Customer Review

382 of 408 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Remastered isn't always better - Avoid this!, November 27, 2007
This review is from: Mothership (Audio CD)
Over the past 7 or 8 years, record companies have adopted a way of thinking that basically boils down to louder = better. Many new albums have been ruined because they are "mastered" too loud. Rush's "Vapor Trails" is a great example of this.

For the non technical folks, mastering is the process by which a finished, mixed tape of an artist's song is then put through a series of refinements to make the sound a little more uniform for all listening situations. It is also at that stage that the "master" is created from which all copies are then produced.

In the early days of CD and digital sound, the process of converting analog sound to a digital signal was not as good as it is now. Also, coming out of the age of vinyl, where too loud a sound on vinyl could cause the needle to jump, CD's tended to be mastered about the same volume as vinyl. The CD is capable of volume levels that are louder than vinyl.

But, rather than use technology to create a better sounding product, the record companies took a perspective that louder = better = more sales. In other words, the louder the product is, the more people will notice it.

The problem for those of us who enjoy music is that by making CD's a whole lot louder, we are also losing dynamics and dimension. Music is by nature, supposed to have peaks of loudness. There needs to be contrast. A visual representation of what we should be hearing versus what we are getting out of newer CD's would be aptly demonstrated IF I BEGAN TYPING IN ALL CAPS. THERE IS NO CONTRAST BETWEEN LOUD AND soft.

So, with Led Zeppelin's "Mothership" we are now getting louder music at the expense of dynamics. Jimmy Page remastered the entire Zeppelin catalog in 1991 and did a great job of using the technology available at that time. Technology exists now that could expand and sweeten the work that Jimmy did, BUT NO - THE MATERIAL HAD TO BE MADE MUCH LOUDER in order to be more competitive in today's market.

Competitive with what? I don't know. It's Led Zeppelin for crying out loud!

I really wish Jimmy would have taken a more active role in this new remaster job. (Yes, it does say he produced the tracks. He did - years ago. Producing is completely different from mastering - check the 90's CDs where they additionally credit "remastering" to Jimmy Page and George Marino. Jimmy was not involved in the remastering this time around. It was done by John Davis)

Listen to "Trampled Underfoot" Listen to the Jimmy Page remaster from the early 90's and then the "Mothership" remaster. Notice how the swirling guitar at the end of the keyboard solo seems to fade up, up, UP in loudness on the Jimmy Page remaster (it was mixed that way in 1975). On The "Mothership" the fade up is less dramatic. THAT'S BECAUSE YOU LOSE THOSE DYNAMICS WHEN MUSIC IS MASTERED TOO LOUD. Notice how when Bonzo crashes in to his cymbals on "Mothership", the sound of the cymbals is breaking up. That's because the sound is so loud, even the CD can't reproduce it. That's called clipping, basically. That's where the peak is cut off because the signal is too loud. Imagine a mountain top just under a cloud. If you raise the mountain, you would lose sight of the peak in the cloud. That's a visual for what happens to sound.

To hear how truly incredible a CD can sound, check out "Love" by The Beatles, the Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab version of Yes "Fragile", or the Tom Scholz remasters of "Boston" or "Don't Look Back".

Send Atlantic a message and avoid "Mothership". Tell them we are tired of having OUR MUSIC PRESENTED TO US LIKE THIS. By the way, the abomination that is Rush "Vapor Trails" just happens to be on...Atlantic.

D. Duran
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Tracked by 9 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 35 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 28, 2007 6:56:03 AM PST
The fading-in guitar effect you describe as part of Trampled Underfoot... Are you sure you don't mean instead what happens at the end of the GUITAR solo (played on a Leslie organ cabinet) from The Wanton Song? I have just spun the TU track from the early 90s remaster and fail to hear what you say...

But thanks for a truly enlightening review anyway! Loudness war sucks!

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 28, 2007 11:02:16 AM PST
David Duran says:
No. Not "The Wanton" song - it isn't on "Mothership". If you spin "TU", listen to the Clavinet (keyboard) solo. It starts at 2:15 in the song. At 2:35, a guitar line starts. It's very faint and in the right channel. At 2:43, the guitar line is double tracked and spreads to the left channel - the guitar line has a steady increase in volume as the Clavinet solo fades in volume until the guitar line is the main focus, the Clavinet solo is totally faded out at about 2:57 until the end of the solo section at about 3:00.

It's a brilliant scene change and transition out of the solo. Painting with sound.

Lost in the loudness war along with thousands of other details and other artistry.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 28, 2007 12:41:21 PM PST
Gotcha and right on! Thanks for pinpointing!

Posted on Nov 30, 2007 11:02:33 AM PST
LUIS says:
Thank you for a VERY informative review! I had heard of the "loudness wars" before and I think it's a bad thing. One of your comments I find most interesting - "Technology exists now that could expand and sweeten the work that Jimmy did". Does this mean that a re-re-re-mastering could be made that was superior to the 90's remasters?

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 30, 2007 4:52:37 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 1, 2007 1:36:18 AM PST
David Duran says:
Absolutely. The technology in analog to digital conversion is better than it was in 1991 when Jimmy Page and George Marino re-mastered the catalog. Yes, if Jimmy was to sit down and re-master this catalog himself today, he could pass those mixes through tubes and at a higher resolution - 96kHz and 24bit, that would improve on what we hear with the finished product, especially if they were to release the albums on DVD-A or SCAD, because it would produce something much closer to way we humans actually hear and process sound. We don't hear digital sound. There is no such thing as digital sound. The only sound there is is analog. Digital is just a means of storing the information. That information has to be converted to analog so we can hear it. And that could all be done without having to add a lot more compression so as to be able to increase the overall volume. But sadly, in the "loudness wars" it's all about compression and volume. I don't know if you are schooled in audio, but for the benefit of anyone else who might read this, I'll try to explain what compression is. What compression does is even out the natural peaks and valleys in an analog audio signal. This can be a good thing and it's used all the time on the individual sounds that you hear. It can even be over used artistically as an effect. But when you take a finished mix of all the elements in a song, you don't want to over compress it because you change the integrity of the mix. You want to gently compress it so that the person listening on an inexpensive system won't blow their speakers if they turn the volume up. The loudest parts of the mix, like the bass drum, or a simultaneous hit of the drums and guitars become less punchy and the softer nuances become louder because you are squeezing everything together. Then, your brain can no longer process contrasting sound levels or differentiate between soft and LOUD. When everything is too compressed IT LOOKS LIKE THIS as OppOSed To tHis which doesn't look good printed out, but is how we hear sound and how we process dimension, spatial relationships, and dynamics. Or to put it another way, if you didn't know what dark was, you couldn't understand what light is. Humans are analog. The result of this loudness war is that our music just SCREAMS at us now. It's pathetic. It's like what they do to us when you watch TV and a commercial comes on. It screams at you to get your attention.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 5, 2007 10:13:28 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 5, 2007 10:15:16 AM PST
Micaloneus says:
In a few years they'll start marketing the same music once again, by saying it's LOUDNESS WAR free!!!

Posted on Dec 8, 2007 12:51:14 PM PST
D. Duran,
I've been reading about CDs being mastered really loud for the reasons you list. The new Arctic Monkeys album is said to be an example. But I've never heard the remastering process and audio differences explained as well as you have in your review. Have you thought of writing a magazine article or even a book on this topic? Your analogies and the way you break it down for the reader are brilliant. Also, are there books you'd recommend that would help people who do care audio quality avoid CDs that are remastered so poorly?

Thanks!

Posted on Dec 12, 2007 2:09:20 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 12, 2007 3:15:46 PM PST
ABQChris says:
Duran,
I agree with your general disdain of over-compression, but this particular double isn't as guilty as most. It doesn't have that loss of low-end that compression usually renders, and it's still warm -- there's no fatiguing. The dynamics are still there. In fact, I'd say that some of these are the best-sounding versions of Zeppelin songs ever to appear on CD. They certainly beat the 1990 remasters.

The same peaking occurs during many of Bonzo's crashes on the vinyl as well; a little overload isn't a bad thing for hard-rock drums. If, say, a modern rock song (i.e. compression hell) were to be called an offense of 10, this is maybe a 3. I was pleasantly surprised. We must be careful of over-reacting. Remastering is not a bad thing in and of itself; I reject that fashionable (among purists) school of thought. Check out the peaks in visual form, and you won't see the solid wall of hills with their tops chopped off that usually results from over-compression.

This is not an attack. I think we could use a lot more concise explanations of remastering vs. remixing, what compression can do to dynamics, why it's trendy to boost the volume for people's little iPods...you know your stuff. But I came to this double CD with low expectations, and was amazed at what a great job had been done. I'd recommend this set to anybody, and that's rare for me in the 2000s.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 28, 2007 5:07:53 PM PST
David Duran says:
Chris,

We can agree to disagree to some extent. Yes, there is some overload, but by clipping the peaks in mastering, that overload isn't harmonic or musical distortion anymore, it's digital noise. My point is that the technology exists in 2007 that an improvement could have been made to the mastering of those mixes, over what Jimmy Page and George Marino were able to do in 1991 with the technology of that time. You could have warmed up the bass content, you could have taken the digital harshness off of the high frequencies and produced a more pleasing "analog" type sound without raising the volume. Yes, you are correct than on a scale of 10, "Mothership" is not as guilty as many others. But my point is that it need not have been guilty at all. Just try to A & B the section of "Trampled Underfoot" that I described above. There is no excuse at all for sacrificing musical dynamics to make this music more competitive with today's music. God is in the details and the details are being sacrificed.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 31, 2007 10:07:23 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 31, 2007 10:08:07 AM PST
ABQChris says:
Cool; thanks for the reply. It's definitely something that everyone should take into account, when new music has been purchased; what we agree on is that remastering engineers should be held accountable for every little change, and their work should be held to very close scrutiny -- rather than just being taken for granted in the "newer = better" assumption that so many people seem guilty of.
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