Older ripped CD's sound terrible compared to new?

Bad analog source is the most likely culprit. Unless you’re using a crap encoder.

It’s amazing the low audio levels and amount of hiss in even late 90’s stuff.

They simply weren’t properly recorded, most likely due to poor equipment. As any audiophile will tell you, pretty much all early CDs and CD players sounded like crap. They sold anyway because they were new and shiny and convenient and pushed hard by the industry, and people couldn’t tell the difference since the rest of their hi-fi system was crap, too. Besides, their old analog records were all full of scratches and dirt and cigarette ashes so those crap CDs actually sounded kind of good in comparison…

Also remember that early digital equipment was far away from todays standard. I did some technical help for a small local radio station that began to go digital cutting of their broadcasts in 1992. I had the interviews cut with analogue tape in 50% of the required time because software and hardware available was really really baddish.

Any way to clean them up?

Not unless you want to Digitally Remaster them. You can pull the CDA off the CD and then import it into a WAV editor that has an EQ so you can filter out some of the crap. It all depends on the software.

Older CDs don’t sound crappy because old techniques were somehow inferior. In fact, recording techniques in general have changed very little over the last 20 years.

You also (mostly) can’t blame it on the weaknesses of old digital gear. CDs sounded bad back in the early days of the medium primarily because the D/A converters in consumer CD players were so primitive. The high end digital gear used to master the recordings was inferior compared to what’s available today, but the stuff used in the big studios for major label recordings was still pretty decent.

Here’s what you’re probably noticing:

First, while today’s audio recordings are most often native digital–recorded through a digital console to a disk-based DAW like Pro Tools, edited and mastered in software–the recordings of 20 years ago were most often analog up until mastering. Analog tape sounds great, but there are a few inherent weaknesses, one of which is a little unavoidable background noise, or tape hiss. Some CDs that are digital conversions of analog recordings will sometimes have a little noticeable hiss if you are listening at high volumes.

Second, mastering techniques have changed a lot since the 80’s and early 90’s. The most significant change is the tendency of mastering engineers to apply a lot of compression or hard limiting to final mix, which greatly decreases the dynamic range of a recording but makes it sound really loud and punchy. Recordings from even the early 90’s sound much quieter than modern recordings because of this practice. The advantage to that kind of aggressive compression is that our ears initially percieve loud recordings as sounding generally better, bassier, punchier, etc. Also, a loud recording will reveal fewer of the weaknesses of a cheap cd player/receiver/etc, because you don’t have to turn it up until you start to hear the background noise from your system. The disadvantage to that sort of mastering is that listening to a recording with very little dynamic range is fatiguing, but at first blush, that is probably the #1 reason that a new CD would sound better than an old one: at the same volume level, a new one will sound much louder and punchier.

And again, if you have the right programs you can remix these yourself. I record Guitar. The problem is that a Guitar is an analog source. I use a guitar preamp, which converts the analog signal into a digital one, adds the effects and then converts it back to analog. This goes through any other gear I’m using and then into my sound card. It’s then converted BACK into digital format.

There’s a lot of cleaning to do with a setup like this because there’s hiss and noise, unwanted frequency response that sounds harsh, etc. I use Cubase and Cooledit Pro, both of which can EQ the sound and can use plug-ins for compression, comb filtering, etc. You also can use the EQ for your sound card on some of them.

Trying this yourself, if you’re interested in the “How”, could be a fun learning experience. I remix old music all the time and make CD’s so I can play them in the car. When my band wants to do new songs, I grab them from whatever source I can (Vinyl, tape, CD, MP3) and make a CD so I can listen to them in the car.

It’s pretty cool when you have an old record or tape and you do a good job on it. Give it a go, it’s fun.

From what I’ve read, it’s the analog to digital conversion process that’s gotten much better. Early CDs were so poorly mastered – with the studios blaming it on “the original source” (when in fact the original analog sources sounded fantastic) – that they just sounded plain awful.

They’ve gotten much better, but the only way you’re going to “fix” shitty old CDs is to wait for a good remaster (alot of this is happening, especially on DVD Audio or DualDisc conversions), or pick up a nice turntable and find the original recordings (assuming the content is old enough).

A/D conversion has improved a lot, so has D/A conversion. It’s two sides of the same process. Of course they’ve both improved.

As far as poor mastering on early CDs, you’re basically talking about stuff from the very infancy of digital recording and CD technology. That’s a pretty narrow window when you’re talking about everything recorded over the last two and a half decades. Equipment and techniques rapidly improved since the mid 80’s, and there’s really nothing wrong with most major label recordings from the late 80’s and early 90’s except that they don’t have the fuck smashed out of them during mastering and every imperfection in the vocals isn’t fixed with Autotune.

Regarding DIY mastering: consider that the pros spend astronomical amounts of money on the components in a mastering studio. Everything is the absolute highest end. Even the A/D D/A converters they use easily cost upstairs of $3000. Speakers are upstairs of $10,000. It is fun and educational to experiment with mastering your own recordings, but unless you are prepared to spend a lot of money on gear and software and a lot of time refining your ears your results will most likely still sound like shit and be far inferior to anything that has been professionally mastered. But you’ll probably think it sounds better, so I guess that’s worth something. :)

It also helps that the A->D conversion happens much earlier in the process. Now they’re working with digital in the studio rather than mixing down to an analog master and then converting that to digital. If there was a problem with the conversion, they’d notice it right away.

Yeah, and as I mentioned, you also avoid the noise associated with analog recording. Of course, you miss out on the warmth associated with analog recording, and producers have also been trying to address that since the advent of digital recording.



Forgot this one.

I got it. What’s your sound background, Met_K?

Btw, for all the talk about CDs, I’ve been most happy with DVD Audio, acoustically (though playback can be more of a pain than MP3s etc depending on where you’re trying to listen). I ripped the CD version of Bjork’s “Post”, and slipped the DVD Audio into my system at the same time; quite a difference, listening to them both. Especially the beginning of Hyperballad… I much prefer the DVD Audio (I rip my CDs to AAC / 320 kbps). Part of that is the much better separation in the new 5.1 master, but that’s not all there is to it.

Some call me Arsy McArseface. Does that mean i’m ugly?

That’s quite a silly personal reaction to post when your basis for it is an assumption, Met_K. You have no idea why I was asking your background.

My DVD Audio experience comment was a contribution to the thread, not an aside to you… or are you choosing to participate now? :)

As I pointed out when I first mentioned it, some content is being remastered and released in DVD Audio (I think 24/96 5.1 in this case, though there may be a stereo track I’m getting; I haven’t looked it up), obviously it’s not a simple A > B comparison, and in this case the final result is something that is very enjoyable and compares favorably to the original CD of the same material.

I’m a really big arse.

That’s cool – thanks! This is a subject I only have a little exposure to (but want to learn more about), other than alot of music makes my ears hurt and/or eventually gives me a headache, especially if I listen for too long (at any level), and the few occasions when it hasn’t it’s been a particularly nice setup.

I recently was doing research on different formats, and came across some old but very interesting articles (rants, really) by an audio engineer about the move to digital (it was pretty damning of the studios, of course), which then led me to a bunch of articles getting into dynamic range and resolution, comparing scope output from various media, etc.

Basically that’s what led me to start trying some of the new, remastered albums in the new formats, and DualDisc is widely available now so this first purchase was an experiment with a nice result.

Switching gears entirely, you know those people who “see” color when they hear live music? One of the more interesting comments I’ve heard from one of those people was that they experience some color when listening to recordings, but that older analog recordings usually produced much more than digital ones (the comparison CDs would have been pretty early, given the year of the interview). Odd but intriguing stuff.

Just checked, it’s 24/96 5.1. I really dig that site, btw. Alot of the albums on various formats have reviews specific to that format, although the quality of the reviews (as always) can be a bit hit or miss.

Case in point, from that Dark Side of the Moon SACD:


     5 Stars 

Reviewer: Andre Porter
Had the technology been available then, I believe this is how the artists would have wanted the album to sound.

and then:

were only in it for the money

     1 Stars 

To truly listen to and enjoy this album, and I do mean ALBUM, and not SACD, you need to get the QUAD Vinyl or the 8-track version. AS that is how the BAND really mixed it with Alan Parsons. Now dont get me wrong, James Guthries is great, but the SACD just to me is VERY LACKING. Not to mention te fact that Sony paid for the making of this, to help promote their own format of SACD, while DVD-Audio has existed for years, making us buy all new decks to listen. I say skip it and wait for the REAL version!