Don’t Make Me Bleed!

When the age of the remastered CD dawned, I immediately jumped to attention and started replacing some of my favourite CDs with the new versions, no questions asked. You know, the ones with all those stickers attached to them announcing that what you once had sucked and what you now bought offered superior sound (usually, with some bit number attached as a sales argument), new liner notes, orginal track sequence, alternate tracks, studio chatter and unreleased material, original artwork and whatnot.

What they don’t tell you is that many of those CDs you just sold via eBay, at your local second hand thrift shop or elsewhere, those that you thought had to be inferior because they were from the 80s or 90s, actually sound a lot better than the new remasters. As surprising as that sounds, it is also something a majority of listeners hasn’t realized yet, having been brought up on ultra-compressed radio and Internet streams.

It took me quite a while to figure out why my ears were starting to bleed on a much more regular basis, but it didn’t take all THAT long to hear that some remastering engineer had actually pushed all the EQ settings to max, boosting the sound or aligning the frequencies, had no-noised each and every audible deficiency, thereby also killing the upper end of the frequency spectrum, and, to put it bluntly, had done his (or rarely, her) best to totally screw up the original sound as well as mess with the intentions of the original artists and sound engineers. Clipped waveforms, upper midranges boosted to ear-screeching levels, maximised, loud and harsh or ultimately just dead sound. You name it, many recent remasters have it. In short, a large number of remasters you can buy today suck. They’re bad, both for your ears and for your well-being in general. They are trash. Useless. A waste of money.

On top of that, today, in 2006, we not only have to deal with a single run of remasters for some of the more known artists, but sometimes with several runs, many of which suck equally much or, very rarely, actually offer decent sound (and have therefore disappeared from the market because all the audiophiles out there jumped on them and new remasters replaced them).

Care for some examples?

Each and every Judas Priest remaster is just horrible. It’s actually sad to say that the entire catalogue, which was extensively remastered, was completely ruined in the process and is more than unlistenable. I was once a fan of Judas Priest and, for the odd trip down memory lane, I wanted to replace my original CDs with the spankin’ new remasters when they came out. Stupid as some of us “want, need, will-have” collectors are, I bought every available one and almost shrieked when I fed the first one to my CD player. I think I nearly fainted.

The expanded edition of Huey Lewis and the News’ Sports CD is such utter muffled digital trash that I felt like shooting someone when I heard it the first (and last) time.

When I was still uninitiated, I bought 10cc’s “Bloody Tourists” with such a load of pitch fluctuations that the blood started draining from the upper half of my body in an instant. That one can actually induce cardiac arrest.

The Frank Sinatra on Capitol CDs weren’t remastered but sonically shredded to bits. An insult to any decent stereo. Sinatra must be on a slow roast in his grave.

And that’s just the uppermost tip of the iceberg, the top quarter inch.

Today I heed the warnings. When it was announced on the Steve Hoffman forums that the new Van der Graaf Generator Remasters didn’t only make your ears bleed but also explode right away, I first borrowed one to listen for myself (not every remaster trashed on the Internet is a bad remaster, so listen to them yourself) and, yep, my head exploded right after my ears had hit their threshold level. Awful sound. Awful.

What I wonder is why the artists don’t seem to care. Do they not know about the crap that is relased under their name? Don’t they have any input or say when it comes around to the remastering of their back catalogue? Do they care?

What about the audience? Do the listeners care? Apparently not, because many of the remasters seem to be flying off the shelves the minute they are released, shiny stickers and promises included. Obviously, listening habits and the influence of the various media have sonically dumbed down an entire generation or two, and the more this progresses, the worse the remasters will probably get. After all, we consumers do know that the labels rarely give a hoot about their customers, ruining the red book standard and making CDs unlistenable by stuffing them with the most inane copy protection mechanisms.

I know that not all engineers are to blame, simply because often enough the label bigwigs throw them some second or third generation tape reel, asking them to perform their magic where magic is really the only thing that could save the white noise left on the tape.

But there are also those engineers that have sworn to a code of no-noising and EQing music to death. Often, they even preach what they practice, letting the world know that digital music has to sound like it does, harsh and dead. I’m not going to mention names, but Jon Astley’s should be printed on big red consumer warning labels, the size of a jewel case, stating: “Listening to this CD may seriously damage your health.”

What is really depressing is that younger generations will probably think that the remastered music of their parents is actually supposed to sound like that, like crud, like nobody had enough money to get a decent studio, a state of the art microphone, some good studio monitors, etc.

I think it is another one of those hopeless fights against windmills, trying to get the labels and their engineers to actually listen to both their customers and the music they’re the safekeepers of, but I ain’t giving up.

On second thought, maybe we should start a site for cataloguing all the crummy remasters. Sort of a one-stop for anyone who wants to avoid this sonic pollution? What do you think?

Posted by Volkher Hofmann

Volkher Hofmann (deus62) has been blogging on and off since the 1990s and deus62.com is all that is left. He loves music, literature, drumming and, most of all, real life. He thinks the open web is much more important than social networks, closed-in ecosystems and other severely commercialized online endeavors.

  1. I’m a sucker for remasters/reissues. I’m a sucker for bonus tracks. As a collector, I feel that I must have certain ones to complete a band’s recording history.  It’s a spiraling trend: you have the original CD release but you also pick up the Japanese import w/the bonus track. A few years later, you buy the remastered edition with more bonuses. There are more than a few examples of this in my collection.

    How many times can an album be reissued, re-released, or remastered?

    If you look at the Metal scene, remasters are rampant. Take Iron Maiden. There are the original U.S. CD releases on EMI. In 1995, Castle released 2 CD deluxe editions with B-sides. In 1998, Maiden re-released the entire catalogue on Raw Power with no B-sides but with multimedia enhancements (video clips). Finally, 2003 brought the same Raw Power issues to Sanctuary, the only difference being the cardboard sleeve around the jewel case. That’s 4 CD pressings WITHOUT including any Japanese issue (regular jewel case, paper sleeves, etc.).

    I agree that the actual sonic quality of some remastered versions are absolutely horrendous, the Judas Priest remasters are a prime example (Of course I have them all including the nice collector’s box.). The recent AC/DC catalogue was remastered and Angus Young himself has said that the remastered versions stray from the original “feel” of the original recordings.

    My favorite is when an album has never been released on CD and it is “remastered from the original tapes and finally available on CD for the 1st time”. So you buy it and you realize that the “original tapes” are really old cassettes or vinyl and it is a straight up direct copy.

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  2. Steve, sorry, but I missed your comment here.

    I bought the “Back in Black” remaster, which I thought was pretty decent, but I decided to wait until something better is released.

    Nowadays you need to frequent various music or film forums to find out which of the many remasters or reissues are worth your money. It’s often been the case that I was excited about some announced reissue only to find out that the people who had bought it considered it to have been a total waste of money.

    In short, I hardly buy anything anymore without checking my online resources first.

    So much for giving in to that urge or impulse. Usually, I fell flat on my face when I did.

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  3. So glad I stumbled upon your site! Recently, I have been looking for remastered work and have had several disappointments. How do I find out about the good works? Is there a critical review somewhere? Is there a

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  4. Kandy, have a look here:

    Steve Hoffman Forums

    Use the search function, ask questions about any remasters you might want to buy. Spend some time reading there though to learn about people’s preferences.

    Some people strongly defend CDs from before the remastering craze as those were flat transfers from the original master tapes. Others prefer some of the newer remasters.

    Hope I could be of help.

    Reply

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