Tell me about remastered audio in layperson's terms.
May 15, 2014 7:59 AM   Subscribe

Lately I've been seeing a lot about music converted to a 432Hz format, but very little about why and how, exactly, it's superior. Add that to the huge amount of "remastered" music I see on Spotify when I look up an older album, and I'm confused about why it's necessary to remaster. What's so bad about the un-remastered audio? Are the reels literally degrading? Why is simple digitization inadequate? What, exactly, happens when an audio engineer goes in to remaster a track? And, if I might as well get my money's worth, how can I notice and appreciate the superiorities in remastered and/or 432 Hz audio?
posted by magdalemon to Technology (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Remastered is not always better. Remastered means that a multi-track source is remastered and remixed using new technology on a budget and a timescale that was not always available to those that originally recorded it.

You can remaster a stereo source as well, you just aren't going to get as dramatic results to it. The best you can get from a two track source is apply intelligent EQing, filtering and compression (which still can have great effect). But ideally a remastered release is one where the original multi-track material has been converted from analog tape (high quality) to digital files and worked over on a digital level.

At the same time if something is remastered poorly it could be worse than the original release. There is no rule that says if you do something you'll do it better. To wit you can look up the 1963 Karajan Beethoven symphony cycle. There have been so many reissues and remasters of that, classical enthusiasts chase the best remasters through all the different labels and box sets. Some sound worse than the 1963 original some sound better.

The term "mastering" in the production process refers to something very specific, remastering is much less specific. Mastering when you make a new record is the final step in the process after all the mixing is done compressing everything to be "radio ready" while making sure all the details put in during the mixing process stay present.

Remastering though - you can go all the way back to the mixing stage and rejigger things from there. So remastering could mean doing a little or doing a lot.
posted by arnicae at 8:05 AM on May 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

arnicae has discussed the idea behind "remastered" music, which is something that reasonable people can debate the merits of.

The 432 Hz thing, however, is pure woo. The claims are that if you base your music on a scale where concert A is tuned to 432 Hz rather than 440 Hz, it has mystical healing power, resonates with the very structure of your DNA, harmonizes with the fundamental vibrations of the Earth, and whitens your teeth while you sleep. It's snake-oil, pure and simple.
posted by Johnny Assay at 8:19 AM on May 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

The 432 Hz thing isn't really the same as remastering. It's a New Age theory that if you slightly pitch-shift music, it's more harmonically convergent with your DNA molecules, or something. There's no evidence whatsoever to support this. It's harmless woo along the lines of binaural beats or copper bracelets.

There's a totally separate movement that has to do with slightly lowering instrument tuning in a live concert setting to achieve a historically accurate sound (since the standard reference pitch of A=440 Hz is higher than it was hundreds of years ago), but those people don't focus on 432 Hz specifically.
posted by theodolite at 8:19 AM on May 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

432Hz is an alternate tuning and appears to be the land of crazy people. Are you thinking of 96/192KHz? If so, it expands what the highest frequency being reproduced is (going well past the accepted limits of human hearing) but more importantly increases the frequency with which the analog sound wave is being sampled/reproduced, making it less ladder-like.

Lots more at wikipedia.

Mastering is the process of taking a finished mix and polishing it. How it is polished can vary based on the type of equipment is expected to be listened to on and the sensibilities of the day. The abilities of the mastering engineer will also affect how it sounds.

Remastering is basically redoing the polishing step. It can be because technology has improved, tastes have changed, the first person did a poor job, the expected listening environment has changed (listening to mp3 audio via earbuds rather than boxy 70s speakers via a record player, for example), or very commonly because the record company wants to sell people the same material again so they change it up a little bit to get completeists to spend more money. In some cases, there is also some remixing going on that's labeled remastering.

Some are good, some are bad, some are indifferent. It's more of a case by case basis. If you're a casual listener listened to low bit rate compressed audio (mp3/aac) through low end speakers or earbuds/phones you may not notice much if any difference. If you want a fairly good example, listen to the original version of Peter Gabriel's So compared to the remastered version.
posted by Candleman at 8:36 AM on May 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

There are other motivations than being connected to the vibrations of the Universe for wanting a pitch standard lower than 440 Hz. There are opera singers, for example, who want orchestras to return to lower pitch, and there are people who claim that the tempered scale comes out sounding more consonant. I am not convinced, but the New Ager thing isn't the entire story there.
posted by thelonius at 8:55 AM on May 15, 2014

Nthing that the 432 Hz thing is sheer bullshit.

Otherwise Candleman has pretty much nailed it.

What, exactly, happens when an audio engineer goes in to remaster a track?

Mmmmm . . . . not sure how layperson-friendly this will be, but try poking through some of the articles in Mix Magazine's Mastering archives to maybe get an idea of what goes on in the mastering or re-mastering process.
posted by soundguy99 at 4:52 PM on May 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

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