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Krakow Sonic Society Meeting 98 - Roger Waters Amused to Death

11-26-2015 | By Wojciech Pacuła | Issue 82


Spatial sound has developed mainly thanks to the cinema. The first stereophonic system was Fantasound, created by Walt Disney's engineers to be used in Fantasia—an animated film from the year 1940. At that time, the term "stereophonic" was not synonymous with "two-channel"—sound was recorded on three tracks, based on research carried out by Graham Bell who thought that it was the optimum number of channels. With time, for practical reasons, the central channel has been given up and three-channel tapes (e.g. Miles Davis—Kind of Blue) are mixed to two channels. When we use the term "stereophonic" today, we mean: "two-channel".

With time, it was logical to increase the number of channels (and speakers, as a result). However, the boom for multi-channel systems took place much later—in the 1970s and 80s. First, these were analog (Dolby Surround) and then digital (Dolby Digital and DTS) systems. They let film-makers achieve spectacular effects—mainly in movies and then in home cinema systems. Even though some companies tried to popularize quadraphonic (four-channel) systems in audio, in the end it was in vain. It is worth noticing that audio multi-channel systems that exist today are just "on the margin" of today's technology. When we think of "surround", we automatically associate this term with the cinema.



However, there are ways of obtaining an illusion of surround sound with the use of two channels. In the case of headphones, binaural recordings. When it comes to speakers, one of the most interesting tools is the QSound system. It is a coding system which makes it possible to use two speakers (channels) to provide spatial  sensations outside the "virtual window" created between two speakers. The system was created by the Canadian company QSound Labs founded by Larry Ryckman (CEO), Danny Lowe and John Lees, based on psychoacoustic tests carried out on a large group of listeners.

The system is based on recording many monophonic tracks on an analog tape (it is one of the requirements) and processing each of them in DSP circuits, based on a program written for this purpose. The tape is finally mixed to two channels. It is a system in which the end user does not need any decoding device to obtain spatial sound—all the work is carried out by the record producer.


The system was first used in Coca Cola's Hilltop Reunion Superbowl commercial (1990) and then in the soundtrack for a popular TV series The Wonder Years. From our point of view, the use of QSound in music records is much more important—and there is plenty to talk about. The first CD recorded using the technology  was Madonna's album The Immaculate Collection (Warner Bros., 1990). A year later, the first album made from A to Z with the use of the system—Sting, The Soul Cages (A&M 75021-6405-2, 1990)—was released.

So, it must be admitted that the company managed to make the right people interested in its idea. This statement is even more justified due to the fact that those two albums were followed by other ones. The QSound company's website lists over 60 albums coded using this algorithm, pointing out the most important ones:

  • Madonna, The Immaculate Collection (1990)
  • Sting, The Soul Cages (1991)
  • Europe, Prisoners in Paradise (1991)
  • Julian Lennon, Help Yourself (1991)
  • Paula Abdul, Spellbound (1991)
  • Roger Waters, Amused to Death (1992)
  • Paul McCartney, Paul is Live (1993)
  • Sophie B. Hawkins, Whaler (1994)
  • Pink Floyd, Pulse (1995)
  • Rick Wright, Broken China (1996)
  • Pink Floyd, Is There Anybody Out There? - The Wall Live (2000)
  • Roger Waters, In The Flesh (2000)

After the company had been active in the field of music for some time, it quickly signed some contracts with computer game producers and focused its attention on them. The quick development of home cinema systems, including ones that simulate multi-channel sound, has eliminated such sophisticated systems as the QSound. Just 11 years passed between the first and the last album release.

If you are interested in the subject, you can find more information HERE.



One of the most active artists from the list is Roger Waters—both when it comes to solo projects and working with Pink Floyd. His most interesting and well-known album is Amused to Death.

Released in 1992, it was the third solo album of the bass-guitarist and vocalist of Pink Floyd. It was produced by Patrick Leonard and Waters, with the help of Nick Griffiths. The recording took place in London and the USA in The Billiard room, Olympic Studios, CTS Studios, Angel Studios, Abbey Road Studios and others. The album was recorded by Hayden Bendall, Jerry Jordan and Stephen McLaughlan, and mixed by James Guthrie.

Amused to Death is a concept album which concentrates on the influence that mass media and mass culture have on people, with special focus on television (people would not dare to think at that time that its role would be taken over by the Internet). The first track on the album is The Ballad of  Bill Hubbard, with a monologue of Alfred "Raz" Razzell, a veteran of WWI, talking about war-related traumatic experiences.

From the very beginning, the album has belonged to the absolute canon of musical and audiophile presentations because of its excellent sound quality, but mainly thanks to amazing spatial effects that it owed to the QSound system. Listening to the dog barking at the beginning of the recording became a synonym of "initiation" and if a system presented the barking dog correctly, i.e. on the side and far behind the "window", it was regarded to deliver "spatial" sound. It was clearly a simplification, as space is defined mainly as the location of instruments (i.e. where they are situated in relation to one another) in some acoustics, but it has been accepted that this is the most important moment on the album (in the case when it is listened to by an audiophile).

The record was released as a double vinyl album and on a Compact Disc by Columbia Records—a label which is owned by Sony Music. The CD for the whole world, except for Japan, was pressed in Austria, in a Sony's pressing plant (Columbia COL 468761 2). Therefore, people from almost every country obtained exactly the same version. It was different in Japan. As many as three versions of Amused… were released there: a classic one, an aluminum pressed CD (Sony Music Entertainment (Japan) SRCS 5913) and two gold pressed versions—one of them intended for the American market, released as part of the Sound Master series and with exactly the same cover design as the "regular" version sold in Japan.

In 2005, a series of Roger Waters albums was released in Japan in an "mini LP" version, with recreated vinyl discs covers (let me remind you that the CD cover from the year 1992 featured a close-up of a small photo from the centre of the black LP album cover decorated with embossed letters). This edition of Amused… was produced using the original master. Considering the popularity of the album, it is hard to understand why its first remastered (or rather remixed and remastered) version was released as late as in 2015.


In 2013, ElusiveDisc, an American online store where I regularly buy records, offered me the opportunity to make an advance payment to buy a new version of Waters's album. The Analogue Productions company was to be responsible for the remaster and, which is something new, for the remix (i.e. using multi-channel master tapes and not the stereophonic master). The firm, known mainly for its excellent reeditions of LP discs, also on 200g Vinyl 45 RPM, had had experience in the field, as it had already released a remaster of Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here. Again, James Guthrie was responsible for operating an analog mixing console, while Patrick Leonard and Rogers Waters were in charge of production.

Something unexpected must have occurred during the process, as we were only able to get to know the results of the cooperation as late as in August 2015. It is most probably because of the fact that, initially, only a stereophonic version was to be produced. In the end, a surround 5.1 version was also released.

So, this is an unprecedented situation: a huge corporation charges a small independent company with the task of producing and releasing a vinyl version of an important album. It was double, heavy vinyl pressed in the USA in the Analogue Productions company's pressing plants, with its master. It is available in two versions—released by Analogue Productions and Sony Music. It must be said clearly (which is, so far, confirmed by all sources), that the discs are identical in the case of both releases, as they were produced in the same pressing plant. The only differences are related to the envelope—the one in the Sony version is a bit thinner and the color of the inside is different.

When it comes to digital versions, each of them is distinctly different. There have been a few (at least five) releases:

  • a regular CD version (Sony Music | Columbia | Legacy),
  • a CD + Blu-ray version (Sony Music | Columbia | Legacy),
  • a Blu-spec CD2 version (Japan) (Sony Music Labels | Legacy),
  • a Blu-spec CD2 + Blu-ray version (Japan) (Sony Music Labels | Legacy),
  • a hybrid SACD/CD (Columbia/Legacy/Analogue Productions).

The Blu-ray discs contain a stereophonic, multi-channel 24 bit, 96kHz PCM version, while the disc released by Analogue Productions features a stereophonic, multi-channel DSD version. PCM and DSD signal were coded directly from analogue tapes. Apart from these, you can also buy a DSD file.



Comparing so many formats would be so hard that I gave the idea up already at the beginning and focused only on CD versions. The following ones were taken into account:

  • the 1st European CD version 1992 (Columbia),
  • the 1st Japanese CD version (Sony Music Entertainment (Japan),
  • the Japanese mini LP reedition 2005 (Sony Music Direct (Japan) Inc.),
  • the regular CD Remaster version 2015 (Sony Music | Columbia | Legacy),
  • the Japanese Blu-spec CD2 Remaster version 2015 (Japan) (Sony Music Labels | Legacy),
  • the hybrid SACD/CD Remaster 2015 (Columbia/Legacy/Analogue Productions).

As you can see, we did not test the gold pressed version. It is available, but its price on eBay starts from 150 dollars (plus the customs duty and shipping costs). I have also seen one offer on the Polish website Allegro.pl—the CD cost over 500 PLN! Therefore, we did not test this version. Fortunately, I was able to borrow it later and I will say a few words about it at the end of the article.

Having subsequently listened to all the versions, we compared the best one (in our opinion) to the first European version at the end of the meeting. After listening to each version, I asked the listeners how they would evaluate it and what they thought about it. I usually chronologically report what each person said, but this time the material was much broader and the results of our "investigation" were inconclusive. So, to make the article easy to digest, I have synthesized what the listeners said.



To warm up, we listened to a few records produced using QSound—e.g. to Sting's single "All This Time" (from The Soul Cages album) and to the Polish Abraxas band's album 99 recorded and mixed by Jacek Gawłowski (!)—the same man who won the Grammy Award for "The Best Jazz Album 2014" several years later (that was Włodek Pawlik's album and Jacek was responsible for it sound).

Already during the first part of the session, it became clear that the ability to hear "real space" coded by the QSound system is determined by the very specific place where the listener is situated. The further away a listener is located from the axis between the speakers, the worse his or her perception of the spatial effect is. There were even situations in which the location of spatial effects was completely disrupted, which was pointed out by listeners sitting on the sides. Some effects, normally heard far away to the left or right side of a listener placed at the axis between the speakers were heard as located precisely in the middle of the sound stage by listeners who were sitting on the sides. The spatial effect is achieved more fully in the case a listener is located closer to the speakers than when he or she sits further awayy (more than distance between the loudspeakers themselves).


Austria 1992 vs Japan 1992

As Rysiek B. said, "both versions came across fantastic". The European version provided such good sound that most of the listeners did not clearly favor the Japanese one, which usually happens. As Wiktor said, the European version is nicer and more interesting, while the Japanese one is smoother, as if a little hazy. Wiciu pointed out that the latter was a little louder and had a more explicit bass range. Rysiek S. said it was more dirty.

Tomek, Marcin, Bartosz and Justyna did not share these views. They said that the Austrian version was sharper and more vociferous. Bartek said that the attack in the Japanese version was smoothed (in a positive way), i.e. the version seemed more pleasant. According to Justyna and Marcin, the Japanese version was stronger and louder, which had already been noticed by Wiciu. They all pointed out stronger "presence" of the vocal (although it is the same mix, these two versions were produced in two different pressing plants). As it seems, stronger bass in the Japanese version resulted in more saturated lower midrange and a more "present" vocal.

Japan 1992 vs. Japan 2005

The listeners' opinions were also different when it came to comparing both Japanese versions (let me remind you that we are talking about the same master from the year 1992). However, everyone emphasized that the 2005 version sounds louder—so, it seems that the signal had been processed in some way before pressing.

For Bartek, the changes were positive, though they were not big (significant). For him, a drawback was "a limited breadth of the sound stage". Rysiek S. also said this version was better, but the differences were enormous for him. As he said, "the 2005 version was undoubtedly much better". Also Wiktor definitely opted for the new version. He talked about spectacular detail, which was not tiring, though. Rysiek B. clearly said that the new version was better, saying that it was "unambiguously better". He also mentioned better guitars—they were blander in the 1992 version, which would confirm the observations from the first comparison.

Marcin did not notice any bigger differences, apart from greater loudness, neither did Wiciu. Justyna talked about very similar sound, perhaps except for bass which was a bit deeper in the new version.

Japan 2005 vs. Japan 2015 (BSCD2)

While the participants remained quite calm while listening to the first versions, big emotions appeared during the comparison of the original albums and their remasters. Before, the listeners got divided into two camps: those who preferred the clearer and stronger Japanese version from the year 2005 and those who valued the milder and smoother Japanese version from the year 1992.

Now, there was Rysiek S. who claimed that the new Japanese Blu-spec CD2 (BSCD2) version was "dramatically bad"—the sound was "narrowed and matt", and everything was taking place in a "tunnel" between the speakers. Wiciu said similar things. For him, the problem was, again, a worse bass range in the remaster. Tomek started his comment by saying: "The remaster must have been prepared for people who will use mp3 files and little headphones". In his opinion, the dynamics and female vocals were the weaknesses of the version. He claimed that only Waters's vocal was presented with a better "body", that it was fuller and characterized by better tone and volume. Wiktor added that the remaster was "simply boring, worse as regards its tone and not transparent enough".

Bartosz and Marcin thought the opposite. For Bartosz, the BSCD2 version was "about 500 times better"—the sound was nicer and more dynamic, and the spatial elements were also more present. Marcin added that "the tone was much more elegant and smoother", "perhaps rounded, but it showed its claws where necessary". Justyna shared their opinion and said she thought that the sound of the BSCD2 version was nicer and more pleasant.

Analog Productions (the CD layer from the hybrid SACD/CD) vs. Japan 2015 (BSCD2)

The differences between the pressings (the master was the same in both cases) of Analogue Productions and Sony were significant. Summarizing, they were similar to what we had heard before while listening to the European 1992 version and the Japanese 1992 version, but it was "the other way round".

All the listeners pointed out the smoother, more pleasant sound of the AP version. At the same time, the differences in the listeners' opinions became much stronger. Rysiek B. said: "the American version is by far better". For him, BSCD2 sounded as if it was "played on a portable device". Even though this is an obvious exaggeration, Rysiek B. was accompanied by Wiktor who thought that the Analogue Productions version was much more interesting as regards the tone, more balanced, very "musical" and much better when it came to stereophonics ("the dog!").

Rysiek S. said that "undoubtedly, the sound stage was much broader with the BSCD2 version". Nevertheless, for him, just like for Wiktor, that was a step back when compared to the Japanese version from the year 2005. Bartosz spoke less ambiguously when he said that, for him, the BSCD2 sounded much better. The AP version was bland for him and "its dynamics was subdued—just like in the case of any CD layer from a hybrid disc".

Only Tomek, Justyna and Wiciu claimed that although the differences mentioned by the other listeners were audible, they were so small that there was no point taking them into account. There were much bigger differences between the original versions and their remasters.



In an interview for the "Rockline" magazine on 8th January 1993, Roger Waters said that he had not been able to fulfill all his plans concerning the production of Amused To Death. For example, he had wanted to include samples of a dialogue from Stanley Kubrick's movie 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) in the album, from the monologue of the dying HAL9000. Kubrick refused, claiming that it would open doors for other people to ask him a favor, which he wanted to avoid. There were people who thought that the refusal was Kubrick's revenge, as he could not forget that Pink Floyd had not allowed him once to use music from Atom Heart Mother (1970) in the movie A Clockwork Orange (1971).

We will never learn the truth—Stanley Kubrick died in 1999. Finally, Waters got what he wanted. After the director's death, he was allowed by his inheritors to use sampled HAL's speech in Perfect Sense, part I, during In the Flesh concert tour. The tour material was released on a disc encoded in QSound. While remixing Amused To Death, Waters fulfilled his dream and added HAL's words to the existing material.

The so-called "remaster 2015" is not exactly the same CD that was released in 1992. Some of its parts have been changed by bringing forth or withdrawing instruments, voices and effects, and by adding something new here and there. Therefore, the comparison of the 1992 version with the new one was not only related to sound quality, but also referred to different artistic visions.

I think that this was the difference between the listeners—some of them clearly preferred the old version and others liked the new one more.

However, the differences in sound cannot be ignored. Having completed the listening session, I asked the listeners to rank the versions. Almost everyone (except for Wiktor) placed the European Remaster 2015 on the last position. Below you will see the ranking provided by each participant after some reflection.

First, I would like to summarize the differences briefly. The European 1992 version was really good. The Japanese 1992 version was smoother, fuller and I liked it more. The gold plated 1992 version is even better in these respects and it is the best release for me. It is closely followed by the Japanese Remaster 2015 (the Blu-spec CD2 version). What they have in common is smoothness, fluidity, fullness and high internal complexity of the musical message. All the remaining versions, especially the one of the year 2005, seem to be too vociferous for me, while the very good AP version appears to be too subdued. However, some of the listeners did not share these views.

While talking to one another, we came to the conclusion that we all hear exactly the same things, but we assess them in different ways. What was an advantage for one person, constituted a drawback for another listener and vice versa. So, the meeting ended with no definite conclusion—this time you will have to carry out the whole process yourselves. I only sincerely hope that our observations will help you make the choice.

This is how the participants in the meeting voted:

Rysiek B. and Wiktor

1. The Japanese 2005 version

2. Analogue Productions, remaster 2015

3. The European 1992 version

4. The Japanese 1992 version

5. BSCD2, remaster 2015

6. The European remaster 2015


1. The Japanese 1992 version

2. The Japanese 2005 version

3. Analogue Productions, remaster 2015

Rysiek S.

1. The Japanese 2005 version

2. The European 1992 version

3. Analogue Productions, remaster 2015

4. The Japanese 1992 version

5. BSCD2, remaster 2015

6. The European remaster 2015


1. BSCD2, remaster 2015

2. The Japanese 2005 version


1. The Japanese 1992 version

2. The European 1992 version

3. The Japanese 2005 version

4. BSCD2, remaster 2015

5. Analogue Productions, remaster 2015

6. The European remaster 2015

Bartek and Marcin

1. BSCD2, remaster 2015

2. The Japanese 2005 version

3. The Japanese 1992 version

4. The European 1992 version

5. Analogue Productions, remaster 2015

6. The European remaster 2015



  • Compact Disc transport: Ayon Audio CD-T
  • Preamplifier/DAC: Ayon Audio STRATOS
  • Power amplifier: Accuphase A-70, test HERE, also read HERE
  • Speakers: Dynaudio C4 Signature
  • Speaker cables: Acrolink 7N-S8000 ANNIVERSARIO
  • Interconnects: Acrolink 7N-DA2090 SPECIALE, test HERE
  • Power strip: Oyaide MTS-4e, test HERE


Date of release:

  • 1st edition: 1st September 1992
  • remaster: 2015





QSound is a recording/mixing process used in many radio recordings based on a processing algorithm and used to make sound appear to be in 3D whilst using only 2 speakers.

Source: www.giantbomb.com, read HERE

Text: Wojciech Pacuła

Photos: Wojciech Pacuła

Translation: Ewa Muszczynko

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