Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Pictures At An Exhibition

10 Apr

ELP - Pictures At An Exhibition DS369f front

“Pictures…” has been in ELP’s repertoire since the band formed in 1970, and has been recorded live many times, the first, and probably the most famous, version being released in 1971, which made it into the Top 10 LP chart. But it wasn’t until 1993 that a studio version emerged, recorded and mixed in Dolby Surround for inclusion in the “Return of the Manticore” boxset, but was later added as a bonus track on the 1994 album “In The Hot Seat”

Although there was something of a fanfare when it was announced ‘Pictures…” would be in Dolby Surround, i feel the mix isn’t as good as it could have been given a little imagination.

This is the first release of a Dolby Surround encoded album decoded by the new DS/II process. Many would question the need for such a process as almost all home cinema set-ups include official Dolby Surround/Pro-logic decoders. Well basically, i feel they do a poor job in decoding, giving a poorly defined, low separation (3db between fronts and rear) decode. I just felt it could be better.

I’d like to thank Owen Smith for his invaluable help during the final listening tests section of the decode development process.

Release: DS369f

Source: Dolby Surround  CD

Process: DS/II



23 Responses to “Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Pictures At An Exhibition”

  1. prefabfan April 16, 2014 at 04:29 #


  2. sacdtodvda April 13, 2014 at 12:03 #

    I don’t have the original release, so can’t compare your decode to that,original decoded by my receiver. That said, the sound quality was better than I expected given the lossy Dulby source, and the rears gave a good solid, reasonably discrete sound image, I suspect limited mainly by the unadventurous original mix. Well worth continuing the experiment with a more active mix (which I see you have already done).

    I agree with your decision to not include the centre channel, the mix as you have presented already presents a good centre image, particularly the acoustic guitar in the ballad section, and with the drums. Adding a “summed” centre channel would only muddy this natural centre image.

  3. Owen Smith April 12, 2014 at 12:49 #

    Great stuff, music well worth an entire disc despite the short length. The best performance for me here is the percussion, very smartly played.

    What is sad here is how restricted Dolby Surround is, even after OD has extracted the best out of it. Any of the older quad systems, including EV-4/DY, would have produced a better result. Why Dolby chose to make such a huge step backwards is not clear to me, but then I don’t agree with a lot of what Dolby does these days. Ray Dolby himself before his recent death became critical of the company just licencing things rather than developing anything themselves.

    • oxforddickie April 12, 2014 at 12:54 #

      I agree, a major step backwards, especially as it was so obviously based on SQ.

      I must ask everyone whether it’s worth continuing with Dolby encoded releases, is the effect worth it, or is it too marginal? I really would like some feedback on this.

    • Owen Smith April 12, 2014 at 17:00 #

      Oh it’s definitely worth releasing DS/II decoded releases. The improvement compared to the built in decoding in my amp is substantial, and if Dolby Surround encoded source is the best we have for the source material then it’s better than stereo.

      I think the material used for testing shows off what is possible better than this ELP release, more use of the rear. This ELP is quite subtle im it’s rear use.

  4. g335 April 11, 2014 at 14:23 #

    Thanks OD for offering your new script DS/II as a better decode of this 1993 recording. I really appreciate your attention to detail! This thread has been quite educational too. 🙂

    • oxforddickie April 11, 2014 at 14:26 #

      It would be good if people who have this track, and have played it through their decoder, could post their views, positive or negative

  5. gjwAudio April 11, 2014 at 10:33 #

    Well OD… How about those back channels !! The Doubly Decode sounds fabulous. I’ve been listening to a string of “Pictures…” much of the night – modern 5.1, Golden Age 3.0, full orchestra, solo piano – a Cavalcade of Stars 🙂

    And so when I extracted the MLP and gave it a play (through xbmc !), the night’s pleasures were completed by ELP’s take on Modest. Too bad I wasn’t able to give the tracks “full voice”, as all the Elves are sleeping now upstairs.

    So then, I just want to say Thanks So Much, for pulling this little treat out and tinkering long and hard to squeeze Four from Two !

    • oxforddickie April 11, 2014 at 10:58 #

      Glad you enjoyed it. The next Dolby decode release will be album that was used as a tester, mainly because of it’s active use of the rear channel

  6. Owen Smith April 10, 2014 at 17:31 #

    Oh and these Dolby Surround encoded CDs aren’t meant to be decoded with PLII anyway. They should really be decoded with Dolby Stereo or Dolby Surround (they’re the same thing), where the closest I could get with my amp is Pro Logic with the amp told it doesn’t have a centre speaker. The amp can do Dolby Stereo, but only when fed with a Dolby Digital 2.0 signal, sigh. Don’t you just love restrictive hardware.

    • oxforddickie April 10, 2014 at 18:35 #

      Your correct, as i mention in the other reply, Dolby Surround/PL and Dolby PLII are completely different, and are mathematically incompatible. There’s very little you can do to improve the mono rear channel of DS, and to be accurate Dolby PLII cannot decode the rear channel of DS properly, the equation is totally different. What it will do is leak some of the front information into the rears to give an impression of width.

  7. prefabfan April 10, 2014 at 16:06 #

    count me in, LOVE ELP.

  8. Owen Smith April 10, 2014 at 09:14 #

    For reference my amp is an Arcam AVR350 and none of Pro Logic, PL II Movie or PL II Music came anywhere close to the DS/II process. Each mode on my amp was tried with or without the Centre speaker enabled. The best results from my amp were PL II Music, it was the only one with decent sounding rears. This dictated turning on the centre, because with it off there was a hole in the front image. The other modes all produced their best results with the centre turned off.

    But even this PL II Music best result had a slightly uncertain and occasionslly swaying front image, and the rears were never firmly to the rear but always lurked in the middle of the room with poor front back seperation.

    And to think I use this gear when watching TV. If only I could buy an amp with OD’s process in it.

    • oxforddickie April 10, 2014 at 09:30 #

      Thanks for that Owen. The use of the center channel in Dolby Surround/PL is of questionable use. Although the second version of the encoder (which most of the encoded CD’s used) allow a mix to include a center channel, the extraction in the decoder is basic, basically just summing the Left and Right channels together, thereby reducing L/R separation and muddling the stereo image, so is of questionable use.

      It would have been possible to include center channel extraction in DS/II, but there could be side effects on the Front channels, and i suspect the final result would be an inferior decode.

    • Owen Smith April 10, 2014 at 10:14 #

      I use the centre channel when watching TV because if I don’t all the voices of presenters appear some distance to the left and right of the screen and the disembodied voices sound weird. I know my left/right speakers can produce a phantom centre image because many CDs and most of OD’s decodes produce one, but TV sound doesn’t for some reason. It may be the way they either mix it or surround encode it.

    • sullis02 April 10, 2014 at 14:57 #

      FWIW, DPLII is configurable by the user. You can adjust the amount of L/R/ content in the Center (Center Width) , you can adjust the front/rear balance (Dimension), and you can adjust the amount of ‘envelopement’ (side image, called Panorama) . Default settings are pretty good but perhaps ‘mild’ for quadaholics that want stronger multichannel imaging.

    • Owen Smith April 10, 2014 at 17:27 #

      My Arcam AVR350 amp has no settings for controlling PLII, only Movie or Music mode. My old Arcam DV137 DVD player (now boxed in the loft) had a Width setting for PLII Music, but no Dimension or Panorama. Slightly unusual to have a DVD player with matrix decoding in at all, that’s usually an amp thing. Anyway I never used it’s PLII decoder since it’s always TV I’m running through PLII.

      I thought PLII Movie was meant to be fixed parameters since it assumes the source is properly encoded? PLII Music had adjustment designed in because you’re supposed to be able to feed it plain stereo source material.

      • oxforddickie April 10, 2014 at 18:27 #

        You bring up an interesting point regarding DPII being preset. There is a major difference between the encode equations of Dolby Surround/PL and PLII. As is widely known, Dolby Surround has a bandwidth limited (100hz to 7khz) mono rear channel fed through two speakers. Dolby PLII has encode equations that give it full range stereo rears, but for some reason Dolby havn’t pushed PL/II as a replacement for the original version for the release of surround sound on CD, etc.

        What is even stranger is that all amplifiers with PLII built in have two preset modes, movie & music, but nowhere is there a ‘straight’ setting for PLII encoded music. So far, i’ve only seen computer games with soundtracks PLII encoded, but no music CD’s.

        So, the question is, why did Dolby sit on what could have been a boost to the surround market and instead lumber the attempts by RCA etc with the outdated Dolby Surround?

        • oxforddickie April 10, 2014 at 18:44 #

          Well they made an encoder, so why no PLII music?


        • Owen Smith April 10, 2014 at 19:51 #

          Everything I read up until I encountered this blog claimed that PLII was just an upgrade of Pro Logic / Dolby Surround and that PLII was fully compatible with decoding legacy Dolby Surround encoded sources. It was pushed heavily that way by Dolby, all the marketing from amp manufacturers said the same thing. They even mentioned the bleeding of 3db font left/right into the rears as a positive design feature to give some rear width, you’re the first person to say to me it’s just because the wrong decode equations are being used. So if this was the marketing push and they didn’t create any PL II genuine source material, why not actually create something that was just a Dolby Surround upgrade? There are some very mixed messages here from Dolby and the industry.

          • oxforddickie April 10, 2014 at 20:01 #

            My assumptions are from digging deep into Dolby Surround, and PLII. As an ‘upgrade’, the idea of mixing the fronts and rear channels would appear to be something of a negative move, surely they would try to improve the poor separation, not decrease it.

          • Owen Smith April 10, 2014 at 20:17 #

            It was touted as a way of gaining some width to the otherwise mono rears. Like I said, some very confused messages being pushed about PLII.

          • Owen Smith April 10, 2014 at 20:26 #

            Note that unlike quad, I was in the scene when PLII came out. Originally I had an Arcam Xeta 2 add on Pro Logic processor (with centre and rear amps) to go with my Arcam Delta 290 stereo amp. I remember all the promises of improved compatible decoding, with PL II Movie touted as an instant upgrade for your Dolby Surround films and how PL II Music would cause all your CDs to surround you with music. No mention was made of PL II being a different encode algortithm if done properly, so no wonder there weren’t any CDs in it.

            The marketing spin on PL II is very odd now that I’m aware to some degree of the techinical differences. I suppose it’s no different from claiming a decoder is both EV-4 and SQ compatible ie. complete lies. Some things never change.

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