The Who / Who’s Next Dolby Atmos Mix, reviewed

How good is the 1971 album in spatial audio?

Jonathan Cornell on the new Steven Wilson Dolby Atmos mix of Who’s Next

The long-awaited 10CD+Blu-ray super deluxe edition of The Who’s 1971 opus finally arrived in September 2023, featuring new 5.1 and Dolby Atmos mixes from in-demand surround sound mixer Steven Wilson. This comprehensive reissue undoubtedly delivered the final word on that period of the band, including dozens of previously-unheard studio and live recordings from 1970-72 across a massive eleven-disc box set (read Alexis Petridis’ review on SDE).

This set was among my most-anticipated releases of the year not only because of Steven Wilson’s involvement, but also for personal reasons: Who’s Next was among my Dad’s, and thus my own, all-time favourite classic rock records. He’d once described to me in detail the experience of first listening to the album on LP way back in 1971, on a friend’s pair of JBL L100 Century speakers with the built-in tone controls ‘cranked to eleven’.

My Dad had been interested in surround music since the early-1970s (our stereo setup includes both a working SQ decoder and CD-4 demodulator, two very obscure pieces of gear required to properly play back quadraphonic vinyl) and always lamented that Who’s Next was never reissued in a multichannel format. The album did not receive a quad mix during the 1970s, and – despite Pete Townshend expressing interest in creating a 5.1 version in around 2004, as he had done so successfully with Tommy – it was passed over again during the early 2000s heyday of the SACD and DVD-Audio formats.

I couldn’t have imagined that my Dad would unexpectedly pass away from a stroke on 2 September, at the age of 68 – a mere two weeks before the box set and Atmos mix would be released. So listening to this fantastic reimagining of a classic for the first time was a strangely bittersweet experience, knowing I’ll never get to share it with him or hear his thoughts on it.

Though Who’s Next isn’t as layered as other albums from this era that Steven Wilson has remixed in 5.1 surround or Dolby Atmos, I think he’s made the most of the original multitrack recordings to craft an exciting new immersive experience. The Atmos mix is chock full of newfound detail, yet also respectful to the iconic original Glyn Johns production.

I was somewhat skeptical at how impressive ‘Baba O’Riley’ could be in surround sound given the limited source, but the Atmos mix of this song works remarkably well. The iconic opening organ line swirls all around and above just as I’d hoped, while Roger Daltrey’s lead vocal is almost completely isolated in the center speaker. ‘Bargain’ is unfortunately presented as an up-mix from the stereo master due to the loss of the original multitrack, but it does sound appropriately ‘big’ and fills out the room nicely.

“Love Ain’t For Keeping” again features Daltrey in the centre channel, with the acoustic guitars almost entirely isolated in the side speakers and background vocals placed primarily in the rear heights. Despite being recorded to a single mono track for this song, Moon’s drums sound absolutely thunderous coming from the front stage.

I imagined Wilson would do something fun with the horn parts in ‘My Wife’ and I’m not disappointed: they come screaming from the rear surround speakers, while Townshend’s guitar swells swirl all around the height channels. Another one of the most exciting passages in the album would have to be the ending of ‘The Song Is Over’, with the big drum rolls crashing all around the room.

Moving into what originally constituted side two, ‘Getting In Tune’ kicks off with the piano in the side right speaker and then electric guitar appearing directly behind the listener’s head. The backing vocals wildly swing between the rear height speakers. ‘Going Mobile’ again makes heavy use of the side speakers for acoustic guitars, with the ARP synthesizer filling up the rear surrounds and crazy wah-wah guitar isolated in the rear left height speaker.

The one track that didn’t quite stick the landing for me was perhaps my favourite on the record, ‘Behind Blue Eyes’. The cathedral-like ambience at the beginning is perfect, but the vocal harmonies–now relocated to the rear height speakers–seem much louder and drier than in the original stereo. Nitpicks aside, there are definitely some fantastic moments in that great song, such as when Townshend’s harmonies on specific lines (“I blame you” and “can show through”) pop up in the front heights, directly above Daltrey’s lead in the centre channel. Unlike the rest of the album tracks, ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ was captured using a 16-track recorder, making the scope for the new immersive experience that much greater. Keith Moon’s ferocious drums thunder across the front soundstage, while Townshend’s acoustic guitar emanates primarily from the left side surround. Backing vocals again pop out of the rear heights, and the handclaps bouncing all around during the first instrumental break (just before “I move myself and my family aside”) perfectly adds to the mania of the song.

For those who haven’t yet made the leap to Dolby Atmos, fear not as the DTS-HD 5.1 mix also makes for a fabulous listening experience. Note that this is not a ‘fold-down’ of the Atmos presentation, but rather a completely unique mix intended specifically for six speakers. Many of the elements that appear isolated in the side surround speakers – such as the acoustic guitars in ‘Love Ain’t For Keeping’ – instead hover in the ‘phantom’ spaces between the front & rear channels in the 5.1 mix. Another interesting difference is in ‘Baba O’Riley’ where the Atmos mix had the electric guitar coming from above and fiddle in the rear surrounds, the 5.1 version instead positions the guitar in the back speakers and fiddle in the centre channel. I could try to eloquently conclude my thoughts on this fabulous new immersive remix of an album I’ve long loved, but Steven Wilson himself sums it up best in his short essay included in the box set’s liner notes:

For me, the economy inherent in the recording process of Who’s Next actually makes for a really engaging surround experience. You can hear the space between all the instruments, every gesture in the music. Even the sound of the room they were recording in. Both compositionally and performance-wise nothing on Who’s Next is superfluous or wasted, everything counts. It’s almost a cliche with surround sound to say that it’s like you’re in the studio with the band, but that really is the way it feels on these iconic recordings. You can almost reach out and touch the music.”

Steven Wilson, August 2022

As far as surround sound mixes of classic albums go, it simply doesn’t get much better than this. Was the Blu-Ray worth the high price of admission? For me, the answer is a resounding “yes.” I
only wish that my Dad was still here to enjoy it with me.

Review by Jonathan Cornell for SDE. Read more of Jonathan’s reviews at ImmersiveAudioAlbum.com!

At the moment, the only way to buy the Atmos Mix of Who’s Next is to purchase the box set.


Who’s Next The Who /

    • CD 1: Who’s Next (remastered)
      1. Baba O’Riley
      2. Bargain
      3. Love Ain’t For Keeping
      4. My Wife
      5. The Song Is Over
      6. Getting In Tune
      7. Going Mobile
      8. Behind Blue Eyes
      9. Won’t Get Fooled Again
      1. Teenage Wasteland (Demo)*
      2. Too Much (Demo) *
      3. Going Mobile (Demo)*
      4. There’s A Fortune in Those Hills (Demo)*
      5. Love Ain’t For Keeping (Demo)*
      6. Bargain (Demo)*
      7. Greyhound Girl (Demo)*
      8. Mary (Alternate Mix) (Demo)**
      9. Behind Blue Eyes (Demo)*
      10. Time Is Passing (Demo)*
      11. Finally, Over (Demo)**
      12. Baba O’Riley (Original Demo)**
      * Previously released with new remix
      ** Previously unreleased tracks
      1. Pure And Easy (Home Studio Mix) (Demo)*
      2. Getting In Tune (Alternate Mix) (Demo)**
      3. Nothing Is Everything (Let’s See Action) (Demo)*
      4. Won’t Get Fooled Again (Demo)*
      5. Baba O’Riley (Demo)*
      6. Song Is Over (2021 Remix) (Demo)**
      7. Pure And Easy (Olympic Studios Mix) (Demo)**
      8. Mary (Original Mix) (Demo)*
      9. Baba O’Riley (First Editing Demo)**
      10. Song Is Over (Original Demo)*
      * Previously released with new remix
      ** Previously unreleased tracks
      1. Don’t Do It (aka Baby Don’t You Do It) [Take 2, Unedited, March 16, 1971]**
      2. Won’t Get Fooled Again [Take 13, March 16, 1971]*
      3. Behind Blue Eyes (Version 1) [Take 15, March 16, 1971]**
      4. Love Ain’t For Keeping [Take 14, March 17, 1971]*
      5. The Note (aka Pure and Easy) [Take 21, March 17, 1971]*
      6. I’m In Tune (aka Getting in Tune) [Take 6, March 18, 1971*
      7. Behind Blue Eyes (Version 2) [Take 10, March 18, 1971}*
      * Previously released with new remix
      ** Previously unreleased tracks
      1. Pure And Easy*
      2. I Don’t Know Myself [B-side with Unreleased Count-in]
      3. Time Is Passing [Stereo Mix]**
      4. Too Much of Anything [Original 1971 Vocal]**
      5. Naked Eye [1971 Remake]**
      6. Bargain (Early Mix)**
      7. Love Ain’t For Keeping (Unedited Mix)**
      8. My Wife (Unedited Mix)**
      9. Getting In Tune (Take 1 with Jam)**
      10. Going Mobile (Alternate Mix)**
      11. Song Is Over (Backing Track) [with Nicky Hopkins]**
      12. When I Was a Boy**
      13. Let’s See Action (Unedited Mix)**
      14. Relay (Unedited Mix) [Alternate Vocal]**
      15. Put The Money Down [Remix with Original Vocal]*
      16. Join Together [Unedited Remix]**
      * Previously released with new remix
      ** Previously unreleased tracks
    • CD 6: SINGLES & SESSIONS 1970-72
      1. The Seeker (Original Single Mix)
      2. Here For More [Original Single Mix]
      3. Heaven And Hell [New Stereo Mix]**
      4. Water [Eel Pie Sound Studio – New Unedited Mix]**
      5. I Don’t Know Myself [Eel Pie Sound Studio – New Unedited Mix]**
      6. Naked Eye [Eel Pie Sound Studio – New Unedited Mix]**
      7. Postcard [Eel Pie Sound Studio – Original 1970 Mix]**
      8. Now I’m A Farmer [Eel Pie Sound Studio – New Remix]**
      9. The Seeker (Unedited Version)**
      10. Water (IBC Version)**
      11. I Don’t Know Myself (IBC Version)**
      12. Let’s See Action (Original Single Mix)
      13. When I Was a Boy (Original Single Mix)
      14. Join Together  (Original Single Mix)
      15. Relay (Original Single Mix)
      16. Waspman (Original Single Mix)
      17. Long Live Rock (Original Olympic Mix)
      * Previously released with new remix
      ** Previously unreleased tracks
      1. Love Ain’t for Keeping*
      2. Pure And Easy*
      3. Young Man Blues*
      4. Time Is Passing*
      5. Behind Blue Eyes*
      6. I Don’t Even Know Myself*
      7. Too Much of Anything*
      8. Getting In Tune*
      9. Bargain*
      * Previously released with new remix
      ** Previously unreleased tracks
      1. Pinball Wizard**
      2. See Me, Feel Me**
      3. Baby Don’t You Do It*
      4. Water*
      5. My Generation*
      6. (I’m A) Road Runner*
      7. Naked Eye*
      8. Bony Moronie*
      9. Won’t Get Fooled Again*
      * Previously released with new remix
      ** Previously unreleased tracks
      1. Introduction**
      2. I Can’t Explain*
      3. Substitute*
      4. Summertime Blues**
      5. My Wife*
      6. Baba O’Riley**
      7. Behind Blue Eyes*
      8. Bargain*
      9. Won’t Get Fooled Again**
      10. Baby Don’t You Do It*
      11. Magic Bus**
      * Previously released with new remix
      ** Previously unreleased tracks
      1. Introduction To Tommy**
      2. Overture**
      3. Amazing Journey**
      4. Sparks**
      5. Pinball Wizard**
      6. See Me Feel Me**
      7. My Generation**
      8. Naked Eye*
      9. Going Down*
      * Previously released with new remix
      ** Previously unreleased tracks
    • Blu-ray Audio
      Steven Wilson Atmos Mix (48kHz 24-bit)**
      Steven Wilson 5.1 Mix (96kHz 24-bit)**
      Steven Wilson Stereo Mix (96kHz 24-bit)*
      Original 1971 Stereo Mix (96kHz 24-bit)
      1. Baba O’Riley
      2. Bargain
      3. Love Ain’t For Keeping
      4. My Wife
      5. The Song Is Over
      6. Getting In Tune
      7. Going Mobile
      8. Behind Blue Eyes
      9. Won’t Get Fooled Again
      Bonus Tracks: Steven Wilson Atmos Mix (48kHz 24-bit) & Steven Wilson 5.1 Mix (96kHz 24-bit), Steven Wilson Stereo Mix (96kHz 24-bit)*
      1. The Seeker (Unedited Version)**
      2. Here For More*
      3. Now I’m A Farmer**
      4. I Don’t Know Myself (Eel Pie Sound Version)**
      5. Water (IBC Version)**
      6. Naked Eye (Olympic Sound Version)**
      7. Pure And Easy**
      8. Too Much of Anything**
      9. Let’s See Action**
      10. When I Was a Boy**
      11. Join Together (Unedited Version)**
      12. Put The Money Down**
      13. Relay (Unedited Version)**
      14. Long Live Rock**

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