“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.