Do you remember being a little kid and watching cartoons on television? Do you remember your kids perhaps watching them as well? Now Warner Brothers, the people who brought you all your childhood and perhaps even your children’s childhoods’ favorite characters, have, in cooperation with Rhino Records, released a DVD-Audio disc that is just as much fun as watching those same characters dance, parade, walk, run and sometimes even blow each other up on the television.
Like the cartoons themselves, not all the material in this album is new, in fact, if you listen closely you can actually hear differences in fidelity between tracks that illustrates the progression of recording technologies up to the modern day high-resolution formats. This isn’t because the disc’s re-mastering is flawed; it is because the source material on some pieces is so old that no amount of post-production tweaking can reveal all its subtle nuances. At times it’s like you are actually listening to one of those old record players you see in antique shops or as part of vinyl enthusiasts’ collections.
This review is, however, about a modern day DVD-Audio disc, a format that possesses high-resolution playback capabilities, but not only that, on this title, alongside all the recordings by Warner Brothers there are other extras that will delight you in one way or another. There are biographies of some of the principal players in the development of the famous cartoon characters, artwork from some of the lobby cards that Warner Brothers used and even a rare interview with one of the most influential studio moguls of the time, Treg Brown.
The disc itself can be played back using one of three different formats. These are MLP, the highest definition; Dolby Digital, the 5.1 format you are used to when watching any modern movie, and finally a PCM digital downmix, which offers the same type of playback as a CD transport. While these formats vary in their ability to reproduce the original recordings, they do make this disc playable upon any system that has a DVD player. It is important to note however, that if you are going to replay the title using either the stereo outputs of your DVD player or the two-channel PCM output, while you will enjoy its contents, most of its intended punch will be lost. This is true because most of the hard work lavished on this album went into creating the multi-channel remix. Without the surrounds, center and subwoofer in action it is not possible to experience the true genius and artistry that went into this disc.
Moving from the stereo tracks to the multi-channel mixes on this disc is a whole lot like turning on a light switch and seeing something special for the very first time, something that is equally true of both the multi-channel formats. The resolution differences between Dolby Digital and Meridian Lossless Packing are apparent however, so to begin with I’ll discuss the Dolby Digital version.
The disc’s Dolby Digital DVD-Video compatible layer begins with a group of segments entitled ‘Welcome to the Vault’. Here you encounter Yosemite Sam who has a problem that Bugs Bunny is just dying to help him cure. Bugs takes Yosemite and you, the listener, into the Warner Brothers archive vault where all their sound effects are kept, all accomplished via the magic of multi-channel audio. Firstly Yosemite is in front of you and Bugs to the side, then when in the vault, they appear all around you. Impressive, but this is only the beginning, each one of the effects they find and replay is an experience in its own right, from bangs and booms to the voices of yesterday, they are all here.
As noted earlier, while these effects were re-mixed to allow you to experience them in multi-channel, they were not re-recorded, the result being that while you will undoubtedly revel in the wacky world of Looney Toons, you will also begin to appreciate a sense of cartoon and sound-effect history. I mentioned this briefly earlier, but the more you listen the truer it becomes. The original artists did not record the announcements of each pending effect since many of them passed away some years ago; instead they were performed by modern-day mimics. While they sound the essentially same, you can clearly hear inflections in their voices and the sounds of their footsteps that, while present in the original material, is often muffled in the older recordings.
The MLP track is the most impressive of all the formats on this disc; while all the sound effects and surround benefits are present in the Dolby Digital recording, in the MLP version they just sound that bit clearer. The best analogy would be to say that the Dolby Digital version is like listening to a good album but on a mediocre system. When you upgrade your hardware (switch to the MLP track) you begin to hear things that previously you never knew were there.
For example, the last track on the album is entitled, ‘Duck Dodgers in the 21st Century’. Those of us who had way too much free time during our childhood will remember Daffy Duck playing Duck Dodgers and Marvin the Martian playing the “evil” alien who tries to blow up the Earth for a better view (or something like that). Anyway, this is a totally new recording in which the characters are recorded specifically for multi-channel. You hear not only the perfect separation of the surround channels but also the extremely detailed and lifelike voices of the cast. Listening to it in MLP, you feel like you are part of the action and can envisage everything going on in front, behind and to the sides of you.
In conclusion, ‘Crash! Bang! Boom!’ is a great album. It is not only fun for the entire family but it also gives a clear impression of just how impressive multi-channel recordings can be if mixed and mastered carefully. It has all the punch of any lovely crafted modern movie with all the warmth and classic charm of those cartoons from years past. Add to that the high-resolution afforded by the MLP track and you have a world-class recording not only to appreciate alone, but also demonstrate to and enjoy with your friends and family.