Undeniably, the release of the Byrds’ first four albums on CD in April 1996 set a new, higher standard for reissues of 60’s artists on disc for the following reasons: their state-of-the art sound quality; the generally judicious choices made on the remixing and mastering of tracks; the inclusion of top-flight and often rare bonus tracks; and the superb and informative liner notes (by David Fricke) and song notes (by Johnny Rogan). The entire project exuded class and excellent attention to detail. Clearly, a considerable amount of work, research, and preparation went into it.
Thus it was all the more puzzling why neither Project Director Adam Block nor especially Producer Bob Irwin saw fit to include annotations regarding which tracks on each album had been remixed, and from what type of multi-track masters. One would have thought that would have been a relatively straightforward matter to cover. While casual fans may not have cared, Block and Irwin had to have known that die-hard Byrds’ fans would, and surely deserved that information. Ironically, even the much-maligned 1990 box set had managed to include such historically useful notes, making it crystal-clear which tracks had been remixed and from what source tapes. This unexplained omission has marred the otherwise fine Legacy CD reissue series of the Byrds’ catalog over the years, and led to understandable speculation and debate- notably in the past decade in online forums.
On a more minor note, it was rather surprising that apparently none of the surviving Byrds were asked for their feedback on the remixed tracks prior to the release of these Legacy reissue CD’s. After all, Roger McGuinn had served as a musical consultant on the 1990 box set, reviewing “… hours of previously unreleased material…” and assisting in the creation of new stereo mixes of some songs that had only been in mono (1990 box set, liner notes, 13). David Crosby seemed especially upset that the Legacy reissue team failed to solicit his opinions ahead of time: “… The only thing that pisses me is that they never asked anything. They never talked to me not once, they went ahead and did it and just did it….” (http://www.analogplanet.com/content/david-crosby-can-remember-his-name-and-great-deal-more-part-ii-0).
It is this writer’s hope that, in some small way, this article will lead to Columbia/Legacy Records, as a part of Sony Music Entertainment, Inc., posting a ‘white paper’ of sorts on their website that at least lists which songs were actually remixed from the first four Byrds’ studio albums and from what source tapes (http://www.legacyrecordings.com). Byrds’ fans across the globe can only hope, while they enjoy the group’s incredibly timeless, superb, and eclectic music.
Appendix A: Notes on Methodology and the Compilation of Meter Chart Data
Each track on the first four Byrds’ studio albums was diligently listened to, from each relevant source, at matched volume settings on headphones first in order to map out the location of the instruments and vocals across the soundstage. Next, musical cue points and the actual track lengths were noted; listed lengths are notoriously unreliable and were not used. Then each track was listened to multiple times on both headphones and speakers, first from the various sources that represented the original stereo mix, and then from the respective Legacy disc. Any audible differences between them regarding the volume/level of instruments or vocals, their location and depth in the soundstage, as well as their tone, texture, and general frequency characteristics, were noted. All listening session notes were duly dated. In order to gain more insight and perspective into certain tracks, the monaural mixes were listened to as well.
In order to resolve any questions or uncertainties, or to confirm listening conclusions regarding the status of a particular track-whether or not it had been remixed-comprehensive meter data was compiled from 24-segment, peak reading LED meters from a Sony TC-KA3ES cassette deck. These meters were tested using an Audio Reference CD derived from NCH Digital Waveform Programmable Test Tone software. This Reference CD contained balanced mono signals using standard 16 bit, 44.1 kHz sampling PCM WAV files, with the default output level at 33% of full modulation (Redbook Standard), and presented the following frequencies as sine waves: 33 Hz; 400 Hz; 1 kHz; 13.33 kHz; 15 kHz; and 17.5 kHz.
With the record level (input volume) of the tape deck set at ‘3.0,’ both channels were matched exactly for all the previously listed frequencies, and all registered at –4dB on the meters. The same precise channel matching was observed with the record level set at ‘3.5,’ which naturally resulted in a higher meter reading of 0dB for all frequencies. These two volume settings (‘3.0’ and ‘3.5’) were tested specifically as they represented the most common settings utilized in the testing of individual tracks. As an example, for the CD sources used, the Columbia discs generally were typically set at the higher point (about ‘3.5-4.0’); while the hotter Legacy CD’s usually had to be pegged down to the lower (‘3.0’) level, although there were obviously variations depending on the track. The 1990 box set normally ran between those numbers, although there were occasions where it was dialed in close to the Legacy.
In compiling meter data for specific tracks from relevant sources, the record level setting was adjusted for each source so that the meters registered at the same level for each channel, normally at a specific point in the intro of each song. In this manner, the different mastering levels of each source were compensated for. The resulting output levels of each channel were charted over a range of usually 20-24 specific points throughout a song. Quite often, this meter plotting was repeated several times, for accuracy and consistency purposes.
Appendix B: References
Books and Articles
Cianci, Bob, 2008. Roger McGuinn: Rickenbackers, Martins & Byrds. Premier Guitar. http://www.premierguitar.com/articles/roger-mcguinn-rickenbackers-martins-byrds-1
Ellis, Andy, 2004. Roger McGuinn (Interview). Guitar Player. http://www.guitarplayer.com/story.asp?sectioncode=4&storycode=4362
Fremer, Michael, 2006 (posted 04/01/2007). Sundazed and Mobile Fidelity Make The Case For Mono! (Album Review: The Byrds (reissue) Mr. Tambourine Man; originally posted in Musicangle, 11/01/2006). http://www.analogplanet.com/content/sundazed-and-mobile-fidelity-make-case-mono-0
Hjort, Christopher. 2008. So You Want To Be a Rock ‘N’ Roll Star. The Byrds Day-By-Day 1965-1973. London: Jawbone Press.
Hoglund, Don. RIAA Equalization Curve For Phonograph Records. http://www.graniteaudio.com/phono/page5.html
Hughes, Rob, 2003. The Byrds. Younger Than Yesterday. Uncut. Take 75.
King, Paul, 2009. The Byrds’ Remastered Albums 1996-2000. http://users.skynet.be/byrdsfollower/remasters1996-2000.htm
Kubernik, Harvey, 2006. Interview with Roger McGuinn: comfortable in his Folk Den. Goldmine. 32: 15: 678, 19-20.
Moseley, Willie C., 2002. Chris Hillman: Bluegrass, Bass, and Back Again. Vintage Guitar Magazine. www.vintageguitar.com/2935/chris-hillman/
Nork, John, 1997. Roger McGuinn Speaks with John Nork (originally published in the Tracking Angle, 2; posted by Michael Fremer, 10/01/2004). http://www.analogplanet.com/content/roger-mcguinn-speaks-john-norkpart-1-0
_________, The Byrds Reconsidered: The 1996 Legacy CD Reissues-Part 1 (originally published in the Tracking Angle; posted by Michael Fremer, 10/01/20004).
_________, David Crosby Can Remember His Name…and a Great Deal More- Part II (originally published in the Tracking Angle, 2; posted by Michael Fremer, 11/01/2004).
Priore, Domenic. 2007. Riot On Sunset Strip- Rock ‘n’ roll’s last stand in Hollywood. London: Jawbone Press.
Rogan, Johnny. 2012. Byrds. Requiem For The Timeless. Volume 1. London: R/H [R. House].
____________. 2008. The Byrds. Timeless Flight Revisited. The Sequel. London: Rogan House.
Rowe, Matt, 2013. An Insightful Look at Audio Mastering with Steve Hoffman. The Morton Report. 5/24/2013. http://www.themortonreport.com/entertainment/music/an-insightful-look-into-audio-mastering-with-steve-hoffman/
Thomson, Graeme, 2012. The Story Of The Notorious Byrd Brothers- Change Is Now. Uncut. 186: 30-35.
_________, Rob Hughes, Tom Pinnock (Interviews by); Introduction by Roger McGuinn. The Byrds’ 20 Greatest Tracks (As chosen by Emmylou Harris, J Mascis, Bobby Gillespie, Jonathan Wilson and more). Uncut. 186: 36-41.
Unterberger, Richie. 2003. Eight Miles High- Folk-Rock’s Flight from Haight Ashbury to Woodstock. San Francisco: Backbeat Books.
___________. 2002. Turn!Turn!Turn!- The ‘60’s Folk-Rock Revolution. San Francisco: Backbeat Books.
AnalogPlanet web site (Publisher: Keith Pray; Editor: Michael Fremer),
Byrds Flyght web site,
Connors, Tim, 1997-1998. Byrd Watcher- A Field Guide to the Byrds of Los Angeles, web site,
Ford, Roger, 2011. Electric Dylan, web site,
Hoffman, Steve. Mastering Engineer’s web site,
Mix Magazine, Classic Tracks, web site,
Rick Resource Rickenbacker Forum, Byrds Forum: by James Krause, web site,
Sound On Sound Magazine, Classic Tracks, web site,
My thanks to Roger Ford, and Christopher Hjort.
A brilliant round most informative read. I would be interested in some detail of the sound equipment that you used in your analyses.
Thank you for such an informative work. The question now is which versions are the definitive versions of each record ? It would seem at this point, there isn't one source for each recording that represents the "best " audio available. Each seems to have good and bad points.
Stereo System Used for Evaluations
Speakers: Infinity Beta 50's
Headphones: Sennheiser HD 280 Professional
SACD Player: Marantz SA8004
Receiver: Yamaha RX-596
Cassette Deck #1: Nakamichi DR-10
Cassette Deck #2: Sony TC-KA3ES
Turntable: Yamaha PX-3
Cartridge: Grado Signature 8M
Power Conditioner: APC H15BLK
Interconnect Cables: Monster Interlink Reference 2
Speaker Cables: Monster Reference 3 Series
It seems to me that some erroneous assumptions might be a factor in the judgments made here, which directly contradict statements made by the reissue producers.
In essence, relative loudness levels are an unreliable indication of remixing (especially when the differences are slight!). A CD made from a digitized master tape will invariably have subtly different dynamics than an LP, since LPs are one further analogue step removed from the master tape. LPs, especially in the 1960s, tend to be made from an intermediate analogue "LP master" that has been subjected to dynamic range compression and EQ to prevent unwanted needle behavior and distortion. Sometimes early CDs were mistakenly made from these "LP masters" rather than from the proper "master tapes." Having a later remaster made from the original master will result in different dynamics (which may or may not be subtle) without any remixing having taken place.
Response to New comment posted 7/3/2014:
I appreciate your feedback.
Unfortunately, you have misconstrued my methodology as carefully explained in the article. As well, you have over-simplified my use of meter plot data comparing the output levels of both channels throughout a track. My approach was holistic, using a combination of closely monitored listening comparisons, which were given top priority, supported by a detailed analysis of channel output levels between the different sources. The latter resource was not used exclusively to reach remix determinations. Rather, it was a complementary tool, an aid in the process. Meter plot data often confirmed what I had heard first. Otherwise, it offered clues concerning the sonic characteristics of some tracks which were challenging to assess.
Quite often, the differences that I heard first between versions in specific sections of a track were confirmed by the calibrated meter data, with nominal variations in channel output levels of usually at least 2-3dB- a significant amount that supported my remix determinations. Another telltale sign of a remix from the three-track reduction masters, compared to the original stereo mix: sizeable (2-4dB) changes in the average output differential between channels throughout a song.
Certainly, occasional small differences (1-2dB) in output levels would not constitute a valid basis for determining that a track had been remixed. Again, my listening comparisons were paramount in reaching determinations that tracks had been remixed- not minor differences in channel output levels. This was demonstrated in my coverage of several songs that I determined had not been remixed, both located in the "Notes" sections of their respective albums in the article: "Chimes Of Freedom" and "5D (Fifth Dimension)." Both tracks, in my opinion, had been mastered from superior quality source tapes for the respective Legacy CD's, and thus sounded better compared to the 1990 box set CD (former track) and Columbia CD (latter; vastly improved on the Legacy).
Finally, your reference to "LP masters" is interesting, although this subject was covered in the first two paragraphs of the Mr. Tambourine Man album "Background" section. I am well-aware that some early CD's- likely including the aforementioned classic debut album by the Byrds- were mistakenly sourced from "cutting/production masters." As I discussed, these were tapes that had been severely equalized and compressed for the production of stereo vinyl albums.
In the end, I tried to be as objective as possible, and to present a cogent case as to why a track had been determined to have been remixed for a Legacy CD.
The trouble, though, Mark, is that, without access to the original tapes, there is really no way to judge *objectively* what differences in dynamics and levels arise from "remixing" in any meaningful sense and which arise from analogue-domain copying of the same mixes.
You've only been able to compare CDs (source unknown) to LPs (source: LP masters) and other CDs (probable source: LP masters). At no point have you been able to definitively compare the Legacy CDs to another source from a comparable tape generation without analogue-domain modification.
Post a Comment