There’s a debate happening among recording engineers worldwide about the death of dynamic range. Over the course of 1990s, albums got louder and louder.
A co-worker of mine e-mailed a link to a news story about Bob Dylan’s rant against CDs. Dylan may have sounded like a curmudgeon, but he was essentially complaining about the same thing — albums are compressed within inches of their lives.
I offer the original studio recording of Chess as an extreme example of an album in dire need of "louder" remastering.
Recorded in 1984, Chess was released at the advent of the CD boom. Back then, labels would rush releases into stores by using masters for vinyl pressings. The advantages of the medium were pretty much underutilized, and the awesome sound and clarity boosted by the marketing forces became empty promises.
Hence the notion of "remastering" — going back to the source material and creating a master suitable for CD. While that was happening, so was the move toward louder and louder CDs.
When I work on my own music, I’ll run it through a mastering limiter because I do want to hear the music over the roar of traffic or my air conditioner. At the same time, pop albums such as Nick Lachey’s What’s Left of Me have all the nuance of a jackhammer.
In the case of Chess, the current CD pressing of the album is so weak, it doesn’t even scrape a peak of -6dB. So I offer a comparison — I ripped the hit single from the album, "One Night in Bangkok" and ran the sound file through a mastering limiter, boosting it by 9dB. I’m posting both an unprocessed file and its processed version. Which one can you hear better?
(RSS subscribers: I’m providing only the "remastered" version since most feed readers don’t support multiple enclosure tags.)
Like all debates, there’s a balance to achieve. Dynamic range shouldn’t be sacrified, but at the same time, a medium which can provide detailed sound ought to have the chance to do so.