Despite the chaos caused by the global coronavirus pandemic, it’s been a surprisingly active past several months in immersive audio. Recent releases have run the gamut from digital transfers of old 1970s quadraphonic mixes to brand-new Dolby Atmos remixes. We’ve seen both a continuation of ongoing legacy reissue campaigns (Jethro Tull, John Lennon) and what looks to be the start of new ones (Al Stewart, Ultravox).

It goes without saying that the following ten titles are must-owns for immersive audio fans and surround music collectors. At least some of these ten titles may end up being under consideration for this year’s Grammy Award for Best Immersive Audio Album.

Artist: Santana
Title: Santana (1969)
Reissue Label: Sony Japan
Format: SACD
Immersive Mix By: Larry Keyes & Al Lawrence (‘70s Quadraphonic)

One of the best surprises in immersive audio over the last several years has been Sony Japan’s 4.0 SACD reissue series in deluxe 7-inch packaging, featuring quadraphonic mixes from the 1970’s. This new edition of Santana’s debut album features a remastered stereo mix as well as the quadraphonic mix, which engages all four speakers quite aggressively. For instance, the hit song “Evil Ways” is presented with a different singer in each speaker!

Artist: Ultravox
Title: Vienna (1980)
Reissue Label: Chrysalis
Format: 5CD/DVD
Immersive Mix By: Steven Wilson (5.1)

This ‘80s classic gets the deluxe treatment for its 40th anniversary, including a never-before-released live recording and new stereo & 5.1 remixes by Steven Wilson. Wilson’s 5.1 mix is an absolutely incredible listening experience, with the rear speakers used heavily for isolated synthesizers and backing vocals. The box set also includes some great stereo-only extras, such as the previously-unreleased “Live At St. Albans” performance from 1980.

Artist: John Lennon
Title: Gimme Some Truth (2020)
Reissue Label: UMe/Apple
Format: 2CD/Blu-Ray
Immersive Mix By: Paul Hicks & Sam Gannon (5.1 & Atmos)

To celebrate what would have been John Lennon’s 80th birthday, Yoko and Sean Lennon commissioned the creation of this new “best of” compilation album featuring new stereo, 5.1 & Dolby Atmos remixes by Paul Hicks & Sam Gannon. While perhaps not as impressive as some of Steven Wilson’s multichannel remixes, Hicks & Gannon have done an impressive job adding clarity to John’s vocals and bringing out some previously-buried instruments in the rear speakers. The songs from Double Fantasy fare especially well in surround sound.

Artist: Santana
Title: Abraxas (1970)
Reissue Label: Sony Japan
Format: SACD
Immersive Mix By: Larry Keyes & Al Lawrence (‘70s Quadraphonic)

Since the poor-sounding DTS-CD edition came out in the late-1990s, vintage quadraphonic fans have been waiting and hoping for a superior digital transfer of this landmark album’s classic quad mix. Sony Japan finally delivered on that promise in October 2020, with a special edition in their trademark deluxe 7-inch packaging. Check out the intro of “Black Magic Woman,” with the famous guitar melody swirling from speaker-to-speaker.

Artist: Big Big Train
Title: Empire (2020)
Reissue Label: English Electric Recordings
Format: 2CD/Blu-Ray
Immersive Mix By: Rob Aubrey (5.1)

Immersive music fans likely agree that most live recordings in 5.1 or Atmos tend not to engage the rear speakers to great effect, instead featuring just venue ambience and crowd noise. Big Big Train engineer Rob Aubrey rejects that premise, instead opting to place the listener on-stage with the band. Empire is perhaps the most experimental live 5.1 release I’ve heard to date, featuring more isolated content in the rear speakers than some studio recordings!

Artist: A Bad Think
Title: Lifelike (2021)
Reissue Label: Windmark Records
Format: Blu-Ray, 5.1 FLAC, Atmos MP4
Immersive Mix By: Bob Clearmountain (5.1), Dave Way & Steve Genewick (Atmos)

Immersive fans were surprised to find that Michael Marquart was able to release a follow-up to The Savior so quickly, especially during a pandemic! Likelike includes a Dolby Atmos mix in addition to the usual stereo & 5.1 mixes by Bob Clearmountain. Once again, Clearmountain has done a fantastic job spreading out the layers of synthesizers, guitars, and vocals throughout the three-dimensional space.

Artist: Steven Wilson
Title: The Future Bites (2021)
Reissue Label: Caroline
Format: Blu-Ray
Immersive Mix By: Steven Wilson (5.1 & Atmos)

Steven Wilson’s much-anticipated sixth album, The Future Bites, was finally released in January 2021 after being pushed back from its initial June 2020 release date. For the first time ever, Wilson has included a Dolby Atmos remix in addition to the usual stereo & 5.1 options. The 5.1 mix is presented in Wilson’s typically wonderful style, with very active rear speakers. “Personal Shopper” in particular is a real workout for your home theater.

Artist: Be-Bop Deluxe
Title: Drastic Plastic (1978)
Reissue Label: Esoteric Recordings
Format: 4CD/2DVD
Immersive Mix By: Stephen W. Tayler (5.1)

Esoteric’s Be-Bop Deluxe reissue series continued in February 2021 with the release of the band’s final album, Drastic Plastic. The new edition once again included new stereo & 5.1 remixes by renowned producer/engineer Stephen W. Tayler. This new 5.1 mix might be Tayler’s best to date: check out the swirling synthesizers in “Electrical Language.” Demo-worthy!

Artist: Al Stewart
Title: Year Of The Cat (1976)
Reissue Label: Esoteric Recordings
Format: 3CD/DVD
Immersive Mix By: Alan Parsons (5.1)

For this reissue from Esoteric Recordings, original producer Alan Parsons has gone back and revisited the classic 1976 album in 5.1 surround. Already an audiophile-grade production, Parsons’ new 5.1 iteration takes it to the next level: the title track opens with the iconic piano riff completely isolated in the rear speakers, while the band kicks in from upfront.

Esoteric has already announced that a deluxe edition of Time Passages (1978) will follow, once again featuring a 5.1 mix by Parsons.

Artist: Jethro Tull
Title: A (1980)
Reissue Label: Chrysalis
Format: 3CD/3DVD
Immersive Mix By: Steven Wilson (5.1)

Jethro Tull’s acclaimed 40th anniversary reissue series continues with A (1980), now featuring new stereo & 5.1 remixes by Steven Wilson. Though perhaps not one of Tull’s more popular offerings, many fans seem to have given it a reappraisal thanks to Wilson’s fantastic new remixes. The 5.1 mix in particular is fantastic, revealing tons of hidden details and previously-buried instrument flourishes.

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About the Author
Jonathan is an audio engineering enthusiast from New York with a passion for immersive audio, having amassed a formidable collection of multichannel optical discs and quadraphonic vinyl. He earned his undergraduate degree in Television-Radio from Ithaca College and is currently enrolled in a Master’s Program in Audio Technology.