Various Artists: Immersion
In case you aren’t familiar with it, Immersion is a DVD-Audio test disc par excellence. It also offers some exciting music, if your taste runs to the experimental and avant garde. From a technical point of view, it provides musical source material in every conceivable stereo and surround configuration, with and without either or both of LFE (subwoofer, “.1″) and center-front audio.
Several tracks on Immersion make for easy evaluation of the timbral balance between the five surround speakers, and the Axiom system passed the test with flying colors. On Pamela Z’s Live/Work, the main content is spoken female voice panning slowly around, and bouncing back and forth among the front and rear speakers. The Axiom M22′s and QS8′s handled the transitions smoothly, although I noticed a slight deficit in high-frequency sheen from the QS8′s now and then.
Bruce Odland’s Tank gives the whole surround system a workout, with vibrant percussion both upfront and in subtle layers, a resounding deep-bass drum to exercise the subwoofer, and richly ambient trumpet riffs floating atmospherically in 3D space over all the rest. The Grand Master system sounded gorgeous on this, real aural candy, with the QS8′s presenting a huge and spacious recreation of the ambience of the original recording.
Another well-engineered 5.1 track on Immersion, Phil Kline’s The Housatonic at Henry, gave further proof that the Axiom system can provide a lush, enveloping surround experience. This piece is an ambient soundscape filled with tingling bell cascades, an ominous string ostinato underneath, and a gradual build of thrumming machine-engine sound. Along with a tremendous sense of space, the Axioms revealed every nuance of the detailed aural painting.
Joni Mitchell: Both Sides Now
For more conventional musical fare, I listened to the DVD-Audio release of Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now — not Joni Mitchell at her best, but a sumptuosly-recorded collection of arrangements nonetheless, with lush orchestration (large jazz ensemble with rhythm section, plus full strings), attractive surround engineering (subtle natural ambience in the rear channels), and a solid bottom on the LFE channel.
Once more, the Epic Grand Master system delivered a convincing surround stage, as well as fine overall balance across the full instrumental range, including an acoustic bass that balanced perfectly with the rest of the ensemble. The Axioms coped nicely with dynamic extremes on this recording (as they did with several DVD-A orchestral recordings I auditioned on the system, as well).
Another characteristic of this disc is the prominent center-channel placement of Joni Mitchell’s vocal. To my ear, the VP100 center channel sounded a shade too dark in this kind of exposed production. Its quality is still pleasing and attractive, but not the equal of the main front pair for clarity and openess in the highs. This was all the more noticeable given the spread of vocal reverb to the left and right front pair, where it sounded airier and more transparent than the direct vocal in the center channel.