The Dark Art of Mastering Music – Pitchfork

“According to many Metallica devotees, the official version of the band’s 2008 record Death Magnetic is not the one worth listening to. Upon the album’s release, fan forums exploded in disgust, choked with complaints that the songs sounded shrill, distorted, ear-splitting. These listeners liked the music and the songwriting, but everything was so loud they couldn’t really hear anything. There was no nuance. Their ears hurt. And these are Metallica fans–people ostensibly undeterred by extremity. But this was too much.

The consensus seemed to be that Death Magnetic was a good record that sounded like shit. That the whole thing was drastically over-compressed, eliminating any sort of dynamic range. That it had been ruined in mastering. Eventually, more than 12,000 fans signed a petition in protest of the ‘unlistenable’ product, and a mass mail-back-a-thon of CDs commenced. The whole episode provoked a series of questions, not just about what had gone wrong with Death Magnetic but about the craft in question: What is mastering, exactly? How does it work? Beyond the engineers themselves, almost no one seems to know.”

Mastering is far more important than any differences between vinyl and digital, or CD and high-res.

Source: The Dark Art of Mastering Music | Pitchfork

4 thoughts on “The Dark Art of Mastering Music – Pitchfork

  1. The weird part of the loudness wars approach to mastering, is that it is based on a fallacy. There is a germ of truth in it: If you compare two versions of a song, one with louder mastering, played on identical equipment, in the same listening space, with all the same settings, the louder one will probably get more attention. That’s a pretty lame criterion, and a rare set of conditions. The listener usually has control over the volume on their listening device. Not only that, if radio, a DJ, or a streaming entity is involved, they, too, will usually adjust the volume or level controls of their output. So in the majority of listening situations, the extra-loudness goal chosen in mastering will be neutralized, and the sound heard by the listener will be worse than the sound from a less compressed master.

  2. The weird part of the loudness wars approach to mastering, is that it is based on a fallacy. There is a germ of truth in it: If you compare two versions of a song, one with louder mastering, played on identical equipment, in the same listening space, with all the same settings, the louder one will probably get more attention. That’s a pretty lame criterion, and a rare set of conditions. The listener usually has control over the volume on their listening device. Not only that, if radio, a DJ, or a streaming entity is involved, they, too, will usually adjust the volume or level controls of their output. So in the majority of listening situations, the extra-loudness goal chosen in mastering will be neutralized, and the sound heard by the listener will be worse than the sound from a less compressed master.

  3. Steve Hoffman may only need one day, or possibly two, to remaster a classic album for release on SACD for various audiophile labels, but he does a lot of research, such as what kind of equipment the tracks were originally recorded on, as well as making notes of every previous mastering he can lay his hands on. I’ve never better mastering!

  4. Steve Hoffman may only need one day, or possibly two, to remaster a classic album for release on SACD for various audiophile labels, but he does a lot of research, such as what kind of equipment the tracks were originally recorded on, as well as making notes of every previous mastering he can lay his hands on. I’ve never better mastering!

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