Monday, 13 February 2012

Analogue vs Digital, part 2

...Just further to the previous post. A quote from the article from one of the people in the story says:

"I don't want the digitally remastered stuff," he says. "That's not the way [the artist] would have heard or wanted it."

Rubbish. If better quality technology was available years ago, it would have been used.

There is a few reasons why "digital remastering" happens. Firstly, older, analog tape degrades after a while sitting in vaults. If it is not properly stored or cared for, it can be unusable. If this happens, it is mostly un-recoverable. Digital files do not degrade, so it makes sense to preserve music digitally at the highest quality bit-rate available. Not only that, it is a process that is used to clear out blemishes such as tape hiss and to improve fidelity that can be eroded by using copies from copies (see below).

Secondly, the original tapes have the best quality, so they need to be looked after. Subsequent copies from copies from copies sound worse than the original version. But what happens when the master go missing? The original multi-tracks for the first Led Zeppelin LP went missing from Olympic Studios years ago and have never been found, so the nearest copy away from the master was sourced in Japan, and that was the basis for the current remaster of the album.

I think that dgital remastering is a good long as it is done well. Initial digital transfers of classic albums from analogue tape were so poorly done they were almost unlistenable. Personally, I've gotten better sound from copying a vinyl LP onto a computer and then burning a CD from that recording. Conversely, great sounding LPs can be made from digital recordings. However, music needs to be preserved and looked after for future generations to enjoy. If digital is the way to ensure that, then so be it.

Where I have an issue is when the remasters become superseded after a few years by issuing new remasters. There's little evidence that a new remaster released today will sound much better than one done 5 years ago. I've lost count how many time the Rolling Stones have remastered their back catalog, but it seems to be once every 5 years or so. They must change record distributors for their own label every few years, thus maybe justifying why they need to "reissue" their albums over and over again.

Pink Floyd have just done their entire back catalogue again, for at least the fourth time. I just don't get why I need to buy yet another release of an album I already have? I don't get why I need to buy an album I already have just to get a handful of bonus tracks? Or why they have to be so expensive sometimes?

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