Blu-ray Pure Audio Review: Marvin Gaye “What’s Going On”

There is nothing I can write about What’s Going On that hasn’t already been written. From its release in 1971 until today, it has been a classic album. Coming in at #6 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Albums list (2012 Revision) its power and brilliance are hardly up for debate. It also has not suffered from a lack of reissues this past decade.

Specs
Album Artist: Marvin Gaye
Album Title: What's Going On
Format: Blu-ray Pure Audio
Tracks: 9
Review Date: November 18, 2013
Price: $18.70

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Just in the past few years we have seen the 40th Anniversary CD remaster, reissues on LP and SACD from Mobile Fidelity, and a release on HD Tracks. It’s likely that if you want to own a high quality version of What’s Going On that you already do. Still it is one of the first US releases on the new Blu-ray Pure Audio format.  With a stereo audio track in 24/96 format, it provides a high-resolution version of this classic that is easy to play back.

The source for this release is not established. I would guess they use the same 24/96 masters that are being sold by HD Tracks. According to their website “Mastering was completed by Kevin Reeves at Sterling Sound NYC, using the original masters from the Motown Records vault. The masters were played on a modified Studer A820 with Wolke Butterfly heads and converted to digital at 192khz/24bit resolution using the DCS 904 converter and Sterling’s proprietary mastering systems. As always, the most direct signal path was maintained throughout the mastering process.”

To see how the Blu-ray version sounds, I compared it directly to the recent 40th Anniversary 2CD+LP release. Oppo BDP-105 and BDP-103D players serve as transports for the albums, sending the digital audio over HDMI to a Yamaha CD-A5000 preamp. A Parasound Halo A31 amplifier drives B&W CM10 speakers.

On first listen you may not hear as much of a difference as you expect to hear. The CD version and Blu-ray version both offer a wide sound stage and good detail. As I listened and switched between the two the difference becomes more clear. The CD version has a thin sound, especially at the high-end. Voices sound more natural and authentic on the Blu-ray release.

Marvin Gaye What's Going On Menu

While the sound stages are similar in size they are not in weight at all. On the Blu-ray you feel more like you are in that room than hearing a recording. The added weight of the Blu-ray comes across the more you listen to it. Instrument separation and clarity improves on the Blu-ray release as well.

One very noticeable difference is that the tape hiss on the Blu-ray is far more in the background than on the CD release. You can hear it on both, but due to the higher noise floor of the CD it is more audible. Going back and forth between the two I never find myself preferring the CD release. The benefits of the Blu-ray version range from barely noticeable to clearly audible, but nothing earth-shaking. However I still will not put back in the CD the next time I want to listen to this album.

However I’m not blown away by this release. First, it’s $30 for only 9 tracks. Compared to the Rolling Stones Grrr Blu-ray Pure Audio disc that offers up 50 tracks for under $20 that is awful. Since this is probably the same master that HDTracks uses, you can get it from them for only $18 and that includes 3 bonus tracks. The 24/192 version from HDTracks is $25 and I don’t know why they don’t use that version on this disc instead of the 24/96 one.

Finally the Blu-ray Pure Audio discs include a digital download of the album, but it is an mp3 version. It uses a 320kb/sec bit rate, but it is still an mp3. Why not offer a lossless copy of at least CD-resolution to the people who buy this, since they obviously want higher quality audio?

There is nothing wrong with the content or quality of What’s Going On. Unfortunately with the pricing of it, and the other versions available, it makes little sense to buy it. Had they thrown in a 24/96 download, so you get physical media and the same files as the HDTracks version, it would make more sense. Or if they included all the tracks that HDTracks offers here, or at least the 24/192 version. Instead we get a release that was already a niche one, with how many other quality versions have come out recently, and make it cost far more than it should.

If you want a great sounding copy of What’s Going On that you can just stick in your Blu-ray player, then this one works great. However you can get the same thing for less money if you get the HDTracks download and put it on a USB stick.

Review Summary
Product: Marvin Gaye "What's Going On" Blu-ray Pure Audio
Reviewer:
Pros: Wonderful sound quality for an amazingly good album
Cons: Poor value when a cheaper version of the same content is available, mp3 download instead of lossless
Summary: What's Going On is a fantastic album, and this version sounds great. But there are multiple other versions available that offer similar quality for less money.
Value: 2/5
Performance: 5/5
Overall: 4/5

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  • Tim

    I just picked up a copy today and it sounds great.
    I was also excited on reading the booklet it comes with two bonus tracks – God is Love and Sad Tomorrows – but I can’t work out how to find or play them? Can you shed any light on this?

  • rexp

    In your review of the Stones Grrr Blu-ray you said it was fundamentally better than the CD version whereas in this case you seem to be saying the difference is marginal. Am I right and if so what could be the reason?

    • It could be many things. The quality of the original recording for The Rolling Stones could be better so the SACD or Blu-ray could have more detail to bring out. Or the mastering of the CD was worse, as the Marvin Gaye CD was the recent remaster while the Stones CD master is fairly old. It could be that the high-resolution masters are better for the Stones than Marvin Gaye or the original tapes are in better condition. There are a number of things it could certainly be, but it’s hard to pin-point what it is with all the variables.

      • rexp

        Thanks Chris, one last question. You used RCA connection from player to receiver for the Stones and HDMI for Marvin Gaye. Could that be a factor?