Thursday, March 31, 2005

Louder Is Always Better, Right?

Record companies these days have a whole bag of tricks these days to try to get us to buy the same album multiple times. One of the most popular is the remastering of old CDs.

In theory, this is a good idea. Many old CDs were created with less than great technology. If the analog-to-digital converters used were of poor quality, then you're simply not getting a great sounding CD. Enter the remastering process, which gives us better sound on all the old favorites. Um, yeah. Sometimes.

The biggest problem is that this is turning into a win/lose situation. Yes, you are getting a better sounding CD on a lot of levels. Unfortunately, most engineers are also making the overall volume of the disc much louder. Louder is better, right?

Well, no. EVERYONE PAYS MORE ATTENTION WHEN SOMETHING IS LOUDER, and that's undoubtedly the main reason this is done. But a loud master tends to decrease the dynamic range (everything ends up being the same volume), make the high end brittle, make bass sound like mush, and well, generally make everything sound like ass. There's simply a whole lot less definition to the music because all the instruments are trying to occupy the same space.

Most new albums are also being made in this way. Prime offenders are Rush's Vapor Trails, Iron Maiden's Dance of Death, and U2's How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. It simply amazes me that bands that once cared so much about the sound of their music are happy with what's on these discs. It's a lumpy, midrange-y mass that hangs in the air and becomes tiresome to listen to when played at louder volumes. Geddy Lee and Adam Clayton's bass guitars actually distort during certain songs. Hell, I can barely hear Steve Harris's popping and slapping (his trademark) on DoD. There might actually be good music in there, but the presentation is such teh suck that it's hard to be sure.

The solution? Not much to be done about brand new recordings. But with remasters of old ones? Just say no unless a) you get to hear it before buying, or b) there are bonus features, such as unreleased songs, that outweigh the lousy sound.


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