Saturday, December 8, 2012

Comparing Psychedelic Pills

Last night, Jennifer and I had the house to ourselves.  Our daughter was out with a bunch of friends to watch a big local high school game.  Earlier in the week I got a shipment from Amazon containing Jennifer's dad's Christmas gift.  At the time I ordered it I also ordered the Blu-ray presentation of Neil Young and Crazy Horse's Psychedelic Pill.  I listened to the Blu-ray on my Bose headset upstairs and it sounded really good.

But, only on Friday did I have time and available space (I would torture my daughter making her listen to Neil cranked up to about 36 on my hefty Pioneer amp, which the only way to really experience this great neo-classic rock music.) to let the Blu-ray loose in my house.  I was very curious if there really would be a noticeable difference in that sound and the original CD that I bought earlier.  The Blu-ray was released about three weeks after the CD and I didn't want to wait that long to hear the new music.  So, now I have the album in two audio formats.

Jennifer was drinking some beers and having a bit of Crown Royal.  I was enjoying a 15-year bottle of The Glenlivet given to me by my employees as an early Christmas gift.  I was appreciating its smoothness all evening.  So, we were both properly warmed up, ready and desiring to listen to Neil on our stereo.

To start the experiment, I chose the alternate mix of the title track on the double-CD set.  The song absolutely rocks for a little under 4 minutes.  So it makes a good comparison.  The whole experiment would only last about 8 minutes from start to finish.  The band rocks in driving Crazy Horse fashion.  The song sounds so good and strong.  We were both into the music.

Next, I put in the Blu-ray.  I'm in a video menuing system now and there is assorted video chosen by Neil for the Blu-ray.  But, forget all that.  Psychedelic Pill came on again.  Very loud.  It took me about 15 seconds to start smiling.  Now, it isn't exactly something that will knock you on your butt, astonished.  But, there is a distinct difference.

Let me sidetrack to say that both songs were played on my PS3.  I have long been impressed with the PS3's superior audio capabilities compared with any other DVD / Blu-ray player I have heard.  There is no question the PS3 makes the stereo system better.  My oversized Fisher speakers and Jennifer's tall Marantz speakers still sound clear and wonderful, even though we both bought our separate pair of speakers years before we ever married.  Like Neil, I like a lot of the old equipment.

Anyway, the best way I can describe it is that the Blu-ray sounds more distinct.  Without hearing the Blu-ray sound for comparison you wouldn't notice that each instrument and the vocals on the CD actually are slightly fuzzy around the edges of where one sound ends and another begins.  In other words, the vocals are more distinct, the two guitars are more distinguishable, the bass more vibrant, the drums sharp.  The whole song sounds noticeably crisper in Blu-ray.  We went on to listen to most of the rest of the album in the new format.  It all sounds incredible.  Neil's accompanying video choices are always interesting.

There is a bonus track on the Blu-ray.  It is a 37 minute jam session.  It goes on for a long time with Neil on Old Black and the Horse just rambling around and sounding really awesome.  No vocals, just jamming.  Trying random things.  Ultimately, this morphs into a hot fresh version of Cortez the Killer.  The song shifts up a gear in places and really rocking drives.  The bonus track is simply entitled "Horse Back" on the menu.  Very cool stuff. 

So, at least in this case but I suspect in most cases, the extra few dollars for Blu-ray gives you not only a higher quality image compared with DVD but a higher quality sound compared to CD as well.  Supposedly, even this is not the level of really hearing the music that Neil's bold Pono system promises to provide the public.  Until that is available, though, all I can say is Neil has never sounded so good on my stereo system as he does on that Blu-ray of new music.

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