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2008 Remix & Remaster vs the 1994 Definitive Edition
on 22 October 2009
When remastering came along in the 90s, I assumed that vaunted technical improvements were cut and dried - a remastered version surely had to be better than the old out-dated technology version. So I lost no time in acquiring the new, supposedly improved editions, and dispensing with the old ones. Then along came the Genesis 2008 remasters.
By now I'm starting to wonder if remastering is all it's cracked up to be. Is it really improved audio or just a marketing ploy? I was initially excited by the release of the Genesis box sets, especially the 1970-75 one, as this is my favourite Genesis era. However, having become increasingly aware of criticism of the sound achieved through modern remastering techniques: too compressed, undynamic, too loud, too wearing on the ears, too bright, too EQ'd etc I was reluctant to part with the cash for what would after all be my 4th round of Genesis album purchasing (original vinyl, original CD release, 1994 Definitive editions, 2008 remastered editions). Just listing that makes me feel like a sucker!
But curiosity has got the better of me, so I've gone and got a couple of the new releases - Selling England By The Pound and Nursery Cryme - so I can hear for myself whether it's a worthwhile improvement. Have the golden-eared audiophiles got a point, or are they just being grumpy old fusspots? I no longer have the original CD releases of the Genesis albums for comparison, but I still have the remastered so-called `Definitive' editions, so I can listen to these and the latest versions side by side, back to back, back to front, and draw my own conclusion. Now, I do appreciate good quality sound reproduction, but I'm not an overly analytical high-end audiophile. For example, rather than dwelling on the chocolately overtones and cheeky aftertwang, I'd be more likely to be thinking `hmm, sounds good/OK/rubbish.'
So I did my experiment, playing both versions of both albums on my nothing special car stereo while driving along, and also on 2 different and pretty decent home systems. Cloth ears may come into it, but at least my findings can't be blamed on the stereo.
The verdict? Whether due to the remixing or remastering, the sound of the 2008 version is indeed different, seeming louder, brighter and clearer. I perceive more separation between the instruments and between the instruments and vocals. The latter are occasionally more prominent than on the older version. On the downside, the brightness and loudness combine to give the impression of a harsher, perhaps more tinny sound. On the upside, the sense of spaciousness and clarity present the music in a more modern-sounding way, and may add to the appreciation of some musical subtleties.
So it comes down to a matter of taste, and perhaps, habituation. Overall, I'm not so enthused by the new sound to want to rush out and replace all my `definitive' versions with the newer ones, but would have no hesitation to acquire the new versions if coming to the music for the first time.
NB The 4-star rating I give here is for the new sound, not for the quality of the music itself. No collection of classic 70s music or English progressive rock would be complete without these essential 5-star albums.