In the same way that the Warner Music Group is spearheading DVD-Audio, Sony Music is leading the charge for Super Audio CD - though that's a little difficult to tell from Sony's first batch of surround SACDs, which number exactly two. Yes, the company has been releasing stereo SACDs for some time now, but it was beaten to the multichannel punch by several other labels - most notably by Virgin U.K., whose reissue of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells earned high marks in our April issue. And although Sony was hoping to have ten surround SACDs ready from the likes of Miles Davis, Billy Joel, Jeff Beck, and Celine Dion, they didn't make our deadline (though they may be in stores by the time you read this).
Of the two discs that did make it, one features the violinist Midori and is reviewed by Robert Ripps in his roundup of classical SACDs, immediately following. The other disc, on the Columbia label, is James Taylor's Hourglass (Music , Recording ). Listen carefully and you'll get a sense of the clarity, depth, air, and overall naturalness touted by supporters of SACD's Direct Stream Digital technology. You'll also hear a beautiful six-channel mix by Frank Filipetti, the original album's engineer, mixer, and co-producer. Taylor's lead vocals are rich and prominent in the center channel. Background vocals aren't overdone in the back. The subwoofer level is perfect for this kind of acoustic music. And Filipetti gives a textbook example of how to use the surround channels subtly but effectively, filling them nicely when the song calls for it but reserving them for ambience when just ambience will do. There are two instances where he uses percussion dramatically in the surrounds, but I won't give them away, since they refer specifically to the subject matter. Get out the booklet of lyrics and follow along.
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