In the current age of constantly developing digital media, it is sometimes hard to keep up with the latest trends. One of today’s most popular buzzwords is ‘digital remastering’. This is applicable to both video and audio files but in this article I shall focus on the idea of audio, or CD, remastering.
To understand what CD remastering is, it is helpful to first know what ‘mastering’ is. When you duplicate a CD, you have an original, or ‘master’ recording. This ‘master’ copy is not necessarily the first recording of the audio content, but is the final edited version of it. For instance, if you are recording a radio-play or audio book, you may wish to add sound effects from another source in after the initial recording. Or, if you are making music, you might want to edit the singer’s voice or to equalize the sound. Many adjustments of these sorts can be made and the ‘master’ copy is the final edited version made before CD duplication commences. In some circumstances there is more than one master copy, for instance many ‘masters’ might be sent out to different CD duplication plants in different regions.
So, the process of CD mastering is the process of making the ‘master’ copy of the CD. Mastering had problems, however, when it came to analogue recordings, for analogue sound loses quality every time it is re-recorded or edited. This can make the audio sound fuzzy or start to hiss. This was particularly the case with cassette tapes.
However, with the advent of digital sound, CD remastering has become the remedy to this cause. When a piece of audio is remastered, very often the original recording of the piece, sometimes taken from before the CD master was even completed, and converted into digital sound, thus the editing can take place again, with no loss to the sound quality, creating a new master which can be used to duplicate the CD and release it again.
But there are arguments for and against CD re-mastering. Why? If a process makes an old song sound better and gives it a second chance to live, what can be the problem? Well, it depends on how well the audio has been remastered: Many classic albums from bands such as Kiss and the Beatles are now being re-released in digitally remastered form, but to modern tastes and standards. This often includes increasing the volume of a song to levels where the sound becomes distorted and starts to sound very different. this can dissuade people from listening to the music again, often without them even knowing quite why. Aside from this, many people see it simply as a marketing ploy, a way for shareholders in music labels and members of the bands to get even more money than they did the first time the song was a hit.
Despite these criticisms the point remains that, when done well by professional CD remastering technicians, digitally remastered CDs sell very well and do offer a new lease of life to the audio of the past. It also helps to preserve songs and recordings from the analogue era, as cassette tapes and vinyl discs alike become more scratched and naturally degrade in quality over time.