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How to find unmastered versions of badly mastered songs?
andrewthecoder
post Jan 31 2014, 18:44
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Basically, I find myself increasingly annoyed by common symptoms of bad mastering in popular music (clipping, heavy compression), and I was hoping somebody might have some insight as to what a person might do if they really wanted to try and get a higher quality copy of a song.

It's a bit of a long shot, but if the musician was a little more esoteric I would probably try and find a direct email address for them and ask them if they have a non-commercially-mastered recording.

However, I'm talking about big names here, and I don't really know where to start, who to email - I doubt I'd get an email address for David Guetta anywhere which would actually be read by him.

So, any suggestions? Perhaps I could email a recording studio if I found where a particular release was recorded?

As you can tell, this is really starting to bother me and I'm happy to go to fairly ridiculous lengths to get to listen to an undamaged piece of music.

There have been tracks in the past which I have listened to, enjoyed, but been irritated by bad mastering, but the track which happens to have been the most recent (and therefore the only one I can remember right now) is

David Guetta - She Wolf (Falling To Pieces) ft. Sia

Sia's vocals are amazing, but there is clipping all over the place (at least, that's what I think I hear?), for example on and off between 0:43-0:55, 1:54-2:00, 2:06-2:20 etc.

Can anyone confirm that I'm not just going crazy, and this track does have clipping and/or compression artefacts on it?
I'm listening to a FLAC ripped from track 3 of the album release, the wider release distribution channels such as Spotify have even more distortion throughout.

All comments appreciated!

This post has been edited by andrewthecoder: Jan 31 2014, 18:55
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mjb2006
post Jan 31 2014, 21:25
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For older releases, you can look for older CDs, but downloadable tracks are almost always the most recent remasters. HDTracks may have some newer stuff with different masterings (maybe better, maybe not), but generally, for recent releases, especially dance music, it's unlikely you'll find a full (or at least wider) dynamic range "audiophile mastering".

You could try contacting the artists directly and offer to send them some money for a version that meets your standards. It's possible they won't understand the problem, though, or they may think the commercial mastering sounds better and that you should just live with it. And they're probably in violation of their recording contract if they do send you anything. But it's worth a shot.
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Porcus
post Jan 31 2014, 21:25
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I cannot imagine you would get unreleased files out unless the artist is small enough to answer your e-mails, but they might use a different producer next time if someone complains. If there are different masterings released, then maybe more artists or their agents will reply.

Of course, for some older music you can try to get an earlier CD release - people ar dumping out their CD collections. And sometimes one is lucky: http://earache.bandcamp.com/ has "full dynamic range editions", but their music is not for everyone. And out in the wild there are those infamous Guitar Hero pirate remasters poking at Metallica productions.

(That "Mastered for iTunes" thing, did iTunes turn out to have different masterings, or did they just attempt to get artists/labels send them a lossless version rather than a transcoded?)


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andrewthecoder
post Feb 1 2014, 02:18
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Thanks for the replies, I also reckon I am unlikely to have much success emailing anyone directly but thought I would ask to see if anyone else had had any success or better ideas.

Speaking of which, I had never heard of "Mastered for iTunes" - I had always kept well away from the Apple ecosystem. However, having thoroughly read this document:

http://images.apple.com/euro/itunes/master..._for_itunes.pdf

I now have a newfound deep respect for Apple, at least as far as iTunes is concerned.

QUOTE (Porcus @ Jan 31 2014, 20:25) *
(That "Mastered for iTunes" thing, did iTunes turn out to have different masterings, or did they just attempt to get artists/labels send them a lossless version rather than a transcoded?)


See the above document, in particular this quote from it:
QUOTE
Although it’s possible to remaster from a previously mastered CD source with positive
results, in order to qualify as Mastered for iTunes remastered content must begin with a
high resolution digitization of the original analog source and must sound noticeably
superior to the previously released version. Songs and albums submitted to the iTunes
Store as remastered content will be reviewed to ensure that the sound quality shows
discernible improvement.


I am downloading iTunes, for the first time, as we speak.

This post has been edited by andrewthecoder: Feb 1 2014, 02:23
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slks
post Feb 1 2014, 03:51
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I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but from my understanding the "Mastered for iTunes" thing is primarily (if not entirely) a marketing gimmick. There was a thread on it here earlier, IIRC it was determined that the studio provides Apple with a 24/32-bit copy of a heavily compressed album, instead of a 16-bit copy of a heavily compressed album like with normal releases.

You might want to dig up the thread. but my summary of it is: Some Mastered For iTunes releases have marginally higher measured quality, but none of them have audibly higher sound quality, or have had any actual re-mixing or re-mastering.


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Porcus
post Feb 1 2014, 13:29
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QUOTE (slks @ Feb 1 2014, 03:51) *
IIRC it was determined that the studio provides Apple with a 24/32-bit copy of a heavily compressed album, instead of a 16-bit copy of a heavily compressed album like with normal releases.


In which case it is a gimmic yes.

OTOH, if it means that the studio provides Apple with a 24/32-bit copy rather than the label providing Apple with the Amazon mp3 files, then maybe something is gained although not in the war against the loudness war.


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andrewthecoder
post Feb 1 2014, 18:15
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QUOTE (slks @ Feb 1 2014, 02:51) *
from my understanding the "Mastered for iTunes" thing is primarily (if not entirely) a marketing gimmick


Without doing any real testing and comparison of releases I can't make a proper judgement about whether studios are actually following the guidelines properly and the program is checking releases properly for quality, but I don't think it's fair to say it is "primarily" a marketing thing.
Have you actually read the document I linked to? It is really done well, in my opinion - it seems to me like they have made a serious effort to try and educate studios about best practices. See this quote:

QUOTE
Be Aware of Dynamic Range and Clipping

Whether you’re mastering a whisper-quiet zen flute tone poem or a heavy metal guitar
fest, volume is a key issue. The main tools used in mastering—equalization,
compression, limiting, or combinations of these—are all different ways of controlling
aspects of volume. Making decisions about gain levels, dynamic range, and frequency
response is what mastering is all about.
Many artists and producers feel that louder is better. The trend for louder music has
resulted in both ardent fans of high volumes and backlash from audiophiles, a
controversy known as “the loudness wars.” This is solely an issue with music. Movies, for
example, have very detailed standards for the final mastering volume of a film’s
soundtrack. The music world doesn’t have any such standard, and in recent years the de
facto process has been to make masters as loud as possible. While some feel that overly
loud mastering ruins music by not giving it room to breathe, others feel that the
aesthetic of loudness can be an appropriate artistic choice for particular songs or
albums.
Analog masters traditionally have volume levels set as high as possible, just shy of
oversaturation, to improve the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). With digital masters, the goal
is to achieve the highest gain possible without losing information about the original file
due to clipping.
With digital files, there’s a limit to how loud you can make a track: 0dBFS. Trying to
increase a track’s overall loudness beyond this point results in distortion caused by
clipping and a loss in dynamic range. The quietest parts of a song increase in volume,
yet the louder parts don’t gain loudness due to the upper limits of the digital format.
Although iTunes doesn’t reject files for a specific number of clips, tracks which have
audible clipping will not be badged or marketed as Mastered for iTunes


Most relevant to this topic and my issue, I like this phrase: "tracks which have
audible clipping will not be badged or marketed as Mastered for iTunes
"

That gives me hope at least that someone within the industry cares about it.

This post has been edited by andrewthecoder: Feb 1 2014, 18:15
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greynol
post Feb 3 2014, 13:19
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We discussed that article fairly well and on more than one occasion.

http://www.hydrogenaudio.org/forums/index....showtopic=93628

QUOTE (andrewthecoder @ Feb 1 2014, 09:15) *
Most relevant to this topic and my issue, I like this phrase: "tracks which have audible clipping will not be badged or marketed as Mastered for iTunes"

Apple is concerned about samples going over full scale in the processing and playback chain, that is what they are talking about in the sentence you placed in bold. They were very explicit in saying artists should have the freedom to use as much DRC as they like:
QUOTE
Your decision about the volume and loudness of your tracks is a technical and creative choice. You might decide to take the listener on a dynamic journey through an album as a complete work, raising and lowering the volume level across the sequence of tracks to increase the music’s emotional impact. Alternately, you might pursue the loudest possible signal at all times.

Whatever you decide—exquisitely overdriven and loud, or exquisitely nuanced and tasteful—we will be sure to encode it and reproduce it accurately. We only ask that you avoid clipping the signal.


This post has been edited by greynol: Feb 3 2014, 19:54


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2Bdecided
post Feb 6 2014, 13:16
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QUOTE (andrewthecoder @ Jan 31 2014, 17:44) *
there is clipping all over the place (at least, that's what I think I hear?), for example on and off between 0:43-0:55, 1:54-2:00, 2:06-2:20 etc.
I hear that too (on Spotify desktop player). I think it's the vocal track that's clipped though - it might be microphone distortion or analogue clipping rather than digital clipping. Not sure. I think the clipping sound itself has been through the strange stereo effect they've put on the vocal, meaning it happened quite early in the process. As far as I can tell, the mix itself isn't clipped during 0:43-0:55 - the visible clips on the vocal line are mostly a long long way down from digital full scale. Obviously Spotify is lossy, but even so, it's not just clipping of the final mix.

This means, even if they wanted to, they probably couldn't give you a different version because the original track has that distortion on it.


I think quite a few of us would like to fix/re-master our own favourite modern music, because often most of the damage is done during the final mixing and mastering (if separate). If someone has managed to do that due to some lucky access to master tapes, you can usually find it on YouTube. Sometimes you can re-build things from other mixes.

Usually though, you just have to put up with the sound, or find something else to listen to. Or record your own music!

Cheers,
David.
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DVDdoug
post Feb 7 2014, 00:59
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QUOTE
...tracks which have audible clipping will not be badged or marketed as Mastered for iTunes
It's kind-of hard to believe that someone at Apple is actually listening to all of those tracks for audible clipping. You think they have... I dunno... maybe 100 interns with headphones in cubicles listening to the submissions? biggrin.gif biggrin.gif
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aztec_mystic
post Feb 7 2014, 02:51
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^^^ Exactly. I think it would be pretty questionable business-wise to have humans listen to each and every song. There must be a large number of songs on iTunes which have never been purchased. They don't want to invest money in such songs.
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