Brothers in Arms: An Immersive Audio Production

Dire Straits mastered in surround sound is the gift that keeps giving.
By Ben Jacklin

There’s just something about British bands and seminal rock albums, and in the 1980s, it was Dire Straits who created the anthems that still get played daily over 30 years on. Brothers in Arms is an album loved by so many. In fact, it has sold over 30 million copies around the globe. That’s more than one copy for every household in this band’s home country of the UK.

The album was released on SACD in 2005 with a 5.1 surround sound mix created by Chuck Ainlay, along with the help of Bob Ludwig and the original composer, Mark Knopfler. The team revisited the original recordings, widening the stereo field and creating an immersive audio experience to bring a new dimension to an album already regarded as one of the greatest by those who came to adulthood in the 80s (or since the 80s, for that matter). This rethinking of the album won the Grammy Award for Best Immersive Audio in 2006.

The album is the penultimate by the group. Their previous four albums had nowhere near the success of Brothers in Arms, and the follow-up, which didn’t hit stores until six years later, was a relative flop in terms of sales. This album truly is one of those “lightning in a bottle” moments.

The recording of the album was one of the reasons it was possible to go back to an 80s classic and turn it into something new. Brothers in Arms had been one of the very first albums in the world to be recorded onto a digital tape machine. Knopfler is known for his desire to push the envelope technically. Original producer Neil Dorfsman spoke of his willingness “to spend on high-quality equipment” and said that this was “a means of improving his music.” These incredible original recordings gave Chuck Ainlay plenty to sink his teeth into when creating the 5.1 mix.

The new-and-improved audio experience heightens the senses and brings back this iconic 80s sound in a newfound glory. The anthemic “Money for Nothing” is as aurally stunning as it was the day it was recorded, but this new technology is perhaps more audible on some of the lesser-hyped tracks of the album. The slow-moving, layered sound of “Brothers in Arms” and the soulful “Your Latest Trick” showcase the technological advancement in the world of immersive audio.

Instruments swirl in and out throughout the album seamlessly. Knopfler’s understated vocals are soothing, and the feel of the 80s is truly encapsulated within the instrumentation. Bright, shimmering keys, moody saxophones, and, of course, the unique guitar tone we’ve come to associate with the band, which is actually the result of a “happy accident” during a recording session, in which the microphones were misplaced, leading to this new, experimental sound.

Whether you’re reliving your youth or approaching this bestselling album afresh, the SACD surround sound version is an unforgettable experience. Knopfler, along with producers Chuck Ainlay and Bob Ludwig, continued to push technological boundaries whilst keeping all that 80s attitude which a generation fell in love with.

About the Author

Ben is a writer and musician from the UK with a background in music technology. He writes about engineering and production, musicianship and music equipment for a number of publications including his own site, subreel.com