1

I own a CD of this album, probably its first release on CD (bought it early or mid 90s).

The sound quality is... well, it has an overall nice warm quality; but it also has some really horrible aspects/defects (see below for details on the audio quality shortcomings).

There is an Original Master Recording CD release from MFSL; however, the "defects" in the audio quality sound to me like analog defects, in which case they would be present in the original analog recording.

Question: is the sound quality of the MFSL Original Master Recording better than that of the CD release I have? Is it free of the defects shown in the fragments below?

Details:
In some chunks, Winwood's voice sounds distorted (a distortion that my ear thinks is clipping/saturation — I would imagine that this could have only happened during the original recording, and never during transfer to digital or subsequent processing). Listen to this short fragment:

https://cal-linux.com/tmp/traffic--voice-distortion.flac (track 2, fragment starting approx. 2:47)

Some drum beats sound clearly distorted; and although my ear cannot really identify a culprit, it does sound like an analog artifact — either mechanical distortion (like the drumbeat made something rattle), or some electronic artifact that I'm not sure what could be. In any case, this fragment shows an example:

https://cal-linux.com/tmp/traffic--drums-distortion.flac (track 2, fragment starting approx. 2:35)

Lastly, an example that suggests they perhaps tried to compress the dynamic range and did an outstandingly poor job at it.... Notice that at the beginning of this fragment (near the end of the song, track 2, starting approx. 10:42) the sound is clean; yet, around 7~8 seconds into the fragment, when it gets loud, it looks like they're messing with the dynamic range; then we can hear drumbeats badly distorted as well; around 12 seconds into the fragment, the sound is just plain crappy; and around 20~22 seconds into the fragment, it's just plain horrific. Anyway, this is the fragment:

https://cal-linux.com/tmp/traffic--distortion-overall.flac

Looking at the envelope of the sound: although I had always assumed the release would be loudness-war-free, maybe the sharpness and geometric cleanness of the envelope is a bit fishy (e.g., see the lower side between 2:00 and 3:00, or between 4:30 and 5:15), so who knows whether they screwed up while processing:

Secondary question/request: if someone reading/answering this owns the MFSL release (or some other release that you can tell has better sound quality and does not exhibit these defects), could you post the same(-ish) fragments I posted, and/or a snapshot of the envelope so that I can compare? (notice that "Fair Use" exception to copyright protection should apply in virtually all jurisdictions: we are talking about small excerpts from a copyrighted work for the purpose of study/analysis and commentary in a non-commercial/non-profit context)

4
  • "Fair Use" is entirely a US concept & doesn't apply elsewhere - so I'll avoid that ;)
    – Tetsujin
    Feb 1 at 17:33
  • Huh... I would expect this concept to be quite universal (and if anything, if there was a country where this concept does not exist, I would guess that's in the US, home of greedy Big Media!!). Anyway, I know in Canada the concept exists explicitly in copyright law. Anyway, that's fair that you want to avoid posting anything you fear could violate copyright!
    – Cal-linux
    Feb 4 at 22:43
  • Also, I'm pretty sure SE is a billion-dollar organization. So not sure about the non-profit bit.
    – n00dles
    Feb 9 at 10:04
  • Cal - it's one of those laws that is confounded further on such as SE. Posting something to SE applies a CC BY-SA 4.0 license… which you cannot do if you're not the owner of the copyright. It's just safer all round to avoid the possibility in the first place;)
    – Tetsujin
    Feb 9 at 11:20

1 Answer 1

4

This isn't an album or track I know, so I ermm… borrowed a version off the interwebz for some comparison.

You're right the version you have is 'warm'… in fact it's so warm it sounds like it melted ;)

The massive rise of the CD in the late 80s/early 90s led to many companies rushing out older material in a bid to cash in on this.
Unfortunately, in the rush to sell people "perfect-sounding" recordings they grabbed anything they could lay their hands on to do this. Going back to the actual masters & treating them kindly just wasn't on their accountants' minds at the time. Variously they would cut CDs from the vinyl EQ-masters rather than the originals - there used to be a fight between mix engineers & cutting engineers; each dialling in & out different amounts of top end because it "gets lost in the cut". The end result was chaotic to say the least. One result of this fight is that the EQ masters had to have all that extra top dialled back out again to be able to cut something listenable.
I have [or had] some rushed-out CDs which were complete & utter travesties of the original vinyl.

so… what you have here is a rush-job. It's dirty, distorted, I don't think it's been re-compressed because I don't think anyone cared enough to bother - looking at your image from what looks like Audacity, there's really only any peaks at the very end. The rest of the track looks like quiet to loud in a naturally-growing overall dynamic. "Loudness war" compression would have killed that stone dead.

The distorted toms are slightly distorted in the version I managed to grab, but not anything like the grungy way on your copy. There's some 'air' around the recording, even if it's a bit primitive. There is distortion, but not in everything at once, which would imply it's from source, on the multitrack, not in the mix/master.
Generally, I can hear some compression on the drums. Compressors were invented sometime in the late 60s [I didn't look up an exact date] but they were a bit slow & primitive back then. You can most often hear on cymbals… the crash feels like the level rises as the comps release. There's a hint of this in the cleaner recording.

To cut what could be a very very long story short, drop this copy in the bin.
I'd be looking at pretty much the newest version I could find to replace it. Over the years more & more back catalogue has had time & effort spent on it so the CD [or even mp3/AAC] doesn't sound like it was recorded from an old valve Dansette with a dusty needle, or off the EQ masters with lifts at 4k that make your eyes water.
These days usually the cleanest versions available are on such as iTunes, plus you can listen to a bit before you drop your coin. Even though they're released to the public as AAC, there is so much more detail encoded in the first place, & masters are these days delivered to such as Apple as 24-bit, that it's not even worth looking at an old CD as a "better" sounding version.

[I just checked iTunes, there's a 2010 remaster on there that sounds pretty decent. In the 1:30 freebie listen it's one of the drop sections, but right at the end there's a few tom hits that don't display the hideous distortion.]

1
  • Thanks, this is a great and detailed answer. I upvoted it; however, I will probably end up answering my own question, as I decided to get the OMR version (well, it's pending eBay closing the bid in a few days, but so far I'm the only bidder).
    – Cal-linux
    Feb 4 at 22:45

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.