I heard the surround sound remix of Nonsuch and I thought it was extremely not good. Look for reviews, you won’t find a bad one. I made it through half of the album, but it just made me angry. Set aside discussion of the validity of surround sound, don’t know if you care, don’t think it matters now. Steven Wilson has somehow gotten himself anointed as a surround sound remixer but based on this mix, I’d say he also is mixing things in a way that reinterprets the material, and I think that is a shitty intent. This is not coming from some audiophile angle, analyzing if there are 12 dBFS of headroom or putting magic beans on my speakers. I’m talking purely musical choices here. This is not just intended as a mix, but also as a fix.
One really obvious album to buy in surround is Dark Side of the Moon. The surround version of that album really sounds like the original stereo mix. Not done by Alan Parsons, but the balances, the eq, the reverb, it’s all very close. It feels like the classic album we’ve heard a million times was spread out across all the speakers. To me, that is what it should be.
Nonsuch, on the other hand, has all kinds of balance changes. The songs feel different. I can hear different parts and different nuances, but it’s because it is a completely different mix, not because elements are more exposed by virtue of having more speakers. It changes the feel of some of the tunes and it’s distracting because it does not sound like the album we know. That’s the nature of a recording, it becomes definitive. Released to the world, it’s out and no longer malleable.
One technical issue I had was that Wilson puts the vocals right in the center channel, which is kind of a no-no for the two reasons that often home systems are not set up well – you can’t really rely on the center speaker to be correct. Some people don’t even setup the center speaker, so now you have zero vocal. Also, now the vocals are basically soloed, you can turn off the other channels and get the vocals all by themselves. I wonder if Andy realized this, as you can now take his vocals and drop them into your house remix or whatever silliness you want. If you’ve been in a studio with a singer, I think you would find that most of them do not want their vocal soloed, it’s like being naked. And maybe it’s even okay in the studio for some, but it seems odd to release it that way. And Wilson’s use of reverb and delay is exposed and excessive, sounds like he got a reverb unit as a new toy and wanted to show it to everyone.
It seems dumb to imply, “who does he think he is, to reinterpret an album that already exists as a mix that fans know very well,” because Andy commissioned the mix and approved it. And I hope it’s making him some money. But it’s not Nonsuch. Not to me. And it’s one thing to screw up a surround sound mix, because not many people care and it’s better than listening to recordings of passing trains, but to also include a new stereo mix, as if this to say, “no, this is really what it was supposed to be,” I think is presumptuous and misguided.
Now Wilson’s mix of Drums and Wires is out, and the reviews will all be barfing all over themselves with joy – and the package has some really, really enticing extras. Wilson is also remixing Tears for Fears’ Songs From the Big Chair, and I’m sure the world is waiting to hear the ketchup he brought to the table, to slather all over people’s well-established knowledge of that album. I’d be happy to be wrong about that, and more happy to be wrong about the Drums and Wires remix.
So yeah, I listened to the 5.1 mix of Nonsuch and it pissed me off.