Thoughts on commercial music CD remastering

Attached are Audacity screenshots of spectrum plots of a 5 second segment of a 1979 recording of Spyro Gyra’s “End Of Romanticism” aiff file from the 1996 remastered “Morning Dance” album on Amherst label, the time I bought my copy. From the spectrum plot of the unedited original wave form would you say that is a professional or quality remastering job?

It sounds thin, flat, high pitched with very little bass on every device I play it on except on my old home stereo with large box speakers where I have to severely EQ the treble/bass adjusts. Note the extraneous data representing highlights from snare drum and cymbal hits between 10K to 20K Hz. That’s ridiculous! A negative adjust of -1.5 semitone pitch in Audacity’s “Change Pitch…” fixes it.

Would you say that is an indication of poor recording or remastering? I’m at a loss.

What’s even more depressing is that Discog lists over ten re-issues on various labels of this CD starting from the first 1985 pressing. There are now two remastered versions (see YouTube links of this song), the one I have and the Amazon mp3 samples (which have a beefed up bass response) but which CD to buy that has the improved sound is impossible to determine.

Version of 1996 remastering representing the 5 second spectrum plot segment (lacking bass)…

This has the improved bass sound…

The spectrum plot of the original vs my Audacity edits representing improved sound…
Audacity Wave Stats… measures my edited version at around -13db RMS, the original -18db. It sounds a whole lot better listening on my Sony headphones even better than the improved Amazon mp3.

Does my edited version going by the plot spectrum break any sound engineering quality standard rules?

Thanks for your thoughts on this.

You can’t tell audio quality from a spectrograph. And it is impossible to tell if the problem was already present in the recording, was introduced by the mix, or the mastering…

The same goes for remastering. Unless you also have the original version to compare with, you can’t tell if the remastering was any good.

Your corrected version is almost 6 dB louder. That doesn’t break any rules, except EBU128, but since this is only for your pleasure, it doesn’t matter.

And the most important rule in audio engineering is still: “If it sounds good, it sounds good”. :mrgreen:

Thanks, Cyrano, for your reassured feedback.

The 6db increase [which I love BTW especially for playing in the acoustic waste land of my car driving down the highway with the windows rolled down] I have to attribute to George Yohng’s free and excellent W1 Limiter nyquest plugin I found out about in an Audacity thread I started over a similar topic several years ago. It does have a problem noted with other DIY limiters with preventing deep bass frequencies below 60hz from topping out above -6db. I think you can see 30Hz region getting out of hand in the spectrum plot from my edit.

I have to be careful listening on headphones to keep from getting headaches from the inaudible subsonic wave signals. My Sony headphones are rated down to 5hz if you can believe that. I use Apple’s AU High Pass filter set to 20Hz/-10db and apply to only selected problem areas. Lot of work though but when you love a certain album I want to sound good on all devices it’s worth it to me.

But really I don’t want to have to do these edits and would rather buy a better remastered version but it’s impossible to confirm which of the numerous CD reissues have the mp3 improvements on Amazon. And communicating with vendors is a stiff arm process as well when yesterday in an email exchange with an Amazon seller selling a collector’s edition at a reasonable price of the original 1985 MCA label first pressing, when I asked about the sound, the vendor answered back that he couldn’t play the Amazon samples to make a comparison because of some virus. This is the kind of people I deal with just trying to buy a CD. It’s downright worse than buying at a brick and mortar store.

I’ve sent an email to Amherst Records label about this and they are going to get back to me.

I’ve got '70’s & ’ 80’s Weather Report and big band jazz first CD releases that sound similar in bass response and overall tinny sound. As a digital hobby it’s fun to work on these songs in Audacity and play in my car to see how sound perception changes depending on listening device and surroundings. I now know which reverb effect to apply as a way to balance and temper high energy songs.

It’s not only CD’s, I’m afraid. I often ask questions about gear, only to get responses clearly showing they haven’t got the faintest idea what that gear can do. Or can’t do, for that matter. Even ebay sellers are better informed. Better liars too :laughing:

I inquired about an equalizer recently and the vendor supposed it could do compression too. It can’t, but it’s digital and complex, so they “suppose” it could be used as a compressor.

So I pay a little bit more when I buy from my local store, or one of the big stores that only sells audio gear, like Thomann. At least, these people know when they don’t know and they’ll forward the question to the manufacturer.

Well I had to check to see if the Amazon mp3 samples were really altered from my 1994 CD re-issue, so I downloaded one of the 89¢ mp3 selections off the Amazon Amherst Records label page and analyzed the bass region and sure enough the mp3 has a 7db boost in the 50Hz region only (hopefully my car’s subs will reproduce). See attached plot spectrum.

The mp3 still is reproducing slammed to the wall 20K data as the 1994 aiff which puzzles me because that has got to be noise. Unless they mic-ed the symbols I can’t imagine what detail is being preserved to hear over what amounts to a lot of loud high energy music.

I think I’ll just buy a new CD (not used) from a reputable vendor I’ve bought CD’s from before and stay clear of imports which I noticed one unknown vendor says his is an import from Canada which is what’s stated on my 1994 CD. Not going to get that one. But I have to wonder what it means when one vendor specifically states “Brand new factory sealed straight from the studios” and another one states ships from the USA.

If you think I’m being picky you should see how many ZZ-top duplicate CD’s I have to make sure one doesn’t have the goofy sounding reverb and over dubbed drum section from an '80’s remastering/re-issue of an original '70’s version.

And before anyone asks why I don’t just buy the Amazon mp3’s, I have to say I prefer factory stamped CD’s over CD-r’s. I don’t listen to music on mobile devices since I don’t own any. Don’t need them.

And this 2009 thread I started over on a photography site I hang out will show you another aspect of CD-R’s you may not be aware of and why I prefer factory stamped CD’s…

When I transcribed my LP collection I mainly re-bought commercially available factory-stamped CDs (especially for my favourite albums).

With a few of them I discovered that later re-mastering had ruined the recording - mainly down to the infamous loudness wars. And for those I reverted to converting those from the vinyl LP using Audacity (and ClickRepair).

A good example was Emmylou Harris’ Luxury Liner. The later remastered CD is louder, it makes all the instruments louder and poor old Emmylou seems to get pushed into the background.

I found similar when I borrowed the Beatles’ 2009 remastered issues to compare with my original CD set. Similar problem here - in the remastering I finf the engineers have place far to much prominence on the backing instuments to the extent that thay often overpower the vocal performance.

On the Other hand though, remastering for CD can be wornderful - my prime example is The Bridge by Sonny Rollins - a woderfully engineered sound on LP that I had for years - but eveb better on the re-masterd CD.


Thanks for mentioning the remastered Sonny Rollins “Bridge” album, WC.

Checked it out on YouTube and I see what you mean. Very live, clean sound like you’re there.

My only gripe is as was done recording such artists back in those days listening on headphones has Sonny’s sax playing in my right ear only. It’s quite distracting and a bit annoying. The rest of the sound lacks any room reflection/reverb from Sonny’s sax to be heard in the left channel as do most stereo imaging techniques go. My Sly and the Family Stone Greatest Hits CD is recorded similarly where the drums are heard only on one channel and a faint echo showing up on the other channel. Listening on speakers is not so bad but sill who records drums situated on the right side of the center lead singer. Drums are usually center and behind the singer.

With a few of them I discovered that later re-mastering had ruined the recording - mainly down to the infamous loudness wars. And for those I reverted to converting those from the vinyl LP using Audacity (and ClickRepair).

A good example was Emmylou Harris’ Luxury Liner. The later remastered CD is louder, it makes all the instruments louder and poor old Emmylou seems to get pushed into the background.

I can relate to that. I just started experimenting with and exploring the intricacies of Apple’s AU Multi-Band Compressor last night on the Morning Dance songs, and though it provides a way to create separation between different voices and instruments, it makes everything equally loud in creating this wall of sound. Its 4 band db controlled EQ and crossover adjust features is a hoot to work with especially in applying bass that doesn’t get out of hand. I compared it to my EQ only treatment and I just tossed all my former work and went with this compressor. It’s amazing what it does to sound.

Just an update: The record label never contacted me on which CD has the mp3 version, but I don’t think it would’ve helped because I played the mp3 version next to my AU Mulitband Compressor edit in my car with subwoofers and just as I thought it’s not the lack of beefed up bass that’s the problem but the lack of fatness and fullness (timbre). I’m reminded of the Dire Straits line from their “Money For Nothing” song…"Bangin’ on the bongos like a chimpanzee " Only my album sounds like toy drums or they recorded all the songs from an early '80’s boombox. Every snare drum hit is a ‘pop’ and the the kick bass is a ‘bop’ instead of a boom.

The only remedy was to drop the pitch by 1 semitone in a sort of bass tuning the entire song and the Multiband Compressor put back the brightness and clarity. Sounds so much better.

The only drawback is the compressor throws the DC offset off by 2%.