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Analysis Paralysis - Old CD's and Apple Music

concorde1

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I used to stand by collecting the "best sounding" CD's. I have a collection of ~200 ripped-to-disk CD's, comprising rare non-remastered CD's, the occasional remaster where the original is awful, and some MFSL and "audiophile" CD's like AP SACD's.

Earlier this year I made the switch to Apple Music, because at the time I thought the recordings there sounded better or the same.

It would make sense, as analogue to digital conversion and other technology is better these days. But who knows if the audio engineers these days know what they're doing on these old recordings, for example Pink Floyd era music.

At times, depending on my mood I prefer Apple Music as it sounds cleaner. But at other times I hear say the 1st USA Atlantic CD of "Tarkus" from ELP, and think, damn, it sounds so much more exciting than the iTunes version. Or "Wish You Were Here" from Pink Floyd, for which I have the 1st Harvest CD. Or the ATCO CD of "A Trick of The Tail" from Genesis.

At these times I feel it was worth all the money I spent on these rare CD's.

Because of schizophrenia I usually don't enjoy music very much, where I just feel nothing, and it becomes impossible to tell what sounds good.

But some early CD's do seem to sound awful. Maybe it's a matter of seeking out the perfect version of every CD, which is very difficult. Yes there is "that forum", but half the people there will say "I like this version because it sounds like the original vinyl", which I don't want.

Maybe some first master CD's really are the best, then for others you have to find the specific remaster that is best. It's very complicated, especially when you can't rely on your own mind to tell the difference all the time.

After all, I can't afford to buy every CD version of all the albums I like.

This is just a post where people can share their thoughts on the topic.
 

levimax

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Collecting old CD's is hit or miss and also has to do with personal preference. On the plus side the master tapes used for early CD were 3 or 4 decades newer. While some tapes age better than others time is not on their side. Mastering styles were different back in the 1980's and many older CD's were more or less "flat transfers" of the master tapes. Modern remasters are inevitably compressed, sometimes tastefully, often times not. In addition in order to "sound different" many remasters make questionable EQ choices. Finally and most controversially many early CD's were made from LP master tapes which while they had some detrimental changes made to them also may contain enhancements from "famous mastering engineers" like Robert Ludwig. CD's made from these tapes will sound like the original LP without the noise and other issues.

On the other hand early CD's could be made from poor tape sources including dodgy LP tape masters with all of their issues and newer CD's in some cases have better tape sources. If you like the "modern loud and bright" sound, which sounds normal to most people now, a more modern remastering may be preferred. The latest use of new technology which shows some promise is the AI remixing techniques used on the 2022 Beatles Revolver album.

For most digital music made in the last 20 years the CD and digital streaming are the same.

I would just enjoy your favorite old and good CD's when you have the time to listen to something a little different and use streaming for anything 20 years old or newer or to check out the latest remaster of an old favorite. For the old dodgy CD's I would just not play them. If you are not sure which you like what I do is use something like Foobar ABX to play the 2 versions level matched ( I capture the stream with Audacity to compare to a CD track). Usually I find either they don't sound different level matched or they do and I prefer one. If you don't listen level matched the louder track (even just a little bit louder) will always sound better.

In any case enjoy.
 
OP
concorde1

concorde1

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Great response thanks.
 

MaxwellsEq

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That's a great reply from @levimax

There are so many reasons why two versions of the same album can sound different, and sometimes that includes the country where the CD is made!

There are some albums which I have multiple versions (including LPs I bought before the days of CD). I don't feel that there is a universal truth to what is best. e.g. I was short of cash in the early 80s and bought a Canadian import LP of Wind and Wuthering, which has a tilted up frequency response and 60Hz hum!

i have some early CDs. Most have peaks several dB below digital zero, so subjectively they sound quieter. Remastered versions, even without compression, peak to zero, or above.

In some cases a remaster is better, because the first CDs were rushed out and insufficient care was taken to source the best master tape, and sometimes LP masters were used, which are clearly poor.
 
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Galliardist

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I used to stand by collecting the "best sounding" CD's. I have a collection of ~200 ripped-to-disk CD's, comprising rare non-remastered CD's, the occasional remaster where the original is awful, and some MFSL and "audiophile" CD's like AP SACD's.

Earlier this year I made the switch to Apple Music, because at the time I thought the recordings there sounded better or the same.

It would make sense, as analogue to digital conversion and other technology is better these days. But who knows if the audio engineers these days know what they're doing on these old recordings, for example Pink Floyd era music.

At times, depending on my mood I prefer Apple Music as it sounds cleaner. But at other times I hear say the 1st USA Atlantic CD of "Tarkus" from ELP, and think, damn, it sounds so much more exciting than the iTunes version. Or "Wish You Were Here" from Pink Floyd, for which I have the 1st Harvest CD. Or the ATCO CD of "A Trick of The Tail" from Genesis.

At these times I feel it was worth all the money I spent on these rare CD's.

Because of schizophrenia I usually don't enjoy music very much, where I just feel nothing, and it becomes impossible to tell what sounds good.

But some early CD's do seem to sound awful. Maybe it's a matter of seeking out the perfect version of every CD, which is very difficult. Yes there is "that forum", but half the people there will say "I like this version because it sounds like the original vinyl", which I don't want.

Maybe some first master CD's really are the best, then for others you have to find the specific remaster that is best. It's very complicated, especially when you can't rely on your own mind to tell the difference all the time.

After all, I can't afford to buy every CD version of all the albums I like.

This is just a post where people can share their thoughts on the topic.
It's no good worrying yourself into a situation where you don't listen to anything. My suggestion would be to explore different music to what's on those old CDs for a week or two, and concentrate on the musical content rather than just the presentation when doing that. The amount available on Apple Music is massive, and even if you turn out not to like what you find in that time, you will listen to the old stuff a bit differently when you come back and will find it easier to decide what you prefer.
 

DVDdoug

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IMO - "Bad sounding" CDs are rare.

There's a lot of modern music I don't particularly like (I suppose a lot of music in-general I don't like) and probably some of that is because of the "loudness war" "over compression". It's just boring with no dynamics but that might not be the only thing I don't like about "modern music". It's kind-or hard to analyze why you like some songs and don't like others. I've got a couple or "pop" CDs where the bass sounds like those terrible boomy one-note car stereos.

Most of the 60's music I have sounds pretty good to me! Way better than the original vinyl records. (I grew-up with vinyl.). Some Beatles recordings sound great to me, and some early 60s recordings are "lacking". I have music by The Doors that sounds really good and "clean". Obviously, the analog studio equipment was way better than what we were hearing on records. Some of that better CD quality may be from remastering (noise reduction and EQ) and obviously because CDs don't have the "snap", "crackle", and "pop. You also don't get the distortion and the frequency response (or "frequency balance") also seems much better and more consistent on CDs, even with old recordings..

Even some 1950's recordings sound pretty good, but most not-so good. And mostly (if not all) mono. I have some recordings going as far back as the 1920's and most recordings from the 1940's or earlier are rather poor and it's hard for me to enjoy them. Several years ago I searched-out some modern recordings of old Big Band music. It's much more enjoyable than the original low-quality recordings (when I'm in the mood for that kind of music)
 

Head_Unit

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At times, depending on my mood I prefer Apple Music as it sounds cleaner. But at other times
...not. I agree. I think Apple likely tends to use the "latest" master which may be compressed and otherwise butchered, but maybe better than poorly done first transfers from analog. Hence I will rip stuff like Steve Hoffman's remasters of Dio for Audio Fidelity, and upload them to Apple so I can stream them whenever I want. Something like The Scorpions Love At First Sting is awful, I think I should look for someone's vinyl rip.
 

Galliardist

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...not. I agree. I think Apple likely tends to use the "latest" master which may be compressed and otherwise butchered, but maybe better than poorly done first transfers from analog. Hence I will rip stuff like Steve Hoffman's remasters of Dio for Audio Fidelity, and upload them to Apple so I can stream them whenever I want. Something like The Scorpions Love At First Sting is awful, I think I should look for someone's vinyl rip.
Maybe this isn't Apple's fault (or the other services) though? They don't own the copyright and don't decide what versions are or aren't available: they get to provide the version/s they are allowed to, the ones uploaded by the label. If the label uploads their new master and ends access to the old, that's it.
 

Head_Unit

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Maybe this isn't Apple's fault (or the other services) though? They don't own the copyright and don't decide what versions are or aren't available: they get to provide the version/s they are allowed to, the ones uploaded by the label. If the label uploads their new master and ends access to the old, that's it.
Oh sure, it's like radio stations, I think there is not a whit of thought given to what is the "best" mastering of a particular title. It would be interesting if one of the more specialized services like Qobuz or Tidal etc put multiple mastering versions on their service.
 

NiagaraPete

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But who knows if the audio engineers these days know what they're doing on these old recordings, for example Pink Floyd era music.
I was just listening to ELP first album and there was a note on it that it was remastered by Steven Wilson or at least that track. I've not had a chance to compare yet.
 

MarkS

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Steve Wilson has remastered (more precisely: remixed) a lot of classic progressive rock. IMO, his remixes sound "better" than the originals: vocals and instruments are clearer, etc. But I prefer the originals. That's the sound I first heard, and what I got used to, so to me "better" just sounds "wrong".

But the differences are small. I would never let which version I'm hearing impact my enjoyment of great music! Recorded music is a small miracle of modern life, IMO we should just enjoy it!
 

NiagaraPete

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Steve Wilson has remastered (more precisely: remixed) a lot of classic progressive rock. IMO, his remixes sound "better" than the originals: vocals and instruments are clearer, etc. But I prefer the originals. That's the sound I first heard, and what I got used to, so to me "better" just sounds "wrong".

But the differences are small. I would never let which version I'm hearing impact my enjoyment of great music! Recorded music is a small miracle of modern life, IMO we should just enjoy it!
I listen to old music so I infrequently that I doubt I’d notice.
 

Open Mind Audio

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@levimax covered this topic well. I would just add that when I had a side hustle selling used CDs several years ago, I learned there’s a small but passionate audience for some of the earliest CD pressings that were issued before the compression/sound wars started. For example, many Van Halen fans prize the original CD pressings of their work in place of the 90s remasters, because the remasters compressed the dynamic range. There have been similar issues with Led Zeppelin pressings, exacerbated by the incredible complexity and range of ways Led Zeppelin was mastered, remastered, and remixed over the years. It really is a hit or miss affair, but when you’re devoted to a band, it can be fun to seek out those early CDs, which you can still find in bargain bins.

Because it’s a bewildering mess, with early pressings sometimes sounding horrible and sometimes good, I would only advise pursuing the best versions of your favorite albums. Even then, it often comes down to personal preference, no matter what people say with passionate certainty on that other forum. For example, the great Graham Parker personally oversaw the remaster of his album “The Mona Lisa’s Sister,” issued as a remastered CD in 1999, but I still prefer the original 1988 CD pressing. Go figure.

To my knowledge on Apple Music you have no way of knowing which pressing or recording they’re using.

One nice thing about QoBuz is they like to advertise when they’re using a distinctive remaster or high resolution pressing, which at least gives you a chance of understanding the provenance. I would love to see the big boys (Amazon, Apple and Spotify) emulate that, but I ain’t holding my breath.
 

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killdozzer

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Finally and most controversially many early CD's were made from LP master tapes which while they had some detrimental changes made to them also may contain enhancements from "famous mastering engineers" like Robert Ludwig. CD's made from these tapes will sound like the original LP without the noise and other issues.
This is not quite correct. Preparing material for a specific medium takes into account the conditions of reproduction. Remove the conditions of reproduction (ie. use it for a CD and not a record) and it sounds worse. Many early CDs sound bad because they were using the tapes mastered to be cut onto records and not the original recording. As soon as the original material was used, CD showed how much closer to faithful reproduction it really is.

You can only make CD sound as a record if you rip a record onto a CD.
 

levimax

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This is not quite correct. Preparing material for a specific medium takes into account the conditions of reproduction. Remove the conditions of reproduction (ie. use it for a CD and not a record) and it sounds worse. Many early CDs sound bad because they were using the tapes mastered to be cut onto records and not the original recording. As soon as the original material was used, CD showed how much closer to faithful reproduction it really is.

You can only make CD sound as a record if you rip a record onto a CD.
When I say "sound like the original LP" I guess I should say "sound like the original LP master tape" which is going to be a little different than the actual LP. The changes a mastering engineer makes to accommodate cutting an LP are very minor audibly but sometimes the "enhancements" the mastering engineers make are very noticeable. They can include EQ, gain riding, sometimes "flying in" additional instruments and or vocals, and fade in and fade ups and fade outs. These changes can be documented or undocumented. Decades later when someone else gets a master tape to cut a CD these enhancements are lost. Whether this is better or worse depends and we are back to hit or miss. For me if I grew up listening to the original LP one of the most jarring things, especially with streaming but also with some CD's, are the changes to or elimination of all the "fades" between songs. For one track no difference but for an entire album sometimes those fades were an important part of the experience.
 
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