Sunday, July 25, 2010

Fables Waveforms

It's been a while since I posted any waveforms here, but with the controversy over the mastering of the 25th Anniversary Edition of R.E.M.'s Fables of the Reconstruction, I thought I'd give it another crack.

The first waveform is a screen shot of the track "Cant Get There From Here" taken from my needledrop of the original 1985 LP. (For technical details, see comments).

"Cant Get There From Here" (1985 LP Needledrop)

The next waveform represents the same song taken from the original 1985 IRS/MCA CD.

Some have criticized me in the past for comparing waveforms taken from LP needledrops to those taken from CDs. The argument against doing so is that the manifold noise and distortions inherent to LP playback make any such waveform comparisons invalid. But as you can see below, the needledrop and CD waveforms look remarkably similar. In terms of dynamic range, I found less than 0.5 dB difference between these two tracks, so whatever distortion LP playback adds to the picture here, it is of a low enough order not to have a tremendous impact on the track's dynamic range.

"Cant Get There From Here" (1985 IRS/MCA CD)

That is not to say the two tracks sounded identical. While similar in terms of dynamic range, to my ears the CD track sounded somewhat thin and bright compared to the LP sourced track. This is not to say that the CD sounded bad, but to my ears it lacked the depth and fullness of the needledroped track.

Finally, we come to the remastered 2010 version of "Cant Get There From Here." As expected, the remastered version is louder than the other versions, around 8 dB louder on average. With an average RMS value of approximately -12 dB, this is hardly the most compressed remaster I have seen (that distinction belongs to Iggy Pop's remixed Raw Power, which averages around -4 dB). For a more reasonable point of comparison most tracks on the recent Deluxe Edition of Exile On Main St. average around -10 dB.

"Cant Get There From Here" (2010 Capitol Remaster)

So, how did the remaster sound in comparison to the other tracks? Well, most obviously it was louder. A lot louder. I had to turn my stereo way down when switching to the new remaster. In order to precisely match sound levels I needed the help of my computer. Once I matched levels and compared tracks it seemed the remaster had a slightly hollow sound compared to the other tracks, and tonally I thought it was brighter than either the older CD or the LP. I also noticed that Michael Stipe's vocals seemed to be boosted slightly in relation to the instruments. The remaster did not sound bad, but I did prefer the two earlier versions.

It's been my experience in listening to compressed remasters that the most regrettable consequences of compression only reveal themselves over time, not in quick back-and-forth comparisons. As I have noted before, heavy compression tends to take a sense of excitement out of the music, resulting in albums that do not hold up to repeated listening.

So while the remastering of Fables could have been worse, it also could have been better. A lot better. Ironically, in 2010 if you want to hear a really good sounding digital version of Fables Of The Reconstruction, you'll have to digitize your old LP.

1 comment:

Pete Bilderback said...

Equipment used for the needledrop is as follows:

Music Hall MMF-7 Turntable
Denon DL-160 Cartridge
Grado PH-1 Phono Preamplifier
Edirol UA-1EX USB Interface
MacBook Pro Laptop

Programs used for processing files:

Adobe Soundbooth CS4 2.0.1 (for recording, editing and normalization)
Click Repair 3.1.2 (for removal of occasional low level clicks and pops)
Sample Manager 3.2.2 (for sample rate conversion and dither to 44.1/16)
Amadeus Pro 1.5.1 (for track splitting)
Apple iTunes 9.2.1 (for track tagging)