you’re on this website, you undoubtedly know that “Remastered”
means the sound has been brought up to a more modern standard.
This often means it's been made louder so that it sounds closer in
volume level with newly released records. Sometimes this is a real
treat for a
mastering engineer, because in "hind sight" there can be some tonal
improvements along with the volume increase.
But there's more than just the possible improvements made by
remastering. On iTunes (and on this site) you have seen the blue image
iTunes.” There’s a specific set of requirements to create
mastered files for you that satisfy the
requirements for this Apple high resolution format.
We are officially an Apple Certified
mastering studio. And the MFiT
format sounds very good, and it's worth the effort. Our certified MFiT
system is real-time - and care is taken when a client wants this
improved format. MFiT
COMPLIANCE CAN TAKE ADDITIONAL TIME. It's an additional set of factors
that go into mastering your project.
Ok, so what has led us to
the goals and requirements of this new standard? Let's look back a
The record label’s
The record labels have all pushed mastering engineers to use
sophisticated electronics for hotter and hotter sound levels. As you
have probably noticed, newer music sounds a LOT louder than recordings
released 10 to 20 years ago. I started complaining publicly about this
back in 1999.
irritating volume problem
The listening public had to contend with some music that was mastered
soft (from years ago), and more recent recordings that was mastered
loud. Consumers found it can be REALLY irritating when their
old music sounds way softer than new releases! It can drive you nuts
music of 5 or 6 artists shuffling back-and-forth with really different
Louder can make
the sound worse
While louder remastered recordings can have their good points, the
sound doesn’t always benefit. In some cases it’s cool, but in other
cases, we hear more compression in music than at any other time in
history. And look at record (music) sales. Yes, new
formats/downloads/streaming/piracy has an effect on sales, But the
sound (and the subtle tendency for our ears to get “tired” and “pushed
in” by the more constant dynamic (decreased) stream of sound has an
effect on our connection with the emotion and movement within the
This is the drawback of the “Loudness war” in digital audio. What
happens is that the sound gets more boomy sounding - more sustaining
“drone-ing” as it gets louder. And some of the snappy qualities of the
music (air, punch, detail) starts to get all mashed together at the top
end of the spectrum. Everyone's sound is a little less unique and
flavorful when the mastering is really loud.
I wrote my original
article about loud CDs
I'll always say that tone &
musicality rules over
volume, and lo-and-behold, 16 years later many
are stating the loudness
is over - thanks in part to what's next here...
Recently, audio consumers and engineers have been complaining
that the sound was less true to how music really feels. Case-in-point
fans rebelled against their too-loud "Death Magnetic" album production
obvious by the Rolling Stone article about the Guitar
Hero game -- which sounded better than their
record!). Newer downloads didn’t sound as good as live shows (which
used to be the other way around!).
Apple comes around
Eventually Apple started hearing the complaints. Engineers told Apple
that they were forced, by record labels, into making “audio bricks”
instead of ﬁne recordings. Consumers would rip their headphones off
when a huge loud song followed an older soft favorite. Nobody was
So several engineers and Apple got together and brought us a new format
called “Mastered for iTunes.”
But Apple did insist that the engineers had to use Apple’s own coded
software before they would give the “Mastered for iTunes” stamp of
approval. That’s pretty good marketing on Apple’s part. Create a name
and a format that "corners the market" on how you impress upon people
that your album sounds
And sure enough, it sounds better and the ﬁles are still small enough
to ﬁt on your iPod. It’s not perfect, but it’s really a step in the
right direction. The mastering
requirements to comply with Apples MFiT standard involve a few factors
- which we carefully oversee. [Note: if you are planning on using CD
distribute your music on the internet, see
Secret help is on the
way, sort of
But there’s one more secret: it’s called “Sound Check.” It’s another
part of the quest to solve that annoying “shufﬂe” problem because of
the differing volume levels in digital recordings.
Sound Check software is built into all the latest versions of iTunes,
and it’s designed to “level the playing ﬁeld” of digital volume. Sound
Check analyzes the overall volume level of a piece of music, and it
gives it a “rating” if you will. Then, whenever that music is played on
iTunes, it’s balanced and leveled with other songs that have been
“tagged” with a volume rating. (Windows Media Player 12 has a similar
The result is that thanks to Sound Check, the loud songs are turned
down, and the soft ones are turned up, and some stay the same -- all
depending on the volume “rating” that the Sound Check feature gives the
There’s one catch. It’s not universal just yet. You have to actually
have Sound Check “on” in your iTunes player in order to have that
solution in your hands. Also, not every song in the entire world has
gotten “the rating” just yet. But the good news is that iTunes Radio
uses Sound Check as standard, so you’re covered on iTunes Radio.
Spotify and Pandora handle this in their own ways and the details are
too much to cover here. More help IS on the way with YouTube...
So while many of us still tangle a little bit with the volume
differences of our favorite songs, we can at least know that there’s
some good formats that will setting things down over a span of time.
Getting computer companies and consumers and record labels and
mastering engineers all on the same page isn’t easy!
Hard copy CDs are doomed?
Getting record companies on the same page period isn't easy. Even with
the benefit of MFiT, many labels still master their CDs at
smashed-to-the max volume - which if were transfered to Apple's
required software, would FAIL Apple's specifications miserably because
they would be too loud. This is a huge mistake by the labels.
CD-to-iTunes copies made by consumers will have TONS of clipping
distortion. An untrained hear won't shriek and run, but eventually
people will feel like the sound isn't warm or silky sounding. Silky
like the very same music download files that have been Mastered for
If a music lover (who has a CD collection) anticipates great quality,
will be disappointed when and if they convert most contemporary
CDs into iTunes (without serious custom settings). They will get
digital clipping "overs" all over the place - one of the main things
that Apple won't tolerate for an MFiT master file! The labels really
to like the iTunes MFiT file over CDs because... well because it's all
about Apple / iTunes market domination and back room label deals?
But looking forward
in just the download-from-iTunes category, the
right direction is in place. Hard copy CDs is another story. So between
downloading remastered music, Mastered for iTunes and the Sound Check
things are looking (or sounding) better (at least where downloads are
If you look in the upper right
hand corner of an artist’s iTunes Store page, you may see the blue
image that say’s “Mastered for iTunes” - and that actually shows you
that the artist took the extra step to make their music sound better
on line for their fans! Here's why
are naturally in-sync with MFiT.
mastering totally enhances the sound field. It's a new journey in the
- Ice Green,
for Gina Green, Ritestep Records
had no idea what to expect,
but it seemed like the logical thing to do. You were right.
We had more options, the sound opened up and we're happy with the
results." - Rise
technology of Separations gives
more vitality to the sound - it gives a new experience to my sound."
brought to our album using Separation Mastering was truly eye opening."
Deal By Dusk
Cool info about the days of
The older records (from the vinyl era) actually had more pleasing
aspects to their sound because it didn’t get altered by sophisticated
computer software and the high tech mastering technology that we use
today. Sometimes less is more, and it’s VERY often that recording
engineers of today really like OLD gear because, well it was simple and
had a built in “regulation” or “governor.” The size of
the record. No matter how good the mastering engineer was in the old
days, getting a louder pressing meant that the grooves in the record
were wider. As the needle on the disc came around for the next
revolution, the groove had to be farther in toward the center of the
disc so the wide grooves didn’t overlap.
That meant if the record label or the producer wanted the record to
“blow away” the competition by being louder, it would come at a cost.
Extra wide grooves meant there was less room available for all the
music. You either had to take off one of the songs planned for the
album (because you ran out of space on the record) or you had to
conform to a regular amount of volume, just like the other artists, so
that you could put all of the intended songs on the record. Sometimes
regulations (or physical limitations) are a good thing!!
Once the record labels and producers got more into the world of digital
sound, they found out that high-tech electronic mastering gear let you
“slam” more volume onto an audio ﬁle. “The gloves were off.” Everybody
went nuts. The labels actually did themselves a disservice by
pressuring the mastering engineers into making newer digital recordings
Who looks out for the
Pressuring the mastering engineers actually took some life and breath
out of the music - in favor of blowing away the other artist’s music.
It has been a dog-eat-dog sonic world for a years now, and many
mastering engineers (men and women) wish it could be different -- for
the sake of the consumer!
Many people are impatient with today’s music and they click from song
to song, often NOT savoring an entire record as the artist intended the
experience to be for the listener. Listeners aren’t even aware they are
doing it. They are not as charmed, engaged, entangled with the music as
before. “Loud” can take out some of the pulse (beating heart) that used
to be so natural in the music we bought. And heck, the consumer doesn’t
even get to smell the vinyl record coming out of a newly opened record
Classic songs from the pop era still are engaging and young people
often listen to older rock or funk or country or jazz recordings... And
just can’t put their ﬁnger on what it is that makes the stuff SOUND SO
DARNED GREAT! Well for starters, music with dynamics sounds better and
feels better. It's the way music actually IS. Music is supposed to be
It takes you somewhere! It isn't supposed to just sit in one place.
Louder mastering has more of a droning effect than music in the days of
vinyl. Plus classic recordings contain other great elements.... like
great SONGS by great ARTISTS who’s music sounds natural and actually
The good news is that some companies do listen to the consumer, and at
least come up with some improvements so that we listeners enjoy “the
soundtracks of our lives.” And it will keep getting better as computers
keep getting faster, inventors and engineers keep using their talents,
and as long as consumers let their thoughts and feelings BE KNOWN.
Which is the same for politics, food, entertainment, health,
environment, treatment of animals, respect for the elderly, aid for the
sick, etc. Get the word out there and ALWAYS strive to make the world a
better place, and it will happen eventually.