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Madonna’s discography as a mirror of digital recording evolution

Madonna’s first albums coincided with the distribution of CDs on the market and her subsequent works clearly show how priorities changed in recording. Let’s look at them in more detail.

On June 14, Madonna released her 14th album, “Madame X”. In school essays firmly settled word form — “in the novel reflected” and then clerical La-La from someone else’s essay. More adult writers at this point embark on discussions about the many faces of the pop diva, her works and other merits. Well what can I say, the woman-the beauty, the Pantheon of gods, where are we, and where is she? So we’ll take a parallel path.To date, Hi-Res editions have only touched five releases from Madonna’s discography. And of them “Madame X” is the only modern, the rest of the material belongs to the 80’s. Why is that? There are good reasons for this. Let’s start with the finale and see what “Madame X”is like.By the way, this album turned out to be quite interesting. Especially considering the flow of previous works of the singer, built on the same scheme of a pair of hits with a load. Kind of like a hot Latin beat frozen by a goddess on an auto tune. All this makes a strange impression, but in a good way, post-irony, when she says to Maluma-slow down, papi “slow down, daddy (well, or “puppy” in English, puppy”).

“Madame X” (2019). The volume -9,1 LUFS, more than ten thousands of points of clipping
Mastering at “Madame X”, as usual, is overloaded, everything is as it should be in this world. The singer has been working with DJ-producer Mirve for a long time, who never stood on ceremony with the compression of the dynamics. The average volume (Integrated Loudness) here is -9.1 LUFS, which is more than one and a half times higher than the recommended-16LUFS. Lots of clipping. In some places (tracks #4 Future and #10 Extreme Occident) there is a hard cutoff at 16 kHz. Obviously, the mix used lossy sources, which can be seen on both the regular and HD versions of the album. With hairison too many oddities.

Blue arrows show areas with lossy material in the Hi-Res mix “Madame X” 24 bit / 88.2 kHz
The spectrogram shows another, more global cut – off of all audio material at 22 kHz and only at the last-24 kHz. In other words, the mix was made from sources with a discreteness of 24/44, 1, and 24/48. But why then was it necessary to build a garden in the dimension of 24 bits / 88.2 kHz? The console was probably analog and the final stereo mix was digitized again. Well, at least it has ten times less clipping than the 16-bit version. This is the cut we deserve.

“Madonna”, Japan – 32XD-318 (1983/85). Volume -15.8 LUFS, less than one hundred clipping points
And once a CD was considered a hairez, read what was written on the cover of Madonna’s 1983 debut album, where publishers apologized for analog equipment:”the Music on this CD was recorded on analog equipment. We tried to get as close as possible to the sound of the original recording. However, a high-resolution CD may demonstrate the limitations of the source.” (this is probably the noise of the film)

“Like a Virgin”, Germany-7599-25181-2 (1984/94). Volume -17.4 LUFS, total ten clipping points
The next one,” Like a Virgin”, released in 1984, proudly stated: “Recorded with fanaticism from start to finish digitally on Sony hardware.”And most surprisingly, these days not only the debut, but also this “Like a Virgin” reissued in Hi-Res resolution with a dimension of 24 bits / 192 kHz. Digital tapes needed to be digitized again? That kind of nonsense?

“Like a Virgin” HD transfer spectrogram in 24 bit / 192 kHz
The “Like a Virgin” HD transfer spectrogram shows that an analog source with a cropped spectrum has been digitized. The story tells that the recording was made on a 24-track DASH recorder Sony PCM-3324, and the final stereo mix was reset to the Sony PCM-F1 recorder in resolution (attention!) Of 14 bits. Here is a sly figure that did not match the format-CD.Actually, Sony PCM-F1 has two recording modes-14 and 16 bits, but these are all so smart now, and then they were abstract numbers, they could have written 5 bits, it would not have detracted from the charm of new technologies. So in this case, for circulation, publishers had to once again digitalize the analog signal directly from the Sony PCM-F1.Anyway, in any case, “Like a Virgin” sounds clean, but empty, despite the correct level of LUFS and the lack of additional compression. It was as if some of the sounds had been rolled up and hidden. At the same time, the Hi-Res version is slightly preferable, since it is a greater approximation to the original sound of the analog outputs of the Sony PCM-F1 recorder.Against this background, ” Madonna “from 1983, recorded and mixed the old-fashioned way, sounds more natural than” Like a Virgin”, made on the latest digital track of the time. The 1983 debut has a wider stage (even if it is virtual), a fatter bass, and a more relaxed song flow. But these epithets refer only to the modern HD transfer from the master tape. The “Madonna” CD sounds just as boring as “Like a Virgin”.The same applies to the next CD “True Blue”, released in 1986 and bearing the same apology for the analog recording method. Modern HD transfer “True Blue”also turned out to be better than a CD, even American, even Japanese, but any.

“True Blue” HD transfer spectrogram in 24 bit / 192 kHz. Volume -15.9 LUFS, less than ten clipping points
And a few words about Madonna’s Japanese CDS. Additional covers, pictures with a navel, napkins made of rice paper — this, of course, will brighten up the life of a single man, but keep in mind that these “Japanese” are written a little louder than the originals, right up to the limit of 0 dB. And while it’s still a long way from the real hell of recompressing speakers, Japanese CDs contain more clipping than the originals. Why are all these CDS made from a fresh master tape inferior to modern transfers made from a 30-year-old carrier?The fact is that Sony recorders based on DASH and U-matic systems were used for a long time when preparing the CD edition. At that time, the main advantage of this technique was considered to be the lack of coloring of the master tape. Back then, many people were fed up with analog equipment with its own unique characters, which brought uncertainty to the Studio work. And here the coil of any brand sounded the same at any rewrites, and thank God.But now, as time passes, it becomes obvious the limit of the capabilities of Sony’s first-generation 16-bit ADCS, which were also equipped with a hard brickwall filter that worsened the phase-pulse characteristics of the original signal. His work can be easily seen by the hard cutoff at 20 kHz not only on Early Madonna CDs, but also on most CDS up to the second half of the 90s.After the 1987 soundtrack “Who’s That Girl” analog/Hi-Res buns end. The next CD compilation of remixes, “You Can Dance”, once again apologizes for the analog recording, but its HD reissue is no longer available. It is likely that the original master tapes were simply destroyed. And then the continuous digital record sessions begin — and the most interesting thing is that it became the most significant work in the singer’s career,” Like A Prayer ” in 1989.

“Like A Prayer”, Canada-CD 25844 (1989). Volume -17.1 LUFS, just two clipping points
A fantastically full-blooded album with sumptuous arrangements, the epitome of 80’s pop music in all its glory, was ready in less than two weeks!) weeks. It should be noted that due to the tour employment, the singer always tried to work on a tight schedule and record with one or two takes. The success of “Like A Prayer” is a huge credit to legendary producer Patrick Leonard. When recording, digital recorders were used, but a new generation, with softer filters, so that even by modern standards, the soundtrack turned out to be excellent. In the anniversary CD “Like A Prayer – 30th Anniversary” for the 30th anniversary of the release, the content of the original album was partially changed to single versions. Fortunately, no deep remastering of the source code did not know, the original dynamics of the tracks are not disturbed. Why is gold gold?The apotheosis of the eighties sound was the compilation “the Immaculate Collection” (1990), on which producer Shep Petibon processed all the songs using QSound technology. It turned out very well. He (Petibon) with a budget of $ 5,000 made a watershed hit “Vogue”, which was originally planned as a b-side, but in the end radically marked a change in the genre of Madonna’s work.

“The Immaculate Collection”, US-9 26440-2 (1990). Volume -13.4 LUFS, less than a thousand clipping points
Patrick Leonard was later recruited several times for the soundtrack of ” I’m Breathless “(1990) and the hit slowies, but Madonna herself, by her own admission, no longer wanted arrangements” in the style of Peter Gabriel ” and drifted towards club electronic music. For the first step in this direction, the album “Erotica” in 1992 with Shep Pettibon, the audience-stupid was not ready. But after ” Bedtime Stories “(1994) with Nellie Hooper and especially” Ray Of Light ” (1998) with William Orbit, the people surrendered to the mercy of the winner. These three, now canonical works of the 90s are stitched with a heavy bass barrel, which means that compression could not be avoided.


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