Remastered to be crap

For Christmas, my wife got the remastered edition of the original Battlestar Galactica score (we’re talking 1970s, Stu Phillips – with a bonus disco version of the theme song!)
It should have been great.  I already have it on CD, but that CD sounds like someone stuck a microphone next to the speakers on a LP player and put that on the CD, so I had high hopes for a remastered version.  It was crap.  Yes, it’s cleaner, crisper – and completely lacking in the bottom end.

The punch of the low notes on the brass – gone.  Turning the bass boost all the way up does nothing.  It’s all treble, all the time.  The lower end (and even the lower end of the middle) is so faint it might as well be missing.  What were they thinking?

Other remastered albums suffer from the same problem – my favorite metal band Queensrÿche had their back catalog remastered, and while the results aren’t bad, they suffer from (as TV Tropes calls it) “Record of Loudness War” problems (for those not willing to click through, the remastering involved “break[ing] out the dynamic range compression, which squashes every bit up to the same volume level . . . The often-used analogy here is that of attempting to read a text written entirely in capitals with a huge font … it can result in severe clipping, unpleasant and harsh-sounding distortion that happens when the signal is pushed to the saturation point . . . the practice is sometimes known as “brickwalling” in audiophile circles” – this can be fine for some extreme forms of metal, but not any band that actually has any sort of nuance to their music).

However, there are good remasters out there.  I’m a fan of Irish folk group the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, and their “Live at Carnegie Hall” album is wonderfully remastered.  I’ve heard older versions of the concert, and the digital remastering is so clear and clean, it sounds like it was recorded on modern equipment.  It’s great.


Any good/bad remasterings anyone out there is aware of?

5 thoughts on “Remastered to be crap

  1. Too bad this is still going on – they were saying last year the trend had peaked and mastering wasn’t getting so much cut off to be louder. Honestly I can’t figure out why they do this.

  2. Interestingly there’s a full Wiki entry on the topic.

    This practice has been condemned by several recording industry professionals including Alan Parsons, Geoff Emerick[22] (noted for his work with The Beatles from Revolver to Abbey Road), and mastering engineers Doug Sax,[3] Steve Hoffman, and many others, including music audiophiles, hi-fi enthusiasts, and fans. Musician Bob Dylan has also condemned the practice, saying: “You listen to these modern records, they’re atrocious, they have sound all over them. There’s no definition of nothing, no vocal, no nothing, just like—static.” Nonetheless, the compact disc editions of Dylan’s more recent albums Modern Times and Together Through Life are examples of heavy dynamic range compression.[23]

    When music is broadcast by a radio station, the station will apply its own signal processing, which further reduces the dynamic range of the broadcast material to closely match levels of absolute amplitude, regardless of the original record loudness.[24]

    Opponents have also called for immediate changes in the music industry regarding the level of loudness. In August 2006, the vice-president of A&R for One Haven Music, a Sony Music company, in an open letter decrying the loudness war, claimed that mastering engineers are being forced against their will or are preemptively making releases louder in order to get the attention of industry heads.[4] Some bands are being petitioned by the public to re-release their music with less distortion.[22]

    The nonprofit organization Turn Me Up! was created by Charles Dye, John Ralston and Allen Wagner to certify albums that contain a suitable level of dynamic range[25] and encourage the sale of quieter records by placing a “Turn Me Up!” sticker on albums that have a larger dynamic range.[26] The group has not yet arrived at an objective method for determining what will be certified.[27]

    Hearing experts, such as a hearing researcher at House Ear Institute in Los Angeles, are also concerned that the loudness of new albums could possibly harm listeners’ hearing, particularly that of children.[26]

    A 2-minute YouTube video addressing this issue by audio engineer Matt Mayfield[28] has been referenced by The Wall Street Journal[29] and The Chicago Tribune.[30] Pro Sound Web quoted Mayfield: “When there is no quiet, there can be no loud.”[31]
    The book Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music (Faber, 2009), by Greg Milner presents the Loudness war in radio and music production as a central theme. The book Mastering Audio: The Art and the Science (2nd Edition, Focal Press, 2007), by Bob Katz, includes a chapter about the origins of the loudness war and another suggesting methods of combatting the war, based on Katz’s presentation at the 107th Audio Engineering Convention (1999) and his Audio Engineering Society Journal publication (2000).[32]

    I halfway wonder if the industry wasn’t able to get away with this for so long because everyone was listening with 128k MP3s and couldn’t tell the problem.

  3. The size of the memory on the MP3 player has nothing to do with it, but I suspect the quality of the headphones does. Some MP3 players just don’t go up very loud. I think this is intentional, to avoid any lawsuits over people ruining their hearing. But if you have recordings on your MP3 player downloaded from multiple sources (as most people do) you can tell that some albums are recorded at a very different level, and with a very different dynamic range, than the others.

  4. 128k refers to the bit rate. Not the memory on the player. 128k does have noticeable compression artifacts. 256k VBR (variable bit rate) files typically have far fewer. Most players do have artificial limits on volume which is pretty annoying when you’re using the headphone jack to plug into a car. Fortunately if you jailbreak the iPhone you can disable the limiter.

  5. It’s not just loudness wars, though – the BSG soundtrack does not suffer from Loudness problems – the bottom half of the aural spectrum is so faint as to be basically missing. There is at least a (sort of not really) justification for the loudness problem – but dropping out the bass makes no sense.

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