This is a collection of well-mastered pop CDs that have good micro (and macro) dynamic content. Microdynamics contain the transient movement or dynamic rhythm of a recording. Transients also affect perceived loudness. Macrodynamics contain the variations in average loudness over time. As we move into higher resolution recordings, I hope that DVDs, DVD-As, and SACDs will make it into this list. I’ve organized the recordings in order of increasing intrinsic loudness. Intrinsic loudness is the perceived loudness of a recording at a known position of the monitor control. So we can measure the difference in intrinsic loudness between two CDs by observing the difference between the two monitor positions required to make them sound equally loud.
Remember that we have no control over where the consumer sets his personal volume control, so the whole idea of “absolute loudness” is a fallacy. That is why I’ve introduced the term “intrinsic loudness” to help us compare recordings at a given known position of the calibrated monitor level control. Also note that high intrinsic loudness necessarily produces lowered microdynamics because of the compression/limiting required to prevent peak overload.
This is a Monitor control marked in degree of attenuation. The ZERO position produces 83 dB SPL, C Weighted, on a per-channel basis with -20 dBFS RMS pink noise. This is explained in How to Make Better Recordings, Part 2. All other control positions are relative to this zero position.
For example, if CD #1 sounds as loud at a control position of -5 as CD #2 at -7, then we can say that CD #2 is 2 dB louder than CD #1 (CD #1 requires 2 dB more monitor gain). This is such a powerful language that I propose that all 21st century audio engineers communicate using the common language of the calibrated monitor. The size of the control room, the distance of the loudspeakers from the listener, and the number of people in the room absorbing sound affect the monitor gain. If your room is smaller than mine, you will likely use a lower monitor gain.
The Loudness Race is Self-Defeating
In general, a hot CD will have lowered transient clarity and less dynamic range. As the intrinsic loudness goes up, the sound quality can go down. So you can judge the quality of a CD to a great degree by the position of the monitor control required to generate a comfortable loudness. Engineers differ in their opinion of what is an acceptable intrinsic loudness, but most of us agree that the sound quality of the average commercial recording has been going down hill for quite some time due to the loudness race. The vast majority ofpeak-normalized pop music recorded since 1940 sounds perfect at approximately -6 to -8 dB monitor position, which is therefore a de facto standard. This monitor position yields an average SPL (C-weighted) of about 83 to 86 dB (on forte passages)* when reproducing many pop recordings made through about 1993. I believe the -6 to -8 dB monitor position is the approximate point of no return. Depending on the music, a skilled mastering engineer can make a fairly good-sounding recording which works at about -9 position, but the sound will not be as clear or as “sharp” or as “open” as a recording whose intrinsic loudness is lower. You can’t beat the laws of physics.
The Purpose of The Honor Roll
- to help combat the sound-debilitating loudness war. The absence of post-1990 CDs on this Honor roll is a sad commentary on the sonic casualties of this war.
- to demonstrate that tasteful dynamic range, transients, and microdynamics are an important part of the art and enjoyment of music
- to demonstrate that monitor control position and sound quality are often related
- to give examples of a quality standard, presenting some of the best-sounding popular CDs ever made, which mix engineers can emulate and which are not squashed
- to show examples of mastered CDs which are hotter than one might want to mix but whose loudness was achieved without seriously affecting the musical and sonic goal of the record
- to give examples of CDs which sound great on the radio and in the living room, have not so hot levels, and which we can use to demonstrate to producers and A&R the futility of trying to match current insane intrinsic loudness levels
Your Room Is Unique—and You Are Unique
Theoretically, calibrating to the SMPTE standard should result in repeatibility in monitor settings from room to room. But everyone has a different room, different loudspeakers and sits at different distances from their speakers. For example, I originally determined monitor gains using my Reference 3A speakers. As good as they are, these speakers slightly compress sound, reducing transients just a bit even though they were driven by a 250 watt/channel Hafler amplifier. Then recently, I upgraded to the “no compromise” Lipinski speakers, which reproduce transients with startling accuracy. The net result is that my monitor control is now running a dB or so lower with the Lipinskis than it did with the Ref 3As. I also like to listen “with intensity”, which is far from casual level.
Regardless of all these variables, the Honor Roll should translate well to your own circumstances. Just add or subtract your own personal “calibration” and you will probably find things correlate.
Portraits of Cuba – Paquito D’Rivera
Engineered and Mastered by Bob Katz. Big Band Latin Jazz. A bit bright, but extremely natural. Recorded with minimalist miking. Turn it up! Chesky Records, JD145, ©1996.
Body and Soul – Joe Jackson
Mastered by Bernie Grundman. Engineered by Rik Pekkonen. The slightly harsh high end reflects synthesizers and A/Ds of the period, but the sound is open and marvelous. It’s moderately compressed at the top for effect, with great dynamic range. A&M Records, CD-3286, ©1984.
Heartattack and Vine – Tom Waits
Mastered by Terry Denason. Engineered by Bones Howe. Excellent blues rock. Moderately compressed, very clean for a 1980 production. Electra, 295-2, ©1980.
Reunion at Carnegie Hall – The Weavers
Mastered by Doug Sax. No mix engineering credit given. A very clean transfer of a well preserved analog tape. Very realistic recording of folk music with great sound and dynamic range. This CD is also available on Vanguard Records, but I have not auditioned that version. Analog Productions, APFCD 005, ©1963, Gold Limited Edition.
Crazed Woman – Blazing Red Heads
Mastered by Paul Stubblebine. Engineered by Keith Johnson. This CD was recorded with modified (but aging) digital technology before Keith co-invented HDCD. All tracks seem to be recorded with no compression. The monitor level of -1 dB shows what can be done when there are no restrictions or qualifications on a label. Reference Recordings, RR-41CD, ©1991.
Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd
Mastered by Doug Sax. Engineered by Alan Parsons. I think the original LP sounds more open, but this is still a good transfer to CD. Great example of progressive rock where the compressor was used for esthetic effect and for the sound, not to achieve a “loud record.” Capitol Records, C2-46001 (several re-releases), ©1973.
Lyle Lovett and His Large Band
Mastered by Glenn Meadows. Engineered by Chuck Ainlay. They don’t make em like this (much) anymore–but why not! Sardonic lyrics with a great arrangement, and a classy multi miked recording of a tight, clean, big band, very entertaining. A very dynamic and clear recording, a bit of digititis, but damn good. MCA Records, MCAD 42263, ©1989.
Stop Making Sense – Talking Heads
Original Master by Jack Skinner and Ted Jensen. CD Master by WC Record Group. Mix Engineering by E. F. Thorngren and others. Monitor gain -1 dB (for loud playback!). Made long before the volume wars, this CD puts most current pop/rock CDs to shame. This 16-bit CD illustrates that there is no noise floor problem at high monitor gains and that it is a myth that 16-bit CDs have to be compressed or limited to fit in the medium! After all, CDs have a measurable 115 dB dynamic range (properly dithered)–noise floor is NOT a problem. Slightly harsh high end due to the weakness of older model A/D converters. Warner Brothers Records/Sire Records, 9 25186-2, ©1984.
The Night Fly – Donald Fagen
Mastered by Bob Ludwig. Engineered by Roger Nichols and Eliot Scheiner. What a great digital recording with exceptional production value. Clean, clear transients, and tasty, moderate compression applied to select instruments. This is another example of pre-volume war excellence that we have got to return to. Warner Brothers, 923696-2, ©1982.
Waiting for Columbus – Little Feat Live
Recorded by George Massenburg. All other credits nebulous. I think the highest peak is -3 dBfs, so it could have been hotter without any sacrifice in sound quality. The A/D converters used for the analog transfer were obviously 1980’s generation, less than state of the art (a bit gritty), but the transients, purity and clarity of this transfer done without any obvious mastering processing more than make up. A good mix to emulate for the impact and clarity. Warner Brothers, 3140-2, ©1978.
Security – Peter Gabriel
No Mastering credit. Engineered by David Lord. DDD. Highest peak may only be around -3 dBFS so this could have been 3 dB hotter without any sacrifice. Amazingly dynamic and atmospheric recording with lots of deep rhythm. Transients are not particularly sharp, but this was an obvious choice of the mixing engineer/producer who were looking for a certain sound. The “remastered” version of Security reportedly is defective and has lost its sonic attributes. The review of this album is based on the original master of Security. Geffin Records, 2011-2, ©1982.
Citizen – Steely Dan
Mastered by Glenn Meadows. Engineered by Roger Nichols, Elliot Scheiner, and Al Schmitt. Produced by Gary Katz. Ricky don’t lose that number! Does it surprise you to learn one of your favorite groups of all time is one of the lowest in intrinsic loudness! This master was obviously made without any attempt to compete with the loudness of other CDs. The result is a CD set where good sound was the only concern. This is a four volume boxed set of their work from 1972-1980 that has been digitally remastered. MCA Records, 4-10-981, ©1993.
In a Sentimental Mood – Dr. John with guest Ricky Lee Jones
Original master by Doug Sax, who perhaps also did the CD Master. Produced by Tommy Lipuma. Engineered by Bill Schnee. New Orleans Blues/Big Band. Superb, pure, clear, solid, and full recording. This sounds like an excellent clean transfer with little or no master processing applied. No digititis either, excellent digital technology and/or some analog was used. An good mix or master to emulate with clean, clear transients and exciting dynamics. Warner Brothers Records, 9 25889-2, ©1989.
Innervisions – Stevie Wonder
Mastered by George Marino. Engineered by Dan Barbiero and Austin Godsey. I think the original LP sounds much better and cleaner, but this could reflect tape degradation by the time the CD master was made. However, the CD is still an excellent example of clean production, moderately compressed before the volume wars. Motown Records, 3746303262. ©1973.
Joshua Judges Ruth – Lyle Lovett
Mastered by Doug Sax. Recorded by George Massenburg and Nathaniel Kunkel; mixed by George Massenburg. The sound on this pop recording is full, rich, and open. I highly recommend it as an example of either a mix or master to emulate. They don’t make ’em much like that anymore (write your congressman). Doug Sax’s tube compressor probably contributes to “just the right amount of punch”. I suspect the mix was close to a K-20 as the master is about the equivalent of a K-16, and the low intrinsic level of this master is part of the reason it sounds so good (the whole point of this Honor Roll). MCA Records, MCAD-10475. ©1992 (pre loudness race).
Milagro’s Journey – Dave Eshelman’s Jazz Garden Big Band
Mastered by Mark Calice. Engineered by Leslie Ann Jones. Mixed by Dann Thompson, Mark Calice and Dave Eshelman. Monitor gain at -4 dB, but only if you can take it during the loud passages! Multimiked big band sound with no artificial dynamic modification. Amazingly it was tracked to analog. WARNING Tremendous dynamic range, maybe even too much for some tastes–wow! Sea Breeze, CDSB-2112, ©2001.
Are You Passionate? – Neil Young
Mastered by Tim Mulligan, John Hausmann, and Danny Purcell. Engineered by Tim Mulligan. A very daring congrats. Analog tape saturation was obviously used to get the sound, but otherwise was not pushed “louder than loud” in either the recording or mastering. After a brief acclimatization to the fat sound it is quite attractive, nice, impacting, rocking and spacious! Reprise, 948111-2, ©2002.
Penguin Cafe Orchestra
Mixed by Colin Green and Ian Morais. This is a kind of Art-Rock-Folk-World music. Transferred from the original analog, a clean neutral A-D of a very joyous and rare music. EG Records, EEGCD11, ©1981.
Pleasure and Pain – Roy Rogers
Mastered by Paul Stubblebine, Mixed by Arne Frager. Fantastic, clear yet warm and evocative sound. Varies from country-influenced acoustic to strong rock and blues. Very musical sound. HDCD but sounds great on a regular playback, too. Even more open and transient clear with HDCD playback. Virgin/Pointblank Records. 7243 84554729. ©1998.
Songs from the Analog Playground – Charlie Hunter Quartet
Mastered by Mark Wilder. Engineered by Joe Ferla. Fusion Acid-Jazz, transferred from the 30ips 1/2″ tape, it retains a very warm analog sound with transients not squashed by mastering, perhaps softened a bit in the mix to analog. Blue Note, 7243 5 3355029, ©2001.
Workingman’s Dead – Grateful Dead
CD Mastering circa 1987 by Joe Gastwirt, assisted by David Collins. Very clean transfer with little or no processing to digital, classic analog sound. Warner Brothers, 1 869-2, ©1970.
Amused to Death – Roger Waters
Mastered by Doug Sax and Ron Lester, Recorded by Nick Griffiths, Engineered by James Guthrie. Very Pink Floyd, with a lot of very quiet passages, but some real rockers as well. From analog tape. Art-Rock with a good sound. Columbia Records, CK47127, ©1992.
Blue in Green – Tierney Sutton
Mastered and Engineered by Michael Bishop. Vocal with a jazz trio behind it. There is a lot of deep bass groove with strong, clean rhythm and solid bass drum. It is huggably warm, with lots of proximity effect on the vocal. A good example of a nice clean jazz recording with lots of good, natural dynamics. I doubt that there was any mastering limiting used on this album, though individual compression was likely used on vocal or bass. To make it louder, turn up the monitor! Telarc, CD-83522, ©2000.
Burn to Shine – Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals
Mastered by Dave Collins. Engineered by Eric Sarafin. Produced by J. P. Plunier. This is a very interesting alternative rock group. It has very strong bass and bass drum content which are part of the attitude. A good dynamic range. Watch out though, every song on this album is different. It rocks. Virgin Records, ©1999, 724384815127.
Come Dance with Me – Frank Sinatra
Big Band Jazz. No mastering or engineering credits. This is an excellent transfer of a vintage analog tape, so transparent you feel you could reach out and touch Frank. A bit thin in the voice, but otherwise incredible dynamic range. Distorted in the loud parts, especially the trumpets, but so forgivable because of that sound and that Capitol chamber. This album had to make the Honor Roll to demonstrate the incredible production values of over 35 years ago! Capitol Records, 724349475427, ©1987.
Bright Red – Laurie Anderson
Mastered by Bob Ludwig. Engineered by Kevin Killen. Very clean and open with great dynamic range. Beautiful, clean, and clear digital sound. Very attractive. Warner Brothers Records, 9 45534-2, ©1994.
Enchantress – John Serry
No mastering credit. Engineered by Michael Bishop. Caribbean influenced jazz. Good and clean, solid, well balanced. It has a very nice punch to it as well. Telarc Jazz, CD83392, ©1999.
Feeling Alright – by Jerry Medina
Salsa/Latin Jazz. Mastered by David Rodriguez. Engineered by Francisco Hurtado. Monitor gain is -6 dB (for loud playback). Very clean with moderate compression, with some forgivable sibilance and brightness. Very emulatable production values. RMM Records. RMD 82259, ©1998.
The Gershwin Connection – Dave Grusin
Mastered by Wally Traugott. Engineered by Ed Rak. This is a modern Jazz album with a Rock flavor, and recorded with some of the top names in Jazz. Fabulous impact, clean, warm, extremely pure sound, dynamic range, and stereo image. Try Fascinating Rhythm. May be from analog tape, if so it is truly excellent. Moderately compressed but still retains its transients. GRP Records, GRD-2005, ©1991.
Head to Head – John Allred and Wycliff Gordon
Mastered by Bob Katz. Engineered by Gary Faller and Gary Baldassari. This is very attractive traditional Jazz. Warm, yet clean transients, open highs, moderately compressed, and a good dynamic range. Arbor Records, ARCD19261, ©2002.
If I Could Only Remember My Name – David Crosby
Mastered by Bill Dooley (1987). Engineered by Stephen Barncard. Transferred from the analog tape with little or no special mastering processing. Classic analog sound well preserved on the CD. Atlantic,7203-2, ©1971.
Luck of the Draw – Bonnie Raitt
Original Master by Doug Sax. Engineered by Ed Cherney. Produced by Don Was. An excellent transfer direct from analog tape with little or no mastering processing. Capitol Records, 07777-96111-2, ©1991.
The Mask of Zorro (Music from the Motion Picture)
Mastered by Patricia Sullivan. Mixing credit given to Simon Rhodes and Frank Filipetti. Produced by Jim Steinman. One of James Horner’s evocative soundtracks. Engineered for “pop” production rather than classical, it has a 14 dB peak to average ratio. Nice depth and beauty preserved despite the slight mastering compression required to end up at this monitor gain, which is about 6 dB louder in intrinsic loudness than the score for the theater. In other words, to play at the same reproduced loudness as the music in the theater, the monitor gain has to be set to -6 dB to reproduce this CD, but it will sound a bit more closed-in due to the reduction of transients. Very nice, warm sound, with a perfect integration of pop elements and sound effects (whips, chains, etc.) along with a pop vocal (hit) number whose level is just right compared with the rest of the tracks. An example for all of us to follow. Sony Records, 60627, © 1998.
The Power of a Hat – Gunnar Madsen
Mastered by Bob Katz. Recorded and mixed by Daniel Protheroe. An eclectic trip of different music from this performance artist. Goes from full-tilt rock to a capella. Very pure sounding material was recorded with a custom console and mixed to 1/2″ analog tape. G-Spot Records,(www.gunnarspot.com) GSP 002, ©1998.
Sergeant Pepper – Beatles
Produced by George Martin. Engineered by Geoff Emmerick . This is an example of a great 33 year old mix transferred almost flat. Despite this generation distance (what generation is this CD copy?) and time, yet still the virtues come through. Indicates little or no mastering processing was used. A splendid time is guaranteed for all. Capitol, Apple Records, CDP746442-2, ©1998.
Southland of the Heart – Maria Muldaur
No mastering credit. Engineered by Michael Bishop. This is an example of real Blues/Rock, a total kicker. A beautiful example of a dynamic mix to emulate. The bass has a strong drive, very punchy and clean. Be careful with that strong of a bass level when mixing, unless your monitors are extremely accurate. Telarc, CD-83423, © 1998.
The Tender Trap – Janis Siegel
Produced by Fred Hersch. Recorded, mixed, and mastered by A.T. Michael MacDonald. Classic Jazz with a great dynamic singer, absolutely fantastic. An all analog tape production too! Monarch Records, MONA-1021, © 1999.
Warm Your Heart – Aaron Neville
Mastered by Doug Sax. Engineered by George Massenburg. Classic Louisiana Blues with classical blues instrumentation and symphony orchestra. The gentle compression lends to that fat enveloping sound which is very pleasant, punchy, and not over squashed. We can barely equal this incredible sound quality today. An excellent mix to emulate. A&M Records, 75021 5354 2, ©1991.
You Won’t Forget Me – Shirley Horn
Mastered by Bob Ludwig, recorded and mixed by David Baker. This exceptional, open sounding jazz record is of the highest sonic merit, revealing all the nuance and beauty of one of the finest voices in jazz plus her accompaniment. A great way to hear how to do it just right. Verve Records, 422-847482-2, © 1990.
Central Avenue – Danilo Perez
Mastered by Doug Sax. Recording and Mix Engineer, Al Schmitt. The compression on this Afro-Cuban Jazz recording maintains a strong punch from a strong average level without losing the sense of transients from the peak-producing instruments, and a very pleasant, attractive, warm sound. Very keen and experienced mastering ears may be able to detect the slight bobbing (pumping) of the mastering compressor, indicating we’re just on the threshold of over-compression. GRP Records. GRP 279, ©1998.
Forgiving Eden – A Triggering Myth
Mastered by Bob Katz. Engineered by Vic Stevens, Tim Drumheller and Rick Eddy. Co-engineered by Bob Kimmel. Progressive Rock with synths and real live drums. Very creative flowing classically instrumental composition. Excellent pure sonics for a synth-based album and great dynamics. Solid bass and clean top with out being overbearing. Good to emulate as a mix, though would be tough to match totally the mix due to unique mastering enhancements (ps: a little bird told me). 1x speed, K2 glass master processing from JVC. Lasers Edge, LE1036, ©2002.
Hot Rocks 1964-1971– The Rolling Stones – A must have for all who want to know “how hot to make it”
Mastered in 2002 by Bob Ludwig to DSD and hybrid CD/SACD, with 96 kHz transfers from analog tape by Steve Rosenthal at the Magic Shop. A superb restoration that has removed layer upon layer of veils from the source, compared to any of the previous versions, vinyls or any previous CD “remasterings.” Ludwig has lovingly and courageously held the line on the level and sound quality of these precious tapes. If Ludwig made the digital master a bit hotter than the original analog tapes, it’s probably not by much, and I believe that the dynamics of the original masters have not been compromised. Of course the original recordings were compressed by the tape and processors, but compression is (and helps to make) “the Rolling Stones sound.” The end result (not squashed by any means, not pushed to today’s overblown levels) stands as an example for rock and roll engineers of all generations to emulate. Please play this record for all your clients, and ask: Does it ever have to be hotter than this? The simple answer: not for rock and roll. In a perfect world, this level would be the intrinsic level for heavy metal and the Stones would have been mastered slightly lower–But you do own a volume control, don’t you? Just turn it up! ABKCO Records 96672, ©2002
Hourglass – James Taylor
Mastered by Ted Jensen. Engineered by Frank Filipetti. This CD is very pleasant to listen to with a warm quality and a full balanced sound. Columbia Records, CK67912, ©1997.
In My Life – George Martin
Mastered by Tony Cousins. Engineered by Rupert Coulson and Chris Sheldon. It’s hard to separate the internal emotions that come from listening to the last record by the producer of the Beatles. All of the compression on this record is on purpose and to great effect, not one drop is used for the loudness race. It is hard to tell how much of the sonic artistry is in the production, recording, mixing, or mastering, which is the way it should be. MCA Records, MCAD-11841,©1998.
New Favorite – Allison Krauss and Union Station
Mastered by Doug Sax. Engineered by Gary Paezosa on DSD. Country Style, very acoustic, good dynamics, great mix, and great mastering. Rounder Records. 11661-0495-2, ©2001.
Recycler – ZZ Top
Mastered by Bob Ludwig. Engineered by Terry Manning. Excellent Fat rock production, moderately compressed analog mix with impact and some dynamic range. Warner Brother Records, 926265-2, ©1990.
Rick Fay With Strings – Rick Fay
Mastered by Bob Katz. Engineered by Gary Baldassari. Mixed by Andy de Ganahl. Very natural, superbly-played traditional acoustic jazz, with strings and heart! Classic tenor playing in a style you hardly hear anymore. Arbors Records, ARCD 19205, © 1998.
Shelter Me – Richard Page
Mastered by Doug Sax. Engineered by Kim Bullard and Mixed by Elliot Scheiner. Modern Pop, R&B influenced Rock. A very big and open sound, clean yet fat and full. Blue Thumb, BTD-7006,©1996.
Ten New Songs – Leonard Cohen
Mastered by Bob Ludwig. Engineered by Leanne Ungar. This CD has a very pretty sound, rich and full with clean but not over bright top. The vocal is a little loud for my tastes. Columbia Records, CK85953, ©2001.
Whenever We Wanted – John Mellencamp
Mastered by Bob Ludwig. Engineered by Jay Healy. Modern-day bright but clean digital production. Great dynamic range. Harsh high end reflects the limitations of the A/Ds and digital production of that era. At -7dB it plays loud. Mercury Records, 314 510 151-2, ©1991.
Some of the CDs in the following group may be slightly compromised in their transient clarity. Other recordings in this group do not depend on transient clarity for their musical value, and so they could be made hotter without an esthetic sacrifice. Producers should judge mastered product on its sound, not on intrinsic loudness, for we have learned that there is a limit above which a particular recording will suffer. And this limit varies for each style of recording, evidenced by the CDs that are above this line! In an ideal world, it would be polite to reduce the intrinsic loudness of this group for the benefit of all, but I doubt that I will see this in my lifetime!
3 Cheers for the Broken-Hearted – Glass Hammer
Mastered by Bob Katz, mixed by Steve Babb and Fred Schendel. Well-mixed classic-style progressive rock album, melodically beautiful, with lots of punch, warmth, clarity and dynamics and evocative lyrics. Plays well everywhere. Glass Hammer Website. Sound Resources, Tennessee, 2009.
Back in Black – AC/DC Remastered by Ted Jensen (no date). Engineered by Brad Samuelson. Produced by Mutt Lang. Newly digitally remastered from the original tapes. A great modern transparent digital transfer of some great rock. Hot with some bus compression as it starts to saturate on peaks, but ooooh the sound. Fabulous, conservatively mastered for max punch and impact with all compression intentional and generally not for intrinsic level. Though with a K12 monitor gain at -8 dB try not to use as a mix emulation or your result will likely get too squashed due to the use of mastering processing on this CD. I’m suggesting that mix engineers concentrate on the mix rather than on the intrinsic loudness, or there will likely be complaisant squashing and no room to fix anything in the mastering. ATCO, 92418-2, ©1980.
Bajando Gervasio – Amadito Valdes featuring Juan de Marcos’ Afro-Cuban All Stars
Mastered by Bob Katz, mixed by Juan Marcos Gonzales. Acoustically-oriented Latin-Jazz and traditional style recorded at Egrem Studios in Havana. Disco Caramba CRADX-2002, Tokyo, Japan. ©2002.
The Breaking of the World – Glass Hammer Mastered by Bob Katz, mixed by Steve Babb and Fred Schendel. This is probably the best-sounding and the most progressive Glass Hammer album to date. Nice jazz influence! Warm, clear, open, big, and microdynamic. Plays well everywhere. Glass Hammer Website. Sound Resources, Tennessee, ©2015.
Chinese Democracy – Guns N’ Roses Mastered by Bob Ludwig, in 2008 with no concerns for intrinsic level just going for “the sound” which is classic rock. The band loved it, the fans love it what’s not to like.©2008 Geffen Records.
Da Good, Da Bad, and Da Ugly – Geto Boys
Mastered by Mike Dean. Engineered by Mike Dean and Mr. Lee. A superb hip hop record to emulate sonically, but when going for a mix, go for the sound, not to match this recording’s intrinsic level. Dirty lyrics, but a clean sound. Very rich and well mixed Hip Hop album. This is not just a collection of old tired loops; it’s real hip. Rap-A-Lot Records,7243-8-46780-2, ©1998.
Diamonds and Rust– Joan Baez
Mastered by Mike Reese. Engineered by Rick Ruggieri. Clean and pretty remaster of a well recorded analog tape. A&M Records, D 3233, ©1975.
Kiss Me Kate – the new Broadway cast
Mastered by Alan Silverman. Engineered by Cynthia Daniels. I have always been split minded between the classical and the pop approach. This recording is an excellent example of the pop approach, yet even less squashed than many Broadway recordings of the 50’s thru 70’s. Personally, I think it would sound better if it were engineered for a lower intrinsic loudness, monitor gain -6dB or so. Why has Broadway joined the loudness race? DRG Records Inc., DRG 12988, ©2000.
The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys – Traffic
Remastered from the original tapes by Jeff Willens. Engineered by Brian Humphries. This CD deserves special merit for a very classy, clean modern technology digital transfer, very transparent, revealing a great, historic 1971 mix. Years of veils have been removed to show how well it could be done back then (but rarely duplicated). Monitor gain at -8 dB indicates that some (2dB likely) modern day limiting was used to raise the intrinsic loudness. The recording may or may not have suffered due to the limiting, but I do not have access to the master tape to say. This fabulous, clear and full 70’s early rock mix rivals anything that can be produced today. You can literally smell the hallucinogens in the air. Universal Music. 314548827-2, ©2002.
Messenger of Truth – Chris Beckers
Mastered by Errol Lem. Engineered by Chris Beckers. Very clean, but mastered a bit hot. It is on the verge of over-compression, but a compressed attitude is the style. This R&B/Rock influenced album is hot but not squashed. Like all the CDs which are monitored at -8 or -9 dB position, this is not to be emulated as a mix level, so as to avoid the loudness race. Cris Crazz Records, CCR-035, ©2001.
Mastered by Brad Blackwood. Engineered by Chris Polachack. Cool! Moderately compressed Blues Rock, with the compression used for effect, not loudness. Some reduction of transients to the dynamic range, but the end result is very pleasant and mellow, and can be played loud. Rattles by Records, RLB1001, ©1999.
Rage Against the Machine
Mastered by Bob Ludwig. Engineered by Andy Wallace. A heavy metal album that is not squashed, but amazingly loud on an intrinsic basis. Good dynamics, clean–let’s roll back the clock! How far we have come to have lost this sound quality! Epic, 2k 52959, ©1992.
The Shaming of the True – Kevin Gilbert
Rock, mastered by Ken Lee and John Cuniberti. Engineered by Kevin Gilbert. Superbly recorded, mixed and mastered with amazingly good dynamics for such a hot record. Kevin Gilbert was 50% of the genius behind Toy Matinee. KMG 3, The estate of Kevin Gilbert, www.kevingilbert.com, ©2000.
Toy Matinee Special Edition
Mastered aggressively by Steve Hall. Engineered by Bill Bottrell. Monitor gain at -8 dB to -9 dB. The CD was mastered hot, but not too squashed. I would not advise mixing to this level, but it represents an extreme of good mastering. Too hot for the loudness race (one of the reasons for its high intrinsic loudness is that it is very bright) but still with excellent production values. Unitone Recordings, 13702-4603-2, ©2001.
Wrecking Ball – Emmy Lou Harris
Mastered by Joe Gastwirt. Engineers include Malcolm Burn andMark Howard. When auditioned on a standard CD player, it sounds compressed at the top and the bottom and in fact, sounds severely over compressed. However, with an HDCD decoder, it reveals its excellent sound quality. If I didn’t have an HDCD decoder, I could not like the sound of this record. Asylum Records, 61854-2,© 1995.
Aenima – Tool
Mastered by Bob Ludwig. Engineered by David Bottrill. An example of a progressive metal CD for the 90’s that is not smashed to the wall. The squashing is for artistic effect rather than intrinsic loudness or mastering volume. A very large dynamic range makes it very attractive. Can be harsh when loud, but that is the sound. Volcano Entertainment, 61422-31087-2, ©1996.
Bele Bele en La Habana – Chucho Valdes
Mastered by Leon Zervos. Engineered by Jon Fausty. This is an excellent production of Latin Jazz. Obviously compressed either in mastering or mixing for a fat sound that brings up the inner voices. Some reduction of transients but the sound is fat, clean, and warm with a bit of attitude. Excellent imaging and dynamic range with fabulous playing by arguably the greatest living Cuban jazz pianist. Blue Note, CDP7243823083225, ©1998.
Belly of the Sun– Cassandra Wilson
Mastered by Greg Calbi, recorded and mixed by Danny Kopelson. Despite some squashing (not surprising at this intrinsic loudness), this album retains some nice sense of space, depth and clarity, and some real nice acoustic playing. Blue Note, 35072, © 2002.
Brand New Day – Sting
Mastered by Chris Blair. Engineered by Simon Osborne. Superb sound quality, one of the best sounding modern CDs. It is tonally well balanced, but on the bright side, and the vocals are too sibilant for my taste. Also note that like nearly every CD in this intrinsic loudness category, I firmly believe this CD would sound better, and more open if its intrinsic loudness were reduced from 2 to 3 dB. 3 dB would make it a K-14, taking it back to the masters of pre-1990 in the volume war and a welcome retreat if you ask me! A&M Records, 0694904432, ©1999.
Every Single Day – Lucy Kaplansky
Mastered by David Glasser. Engineered by Ben Wisch. This is a Contemporary Folk-Rock, but let’s not pigeonhole it–it’s Pop! Dynamic and exciting, but playable on any system, proving it can and should be done. Very strong and solid bottom end and proximity effect. WARNING: It is an HDCD, but it also sounds good on a regular CD player, meaning HDCD peak extension preset was not used or over used. Please don’t emulate the level when mixing, just use it to examine the sound quality of a well mastered contemporary record. The vocals lend to a warmth and attitude. Red House Records, RHR CD156, ©2001.
Ex. Nihilo – Mad Dog Trio
Mastered by Jeff Carroll. Engineered by Steve Graham. Alternative Rock with a Jazz influence. Fat Rock/Jazz sound. Loud, but not squished sound at -9 dB monitor gain. Definitely compressed with an attitude. www.maddogtrio.com, MD3032102, ©2002.
Mastered by Eddy Schreyer, mixed by Chuck Johnson. This is where modern heavy metal is headed, and it has amazing micro-dynamics for such a hot record. Varying from clean and tight to slammed against the wall, but the sonics and the music get along so well that it is even very listenable on a high-end mastering system. Amazing transients for such a hot record. I personally thought that some of the climaxes would have had more impact if they were not so limited. And after this came the loudness race–which is why you don’t see much heavy metal on the Honor Roll. Immortal/Epic Records, EK66633, ©1994.
Meant To Be – Ramsey Lewis and Nancy Wilson
Mastered by Trevor Sadler. Recorded and mixed by Danny Leake. Engineers kill to get this kind of sound: sweet, warm, fat, involving, spacious, and inviting–obtained through skillful and artistic use of class A analog gear. But half the battle is the charismatic performance by two old pros, which would have come through even if it were recorded with two tin cans and a piece of string! Monitor gain -8 or -9 dB, and thus the rhythmic aspect and transients are underplayed compared to the spatial virtues and tonality, yet still the vocal is clear and dynamic. If the producers had desired a more transient, rhythmic, quality, they could not have obtained it at this intrinsic loudness. Compare the sound of this disc with the Maria Muldaur and Shirley Horn, whose intrinsic loudness is at least 3 dB lower. I like the sound of both approaches, perhaps I’d take the Maria sound for “dinner and a show, and Nancy for “dessert!” Pointing out the virtues of my K-System proposal, which asks the mastering engineer to lower the output level of his processors so that the disc achieves an intrinsic loudness more in line with the vast majority, but without sacrificing this excellent sound. Would that be too much sophistication to ask of the 21st century of audio? Narada Jazz 72438-50774-2-5.
Pieces of the Sun – Tony Levin
Mastered by Trevor Sadler. Engineered by Kevin Killen. This is a very heavy progressive jazz-rock with synthesis and heavy bass. It’s a compressed sound but an interesting one at that. Spacious with considerable dynamic range (reminiscent of the Tool album). Sharp, strong, and compressed when loud, but not brick walled and at the next moment soft and delicate. Easy to listen to despite the hard rock moments. It is fat and not particularly clean, but that is the sound. Narada, 72438-11626-2-0, ©2002.
Speech Hoopla – promo CD
Mastered by Jay Frigoletto. Engineered by Blake Eiseman. R&B, Rap,Hip Hop sort of, but more melodic. Very clean, mastered hot, but not too squashed. One or two cuts are over processed, but others are superbly mixed/mastered for a good sound. Tut Records, 1970-2A,©1999, US Release.
Soul Power – Nadirah
Mastered by Jay Frigoletto. Engineered by Blake Eisman. This pumped-up R&B occasionally sounds over compressed, but overall it’s not squashed. I wish that more major R&B would be at this level or lower…
Soul Purpose – Alex Bugnon
Mastered by Trevor Sadler. Engineered by Michael Conrader. This CD is hot, but clean and clear modern day R&B/Jazz. It is moderately compressed with clean transients and has that fat, up front modern sound with impact. Narada, 72438-1134-2-4, ©2001.
You’re the One – Paul Simon
Mastered by Bob Ludwig. Engineered by Andy Smith. Solid and beating bass drum goes down to the center of the earth, but cleanly. This was a production decision and it’s pleasant, not overbearing. Very warm for an all digital production. Very sweet. Superb, clean, warm depth. A great album to emulate mix wise, very dynamic. HDCD but peak extension must not have been used, or not used excessively. Warner Brothers, 947844-2, ©2000.