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!