Stock: Chesky SACD273, DVD-Audio 272
Two entirely separate discs of the same recorded material are being reviewed here. One disc, the SACD version being a hybrid designed disc, can be played on any regular CD player or any stereo or multi-channel SACD player. The other recording, the DVD-A (audio) version will probably play in any recent regular DVD player though for full audio surround enjoyment either a DVD-A player or a so-called universal player is necessary.
Either disc can easily be described a real "toot". The full title is Dr. Chesky's Magnificent, Fabulous, Absurd and Insane Musical 5.1 Surround Show. That is quite a mouthful and the recording is a real earful. There are a half dozen sound effects engineers credited here and approximately forty players, singers and musicians. The relatively few "true" musical selections are short excerpts and are uniformly well performed with excellent audio quality including excellent soundscape reproduction in all its dimensions and aided by the multi-channel recording. This is not a calibration or set-up disc, but if your system is properly set-up for multi-channel (no easy feat actually) it will add to your enjoyment and make these fun demonstrations sound as the producers and project director intended. Probably no one expects you to listen with great regularity to either of these fine discs, unless checking and rechecking to see if you finally got your system's set-up spot on. I will bet that for many months you will put this recording spinning every time someone comes visiting and would like to hear "your surround or home theater system". Put it this way, it makes a fine and fun demonstration disc for surround sound. You probably cannot do better to show off your new surround sound system and its flexibility and capabilities in the extreme while having fun at the same time.
I am certain that the Chesky engineers think the two discs sound, or should sound, identical. I wonder if they can be absolutely positive of that assumption. In my surround system, the DVD-Audio version is noticeably better than the SACD version. That was not surprising as the Toshiba SD-9200 DVD-A player reviewed for Enjoy the Music.com™ a couple of years ago (and now discontinued) and purchased so that I could review DVD-A discs has turned out to be an even better player than I originally realized. Playing regular CD recordings reveal it to be distinctly better than the Sony DVP-NS999ES. This is mainly noticeable in the mid-bass and deepest bass ranges. The Toshiba simply had fuller and noticeably more solid bass response and that was also true when comparing the two in their respective surround sound modes. So far, even so called universal disc players seem to have one mode that seems to offer truly top-notch performance or one mode that has noticeably inferior performance (often the regular CD mode).
I am going to list only ten of the thirty-eight tracks on this outstanding disc as that will be sufficient to let you know what is going on. The title names should allow you to conjure up images of what can be heard, if all is set up at least close to correctly. "Blast Off", that is what they do at Cape Canaveral Space Center, "Welcome to the Show", "Circle of Voices,"- yes after a short time you will hear voices all around you, "The Storm", - over the years I have heard at least a dozen recorded storms, this one by the famed Peter McGrath takes the prize as the best yet. I am sure that a significant part is the surround sound aspect. When it is over, go look for your dog; it will be hiding under one of your beds I bet. "Music for Cello, Helicopter and Cars" -- guess where the helicoptor is coming from and flying over. "Circle of drums", "Church Mice" -- they start chattering from the front of your room and eventually are all around you until your cat comes in the front left door and with a polite snarl scares all of them away. The final track is entitled, "Thank You for Coming to Our Show", that ends with a pleasant thanks for coming announcement and a bit of applause from one person, or the sound of one hand clapping followed by a plaintive voice from one channel, softly pleading, "can I go home now?"
Nearly all of the tracks exhibited sound quality somewhere between simply excellent to outstanding. The brief musical selections are enjoyable but the innovative sound effects are what "frost the cake". Do not be put off by the warning labels regarding setting your volume level very low at first. Unless your system is not worthy of a mid-fi description there should be no problem at your usual listening levels. Actually the two or three minor complaints here are instances where I thought the gain or volume level was too low for best effect as with the cat and the last few words on the last track. Be advised that high quality high power amplifiers are not the usual culprits for harming loudspeakers. Poor quality or relatively low power amplifiers driven into high distortion levels are the usual culprits for the death of a loudspeaker. As I hopefully informed you, this is a unique recording. It cannot hope to appeal to everyone. I have enjoyed it immensely, but it will be controversial as most outstanding things in this world are. If all does not quite sound like you think it should, my guess is that you need help from Chesky's ultimate surround sampler/set-up disc, either the DVD-Audio or the SACD version depending on your disc player.