In 2011, Paul Sinclair launched as a music blog centered around physical products–compact discs, vinyl, and box sets. Starting with Pink Floyd’s ‘Immersion’ edition sets that same year, the ensuing decade would see an influx of ‘Super Deluxe’ multi-disc archival reissues. During this time, the site became an invaluable resource and discussion board for audiophiles and music fans in general. 

Paul and SDE’s latest project is the “Surround Sound Series” of exclusive High-Fidelity Pure Audio discs with Dolby Atmos mixes. As of this writing, the series comprises 16(!) titles ranging from brand-new albums such as Orbital’s Optical Delusion and Duran Duran’s Danse Macabre to old favorites like Tears For Fears’ The Hurting and Ten Years After’s A Space In Time. These releases seem to have prompted a renaissance of sorts for immersive music on physical media in 2022-23, with other labels such as Cherry Red/Esoteric and Warner/Rhino following suit with their own audio-only Blu-Rays. 

Towards the end of 2023, I had the chance to chat with Paul about the beginnings of SDE, the inner workings of the Blu-Ray surround series, future plans, and more!

I understand that SDE began solely as a music blog, but you’ve now additionally added the shop component–where you carry products from major labels such as Universal and Warner. How did those connections come about?

A lot of that happened because I came to know a guy called Steve Hammonds, who’s a consultant for Universal Music Group. He’s been there for quite a few years, putting together box sets for acts like Thin Lizzy and Tears For Fears. He knew I was a big Tears For Fears fan, so he invited me to do the sleeve notes for The Hurting box set back in 2013. Of course, I was really thrilled to be involved. I ended up doing the notes for the Songs From The Big Chair (1985) and The Seeds Of Love (1989) box sets as well.

TFF Seeds Blu-Ray 5.1

In terms of actually putting some product together for them, that started relatively recently. Over the past decade, I worked on a few ad hoc projects like Sam Brown’s A&M Years box set. I did a few remixes/rarities compilation for Cherry Red: one for Paul Young and another for the Thompson twins. There was also a Curiosity Killed The Cat box set and a 2CD deluxe edition for It's Immaterial's Life's Hard And Then You Die (1986).

I was doing the graphic design, curation, and coordinating with the artists and labels for those projects, so it’s quite time-consuming to put it all together. As I became busier with the website and the shop, I found my time was a bit more limited. I’m not quite as involved in all those aspects of the Blu-Rays we’re doing now, but there is still a lot that goes into them.

Generally speaking though, these kinds of relationships and connections start to build the longer you’re around. SDE’s been active for 13 years now, so it’s been an interesting journey. I didn't force it really, I just came to know people.

The SDE Surround Series started with Tears For Fears’ The Tipping Point in February 2022. Was that particular release intended to be a one-off, or was it always planned as the start of a bigger project?

I wouldn’t necessarily say it was meant to be a one-off, but I certainly hadn't planned a series at that point. We’d just done the CD version of The Tipping Point a few months earlier, which sold out really quickly. I think it was a run of 2-3000 copies? We were kind of victims of our own success, as this happened in October and the album wasn’t out until the end of February–so we had this huge block of time with nothing to promote or sell.

I asked Concord if there was something else we could do, and they mentioned Steven Wilson was brought in to do a Dolby Atmos mix of the album. That was kind of when the lightbulb went off, because the past two box sets had Steven’s 5.1 mixes. The Blu-Ray was a step into unknown territory, because I really had no idea how many we could sell. In the end, we actually underestimated and that’s why we ended up doing that second run a few months later.

TFF Tipping Point 5.1 Atmos SW

Since these Blu-Ray releases are limited editions, can you speak to how the size of each run is determined? Fans are often nervous about missing out, so the new strategy of pressing on-demand based on a 10-day pre-order window seems to be a good compromise.

The pre-order window definitely feels like the fairest way, but it does vary depending on the project and label. We do always have to agree to a minimum quantity though, so it’s not completely risk-free from my point of view. If we only get 500 pre-orders, the record companies probably aren’t going to commit to a run that small as it’s just not worth their time and trouble.

More often than not, these releases are just one piece of a wider reissue campaign. With ABC’s The Lexicon Of Love, there wasn’t enough time to do the pre-order window since the Blu-Ray had to launch at the same time as the CD and vinyl editions. We’d just done 7000 copies of The Hurting–the biggest run of the series so far–so it’s easy to get carried away and overestimate demand. We ended up doing 5000 of ABC, and luckily we did sell out.

One thing I’ve noticed in general is that record companies aren’t that interested in doing second pressings of anything. You kind of get one chance to do your thing. So when people ask me about the chances of a second pressing, the answer is usually no. Though there have been some exceptions, like The Tipping Point and Ten Years After’s A Space In Time. Generally speaking though, it’s difficult to do and also risky. If ten people online are saying we want a second run and then you press another 1000, you’ll end up being stuck with all this leftover product.

Ten Years After Atmos 5.1 Blu-Ray

Amazingly, I think there are still unsold products from the Super Audio CD and DVD-Audio days of the early-2000s floating around online. For instance, you can buy a brand-new copy of Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms SACD–which came out in 2005–on Amazon right now for under $20 USD. I’m guessing that wasn’t pressed recently [laughs].

Yeah, and you know that’s sitting on someone’s P&L sheet somewhere–a big ‘black hole’ where they haven’t sold to stop. I do tend to err on the side of caution, as the series needs to be financially viable in order to continue on. If you’ve incurred some big debt that takes six months to pay off, it’s just not going to work out.

It seems that the idea of what is considered “financially viable” has changed dramatically since the early-2000s. The goal now isn’t necessarily to mass-produce these discs for the mainstream market, but rather cater to a smaller niche audience. Since it’s more of a boutique product now, I could understand why the new strategy of doing smaller runs is more appealing to the labels.

Yeah, it’s been brilliant being able to partner with the labels and get this product out. After all, much of it may never have been released in physical format. It works really well for them because–apart from getting someone to sort out artwork and manufacturing–there isn;t that much risk involved. Since there’s always a minimum quantity pressed, they’re in a position where they never really lose any money. So it works well for SDE, for the labels, and for the fans. Everyone’s a winner in the end.

I remember very clearly back when Universal tried to launch Pure Audio Blu-Ray, around 2014 or so. SDE was running only for a few years at that point, so I wasn’t really in a position to partner up or do anything–but I actually interviewed the guy who was overseeing that program. I think they made the mistake of marketing those discs as a mainstream product that was supposed to replace the CD, rather than a niche product. Plus, there were loads of titles that only had stereo and no 5.1 mix.

The other great thing about Blu-Ray is the huge capacity of the discs. You can fit not only hi-res stereo, 5.1, and Dolby Atmos mixes of a single album, but also other variations like instrumental and binaural mixes.

I always try to get as much content on there as possible, but ultimately the artist, management or label have the final say. With Bob Dylan’s Time Out Of Mind, I lobbied to put the original Daniel Lanois stereo mix on there along with the 2022 Michael Brauer remix. Sony wanted the focus to be on the remix, so I had to respect that.

I know that the fans always want to collect the best masterings and all the different variations of the album, but making additional requests can start to really complicate things. The representatives I’m talking to at the labels are usually involved in marketing or product management, so they’ll need to start looping in other people involved in more technical matters. Before you know it, it becomes this unmanageable confusing situation where you’re not sure who you should be speaking with.

It can get tricky for sure, but 99 times out of 100 people are super-helpful and they share your vision of trying to get something good out into the marketplace. You've just got to be realistic in terms of what you think you're going to be able to achieve.

How do you decide which albums to pursue for the series? As you know, there’s quite a wealth of Atmos material currently available on the streaming services.

I definitely have a sort of ‘wishlist’ in the back of my mind, but those titles don’t always overlap with what’s available.

Sometimes the labels approach me and make suggestions–that was what happened with Orbital’s Optical Delusion. London [Records] asked if I was interested, but I wasn’t sure if that type of music was really in the sweet spot for my audience. I ended up listening to the album and really liked it, and the Atmos mix was amazing. Plus, they were up for packing the Blu-Ray with instrumentals and other great content. We ended up doing a run of 1700 or 2000 in the end, which they were happy with.

Orbital Blu-Ray Atmos

The other thing is that when it’s a new album out in the marketplace, selling as little as 750 Blu-Rays in the UK can be a significant boost up in the charts. Getting up in the top-5 or even to #1 is great for marketing purposes. So if they’re trying for a chart-topping album, I’m probably more likely to have the opportunity to do a Blu-Ray even if it doesn’t generate a huge amount of profit. It’d still be worthwhile to get them from #7 in the charts to #3 or #2. 

So you have to bear all these factors in mind. Really, everyone’s seen the explosion of all these different physical formats in recent years: multiple colored vinyls, cassettes, etc. With Blu-Ray, at least you’re genuinely bringing something new to the marketplace. It’s a completely different way to experience an album, rather than just a collectible to put on the shelf.

You remarkably managed to release more than ten standalone Blu-Rays in 2023 alone. Will the release schedule continue at this rapid pace throughout 2024?

Well, we'll see what happens. I can’t see us doing more than one per month on average, but it seems like we’ll be able to maintain that pace. It’s really quite exciting.

#17 in the series, Paul Young’s No Parlez (1983), was just announced on December 13.

Yeah, I was quite pleased to announce that this year because it’s the 40th anniversary. I’ve been talking about it with Demon Music Group for a while, and there was a bit of debate over whether we'd be able to get the announcement out before the end of the year. I'm really pleased we've managed to do that.

Paul Young Atmos Blu-Ray

The Suede debut release from earlier this year was also a collaboration with Demon/Edsel. I checked out their website and they have a pretty interesting roster, including acts like T. Rex and Belinda Carlisle. It’d be great to see more Atmos titles from their catalog.

Yeah, they’ve got an interesting mix of artists. Leo Sayer and Suede are two big ones, but they also do a lot of licensing. The Paul Young album was licensed to them by Sony, so there’s actually two record companies involved there.

I was very excited to see that you were able to license Steven Wilson’s Atmos mix of Def Leppard’s Diamond Star Halos (2022) for release on Blu-Ray. 

Yeah, it’s really nice to mix it up. I think we’re on #17 now, or technically #18 since the Concert For George was #6.5. If you look back at the releases, there’s a really nice spread. You have some big ones like The Hurting, ABC, or Tubular Bells, yet there’s also some quirky new titles like Gilbert O’Sullivan and xPropaganda. I'm hoping we can continue that variety over the next 12 months.

For all releases in the SDE Surround Series thus far, I’ve noticed that the Dolby Atmos mix usually launches on the streaming services at the same time that the Blu-Ray ships. Part of what’s so exciting to me about the Def Leppard title is that it’s the first instance of you going back and issuing something on disc that had been available to stream for some time. Does this mean you’re open to pursuing other albums that are already out via streaming?

Up to this point, it was either a brand-new record like Orbital, xPropaganda, and Brian Eno or a reissue like Tears For Fears and ABC. As you say, Def Leppard isn’t really a new record or a reissue. It’s slightly in-between, but it’s done well enough in terms of interest and sales. I think we’re doing 1500 or 2000 of them?

In both cases, you’re kind of piggybacking on an ongoing campaign where the artist is posting to social media and the label is doing all kinds of other marketing activities. So the publicity gears are kind of already turning for that particular title, and you’re just along for the ride.

Def Leppard Atmos Blu-Ray SW

The problem with going after older titles is that it’s a hassle for the record companies in terms of promotion. They’re probably not going to start the whole PR engine just to push my Blu-Ray release. We’ll just have to see what happens though, because I know that’s something people are interested in. There’s lots of great titles out there, like The Cardigans’ Long Gone Before Daylight (2003). The 5.1 SACD goes for like 200 quid nowadays.

That’s a whole other category, the 5.1 mixes issued on disc in the early-2000s that are long out-of-print and now cost a fortune on the used market. I’m thinking of titles like Roxy Music’s Avalon (1982) or Aerosmith’s Toys In The Attic (1975). It would be great to see some of those reissued on Blu-Ray as part of the SDE series.

Yes, but it can be a complicated subject to pitch to someone who isn’t completely in-the-know about surround music. So I think we’re a little ways off from that at the moment, but we’ll see how things progress in the future. 

The big criteria is normally whether or not they’re doing an Atmos mix anyway. If the mix already exists, you’ve got a better chance of licensing it for physical release. If you’re asking the company to spend a load of money on getting the mix done just for the Blu-Ray release, then it’s more problematic.

Cardigans SACD 5.1

That’s interesting, because I assumed that was always the arrangement. The labels are commissioning the Atmos mixes anyway for streaming, so you can offer them an additional release outlet with the Blu-Ray format. Have there been any cases where you asked them to create the Atmos mix specifically for an SDE release?

The upcoming Paul Young release is a bit like that, in a way. Demon licensed No Parlez from Sony, and I worked with Demon to put together the Blu-Ray with the Atmos mix. Had Demon not licensed it from Sony, I’m not sure an Atmos mix would have been commissioned. So it’s the first one where we’ve kind of influenced the creation of the spatial mix rather than it being something that was already done for streaming. 

One title I’m really hoping to eventually see as part of the series is Tori Amos’ Ocean To Ocean (2021), since I know you’re a big fan of her music and it has a great Atmos mix. It came out just a few months before you started the series with The Tipping Point. I think you may have interviewed her a few years ago?

Yeah I did, plus she’s on the new Trevor Horn album as well. I am indeed a massive Tori Amos fan and it is a great record. That certainly would have been a good one to do, but like you said the timing didn’t really work out. 

Tori Amos Blu-Ray Atmos

It’s been interesting to see the ripple effect of the SDE series, with Warner/Rhino now seemingly following your lead with their recent Blu-Ray release of Van Morrison’s Moondance. What are your thoughts on this?

Yeah, it’s really flattering. There were always a few artists who supported physical formats with hi-res audio, like Pink Floyd and Steven Wilson, so it’s great to see more physical products with spatial audio out there. 

It’ll be interesting to see how successful it ends up being, because releasing the product and putting it up on Amazon or a direct-to-customer website is only half the battle. You have to find the audience. That’s part of why it works so well with SDE–I’ve got this decade-long established relationship with the fans and hopefully a good understanding of what they’re interested in.

You briefly mentioned Suede before, which was one of my favorite immersive releases of the year. I had never heard of them and instantly loved the songs on the debut album, but the original mix sounded kind of harsh and lo-fi. Steven Wilson did a remarkable job remixing that album for the Blu-Ray release. I never would have guessed the source recordings sounded that good.

Yeah, Suede’s music always had this kind of bright “mastered-for-radio” quality and that was a big part of their sound. You kind of love it or hate it. Like you said, he managed to really fatten it up and I’m sort of surprised they went for it. 

Suede Blu-Ray Atmos

I know Brett Anderson isn’t interested in Atmos at all, because we interviewed him for SDE. A big part of Suede’s sound is probably down to Brett’s preference. He doesn’t really care about hi-fi or making something that sounds like perfection. The good thing is that he’s been generous enough to let the remixes happen despite his personal preference, because he recognizes that other people are into that.

I’m hoping Demon will want to do a similar reissue for the second Suede album, Dog Man Star (1994). I absolutely love that record. It’s one of my top ten albums of all time, so it would be incredible to hear Steven do an Atmos mix.

That was going to be my next question. Seeing as 2024 is the 30th anniversary of Dog Man Star, it seems like a no-brainer. Can you imagine “The Asphalt World” in Atmos?

I know, it’d be perfect. There are probably some internal politics around that record, because Bernard Butler left while they were making it. Bernard must have agreed to the first album remix along with Brett and the rest of the band, so having a neutral third party like Steven come in and work on it would probably get around all that.

Suede Dog Man Star Atmos

The other title I’m really hoping we’ll get to see this year is Tears For Fears’ Everybody Loves A Happy Ending (2004), because it’s the 20th anniversary.

Yeah. I’m not sure we will, to be honest, but I really love that record and it’d be a thrill to work on it. I think they own that record now, so they’re not caught up in the Universal machine in terms of when and if it could ever be reissued. 

We’ll see what happens, but it’d be great to do since we’ve done The Hurting as an SDE exclusive. It would be nice to do the other two ‘80s albums as well.

Steven Wilson has reportedly already mixed The Seeds Of Love in Dolby Atmos. Could this be a potential candidate for a future SDE release? 

That would be incredible to do as well, since the box set with the 5.1 mix is out of print. So there’s no way to buy that record in any surround sound format at the moment. Hopefully we’ll get the opportunity next year, but it’s very much up to what the guys and their management want to do. We’ll see how it all pans out.

TFF Hurting Blu-Ray Atmos 5.1

From what I’ve read in interviews, it seems like the band is very much interested in the possibilities of immersive audio.

Yeah, they really love Steven Wilson’s work. Roland [Orzabal] actually did a remix of the song “What Life Brings” on Steven’s new record, The Harmony Codex. So it seems like they really admire each other. Steven’s a massive fan of the band and a really trusted person for them, so I doubt anyone else would get to do Atmos mixes of those albums.

When he did The Tipping Point, Roland didn’t even listen to the Atmos mix before it came out. I think Curt did, but Roland just trusted him. I was at the playback session for the album at Dolby in London, where Roland was basically hearing it for the first time. Of course, Steven had already done the 5.1 mixes of Big Chair and Seeds–so they knew he could cut the mustard with their work.

Interestingly enough, for me The Hurting was actually the most impressive of all the Tears For Fears surround releases. It isn’t quite as elaborately-produced as the next two records, but there’s just enough layering and sound design to make it really work in the expanded soundstage.

I listened to it again the other day and yeah, it’s incredible. Like you said, it’s not an album that’s crammed full of stuff like Seeds or even Big Chair. There is a lot of space, and it makes heavy use of the center channel. The vocals sound very exposed if you walk near the center channel, but once you step back it all kind of meshes together and sounds amazing.

It was great to include those unreleased early versions of “Mad World” and “Watch Me Bleed” on the Blu-Ray as well. Like we said in the announcement, Steven happened to just fall across them while going through the multitrack tapes.

As you’re probably aware, there are a number of Beatles and Paul McCartney solo albums currently streaming in Dolby Atmos: Revolver, the Red/Blue compilation, Red Rose Speedway, and Band On The Run is reportedly coming early next year. Seeing as the physical box sets seem to no longer include Blu-Rays, is there any chance of seeing these as SDE exclusives in the future?

For me, any of that stuff would certainly be a dream. Especially Paul McCartney, since I’m such a massive fan. 

For whatever reason, they’re not interested in doing physical releases of the Atmos mixes. I don’t really understand it, because there have been some great physical releases with spatial audio of John Lennon’s albums. Even the Rolling Stones’ new album came out on a Blu-Ray.

The real litmus test for me will be when the next box set comes out, because it’s been so long since we’ve had a Paul McCartney reissue. The last one was Flaming Pie (1997), which didn’t have an Atmos mix probably because it wasn’t on their agenda at the time. Hopefully they’ll get around to restarting the Archive Collection and doing the other albums like Back To The Egg (1979) and London Town (1978). So I do think there’s a reasonable chance of getting a Blu-Ray with an Atmos mix in the next one of those sets, but obviously they’ve decided not to do that with Band On The Run.

I’m not sure what’s going on with The Beatles either. I think you could probably have fit both the Red and Blue albums on a single Blu-Ray, which would have been an amazing product. You have to remember that there’s a whole load of people that see streaming, especially with spatial audio, as the future and physical media as the past.

You mentioned the John Lennon reissues, which to me are some of the best in recent years. For the Imagine set, they even did 5.1 mixes of the outtakes! I would love to see the McCartney releases follow that same model.

Yeah. When it comes to the audio content, the John Lennon sets have definitely surpassed what McCartney is doing. The Plastic Ono Band one was absolutely incredible. It's one of the best box sets in my collection, the attention to detail is just unbelievable. 

That’s part of why I think the next McCartney box might be really good, because here we are 50-60 years on and it’s still the Lennon-McCartney rivalry. I doubt that Paul isn’t aware of how good those Lennon sets were. Next summer, it will have been four years since he’s released an Archive Collection. So we'll just have to see what happens. 

It’s a shame about Band On The Run, because a hypothetical Blu-Ray release could also include the ‘70s quadraphonic mix that was previously released on DTS-CD in late ‘90s alongside the new Atmos version.

Funny you should mention that as I’ve got the DTS-CD right here, though unfortunately it’s the faulty version where the first note cuts off. I was planning to do a Band On The Run video comparing all the different physical releases.

Band On The Run Quadraphonic

You're absolutely right though, that is the sort of thing they could do. They could also put different masterings of the stereo version. I’m always in favor of bringing together different masterings, but not many people want to do that anymore.

17 exclusive Blu-Rays in under two years!

Yeah, it’s crazy that we’ve come this far. I think people will be really excited about what we have in store for next year. We should hopefully be able to announce #18 in the series in mid-January.

SDE Surround Series #18, Mark Knopfler's One Deep River, was announced on January 24.

Author picture
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 Master's degree in Audio Technology from American University.