CD audio quality

Thanks to Itunes blowing up my music library for the 3rd time this year, I’ve decided to rebuild my library from the ground up instead of just important an archived version from a backup drive.

As I’ve been ripping my CD collection, I’ve noticed something and maybe I’m just imagining it. Often, to my ears it seems that the original CD version of an album sounds better than the later digital remastering. Its as if the remastering was just some tech running a loudness and base filter. I’m using apple loss-less on 70s and 80s rock if that helps.

Is this commonly known and I’m late to the party on this or am I just hearing things?

Depends on what sort of sound system you’re running them through. The original CD was probably mastered during the Loudness War which, for all that sucks about what over-compression does to recordings, had the benefit that it does usually sound “better” on cheap speakers and headphones that have poor frequency response.

The old recording probably lacks dynamic range, which means that how it sounds on a pair of Apple earbuds is about the same as how it sounds on a $300 set of high-end headphones. However, an objectively more accurate mastering may sound like it’s missing something on those same earbuds because they don’t really handle subtle or quiet sounds properly, letting them get crushed so that you only can make out whatever happens to be loudest. On the old recording, everything is the loudest, so you hear it all for better or worse.

The original CD, on stuff before the 90s I think, is not mastered during the loudness wars. It’s the version with the full dynamic range. It’s the version that sounds best on all but the crappiest headphones/speakers system.

The newer or ‘remastered’ stuff is the tainted material. Most of that is created for the MP3 generation, so quality goes out the window as a priority.

This is correct. The Loudness War continues.

Audiophiles often seek out what are known as “target” CDs (after the pattern printed on them) because they’re likelier to have full dynamic range. Target CDs are from the earlier days of that now-30-year-old medium.

Others seek out Japanese masterings, because they’re often high-quality, because that market cares more. My Japanese New York Dolls remasters sound much better than the original LPs, never mind the American/European CDs.

PS. Don’t use iTunes!

Don’t use iTunes.

The Frank Zappa remasters from the late 90s early 00s sound pretty good to me. Now they are re-mastering his whole collection again, and it’s under the aegis of the Zappa Family Trust so I’m looking forward to hearing them. The Zappa trust is pretty serious about the quality of Frank’s recordings.

Don’t use iTunes.

Most newer mastering uses a lot of compression. The compression distributes all the sound within a specific volume band and removes the natural dynamic difference between the loudest and softest sounds. To the human ear, compressed sound sounds louder. It also has little texture and almost no clarity.

You can actually hear this effect in the Talking Heads’ “Take Me to the River.” Toward the end of the song, they gradually increased the compression to make it sound like it was getting louder. There is also a perceptible drop in clarity.

Not every CD falls victim to this, of course. The remastered work of the Talking Heads is a little louder, but still clear, probably because it was done primarily by Jerry Harrison. The remastered version of The Joshua Tree, on the other hand, is an apparent travesty.

“The Loudness War” is a pretty good name for a band.

All CD recording is flawed due to the compression and sampling, but early CDs are notoriously bad. A friend who was in the industry at the time – DMTS at Bell Labs, specializing in digital audio – said that experts from around the industry tried and failed to convince Phillips that their technology was broken, and it took many years for them to accept it.

Compared to Vinyl maybe. But compared to Mp3s, CDs still tend to sound better, since they aren’t THAT compressed, usually.

Lets talk vinyl. I grew up with it. I know about the various styli that are used. I understand weighting arms, noise reduction under the turntable feet. The pros and cons of belt drive vs. direct. Turntable timing.

But bottom line, skips, pops and hiss weren’t conducive to good listening. As much as hipsters might argue otherwise.

I prefer a well engineered remaster of original tapes to CD over a scratched vinyl disc. And I still have hundreds of them.

My worst experience was when a stylus broke on an import that cost me over $100. The sound that it made in my headphones was horrible. It was like the record was screaming in pain. And that was the end of that album as a source of pleasure. Maybe there was a way I could have avoided it. Replaced the stylus earlier? Noticed a degradation of sound as it reached the fail point? But I didn’t. Mea culpa.

Even some MP3’s sound a lot better than the iTunes equivalents, go figure.

I suppose the proper comparison would be with high quality audio tape, not with vinyl. I think the broad consensus is that MP3 is inferior to good CD recording; but I was observing that early CD signal processing chips had design flaws.

Pity that DVD-A or SACD didn’t really take off.

My music in high school and college was on cassette played through fairly cheap equipment I could afford. MP3s, while far inferior to a good CD, are much better than that.

The library here gets a good number of SACDs, but that’s mostly classical music. It’s probably more expensive, but there’s no price tag when I catalog it, so I can’t be sure.

Record companies did not choose their hi-res releases well, and the formats were declared dead when the hardware didn’t catch on. Stupid.

I make CDs out of my records. Anti-click technology is finally what it should be:

How could they? The only SACD player I know, my PS3, refuses to play them over optical. I have to use AV cables. WHAT?!

I’m not saying that the marketing/technology sides of things weren’t horribly botched, but the idea was probably doomed anyway. Music sales dropping off, centralized music culture dying off, and most people shrugging and saying that CDs and MP3s were “good enough.” Sort of like how hard it was for Blu-Ray to compete against DVDs, honestly, except that I think more people were bullied into purchasing 1080p TVs than were convinced to snag high-end stereos.

Mm DRM. Why, it can’t possibly go wrong! At the end of the day, because of them to get any audio improvements you were buying all expensive audio kit…whereas a big HDTV has immediate, stand-alone benefits.