When Soundgarden broke up in 1997, for reasons I can't quite explain, they drifted from my consciousness. I'd occasionally pull out their albums, but for the better part of a dozen years, I forgot about them. The 2010 reunion and compilation Telephantasm reignited my interest in the band. I mention this only because in a day and age where our senses are inundated by countless forms of entertainment all veering for our attention, I lost track of a great album and a great band. It was only when they took control of their past and began putting time, effort and energy in reintroducing the world to their small but heady catalog. Some artists view looking back to the past as nothing more than nostalgia, but they're wrong. With the right care and timing, it can open the music to a new generation of fans, it can remind old fans why they fell in love with it in the first place and it can sway to non-believers to rethink their original stance. For the twentieth anniversary of Superunknown Soundgarden are clearing the decks with an impressive five-disc box set that houses a remastered album, outtakes, B-sides, rehearsals, demos and even a DVD with the album in 5.1 sound. However, one bonus feature many may be unaware of is a staggering tour de force sound invention; the complete Superunknown album in 11.1 sound.
In recent years, Blu-ray discs have evolved to 7.1 sound from what was the standard 5.1, so when I was told Superunknown was the first rock album ever to be mixed in 11.1 sound and it was available as an app on your phone, I just couldn't imagine how the listening experience would be overpowering. Part of the glory of Blu-ray films is the size of your television, the enhanced sound with speakers carefully placed throughout the room for maximum impact? Could the same experience be felt via headphones over an app? I am happy to say that the 11.1 mix for Superunknown is a revelatory listening experience not just for music lovers, but it has the potential to make you feel like you are hearing this record for the first time ever. While I can't imagine ever record being benefitting from this treatment, it is a major step forward for the music industry. After years of degrading sound via MP3, YouTube and streaming services, the DTS 11.1 sound reveals hues and colors you've never hear before. It overcomes you and lets you truly lose yourself in the music. The idea behind the DTS Headphone: X format is to let you listen as if you are in the producer's chair in a state-of-the-art recording studio.
What makes the app remarkable is they thought out how people listen to music from numerous ear phone options: "In Ear", "On Ear" and "Over Ear" (along with an unprocessed stereo version). I have Beats headphones and the "On Ear" sounded most impressive, while if you opt to switch to "In Ear", you should switch your earphones to ear buds. The app includes an introduction video from Kim Thayil, a demo test and "Spoonman". If you are a cynic like I was, run the demo and it will showcase the 11 channels in your earphones that will make you want all your favorite albums be mixed in this format.
Album opener "Let Me Drown" circles and encompasses you with Cornell's fluid vocals gripping you the way as if you are watching an IMAX film for the first time. Kim Thayil's guitars grind you to the ground. Album closer "Like Suicide" puts you in a realm between heaven and Earth where you float between the two worlds. It's heartbreaking, haunting and downright bracing to take in. Impending doom looms over "Fell On Black Days" in a way that's never been so heightened before. Cornell's vocals can be felt rather than heard while drummer Matt Cameron and bassist Ben Shepherd are rock-hard and reserved but before the chorus, they pound their instruments for a brief moment ("How would I know?). The entire seventy-minute album has been reborn in this format. It reminded me of how ambitious and adventurous rock music once was and how it can be again. Listening to Superunknown in 11.1 sound isn't an activity or a marketing ploy, it's a breathtaking and refreshing way to experience music.
The only downside is the entire album is only available in 11.1 sound when you buy the deluxe five-disc Superunknown box set which is currently $94 on Amazon here. However, considering the breadth of unreleased material and multiple versions of the album in different formats (remastered CD, Blu-ray 5.1, DTS 11.1 app) and a 80-page book of new and old artwork makes this a box set that isn't simply for die-hard Soundgarden fans, but music fans overall.
The app can be downloaded from the iTunes HERE.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at tonyk AT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter
Soundgarden's 'Superunknown' in DTS 11.1 Headphone: X Format
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