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Moondance Deluxe Version (4 cd's and blu-ray)
on October 26, 2013
You wouldn't be reading this if you didn't think Moondance was a great album. So instead of reviewing the original music or the alternate takes, I'm going to focus on my perception of the sound quality and mix of the 2013 remastered cd, the 192kHz/24Bit high resolution blu-ray, the Japanese manufactured cd and the original North American cd. I don't have a surround processor so I can't comment on the 5.1 mix and I don't have an lp version to comment on either. I bought the Deluxe set specifically to get the high resolution blu-ray, hoping that it would provide the best audio quality.
First things first. The 2013 cd and blu-ray in the Deluxe set are not just a remastering (i.e. cleaner sound, with a little boosting here and there to improve the sound quality of bass and drums, or compression to increase overall volume levels). Both of these are also a remix of the music. This means that the placement of instruments in the soundstage is different, the relative prominence of some instruments/vocals is different and the amount of reverb/echo is different. Depending upon what you value, you may or may not like these changes or more likely, you may have a mixed reaction.
In terms of sound quality, the 192kHz/24Bit blu-ray is excellent. The music is very clean with no hard edges or distortion and instruments sound very realistic. The musical content is well balanced from bass through mid-range to treble. This is the best "audio sound" of any version. This is what I bought the Deluxe version for!
The 2013 cd for some reason sounds very different. The bass is very, very boosted. So much so, that while listening on a good audio system with full range speakers, my attention is drawn to the bass every time. As a result, the bass seems to overwhelm the music in the mid range and treble (acoustic guitars, vocals, cymbals etc). Overall, this makes the music sound muffled. I think the mid range and treble information is there, but the relative volume of bass overwhelms the music in the other ranges. A few other reviewers on here have commented on this and referred to it as sounding like a blanket was thrown over their speakers. This impression is exacerbated by the new mix which also reduces the prominence of horns and acoustic guitars. In contrast, on the new blu-ray the bass is always well balanced and clear. On the title song, Moondance, I've always "heard' the walking bass, but this is the first time I've clearly heard the exact pitch of each note.
I'll use Into the Mystic to illustrate the difference between the old mix and the new blu-ray version. (The new cd remix is similar to the blu-ray, but due to the amount of bass, "sounds" different). The original mix has some instruments placed very hard left or right. The horns for example on Into the Mystic are placed so far right, that they are almost exclusively in the right speaker. The horns also have a lot of reverb giving the impression that they are in a larger and different room then the rest of the band. The most noticeable change on the new mix is that the instruments are distributed better across the soundstage. Your attention is drawn more to the music and less distracted by the placement of the instruments. The low, reedy sounding "foghorn" is in the centre rather than hard right and the horns, while still on the right of the soundstage, don't sound like they're just in one speaker. There is much less reverb on the horns. This is all good.
Another noticeable change is that the horns are mixed lower. Van's voice is the central focus of the music, with less "competition" for attention from the horns, especially on the louder passages. The remix of the Band's Rock of Ages on the recently released Live at the Academy of Music 1971 makes a similar change in the new mix. Initially I found both unfamiliar. I've decided I like this choice on both releases, but it's very subjective and I can understand that some people will not like this change at all. This is especially noticeable on the last one minute of Caravan, when Van is doing the lead "la la la la la" vocals and also backing himself. You can hear the various vocal parts in his backing chorus more distinctly, but the horns don't contribute as much rhythmic punch.
The remastered sound of acoustic guitars sounds very good in the new versions. They are however lower in the new mix. As with the horns, little guitar licks don't pop out as much in the new mix. This is OK on the quieter passages at the beginning of Into the Mystic for example, but as the song progresses, especially in the last 30 seconds or so, I miss the hard driving rhythmic strumming that engages in a sort of call and response with the horns.
One final comment on Into the Mystic. The new mix has a very noticeable tambourine. I like it, but I've never heard it on a previous cd version. I don't know whether it was on the original lp. I assume, it's another example of the change in instrumental balance in the new remix.
A quick comment about the Japanese cd release. It's not really a remaster. I think some processing was added during the transfer process to boost the midrange and treble across the board, but I wouldn't say it was "remastered" with a remastering engineer, producer or artist making aesthetic choices about the sound. It mostly sounds like the North American cd, but with a bit more boost in some frequencies. It sounds fine, but I wouldn't recommend going out of your way buy it.
On the whole, I'm very happy with the high resolution blu-ray, including the new mix. I'd have preferred it if it had been made available in a 3 disc version (1 remastered cd, 1 disc of outtakes and the high resolution blu-ray).
I almost forgot to mention the blu-ray menu. When you insert the blu-ray it into your player, there's no automatic pop up menu to choose the 5.1 mix or the stereo. The 5.1 mix automatically starts playing even if you just have a stereo system. You'll have to use the "audio" button on your remote to find the menu if you want to play the stereo mix.