Inspired by a twitter conversation with Ian Shepherd
“Thriller” by Michael Jackson was the first album I purchased from HDtracks.com, and I was blown away by its sound, fidelity, and dynamics. There is no evidence of any brickwall mastering, the main offender in our digital era loudness war. In fact, if you look at the Billie Jean waveform, you will notice the beginning of the song (where the drums are featured), the mix is actually louder than the rest of the song.
Dynamics like this were commonplace in the pre-digital era, when people bought albums on vinyl, and no one ever said something like “Gee, this album was mastered way quieter than the last one we played“.
Speaking of mastering, I contacted HDtracks to find out info on which mastered versions they use for their releases, and they basically said “We don’t know, we just sell what the record labels deliver to us“. Fair enough, but I think that the people who spend the extra cash for the higher quality versions would like to know exactly what they are paying for. For instance it would be interesting to know if the Thriller mastering is the same or similar to the original vinyl release. If any of you reading have any info, or have compared them, please comment below.
On a technical note: Similar to listening to vinyl albums, where the better your turntable, stylus, and preamp is, the better and more accurate the music will sound, in the digital world, the better your digital to analog (D/A) converters are, the better it will sound too. You can play the HD tracks through iTunes using your computer’s stock sound card, but the to hear it in it’s best possible fidelity, it’s better to have dedicated D/A converters that are a separate piece of hardware. In this case, I’m playing the files inside of a 176.4k 24bit Pro Tools session, and the hardware D/A converters are inside an Apogee DA-16X.
I hope to see more of these kinds of releases in the future as quality DOES matter. I’ve consequently bought HD versions of albums by Daft Punk, The Vicar, Talking Heads, and U2. They too sound incredible.