On June 30th, 2006, Sigur Rós performed Popplagið, from the album () at Klambratún Park, Reykjavik, Iceland. It was a landmark performance, broadcast live around the country on RÚV and captured in its entirety on the bonus DVD of the documentary Heima. Despite having seen them perform this song myself a few times, and listening to/watching every performance of it I can find, this is still my favourite, and also one of my favourite concert performances of all time. I watch that disc on my home theater whenever I get a chance, at house-shaking volume. I decided I wanted to carry the audio of it with me, but I haven’t been happy with any of the stereo mixes of it I’ve found. So I decided to make my own “headphone mix” from the 5.1 surround audio on the DVD itself.
I ripped the DTS stream, originally 32-bit, 48 kHz, to a monstrous set of raw .wav files, pulled the whole mess into Adobe Audition, and went to work. I didn’t want to mess with things too much, so there’s no effects added, EQing, or anything like that. The only real serious change I did was throwing a tiny amount of compression on the center channel. There were some volume changes at various points in the center channel audio that I feel are “inauthentic” and probably done manually after the fact for the DVD. It doesn’t jive with the original TV broadcast, and doesn’t jive with my experience of their other live performances. I felt like this was a justified attempt at an “undo” on my part.
The rest was just mixing. I took a surround submix from the left and right surround channels that I was going to play with the stereo imaging on, but it was just too good to mess with. All I did with that was offset it in the final mix by 100 ms, just to recreate a feeling of “big space” when you listen to it in headphones. I also nudged it up a barely perceptible 2 dB, relative to everything else in the full mix. Similarly, I jacked the LFE up a surprising 4 dB before I felt like the bass had enough warmth and thump to sound right in the various pairs of headphones I was auditioning this with.
Really, that’s about it. The mix I ended up with matches my personal preference reasonably well. There are some things that I can’t “fix” without a lot of work. Everything I did was “fire and forget” settings that apply to the entire duration of the track. Some time, if I ever get several hours, I might try to do something about the extreme limiting on the main left+right mix that really squashes things in the last few minutes. That kind of thing is extremely difficult to fix though. I can clearly see that this was done in mastering, and is a sad waste of 32 bits. The resulting mix has a dynamic range that is just shy of 80 dB, when technically it could, and should be nearly double that. Also, I might do a more tailored volume adjustment on the center channel, instead of the blanket compression I did. It makes Jónsi‘s voice a little loud when he first comes in. Then again, I love the way it all sounds anyway, so maybe not!
At the end of it all, I feel like this mix isn’t perfect yet, but is vastly superior to any other stereo mix I’ve yet heard, so I’m happy to share it. All technicality aside, this right here is the prime example of why I say music is my religion. Grab your best headphones, crank this, and be transported: