Friday, May 1, 2009

Digital remastering is not always a good thing

Up until about a year and a half ago, I was fooled too. Digitally remastered? Don't believe the hype. Not all digital remasters are bad, but there sure has been a serious epidemic of horrendously offensive sounding remasters in the last 10-15 years or so.

Let's take the Yes catalog, for's been remastered and re-packaged twice now since the original CD releases came out in the 80s. I'm a huge Yes fan so I got suckered into buying them again both times they were reissued. But guess which ones sound the best? The very first batch that were released in the 80s. I kept buying the new ones thinking that the sound had to be even better, but honestly I never even compared the new versions to the old ones to see if that was true.

Are you familiar with the term "loudness war"? Basically, record labels now think their CDs need to be louder than everyone else's in order to compete. Since you can only go so far in terms of the maximum volume a CD can hold before clipping, how do you make it even louder from there? Compression, and lots of it. What does this mean?
  • Little to no dynamic range-- forget about quiet and loud parts, it's all at the same volume now!
  • When loud sounds like drums are squashed, they lose their impact and don't sound as "real."
  • Ear fatigue! Recordings mastered in this manner may sound good at first, but with prolonged listening you will actually notice that it's not very nice on your ears.
When CDs made their debut in the 80s, they promised a much wider dynamic range than was previously possible with records and cassettes. Ironically, they now tend to have a much more limited dynamic range than most LPs, and as a result sound much worse. Basically we have all been sold a bill of goods.

Do a Google search for "loudness war" or "loudness wars" and you will find tons of articles on this subject, most of which will explain it better and in more detail than I have here. Here are a few of them:

No comments:

Post a Comment