Cuttin-Edge, On-the-Spot Reporting

High End 2019: Listening to "Kind of Blue" (and "Sketches of Spain"), Yet Again

When I first heard that two of Miles Davis’s classic albums, Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain, were being remixed in Dolby Atmos, I feared the worst. As I headed into the packed demonstration room to listen to the remixes of these great albums, I had thoughts of Davis, Coltrane, Adderley, and others bouncing around above my head.

PMC room

The albums were remixed by PMC, the loudspeaker manufacturer that provides professional monitors for many recording studios, including Capitol Studios, in Los Angeles, where the albums were remixed. The original analog master tapes, which consist of three mono tracks, were obtained with the permission of the Davis family estate, including Erin Davis, Miles’s son, and Miles’s drummer and nephew, Vince Wilburn Jr., who were in attendance for the demonstration. From these masters, a new stereo mix was created and played back in the studio and recorded using microphone placements mimicking a Dolby Atmos speaker configuration, but without any additional equalization, compression, or manipulation of any kind.

Vaugh and ErinVince Wilburn Jr. (left) and Erin Davis

The playback chain in the demonstration room consisted of three of PMC’s top-of-the line, floorstanding Fenestria loudspeakers up front, in addition to 16 of their on-wall Wafer 2 speakers used as surround, back, and height speakers --  so 19 speakers in total. On the electronics side were an Oppo Blu-ray player, Bryston SP4 surround processor, and other electronics, on a rack, and stacks of Bryston power amplifiers hidden behind curtains.

PMC front speakers

While the hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of audio equipment that were in the room were impressive, the demo was supposed to be more about the music. And the minimalist techniques that were used to create the Dolby Atmos tracks resulted in a recording that had stunning clarity, amazing depth, and huge breadth of soundstage, with a subtle, yet effective surround ambience. Cuts from both Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain imaged holographically at the front of the room and sounded as good as the best stereo recordings that I have ever heard.

PMC side speakers

I don’t usually take the time to sit around and wait for long demonstrations at audio shows, but I was glad that I did for this demo of Miles Davis in Dolby Atmos -- it was certainly one of the better ones in recent memory. Hopefully, someday these excellent Atmos recordings will be made commercially available and maybe I’ll even have a system as capable as the one PMC had to play them on.

Roger Kanno
Senior Contributor, SoundStage!