Rereleases, Remaster, and Record Store Day

The first Record Store Day (RSD) 2021 was a disappointment for me. 2021 will have two so called “drops”, let’s hope the July 17th drop will add some more releases, while there are some interesting jazz albums, it could be better. Their full list is online. Kyle Simpler has a good list of jazz releases for both RSD drops. Jazz news: Record Store Day 2021 Jazz Releases (allaboutjazz.com)

I’m always keen to see what, if any new Creed Taylor produced, or inspired releases there are. In the interim I thought I’d pull together a list of the 2021 release news productions of Creed Taylor. I may drop in other releases, but the focus will be on rereleases and remasters of Creed’s work. My 2021 Reissues list is here: The 2021 Reissue list.[1]The 2021 Reissue List – Creed Taylor Produced (ctproduced.com)

But what is a remaster and why would you want one?

In this post I’ll give you my perspective on remasters, Hi-Res Audio, Spatial Audio and more. I’ve also got a link to take the subjectivity out of hi-res audio, can you hear the difference?

Remaster – Making A Virtue Out Of Necessity

Record Store Day and remastering have almost become synonymous. It’s worth remembering though that remastering is almost a necessity. Genuine master tapes from the 1950’s to the 1970’s are reaching, or have passed their useful life. Most have long been copied to other analog or digital tapes. There is no definition of what a “master tape” is, and the term master tape is often used with a modifier, like sub-master, or label master, backup master etc.

Everyone, including me, was shocked when we read about the UMe Fire of 2008, in the NY Times article, “The Day the Music Burned”.[2]The Day the Music Burned – The New York Times (nytimes.com). It turns out this isn’t the total disaster it seemed. Many copies of masters are made. CTI fans, for example, the original masters were never sent to King Records in Japan, only submaster, or final copy masters. When King engineers remaster from their versions of the tapes, they will likely be working from multi-track tapes that are as good as US tapes, but may not have the same number of tracks and alternate takes. That more than anything else accounts for why the King Records remasters don’t have additional tracks.

Sometimes, artists retain the rights to their own masters. Many will have read about Brittany Spears battles over her early recordings, this is both a rights fight, as well as an access fight. Can you get access to the master tapes, and can you legally publish/sell copies?

One CTI Artist that left CTI and took both the rights, and ownership of the masters, was Bob James. Bob sued for the rights to his masters when he left CTI. That’s why you don’t typically see Bob James One, Two, Three and BJ4 albums in the traditional CTI reissue series, and why for example they were released on Tappan Zee Records, Bob’s Columbia imprint when he left CTI.

Get your Own Master?

If remastering has become a marketing game, which it surely has, Sony Music Italy have taken it one step further. They are offering on-demand copies of masters for the princely sum of €450, about $650, they make a “master” for you.

It’s worth remembering that this is on-demand, the chances of getting your favorite album on a master tape are almost zero, it’s unlikely Sony Music Italy has the rights to reproduce the tape; even then, you’d need a custom, high-end tape deck to play them. Finally the tapes are clearly described as two-track tapes. That means stereo, the are final copy masters, basically the stereo format release, not the individual multi-track recordings.

So you wouldn’t be able to extract an instrument, a voice, and create digital stems, which is typically what’s needed for that other R, the remix. Even if these were multi-track recordings, you couldn’t legally release anything using them, as you don’t have the rights. I was recently involved in a request to Bob James management to use a 3-second sample, permission and terms were given, suffice to say the artist didn’t pursue.

Sony Music Italy describe the tapes as follows.

‎The tape you purchased represents the state-of-the-art analog recording currently available on the market. For the realization of this edition, the master two-track tapes of the various works were reproduced, using an A820 MKII Studer recorder equipped with variable azimuth ‘Butterfly’ heads and ‘trafoless’ output cards, from which the “Working Copy” were directly recorded, through a second A820 MKII recorder with the same characteristics as the one used for playback , without any intermediate stage of processing. The magnetization levels of the recorded tape were kept unchanged from those used at the time for the original master.

No gain controls were inserted into the audio chain and no changes were made to the signal of any kind, such as noise reduction or equalizations, in order to preserve the original sound of the work. The tape we decided to use is the RTM LPR90 which has the same chemical formulation as the RTM SM900 tape but which allows a longer life so that you can include the entire work within a single coil without interruption in listening. Any possible signal alteration, such as disturbances on the power line, any sound coloring caused by cables and connectors, or any other interference are carefully avoided using network filters, stabilizers, and the highest quality signal cables, the same ones used in the systems of the most demanding audiophiles.

These procedures, combined with the perfect calibration of the recorders used, help to reduce tape noise in the lowest frequency spectrum and enhance the heat of harmonics typical of analog recordings.‎

Battisti – Il Nostro Caro Angelo | Master Tapes | Sony Music Store (accessed 6/13/21 2:40pm)

Hi-Res Audio

The other music industry craze doing the rounds is Hi-Res audio. Most recent to jump on this bandwagon and invite us to play buzzword bingo is Apple Music. Just like masters, Hi-Res audio has come to mean may things, there is a loose definition, but no legal definition or international standard. Generally it can be thought of as higher than CD quality, usually 24bit/192kHz, but I’ll leave it there rather than get into all the technical details.

I do have a system that can play better than CD quality audio. I have a Logitech (Squeezebox) Transporter[3]TESTED: Logitech Transporter Network Music Player | Hi-Fi+ (hifiplus.com). It can retrieve music from a server in DSD, FLAC, OGG Vorbis and other lossless formats[4]What is The Best Audio Quality Format? (hificentre.com) and play them as analog sound through a Denon amplifier to a set of Klipsch speakers and subwoofer. I have smaller, simpler Squeeze players in other rooms. I digitize all my vinyl at 24bit/48kHz format, and that is arguably more than enough for the quality a vinyl record can produce.

Even then, with a lossless digital format, I really can’t hear the difference on my Transporter system. We have Spotify Premium, which streams CD quality, using a lossy format, meaning the max stream quality is 320kbps. While there is no doubt it is high quality, really it’s hard to argue it’s any better than CD on my system. Sure, the quality is much better than a “noisy” vinyl digital copy. I like to use this Spotify CD quality copy of Daft Punk’s “Loose Yourself To Dance” as a test. I have a vinyl copy, a vinyl to digital(VSD) copy I made myself, and a CD ripped copy. For the V2D copy, I save it as an MP3 vbs file, before saving it, I set an optimal playback equalization and loudness that works best across my home devices, my car, and headphones. To be honest, it comes out a wash. Yes, maybe my ears are damaged to the point I can’t hear the difference. If you have Spotify Premium, there is a “Hi-Res” audio playlist with nearly 600 tracks you can experiment with.

Eliminate your subjectivity – ABX Test

If you’d like to do a Hi-Res audio test for yourself, or would just like to see if you can actually tell the difference, here[5]ABX High Fidelity Test list (digitalfeed.net) is a website that will allow you to run an ABX test [6]ABX test – Wikipedia, the equivalent of a double blind test. It’s not quick, minimum time it takes is 5-10 minutes depending on the music service and format you choose.

Remember, you can take the test using a phone, or desktop computer. If you link that to an amplifier and speakers or headphones via Bluetooth, it’s probable that Bluetooth will impact the sound quality. When I run this test with a desktop computer attached to a Soundblaster X-HD via USB, and the RCA unbalanced cables into the same Denon amplifier, I fail more often than I succeed.

Oh Yeah, Apple Music

One of my favorite YouTube channels is John Darko’s Darko Audio. John recently covered the mystery of Apple’s Hi-Res/CD quality streaming and the Spotify Audio Quality.

As if this wasn’t enough, Apple announced spatial audio on June 12th[7]Spatial audio and Apple Music: What you need to know – CNET. What is Spatial Audio? For the most part just another push by Apple to lock it’s customers in to a product that isn’t available in any true sense, as most of the Apple devices that will support playing Spatial Audio are “coming soon”. Spatial Audio, is in essence, audio remixed for Dolby Atmos Music.

Dolby Atmos Music is in essence music mixed for surround sound. CTI fans will remember that Creed and Rudy were early adopters of quadrophonic stereo. Don Sebesky’s “Giant Box” was a massive experiment in it. Between 1974-196 I worked for Tony Clifford who owned Hearsay records. I heard side-4 of Giant Box at Tony’s home where he had a quad setup. The sound quality was amazing, but odd. In some ways it was distracting. It was like listening to a band, while Ron Carter was playing outside an open window as there wasn’t enough room inside. How this differs from a Hybrid SACD with a multi-track, 5.1 mix, who knows?

Finally, even with remastering, you can’t put back what you don’t have. No matter how good your speakers are, how expensive your music system is, you can’t hear wasn’t isn’t there. This is certainly true for many RSD releases that are Live performances.

Remastering can also change the original for the worse. While the audio quality might notionally be better, what you actually hear can be significantly different. The 1990 Mark Wilder CD remaster of Jobim’s “Stone Flower” disappointly has much less clarity on the Jobim piano/keyboards, it also contains flute parts not on the original “Tereza My Love” and the woodwind/flute arrangement has much less emphasis.

You might think that’s better, as always, caveat emptor.

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