Ten Years After was a British blues rock outfit spearheaded by singer/guitarist Alvin Lee, best known for their successful run of Top 40 albums in the late 60s and early 70s. One of the first acts to sign with the then-new Chrysalis Records label, the band reached peak fame in 1971 when their newest studio LP, A Space In Time, was distributed through Columbia Records in America.
To celebrate the album’s belated 50th anniversary, SuperDeluxeEdition.com has come out with a limited run Pure Audio Blu-Ray disc featuring multiple high-resolution stereo and spatial audio mixes. The disc includes a whopping five(!) unique audio options, including brand new stereo, 5.1 & Dolby Atmos remixes as well as the original 1971 stereo mix and rare 1973 quadraphonic version.
The 1971 stereo mix sounds excellent in this 48-khz/24-bit flat transfer from the original master tape. The album was very well recorded to begin with (particularly the acoustic guitars) and exhibits excellent dynamic range.
The 2023 stereo remix from original producer/engineer Chris Kimsey is quite faithful to the original production, but cleaner sounding (a lot of the background hiss has been removed) with a bit more emphasis on Alvin Lee’s vocals. Unfortunately, the dynamic range is a bit compressed in the remix, sucking the excitement out of some of the louder passages - such as when those big guitar chords hit during the chorus of “Let The Sky Fall” or when the drums thunder into each verse of “I’d Love To Change The World.”
A Space In Time was the band’s first release under the Columbia Records banner, and thus was chosen as an early candidate for said label’s relatively brief foray into the experimental four channel quadraphonic surround format. Released on SQ matrix-encoded LP and discrete quad 8-track tape in 1973, the quadraphonic mix is impressive for such an early example of rock music mixed in an immersive format.
The quadraphonic mix treats all four speakers as equal partners, with key music elements such as Alvin Lee’s scorching guitar leads and even Ric Lee’s drum kit appearing fully isolated in the rear speakers.
(The 1973 quadraphonic LP edition of A Space In Time)
Some of the spatial positioning decisions may seem unorthodox by modern standards – such as the drum kit coming entirely from behind with the kick and snare hard-panned to opposite sides – but it’s important to remember that CBS’ quadraphonic product were purposefully designed for compatibility with the ‘SQ’ phase-matrix vinyl delivery system.
While perhaps somewhat gimmicky, the fun around-the-room swirling outros of “Here They Come” and “Let The Sky Fall” were sure to dazzle early 70s listeners with even the most basic decoding equipment.
Immersive music fans may recall that the quadraphonic mix was previously released in digital form way back in 2012 as part of a limited run CD/LP deluxe reissue from EMI/Chrysalis. Unfortunately, the front and rear channels of the quad mix were accidentally reversed on that DVD and a replacement was never issued. The SDE Blu-Ray appears to use the same digital transfer from the 15 IPS ½-inch quad master made in 2012, but with the correct channel assignment.
(the rare 2012 DVD, containing the flawed quadraphonic presentation)
In addition to the 1973 quad transfer, this Blu-Ray disc also contains brand new 5.1 surround & Dolby Atmos remixes of A Space In Time. These new immersive mixes, based on Kimsey’s 2023 stereo remix, were created by Kurt Martinez at London’s Dead Street Studios.
Whereas the producers of the 1973 quadraphonic mix put careful thought into how to best present each song in the expanded soundstage, with the placement of each instrument shifting from track-to-track, Martinez seems to have instead stuck to a cookie cutter template of just separating out the piano or secondary guitar parts from the stereo mix and moving them behind the listener.
The Dolby Atmos version in particular really fails to take advantage of the height array, often supplying those top speakers with little more than low level ambient sound. I can’t be the only one who wanted to hear psychedelic elements like those backwards tape sounds throughout “Let The Sky Fall” swirling around up there.
Overall, the unimaginative use of the extra speakers combined with the compressed dynamic range yields a somewhat disappointing end result for me. Both the 5.1 & Atmos presentations lack the raw power and excitement of the quad version, where it really sounds like you could be seated amongst these great musicians.
However, despite my disappointment with the 5.1 & Dolby Atmos remixes, SuperDeluxeEdition has done an excellent job compiling every possible permutation of the album into the affordable single disc reissue, and I look forward to the continuation of this series. For surround listeners, it’s worth having for the quadraphonic mix alone.