Orbital, the legendary electronic music duo, has released their latest studio album "Optical Delusion," which was exclusively released on the Blu-ray audio format by Super Deluxe Edition as part of the ongoing SDE Surround Series.
The album's first single, "Dirty Rat," features a collaboration between Orbital and Sleaford Mods. It's a "comic, brutal, bass-driven harangue against our rulers and the voters who put them there," with Jason Williamson's searing vocals over kinetic beats by Orbital and Andrew Fearn. SDE notes that "Dirty Rat" is a standout track, and that the album as a whole is less in-your-face and features some excellent instrumental and vocal tracks. "Are You Alive," a nearly eight-minute atmospheric soundscape featuring Penelope Isles, "Frequency," with satisfyingly old-school house piano, and "What A Surprise," with dramatic beats and textures, are among the highlights to this 2023 release.
For hi-res enthusiast the album features a truly astonishing Dolby Atmos 48kHz / 24-bit mix created by Mark Ayres of the Radiophonic Workshop, who has been creating surround sound mixes for 20 years and used to write music for Doctor Who in the 1980s. While I personally am not a huge fan of electronica music, I am a fan of immersive ear candy mixes, thus I can absolutely say that Ayres pushed the boundaries with this Atmos mix. He apparently spent several days mixing it before Paul Hartnoll came down to help tweak it.
Additionally, the Blu-ray includes a Dolby HD-Master Audio 5.1 48kHz / 24-bit mix, along with hi-res Stereo mixes 96kHz / 24-bit, and a hi-res Alternative Stereo mix (Flat Transfer) also at 96kHz / 24-bit. Plus, there are instrumental versions of vocal tracks in Atmos, 5.1, and stereo. The Blu-ray also features three bonus tracks: "The Crane (featuring Dina Ipavic)," "Year of the Bat," and "Lost in Time", which are also exclusive to the UK's Amazon edition in the form of a special 13-track CD. Yet, the Blu-ray includes all three of these bonus tracks in full Dolby Atmos, 5.1, and stereo mixes.
Mark Ayres is pleased that the Atmos mix has been released physically, as he comments that streaming Atmos is heavily compressed, and Blu-rays sound absolutely great, because they provide true HD audio. I couldn’t agree more, and remind readers to continue supporting physical media, especially small runs like this that I hope to see expand the niche market of immersive listening.
In the world of astronomy an Optical Delusion is a fascinating example of how our perceptions of reality can be influenced by external factors, becoming an enlightening and memorable experience. I mention this because without going into too much detail, I will say that this is one of the most imaginative and engaging Atmos mixes I have heard to date. Drums, synths, bass, and vocals, among other parts emerge from all corners and distinctly from the height speakers. Elements move across the room, and one is fully immersed when sitting in the sweet spot. Likewise, I also found the surround mix to be completely engaging, just lacking the sensation of the overhead speakers, which truly do fill out the listening room so very nicely. Listeners will wonder why there is an alternative stereo mix, they are unique by virtue that the Alternative Mix is actually a fold down of the Atmos Mix, and the standard stereo mix is a dedicated stereo mix, adjusted to suit that format. Take a listen to the difference, and this will provide perspective on how Atmos folds down to stereo and why engineers will likely continue to mix in stereo for years to come.
For those who missed picking up a physical copy of this release, copies are available on the secondary market at much higher prices. Absolutely a must have for eleelectronica fans and spatial audio fanatics who are seeking the best Atmos mixes.
Released February 17, 2023.
Blu-ray limited edition (1,750 copies) featuring Dolby Atmos, Dolby HD Master Audio 48kHz / 24-bit 5.1 surround, and two stereo version both LPCM 96kHz / 24-bit. Also available on CD, vinyl, and via popular streaming platforms.