One of the more expensive SACD and DVD-A titles to track down has been Beck’s Sea Change. With a high-resolution surround mix of what many feel is Beck’s best album the out-of-print title has been known to command well over $100 on Ebay. I was not smart enough to pick up a copy when it was available, but have heard it used as demo material at shows to know how good it can sound.
As one of the first Blu-ray Pure Audio titles announced I was looking forward to finally owning a copy of this myself. Even compared to the Mobile Fidelity CD and vinyl versions I already own this version is superior. Even without the surround mix I would still choose it as the best version of this album you can buy.
“Lost Cause” is a track that I use to evaluate every single speaker, amplifier and receiver that comes through my room. On the Mobile Fidelity CD it has reference quality detail and a sound stage where you can easily locate the instruments. Moving from the CD version to the Blu-ray version is a huge improvement. The soundstage goes from large to incredibly massive. It occupies the whole front of my room, from floor to ceiling and wall-to-wall. It is the largest sound stage I have heard from a stereo recording.
Detail and clarity is also improved. The most noticeable change is that drums and cymbals are a bit more natural in their decay. They linger longer in space sounding more like they do in real life. Switching between the CD and Blu-ray versions I can easily notice the difference between the two. As good as the MoFi version is, it is still limited by the resolution of CD in comparison to the Blu-ray copy.
The 5.1 channel mix does not disappoint either. Too many surround mixes remind me of 1960’s stereo mixes with instruments isolated to specific channels to show that they can. The mix for Sea Change instead focuses on using surrounds to bring the atmosphere of the album into play. Surrounds are used more for the ambient sounds that set the mood while the rest of the music is anchored in front like we expect. It sounds more like a concert sound mix that tries to involve you in the event instead of putting the event behind you.
Once again I’m disappointed in the download included with the Blu-ray. It is a compressed mp3 instead of a lossless, high-resolution file. It is possible to get the high-resolution track off the disc using some software, though perhaps not legal. Many of us have music servers in addition to our Blu-ray players so why not provide the full resolution track for us to listen to?
Another downside to Sea Change that other Blu-ray Pure Audio discs have lacked is that pressing play does not start the disc. You must first select stereo or multichannel and then your format before it begins to play. As many people, like myself, would like to listen without turning a display on this makes it harder to do. There is no video that requires a display, so this is an annoyance. They should set a default audio track for people without a display that want to listen.
Despite the flaws, this is a disc I completely recommend. Sea Change is a bit depressing for me to listen to on a regular basis, but it is a wonderful album and has never sounded better than it has here. Now that it is affordable again, it is one I highly recommend picking up. It really shows off what your system is capable of and is priced reasonably compared to the lower-resolution downloads you can find.