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Published: Thursday, 9/29/2011

Pink Floyd's remastered catalog an audiophile's trove

BY KIRK BAIRD
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Pink Floyd brings out the audiophile in everyone.

Which is why, with every new iteration of music technology, a remastered Pink Floyd collection is trotted out for the masses.

So when is enough, enough? The newly released Pink Floyd remasters makes a real case that it's now.

Pink Floyd and EMI have taken it upon themselves to release what they consider the ultimate reissue of the band's work. The newly remastered CDs are available individually for $9.99, or in a complete collection called the "Discovery Box Set" for $199.99. A trio of the band's best-known works -- "Dark Side of the Moon," "Wish You Were Here," "The Wall" -- also are being released in Experience and Immersion sets and will feature archival unreleased music, live recordings, and DVD and Blu-ray audio versions.

The box set is the first to feature all 14 of Floyd's studio albums, from the Syd Barret-led "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" up through and including the final Floyd effort "The Division Bell." The discs include all of the original artwork, and are housed in a small, sturdy box -- easy for carting. The Discovery set also includes a 60-page booklet, "Graphic Tales," by celebrated graphic designer Storm Thorgerson, who collaborated with the band on almost all of its album covers and artwork. "Graphic Tales" features rare and never-before-seen images and outtakes from almost all of the band's releases along with paragraphs of commentary from Thorgerson and his design team.

The Discovery CDs were remastered by James Guthrie earlier this year. Guthrie co-produced and engineered "The Wall," so he has a connection with the band and its work.

It was no small challenge to freshen up the analog-recorded music for the digital age, but Guthrie has done so admirably. There's a sonic clarity to the collective works that hasn't been there before -- at least, in any of the various forms I've listened to through the years. What I thought were more-than-adequate audio representations of Floyd's most popular works through its first box set, 1992's "Shine On," was at once muddy and dense when compared to the "Discovery" editions. The thumping double bass of "One of These Days," the opening track from "Meddle," was vibrant and pure in the newly remastered versions, as was the album's dense epic closer "Echoes."

I then compared my Japanese import of "Meddle," at one time considered the signature release by audiophiles, and found it now lacking. The "Discovery" edition of "Meddle" had a presence to the music that simply eluded the older import.

A stiffer challenge for the new box set was in order by bringing out the SACD version of "Dark Side of the Moon." For comparison's sake I played the SACD and "Discovery" versions of "Us and Them" from the album on an older CD player. The SACD was crisp and sharp, but the Discovery CD was slightly sharper, with a noticeable lack of analog hiss.

For my final test, I turned to "The Wall" on the Mobile Fidelity Ultradisc and "Discovery" releases. Even though the Ultradisc version is more than two decades old, a head-to-head comparison of "Mother" made for a tighter race than audiophiles might think. But the "Discovery" remastered version proved to be sonically superior, if only slightly.

As substantial as those improvements were to the core of Pink Floyd's catalog, it's the more obscure albums that weren't included in the previous box sets that benefit the most, in particular the two soundtracks "More" and "Obscured by Clouds," that showcase a young, experimental band finding its way.

So is the upgrade worth it? For most bands, no. But this is Pink Floyd, a headphones-only rites of passage with aural pleasures such as "Dark Side of the Moon" and "Wish You Were Here." Tape hiss and foggy sound is a musical buzz kill for Pink Floyd, which thrives, in large part, on audio clarity to deliver the brunt of its sonic experience. And the "Discovery" remasters do just that.

Contact Kirk Baird at kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.



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