The meaning of “Remastered”

A lot of music I already have is being re-released and “remastered”.  Some of those contain new tunes or printed material and I might buy (again) just to have that.  Otherwise, what’s the value of a new master?  I remember direct to disc vinyl was said to be limited to 10,000 copies because the “master” from which copies were pressed, wore out.  Tape masters would have physically limited lifespans, too.  But in the age of digital music, what is a remaster?  I suppose a new release could have been “re-mixed” or “re-normalized”, so there may be real sonic differences which may or may not be an improvement.  Does the use of the term mean there is some actual audible voodoo by an engineer rather than just procreation of an existing audio file?
Its hard to see how to answer this properly without explaining a little about the recording process. It varies tremendously from recording to recording. 

At the far minimalist end are direct to disc. With these there is no tape in the recording path. The signal may or may not go through a mixer and then straight to the cutting lathe. 

The minimalist approach with tape would be direct to two-track. These are also one-take type sessions. No dubbing, no multiple tracks to be individually engineered and mixed down.

The majority of recordings are multi-track. With these there's any number of tracks. Any number because even if the tape deck is a certain number of tracks these can be done like Seal did, recording some tracks in one studio, some tracks another, all over the place, until eventually all these tracks are mixed down into two. That's probably the far end of the scale going the other way, opposite of D2D. 

So in most cases what happens is a whole bunch of tracks are recorded, and mixed, until eventually someone usually some combination of artist and producer are happy and this version then is used to generate the original master recording.  

The original master then represents a tremendous investment of resources. So usually the first thing they do is make at least one copy, and store the original master somewhere nice and safe. Usually. Not always. This is after all the music industry we are talking about here. Snoop Dog, Marky Mark. The Library of Congress its not. All kinds of crazy stuff happens. All the time.

Then at some point some version (you never know which) is used to produce records, or CDs, or what have you. I'm leaving out a bunch of steps and details, obviously. Hopefully you get the impression- its a mess, nobody can answer your question precisely because there's so many variations possible with any one individual record.

The value of remastered is totally up for grabs. Digital or analog, nothing gets better with age things only go downhill. Theoretically the first shot is the best one. But remember there is no guarantee they even used the original master to make the first production runs. Yes its that much of a mess. 

Ideally remastering involves a highly skilled engineer like Doug Sax (if you happen to like his work, or if not then someone else) using superb equipment and access to original tape remasters it to whatever the new medium is- LP if they want it to sound good, otherwise digital. Remastering you can call voodoo and not get too much of an argument from me. Remixing is different. The difference is in remastering its the exact same recording, only the quality changes. Remixing is technically an altogether different recording because it was mixed using whatever takes and levels and tracks they decide to use. Usually pretty close. Usually tracks are taken from the same musicians in the same sessions. But not always. If you have read this far hopefully you are getting the message, there are no guarantees in the music business.

Except one: its all about the Benjamins. No matter what they say nobody remasters for the art or the quality or any of that. They do it for the money. Which is true of the whole shebang. If you can get that much then you understand why remastered is no guarantee of anything. And my job is done.
To simply summarize the ops question.
Remastered does mean that someone has changed the original recording release in some way shape or form.
Hopefully for the better as per Steven Wilson's work on King Crimson, Jethro Till etc.
However not always can you count on a remaster being an improvement on the original, different always for sure though.

A rerelease on the other hand might just be that, a straight release of an out of print album with zero changes made .
Although even that is not likely as record pressing and vinyl mixes all have changed so nothing from say 1970 original is going to sound the same as a rerelease in 2020 say.

Simple it is not!
Thanks for the responses.  So, there's no standard use of the term.  Remaster could just be another generation of the original recordings with no attempt to change the sound or, on the other hand, a completely new artistic vision, which I would think of more as a remix.  Or maybe just a compressed version designed to sound louder.  But likely there will be some sonic change.  Often, just to tempt us to buy the music again.

I know lots of people have their favorite versions of various albums, but is there a resource that tracks the versions and comments on what changes have been made?
Some "remastered" CDs sound cleaner and better, some worse.  It is possible that they removed noise or digitized again with stable A/D clock.  Artifacts of jittery A/D conversion cannot be removed ever.  The only option is to digitize (remaster) again, if analog tapes still exist.  I've heard stories of early digital recordings made from analog tapes already frequency corrected for vinyl pressing, resulting in bright unpleasant sound.
Before CD’s or DSD’s or LPs are cut a final master is made. This final master may go back to a previous 2 track master or to multi-track originals.

Re-mastering means that a new final master was made and that the new mastering engineer has re-thought something. EQ, compression or the down mix from the original multi-track are quite common.

Really depends on who is doing the remaster and how good the material was they had to start with.

It was also true that some DSD's were remastered compared to the CD's, and they had different frequency profiles and compression profiles, leading to the obvious conclusion they sounded different.
I know lots of people have their favorite versions of various albums, but is there a resource that tracks the versions and comments on what changes have been made?

I don’t think there’s a simple way to find the best versions of particular albums. No list of the best anywhere. If you want to read discussions of what is the best version of a CD or LP, check out the Steve Hoffman Music Forums.  Steve is a mastering engineer, so you can find discussions of what that means too.

You’ll find all kinds of music discussions there and people who give new meaning to the word obsessed. The discussions about albums you’re interested in may have taken place years ago, so you’ll have to get good at searching the forum. They also have classified ad forums, so you may be able to buy some of the better versions there.

If you want to find which CD or LP releases are more compressed or which have greater dynamic range (less compressed), check out the dynamic range database.

Take a look at those sites and if you have any questions, let us know.
I agree to check the Steve Hoffman forums, just about every band and release has been discussed.

Go to
to view a database of every release by a band/recording artist. It includes original issues with dates and country of origin, re-releases, and remasters.
Discogs doesn’t comment on best version or sound quality, but is a great resource to find a release and to purchase used vinyl, CDs, and cassettes

The term "remastered" has become something of a marketing phrase similar to "director's cut".  In most cases it means as close to an original master tape or file has been sourced and then possibly EQ'd, leveled and channel balanced.  If there are previously unreleased tracks, then they may be "polished" to make them sound like the other finished tracks.  Another important element of mastering, especially for vinyl releases, is track sequencing.  How do you fit approximately equal amounts of playing time on each vinyl side?  This can also be part of the remastering effort.  Comparative listening is the only real way to tell what's been done.  You can also contact the record company because they may provide you info on each release.
Digital recording and digital editing are incredibly easy and cheap compared to the ’old way’. This is why it is so popular. Sure you get the usual spin about ’sound quality’ but cheap and easy are the cornerstone benefits. Producing a good quality (quit your quibbling, it’s a relative term!) digital recording is easy, so easy in fact the only thing easier is producing a bad digital recording! Digital editing is so cheap that except for your time it’s basically free. This is what is going on with so many of the reissues. Find some version of the analog originals hopefully the multi-track masters not the two-track ’masters’, digitize it then re-mix, edit, EQ re-order to your hearts content. Many believe that a simple A/D -- D/A guarantees a superior product and $1 bins are full of those. Fortunately there also exists a group who actually do what onhwy61 thinks ’most’ of them do and get as close to the original multi-tracks as possible and re-master them. Lots of objective fixes like channel balance, bandwidth roll-off corrections etc. Many of the changes are of the subjective or ’taste’ variety. Bring the drums and bass up a little during a guitar solo or position backup vocals around the vocalist instead of off to one side. Always the hope for the buyer is greater clarity and range, less hiss and noise more ’immediacy’ etc., some do a great job others make you wonder what they were thinking. Long winded answer to you question I know so to summarize; yes, the terms get thrown around like confetti so the meaning is kind of fluid. Information on how each was done is out there for the significant reissues with lots of clues as to the potential for success in each case. How successful they have been is up to your own ears. Check reviewers you trust but be aware of each’s biases.

I have tried in several forums to get record buyers to talk about their experience with new re-issues focused on the physical record. I have owned or heard many super audiophile reissues that had incredible sound but very quickly (1 play sometimes) develop clicks or pops that are startling in an otherwise black soundscape. Some look so good you just know the sound will be a knock out then you learn the groves sound like a chain hanging off the back of a pickup truck on a gravel road. Any takers here?
... I have owned or heard many super audiophile reissues that had incredible sound but very quickly (1 play sometimes) develop clicks or pops that are startling in an otherwise black soundscape ...
Something is badly amiss if that happens. It could be dirt on the record, a defective stylus or improper setup.
@cleeds Could be a lot of things and one of the things it could be is problems with vinyl formulations another could be a shortfall in the manufacturing.  With the huge majority of records lasting and sounding well for ages the few that don't wouldn't make me jump to setup as the first cause.  I could be wrong.  Mostly thanks for commenting, you are the first in 10 years on numerous forums to do so.  No even a "no all good here" response.
I believe it’s mostly a marketing exercise. My experience agrees with the consensus here, they are either ’ruined’ or ’overly compressed.’

I can’t think of many remasters which improved upon the originals. Not for the Beatles (1993 Red and Blue and 2014 US Box excepted), the Kinks, the Incredible String Band, Elvis Costello or Scott Walker.

Different yes, more tracks yes sometimes, but better sound? No!

The frustrating thing is that even after cleaning up glitches and finding better original tapes they can’t resist the temptation to compress the dynamics. They just can’t.

Nor can they often resist trying a little too hard to remove tape hiss - and some of the ’air’ in the original recording along with it.

The Jimmy Page Led Zeppelin ones and the Johnny Marr Smiths ones were ok.

So were the Shout Factory ones for The Beat (or the English Beat as known in the US) and the Singer’s Singer Matt Monro Box.