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Why are remasters so hit and miss? Effects Pedals, Units & Accessories
Old 14th March 2014
  #1
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Why are remasters so hit and miss?

I recently downloaded the 20th anniversary Remaster of Soundgarden Superunknown and after a few days of listening I have come to the conclusion that there is no reason to listen to it over the original. And I am not one of those people who thinks no classic albums should be remastered. In fact, I really felt like Superunknown could benefit from a tasteful modern facelift. Unfortunately, that is NOT what happened and I have a few thoughts and questions as to why!

First off, there have been remasters of albums that were so good that I never bothered listening to the originals again. The remaster of Nine Inch Nails "The Downward Spiral" is a perfect example. This is easily one of my favorite albums of all time and the remaster only added to its longevity for me. It goes deeper and has more detail than the original and just gives me MORE of what I have always loved about the album. The original master just sounds flat and uninteresting compared to the remaster. There are a handful of other remasters that I am totally okay with that "purists" may object to such as the 2001 Thriller remaster. It's certainly more modern, but it doesn't bother me or make me feel the need to listen to the original 1982 version.

The real objection I take with bad remasters is that these classic mixes are KILLER so why can't they be mastered well? Imagine getting the Thriller mixes sent to your inbox to master! You would be absolutely delighted and I can't imagine it would be that hard to make sound great, since it already does.

So what the hell happened with Superunknown? Those mixes seem like they would be a treat to master, and yet the results we are given are terrible. It's crumbly, dark, bloated and small sounding. The fidelity is just off and I find this too be the case with most modern remasters. I thought we lived in an era where everything was overly hyped and maximized sounding? Why is this remaster so dull and boring? If they had just boosted the bottom end and made it a little wider and clearer with a bit more instrument detail (like NIN The Downward Spiral) I would be happy to have it. They didn't even make it THAT loud by today's standards, but you would think it was the loudest album out there based on how terrible and crushed it sounds.

A few other recent examples of mind boggling remasters are Smashing Pumpkins "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness" and Nirvana "In Utero". These sound worse than the originals and basically aren't even louder at all! Mellon Collie sounds crunchy and nasal with virtually no added volume and In Utero is actually quieter and darker than the original version. What was the point of this? Mellon Collie was always a bit underdone and dark to my ears and could use a proper remaster. In Utero could be have been brought out a little bit too and I would have been totally okay with it but they just made it flat and boring without adding any level.

Sometimes I wonder if there was something about the CD mastering process in the 90's that just doesn't exist now. I have spoken with people who are familiar with that era of mastering and it seems there may be something to it, but I couldn't tell you what it is or why. All I know is that there is a fidelity and image to them that sounds right to me and it seems like that is lost these days. And I don't think it is just because they are quieter. I hear quiet masters on modern albums occasionally and I am usually underwhelmed.

I actually like it when a good mix is pushed to it's natural point of loudness. I am FAR from a purist in this regard. I just can't understand why classic mixes can't be mastered to sound great in 2014.
Old 15th March 2014
  #2
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And for every one of these you mention, someone will disagree and like "the other one" better.

I have always thought it would be interesting to give the same mix to 10 top mastering houses, and then compare.
Old 15th March 2014
  #3
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I understand that some examples are polarizing (especially Thriller since it so classic and from an older era than the other examples) but the other examples I have listed here are pretty cut and dry and indicative of an odd and seemingly unnecessary trend. Debating remasters as a whole is NOT my aim here.

Are you familiar with the examples I mentioned?
Old 15th March 2014
  #4
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Well I'm pretty sure you can piece together the reason why this is taking place..

Didn't Dave Collins do the original super unknown? Would be interesting to see him weigh in..
Old 15th March 2014
  #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Umulamahri View Post
Well I'm pretty sure you can piece together the reason why this is taking place..

Didn't Dave Collins do the original super unknown? Would be interesting to see him weigh in..
What exactly an I supposed to be piecing together? There isn't any reason that an appropriately updated version of Superunknown couldn't be made. Other albums have had what I would call "successful" remasters, so why not Superunknown? Who benefits from making the remaster sound bad?
Old 15th March 2014
  #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shelterr View Post
Who benefits from making the remaster sound bad?

The record label execs who demanded it.
Old 15th March 2014
  #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The_K_Man View Post
The record label execs who demanded it.
This isn't an anit-loudness crusade I'm on here. I don't care if they make Superunknown louder as long as it sounds good. And since great mixes get loud pretty easily most of time, why isn't this the case with Superunknown?
Old 15th March 2014
  #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shelterr View Post
This isn't an anit-loudness crusade I'm on here. I don't care if they make Superunknown louder as long as it sounds good. And since great mixes get loud pretty easily most of time, why isn't this the case with Superunknown?
I'm just stating economic facts here.
Old 15th March 2014
  #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The_K_Man View Post
I'm just stating economic facts here.
You surely are not. You are endorsing an agenda you have that may overlap with what I'm trying to figure out, but is far from the same thing.

I'm saying that if there are albums being mixed today that get quality loud masters (approved by the same record execs). And I would have to assume that most of these mixes are not as great of mixes as Superunknown. So why isn't Superunknown entitled to a quality modern master? The label would not be against a BETTER sounding loud, modern master of their products...I'm quite sure of this.
Old 15th March 2014
  #10
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I don't think I'm alone in saying the original mastering of the album is highly regarded. Easily one of the best sounding albums of the era in my book. That's Dave Collins if memory serves.
Old 15th March 2014
  #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shelterr View Post
You surely are not. You are endorsing an agenda you have that may overlap with what I'm trying to figure out, but is far from the same thing.

I'm saying that if there are albums being mixed today that get quality loud masters (approved by the same record execs). And I would have to assume that most of these mixes are not as great of mixes as Superunknown. So why isn't Superunknown entitled to a quality modern master? The label would not be against a BETTER sounding loud, modern master of their products...I'm quite sure of this.
He never mentioned loudness at all. He's making the point that there is literally no musical reason to remaster stuff. It exists in a time and place and a remaster is just a cheap way to sell a product again by diluting its authenticity.
Old 15th March 2014
  #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by stringbean View Post
he never mentioned loudness at all. He's making the point that there is literally no musical reason to remaster stuff. It exists in a time and place and a remaster is just a cheap way to sell a product again by diluting its authenticity.

thank you!
Old 15th March 2014
  #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by StephenMarsh View Post
I don't think I'm alone in saying the original mastering of the album is highly regarded. Easily one of the best sounding albums of the era in my book. That's Dave Collins if memory serves.

Thank You!
Old 15th March 2014
  #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by StringBean View Post
He never mentioned loudness at all. He's making the point that there is literally no musical reason to remaster stuff. It exists in a time and place and a remaster is just a cheap way to sell a product again by diluting its authenticity.
I get that, but since they are going to do it anyway, why can't these remasters be better executed?
Old 15th March 2014
  #15
For all the same reasons that so many (not re) masters sound like ****. I can understand a re-master of an album that was originally on vinyl or tape (like the Paranoid remaster), but remastering CDs do not bring benefits of heightening the fidelity of the sound.
I heard an opinion that its the same old flock instinct - making a record "modern" meaning making it loud and squashed.
Old 15th March 2014
  #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Orson Maxwell View Post
For all the same reasons that so many (not re) masters sound like ****. I can understand a re-master of an album that was originally on vinyl or tape (like the Paranoid remaster), but remastering CDs do not bring benefits of heightening the fidelity of the sound.
I heard an opinion that its the same old flock instinct - making a record "modern" meaning making it loud and squashed.
I understand this also, but I don't agree with the idea that an album can't be made better by remastering. As I said, I feel like the remaster on The Downward Spiral is actually better than the original. I even pointed out examples that weren't louder, just worse sounding.
Old 15th March 2014
  #17
Well, I guess "better" is just a subjective quality.
Old 15th March 2014
  #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shelterr View Post
I understand this also, but I don't agree with the idea that an album can't be made better by remastering. As I said, I feel like the remaster on The Downward Spiral is actually better than the original. I even pointed out examples that weren't louder, just worse sounding.

And this is where the question of what processes constitute remastering and which don't should be asked.
Old 15th March 2014
  #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Orson Maxwell View Post
Well, I guess "better" is just a subjective quality.
I understand that. I just have a hard time understanding why classic mixes can't be mastered to sound good in a modern context. It would make sense if there were NO good sounding modern records, but people make good, loud records all the time. Maybe modern records would sound even better if they had the 1994 Superunknown treatment?
Old 21st May 2014
  #20
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I am so absolutely pissed off about this right now.

I just bought the Rhino Doo Wop Box 2, and it turns out that instead of making the tracks sound even a teensy bit like the originals, with all their wonderful organic variety, they processed them to all sound identical and ran them into a hard limiter all exactly the same.

It's torture to listen to. It's like listening to a row of appliances.

I am seriously disappointed. They could have cleaned the tracks up without ruining them.

And worse, Walter DeVenne's name is on it (he did all those Relic LPs), who years ago was quoted as saying that reissues should maintain the sound that made the records successful in the first place.

Old 21st May 2014
  #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lame pseudonym View Post
I am so absolutely pissed off about this right now.

I just bought the Rhino Doo Wop Box 2, and it turns out that instead of making the tracks sound even a teensy bit like the originals, with all their wonderful organic variety, they processed them to all sound identical and ran them into a hard limiter all exactly the same.

It's torture to listen to. It's like listening to a row of appliances.

I am seriously disappointed. They could have cleaned the tracks up without ruining them.

And worse, Walter DeVenne's name is on it (he did all those Relic LPs), who years ago was quoted as saying that reissues should maintain the sound that made the records successful in the first place.

Classic example of why I avoid "remasters" in principle.

What year of release is listed on those particular Rhinos?
Old 24th May 2014
  #22
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This one, the Doo Wop Box 2, is copyright 1996.
Old 24th May 2014
  #23
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Remastering

Quote:
Originally Posted by Orson Maxwell View Post
I can understand a re-master of an album that was originally on vinyl or tape (like the Paranoid remaster), but remastering CDs do not bring benefits of heightening the fidelity of the sound.
It can if it's from a better quality source than the previous issue (eg the original master tapes previously not found or made available) and/or via improved conversion (ADC, SRC). Processing in remastering is still secondary to the above, and still at the approval of the artist/producer.

Just two prominent examples: Peter Gabriel's "So" was remastered a second time from his original tapes to be more true to them (less EQ'd) than the previous CD remaster. And IIRC, Springsteen's latest remasters were for the first time done from tape transfers via the Plangent Process – as many of us wish was always the case.
Old 24th May 2014
  #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lame pseudonym View Post
This one, the Doo Wop Box 2, is copyright 1996.
Run the catalog#(on the spine of the case) on Discogs. That might tell you exactly when your copy of that set came out.

I'm quite surprised they'd be brick walling stuff like that that far back.
Old 25th May 2014
  #25
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It's true that most remastering is marketing. And even when it's not, the artists are older and going deaf or too famous to let go of control. Occasionally something good happens.

I would love to remaster a lot of 80s CD releases, Steely Dan for example. Would not be the same, some would like it some would not.

It's all very dicey ... altering the definitive state of a work.




And don't forget the insanity which is HD tracks. lol As if 96k matters for pop music, or for anything outside of the most dynamic acoustic music. Converters matter, engineering matters, sample rate does not. Converters sound like they sound.
Old 25th May 2014
  #26
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Lucey wrote: "I would love to remaster a lot of 80s CD releases, Steely Dan for example. Would not be the same, some would like it some would not."

Why?
Old 25th May 2014
  #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The_K_Man View Post
Run the catalog#(on the spine of the case) on Discogs. That might tell you exactly when your copy of that set came out.

I'm quite surprised they'd be brick walling stuff like that that far back.
They've been brick walling stuff since at least 1992, which is when the first Waves L1 hardware limiter came out, I believe (could be wrong, anyone know the exact date/year?)
Old 25th May 2014
  #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The_K_Man View Post
Lucey wrote: "I would love to remaster a lot of 80s CD releases, Steely Dan for example. Would not be the same, some would like it some would not."

Why?
Because music is subjective! E.g. some of my friends hate The Doors "L.A. Woman" reissue from a few years back (it was remixed from the original tapes AND remastered), they say it sounds too reverby and modern, and has too much high end. I, on the other hand, (who have been listening to the original vinyl pressing since the 70's), way prefer the new version. Never has so much detail been revealed, I love it, blah blah blah. Same with the 2009 Beatles remasters. I prefer them to the original vinyl versions, but I know loads of people who do not. Taste is subjective.
Old 25th May 2014
  #29
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Originally Posted by shelterr View Post
...
I am with you in all your points made.

didnt have heard Superunknown, but I know of other examples. sometimes it seems to be so, that remasters (sometimes!) are done while lunch break. I have heard things, that sound like someone has pushed them through AAMS and called it a day.

on the other hand are the Alan Parsons Project remasterings perfect. more perfect than the originals. I can say that only for Tales Of Mystery, for that I own the orginal LP, the first CD and now the remastered version, but I assume all the other works are similar stellar remastered.

but in a time when Neil Young comes up with this ultra-crap voice-o-mat b§$%sh$% at the same time he is marketing this other Pono b%&/sh"§ and you have no.1s in the charts that sound like "oh, my god, now my twenty year old kitchen radio is gone" you know for sure one thing: that you never know. you dont know which idiot A&R from which label or publisher has made the decision to let the mastering engineer overwork Superunknown for the third time, because the A&R had some bad weekends in a row and took too many of the wrong bad pills and was dumped by his girlfriend and listens privately to EDM.

so thzere is in the end one guy who decides what sees the light of day and what not. and the percentage of idiots without any clue amongst the decision-makers is high.
Old 25th May 2014
  #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Babaluma View Post
Because music is subjective! E.g. some of my friends hate The Doors "L.A. Woman" reissue from a few years back (it was remixed from the original tapes AND remastered), they say it sounds too reverby and modern, and has too much high end. I, on the other hand, (who have been listening to the original vinyl pressing since the 70's), way prefer the new version. Never has so much detail been revealed, I love it, blah blah blah. Same with the 2009 Beatles remasters. I prefer them to the original vinyl versions, but I know loads of people who do not. Taste is subjective.


Yes, taste is subjective, but the classics(I.E. your Doors example) are eternal. Decisions to remaster or otherwise alter the version available to the average record buyer affect how folks in the future will interpret them based upon that altered sound. I respectfully consider those future listeners over my personal desire to make something from 1970 or '80 sound 'better' - considering how often the term remastering has been applied to simple brickwall & gain practices.


Should we add 40 stories and a more "modern" spire to NY's Empire State Bldg because it is no longer in the top-5 tallest buildings in the world? Would that make it 'compete' with things like Dubai Tower or Petronas in Malaysia?


Shall we reduce the Tower Of Pisa from 3.97deg to only one degree of total lean? Remove the famous crack in the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia?


That is my perception of remastering in general, and not much could pursuade me otherwise. And of course, remastering projects serve a more significant goal - making you money.
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