But as BangSplat notes, mastering engineer Greg Calbi was fairly liberal in his use of dynamic range compression on this reissue. According to BangSplat's measurements, on the original CD the first track, "Radio Free Europe," averages -19.73 dB and -20.85 dB (left and right channels, respectively), while the remaster clocks in at -12.76 dB/-12.93 dB. In other words, the remaster is around 7 dB louder on average than the original. I recently transcribed the album from vinyl and after normalizing "Radio Free Europe" to 0 dB got a result that looks very similar to the original CD (-19.1 dB/-19.6 dB). You can see what the difference between the LP and remastered CD looks like below.
R.E.M. - "Radio Free Europe" LP (1983)
R.E.M. - "Radio Free Europe" Remastered CD (2008)
So what does the difference sound like? Not as dramatic as you might think. I hate to admit it, given the obvious application of dynamic range compression, but the deluxe edition sounds pretty good to my ears. Whatever peaks got compressed out are (in my opinion) not entirely essential to enjoying the music. I would have preferred a reissue that matched the original master tape a little more closely, but sonically the new version is decent.
In fact, I'm not at all surprised that many of the reviews of this set claim the deluxe edition is a sonic upgrade over previous editions. Compared to the original domestic CD, it almost certainly is an upgrade. The original CD of Murmur (released sometime in the mid-eighties) was a nasty sounding thing. It featured a harsh, grating midrange that made it all but unlistenable to my ears. I sold my copy a long time ago. It was exactly the kind of poorly mastered CD that forced me to the conclusion that "perfect sound forever" was a big lie. It was my repeated experiences with crummy sounding CDs like Murmur that made the idea that CDs are inferior to LPs something of a sacred cow for me.
But whatever the original CD's problems were, lack of dynamic range was not among them. As you can see from BangSplat's measurements, the original CD pretty closely matches the LP in terms of dynamic range.
Listening on headphones on my computer or my iPod, the new deluxe edition sounds particularly good. The version I ripped from LP also sounds good, but (after adjusting for volume differences) the new version sounds slightly more focused. I've always felt like there was a slight gauzy haze that hung over Murmur, and I hear less of that on the remaster. The version I ripped from LP sounds kind of like the album cover looks; like everything is in soft-focus. The remastered CD brings everything into sharper focus without really changing the way the album sounds too dramatically (don't worry--you still won't be able to figure out what Michael Stipe is singing).
But when I compared the two versions on my stereo it was a different story. The CD-R I made of the version I ripped from vinyl sounded far more appealing to me than the remastered CD. While listening through speakers instead of headphones, the remastered CD did not sound harsh or fatiguing in the way that overly-compressed CDs often do, but the LP sourced CD-R bettered it in ways that are difficult to quantify. The LP sourced version sounded bigger and more involving, and the gauzy, soft-focus quality of the album sounded both less noticeable and more appealing than it did through headphones. I'm honestly not all that inclined to pick apart the differences in sound quality between the two versions, the fact was the LP sourced CD-R was the version I wanted to keep listening to.
Honestly, I'm at a bit of a loss to explain why I preferred a version of the album sourced from an LP and digitized using an $80 analog to digital converter, but I don't think it had anything to do with dynamic range compression. Some of you will no doubt think I'm either nuts or deaf, but I know what I heard; at least when played through speakers, my LP sourced CD-R sounded better than the remaster done by a professional with access to the original master tapes. A lot better to my ears. I can think of a few possible explanations for this, but none of them involve me being some kind of sonic wizard; I'm just a nerd with a semi-decent turntable and a cheap USB analog to digital converter.
Analog and LP boosters are often quick to dismiss digital sound altogether, but my experience with digitizing music from vinyl has convinced me that there is nothing inherently wrong with digital sound. Even resolution limited 16 bit, 44 kHz CDs are capable of fantastic sound quality. This experience has forced me to the (inescapable?) conclusion that some aspect of LP playback adds something to the sound of music that I happen to find appealing, but which is not strictly speaking "hi-fi." And whatever that LP magic is, it can be captured digitally (or at least most of it can).
To sum up, the deluxe edition of Murmur will likely sound like a major sonic upgrade to anyone who is only familiar with the original CD. Those familiar with the LP (or Mobile Fidelity's mid 90s audiophile reissues) might feel differently. Oh, and sacred cows make delicious hamburger meat.