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!

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  • Bob on

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

  • james on

    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.

    • Xavier M on

      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.

  • Gustavo on

    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!

  • Mathieu on

    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.

  • David C on

    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.

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