No headphone jack Apple? No deal!
By Jim Carter
Wow, the uproar about Apple getting rid of the headphone jack on their new iPhone models has been crazy and passionate in the audiophile circles this week. Many saying that it is the end of iPhone’s dominance in the smartphone world. So let's take some time to really think about what is happening here.
So for a couple of years now there have been rumors that Apple was going to be doing this and Motorola has already beat them to the no headphone jack phone with their Moto Z phone and I can promise you there will be many more to come. Many audiophiles have said they will never buy one of these new phones because they want to use their own headphones. Others have said it is the death of the iPhone. I personally don't believe either statement personally.
So let's think about this and who buy iPhones and what headphones they use with them for a little bit. Most iPhone users that I have met that listen to music on their phones either use the bundled earbuds or they use Bluetooth headsets. Also, those audiophiles that are truly interested in the best sound (which is the true definition of an audiophile isn't it?) tend to not like how the internal DAC (digital to analog converter for you non-nerds out there) sounds. So their solution? External DAC/Headphone amps like the Audioquest Dragonfly. So that leaves the ones that aren't as fussy about the quality of the sound of the DAC but want better sound than the included earbuds and Bluetooth headphones. First I have to say there are some pretty amazing Bluetooth headphones out now that come pretty damn close to the quality of wired headphone quality sound (like the Momentum wireless headphones I own). For those that want even better sound than that you have the Lightning to headphone adapter which is included with the phone.
Okay, okay, I know it's an adapter but we have been dealing with adapters since the advent of the smaller 3.5mm headphone jack haven’t we? I'm not sure I get the problem, yes it's a minor inconvenience but is it really that big of an inconvenience?
There are many that have been saying that it's just Apple being greedy wanting to just make more money on licensing the lightning cable technology. So I can understand this argument and I can agree with it to a certain point but I truly don't feel this was the main motivation to make this move. Think about what Apple and all manufacturers have been trying to do with their phones for the last several years. The goal has been to make these things smaller and smaller and yet pack them with more and more features. Remember the 30 pin dock connector? That went away because it was so big and the Lightning connector was significantly smaller and could do just as much and more. Apple wasn’t going to make that much if any more money because they switched the connector type, it was for technology progress and that is exactly what this is. Right now you have one jack that just does audio and one does that and so many other things, redundancy when you are trying to make a device smaller and smaller. If they truly were only into this change for the money would they really include earbuds with a Lightning connector and an adapter with the phones?
Now there are the people saying “but Jim, what about using the aux jack in my car and I want to charge the phone at the same time?’ Well people Belkin already has a solution to that too. They make a single Lightning to two adapter so you can plug your charger and Lightning to headphone adapter in at the same time. Just leave both plugged in in your car at all times and problem solved! Yes I know, I know more money right? Think of it this way, it's a one time purchase and your done.
So my my fellow audio nerds let's take a collective breath and relax a little. Change can be scary I know but I am confident that you will make it through this transition okay and eventually be good with this. Or will you? I am still very upset that Apple got rid of their internal DVD drives of their computers so I could rip my CDs into my iTunes and other music folders. Somehow I have managed with an external drive even though it does take up a valuable USB port on my machine. Somehow I think we will manage with either the Lightning to headphone adapter or an external DAC/headphone amp.
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Sometimes it Snows In April-Remembering Prince
by Jim Carter
This is going to be the hardest post I have done and probably will ever do for this blog. If you can't tell by reading any of this blog you would know that music is my passion and a very big part of my life. I live and breath music whether it's trying to play it, listen to it, or play with all the new and old gadgets that allow me to enjoy it, it takes up a large part of my life. The only thing that is a higher priority in my life is my family.
That being said Prince has been one of the biggest, if not the biggest part of my musical life. It all started back in 1984 with Purple Rain. I had heard some of his other music previously and really liked it but it took the movie and album to take it over the top for me. As a young teenager the movie and album really impacted me in a way that nothing else had before. Yes, there was David Bowie, KISS and The Beatles but they just didn't affect me the way Prince could and did.
Once bitten with the Prince bug I started hunting down everything I could by him. I was buying every previous album I could afford or borrowing them from the library. Yes believe it or not my library had the Dirty Mind album, of all Prince albums to have they somehow had the one with the raunchiest cover of any of the albums he had made, and the lyrics matched the album. This intrigued my young teenage mind. I had heard a little of this language in school but Prince took it to a whole new level with catchy, well written music and lyrics. What totally blew me away as I started getting obsessed with everything Prince was the fact that he was writing, performing, producing and arranging every single song on every album that he had put out. What came as a real surprise was that he was doing this starting at the age of eighteen (or earlier actually).
This really inspired me even more than I already was to start writing my own music and recording it on my Emerson Boombox with my $30 Casio keyboard, one string handmade electric guitar made out of a piece of pallet wood and a $10 microphone. I even got to a point where a friend of mine in junior high school and I decided to make a band (which never really came to fruition). We decided we needed made up names because our real names weren't cool enough. I came up with Duke R derived from Prince Rogers Nelson. Get it, Prince, Duke, it was a great tribute. I knew I wasn't in the same league as Prince so I choose the next level down. The name stuck with me for several years and I used it as a "stage name" for all of the music I wrote.
As with Bowie, Prince transcended music and was not afraid to transform himself and his music. He even wrote music for many other artists of different genres like Kenny Rodger, The Bangles and many others. You listen to any musician talk about him and they will tell you, he had no equal. He was one of the most prolific songwriters of all time. At the height of his career in the 80s he was writing complete albums for several different bands at the same time he was writing his own multi platinum selling albums. He even had songs on almost every one of his singles that he released that had previously been unreleased tracks as the side B. It is well known that he also has several hundred maybe several thousand songs he wrote and recorded that have never been released that exist in a vault in his home. I hope someday we will be fortunate enough to finally can get to hear those but only time will tell.
Like Bowie, he left us too early and there will never be another one like him. He had his eccentricities but that hardly ever took away from what he could do on stage and in the recording studio. When ever he set foot in either it was magical. Not all of his music were masterpieces but I have to honestly say that I don't know of very many things he created that I didn't like.
When I heard he had left us earlier today I was in complete shock. I was devastated, it just didn't seem real. How could this amazing person that had been a part of my life, almost like family for over 30 years now be gone. I usually pay tribute to an artist that has passed away by playing there music right away. This time it was different for me, I couldn't get myself to do it. Maybe I didn't want to believe he was gone. Maybe it just hurt more than any of the other artists that have left us, I don't know but it was just different and I had no urge to listen. I wanted to just sit in silence. I found out as soon as my plane landed from a business trip when I turned my phone off of airplane mode. My drive home which is normally spent with music blasting out of my stellar sound system, bass bumpin', tweeters tweeting away to anything that helped the drive go by quicker. Not this time. It was spent in silence, stunned silence, trying to take in what actually happened as I received text after text from friends and family asking if I had heard and that they were thinking about me.
Life will not be the same without Prince that is for certain. I am very happy that I have been able to see him in concert several times so I can say that I have seen one of the best performers in history in concert. As many diehard Prince fans know he has a song that seems so appropriate now after his death. It was written and recorded 30 years ago. It almost seems to predict the future and seems really appropriate for how all his fans must now feel. "Sometimes It Snows In April, sometimes I feel so bad. Sometimes I wish that life was never ending, and all good things, they say, never last."
So true, so true.....
The Month The Music Died
by Jim Carter
This month (starting at the end of December) has not been good for those of us who loved the music of the 70s and 80s. We lost a lot of people we hold dear to our hearts in a very short period of time. The list reads like a list of a who's who of the music world, Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead (or should I say he was Motörhead), Natalie Cole, David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Dale Griffin (drummer for Mott The Hoople), Blowfly (AKA Clarence Reid) just to name a few who have left us in less than a three week period of time.
As I sit here listening to David Bowie's Low it amazes me how much of an impact a musician or in this case musicians can affect your life in both a great and also devastating way. They can bring you so much happiness and then can bring you down when they leave this world. It really gives you a greater sense of mortality when all of your heroes die off. It's like a small piece of you dies along with them. They have given us so much joy and happiness throughout the years and now they are gone.
What isn't gone though is the music, the wonderful music that will be with us forever. It will be with our kids and our grandkids for them to enjoy and appreciate. One thing that was going around the internet after Bowie's death has stuck with me and is so true and that is that humans have been around for thousands of years and the Earth millions and we were fortunate enough to be alive at the same time. I wonder if the people in Mozart's days or Beethoven felt the same kind of privilege as I do. Can we hold some of these artists up to the same level as these amazing artists? Will David Bowie's or Glenn Frey's music endure like Tchaikovsky or Mahler? I guess time will tell but I sure would like to think so.
To see this world lose so much amazing talent in such a short period of time is just amazing all at a time when the format we used to listen to their music on is making such a meteoric comeback. Now more than ever records have a very nostalgic place for me. Crackles and pops be damned. Give me the 12" artwork of Ace of Spades, Ziggy Stardust or Hotel California to appreciate in all of its glory while I listen to the piece of black vinyl that came from within. It reminds us that music used to be special, it used to be more important in our lives. Almost all households in America had a stereo system of some kind in their living rooms that they spun these masterpieces on.
So what does this all mean? Is this the month that music finally died after a long, hard, painful era of miserable decline? All of our heroes are dying off and it appears hopeless. Is this truly the end or is this just a new beginning? Will we see a new set of heroes rise from the ashes of what is left of the struggling music industry? As a die hard fan of music who treats it like a religion I sure hope so.
David Bowie: He came and met us and blew our minds
by Jim Carter
Well what can I say that hasn't already been said. Every one is sharing their thoughts on him from all corners of the entertainment world. His impact on this world has been nothing short of amazing. Some say he is one of the greatest artists of all times. That is pretty high praise when you consider Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and the likes.
When you really think about what he has done in his 6 decade career. He is someone that was never satisfied with doing the same or similar type of music for too long and in many cases was ahead of his time. Whether you like his music or not you cannot deny what he has done on his 25 studio albums. He has made a remarkable impression on most artists out there no matter what the genre.
I'm certainly not exempt from his influence being a person who likes to fancy himself as a musician, he has been a part of my musical influence since I was about 8 or 9 years old. My earliest memories of David was hearing his music playing from my brother's stereo. Soon I caught the Bowie bug after hearing Under Pressure. After that it started an obsession and I couldn't stop for the longest time. Saving up my money every week to buy new albums when I could, usually compilations on cassette tapes. Heroes became one of my next favorite songs of all times, I knew then that I wouldn't be able to get enough of his music.
My first new release album I bought of his was Let's Dance. I remember buying it not long after it was released and I just devoured it like it was a delicious meal from a 5 star restaurant. It also introduced me to another one of my favorite artists Stevie Ray Vaughan (little did I know at the time). From there I just started buying up his back catalog based on the greatest hits compilations I had purchased.
The one that made the biggest impact on me was Ziggy Stardust. There just wasn't a bad song on that album. At the time I purchased the reissue that came out on Ryko which had amazing acoustic versions of some of the songs on the album. I was in heaven, if I could wear out a CD I would have worn that out for sure.
What made David special beyond his music was his other amazing talents as a performer and an actor. He really transcended what we classify as an artist. There wasn't much that he couldn't do as one. He truly was one of a kind, someone that may be imitated but will never be duplicated. I can't think of another artist that was able to successfully change personas and musical styles so well. To see him perform on stage in concert was just amazing. Even though I was more than a football field away from him his performance was captivating and will never be forgotten.
How will he be remembered? As Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke, the Goblin King? I think the simple answer is that he will be remembered as all of them and more. He embodied the ultimate artist who never settled for the status quo. Even when he knew he was not long for this world he wanted to leave us with another evolution to his music. A great parting gift for his fans and the world to enjoy for years, possibly centuries to come. Make no mistake about it, he has made as big of an impact on this world as anyone that has ever graced us with their presence. The stars look very different without him but they are without a doubt brighter now with him up there among them.
Is the music industry committing suicide?
by Jim Carter
I’m convinced that the record companies are trying to commit suicide. You want to know how I know this? Well, let me tell you.Back when rock was young, the record industry would mold and shape the artists they had the way they wanted and put out music that they were convinced would work. They would find an artist that had talent and then give them some songs to record by some of the staff songwriters, dress them up in what they thought was hip and let it fly. Back then it was a little less of a risk because you were just putting out a single and would see how that would do. You do that a couple of times if the first one was successful and if those additional singles did well, then maybe they would put out a whole album and so on and so on.
That worked great for a while, then some labels started taking bigger risks and would let the artist record a full album of their own music. If that sold moderately well they would release a couple more albums. Then it got to the point that if the label really liked you and wanted to take a big risk they would sign you to a multi album deal to let you hone your skills and really be able to mature on the label’s dime. That started working out great, we got several great bands and popular bands from this formula.
One of the most popular that fit this bill was KISS. It wasn’t until their 4th album, a live one at that, that put them over the top and made them one of the biggest bands in the 70s. Before KISS Alive! The label was losing money on them, to the point they almost went out of business. There were many other examples of this in the 70s and 80s too. Labels were allowed to take risks to let an artist mature. Another great example was Prince. He was given the ability to write and produce everything on his first album and was only 18 at the time! He even was allowed to play every instrument. Obviously it paid off but it took a while for the label to truly reap the rewards for their risk with him since his truly monster success didn’t come until his 6 album. Sure he had a couple hits before that but nothing like what he had in Purple Rain.
These days, bands are lucky if they get an album to show their worth to the labels. Of course in my opinion it is with good reason with some of the artists I have heard over the last few years. I have always been curious however to see what would happen if the labels were given the same liberties today that they were in the 70s what would happen with these artists that are one and done today.
I feel a big reason for the change of philosophy is definitely the downturn in the music business and the profits aren’t what they used to be. But lets be honest, they aren’t hurting either. I think the biggest reason for the change however is that the bean counters have taken over the labels. It’s no longer the passionate music lover that appreciates and has a skill for finding great talent. Now they make the public decide on national TV and hope that they sell millions. A few actually have (Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood) but most haven’t. I mean, can anyone tell me the name of the last few American Idol champions?
These new “music” executives are just trying to relive the glory days of early Rock and Roll by finding an artist and giving them a bunch of songwriter written songs, a new wardrobe and hairstyle and put them out on display and hope it sticks. On a rare occasion it does but most of the time it doesn’t. The reason? The label owners from back then had a real true passion for music and were driven to find the next best artist, not to become rich beyond their wildest dreams (although that did help motivate) but because they loved and appreciated the music. The “music” executives now are just concerned about making their stockholders happy and keeping that bottom line in the black. In turn we get an album of 1, maybe 2 okay songs and the rest are awful attempts at trying to repeat a formula the bean counters have on how to make a hit record.
The other problem? The labels don’t listen to and cater to their most important customers, the true music fan and audiophile. These people are a small percentage of the over all listening public but make up a large portion of the people that are still actually buying music today. This crowd just wants a good, high quality album release and they will be happy. Instead, they get remasters that have been done half assed. Poorly EQd, compressed to the point of distortion and repackaged as this new product that resembles the album they once knew and loved but is just a shadow of its former self.
If the labels would just take pride in what they are doing and actually put out a quality product that is at least as good as the original or earlier versions of the album these folks would buy it. But unfortunately the labels have burned their bridges with these people, the core people they need to help keep the music industry alive and well. Now, the true music fans wait to hear if anybody else has picked up a copy in the vast wonderland that is the audio forums. They wait with baited breath to see if they can actually trust putting down the money they so desperately want to on an album that (like hundreds of others) they want to purchase again. But many times their dreams of owning the ultimate version of this masterpiece is shot down because someone decided they needed to make this an album that is part of the enemy side of the loudness wars.
There have been a few in recent years that they have gotten it right like the Sean Magee mastered Beatles mono vinyl box set or Rush 2015 vinyl/hi res reissue campaign but there are very few that you can say that about unfortunately. I know, I know, the labels have to keep up with the Joneses and make the albums loud enough to compete with the rest of the music that plays on Spotify or Apple Music. But why not make two versions of the remaster, one for the Spotify crowd and an ultimate for audiophile version? That way you please both crowds and more importantly give your fan that is still paying for their music a reason to do so. It would be a very small expense on the labels part and the reward could be huge for them.Instead, the audiophile has to rely on labels that specifically cater to them (Mofi, Audio Fidelity and Analogue Productions) to put out a high quality version of the album if they ever do it at all.
So labels, take my advice, spend the little extra money and do the actual buying public a service. Put people in charge who actually have a passion for the music and who want to put out high quality music. Not someone who wants to put a product out just to make money because you know what? The true music fan can tell the difference and is tired of the same terrible product being put out again and again to the point that they are reluctant to make that purchase you so desperately want and need. You have almost lost your main revenue source because you have lost the passion that these people have for music. So stop putting out product, start putting out music that the true fan can appreciate and want to buy again. If not, you are just committing suicide because they just are tired of buying your junk and just wont do it anymore.
If its too loud maybe your too old?
by Jim Carter
I remember when I first started listening to hard rock, the adage was if it’s too loud your too old because my parents and grandparents were always telling me that my music was too loud and I needed to turn it down. I just couldn’t understand how I could listen to my music and feel the full emotion of it without having it at least half way up. You better believe that when they were gone that bad boy was getting cranked to 11 for sure though.
Now the loudness wars has come along and given loud a new meaning however. It has become an all out war to see who can make the loudest album you can without having to move that volume knob. Now this has been around for many, many years but has been taken to a whole new level recently.
Getting more loudness out of a song/album is done by using a lot of compression. Not of the file kind but the kind that makes the quieter parts of a song close to the same volume as the loudest part. More loudness is also achieved by using something called a limiter. It’s similar to compression but kind of does the opposite, it limits the loudest parts of the song. These are simplified explanations but you get the idea. Over the last 15 years or so they have introduced a new trick with the use of digital limiting where they essentially just cut off the peaks of a song (also known as brickwalling). This works great at getting the song much louder but if not done right can really affect the sound in a bad way.
To some who have listened to music before this brickwalling has been done to a recording it can be very annoying. To most others, they only listen to the music on their laptop, cheap PC speakers or in their car and in some ways it helps the music in those situations. To some when listening on a good system it can become fatiguing to listen to especially when extreme peak limiting has been done to the song.
Those that have nice home systems always complain when this is done. The say “why can’t they just master it to sound good on a nice system and it will sound good everywhere” or “why can’t they make two masterings, one for the earbud crowd and one for the home stereo crowd?”. So lets look at these perspectives by thinking about some (assumed on my part) statistics.
A vast majority of people listen to their music one of four ways now a days, through inexpensive (less than $50) earbuds/headphones through their phone or other portable device, through crappy PC speakers, in their factory installed car stereo or through some sort of Bluetooth or portable speaker system. In all of these cases if you were to try to play a “less loud” mastered album through them they tend not to sound better than the loudly mastered version just because these listening devices don’t have the dynamics to make a dynamic recording sound better and the fact that even if it did it would play significantly lower than all the other music in their phone or other portable playing device so they would tend to not want to listen to it anymore.
So what about those that say make two masterings, one loud and one more dynamic? Well my best guess is the people that listen to music on a nice system setup properly is much less than 10% of any given artist’s audience. So knowing that, why would they spend the extra time and money making a second master for the 10%? They more than likely wouldn’t even recoup the money they pay out to make that second mastering not to mention the fact that it would probably confuse the other 90% of the people out there that simply don’t care or think the louder one sounds better. Also keep in mind many of these artists listen to the final mastered product before it gets released and are happy with the way it sounds and want to release it sounding loud like this so why would they make any version that sounds different? Also In most cases I find when you compare the tracks (the “brickwalled” one and the normal one) at the same volume level (what us techies like to call level matching) it is very hard to hear a difference if the limiting/compression is done right and well anyway.
Given what little money is to be made by albums now (most artist make the bulk of their money touring now not from album sales) it seems like the best course of action for these artists is to cater to the vast majority of the people that will be buying the album or streaming it and listening through their earbuds, PC speakers or car stereos not to the old timers that think that it’s just too loud.
Are albums too long now a days?
by Jim Carter
I buy a lot of albums and rarely buy single songs but I have been feeling that albums just aren't as good as they used to be. Now is it because I'm just becoming an old fart and I'm reminiscing about the good old days or is there something to this? I have been thinking about this for a while now and I finally have come to a conclusion.
I find myself frequently listening to new releases picking out songs that I would cut off the album. I guess that can easily be done with any album that is out but what really flipped the switch for me is when I was looking through my collection and noticing run times on the albums. I noticed that most of my albums from the 60s were about 30 to 35 minutes long. I started looking at my more recent albums and I noticed since the era of the CD the length of albums has gone up to 55 to 70 minutes long!
Think about the albums that have come out over the past 30 years or so and of the ones over 55 minutes long. How many of those would have been so much better by just making them say 35 or 40 minutes long instead. Just because you have the extra time on a physical format doesn't mean you should use it all up right? Imagine if those artists focused more on the songs that would make up the 35-40 minute album instead of having to concentrate on the extra 3 to 6 songs that would have been cut in the 60s or 70s!
I think a good solution to this issue is what I see from some artist now a days and that is the release of a deluxe edition. The standard release being maybe 40-45 minutes 10-12 tracks and the deluxe adds 3-6 songs and maybe 15-20 minutes to the album. That way the die hard fans get more music from their favorite artist and the casual fan can get a great, appropriate length album, it's a win win. It may even get more people to by the entire (standard edition) album instead of just a track or two.
Will shorter albums save the music industry and bring them back to the glory days? No, probably not but I think it would be a nice change for the music lovers like myself so I don’t have to wade through the 4 or 5 mediocre songs on an album to get to the good stuff. Who knows maybe less people will be saying how there aren’t any good albums anymore.
Record Store Day 2015
by Jim Carter
Well, another 3rd Saturday in April has come and gone and that means another Record Store Day is in the books. It seems like every year I tell myself I don’t want very many of the releases and it’s a bad year for them and every year I end up spending way more than I was going to and should have.
A spring ritual that is enjoyed and hated by many vinyl enthusiasts started back in 2007 has been a springboard for the resurgence of vinyl and also the greedy eBay poachers out there wanting to make a quick buck on those unfortunates that were unable to get their hands on their favorite bands limited vinyl pressings. This aspect has definitely made this day a little less enjoyable for those that are going to buy albums to actually listen to them (like me).
I have to give a shout out to the place that I spent my (limited) time on Record Store Day and that was Record Trader in Ft Myers, Florida. A great place run by some great people. What made them great was how they combat the eBay trolls by only allowing you to choose one RSD purchase and then going back into line to choose another and repeat this process until you have everything you want. It takes a lot of patience and time but I think this is the most fair way to approach this so everybody gets at least one thing they came in for.
Most places let you get everything you came for in one fell swoop which is nice but also makes it hard for all those that waited in line to get what they wanted. It can be argued that if you got there first and waited the longest that you should be able to get everything that you want and I can understand and appreciate that. The other side of it is that many of these people that are first in line are not interested in listening to what they buy. They want to go home and flip it on eBay for a profit to those people that were 2 or 3 people behind them in line that didn’t get a chance to buy it because the eBayer got it before them.
But I digress, this is about the records and the overall experience of the day. There were many interesting releases that came out, too many to mention in this short blog but you can look at the whole list here if you want. Some of my favorites include RPM Turntable Baseball, The White Stripes Get Behind Me Satan, Metallica’s highly sought after early demo tape “No Life ‘Til Leather” on cassette (yes cassette).
Last year they had RPM Turntable Football and I was unable to score one of these. But this year I made sure I was able to pick up the baseball version. The premise behind this is that there are 13 grooves on the 2 sides of this record. When you place the needle down it will randomly go to different grooves and play something different. This was done to a lesser degree on Jack White’s Lazeretto record that came out last year where the first song on the second side had two different intros. So how this works is you get different results depending on what groove is played. You can get a home run, a single, a strike out etc.. They include a score card to keep track of your game as well. A very cool concept and I can’t wait to play it with my kids.
On The White Stripes Get Behind Me Satan, it is the last of The White Stripes albums to get a vinyl release. It includes a lenticular cover with two different cover pictures and is spread over two records, one is red and one is white. Another interesting note about the release is that the original album was recorded on an 8 track in analog and the record was cut from an all analog source so no digital, a rarity in this day and age. The overall sound is pretty good but it does suffer from what many records from United Record Pressing suffer from; surface noise and clicks and pops. Even after a good cleaning it has some but it admittedly is much better than most records that are pressed from here.
Last but definitely not least is an official mass release of Metallica’s “No Life ‘Till Leather”. This was a tape that they gave out in the early days to try to promote the band and has gained legendary status among hardcore Metallica fans. These recordings are of songs that eventually made it onto their first album in some way, shape or form and were done before Dave Mustaine (of Megadeth fame) was kicked out of the band. It is a pretty interesting listen and is enjoyable even though the sound quality isn’t the greatest. I have read that James Hetfield sang lead vocals and Dave Mustaine sang back up but I could have sworn that Dave sang lead on a couple of these tracks.
There were many more great albums like a Chet Atkins album that got pulled before release but not before pressing the album or the many “side by side” 7” singles. These are singles where the same song is done by two artists. Some of the ones from this year include Syd Barrett and R.E.M. performing Dark Globe, David Bowie and Tom Verlaine performing Kingdome Come, Death Cab For Cutie and Freedy Johnston performing Bad Reputation and probably my favorite Grandmaster Flash and Stiff Little Fingers performing The Message. All of these come on special colored vinyl and are very interesting to listen to how different artists perform the same song.
So I think that about wraps it up for this entry. Record Store Day as usual drained my bank account but also gave me some great new limited release albums to add to my collection. I want to thank Bull Moose Records, Newbury Comics and of course Record Trader who all helped me fill out my collection this year. To find out more about Record Store Day click here. If you want to discuss your experiences on Record Store Day go over to our Facebook page. We would love to here from you!
Does modernizing an old recording ruin it?
by Jim Carter
For the past several years the record labels and artists have been trying to figure out a way to make up for the lagging music sales. They have tried things like making deluxe, super deluxe and mega uber super deluxe versions of albums, which have been successful to a greater or lesser degree. As an example the Led Zeppelin and Paul McCartney sets can sell for over $100.
Another way to rehash old popular albums is to take the original multi track master tapes and remix them. This seems to be the most popular with Progressive Rock groups. Genesis (yes believe it or not they used to be Progressive Rock) was the earliest I can remember that did this. They created four box sets full of their albums where they remixed all their albums plus created surround sound mixes for all their albums except for a couple of the live albums. Others have followed suit like King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Emerson Lake and Palmer and Yes.
Most of the latter bands mentioned above recruited the services of Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree fame to take their classic albums and make a new mix from the masters. He uses all the modern advances of mixing to work on these to modernize the sound of these albums.
All of these releases have created a controversy. Many feel that redoing these albums messes with the integrity of the album. Audiophiles universally panned the Genesis albums as an example; they considered these a step down from the originals. Most of the remixes created by Steven Wilson have been universally praised for maintaining the integrity of the original mixes yet improving the clarity and sound quality in the process.
I personally love what Steven Wilson has done on most of the remixes I have heard him do. Yes they sound modernized (minus the over compression and limiting), but most are more balanced sounding with improved bass that I feel was lacking for most of these older mixes and I feel the drums have a more exciting sound and feel to them. What I like most about most of the ones Wilson is involved in is they tend to provide a flat transfer of the original mix with the remix so you can have the best of both worlds.
The best part these reissues is the surround mixes he creates. Most of these recordings are very musically dense so a stereo recording can make it difficult to hear all the nuances of the music. Wilson helps this by giving a wider soundstage for the recordings without going too crazy with things going on behind you. In my opinion he also does a great job of maintaining the integrity of the original stereo mix in these surround mixes. They still have a similar feel to the original but are just enhanced by utilizing all of the speakers in a surround sound set up.
The newest additions to the remixes that Wilson has created are some of the Yes catalog. So far he has done Close To The Edge, The Yes Album and Relayer with Fragile on its way later in 2015. I feel these are the way these releases should be done. Not only are the stereo and 5.1 remixes great but they also include a plethora of extras when you buy the Blu-Ray versions. All of them include the new stereo and surround mixes as well as the original mix as a flat transfer, a needledrop of an original early pressing of the album as well as a bunch of alternative versions of the songs (like single edits and alternate takes) and an instrumental version of the new remix. All of this in high resolution and for less than $30! To me, if you are a Yes fan these are a no brainer, even if you are not a fan of the new mixes.
So what do you think? I want to hear from you. Do you like when an old album is remixed to make them sound more modern? I'm not talking about the ones that are mega compressed and brickwall limited but ones like what Steven Wilson does. Go to our Facebook page and join the discussion.
Can a song or piece of music you love ever be unlistenable?
by Jim Carter
I am an avid reader and poster in certain audio forums. I enjoy the back and forth and sometimes I get some great information from the people that are there. But then there are other times where you sometimes just have to shake your head in amazement. Case in point we were discussing sound quality of a CD that was just released that was a reissue of a previously released title. The album name escapes me at the moment but quite frankly it isn’t important to the story here. One poster stated that it was his favorite album of all times but this remaster was so bad that it made it unlistenable.
So this comment got me thinking, can a remaster really be so bad that it makes the song/album unlistenable? I mean I understand if they add too much EQ (treble, bass etc.) or they crush the dynamics down to almost nothing, but unlistenable? I have heard a lot of crappy recordings in my day and a lot of bad remasters but I have yet to come across something that was remastered so terribly that I just couldn’t listen to it, especially something I really liked. Have I heard it sound better? Yes. But is it unlistenable? No. I mean if you like the song or piece of music that means at one time you enjoyed the way it sounded. It would be very hard for a professional mastering engineer to do such a bad job remastering an already good sounding recording to the point of it being unlistenable.
What does it mean to be unlistenable anyway? Does it mean that it makes your ears bleed whenever you try to listen to it? Do you get a migraine headache if you try to turn up the volume or worse, does your head explode if you listen for too long of a period of time?
Maybe he was just trying to prove how much he hated this remaster. I mean come on, let's face it, there are some pretty bad ones out there aren’t there? Maybe he just couldn't ever listen to this one because previous ones were so much better sounding. That must be it, that must be what defines unlistenable right? It has to be, I see so many others use that term and I just don't know how it's possible when I listen to the same release and I my ears don’t bleed and my head doesn’t explode when I listen to it.
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