Why would consumers—many of them baby boomers—pay upward of $100 or more for elaborate and expanded digital packages of music they probably already own? Their buying decision often comes down to a single seductive word—”remastered.” To repeat buyers of Johnny Cash, the Beatles, Miles Davis, the Beach Boys, Glenn Gould and many other iconic artists, “remastered” signals that the original music has undergone a restoration process to upgrade the sound.
In truth, many consumers are unfamiliar with the process and unsure how to determine whether a new version is indeed an improvement. “Remastered isn’t a guarantee that you’ll be excited by the results—or even notice a difference,” said audio engineer Jay Kadis, a Stanford University lecturer and author of “The Science of Sound Recording” (Focal Press). “From the engineer’s perspective, remastering is a delicate balance between the original artist’s intent and what you can do with today’s technology. The best remasters are often subtle.”
The word remastered—like “organic chicken” or “business class”—can mean many different things. Some record companies invest tens of thousands of dollars to painstakingly upgrade the sonic quality of an album using sophisticated equipment while other labels merely use inexpensive software to re-equalize the digital sound and then call it “remastered.”