3/5: ‘DIGITALLY REMASTERED”, WORTH IT?

I’m often asked by fans are digitally remastered CDs worth purchasing if you have the original CD of the album in question. As you know labels started making a big deal over remastered CDs over ten years ago in an attempt to spike catalog sales that were dwindling and also to upgrade the sound levels to fit the then emerging Ipod listening. The answer to the question though is complicated and really case by case. Most fans don’t even know what “mastering” is. In the recording of a new album it is the final step in the process before the record is complete. The producer often sits in a mastering studio and makes final tweaks to compression, space between songs, EQ, etc. Kind of the final coat of paint before the album (in the old school days) was pressed. Many early CDs were not properly mastered for the digital medium when first converted to CD. Over time many were remastered to meet today’s technology. But remastering is VERY different than remixing. A remix you can make radical changes to the sound and all the levels. Mastering is more EQ and how punchy it will sound. I have heard many remastered CDs that are better than the originals, others not as good, some pretty much the same. Sometimes the artists (in many cases) or the albums producers have nothing to do with the reissues or remastering. Generally a good rule of thumb is to see if the reissues are done with the artists involvement or at least the albums original engineer if possible. Some remasters are so cranked up you lose the original dynamics of the recording. Others enhance what was already there and make it sound a bit cleaner and more alive digitally. So it really comes down to doing a little homework and finding out if the band was really involved in making the re release better, or the label just slapped a sticker on the CD to make you think it’s better. Led Zeppelin is about to remaster their catalog for the 3rd time. Jimmy Page does this personally and with each technology advance he feels he can bring more from the original recordings. The AC/DC catalog was also done three times and I think the latest versions do sound great. The Rush albums also sound better as do the VH Roth era remasters. If you are a hardcore Kiss fan The Elder and Hotter Than Hell are among the best to get. The Elder was finally sequenced properly and HTH is a little better than the original super muddy sound. Later albums don’t seem to benefit much. Outside of the bonus tracks the recent Pantera reissues don’t sound all that much better. The one catalog I can’t believe has not yet been addressed is Metallica. The early CDs have a lower sound level that is easy to hear if your ipod is in shuffle and you ripped it from CD. Hope they one day get on that. Of course many remasters have some bonus content and if you are like me, that might get you to buy right there if it’s cool stuff. Also listened to early T Rex remastered today and the tape noise from early CD versions was greatly reduced. So most I say are pretty cool, but some, if later original recordings, don’t benefit much. I’m still a CD junkie and it’s my favorite way to get music still by far. I rip them into my Itunes but still enjoy a real physical package as well. A great reissue label that remasters all of their stuff is out of the UK called Rock Candy Records. Have a look for some real well done reissues and lots of rare stuff too. www.rockcandyrecords.com Enjoy and crank it up!

Comments

  1. A quick nod to the Mötley remasters, which sound great, as well as the extra tracks.

  2. I picked up a few Rock Candy Records releases after you recommended them and I have to say they do a stellar job. Love the job they did on the Blue Murder disc. Will be picking up more of these. The latest to come out are the first 3 Dokken albums and 2 from Ratt. Out Of The Cellar and Dancing Undercover. They also have the Kerry Livgren album that Ronnie James Dio sang a couple of tracks on called Seeds Of Change.

    • Well, the Seeds of Change CD sounds stellar. Actually, I found it weird that it sounds like a recently produced Kerry Livgren album (see the Proto-Kaw albums). Had not heard the original so I could not compare and I inquired a bit. I am sad to say that Rock Candy’s promotion campaign for the album is to say the least deceiving (if I had known what I found, would not have bought it). So here is the thing. If Kerry remastered it as they claim, he remastered his own 2008 reworking of the album. In other words, the album had been partially re-recorded, partially remastered and remixed at that point by Kerry Livgren. And the new Rock Candy version is definitely not the original recording remastered, as one is led to believe when looking at the promotion material. Most likely it is based on or identical to the 2008 version. Since the arrangements are significantly different on several songs (as I have noticed by listening older files on youtube), it makes a big difference. Proper advertising should signal that the new CD is not the original album.

  3. Gustavo says:

    Totally agree. There are some albums that sound great even though they were released a long time ago (ie: Pantera’s catalog always sounded great, the black album, etc). Those albums I really see no point why they should be remastered or even remixed. Compared to some albums that sound like crap (ie: the whole Shrapnel catalog) and really benefit from this treatment.

    Any new material of the bands is cool, specially if they come with liner notes and a cool packaging.

    Case by case. That’s a great advice.

    Keep it up Eddie!

  4. A lot depends also on whether the original recordings were made for CD or vinyl. Early CD versions of vinyl are ironically often better than remastered versions of the late 80s. The trend lately has been to get back to the vinyl sound. The Japanese remastered mini-LP CDs are amazing, albeit expensive.

  5. David C says:

    I really don’t have any problem with remastering to upgrade sound for digital technology, especially for original recordings made in analog. Like you said, the involvement of the artists who either still own their catalog of songs, or who at least have some involvement is key.

    I think some of the best remastering involves concert video which may have been originally either on film or analog tape. Being able to play a remastered DVD of a concert on a good sound and video system can be a real treat, giving one the experience of “seeing” the band live, and “hearing” them as close as possible to what they sounded like during the actual event.

    And I’m with you about getting my music on DVD’s rather than online. What I really miss is my time growing up during the ’70’s when I would wait with anticipation for the latest vinyl album releases to show up at Tower Records on Bay Street in San Francisco. Miss that great album art and all of the liner notes too, which provided fun reading while the music was playing.

  6. David C says:

    All of this talk about remastering music reminds me of the great Tower Record chain and the store that started it all in San Francisco…I spent many, many hours here in my youth. Sadly like many great record stores it is no more…

    http://www.sfgate.com/entertainment/article/For-S-F-rockers-Tower-Records-was-where-it-was-2549696.php#page-3

  7. Good blog. Could some of this been sparked by the new UFO box? I thought they got it right with the recent-ish remasters and the new box set was a bit much. For those that haven’t, check out Dave Grohl’s Sound City doc. Great rant by Neil Young on the pioneering days of digital. In the wake of the vinyl resurgence I came across some old Kenwood speakers and Denon turntable and interestingly enough, my vinyl sounds far better than my CD (and I’m not a vinyl cork sniffer type). I agree it’s the bonus material on remasters that make or break the deal. The Cheap Trick remasters are also excellent. Another great doc for us geeks is Tom Dowd’s The Language Of Music. Cheers.

  8. Judas Priest-British Steel sounds better than the original.

  9. Taskerofpuppets says:

    Lars needs to get it together and re-master now that they have Blackened Records.

  10. I just spent $200 to get my dad’s old high end (Thorens) turntable restored. It sounds great and I’d forgotten how damn good vinyl sounds! It’s been awesome, though I won’t buy any new rekkids. I have an original pressing of “Houses of the Holy” with the lyrics on the sleeve. Looking forward to cranking that up. Also have my old UFO stuff.

  11. Good analysis. Generally, I have found most Remasters are better, but not all. ET gives some pretty good guidelines here.

  12. pete lytel says:

    Wow! Great article and very well written. That was really thought out. Thanks man.

  13. flashrockinman says:

    The Gary Moore remaster best-of Back on the Streets: The Rock Collection really sounds amazing.

  14. I really like the packaging too Eddie that comes with a CD – especially with remastered versions that come with new liner notes, interviews, pictures, guest writer summaries of the tracks, additional notes on what a given band was going through at the time of writing that particular album, additional live recordings on a separate CD, etc. Would be a shame if CD’s went away but by the looks of Amazon’s catalogue, you can still get just about anything in any genre on demand. It seems by their selection and availability that CD sales are still strong enough to warrant stocking them. Do you see the availability for CD’s continuing for a long time? Hope so. Like you said, some remastered copies really do sound unbelievably good. Thanks for this piece on CD’s and your comments.

  15. David S. says:

    I think Armored Saint’s Delirious Nomad sounds amazing! Paid a little more for it but it was worth it! I think Anthrax’s early releases should be remastered. Fistful of Metal and especially State of Euphoria sound really low compared to other discs. I was pleased that Megadeth’s Peace Sells was finally remastered for their anniversary issue. The 2004 remixed and remasters were terrible. I think Rust in Peace could use a remaster job as well.

  16. I have also tried Sabbaths Born Again album remastered recently. Sounds better than the original definitely. But still, it’s nothing spectacular… It still had that amateurish sound mixing that the original did.

    I think anything made when digital was already the main recording process lends itself well to remastering. If it’s something like Beatles or Zeppelin, it takes a true artist to get the most put ofthe sound.

    Would love to hear Justice for all with some bass though. That’s my #1 request for a remix/remaster.

    • Oh and BTW … Sounds like a great segment for that metal show…Newly released remasters should be recommended or rejected.

      Not a whole segment … Maybe just a title card as the show is coming back from break. Simple list of two or three albums that are worth buying the remastered versions.

  17. Mike Jones says:

    Personally, the way I originally bought the music is the way I best relate to it. Buying the same album again just doesn’t seem to sit well with me. Also, my ears aren’t sharp enough to really notice the sound improvement. I would rather spend my money on new music that I don’t already own.

    My 2 cents on KISS.

    Cat Stevens should dress up as Peter Criss because he is also a Catman. Peter Gabriel should dress up as Ace Frehley and sing Shock Me because he knows how to Shock the Monkey. Daryl Hall and John Oates should play KISS on my List because Gene and Paul are two little Rich Bitch Girls!

  18. Joe Steinhart says:

    Maybe Metallica would finally remaster AJFA so you could here Jason’s bass!

  19. I find nearly all re-masters to be garbage. A few cases in point: Megadeth’s re-mastered catalog and Judas Priest’s multiple box sets. While a lot of older albums aren’t “prefect” their sound holds a special place in time. Rust in Peace, re-mastered, sounds AWFUL. As do the rest of MD’s re-mastered. As for Priest, well, frankly, you can’t tell a damn bit of difference form the old albums. AT ALL. So I considered it a blatant money grab by the band. Halford’s Crucible was re-mastered with mixed success. The original album was mixed by a drunk monkey or something and was just muuuuuuuuuddy. However, the re-master almost goes too far and some of the previously-unheard sounds are almost TOO prominent.

    Off the top of my head, I can’t really recall any re-masters that have been worth my dime.

    • Megadeth remixed their catalog, which is very different than remastering

      • Ah, thanks, Eddie. Either way, the re-mixes sound terrible, too. :)

        BTW, when are you going to play some Teramaze on your show???? Just about any track from their album “Anhedonia” would rock!!!

  20. 5150, OU812 and For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge desperately need remastering. The sound level is so low it’s ridiculous, No bass either

  21. Jess Tilley says:

    Made alot of good points Eddie, and I recently checked out Rock Candy records and they do a great job with reissues. That being said, I love the sound of vinyl. Most releases are are coming out that way again and the sound crushes digital in my opinion. With a good turntable,cartridge, and cables
    there is no comparison, except I can’t take it on the road with me lol! Thanks for the article and I love That Metal show, best program on TV!

  22. chad reiss says:

    I love hearing Def Leppards Pyromania and Hysteria remastered especially seeing the extra tracks on Hysteria including the original Tear It Down which is much better than the version on Adrenalize

  23. Brianrocker says:

    I have bought a few albums from Rock Candy Records in the past and I agree, they are a great company to do business with. I may be one of the few remaining, but I still buy new CD’s and the day they stop making a physical product for me to buy (the same goes with books as well), is the day I stop paying for music and settle for what I have in my collection.

  24. Galactic Cowboy says:

    Metallica’s catalog was remastered in the 90’s, they just never mentioned it(if it mentions metallica.com in the CD booklet it was remastered). My Metallica CD’s sound remastered to me.

  25. I would love to hear KISS’ ‘Hot In The Shade’ re-mastered. I think that one could use an over-haul. I thought the CD that came out the first time was very sub-par sounding. And I realize ‘Crazy Nights’ was re-mastered, but man – Ron Nevison’s production is so thin and tinny on the CD (and the LP). It’s annoying. He did the same production on Heart’s big comeback CD ‘Heart’ back in 1985. Both sound the same. No Bass or and low end what so ever. I’d love to hear it done with TONS more low end and more balls.
    The ‘Creatures Of The Night’ re-master sounds incredible.

  26. I agree that some remasters sound better than others. I still have many vinyl record copies of many classic artisits that I got in the 70’s and 80’s as well as some early CD versions and remasters of the same albums to compare them too. Bands like Deep Purple, Kiss, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Rush, Motley Crue, Van Halen and many others so here’s my take on some of them.
    The Van Halen Roth era remasters sound much better than the originals. More punchier, clearer, louder and wider sounding. Deep Purple’s Machine Head remaster has a lot of the hiss removed, which was very evident on the vinyl disc I have (and also has a bonus song). Rush’s Moving Pictures also sounds great remastered.
    The remasters to look out for are as Eddie mentioned, the ones where the artisit was also involved in, AND were done from THE ORIGINAL MASTER TAPES. I read about the first CD releases of Deep Purple’s first three albums being done from master vinyl rips because the record company could not locate the original tapes (or didn’t bother to). Similar thing with Jimi Hendrix (EQ copies were first used).
    With vinyl vs CD, my 70’s vinyl copy of Led Zeppelin IV sounds a lot better than the 90’s remaster IMO and does not have that tape glitch at the intro before Black Dog. Kiss’ Dressed To Kill has slightly longer song fade outs than the CD. Montrose’s first album also sounds better on vinyl IMO.

  27. Patrick says:

    One of the best remasters I bought was The Who’s “My Generation- The Deluxe Edition”
    It was also remixed by Shel Talmy – it sounds amazing!

    here’s a sample:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DAUQN5tSVxs

  28. What sells the idea of so called ‘remasters’ is by running the master through a compressor, you can make it louder. Those who’ve never heard music on a decent system (I don’t mean high-end expensive stuff either) will fall into the trap of “Louder is better”
    When you crush the original dynamic range this way, you destroy what gives music it’s ‘breath of life’ quality. In simpler terms, you wanna crank it up as opposed to getting tired of it quickly.
    This quality can easily be measured & results in the track or albums Dynamic Range Rating. A good example would be Accepts Balls To The Wall. The first remastering was done by Sony’s Vic Anesini & it’s rating is DR12. A very respectable figure for any rock/metal album. The recent reissues rate a DR7. Quick listening reveals how much of the life has been crushed out of it. Sadly, far too many rock/pop/metal albums in the last 10+ years are measuring just as bad or worse. The DR rating is not perfect & a high rating doesn’t guarantee that it’s a great sounding mix, but a low rating seals it’s fate for me & that’s why I simply don’t buy nearly the amount of new music or remastered stuff I used to.
    Kids today need to be taught what good music is supposed to sound like regardless of style preferences.
    Eddie, your show would be the perfect platform to start educating people. Promote reissues that actually do sound good – as close to the original master tape’s sound & expose these little labels that just compress it trying to make a buck off the poor ignorant souls out there. Bands/labels that allow such horrid product should be called on it & those that issue something that truly sounds better than ever before should be commended.

  29. Sabbath/Dio years sounded way muddy – I was really disappointed

  30. Ed work in kiss in Mexico. Doc , gene anyone. We need a mediator. For RRHOF show

  31. I’ve had a few remastered albums on CD from different artists, some sounded great while others not so much, I’ve even had ones with the extra tracks which was nice freebe to hear unreleased songs, demos, never before heard live tracks, even a different mix of sound on songs, e.g. Rainbow’s Rising, with a New York Mix and L. A. Mix of all the tracks which was cool. One downside I have is some remasters are done outside the US and we as fans can’t get them or have to pay big bucks just to have them. The DIO Catalog is one where they are the Deluxe Versions with remastering and bonus tracks, I love to see these get a proper release in America. Then there have been some bands that did like their first 3 albums all remastered, but the rest of the catalog was nixed. Manowar was a prime example, remasted their first three albums then forgot the rest. They re-recorded Battle Hymns and now are doing Kings of Metal for it’s anniversary, it’s fine and all but I would love to have had a remaster of the Kings of Metall album that had Ross the Boss and Scott Columbus original guitar and drum parts on it. I also love to have Sign of the Hammer, Fighting the World also remastered like the first 3 albums were done. Granted I will buy the new re-recording of Kings of Metal cause I am nuts for Manowar, but I’d like to have the original remastered with Ross and Scott still on it. Now Black Sabbath is doing another remastering of the Ozzy era albums, well what about the ones later (Dio’s were done), but I love to see a remaster release here in the US for Bon Again, Seventh Star, The Enternal Idol, Headless Cross, Tyr, Cross Purposes, Cross Purposes Live and Forbidden, where is that box set? Eddie Trunk is right Metallica needs to step up and do a proper remastering of their albums as well!

  32. In my opinion anything released after 1990 has no need to be ‘remastered’. For example, anything by Pantera, which were simply cash-grabs. Those albums were recorded with Modern production in the first place!
    Remastering only improves upon things that were recorded before modern production values took over – i.e, things from the 70s and 80s

  33. Larry "Stone Bandit" Jackson says:

    Eddie…. Any word on the upcoming Pink Floyd/Warner Bros. Reissues?

  34. I’m curious about this “mastered for iTunes” thing. Hot in the Shade sounds significantly better than the cd, but will it be worth it to upgrade other albums as well? I understand the lossless vs lossy argument, but there really does, at least to me, seem to be an improvement in the sound.

  35. Read reviews before purchasing Rock Candy reissues. Many have been remastered from vinyl!! A couple releases from Quiet Riot and Helix most notably.

  36. TruthInSound says:

    Thanks for this insightful article on what has become at least as much a point of contention between music fans as some issues are between members of political parties. :)

    With that said, I’d like some clarification on a statement you made about half way through, about “many early CDs not properly mastered for the digital medium”.

    Finally, I must respectfully disagree with regards to the latest AC/DC remasters(if by such you mean the 2003 reissues). I own that High Voltage along with an earlier release of it, and find that earlier one much more crankable and enjoyable than the 2003.

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