Compressed vs. "Remastered" CDs


Hello all. I am a music lover but not an engineer by any means. Can someone explain what a "remastered" CD is, and if that term necessarily or usually means the analog signal has been compressed or rounded-off, over-digitized, etc. There are many remastered CDs that I think sound better than the early 80's releases, but I have read some negative articles about the remastering process. By the by, why do certain CDs, such as Beck "Sea Change", for example, sound cleaner and sharper than others? Can anyone enlighten me?? Thanks.
klipschking
Interesting topic......
"Remastering" is a catch-all term that covers a wide range of possibilities.

For some recordings, it may mean the original multi-track recording was re-mixed. Each individual track may have its own EQ and other effects applied uniquely to that track. The balance and mixing between tracks is done fresh. Compression or dynamic alteration that was used on the original LP may not be used on the current version or applied more subtly.

In the hands of a good producer and engineer, a remastered CD can be a dramatic improvement over the original release.

However, remastering may mean nothing more than the original final mix being tweaked, or the bass boosted, or "sweetened" just a bit. Sometimes this is an improvement and sometimes not.

At the bad end of the stick, a remastered recording may be nothing more than another victim of the loudness wars with a lot of compression and dynamic limiting added in order to push up the apparent average volume. If this is the case, the original recording will be preferable.

As you can see, the term "remastered" is virtually meaningless by itself. Each remastered project has to be looked at by itself to see if it is truly an improvement or not.
Nice summary m1sst1!

My uncertainty is whether most CDs are being remastered these days strictly with the "loudness wars" as the driver. If so, that is not a good thing from a sound quality perspective.

However, remastering can be done in an unlimited number of ways in order to achieve other sound goals as well. Not all CDs that are louder on average are necessarily compressed or limited.

It is possible to remaster with the result of greater average loudness without either of those things if desired.

So to me, a louder CD does not necessarily infer lesser sound quality. Certain things that were mixed at too low a level originally may just be brought to a higher level to achieve perceived better balance.

Remastering is an art as well as a science. Its like all the fancy enhancements one might do to a single high quality digital image to emphasize the details or features you want to though perhaps also at the expense of other details or features, or not.

The ability to remaster is a great thing potentially for audio and music lovers. The potential to abuse it of course also exists. I think there are a lot of very good recent remasters with higher average loudness out there as well as those very common others where all or most dynamic range is lost.

For example, a good remaster of a solo classical guitar piece might be much louder overall, but the dynamic range still actually improved in a manner that enables transients and harmonic overtones that did not stand out prior to do so now. It could be overdone, done just right , or just miss the boat totally. It's all up to the producers. They can produce an enhanced work or art or chose to butcher it at will in ways that were not possible years ago before modern digital technology.

Use technology or abuse it? That would seem to be a big part in general (not just in audio) of what makes the world go round!
Using compressed cd's may reduce sound quality, specially if the compression method is Lossy audio compression.
First thing to be clear on is that remastering and the "loudness wars" syndrome are intrinsically separate things (as a couple of posters have suggested). However it is certainly possible that a remastering could be done on any recording that would produce a result typical of a modern "loudness wars" product.

Consider a 1970s rock recording (something like Deep Purple's Machine Head). When it was initially mastered for LP the engineers had to do certain things to the performance as it was taped so that it could be playable on LP.

First, the volume of the bass had to be reduced. This made the grooves narrower so that 46 minutes would fit onto the space available on the LP surface.

Secondly, the overall dynamic range was closed down. The loud parts were quietened down. Softer parts were made louder. LP reproduction can't handle a wide dynamic range (before analog fans start screaming, this was considered incontestably true in the 1970s).

The treble was enhanced because such LPs were often played on cheap single driver players and their lousy stylii and speakers wouldn't pass much of the treble that was on the record to the listener. (If it were a sixties recording it would be enhanced even more.)

Finally they didn't worry at all about high frequency noise/hash/hiss etc because none would be evident when the record was played.

When CD arrived in the early 1980s these albums were rushed onto CD. This usually meant grabbing the LP master and just doing a digital version from it. Result - muddy, compressed performances with no bass, no dynamics and noisy, glary treble.

So a good modern remastering is the fix for most of that. Ideally, where the tapes are available, they can go right back to the original 24 or 36 track components of the performance and mix again to take advantage of digital's greater dynamic range and relative lack of time restrictions. Technically, this is a remix as well as a remaster.

Of course, the result varies pretty widely. Some (eg King Crimson, Yes, Deep Purple and Focus) remasters are good to very good. Some are so little changed you wonder why they bothered (step forward Rainbow).
Very informative folks. I plumbed by CD collection again and the ear agrees with you Gtfour45 & Mlsstl. Some of my "remastered" CDs are clearly superior to the early 80's CD releases, and also superior to the original vinyl (sorry analogists). Some of them, though, are victims of the "loudness wars." I find it interesting that the volume control on my Musical Fidelity preamp can change as much as 45 degrees after playing one of the boomy, bloated & butchered discs. It seems to me that better quality offerings come from Rounder, Warner Bros., Rhino and a the smaller labels. Any way to avoid the "loudness" without buying first??
Klipschking wrote:
Any way to avoid the "loudness" without buying first??
There are a couple of possibilities. One is to go by label. For example. In the rock & jazz world, Rhino is overall quite meticulous about sound quality and almost always good.

Second, you could see if the library or a friend has the release and sample their copy before you buy.

Third, see if the release has been reviewed. That works well if you are familiar with the individual reviewer, but is a bit more erratic if you aren't.

Singleendedsingle wrote:
Using compressed cd's may reduce sound quality, specially if the compression method is Lossy audio compression.
You're confusing two separate issues. "Compression" as used in the recording studio compresses the dynamic range of a recording. The soft sounds are made louder and the loud sounds reduced in volume. This can make a recording more listenable in a noisy environment such as a car or for background play, but robs the music of its live, dynamic impact when played on a better system.

File "compression" refers to digital computer file formats for song storage. This is done to save file space and/or make files smaller so they transmit more quickly over the internet. FLAC and lossless WMA and Apple formats reduce file size but do not change the data. This is similar to a "Zip" file for music. MP3, M4A and other "lossy" formats actually throw away part of the music to achieve a greater degree of file size reduction. This latter form of compression has nothing to do with the studio processing a recording engineer or producer may choose to do on a recording.
I have a vague recollection of their being a web site that listed CDs that people thought were overly compressed. I tried a quick Google search but I'm at work and many of the sites are blocked.
Gtfour45,

Funny you mention Deep Purple specifically. I had all the Deep Purple cuts on my server cued up the other day, which included original Machine Head CD master and recent remasterings of certain songs and took note of what you are talking about in essence. The newer remasters were superior in every way. They were also considerably louder on average.

KlipschKing, yeah, the difference in volume control levels can be considerable from many older CDs to most newer CDs.

On thing I have experimented with is a setting in Windows Media Player Library setup that would seem to indicate some type of volume leveling is applied to cuts as they are played, which also has some server performance overhead that goes along with it. I have tried this but not done a careful a/b listening test to determine its effects.

Anybody know more about this feature on Windows Media Player? It sounds useful perhaps if it works though the result might be something somewhat different than what the producer intended?
Gtfour45,

Funny you mention Deep Purple specifically. I had all the Deep Purple cuts on my server cued up the other day, which included original Machine Head CD master and recent remasterings of certain songs and took note of what you are talking about in essence. The newer remasters were superior in every way. They were also considerably louder on average.

KlipschKing, yeah, the difference in volume control levels can be considerable from many older CDs to most newer CDs.

On thing I have experimented with is a setting in Windows Media Player Library setup that would seem to indicate some type of volume leveling is applied to cuts as they are played, which also has some server performance overhead that goes along with it. I have tried this but not done a careful a/b listening test to determine its effects.

Anybody know more about this feature on Windows Media Player? It sounds useful perhaps if it works though the result might be something somewhat different than what the producer intended? I'm guessing it just applies a fixed level boost to everything before it gets served up to make lower volume CDs match better to higher volume ones, but the devil would be in the details.
Remixing is different than remastering. Very few releases that are remastered have been remixed. The original 2 channel masters may or may not still be available and the engineers are frequently forced to use 2nd or 3rd generation tapes. In some rare case engineers have turned to digitizing vinyl copies of releases when no tapes are available. Better quality remasters don't try to modernize the sound of the recording. If the recording is from the 60/70s it shouldn't be made overly loud or too compressed, since this would be historically inaccurate. As mentioned above, the recordings may be EQ'ed slightly differently to take into account the differences between vinyl and CD playback. Additionally once digitized it's possible to remove excessive tape hiss and deal with other noise reduction issues. Some people like hearing the sounds of music stands being knocked over, doors being slammed and tape bleed through. Other people think these items should be corrected.
the original recording...the materials(masters)..the remastering process...infinite variables in mastering and remastering insure that consistancy will be different. manufacturing materials as well. this is true for all media.....lots of money and time is no guarantee of great results, and even when there are great results, the complaints don't stop anyway.