September 28, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

One of my readers, Blaine, forwarded me this wonderfully funny example of expressing visually the differences we imagine we hear.

Good for a morning’s laugh. However, it did spark a few questions.

When we make a recording, that master copy is in our minds the standard by which all else is judged. Right? Any deviation from that original standard and we can agree it’s no longer original.

But is the original the best?

What of a vinyl version?

What of remastered higher resolution versions of an original? (I can say without hesitation the remastered higher resolution Octave releases sound noticeably better than the original DSD64 versions)

Is it possible we can make better that which we refer to as the original?

Is it possible an altered version is better than we started with?

Can a remastered and enhanced copy of the original sound better to us?

In some ways, originals are overrated.

Just ask Leonardo.

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52 comments on “Originals”

  1. I just have read an interview with the famous producer and sound engineer Niko Bolas whose take home message was: focus on making a good recording and not on improving the sound following your own ideas of “good sound” by performing heavy manipulations on the mixing console. Better focus on offering the best conditions for the musicians in order to get the grooviest results from musicians in the best mood – and not accepting a mediocre performance which finally need a lot of EQ and compression. However reality shows that too often limited budgets for both time and money do not allow to establish the best boundary conditions! No wonder groove and PRaT is missing in the final result!

    1. Couldn’t have said it better myself. It’s amazing to me some of the engineers we get in the studio who have been so ingrained over the years to take care of everything “in the mix” or “post”. Their excuse is to focus on getting the rough and raw music down then worry about the finer details later.

      Backward thinking.

  2. Sure, as long as the source that was used to produce the original is still available in the original quality (or not much below if we speak of tape), a remastering/remixing has every chance to sound better (whatever better means to the individual), sometimes even then the quality of the first approach is hard to beat..Don’t we know this since remasterings exist?

    I think rating originals high or too high has two possible reasons:

    Suffering tape quality and original intent of producer/artist.

    Regarding the original intent to be preserved I must say, this not rarely is a disappointment because often just based on inferior equipment or monitoring environment.

    1. Isn’t it even that easy:

      The better the initial approach, equipment, engineer, mastering process, judgement and the smaller the quality difference of technology used between first and second attempt…the lesser the chance a remastering is any better.

      When we listen to the work of e.g. Bernie Grundman or Bob Ludwig, it’s fascinating that even 40 years later, there’s often nothing noteworthy to improve.

      In case of those Octave releases it would be interesting what’s the main reason.

      Is DSD256 processing so much better than DSD64?

      Is the DXD mixing so much better generally than analog mixing or was the analog gear quality used before not optimal?

      Has there been a general mixing/mastering learning curve?

      I don’t assume the improvement results from listening with the FR30, even if that would be a nice story 😉


        1. You have to remember that the very first Octave recording was already announced as the best piano recording heard so far. If there was a strong add. learning curve, the results must be astronomical now 😉

          Joking aside…they were and are very good, independent of the curve.

  3. Again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder…& in this case, the listener.
    It would be near impossible for the average listener to know whether an original sounds better or worse than a remaster or whether an LP sounds better or worse than a CD version or whether a Remastered version sounds better than an Original (I’ve heard some terrible remasters) unless said listener goes & purchases all versions & then listens to each & every one on his/her home-audio rig…this seems highly impractical for the majority.
    Interesting that there is no ‘adjusted’ picture of a Mona (M-O-N-A, Mo-o-ona) titled ‘Remaster’ in the above series of Da Vinci variations.
    ‘Live Version’ Mona looks like she has had a very torrid time doing the horizontal mambo, all night long 😉 …just saying.

    **OFF TOPIC**
    Today, the Australian Dollar has dropped to an all-time low of US$63.95…I’m still waiting to see how much a PS Audio BHK600 & DS MkII DAC will retail for here…it’s not looking very affordable.

    LASTLY…A big shout-out to ‘stimpy2’…I’m hoping that Cyclone Ian is not bearing down on you where you live in Florida.

    Btw, here’s a great cover version:


    1. Thanks Martin, I just found a latest update that my area of Coral Springs Florida will not be affected very much by the Hurricane. Hoping that will be the truth as I lived through Hurricane Irma which very few people refer to that hit my friends mansion like a living three ring horror circus… Not structurally but with so much external damage to the palm trees the loss of beach area, storm surge… I could go on forever about the night I lived in that place by myself while my friend and his family fled for their home in Aspen. They didn’t return for seven weeks and left me in charge of trying to rehabilitate their property.

      Possibly the most horrifying experience that I have ever been through.

  4. Makes me think of the famous sculpture Laocoon and his Sons. It was made some 2000 years ago and dug up in Rome in 1506. It was instantly known what it was as Pliny the Elder had written about it, so Pope Julius II immediately sent Sangallo the elder to oversee the excavation, who took Michelangelo with him. It was a bit like discovering lost tapes by the Beatles or Elvis. Julius II soon acquired it. Not long after, Michelangelo copied it. There were some bits missing and some broken bits that no one was sure how to attach them. A competition was held to replace missing arms, judged by none other than Raphael. The resulting sculpture was copied by Bandinelli as a later Papal gift to the King of France, which now sits in a museum in Florence, with Michelangelo’s copy. In the 1940s the thing was completely reinvented by the American artist Calder and resides in Los Angeles. It was then decided that the sons’ added arms were wrong, so they were removed from the original in the Vatican, and Laocoon’s reattached right arm was incorrectly positioned, so was reattached, most recently in 2010.

    So after 500 years, with money no object and the greatest artists of the era applied to the task, still there is no real agreement as to what to do with the most famous “lost tapes” of antiquity. Meanwhile, there are remasters, copies and bootleg versions. Personally, my favourite is the Calder bootleg version, but there will never be any agreement on what is better or best. Arguing over DSD64 or DSD128 seems like arguing over what glue was used to stick bits on, as very few people would even notice.

    1. Steven, you never cease to amaze me with your knowledge. I just looked up Laocoon and his Sons and knew it instantly when it came up (though I had no idea about all the kerfuffle that accompanied it).

      Thanks for this!

      1. Well, the likes of Jazznut know the origin and mastering details of dozens of versions of Coltrane’s Blue Train, and most of us just have a copy that sounds fine so we listen to it and don’t know the difference. When Swan Lake turns up at Covent Garden some people just decide it seems like a nice thing to see, the rest of us spend weeks agonising over which of about 8 pairings of dancers to see, and some people (with more money than us) go and see multiple performances with different pairings. These Coltrane masterings and ballet casts are different, but are any objectively better than others? Even the original Swan Lake is never performed, it was a bit of a disaster and was majorly reconstructed a few years after the premiere. There are probably plenty of people here who have seen the Laocoon’s at the Vatican and the Uffizi, and most would prefer the Vatican original, even with its cracks and bits missing over the Uffizi copy polished to perfection. you might think that at least with a sculpture it would be “set in stone”, but I’m not sure anything is.

        1. Fun analogy…yes, you might be not easy to please in terms of ballet, others look for a special experience somewhere else.

          In classical music it’s an interesting discussion what’s the most original version…the one the composer conducts? His favorite interpretation?

          Some others like me will have various versions of Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez with many great ones among them. As Rodrigo was more or less blind, I’m not sure if he ever conducted, but I know that his clearly favorite interpretation is the one with Paco de Lucia on guitar (Phillips label). It’s quite special among other interpretations, so that might have been Rodrigo’s initial idea or just later awareness…would be very interesting to know his thoughts.

          On the cover he’s pictured sitting aside Lucia within the orchestra in the probably rehearsal while he’s playing.

          There’s a nice heavy vinyl reissue available of it.

          1. You are not alone.
            I had a copy before I sold most of my classical vinyl, I recall I had several versions.

            It’s funny that Brendel, who said he just played what was written on the page, felt obliged to record the Beethoven sonatas three times. I went to one cycle in the early 1980s and each performance was followed by polite applause. More recently I went to a Levit cycle, before his box set was released, and each performance was followed by arguments amongst the audience. I admire his fresh approach, I hope Beethoven would have done so had he been alive, but a friend was shaking his head in disapproval after most performances.

            An album I very much like is a compilation of Narsico Yepes called Malagueña. Also two collections of Sor by William Carter on Linn. Also his recent Esaias Reusner recording is fabulous.

            p.s. I’m easy to please with ballet – just don’t like making choices.

  5. You cannot better the original, best you can do is equal it or perceive to equal it. Some may believe it sounds the same as the original and some may say it doesn’t, not even close. But at least the goal is to equal it if you can.

    Now if you want to alter it so it sounds different there are many ways to do that but why are we spending so much money for our high end systems to reveal accuracy of the original source if the original source is not accurate?

    Buy a real good EQ if you want to mess with the sound or some other sound altering equipment because you can take it out of the circuit when you want to switch back to reality.

    But don’t mess with the original recording because it’s gone forever if you do. We need to find a way to preserve the original recording on analog or DSD the best possible way for longevity of the original. If you mess around with the Mona you don’t do it on the original painting, you do it on copies.

    1. What means “better”? There are many examples of number one hits performed by singers whose “original” voices were unacceptable but fantastically pimped by all kind of mixing tools/plug-ins. There is so much synthetical music out there today. On the other hand mixing tools will rarely improve the timbre and phrasing of a good singer in his best mood!

      1. Yeah and people have a choice of what they prefer when it comes to those, But first pressings of well done recordings are what people pay up for. They don’t pay up for the remastered ones. Just go check the prices on eBay for those. If you’re talking about making a non listenable recording listenable fine but preserve the original one. There might be a better way in the future to make it more listenable and you need the original recording as a starting point.

        1. Joe,
          I have some remasters that are far better, to my ears, than the originals…
          more detail, more instrument separation & better dynamics.
          I think that it is erroneous to state that, “You cannot better the original”

          1. Do you know what’s actually being done when it’s “remastered”. I have remastered too and if that means from the original master tape to an vinyl or CD than it’s provably a good process but many times it’s not coming from the master tape and there are lawsuits out as we speak because of that. If you like the results who am I to argue. Many people don’t.

            1. Oh, I’ve heard some terrible remasters too, but for you to infer that they are all worse than the originals by claiming that “You cannot better the original” is just wrong.

              1. Agreed on the “there are some terrible remasters too” but I don’t think I implied all remasters suck. To me they either suck or they are no better than the original’s unless they are remastered from the original master analog tapes. That’s just my preference, that doesn’t mean it’s someone else’s preference. If someone likes it better then it’s good for them, if they don’t like it then it’s not good for them. If I like it then it works for me, if I don’t like it then it doesn’t work for me. I’m not going to argue that someone shouldn’t like what they like no more than I would argue on what kind of food or wine they should like.

            2. Maybe you should listen to some Steve Wilson remasters. Almost all are better than the originals. There’s an Audeze sponsored YouTube video where he explains his process. There are probably more.

              Just listen to Musical Box or Supper’s Ready, or Close to the Edge.

              1. I have a lot of remasters of CD’s but when it comes to vinyl I don’t want one cut from anything other than the original analog tape.

                As far as the remasters of CD’s they pretty much all sound the same to me unless they were cut from the original analog master.

                Digital to another form of digital or when talking about vinyl digital to vinyl that don’t get me excited but whatever works for you I’m not going to argue with.

                There’s many various choices out there to satisfy everyone. Some you have to pay a lot for which is why I’m selective on those. The remastered game all seem to be the lowest cost options out there.

                I like rarity and original, but that’s just me.

                1. No. All remasters are not the same. I am sorry to tell you that. Some are from original master tapes, other are from difficult to figure out versions.

                  Many of the new digital masters, for example the ones from Steve Wilson, come from the original multitrack tapes, which are then very carefully processed so they sound like the original. Vinyl has some limitations that are not applicable to the digital process.

                  If you really want to listen to the original master tapes, the closest is the well done remaster. Again, read the Wilson article I posted or watch the youtube video.

                  I really don’t understand the preference for “rarity and original”. Why would you prefer rarity? Most well done remasters are the closest to the original that you can get.

  6. In regards to the Mona Lisa, who’s to say what is original? Even Leonardo himself may not know. As x-rays have revealed, many paintings are revised multiple times by the artist. Is the first layer on the canvas the original? Or the final version presented to the commissioner of the artwork. When the commissioner demands changes to the artwork prior to be willing to pay, does the artwork cease to be original?

    Finally, Leonardo like every artist providing a commission work, had a deadline to meet. Who’s to say given more time the Mona Lisa we know would not be different. Not necessarily better, but different.

    The same logic applies to recorded music.

    Coincidentally, my wife and I just returned from Paris. While in Paris we visited the Musée de l’Orangerie to see Monet’ water lily panels. Forget about immersion in sound, this was immersion in visual beauty.

    1. … except it is incomplete. Part of the original scheme was not included and the panels (Agapanthus) sold off, ending up in American collections. They were bought together recently, for the first time in a century, at the Royal Academy in London. They do take your breath away. There are so serene and peaceful, but were painted during the Great War and Monet put his life at risk to paint them. Nothing is ever as it seems.

  7. This correlates well with video in movies. There is making a better copy of the original, and then there is enhancement. I see nothing wrong with using modern technology to make a better copy of the original, but fabricating something (or removing it) that wasn’t there in the first place is another matter entirely.

    In movies, there is a high preference to retain at least some grain in the picture, giving it a realistic feel. Enhancements to it start looking cartoon like, etched, etc., basically unnatural. On the other hand, new copies utilizing new technology like HDR, allowing extraction of a larger color gamut from the original are generally superior.

    I feel that correlates well to recordings. They are what they are. If new technology allows for a better copy of the original, then why not take advantage of it. Like grain in movies, whatever is there needs to stay there to retain its original, natural sound. If you attempt to clean it up, you will inevitably clean out something else that is important to its original feel.

    I think things are getting so refined that you can fall into the situation that your “precision far exceeds your accuracy”, and needs to managed accordingly..

  8. It would be interesting to make a Direct to Disc recording using the methods and equipment Sheffield Labs pioneered and use all of Octave’s new tech and recording methods at the same time.

    Would we find that the exact same recording via DSD 256 and Direct to Disc analog sound the same?

    I wonder what happened to all the equipment Sheffield Labs used to craft their amazing Direct to Disc recordings? Maybe it’s sitting in some warehouse waiting to be discovered and revived?

  9. Is there anyone out there who is willing to give up the word perfect in the literal sense because that’s what I think you are shooting for. There is no such thing. There is figurative perfection but not literal perfection. So, even da Vinci could not create the perfect painting.

    My second thought this morning is that perception is an individual trait and that’s all that counts to each of us. Perhaps overtime our perceptions change.

    I say, the industry should do the best that it can with the technology that it currently has starting with the microphone and ending with the speakers and room acoustics. We now understand that the holy grail was probably Mary Magdalene not an actual chalice. Time to give up on chasing the dragon.

  10. Paul, Thank you for a good morning laugh!

    I noticed they did not show the “original” Mona Lisa. I wonder if this is because an internet image of the Mona Lisa ( no matter how good ) simply does not come close to seeing the original in person.

    When a live performance is recorded whether it is in a venue or a studio it is hard to say at what point you have the original recording. Is it as recorded, as mixed or as mastered?

  11. Another great comment Tony!
    Who’s to say? Waiting online to see the Mona Lisa for hours turned out to be a truly enlightening experience for me. I will assume for the moment that mostly everyone who saw the original felt the same but I can’t say that with total assurance.

    The documentary about “the lost Leonardo” seems to be more beautiful than the Mona Lisa IMHO. The mystery of the artist still is unknown. If indeed it was not Leonardo himself who painted this unbelievable masterpiece, then I hope that we can find out who the creator was. Possibly a Remaster bettering a a Master’s Masterpiece.

  12. First, I laughed out loud – thanks for sharing Blaine’s work, Paul!

    I know it’s slightly off the main point, but all of the examples are art (well, not the MP3).

    Just as we have multiple renditions of much of the classical repertoire – different performers, different venues, the same sheet music. The conductor makes decisions, and a new piece of art is created.

    A great example is found in the Glenn Gould album “A State of Wonder: The Complete Goldberg Variations 1955 & 1981”, which gives us the master interpreting Bach’s monumental work first as a young man of 22 and then near the end of his life in his late forties. Both renditions display the genius of both Bach and his interpreter; the revelation is in the effects of time and maturity on an artist. Bach could never have conceived of either of these performances (having passed prior to the introduction of the piano, never mind its modern form). I can imagine his immense pride were he to have heard his art interpreted so brilliantly in both performances.

    1. I am more of a traditionalist but there is nothing wrong with interpretations when it comes to the baroque period.

      There are students of Bach that have spent their lives trying to re-create what Bach had originally intended especially in his Partitas and Sonatas for Solo Violin and the movement he started by a this student and incredible violinist, Sigiswald Kuiken promoted crafting Violins by craftsmanship of the period. With catgut strings on the bow and the instrument not be rested on the shoulder or held in place by the chin has caught on by violinists that want to recreate the original masters intent. Kuiken’s reading of these 36 parts is truly amazing but not romanticized. I tend to believe that we should preserve history in music as well as preserving an original master tape.

      1. Thanks for turning me on to Sigiswald Kuiken – I wasn’t aware of him.
        I thoroughly agree that we should preserve history in music – while enjoying all of its development in time. All props to those who preserve the past to the extent possible.

        1. When I was in retail in NYC, one of my customers was Itzhak Perlman obviously one of the great violinists of our time. One day we were talking about Bach and he asked me if I heard his recording of the partitas and sonatas to which I replied no I did not. I immediately bought a copy and was totally disappointed in his reading especially playing them on his Stradivarius which my mind is a real no no. I couldn’t bear listening after a few tracks but I never told him what I thought of his recording. I did not want to insult him and who am I to be a critic of a master musician.

          Going forward, listening to Zuill Bailey’s Octave release, I loved the romantic version that he played. Can’t get enough of it. I compared it to Anner Bylsma’s recording which was true to Bach’s time and although it was very accurate did not compare to my feelings about Bailey’s rendering.

          Go figure! Music is very personal to each individual and I don’t have the time to try to understand my own with regard to recordings. ‘They just are’… I need to stay in the moment and express what I feel without trying to hurt other peoples feelings.

  13. Improving on the original…I’m surprised that MQA hasn’t entered into the conversation, so far. I’ve heard MQA demos at introduction, and thought there was a characteristic sheen, not unlike the effect of sacd dsd. Anyone else notice a sonic signature associated with the technology?

    1. Yes, When I heard the demonstration at a hi-end dealer on very good gear it reminded me of the loudness button that was typical on 70’s and 80’s receivers. A boost in the highs and lows. They claimed the greater “presence” of the music was due to MQA correcting for timing errors in the original music due to lower sampling rates in the original. If you believe that, I have a bridge in NYC that I would like to sell to you. 😉

    2. I certainly did. There was a nagging feeling listening to MQA through Tidal. At the time, I had subscriptions to both Tidal and Qobuz and just before Paul posted that he had removed Tidal, I believe for a similar reason I did.

      MQA recordings left me with an eerie feeling and I I didn’t to try to figure it out, I just saved some money and dumped Tidal. Qobuz is plenty fine for me.

  14. I doubt anyone will read this entry made at such a late hour, but here are my 2 cents:
    First, Leonardo’s original looked a lot more colorful when he painted it than it does today.
    Second, digital photos look a lot better when they’ve been processed through PhotoShop.
    Just ask any publisher. 😎

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