Metallica "Death Magnetic" - Guitar Hero Mix Sounds Better on Radio - Mastering Media Blog

Friday, 26 September 2008

Metallica "Death Magnetic" - Guitar Hero Mix Sounds Better on Radio

At the end of my last post I briefly mentioned that Australian metal radio show Full Metal Racket had chosen to play the "Guitar Hero" versions of "Death Magnetic" - because they sounded better. Having listened to the streaming broadcast in full, I think  this part of the story deserves more detail.

The show demonstrates the differences between the CD and Guitar Hero versions again, but in the process also effectively disproves an enduring myth of the music industry - that louder is better on radio. It isn't. In the opinion both of the presenters, and to the ears of most listeners to the program too. The truth is that the broadcast compression used on radio equalises the levels of all the music played anyway, to ensure good reception - so the cleaner, more dynamic "Guitar Hero" mix sounds great, but the hyper-compressed CD release simply sounds like distorted mush. Again.

I can't really do any better than simply quote the show's host Andrew Haug and his guest Rohan:

"[The CD is] so raw that you cannot hear the nuances, the clarity, especially with James' amazing riffage"

"On this Guitar Hero version you can hear a lot of notes that Rob's playing that you can't hear on the standard album"

"to anyone's ears, it's pretty obvious"... "[the Guitar Hero version] just sounds incredibly comfortable, and if anything, normal"

"[The CD] kind of sounds as if a distortion pedal is over the whole band, instead of just the guitar"

"The band are striking, they're on fire, and the [CD] mix is letting down their ability"

"The band have not cut corners on the album, the sad thing is you can't hear the precision... of James' riffs, and even Rob's bass and a lot of Lars' tom work... these are really important elements"

"To my ears, [the CD] sounds way too overbearing"

"That's what I want hear - the precise riffs..." -  "and on the album version it really doesn't show, it's doesn't pop out at you"

"We're just gonna go with the Guitar Hero mix, because honestly... (laughs) I think we prefer it"

What's really interesting though, is hearing the CD versions and Guitar Hero examples compared side by side - through radio broadcast compression. Certainly the CD has no advantage at all level-wise in this scenario - but it's sound and impact also suffers dramatically in comparison. Just as in the YouTube video, it sounds stodgy and poorly defined, distorted and mushy, whereas the Guitar Hero version sounds full, punchy and powerful. On the radio as well as in real life, loud and distorted is worse.

The sucker-punch is struck by the show's listeners though - after playing examples and a full track from the PS3 version (with the console audibly being cued-up in the background to the chat) Haug asks for comments from his listeners, and gets them - with texted comments like:

"You're right it sounds so much better... I know nothing about Guitar Hero but I'm definitely going to pick up this one"

"I was shocked by the CD version, it sounded like my headphones had been transformed into a two-dollar set which had been broken by volume"

"I thought it was my sound system so I'm glad that it wasn't just me... what a shame such a great album came out like this, still a great CD in my opinion"

- and there are many many more in a similar vein on the show's message board.

You can hear all of this for yourself for the next few days while the stream is still available - leave it to load for a while and jump to 50 minutes into the show for the start of the discussion:

Then head on over and suggest it to the BBC as a story they should cover too. Demonstrate the differences to your friends, and get them to sign the petition.

Louder is better but Too Loud is worse.


Blogwart said...

I want to record this segment of the show and seed a torrent, but by now my internet connection is terribly slow and produces dropouts and therefore it's hard to listen to.

Maybe tonight.

timb said...

There's been a lot of talk in previous blogs along the lines of 'nothing will ever get done about this'. Not necessarily...

When Bob Dylan's 'MTV Unplugged' album came out in the UK one of the tracks was ruined by a loop of crowd noise of about 3 or 4 seconds long that played along to the song. A remastered version of this was issued by Sony.

ABC's 'Beauty Stab' had a mastering error on one track (which slowed down and speeded up). This was also corrected (but then the mistake was repeated in a subsequent remastering exercise).

So there is a precedent for albums being re-done where mistakes are made. Perhaps there's hope yet.

What is encouraging in many ways is to find out there are still people out there who actually care. Let's just hope there's enough of us.

Blogwart said...

The mistakes in your examples are obvious, even to inexperienced people. I think what makes DM difficult is that only people with enough experience can tell exactly what happens there. Any average consumer may find that the album sounds weird or just isn't a pleasure to listen, but they don't know why – they can't lay a finger on it. And chances are that they blame it on themselves, because they don't know what is going on.

Maybe, if we raise awareness, the people will eventually know what's going on and hear and know what is wrong.

transfers said...

You should know for information purposes that the radio station doing the comparison is a public broadcaster and uses substantially less compression on it's output than most radio stations.

tung said...

I think whatever method Rick Rubin is using to A-B compare versions is not giving him the right picture. He says the folks that they test with always choose the compressed version.

And that ain't what happened here!

Ryan said...

I listen to this show when I can, and am trying to get in touch with Andy at the moment for some comments that we can put on the JFA site, or possibly a chat on radio about the issues, and how deep this issue is. I work 5 minutes walk from where the show is broadcast, so it's worth a shot...

Dan said...

I was stunned to see how easily I found information on this after I listened to my Christmas present Death Magnetic CD. I thought "Why do my speakers sound so terrible," so it occurred to me to search and see if it is common. The band should really stop denying the problem and fix it. I had to turn of my stereo in the middle of one track because it sounded so bad. I really like the songs, but...

ianshepherd said...

Sadly, I'm still getting between 200 and 400 new visits a day here from people searching for this issue alone... and yes, a big spike in hits on Christmas day.

As you've read, the Guitar Hero version sounds better - if you don't own the game there are "other ways" of getting hold of it...

Sorry it spoils the CD for you !

Anonymous said...

This is perfect for me I didn't know there's a guitar hero version from Metallica rock band, by the way I don't know why when I listen Metallica I have to take viagra to feel so good. viagra viagra

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