Before I move onto other things—although music mastering & quality is something I might like to return to periodically—here’s a few more musical waveforms for comparison, with comments.
KATE BUSH—RUNNING UP THAT HILL (1985)
The top image is the original 1985 mastering. It has a dynamic range of 11dB. Below it is the 1997 remastering (not by Kate herself)—the dynamic range (DR) is 7dB.
You’ll note on the top one, Kate herself does make use of the full soundscape and sometimes clips the very peaks of the sound for effect (which is perfectly fine & valid!). On the ’97, there is lot of peak-clipping (the tops of the waveforms being cut off) and compression, which results in a loss of 4dB of DR. Kate’s own 2018 remaster of Hounds of Love, which I’ve yet to hear, has the same dynamic range as the 1985 release.
DAVID BOWIE—WHERE ARE WE NOW? (2013)
This was David’s big comeback single, after no new solo material for nine+ years, and while I have extremely mixed feelings about his latter-day work, this one song is an absolute classic, without a doubt. Maybe I’ll fully review it sometime.
The first image is the song as it appeared on the CD of the album The Next Day. This album, unlike some, is backed off from being fully brickwalled by about 1dB, but it is exceptionally compressed and has a low overall DR of 6… although this song is one of its quieter and more reflective moments, and as such is less crushed than much of the album—its DR rating is still only 6dB.
When you compare it to the version of the song included on the single-CD release of the Nothing Has Changed compilation from 2014, you see a big difference.
The bottom version has a DR of 10.
Bear in mind, even modern albums are unlikely to be full-on crushed at the recording & mixing stage… there will be some breathing space to allow for different mastering on different platforms. This is especially important if you’re putting out a vinyl version. For whatever reason, the 1-CD version of Nothing Has Changed used a different master to that used on the 3-CD version (which is identical to the album version, albeit slightly quieter). It is nice to have a copy of this wonderful song without all the peak-clipping, anyhow—I suspect the bottom version is as good as it could ever get… it’s frustrating to know that the entire album doubtless exists in this form, though.
KOOL & THE GANG—JUNGLE BOOGIE (1973)
Here’s Kool & the Gang 1973-style—long before they acquired vocalist JT Taylor and went full-on disco-pop—during their more hardcore funkster days! Great song. The top version comes from the “Funk Essentials” Best of 1969-1976 compilation, circa 1993. It’s a finely mastered disc and this track has a—dare I say it—funky DR rating of 13!
The bottom version comes from the cheapy Universal compilation Feel the Funk, circa 2017. It has a DR of 8, which for some tracks would be okay… for a track as dynamic as this one, it kinda sucks. It isn’t totally brickwalled, but it’s pretty messed-up. ‘Nuff said.