(CBS SF/CNet) – CNet received so many great sounding Blu-rays over the past couple of months they had to put together a Top 10 list. A lot of them didn’t make the cut, just because a Blu-ray has a high-resolution soundtrack doesn’t automatically mean it sounds great; the variables of the original recordings and mixing can make or break the sound. For example, Tom Petty’s “Mojo” Blu-ray doesn’t sound much better than the CD version of the same music, but it does have an uninspired 5.1 surround mix. All of the following discs are distinctly better than Petty’s, but my list is in no particular order of sound quality. All of the Blu-rays have lossless, DTS Master Audio soundtracks, but not even one had a Dolby TrueHD soundtrack.
“New Blood: Live in London”
Shot in March, 2011, this concert with a full orchestra looks and sounds amazing. The song list mixes Gabriel’s hits and music from his recent and thoroughly excellent “Scratch My Back” album. The presentation is utterly natural, the orchestra’s strings and the soft-to-loud dynamic range sound the way they would if you were in the theater. The massive production never gets in the way and totally supports Gabriel’s commanding performance. If you want to hear how good your home theater can sound with music, this is the one to buy. “New Blood” is also available as a 3D Blu-ray.
Steven Wilson, “Grace For Drowning”
Steven Wilson, of Porcupine Tree, has always been a strong advocate for surround music, and this 2011 Blu-ray fully exploits the potential of 5.1 channel music. The “Grace For Drowning” album is an audio-only experience, but the bonus selections have video. If you’re a progressive rock fan the music and sound are the best reasons to get this disc; for audiophiles Wilson’s spacious, deep immersion mixes will make the actual locations of your speakers disappear. The acoustic and electric instruments sound exquisitely detailed, and the percussion instruments’ transient attacks are perfect. “Grace for Drowning” is one of the best sounding rock recordings I’ve heard in a long time.
The Rolling Stones
“Some Girls: Live in Texas ’78”
This just released Blu-ray of a decades old ‘Stones show captures the band at a peak. They were still young, in their thirties, but the emerging late seventies punk and new wave scenes were threatening to put most sixties bands out to pasture. Maybe that’s why this show forgoes fancy stage sets and big video displays; the band charges through the tunes as if their lives depended on it. Mick Jagger’s vocals are the best I’ve ever heard, and the Blu-ray’s sound is excellent. The surround mix is subtle, but effective. Video quality is grainy and the color (from stage lighting) is odd, but the band’s performances are phenomenal. This is the best sounding 1970s era ‘Stones on disc you can buy.
“Songs From the Small Machine – Live in L.A.”
This show from earlier this year looks and sounds great, definitely the sort of thing you’ll want to play to wow your audiophile or home theater pals. The opening tunes feature just Buckingham alone on stage, singing and playing guitar, and you really hear his sound filling the old theater. When the rest of the band joins Buckingham the recording’s hard-hitting dynamic range struts its stuff. The set list includes his solo and Fleetwood Mac tunes. The theater’s ambience and the appreciative crowd’s cheers sound utterly natural coming from the surround channels.
Cream, “Live at the Royal Albert Hall 2005”
The original band — Eric Clapton, guitar; Jack Bruce, bass; and Ginger Baker, drums — reunite after breaking up in 1968, and some of their old fire ignites on a London stage in 2005. The old guys were more seasoned, better players in 2005, but lack the fire of their younger selves. Ah, but the Blu-ray’s sound is truly awesome, and if your subwoofer’s up to snuff Baker’s drum kit and Bruce’s bass will just about knock you over. Clapton’s guitar flash comes through with real gusto.
Dream Theater, “Live at Budokan”
This Blu-ray’s massive surround sound space and progressive rock’s freewheeling dynamics took me by surprise; this is another disc you can use to show-off your home theater’s abilities. There’s a lot going on in the densely mixed tracks, but the sound never turns to mush, if your system is up to it “Live at Budokan” should remain clear and clean. Shot in 2004, the video is just as crisp as the sound.
The Pretenders, “Loose in L.A.”
This live show shot at the Wiltern Theatre in L.A. in 2003 finds the band in fine form. Chrissie Hynde and her original drummer Martin Chambers are especially good, and the music will definitely kick start your heart. The mix sounds punchy and big; the from the audience perspective surround mix is excellent.
Stevie Wonder, “Live at Last”
This show, filmed in 2008 at the O2 Arena in London should thrill any Stevie Wonder fan, and the set list features his most loved tunes, as well as a selection of covers. The sound mix is passable, but there were times where you couldn’t hear some of the instruments, and the dynamic range was somewhat compressed.
Procol Harum, “Live at the Union Chapel”
This 2003 concert has been out on DVD for years, but it’s just now making its Blu-ray premiere. Best known for “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” Procol Harum has a bunch of great tunes, and the two original members, with Gary Brooker on piano/vocals and Matthew Fisher on organ sound as good as ever. The tonal balance is on the rich side of neutral, and Gary Brooker’s vocals are a little too forward in the mix, but the live concert sound perspective is quite good. The band puts on a great show.
Yes, “Symphonic Live”
About Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Home Theater, Inner Fidelity, Tone Audio, and Stereophile. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET.