter if an album we’ve come to love in normal stereo is released in high-resolution 5.1 surround sound?

UP was mixed specifially for the SACD surround sound release. The CD also comes with the normal stereo mix and an SACD stereo mix. The normal stereo mix is compressed according to CD standards while the SACD formats give free reign to the frequencies. In the audible range this has more impact than one would believe.

Technically, an SACD is always superior to a normal CD, give or take surround sound. But it is the surround sound that draws you into the new technology. It is a whole new experience and you have to get used to have music coming at you from everywhere. Up to now we hardly knew anything but stereo. Now the music pours forth from five speakers (plus a subwoofer). Now that’s a change.

UP 5.1 Surround - Track by Track


The stereo version pummeled you from the front (I guess we all remember this explosive moment of surprise). In the surround version you are a helpless prisoner of an aggressive flood of sound, in the midst of which Gabriel’s voice can be heard in crystal clearness.

Growing Up

The intro comes mainly from behind you, with stronger drums. The sound effects are merrily distributed between all speakers while the low singing between the “dots” comes out of the rear speakers. It’s a whole new experience. One is really surrounded by the music.

Sky Blue

The surround effect is rather unobtrusive during this song. The sound is better due to the SACD standard, but it is only when the Blind Boys come in that the surround effect really shows. Before that, it is used for minor effects only.

No Way Out

This song has one terrific mix. You will notice the double drumkit during the chorus which is hardly audible in CD stereo. Also spot the drum festival near the end and how it is distributed between speakers.

I Grieve

This ballad is not only chock full of surprises, but also overflowing with sound. The surround mix brings out the best of this song and has the listener floating away on it. When you sit right in the middle of the room and close your eyes you will be able to hear details you could never hear in the stereo mix, however hard you tried.

The Barry Williams Show

This song was available for download on Peter’s web site in 5.1. If you had the necessary equipment you could get a glimpse of the multichannel recording. The video for The Barry Williams Show in 5.1 format was available on the More Than This DVD. However, neither version was as brilliant as the SACD recording. “Let’s go”, comes the whisper from behind and sends you on a seven minute journey of sound. Strong bass, brilliant treble and all the sound effects distributed across the speakers. The line “what a show you’re looking” at comes out better during the chorus. When the instrumental part begins, the effects reach a climax. Once more, things hidden in the stereo mix show up. At the point when the short break in the rhythm occurs, the main drums are briefly moved to the rear speakers. An excellent effect.

My Head Sounds Like That

The beginning of this song in particular is wonderful. All those peculiar noises come out much clearer, Peter’s voice is more plaintive than in stereo and there is simply more volume to the sound. This song’s fascinating moment is “what’s left out and what’s left in”. Surround sound and high-resolution make this a strong and clear musical moment.

More Than This

Few effects for this song. Some details circle through space and the sound is, of course, richer than in stereo.

Signal To Noise

This is the only song to feature Peter’s voice on the centre speaker consistently. Nusrat can be heard on the left and right channels. The sound appears kind of clinical or metallic, but that really goes well with a song that has long become a fan favourite. When the orchestra comes in you feel as if you had the best seats in the symphonic hall. Peter’s vocals are, again, much clearer. Signal To Noise could have been a grandiose finale for this SACD.

The Drop

The SACD ends less spectacular as far as sound is concerned. The Drop has been mixed equally on all five channels, thus minimizing the surround effect.

It is rather difficult to describe the sound of a 5.1 SACD. Everybody will experience it in a different way and enjoy other passages better. This is merely an attempt to describe how the SACD was mixed. There are 5.1 SACD sounds with a totally different character. Leaving all musical qualities aside, Herbert Gronemeyer’s Mensch CD has quite another flair, most of all because his voice comes through the centre speaker only. This is not a bad thing, since nobody speaks stereo. Compared to the SACD, Herbert’s voice in stereo sounds as if he had shouted into an empty tin. Meat Loaf’s current album was mixed much like The Drop: Few special effects, more like an equal distribuation of the overall sound. Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The Moon, on the other hand, has these effects. The coins dance through the room for Money, and the clock seems to tick away on the ceiling in Time. There are many ways of shaping the sound. And if you dislike surround sound because it is too detailed you can always switch to SACD stereo. The sound quality will still be better than on a normal CD. At the end of the day, though, 5.1 sound is the ultimate in listening enjoyment. UP is a beauty for that. It really is a pity US was not mixed for 5.1 – there is certainly much to discover.

by Christian Gerhardts
translated by Martin Klinkhardt