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Worst recorded/Mastered Albums

Discussion in 'Music' started by dynasonic, Apr 30, 2010.
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  1. bustersgotavmax
    The CD I have sounds like s@#t ,as well,too bad some good tracks on this.
    u2-howtobuildanatomicbomb-vertigo.jpg vertigo
    cityofblindinglights.jpg  city of blinding lights
    They sound just as they look, over compressed,loud and on the verge of distortion.
  2. GloryUprising
  3. Smeckles
    I know this is an older post, but BJM lives and dies with Anton. And with Anton, you also get his addictions, whether you like it or not.  There's nothing phony about their lo-fi style.  Find the movie DIG! (featuring the Dandy Warhols) and you can see Anton recording, by himself, in the bathroom, on the front step or in the kitchen of whatever house he was squatting in while completely strung out on smack.  (He was homeless for the entire duration of filming DIG!)
    His incredible manic output (like the 3 separate full length albums in 1996) almost by definition means huge swings in production quality, especially on a junkie's shoestring budget.  For a while, he would get up in the middle of the night and record directly in his bedroom using whatever was on hand, which was usually a POS 2 track cassette player, assuming he had pawned his 4-track for dope (which was a good assumption in most cases).  He couldn't exorcise his sickness, so he had to get it out in music.
    Using the '96 albums as an example, Take It From the Man is surprisingly well recorded. On the other hand Thank God For Mental Illness may have been recorded on a potato placed at the bottom of a well-used and dented trashcan.
    That said 2012's BJM release Aufheben is excellent.
    On the other hand, Death Magnetic had some of the worst sound from the best quality equipment I had ever heard.  It was perfect release and statement by the band for their whole tone-deaf post-Napster fiasco. A mess from front to back.  "My lifestyle determines my death style?"  Jiminy Christmas, you guys actually thought that was a clever idea for a lyric? Song? Album?
    For me though, something happened in the mid-to-late 1980's in the UK.  Whether is was some form of sudden deafness or a contagious insanity occurring only in recording engineers, so many albums from that time just sound consistently terrible.  The Sisters of Mercy's goth classic Floodland has practically all the bass and lower midrange sliders pulled almost all the way down, so you can hear a little of what is supposed to be there, but it's more marked by what is missing.  Likewise, early Smiths records have minimal ooomph for Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke's excellent rhythm section work.  Johnny Marr's guitars sound great and are front and center, but the rest doesn't just take a backseat, it's in another car a few miles back.  Peter Murphy's Love Hysteria had a better mix but always sounds completely flat and 2-D which is a shame since "Indigo Eyes" was one of the best tracks of 1980s.
  4. Mr.Sneis
    I always cringe at the thought of Megadeth So Far So Good... So What!  I think it was the original CD release I wanted to rip my headphones off my head and throw them against the wall it hurt so bad.
  5. julian67
    I have to give a special honourable mention to Nigel Kennedy's "The Kennedy Experiece". It may be the sole existing example of a loudness war abomination made using only acoustic instruments. The really upsetting aspect is that the music is inspired, unique and brilliantly played. It's one genius reinterpreting the work of another. The album consists of 6 Jimi Hendrix tracks rearranged for a small string ensemble. They are played with similar brilliance and energy as Jimi Hendrix brought to the originals. Then some of them are bludgeoned to a headache inducing screaming mess in mastering.

    The worlds loudest string ensemble:


    Now there is a bad master that Experience Hendrix LLC would be proud of. That was Purple Haze btw. For comparison here is Jimi Hendrix's Purple Haze from Smash Hits (Japanese Polydor edition):

  6. luckybaer
    I'm surprised stuff by the Black Keys hasn't been mentioned here.  Horrible, and pretty much un-listenable for more than one song on IEMs.
    The new Black Sabbath album is a disappointing mess on the mastering, with most songs checking in at >-9.5dB.  Just listening casually through PC speakers is OK, but tough to handle through headphones or a better speaker system.
  7. hatefulsandwich
    I've found Black Keys disappointing at times, but not entirely unlistenable. However, as you say, when the IEMs get put in.... Argh!

    Just out of interest, what are people using to check waveforms and where the clipping happens and such? I have a few tracks that I feel are badly mastered, but I'm not quite sure how to confirm it. Also, how does one determine that something is over-compressed? Again, I'm certain i hear it, but it would be interesting to be able to pull out the waveforms. It would be great to be able to review albums with more aspects being scrutinized than just, well, the music.

    I'm going to caution a guess here based on me being absolutely unable to listen to them with IEMs - The Hives. I think it might be intentionally distorted and lo-Fi, but they sound absolutely dreadful on anything but speakers (I'm sure many will think they sound dreadful on speakers, too :wink:).

    How is it that so much music gets so badly mastered, especially considering the costs of making these albums? I know some albums are done shoestring budget style, but I'm not talking about those. A lot of these are from big bands and labels with big budgets. Do these over-compressed, distorted messes just pass through unnoticed for some reason?
  8. julian67

    Clipping detection is simple enough. Open the audio file with an audio editor such as the free Audacity and it displays the waveform with clipped sections marked in red. You will see digital clipping in almost any modern non-classical music file even from CD. You will see even more clipping in mp3 or ogg vorbis encodes as lossy encoders tend to raise levels slightly. The clipping you see will not necessarily be audible but it may be. Sometimes it's very obviously audible and you can hear bad distortion.

    Again just look at the waveform. See my previous post. The first waveform is very compressed so that everything is loud. That "brickwall" look is hard to miss. There is a good wikipedia article https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dynamic_range_compression where you can see the same song's waveform in four different masters from 1983 to 2000, getting more compressed and louder each time. It's quite funny that the "worst" and newest of the four (from year 2000) in 2013 looks pretty good, much better than most of the crap that gets sold now.

    I agree that most of these types of hot masters are unlistenable with IEMs. They are a little easier with normal headphones and may be tolerable with speakers. Why do they do it? It used to be so that the hot mastered 45 sounded louder on a radio or jukebox but these days everything is digital and is normalized by the broadcasters, online or traditional MW/FM broadcast, and features such as ReplayGain or Apple's iTunes/iPod SoundCheck render the differences meaningless on many software players and portable devices. Maybe in part it is just a lazy habit.

    On the other hand you have to think that the "artists" have some say, and that it's the artists and ultimately the record companies not the mastering engineers who actually decide. Some very able and talented performers seem happy to make money from extraordinarily bad renditions of their work. How to respect them? I recently heard a radio documentary on Amy Winehouse where Patti Smith sang a song about her (she sounded fantastic btw) and talked about the brilliance of Amy Winehouse's voice. I was prompted to listen to Back to Black. It's mastered so badly that there is obvious distortion - when Winehouse's voice gets loud and powerful the audio clips! This is lossless, not mp3 btw. However on the "Deluxe" double album version it's still a loud master but there is no clipping and you can actually listen to it. So the record company knew the original album was defective and released it anyway, then later released a non-defective version at a premium price.

    Why do they do it? Because they don't care about the music but they do care a lot about maximising the income. Why do it properly when people will buy any old rubbish? What is presented as an artistic endeavour is in truth often a mass market commodity like cheap minced meat or weak gassy beer. The music and bands are made to a recipe by the record company just like a food producer makes 100 different flavours, shapes and brands of potato chips. Most people buying popular music don't even notice or care that it sounds terrible. If some people do complain then they will probably pay over again, so a defective issue by a popular artist can even generate more income than a well mastered album.

    edit: /rant over. ha ha
  9. Davey
    Audacity isn't the best example to use. When you select Show Clipping from the View menu, it will show you in red any peak that hits 0dB, even if not really clipped. For example, you can take a track that shows no clipping, then normalize it to 0dB and you will then see the clipping indicator. To make a more effective determination, you should use the Analyze->Find Clipping module, which is configurable for number of samples (default is 3).
    One could argue that a 0dB peak will potentially be clipped when played back with some DACs because of the inter-sample peaks (the actual music peak will always be higher than the digital sample peak except at low frequencies), but that's another story.
  10. julian67
    Thanks for the comment and additional information.

    I think it's safe enough to assert that any file with a 0dB peak but which is theoretically unclipped, as you describe, will be clipped if subsequently encoded with a lossy encoder*. Which means any CD or lossless audio that matches the "0db peak but unclipped" description already probably sounds horrible is going to be really ugly by the time it's converted to mp3/ogg/m4a as is commonly done.

    *the only exception I can think of is opus as recent versions of the libopus decoder attenuate the level on decode/playback to avoid clipping. I did a quick check with a suitable retail CD derived wav, and lame, ogg vorbis, fraunhofer aac and wavpack lossy all produced a file with many clipped samples while the opus file produced almost none. Top image in each pair is regular Audacity view, bottom is clip analyser result.




    And here is a lossless file from CD (I ripped it to flac from my own CD). It's the same file I mentioned in an earlier post, Jimi Hendrix's First Rays Of The New Rising Sun, track 1 Freedom:


    It sounds as bad as it looks.
  11. hatefulsandwich
    Thanks for that, Julian. I learnt a lot there. Very cool stuff. Now I have another way to spend sleepless nights... scrutinizing the mastering quality of my tracks :).
  12. julian67

    I don't :D But I do take an interest when music sounds terrible from the CD, especially if it's music I enjoyed on vinyl or cassette or older CDs but which now sounds worse than ever in its "improved" form. When I see the word "Remastered" on non-classical music I tend to read it as "Ruined!" or "Avoid This!" or "We Hate Music But Love Money!".
  13. MrTechAgent
    All albums by RHCP and Sufjan Stevens , so poorly mastered makes me sad :frowning2:
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  14. koda
    I know this is an old thread. But have you heard the PREMASTER of Californication album that leaked online? Its not compressed and sounds great. No crack, snapple, pop bs. And its flac. Its pretty wild comparing the two back to back. To bad they just didnt release that version in the first place. I can send you a link if you want it. 

  15. koda

    There is a PREMASTER in flac that sounds great. No snap crackle pop bs. 
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