Remasters: good or bad?
Feb 28, 2007 at 9:57 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 16

Vic

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This is one for the ones into sound quality/good productions.
I generally find remastered versions of CD to be better than the originals, sometimes much better (for example Pavement "Crooked rain, crooked rain" expanded version, or the box set Joy division "Hearth and soul"), in rare occasion I have found a few inferiour to the original.
I have read in this forum of people saying that most remasters are terrible.

I would be interested in your experiences. So fire ahead your best and worst remasters
 
Feb 28, 2007 at 10:10 PM Post #2 of 16

kramer5150

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I am wondering the same thing?? The general consensus is that remastered albums compress dynamics. Is that ALWAYS the case?... or are there some remastered albums that have been cleaned up, yet retain dynamics.

I went to best buy the other day looking for some Ray charles, and Willie Nelson... and darn near everything has been remastered
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Is it worth the effort to hunt the used record stores to find original, un-remastered CD recordings?
 
Feb 28, 2007 at 10:17 PM Post #3 of 16

markl

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The problem with most (90% of "remasters" of old material and 90% of new releases) is something called the "Loudness War". You can watch this short video to understand this and why it's bad for music:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Gmex_4hreQ


There are many reasons that are "forcing" mastering engineers to make extremely LOUD masters with zero dynamic range, too many to go into. Artists want it LOUD to be "competitive" with the latest release from a competing band, record companies want it LOUDER to jump out of the radio, or to be the loudest thing on your iPod to make you stop and listen.

The problem is that to the average guy on the street, LOUDER is "better" (shown time and again in blind studies). So, to the average guy, remasters are better precisely for the reason many audiophiles hate them.

For us audiophiles, many of us are re-discovering and re-evaluating the ancient mid-80s early first CD pressings of music titles. In many cases, they are honest flat transfers of master tape. There was no way to compress the music back then, and engineers applied very little EQ so you get to hear the master tape warts and all.

There are newer technologies ("No-Noise") which strip out the tape hiss on analog recordings. Average guy on the street complains-- "hey this old Miles Davis recording has tape hiss- YUCK".
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Well, what did you expect dumb-ass? So No-Noise gets applied which KILLS MUSIC. You can't just strip out tape hiss, you also remove elements of the music. The result is a canned, phony "digital" processed sound. But hey-- no more tape hiss...
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So, here we have modern digital equipment that in the right hands could be producing legitimate remasters of older recordings and making them sound MUCH better than the original CD versions from the mid-80s and the Dark Ages of digital.

But wrecking this potential is the current need for mastering engineers to use hyped smiley faced EQ and worst of all, COMPRESSION to maximixe the LOUDNESS allowed by 16-bit CDs and then stripping out tape hiss with No-Noise.
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It's been argued that most modern CDs are "defective" because they contain no dynamic range at all.

The other problem is that the current generation who have only been listening to music since the mid-90s knows of no other world except that of MAXIMIXED, LOUD CDs. That sounds "normal" to them, and older CDs will sound too quiet and distant and muffled.


To them I say-- it's called a VOLUME KNOB. It is your friend.
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P.S. This is why labels like Mobile Fidelity and Audio Fidelity (Steve Hoffman) exist. When you buy one of their expertly-mastered discs, you are getting the most honest presentation of the music, prepared by the best people in the business.
 
Feb 28, 2007 at 10:21 PM Post #4 of 16

Vic

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Quote:

Originally Posted by kramer5150 /img/forum/go_quote.gif
Is it worth the effort to hunt the used record stores to find original, un-remastered CD recordings?


Well in theory a remastered version should be an improved one, for different reasons:
- The technology should have improved in recent years
- During the 80's, CD quality was generally extremely bad, as most engineers were at the beginning of the learning curve. IMO the average quality of a CD is much better now (at least when the recording company pays a bit of attention to it)
- A remastered or special edition should be aimed toward the audiophile community in order to squeeze a few more sales outside the mainstream market who really don't care at all about sound quality.

Having said that, I often complain about the appalling sound quality of "Mass romantic" by the New Pornographers, one of the worst recorded CDs ever. Borat in this forum told me that there is a version remastered in 2003 (the first release is from 2001). I double checked and the version I have is the remastered one
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. So I wander what the remastering was all about.
 
Feb 28, 2007 at 10:28 PM Post #5 of 16

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Quote:

Originally Posted by markl /img/forum/go_quote.gif
The problem with most (90% of "remasters" of old material and 90% of new releases) is something called the "Loudness War"...


Excellent very informative post Markl.
I am aware of the lodness war, which kills the dynamic range and is one of the aspect of bad recordings.
Can you give some examples in your direct experience of remasters of older CDs that improve or worsen the overall quality?
 
Feb 28, 2007 at 10:35 PM Post #6 of 16

markl

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Quote:

During the 80's, CD quality was generally extremely bad, as most engineers were at the beginning of the learning curve.


This is simply not true. Yes, D/A conversion was not what it is today. But back in the day, the cream of the mastering crop (they all came from the vinyl side) were working on CDs. They had great ears but they also did not have the modern tools to wreck a CD. It was a matter of loading the tape up, hitting "play" and transferring it to digital. Voila--- one CD, un-fussed, un-messed with. Pure master tape.

However, yes, it is true that in some cases, incorrect tapes or second or 3rd gen tapes were used to make some early CDs. But that's still true today.

It's also important to consider what was the condition of a bona-fide master tape of Jimi Hendrix in 1985 vs. what shape that tape is in today? Analog tapes of all our prized music are rapidly deteriorating. A 1985 CD will preserve that tape in higher quality than it will sound today.

As a side note, that's actually the chief reason Sony developed SACD as a means of "perfectly" preserving in digital all of their crumbling analog tape "assets".
 
Feb 28, 2007 at 10:52 PM Post #7 of 16

markl

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Quote:

I am aware of the lodness war, which kills the dynamic range and is one of the aspect of bad recordings.
Can you give some examples in your direct experience of remasters of older CDs that improve or worsen the overall quality?


Almost all modern remasters or new releases have some degree of compression. Here's where it gets sticky.

There are cases where the over-use of compression is a legitimate artistic choice. I'm think of Primal Scream's incredible album XTRMNTR. The ridiculous levels of compression serves that material. It's supposed to be abrasive, sand-blasted, and a physical assault on your ears. That matches the theme of the album.

But when you take an old analog recording by the likes of Frank Sintra and make it sound like XTRMNTR, you've screwed up, but that happens again and again.

Yes, there are degrees of compression. Yes, every single recording you've ever listened to has used some kind of analog or digital compressor. Rock 'N Roll would not sound like it does without compression, and ancient analog compressors have been in use since the 1950s. In fact, it's been argued that the sound of rock IS COMPRESSION.

But all that was before the age of digital. 16-bits only gives you so much dynamic range to play with. Now on CD, there's a maximum ceiling on how LOUD you can make a 16-bit CD. You compress too far, you shave off the maximum peak levels. After 11, in Spinal Tap terms, there's nowhere for Redbook CD to go volume-wise. So, everything becomes as loud as everything else, in a horrible buzz-cut jumble.

OK, I'm getting off track. There is an acceptable amount of compression that can be added by a mastering engineer. But we can all tell when it goes over the line.

So, long story short, yes, there are modern "remasters", even those with a moderate amount of compression applied that will sound much better than the original CDs of yore.

However, in many cases, we need to re-evaluate and go back to the original Japan-pressed and West Germany pressed original first edition CDs. The market in these CDs is exploding as people recognize their value as rare collectables and as superior-sounding versions to what we have today.

There are many sellers specializing in these old hard-to-find releases on ebay, you should check. They don't all sound great, but you might be amazed at how much better many of them sound than CDs of today.
 
Mar 1, 2007 at 4:32 AM Post #9 of 16

TheMarchingMule

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Quote:

Originally Posted by winged creature /img/forum/go_quote.gif
wait are you saying that cd's pressed in japan sound better then the ones pressed here??


Somebody bought a Tool album (10,000 Days) US and Japan release; no difference (to his ears, at least).

Also, it also greatly depends WHO does the remastering.

Steve Hoffman's remasters are very good...I prefer his over MFSL in the Who's Next CD.
 
Mar 1, 2007 at 12:20 PM Post #10 of 16

Joshatdot

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Quote:

Originally Posted by markl /img/forum/go_quote.gif
The problem with most (90% of "remasters" of old material and 90% of new releases) is something called the "Loudness War". You can watch this short video to understand this and why it's bad for music:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Gmex_4hreQ

P.S. This is why labels like Mobile Fidelity and Audio Fidelity (Steve Hoffman) exist. When you buy one of their expertly-mastered discs, you are getting the most honest presentation of the music, prepared by the best people in the business.



Whoa! what a huge difference!

I could google, but is there a site where I can find those expert master/remaster discs?
 
Mar 1, 2007 at 2:17 PM Post #11 of 16

markl

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Quote:

wait are you saying that cd's pressed in japan sound better then the ones pressed here??


The earliest Cds were pressed in Japan and West germany because there weren't any pressing plants here in the USA. These early discs contain unique masterings that in general are very honest and with no compression applied.

Quote:

I could google, but is there a site where I can find those expert master/remaster discs?


http://www.stevehoffman.tv/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=2
 
Mar 1, 2007 at 3:07 PM Post #12 of 16
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When I am interested in buying a CD or SACD, particularly an older recording that has several different versions, I go to the Steve Hoffman forums and do a search for that band/musician. I have yet to fail to find a thread for "best version of <x album>"

My handle over there is 81828384, but I am a supreme lurker with 0 posts.
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So far I've used the sh.tv forums solely as as resource. Particularly when it comes to SACDs, which can be expensive, I never purchase blindly. I always do my research first.
 
Mar 1, 2007 at 5:51 PM Post #13 of 16

Whitebread

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I took a quick look at some of my favorite songs and compared it to some hi rez recordings I got from a public server 2 days ago......I nearly cried. It really is a damn shame what they are doing to the dynamic range of music these days.
 
Mar 1, 2007 at 6:10 PM Post #14 of 16

Whitebread

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I need to get a hold of my fathers late 80's early 90's UK reggae LP's so I can really hear what Aswad and The Reggae Philharmonic orchestra wanted me to hear.......
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Mar 1, 2007 at 6:50 PM Post #15 of 16

Vic

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Quote:

Originally Posted by markl /img/forum/go_quote.gif
P.S. This is why labels like Mobile Fidelity and Audio Fidelity (Steve Hoffman) exist. When you buy one of their expertly-mastered discs, you are getting the most honest presentation of the music, prepared by the best people in the business.


Mark. I just checked the catalogues of MF and AF and I would love to try some of their releases, the problem is that their catalogue is extremely tiny ( about a dozen of CD each) and they don't have one single CD that interest me even remotely.
In the Audio Fidelity forum I have seen people requesting to release albums by Radiohead and Pixies and the guy who is in charge of choising the releases said that he does not think those bands have enough appeal on the US market when all they have in catalogue is Strawbs and Bad Company
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