Deep Purple - Machine Head 50th Anniversary Edition

Naturally Deep Purple’s phenomenally popular album Machine Head receives a lavish 50th Anniversary Edition in 2024. While this is great news for high resolution enthusiasts, it also comes at a cost, given that the box is packaged with 3-CDs, a vinyl LP, and Blu-ray all housed in a box that includes a large format booklet with new liner notes by Rolling Stone's Kory Grow and enhanced by contributions from generations of bands.

Yet, while collectors get the original album, remastered, there is also a new mix of the original album on smokey purple vinyl. The 3-CDs feature the new stereo mix by Dweezil Zappa and the original stereo mix, plus two live performances across discs 2 and 3. The first was recorded on March 9, 1972, at the Paris Theatre in London, capturing the group’s unrivaled stage presence during the “Machine Head Tour.” The second is previously unreleased until now and was recorded in April 1971 at the Montreux Casino in Switzerland. Of course, of greatest interest to hi-res readers is the Blu-ray which contains an immersive Atmos mix of the album engineered by Dweezil Zappa, the original 1974 USA quadraphonic mix of the album in DTS 192kHz / 24-bit, plus three bonus tracks in 5.1 surround DTS 96kHz / 24-bit, which are: When a Blind Man Cries, Maybe I'm a Leo, and Lazy.

I won’t mince too many words here, and just get to the points after a few additional words that nod to previous immersive releases. Over the years there have been a few multi-channel versions, starting with the quad US and quad UK versions back in the day, plus two unique surround sound versions, a DVD-Audio version and a SACD version. The modern-day shiny discs house distinctly different mixes with the DVD-Audio version containing differences in the songs when compared with the original stereo versions, such as alternate guitar solos and some songs are expanded in length. The other disc was the 2011 Japan SACD which I reviewed too, and contains a 5.1 surround remix which was designed to mimics the quad mix available on vinyl.

With all of the above out of the way, the big question is whether this lavish box is worth lightening one’s wallet. Of course it is, this is Deep Purple man… every guitar player for the past 50 years learned how to play Smoke on the Water, or at the bare minimum the hard rockin’ riff. Seriously though, for quad collectors, getting a clean high-resolution version of the original quad US mix may even be worth twice the price.

By far it is the quad mix that is the crème of this release, with a solid sound quality, an engaging, and fully encompassing mix. When compared to the Atmos and even the 5.1 surround versions, the quad mix sizzles with brilliance, glows in the mids, and digs in at the bottom. The sound quality is so vastly different that I find it difficult to listen to the Atmos version. What’s more the quad mix is wonderfully discrete and offers some nice ear candy when it comes to movement as well as instrument placement.

There are two areas I want to draw readers attention to, which are obvious and drive home why the quad mix is far superior in sound quality. The first is take note to the crack of the snare, tap of the hi-hat, and crash of the cymbals on “Lazy.” Not only are these ever present on the quad mix, along with the bite of the guitars and brilliance of the organ, yet they are so lacking on the Atmos version. Listening also to the 2011 5.1 surround mix, one will also notice this lack of brilliance, which brings me to the suspicion that the digital transfers used for the Japan SACD are also the same that were used for the Atmos mix. Now, just a speculation, is it possible that those transfers were done from safeties of the multi-tracks, which tend to lose some high end during an analog-to-analog transfer?

Furthermore, across the seven original tracks, the same brilliance can be heard on the quad mix, with the Atmos version lacking in the top end. While I don’t feel strongly that there is a lack of bass on the Atmos mix like other fans have reported, I will say that it certainly doesn’t stand out and the kick drum is muted a bit, and the bass itself doesn’t have the grumble which can be heard on the quad mix. Still, on balance the Atmos mix that Zappa has created is immersive and cleaner than other versions I have on hand. Additionally, the top height speakers are used for ambience and elevation of parts off the floor which creates a good spatial mix that is pleasantly immersive. Another note of importance, Zappa discovered additional parts on the multi-tracks and suggested to guitarist and composer Ritchie Blackmore that they get lightly mixed in to the Atmos version. Thus, fans deeply familiar with the songs will likely notice keyboards and other parts that were not included on the original stereo and quad mixes.

The final track on the Atmos version is effectively a bonus track called “When a Blind Man Cries,” also known as a B-Side. Since this track is not part of the core album, no quad mix exists. However, a 5.1 mix was created in 2011 and also remixed into Atmos for this anniversary edition. One thing note is the signature of the transfer offers improved high end, which is evident on both versions. While I’ll let you be the judge, I personally found I preferred the new Atmos mix over the 5.1 surround version. This is important to consider, as for me it represents that Zappa is an immersive remix engineer to keep an eye on. When given good source material, he excels at delivering a good mix!

Marketing photo of Machine Head 50th Anniversary EditionOne of the more disappointing aspects to this release is the lack of a high-resolution stereo mix on the Blu-ray. There was plenty of room, and oddly, all the tracks were duplicated as both a single gapless version and individual chapters across multiple titles. I don’t think I have ever seen this before and find it a strange authoring of the Blu-ray. Yet, from a navigation standpoint, it is simple, and the disc started playing the Atmos version automatically.

I likely will never play the purple vinyl disc which does have the new stereo mix. But these are covered on the CDs, along with the concerts. These make for a nice addition to the package, yet I still would have preferred a single Blu-ray containing all the material.

With some reservation, I do recommend the 50th Anniversary box of Machine Head to immersionists and long-time fans of the band. This is absolutely a classic album that is worthy of repeated listens and sounds as fresh today as it did five decades ago.

This edition was released March 29, 2024.

 

 Format Info

3x CD, smokey purple Vinyl LP, and Bluray 50th anniversary box featuring new Dolby Atmos and classic Quad mixes of the entire album, along with two concerts and other bonus material  Also available for streaming with different mastering.

 

 

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 About the Author

Wesley Derbyshire Profile Image

Wesley is a lifelong music enthusiast. He started his career in the recording industry in New York City as an audio engineer, producer, and studio manager. Subsequently he toured across America as a guitarist with the short-lived band Land's Crossing. After many years in the technology sector and amassing a substantial vinyl and CD collection, he delved into immersive audio and created Hi-Res Edition to share with other listeners about the sound quality and discrete mixes available on many formats. He recently upgraded his system to 5.1.4 Dolby Atmos and continues to seek out and share about the best sounding releases.

 

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