Van Morrison / Moondance Dolby Atmos Mix reviewed

How good is Steven Wilson’s new Atmos Mix?

Van Morrison / Moondance Dolby Atmos review

Jonathan Cornell on the new Steven Wilson Dolby Atmos mix of Van Morrison’s Moondance.

Moondance (1970) was Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison’s third studio album, recorded at legendary producer Phil Ramone’s A&R studios in New York City and mixed by then-novice staff engineer Elliot Scheiner (who’d go on to work with Steely Dan, Toto, The Eagles, and other notable acts). Whereas his prior album Astral Weeks (1968) failed to immediately attain critical or commercial success, Moondance cemented Morrison as one of the great singer-songwriter acts of the early 1970s.

Fans may recall that in 2013, Warner/Rhino issued a 4CD/Blu-Ray deluxe edition of Moondance featuring a new 5.1 surround sound mix by Scheiner. The new 2023 standalone Blu-Ray edition of Moondance contains not only the same high-resolution stereo remaster and 5.1 mix from the 2013 set, but also new stereo, instrumental, and Dolby Atmos mixes from Steven Wilson. Interestingly enough, it was through working with Scheiner on the 5.1 mix of Porcupine Tree’s In Absentia way back in 2002 that Wilson was first introduced to the idea of immersive music.

As is often the case in his 5.1 surround mixes, Scheiner’s multi-channel interpretation of the album drops the listener in the centre of the band with key musical elements such as acoustic guitar, backing vocals, piano, horns, and even the drums in ‘Crazy Love’ isolated in the rear speakers. Van Morrison’s vocals are woven into all speakers, but appear most prominently in the front channels. It’s also= noticeably drier than the original 1970 stereo version, which I felt somewhat took away the album’s trademark ‘warmth’ and ethereal vibe.

“The album was recorded onto eight-track, one-inch analog tape. This was the newest format at the time and the cutting edge, believe it or not. The eight tracks were relegated to one track of drums, one for bass, one for keyboards, Van’s vocal on one, Van’s guitar on one, backgrounds on one, and the last one for horns. I thought it wouldn’t be easy to take an eight-track master and make a 5.1 version, but it’s amazing how great it turned out. I hope enough people get an opportunity to hear this version. After 44 years, this music still holds up and commands your attention”

Elliot Scheiner, 2013

Similar to his recent Dolby Atmos mixes of The Who’s Who’s Next (read the review) and The Grateful Dead’s American Beauty – both titles of a similar vintage – Steven Wilson’s immersive take on the album spreads the instrumentation far and wide, carrying over many of the hard pans from the original stereo release. The addition of the side surround and height speakers in Atmos allows him to take the ‘listener in-the-centre-of-the-band’ concept even further, making this the ultimate Moondance experience.

‘And It Stoned Me’ immediately fills up the entire soundstage with the rhythm section upfront, vocal in the centre channel, acoustic guitars in the sides, piano mostly in the left rear surround, and horns taking up both the front right and rear right height speakers. The thick plate reverb that was key to the sound of Moondance is back and now reassigned to the height channels, giving the vocals a multi-dimensional quality not found in the prior 5.1 mix.

The Moondance blu-ray audio features the Atmos Mix, a 5.1 mix, new stereo mix and 2013 remastered stereo (click to order a copy)

Moving into the classic title song, the iconic piano melody mostly emanates from the right side speaker accompanied by an acoustic guitar floating off to the left. Horns extend upward from the rear surrounds up into the heights (flute on the left, brass on the right), while the sax solo hovers between the centre channel and front heights.

Van Morrison’s vocal is almost completely isolated in the centre channel for ‘Crazy Love’, while vibes emanate mostly from the left side speaker and the backing vocals appear suspended between the rear surrounds and rear heights. The rhythm section, originally pushed way off to the left side of the stereo image, is now centered in the front channels. Piano from the side left speaker brings us into ‘Caravan’, as the drums thunder in from upfront and acoustic guitar floats off to the right. Horns and backing vocals emerge from the rear heights, while a second acoustic guitar part pops up in the left rear speaker towards the end.

“Think of [the Atmos mix] as a new perspective on something familiar, a version that plays with the possibilities of spatial audio rather than trying to sound as if you’re sitting in the performance space with the band (which is kind of the approach that Elliot’s mix took). This is my interpretation, made with love and respect for the masterpiece that is Moondance, and I hope you enjoy it”

Steven Wilson

‘Into The Mystic’, perhaps my favourite song on the album, is another highlight with the acoustic guitars again filling up the side surrounds and the ‘foghorn whistle’ brass in the height speakers. Piano floats over your left shoulder and tambourine off to the right, both elements slightly elevated into the height array. Morrison’s voice seems to extend a bit further out into the room during this song, perhaps to cover up the vocal bleed in one of the guitar parts (as revealed in the instrumental mix).

Percussion from the left rear speaker complements the rhythm section upfront throughout ‘Come Running’, with horns mostly in the right rear height speaker and backing vocals over to the left. Harmonica then pops up from behind for ‘These Dreams Of You’, while the sax solo comes blaring from the front heights.

‘Brand New Day’ again features backing vocals from Judy Clay and Cissy Houston in the rear height speakers. Electric and acoustic guitar parts alternate between the side speakers, while the piano appears centered in the rears. Perhaps my one gripe with the Atmos mix is that the piano solo in this song is quite buried in comparison to past versions, coming off almost like a ghost in the mix.

Clavinet from the left side speaker kicks off ‘Everyone’, quickly joined by an acoustic guitar over on the right side and Van’s centered vocal. Flute appears mainly in the left rear height speaker, but switches to the front heights for the solo.

‘Glad Tidings’ then closes out the album in glorious fashion with handclaps and horns raining down from above, while Morrison’s overdubbed harmony vocals alternate left-centre-right in the rear surround speakers. That said, one fun touch I do miss from Scheiner’s 5.1 mix is the handclaps at the beginning of the song playfully rotating from speaker-to-speaker around the room.

Though the music has now been spread over twelve speakers instead of merely two (in a 7.1.4 set-up), I feel Wilson has succeeded in maintaining and even enhancing the intimate atmosphere of the original production. If you close your eyes, at times it almost sounds as if you could be sitting at a campfire surrounded by these great musicians. Needless to say, this reissue comes highly recommended to fans of Moondance and immersive audio.

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

The Moondance Dolby Atmos Mix is available on blu-ray audio and is in stock and ready to ship from the SDE shop. Place an order using this link or simply use the ‘buy button’ below. Other blu-ray audios, including exclusive titles, can be found on the blu-ray audio section of the SDE shop.


Moondance Van Morrison /

    • 2022 Atmos Mix
      2013 96/24 5.1 Mix
      2022 96/24 Steven Wilson Remix
      2013 192/24 Remastered Stereo
      2022 96/24 Steven Wilson Instrumental Mix
      1. AND IT STONED ME  [4:30]
      2. MOONDANCE  [4:35]
      3. CRAZY LOVE  [2:34]
      4. CARAVAN  [4:57]
      5. INTO THE MYSTIC  [3:25]
      6. COME RUNNING  [2:30]
      7. THESE DREAMS OF YOU  [3:50]
      8.  BRAND NEW DAY  [5:09]
      9.  EVERYONE  [3:31]
      10.  GLAD TIDINGS  [3:13]

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