Thursday, November 28, 2013

Remasters

If you've downloaded some of my stuff, you may have noticed that some of the albums have a comment "Remastered By Neal." I've started to "remaster" some of my old stuff that's either really quiet, to match the volume of albums by the same band, or if I'm making a compilation of B-Sides. 

A lot of audiophiles will tell you that the record industry practice of remastering albums is bullshit. I tend to agree. It's just getting you to buy the same album that you already have. If it has been remixed, has bonus tracks added or new liner notes, I understand getting the new version. But remastering is basically just making the album louder, and done so rampantly now to keep up with the loudness wars.

To show you an example, here is the original CD version of Slayer's "War Ensemble" from Seasons In The Abyss:


That's what most older punk or metal songs look like digitally. There are spikes for loud drums, guitar solos or yells and dips for the quieter parts. The sound waves can't go above or below 1 db or else there's clipping of the sound and there can be audio distortion. I think the Dinosaur Jr. remasters are guilty of that.

Here's the remastered version of War Ensemble:


To achieve that new loudness, peaks are clipped and compressed and then the rest of the sound is raised up to 1 db or close to it. This isn't even that bad for a lot of metal remasters. Most of the Century Media remasters (Exodus, Forbidden, Nuclear Assault) are totally brickwalled, meaning there are few spikes or dips, everything is just loud across the board. There's no magic to this process, no talent (I can attest to that) and no real improvement, besides VOLUME!

Now audiophiles will talk about the loss of dynamics and the subtleties of the music. There's where I don't really care. I listen to a lot of old punk and metal. It wasn't recorded very well and probably sounds like shit to a lot of soundologists (that's a word, right?). But I like music for the songs and how it was represented when it was made. It's like with movies for me: I don't care that much about special effects or mind watching avi movie files on a computer screen. I just care how Scott Baio gets back at those jerks with his telekinetic powers and that Scatman Crothers has a weed induced dream about a salami bazooka.

Basically, I have a lot of free time, I enjoy the process and a lot of old stuff is a lot quieter than the first Slayer example above. Plus I listen to music on headphones a lot more now and get annoyed at all the volume differences between stuff. I've gotten it pretty streamlined now. Some old albums only peak at .75 db, so raising them up to 1 is a distinct change that adds volume without removing any of the music. Sometimes it takes a little more work to match the volume of a band's discography across different record labels and eras.

So, if you ever see one of my download links with an (R) after it (like Slammin' Watusis or Lovejunk), that means I've gently remastered it. Don't worry, nothing like the 2nd Slayer example above. I think Dischord has done a good job with their remasters and I've tried not to be much more aggressive that that. In a few cases I've tried to equalize the albums a little if they don't sound that great to me. The original SNFU - Better Than A Stick In The Eye CD was incredibly quiet and muddy, so I remastered and boosted the treble a little in that case and think it sounds way better.

A lot of the stuff I've remastered for myself is in print however, so I'm hesitant to post it. But if people are interested, I'll find a way to share it so you can compare it with the originals.

4 comments:

  1. Maybe it's easier to buy a remaster for $10-$15 if that's an option, and support a band or label that you approve of than have to sit there for 3 hours and do it yourself....

    So why don't you get to work on 7 Seconds - Soulforce Revolution & Ourselves (both underrated classics that I just listened to today that sound like shit) and post the motherfuckers and shut the fuck up!

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    1. i'd expect that kind of response from a sap who probably owns duplicates of every single screeching weasel release on each label he's dicked over with the same crap music on every single one!

      i'm just trying to warn people (and you) that remasters aren't really 1) a sound improvement or 2) necessary in most cases if you already own the album. i'm not against supporting artists and labels, but there are plenty of new bands and labels to support instead of owning 2 copies of pennywise's "unknown road" because the new one is slightly louder.

      i have done the first 3 7 seconds cds. you'll have to wait on the restless years until i can access my cds.

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  2. I've been doing the same with my CD's lately. Also I've been downloading flac files instead of mp3's (when available) from Soulseek and doing my own "remastering", which is basically amplifying the recording using Audacity.

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  3. The Nuclear Assault presses of Game Over and Handle With Care are the worst grinder shrill of volume I've heard so far. Survive managed to be spared and that's because I.R.S and Myles Copeland, brother of that other Copeland produced it and it is a massive piece of engineering. I have the originals on tape and I can't believe what they did to these records. Game Over sounds killer and I always loved the fact the guitars were pulled under the distortion threshold. It's hard to get into at first but I find those riffs and songs are heavier from being restrained and you here the intricate detail of the clever fingering and picking of Bramante and John. Lilker and Evans were the biggest brick wall of rhythm in metal and never were on the radar. Lilker fought for any status and Evans hit harder and was as fast as anybody at that time. Dude was ripped. I just spent 59 bux to get original cd presses of Handle and Game because I can't make it through the reissues. My tapes are in order and I have the wax, but these albums are a absolute listen as Overkill Under The Influence - I Hear Black. Waiting on the release of those records, Overkill have done well with their reissue box. You're right, by the way. Cheers!

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