Fundamental Question on Effect of Remastering

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I'll keep this short. 'Can remastering ever improve the sound quality over the original material'? Of course SQ here refers to the musical properties and not extraneous effects such as soundstage. Primarily I am asking whether the added clarity comes at a cost of some loss of music?

I am aware this could be a contentious subject leading to a debate. But am looking for some insights to emerge, not a conclusion.
 

arj

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Interesting topic Sachin ! The little I have understood, Mastering is the process of creating a Master copy from the original tapes/content which would then be used to create subsequent pressings of the Vinyl/CD/etc etc

Simply put Mastering is where the magic of the final album happens where equalisations, sound-staging, distortions, fades, enhancements etc etc and the other good stuff we hear in a good recording is put together by the Audio engineer.

Hence a remaster can be better or worse than the original master, depending on who has done ie a person like Steve Hoffman who understands the pulse of music, listens by the ear or someone who is just an expert at digital tools and goes by measurements and maybe adds compression for people who dont have high end equipment to listen to,

Unfortunately the only answer I am able to come up with is "It Depends" on where this is being mastered from and who does it :p
But if pushed to a corner, I would mostly go for the older one.
 

shyamv

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Well, this is my pet peeve! Most of the re-releases of music are 'remastered' and not 'remixed.

In remastering, the orginal master mix (usually a stereo downmix) is 'adjusted' to produce a new orginal master track. These adjustments are mostly related to equalization , loudness or dynamic range compression so that softer bits sound louder. These adjustments rob the music of all dynamics. 90% of remastered releases of 60s,70s and 80s music, particularly rock and blues releases, suffer this treatment as folks today prefer an uniform dynamic range. Most of the times, a remastered release is a quick and dirty way to bring in money for the recording label. Also low-res streaming services apply their own EQ and this requires the orginal music to be loud with dynamic range compression, otherwise folks can't just hear the quiet passages.

Of course, there are exceptions in remastering particularly in Jazz. For ex Rudy Van Gelder remasters are quite good (especially the later ones and also Japan releases) and preserves the orginal dynamics of the recording.

Another type of re-release is a 'remix' where the multi-track tapes are used to create a new master mix. For ex, Steven Wilson's excellent remixes of Yes, Tull etc. This is a more involved process and requires, the audio engineer to spend, as much if not more, time as the original recording and mixing process. This also leverages the various improvements in mixing equipment and Pro tools since the orginal recording was done. However, the end result is usually much better.

Ultimately it depends on the audio engineer and producer of the re-release.
 

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There are lot examples of terrible remastering and some brilliant ones. It actually depends how it's done over selling the same album again just by "remastered" marketing logo on the front cover.
 

Bloom@83

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While we are on the subject , let us also talk about mono masters vs stereo masters. Because majority of rock and jazz albums till end of the sixties were originally mixed in mono, and later on stereo. All Beatles albums except their last two were originally issued on mono , and apparently the musicians themselves were present during the mono masters , so for purists these represent the true or original sound. They are said to have left the stereo mastering to lone studio engineers on Abbey Road.
How much of this is a marketing ploy to get fans to shell out more money to buy mono masterings which cost a bomb I do not know , but here is a point - almost all of us have grown up listening to the stereo masterings only and they sounded great.

It is almost next to impossible to get hold of the original mono masters for thousands of jazz and rock artists pre seventies because not everyone of them are fortunate enough like Beatles to have mono and stereo reissues even to this day to compare.

From my limited experience with mono masters vs stereo ( taking example of Beach Boys Pet Sounds - another sixties landmark album ) is that the mono sounds fuller , more energetic than their stereo counterparts. Kind of Blue on mono sounds more ‘forward’ than stereo despite the latter’s superb stereo separation, but then the mono is either hard left or hard right , not always hard centre where imaging is concerned(and hence the balance control on amps ). So the answer cannot be generic as to which is better.

The question of whether the newer remasters improve over the SQ of the original , assuming that these remasters are done by very select people like Steve Wilson , Bernie Grundman, Steven Hoffman , Van Gelder or issued from audiophile labels like Blue Note , Analog Productions , MFSL , Stockfish , Japanese Black Triangle , ECM or specific series like Tone Poet , one can safely assume they are as good as the original pressings if not better (given the fact that the original issues on vinyls will invariably have high pops and clicks ). But remasters other than these are generally hit or miss , mostly miss because of introduction of lot of dynamic range compression thereby decreasing fidelity.
 
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arj

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While we are on the subject , let us also talk about mono masters vs stereo masters. Because majority of rock and jazz albums till end of the sixties were originally mixed in mono, and later on stereo. All Beatles albums except their last two were originally issued on mono , and apparently the musicians themselves were present during the mono masters , so for purists these represent the true or original sound. They are said to have left the stereo mastering to lone studio engineers on Abbey Road.
How much of this is a marketing ploy to get fans to shell out more money to buy mono masterings which cost a bomb I do not know , but here is a point - almost all of us have grown up listening to the stereo masterings only and they sounded great.
</snip>
Beatles had come out with a Box album of their Monos CD and also remastered Stereo..the Mono is (IMHO) far superior in sound
 

Bloom@83

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Beatles had come out with a Box album of their Monos CD and also remastered Stereo..the Mono is (IMHO) far superior in sound
Yes , I know. The Mono CDs were mastered from digital files(nevertheless they sound great ) , but the mono LPs issued in 2014 box set were from the master tapes preserved in Abbey Road and it is an eye (and ear opening ) experience from all discussions I’ve seen. I have all the vinyl rips of these in high resolution but it’s not the same thing :)
I’ve been searching for the vinyl box- set but prices are crazy.
 

prem

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Guys, the original mastering always has the consent of the band, singer, music director or whosoever album it is.

Any subsequent remastering will not have the consent. So invariably it will sound different because the concerned remastering engineer will have his own thoughts of how it should be mastered. For example original Billy Joel albums have a bit of compression. That compression will have the blessing of Billy Joel. Subsequent remaster by Steve Hoffman does not have this compression. So technically this might be a better mastering because of lack of compression. But the album sounds a bit different. I personally prefer the original Joel masters with the compression as there is more drive. So I guess it comes down to personal preference.

Also original masters of albums that are more than 40 - 50 years old will not be in great shape. So restoring that master will be first priority. But invariably the fidelity would have dropped. So generally remasters may have a little less fidelity because of the age of the original masters. There may be some exceptions though.

To answer your question Sachin in one line, the remaster will usually not have the consent of the original band. So essentially you are not listening to it the way it was intended. But there can be exceptions. For example Neil Young was involved in the remastering process.
 
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Thanks guys. I could piece together all your responses in my mind and it produced good amount of clarity. Firstly, that remastering is also a mastering. If the original tapes/content are in pristine condition, its possible to produce a remaster that's exactly identical to the original master if one choses to do so (but then of course you can't make additional money through its sales to guys who owned the previous version).

Secondly, that whether one likes the SQ of the original master or the remaster depends upon one's sound preference. But it's quite safe to say that in many cases, due to how musical reproduction has evolved (or devolved) over the decades, the remaster's SQ might be poorer in dynamics than the original - something that a purist audiophile would generally not prefer. However, there can be exceptions to this as well, like the case Prem pointed out. It's best to go by one's ear and decide.

However, if one wishes to listen to what the artists themselves wanted us to hear, its best to go with the original master which in most likelihood would have been okayed by them. It's quite possible that they weren't present during the remastering decades later and what we hear might be the audio engineer's vision, unvetted by the artists. Even here, we might trust and/or like the vision of some engineers (like RVG for many) over even that of the artists and therefore opt for the remasters over the original mastering.

So, I won't make fixed assumptions one way or the other while selecting the version. Not just while purchasing CDs, but even listening on Tidal where you have a choice of multiple masterings available for some classics.
 
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While remastering fundamentally involves just tweaking with the original recorded tapes in post-production (equalizer, add/remove bass/treble in tracks, etc), currently I've noticed that both remix and remastering is used interchangeably for album re-releases.

But if remasters are better or not? Personally, I prefer the remasters most times because there's always a hint of 'cleaning up' the production which I am a fan of. Secondly it's usually done by producers who really know the music well and know what could potentially improve it. Can't think of an objectively bad remaster off the top of my head. But it's a very personal preference thing, and I can only tell you what I prefer and why.

I love the Sgt Peppers remix, somehow feel the extra bass in the tracks is really what the Beatles would've wanted if they could when they recorded the album, makes the sound of every song much more fuller and complete.

I would like some treatment to be given to Tool's early albums because I don't think recording new-age metal was as polished when they started out, and has improved significantly mid-2000s onwards. The albums sound a bit meek when compared to Dream Theater's albums (before Portnoy left), and could definitely do with a bit of remastering.
 

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@prem ... before I could complete reading your full post, i differed on your opinion a little as there are a few Artists and Producers who are involved in the Remastering.
However your last sentence clarified it.
I too prefer the original recordings of Billy Joel as well as Neil Diamond compared to the remasters.
 

shyamv

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Thanks guys. I could piece together all your responses in my mind and it produced good amount of clarity. Firstly, that remastering is also a mastering. If the original tapes/content are in pristine condition, its possible to produce a remaster that's exactly identical to the original master if one choses to do so (but then of course you can't make additional money through its sales to guys who owned the previous version).

Secondly, that whether one likes the SQ of the original master or the remaster depends upon one's sound preference. But it's quite safe to say that in many cases, due to how musical reproduction has evolved (or devolved) over the decades, the remaster's SQ might be poorer in dynamics than the original - something that a purist audiophile would generally not prefer. However, there can be exceptions to this as well, like the case Prem pointed out. It's best to go by one's ear and decide.

However, if one wishes to listen to what the artists themselves wanted us to hear, its best to go with the original master which in most likelihood would have been okayed by them. It's quite possible that they weren't present during the remastering decades later and what we hear might be the audio engineer's vision, unvetted by the artists. Even here, we might trust and/or like the vision of some engineers (like RVG for many) over even that of the artists and therefore opt for the remasters over the original mastering.

So, I won't make fixed assumptions one way or the other while selecting the version. Not just while purchasing CDs, but even listening on Tidal where you have a choice of multiple masterings available for some classics.
It is important to differentiate between remastering and remixing as I mentioned in my post. Though there are always exceptions, most remastered albums are a step below the orginal while remixed albums are a step above. For the music label, remixing is a more expensive activity and usually done with the blessing of the artists and producers resulting in some improvement over the original. So, even if it is a generalization, most remixes are better than most remasters!
 
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Is it (technically) possible to improve the dynamic range while remastering? So let’s say that for some reason the original remastered had compressed dynamics, can you, starting with that master (and not remixing the tracks again) improve the dynamic range?
 

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IMO 99% of the time the originals sound better than remasters. This is especially with rock and heavy metal. The Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, AC/DC and Queensryche remasters are some of the worst sounding CD's ever. The dynamic range is almost half of that of the originals. They sound extremely harsh with bass and treble boosted to kingdom come.

I have listened to some of the Steve Hoffman remasters (Rush, Jethro Tull, Deep Purple) which are extremely tastefully done, but I still prefer the originals. The best remasters I have come across are the Steven Wilson remixed remasters of Jethro Tull. They blow every version (including the originals) away .
 
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The best remasters I have come across are the Steven Wilson remixed remasters of Jethro Tull. They blow every version (including the originals) away .
I too have enjoyed that remastered version. But I haven't compared it with the original. Can you, for our understanding, please explain the ways in which the Wilsom remaster sounds better than the original?
 

plasmoid

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I too have enjoyed that remastered version. But I haven't compared it with the original. Can you, for our understanding, please explain the ways in which the Wilsom remaster sounds better than the original?
I have listened to 4 masters of Aqualung on CD (taken this example 'cos the original mix itself isn't very good, even on vinyl)
  1. Original Pressing - decent dynamics but muddy sounding.
  2. 25th Anniversary Remaster - reduced dynamic range, same muddiness and a slightly harsh top end.
  3. Mobile Fidelity (Steve Hoffman) remaster - the muddiness is reduced but not by a lot. Better bass. The top end is a bit too rounded off (sounds a bit dull)
  4. 40th Anniversary (Steven Wilson Remix and Remaster) - complete transformation - Punchy bass and midrange, brighter top end than the rest though it never gets harsh. Dynamics intact, good soundstage with lots of separation between instruments.
The rest of the Jethro Tull originals are pretty sweet sounding compared to Aqualung. The remasters have the same problems as mentioned above. SW remasters obviously better by a good margin.
 

Bloom@83

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I have listened to 4 masters of Aqualung on CD (taken this example 'cos the original mix itself isn't very good, even on vinyl)
  1. Original Pressing - decent dynamics but muddy sounding.
  2. 25th Anniversary Remaster - reduced dynamic range, same muddiness and a slightly harsh top end.
  3. Mobile Fidelity (Steve Hoffman) remaster - the muddiness is reduced but not by a lot. Better bass. The top end is a bit too rounded off (sounds a bit dull)
  4. 40th Anniversary (Steven Wilson Remix and Remaster) - complete transformation - Punchy bass and midrange, brighter top end than the rest though it never gets harsh. Dynamics intact, good soundstage with lots of separation between instruments.
The rest of the Jethro Tull originals are pretty sweet sounding compared to Aqualung. The remasters have the same problems as mentioned above. SW remasters obviously better by a good margin.
What.cd used to have all the diff remasters and remixes of all classic albums , even the modern post 2000s ones up on their sites in lossless format. For as long as I was a privileged member I downloaded different versions of many albums of my choice and came to appreciate the importance of source material and remasters in an audio chain.
 

shyamv

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Is it (technically) possible to improve the dynamic range while remastering? So let’s say that for some reason the original remastered had compressed dynamics, can you, starting with that master (and not remixing the tracks again) improve the dynamic range?
I believe this should be possible. Compressors and limiters applied on the orginal mix can be undone to produce a new mix.

One thing to note is that the dynamic range varies by the recording material. Dynamic range of Vinyl and Tape is in the range of 55-65dB while CD has potentially much higher dynamic range at 96dB and digital streaming music can be even higher. Instead of actually leveraging the dynamic range of digital music, audio engineers just bump up the overall loudness.
 

Bloom@83

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I have listened to 4 masters of Aqualung on CD (taken this example 'cos the original mix itself isn't very good, even on vinyl)
  1. Original Pressing - decent dynamics but muddy sounding.
  2. 25th Anniversary Remaster - reduced dynamic range, same muddiness and a slightly harsh top end.
  3. Mobile Fidelity (Steve Hoffman) remaster - the muddiness is reduced but not by a lot. Better bass. The top end is a bit too rounded off (sounds a bit dull)
  4. 40th Anniversary (Steven Wilson Remix and Remaster) - complete transformation - Punchy bass and midrange, brighter top end than the rest though it never gets harsh. Dynamics intact, good soundstage with lots of separation between instruments.
The rest of the Jethro Tull originals are pretty sweet sounding compared to Aqualung. The remasters have the same problems as mentioned above. SW remasters obviously better by a good margin.
@plasmoid : Yesterday I finally received my copy of the Steven Wilson remix LP of Thick as a Brick . The stereo separation, punch and dynamics on the vinyl is to die for! And the gorgeous 24 page booklet.
 
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