REM – Automatic for the People in Dolby Atmos
By Chris Heinonen on
There is no album I’ve listened to more in my life than Automatic for the People. For years of college and beyond it would be the music I listened to at night when going to sleep. As I upgraded my stereo from an AIWA shelf system to Nakamichi with Klipsch Fortes and beyond, I would pick up more and more details hidden away on that CD. I’ve listened to the DVD-Audio release for years, and so it being one of the very first albums to get a Dolby Atmos release is ideal for me.
25th Anniversary Box Set Details
The album comes packed in a four-disc box set that includes a CD of the main album, a CD with a live concert from 1992, another CD out outtakes from recording Automatic for the People, and finally the Blu-ray disc with the Dolby Atmos mix. A large book inside the box includes photos and lyrics and is a nice touch. The packaging could be better designed. The paper sleeves that hold the discs don’t even fit correctly into the box and they are likely to move around, ejecting the discs and subjecting them to scratches. Giving them a way to store them inside of the picture book, where they might be safer, would have been a nice touch.
I’ll touch briefly on the bonus discs before getting into the Dolby Atmos one, which I feel is the main draw of the set. The live concert is recorded for Greenpeace shortly after Bill Clinton was elected, ending 12 years of GOP occupation of the White House. Michael Stipe sounds elated and happy, ready for a new administration to take over. The audio quality here is excellent and so is the performance. From opening with a revamped version of Drive, they move through their catalog and throw in a couple of covers, and the concert is a nice inclusion.
The disc of demo versions is more interesting, as you can hear songs develop into what appears on the final album. Some of the songs lack lyrics, as the music has come together before they have and you hear Michael Stipe humming along. You also get Devil Rides Backward included as a song that was worked on during this time but never finished enough for the album.
Dolby Atmos Listening Notes
But for myself, and others, the reason you’re paying $75+ for this box set is the Dolby Atmos version. I listened to the album on my 5.1.4 setup from KEF using a Denon AVR-X6400H with Audyssey XT32 for room correction. The remix does a great job taking advantage of the object positioning that Dolby Atmos offers. Listening to “Nightswimming”, one of my favorite tracks off the album, the piano notes move all around you including from the ceiling. It’s a much more emotional and involving mix than on the CD by putting you right into the middle.
“Man on the Moon” sounds different than it has on the prior albums, with more noticeable reverb than on the CD version. Instruments have better separation, where you can tell them apart as they’re from different speakers and not muddled together. The samples more noticeable than they are on the CD, and you can understand them much better. On “Fuck Me Kitten” the snaps stand out with their separation from the rest of the sounds. The way it holds the final notes at the end of the song echoes through the room when compared to the CD. “Monty Got a Raw Deal” opens with some solo guitar anchored in the front left and then instruments join in to fill the room.
The audio quality here is just fantastic. Dolby Atmos allows for more instrument separation and lets me pick out the specific instruments and cues much better than I can with the CD or even DVD-Audio versions. The gold standard for surround sound audio discs, in my opinion, is Beck’s Sea Change, which on Blu-ray Pure Audio offers supreme clarity and detail. This Dolby Atmos release is as good in my opinion, offering an improvement over an album that was already a classic.
One thing that could be improved upon with future discs is the on-screen menu that is used. It’s a static screen with very solid yellow on the left half of the screen. While this isn’t likely to cause issues with OLED displays, yellow is the color that can do the most potential damage. A 50-minute album shouldn’t be cause for concern but they could add some sort of animation or video to pair with the audio. Even a screensaver of images from their tour during this time frame would be an improvement for future releases.
If you’re a fan of REM or want to see what you can do with Dolby Atmos and music, I do highly recommend this disc. I will be using it for testing audio systems going forward because of how wonderful it sounds, and because the album is much less depressing than listening to Sea Change again. However, it is an expensive box set and I wish they’d release the disc without the fancy box set for people that just want to experience the audio without all the extra fluff.
Dolby Atmos version is the best this album has ever sounded, the bonus CDs offer a great concert and early outtakes that are worth listening to.
For $75 I'd like a better packaging job, the on-screen graphics need to be better, and I'd rather have a slimmer book and pay less than the price.
It's expensive, but for one of my all-time favorite albums, the 25th Anniversary box set for Automatic for the People is worth it. I wish there was the option to buy only the Blu-ray for $30 or so, especially since it could easily hold the supplements on it, but for an album I'll listen to over-and-over again I'm OK with the price.