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Author Topic: Zeppelin remasters examined by London Times...  (Read 8969 times)

zmix

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Zeppelin remasters examined by London Times...
« on: November 16, 2007, 05:59:06 pm »

The London Times (online) reports:


November 16, 2007

Do the songs remain the same?


They’re remastered and rereleased - but does messing with Led Zep’s classics really make them sound any better? Our correspondent risks his delicate hearing to find out
Dominic Maxwell

Is Led Zeppelin’s new album, Mothership, a rip-off or a revelation? Released this week, the two-CD best-of heralds the Seventies rock gods’ live reunion with a track listing remarkably similar to their previous two-CD best-of. Remasters, released in 1990, sold in airshiploads, thanks to the acclaimed restoration work by the band’s guitarist, Jimmy Page. Seventeen years later, he has done it again, with a new remastering engineer. Has some 21st-century sonic hoodoo been applied to these blues-rock anthems? Are all previous versions of these songs now second-rate, redundant? Or is this remastering lark all just a bit of a gimmick?

Opinion, so far, is divided. The album is a must, argues Uncutmagazine, “for those who wish to hear Zep at their heaviest, deepest, softest and crispest”. The influential American music site pitchfork.com also digs the new sound – “revelatory,” it assures us, “on even the s****est stereos”. At amazon.co.uk, though, at least one little boy reckons the emperor has no clothes: “You’d have to have ears like K-9 to hear any perceptible hike in quality from Remasters.”

So who’s right? In the Abbey Road studios, North London, the chief remastering engineer, Peter Mew, and I are trying to find out. Using Mew’s 40 years of experience and his seriously expensive playback equipment, we’re searching for the ultimate listening experience. We have Mothership, Remasters and – just for fun – some old LPs to compare. And we’re not leaving the room till we figure out if Led Zep are really rocking harder than ever before.

One thing’s for sure: they’re rocking louder than ever before. We start off listening to the 1990 version of the hard-riffing 1971 number Black Dog. Mew listens intently, then nods approvingly: “Fairly close to the original master tape,” he says, “without much done to it.” It’s dynamic, clattery, rock ’n’ bloody roll. Then we stick on the new mix. It comes out of the speakers like a steam train. “Which one do you prefer?” asks Mew. Well, the new one is more initially appealing, I say. More powerful. Then again, maybe it’s just louder. “Yeah, it’s louder,” shouts Mew disapprovingly. “And to make it louder, you have to compromise on some of the detail, because there’s only so much information a CD can process.”

The current trends for CDs is to make them VERY LOUD. Mastering engineers do that by reducing the difference between the very quiet bits and the very loud bits, so that everything occupies a muscular middle range. It reduces subtlety and finesse. But, like television adverts – which use similar compression techniques to be louder than the programmes they interrupt – it sure as hell MAKES AN IMPACT.

This becomes clear when we play Good Times, Bad Times from 1969. On the LP, the drummer, John Bonham, sounds like a hyperactive giant swinging a sledgehammer around a quarry. Then we hear the 1990 CD version. “Doesn’t quite make it, does it?” says Mew. It doesn’t. But I can’t quite work out why. Mew explains that the sonic compression means that when the snare drum kicks in, the cymbals fade. There’s not enough room for both of them at the same time. That still happens when we hear the 2007 version, but less so. This time the detailed, upfront sound really delivers. “Not bad,” Mew concludes “It’s better than Remasters, not as good as the vinyl.”

We play the Middle Eastern-infused Kashmir, first released in 1975. Mew raises a weary eyebrow at the 1990 version – “not a very powerful sound” – but we both find the new version irresistible. It’s more vibrant, more articulated, LOUD but not careless. “It’s got more life to it,” says Mew. “Doesn’t really need the extra level though.” Then we stick on a crackly vinyl version. It’s not as in-yer-face, not as detailed, but it has a flow and a sense of space that you didn’t realise you were missing before. It gives me goosebumps. “You could listen to that all day, couldn’t you?” agrees Mew. But why? “Because it hasn’t had digital things done to it.”

Mew does digital things to old albums for a living. He has remastered David Bowie, Deep Purple, Bob Marley, Syd Barrett. His aesthetic, he says, is not to get as close to the vinyl version as possible, or even necessarily to the master tape, but to what the engineer and producer heard at the time, “maybe with a little bit of updating”.

What does updating mean? “Fashions in sound change,” he says. “People expect a slightly more compressed sound, slightly brighter.” So has he mastered CDs that improve on the original LPs? “I have had people come back to me and say that they are as good as the vinyl but without the clicks and pops. Sometimes people tell me it doesn’t sound as good as the vinyl – well, hey, I try my best.

“I have to make my judgments based on selling as many records as possible. That’s my brief. So even though there might be audiophiles who say you shouldn’t do this, well, I’m sorry, audiophiles, you’re a very small part of the market.” The leader of the audiophiles is the maverick American remastering engineer Steve Hoffman. I wonder if Mew has been on Hoffman’s internet forums (www.stevehoffman.tv), where his own work has been chastised? “Don’t talk to me about Steve Hoffman!” says Mew. “I don’t want to criticise other people, but – hold on, yes I do, he hates me.”

Hoffman’s heresy is to suggest that the less you mess around with the original master tapes, the better the remaster. Which means, he suggests, that some 1980s CDs – thrown out by their owners once a rinky-dinky new remaster came along – actually sound better than their upgrade. You just have to turn them up a bit. So if you’re reinventing a back catalogue, as Mew did for David Bowie, or as the producer Nick Davies has done for Genesis, mind your back.

“It hurts me when I listen to some things on the Hoffman forum,” says Davies, “they’re so offensive.” He has spent the best part of three years remixing all of Genesis’s albums, helped by the band’s keyboard player, Tony Banks. Working for new formats such as 5.1 and SACD, which boast twice the frequency range of CD, they’ve gone back to the original multitrack tapes – “remixing” rather than “remastering”.

Their aim, suggests Banks, was to make the songs sound superficially similar to the old versions yet offer more depth and detail on a closer listen. But the further you depart from the vinyl versions that your fans grew up with, the more you risk polarising opinions. “I went on Amazon,” Banks says, “and I read five-star reviews, and then I saw one guy giving one of the new versions zero stars, complaining it was too highly compressed! I honestly think there was something wrong with his system.” Perhaps they should have tried the Hoffman way, saved themselves some grief, just transferred the tapes flat? Davies sighs. “That,” he says, “just sounds awful.”

Back at Abbey Road, listening with Mew to the various versions of Messrs Page, Plant, Jones and Bonham, one thing becomes apparent. While the vinyl soothes the soul, they all sound pretty bloody good. But as soon as you change formats, suggests Mew, you have to intervene. “I’m trying to second-guess what the original engineers would have wanted with these modern facilities at their disposal. All the time you have to make judgments.”

Mew is fairly impressed with Mothership – he would have made it less in-your-face, he suggests, “but that’s just personal taste”. Further listening, he suggests, should reveal a cleaner sound than Remasters, more detail. But while he finds Mothership fatiguingly loud, he admits he would have upped the volume from Remasters. Why? “Because of fashion. No other reason.”

So current ideas of how a record should sound can seep into even the most loyally archival process. “We tried not to do too much of that,” says Tony Banks, of Genesis, “but I suppose part of what we’re doing is making something old acceptable to a contemporary ear. Maybe in 20 years’ time someone else will come in and change it again.”

Should loyal Zep fans rush out and buy a bunch of songs they already own? They’ll certainly get a different take on them, albeit one that, after a while, they’ll struggle to differentiate from the last ones. “It’s true,” says Mew, “it only takes about 30 seconds of listening to something and it sounds like the best one.” But if you miss this Mothership, don’t fret. There’ll be another one along in a couple of decades.

Mothership is out now on Atlantic

zmix

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And the reader's comments are quite enlightening..
« Reply #1 on: November 16, 2007, 06:04:59 pm »

Reader's Comments:
Quote:



How sad to read that classic recordings are being manipulated louder & louder for "fashion". The CD format allows more dynamic range - why not just take advantage of it then?
I was so disappointed w/ virtually all of the Genesis "Definitive Remasters", ELP's Victory re-dos etc....shrill & compressed to the nines. Very sad times if this is what the music business envisions that music fans are after.

chris of soCal, SoCal, USA

Steve Hoffman doesn't hate Peter Mew - that's just ridiculous. Many of us at Steve's forum have a strong dislike of Peter Mew's mastering approach, that's all.

The members of www.stevehoffman.tv harbour no ill will towards engineers who don't master in the way Steve does but instead use digital compression etc to give CDs an "in your face" sound - we just feel that their methods make the music unpleasant to listen to.

If the engineers complaining about what we say about their work have an conviction about their mastering approach then why don't they come onto the forum and debate with us? Their unwillingness to engage in an intelligent discourse about their approach betrays the real reason they do it - because it's the easist way to get lots of work.

They have no interest in what sounds good on a decent playback system - they only care about how to make the CDs seem good initially on the worst playback systems because that's what most of their customers listen to the CDs on.



Mal, Greenwich, UK

Would have been nice if along with Steve Hoffman, Mr. Maxwell had interviewed one time Atlantic Records remastering engineer Barry Diament who mastered all of the original mid 1980s Zeppelin CD releases (except IV). Bary's Zep CDs are arguably the best of the lot.

And Mr. Mew, I'll be hanging on to all of my EMI CDs mastered before 1989 or whenever it was that your company began using noise reduction and other digital futzing. Those early CDs I have by the Hollies, Herman's Hermitts, Animals, Manfred Mann, Gerry & The Pacemakers, Cliff Richard, etc. are the best because they were probably "flat transfers". I can hear everything as it was originally intended, tape hiss and all. Smile

Mike Richards, Calgary, Canadda

Thanks for an insightful article. I don't agree with some statements, but it was a fair appraisal of a substantial cultural change that I find alarming. With a slew of substantially louder (and otherwise tinkered-with) remasters, every engineer guilty of complying to executive demands for ADDITIONAL VOLUME (or bringing it about himself) is affecting a change in listening habits that might well be irreversible. It's akin to adding a layer of dayglo to a famous painting ... just to go with the fashion.

The result of the "LOUDNESS" wars is a strict conditioning of casual listeners - and especially a whole young generation - in a way that will leave them to drool only when the bell rings MUCH LOUDER and basically not feeling hunger when it rings the way it was intended to ring.

You can see the result in a mass of customers' comments on Amazon: LOUD is already better, and everything else, especially if it comes close to a well-recorded original, sounds "boring."

deus, KA, Germany

I love the practicality of cd but love the sound of vynl ..so am self condemmed to spending fortunes on hi end cd and d2a systems to be able to buy cd's and listen to Vynl sound. The variety of cardigans talkling abt "the excellent production on that album" are, apart fm being pratts, missing the point - i dont want to "hear" the production. Go back to the pressings of the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis and it seems to me that you can hear the instruments warts and all.. of course thats assuming the band want to sound real... or are playing instruments.. or are in the room, town or country as each other.

zugerman, Zurich, Switzerland

Thanks for posting an interesting and informative article. Too bad you couldn't interview Mr. Hoffman, because he would have corrected some of your generalizations about his work. I'd suggest those who are not familiar with Mr. Hoffman's work read this interview:
http://www.stevehoffman.tv/forums/showthread.php?t=59070

Keith, Columbus, Ohio, USA

An interesting read. Not that I've heard this release, but the trend towards louder and louder cd's is an alarming one!!

It damages the sound compared to how it was recorded, and when the sound ends up being clipped so much that it is clearly audible (as can be heard in several modern masterings) you are not improving the sound in the slightest... it seems mastering engineers are simply following instruction as best they can to make the new release louder than everybody else's to make more impact and drive sales. That's business, but it IS damaging the music, and people have begun to notice this.

Don't get me started on digital noise reduction too, another trick in the re-mastering engineers toolbox that is apparently so often unnecessarily used as well.

Jon, London

Jon, London, UK

It was a sad day when Philips managed to sideline DAT, it is a far better format for music than the CD can ever be.

depressed consumer, wiht no choice, Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.

Xmas is coming ... sounds like a good reason to milk the Led Zep gravy train yet again ... tweak a few knobs and hey presto, it's the Mothership! A nice boost to the Zeppelin pension fund.

Steve, Warwick,

What I want when I listen to music is to feel like I am sitting in the mixing room not just to the main musicians but the backing players and singers, too. I want the music to come alive for me, I want to feel why they made that particular piece of music and why they became musicians.

Christopher Hobe Morrison, Pine Bush, Ulster County, NY, USA

You can

compasspnt

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Re: Zeppelin remasters examined by London Times...
« Reply #2 on: November 16, 2007, 06:25:02 pm »

... --- ...

... --- ...

... --- ...
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zmix

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Re: Zeppelin remasters examined by London Times...
« Reply #3 on: November 16, 2007, 07:58:52 pm »

Roger that distress call, Nassau...


  -.. --- / -. --- - / .-- .- .. - / ..-. --- .-. / .... . .-.. .--. / --.. . .--. .--. . .-.. .. -. / --- ...- . .-. / .-.. .. -.- . / .-.. . .- -.. / -... .- .-.. --- --- -. / --- ...- . .-.


Phil Demetro

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Re: Zeppelin remasters examined by London Times...
« Reply #4 on: November 16, 2007, 10:27:30 pm »

I go through a major Zep phase every few years.

I have the new Mothership, the George Marino remasters, some old cd releases, a copy of the recent Grundman-cut vinyl of their 4th album, and a bunch of old LP's here in the studio.

I have to mostly agree with Peter Mew.
The vinyl is great .  Big and clean but missing some tone of the older LP's.
The remasters are great. More/different tone than Grundman and a bit softer.

I guess all great in their own way but sound different  - down to respective taste/signal paths of their Re-ME's,  I guess?

I think the Remasters capture the flavour of the old vinyl best. As good and as far as 16 bits can go?  I'd like to work with George Marino at least one before he retires.

The Mothership is louder, more compressed and while I'm all for that I don't like this release as much...a bit hard sounding for me. Maybe I'm just getting burned out on the tunes even if Jimmy Page isn't.

What a thankless job remastering famous music must be?

Buy the one with the DVD. The live footage is raw!
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J.J. Blair

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Re: Zeppelin remasters examined by London Times...
« Reply #5 on: November 17, 2007, 03:56:11 pm »

I find that most listening tests against "louder" files are usually bullshit.  On playback, there's rarely adjustment to ensure that the RMS levels are the same.  Only the peak levels are the same.  Of course the one with the louder RMS levels are going to seem better sounding, because they are louder!  Adjust the playback so that the RMS is consistent, and that's not always the case.
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They say the heart of Rock & Roll is still beating, which is amazing if you consider all the blow it's done over the years.

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Peter Beckmann

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Re: And the reader's comments are quite enlightening..
« Reply #6 on: November 19, 2007, 04:51:16 pm »

God I love this quote.
What's that expression, a little bit of knowledge can be a very dangerous thing....

zmix wrote on Fri, 16 November 2007 23:04

Reader's Comments:
Quote:

 It was a sad day when Philips managed to sideline DAT, it is a far better format for music than the CD can ever be.
,



I hate DAT. I'm happy to say I haven't turned my DAT machine on for several years now....



PB
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compasspnt

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Re: And the reader's comments are quite enlightening..
« Reply #7 on: November 19, 2007, 05:55:15 pm »

Peter Beckmann wrote on Mon, 19 November 2007 16:51

I hate DAT. I'm happy to say I haven't turned my DAT machine on for several years now....



So Peter, what do you have against "tape?"
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rankus

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Re: Zeppelin remasters examined by London Times...
« Reply #8 on: November 19, 2007, 08:53:30 pm »

zmix wrote on Fri, 16 November 2007 16:58

Roger that distress call, Nassau...


  -.. --- / -. --- - / .-- .- .. - / ..-. --- .-. / .... . .-.. .--. / --.. . .--. .--. . .-.. .. -. / --- ...- . .-. / .-.. .. -.- . / .-.. . .- -.. / -... .- .-.. --- --- -. / --- ...- . .-.






Laughing

--. --- .. -. --. / -.. --- .-- -. / .-.. .. -.- . / .- / .-.. . .- -.. / .... .. -. -.. . -. -... ..- .-. --.




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Peter Beckmann

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Re: And the reader's comments are quite enlightening..
« Reply #9 on: November 20, 2007, 05:21:30 am »

compasspnt wrote on Mon, 19 November 2007 22:55

Peter Beckmann wrote on Mon, 19 November 2007 16:51

I hate DAT. I'm happy to say I haven't turned my DAT machine on for several years now....



So Peter, what do you have against "tape?"



Surely there's no need any more. Can't Waves make us a tape plugin with all those great flavours: DAT, DA88, ADAT,
Laughing
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Plush

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Re: Zeppelin remasters examined by London Times...
« Reply #10 on: November 22, 2007, 12:25:24 am »

Mew would have made them louder because of "fashion."
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J.J. Blair

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Re: Zeppelin remasters examined by London Times...
« Reply #11 on: November 22, 2007, 05:06:57 pm »

they seek him here, they seek him there
he makes your speakers move the air

he'll guarantee your CDs will be louder than the rest
'cuz he's a dedicated follower of fashion
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studio info

They say the heart of Rock & Roll is still beating, which is amazing if you consider all the blow it's done over the years.

"The Internet enables pompous blowhards to interact with other pompous blowhards in a big circle jerk of pomposity." - Bill Maher

"The negative aspects of this business, not only will continue to prevail, but will continue to accelerate in madness. Conditions aren't going to get better, because the economics of rock and roll are getting closer and closer to the economics of Big Business America." - Bill Graham

rwj1313

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Re: Zeppelin remasters examined by London Times...
« Reply #12 on: November 27, 2007, 10:14:08 am »

rankus wrote on Mon, 19 November 2007 19:53

zmix wrote on Fri, 16 November 2007 16:58

Roger that distress call, Nassau...


  -.. --- / -. --- - / .-- .- .. - / ..-. --- .-. / .... . .-.. .--. / --.. . .--. .--. . .-.. .. -. / --- ...- . .-. / .-.. .. -.- . / .-.. . .- -.. / -... .- .-.. --- --- -. / --- ...- . .-.






Laughing

--. --- .. -. --. / -.. --- .-- -. / .-.. .. -.- . / .- / .-.. . .- -.. / .... .. -. -.. . -. -... ..- .-. --.







Man.......I had to buy a dictionary when I first started hanging out here........now I have to learn Morse code?

Rick
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Jerry Tubb

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Re: Zeppelin remasters examined by London Times...
« Reply #13 on: November 27, 2007, 11:38:38 am »

Phil Demetro wrote on Fri, 16 November 2007 21:27

I have the new Mothership, the George Marino remasters, some old cd releases, a copy of the recent Grundman-cut vinyl of their 4th album, and a bunch of old LP's here in the studio.


Yo Phil, I love what GM did with the Led Zep II remaster.

Haven't heard the other CDs. Got the original LPs tho'.

Summer of '69... I bought the first Led Zep LP along with Hendrix' "Smash Hits", Cream's "Wheels of Fire" & Dylan's "Nashville Skyline" while beach bumming on Galveston Island. My brain hasn't been the same since.

p.s. Happy Birthday to Jimi ! He woulda been 65 today.
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Phil Demetro

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Re: Zeppelin remasters examined by London Times...
« Reply #14 on: November 27, 2007, 12:34:27 pm »

Jerry Tubb wrote on Tue, 27 November 2007 11:38

Phil Demetro wrote on Fri, 16 November 2007 21:27

I have the new Mothership, the George Marino remasters, some old cd releases, a copy of the recent Grundman-cut vinyl of their 4th album, and a bunch of old LP's here in the studio.


Yo Phil, I love what GM did with the Led Zep II remaster.

Haven't heard the other CDs. Got the original LPs tho'.

Summer of '69... I bought the first Led Zep LP along with Hendrix' "Smash Hits", Cream's "Wheels of Fire" & Dylan's "Nashville Skyline" while beach bumming on Galveston Island. My brain hasn't been the same since.

p.s. Happy Birthday to Jimi ! He woulda been 65 today.


Jerry, sounds like you've come through the golden era of the business!

I have the LZ remasters "box"  - an expensive but really nice put together of all their material. I don't know if it's still available? Maybe?

I think George was/still is the best for remastering a lot of these acts as he did many of the originals first time around. George seems to have the respect from a lot of musicians and even from many of the engineers inside Sterling. Tom Coyne once gave me an LP of the Crawlers "Snake, Rattle & Roll" (1978) and said "Here have this..this is what made me a George Marino fan" . Pretty cool to have that kind of respect.

Still digging those over the new Mothership.
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