Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Remaster (and its derivations, frequently found in the phrases digitally remastered or digital remastering) is a word and concept ushered into the mass consciousness via the digital age, although it had existed before then. Frequently trumpeted with regard to CD and DVD releases, remastering has become a powerful buzzword in multimedia industries, and it generally implies some sort of upgrade to a previous, existing product (frequently designed to encourage people to part with their money for a new version of something they already own). For example, the reissue boom that began in the mid-nineties saw remastered versions of the back-catalogues of The Who, The Byrds and others, while remastered editions of first-generation DVD releases are similarly hot sellers. Despite its status as an industry buzzword, however, remastering actually refers to a fairly distinct process, one which does not inherently include the notion of a positive upgrade.
To properly understand what is meant by the idea of remastering, it is helpful to quickly explain the meaning of the core word, mastering. In this particular case, the audio version of mastering will be explored, but the video/film paradigm is quite similar.
A master is the entity which is duplicated to make a product. Problematically, several different levels of "masters" often exist for any one release. Let's examine the way a typical album from the 1960s might have been created. Musicians and vocalists are recorded on multi-track tape. This tape is mixed down to a two channel (stereo) or one channel (mono) master. A further master tape would then likely be created from each, consisting of EQ and other adjustments to the tape. More masters would then likely be duplicated for regional copying purposes. Pressing masters and others might be created. As one can see, master is a fairly loose term, one that can be used in many stages of the recording process. In the end, however, all records pressed from this album would derive from one or more of the steps in the above process.
Mastering, then, refers to the process of creating a master. This might be as simple as copying a tape for further duplication purposes, or might include the actual equalization and processing steps used to fine-tune material for release. The latter example usually requires the work of mastering engineers.
With the advent of digital recording in the late 1970s, many mastering ideas changed. Previously, creating new masters meant incurring an analogue generational loss; in other words, copying a tape to a tape meant reducing the signal to noise ratio, or how much "music" was on the tape versus how much "noise" (tape hiss , static, etc). Now, masters could be creating and duplicated in the digital domain without incurring the usual generational loss. As CDs were a digital format, masters copied to digital tape became a necessity.
Remastering is, at its core, the process of creating a new master for an album, movie, or any other creation. It is what it sounds like: re-mastering. It tends to nowadays specifically refer to the process of porting a creation from one medium to another, but this is not always the case. For example, a vinyl LP originally pressed from a worn-out copy tape many tape generations removed from the "original" master recording could be remastered and re-pressed from a better condition tape.
Here buzz-speak and practical application collide. In actuality, all CDs created from analogue sources are technically digitally remastered. The process of creating a digital transfer of an analogue tape re-masters the material in the digital domain, even if nothing "special"--no equalization, compression, or other processing--is done to the material.
So why the digitally remastered hooplah, then? Ideally, a CD or DVD (or other) release should come from the best source possible, with the most care taken during its transfer. Naturally, this does not always happen. The first CD era found record companies using whatever tapes they had lying around to create their CDs, with frequently underwhelming results. An nth-generation tape equalized for vinyl frequency response might be deemed perfectly acceptable by a record company, and (importantly) might be much easier to locate than the "original" source master. Additionally, the first CD era found digital technology in its infancy, which also aided unimpressive digital transfers marked by dropouts, underutilization of SNR, et cetera. The first DVD era was hardly any different, with early DVD copies of movies frequently being produced from worn prints, with low bitrates and muffled audio. When the first CD remasters turned out to be hot sellers--see, for example, the box-set boom--companies soon realized that new editions of bare-bones back catalogue items could compete with new releases as a source of revenue. Back catalogue values skyrocketed, and today it is not unusual to see expanded and remastered editions of fairly modern albums (e.g. "New Miserable Experience" by the Gin Blossoms).
Theoretically, digital remastering (the "buzzword" version) should solve some of these woes (while inevitably prompting people to wonder why it wasn't done right the first time). Original master tapes, or something close to them, can be used to make CD releases. Better processing choices can be used. Better prints can be utilized, with sound elements remixed to 5.1 and obvious print flaws digitally corrected. The modern era gives content providers almost unlimited ways to touch up, doctor, and "improve" their creations and products, and as each release promises improved sound, video, extras and others, producers hope these upgrades will entice consumers into making a purchase.
Newer: Always Better?
Unfortunately, remaster frequently resembles other buzzwords in promising more than it delivers. Content that calls itself remastered is not necessarily better than older content, and in certain circumstances may actually be worse.
Why would this be? Let's look at the audio world again. Remember that mastering can refer to the changes made during the mastering stage. A good 1980s-era mastering job from a second-generation tape can certainly beat a poor 1990s-era mastering job from the original recording, technological advances or no technological advances. A decision to remix elements of a recording may render a later release different from, but not necessarily better than, an earlier issue. In particular, modern-day overuse of processes like dynamic range compression and noise reduction has actually sparked a backlash against many current remasters like The Who's Live at Leeds Deluxe.
In the film world, so many "satellite processes" have branched off from the idea of remastering as to almost render the original concept moot. Reediting, resequencing, restoring, and others are often more specific ways of describing the remastering process.
Remastering has transformed from a format-change-effected necessity to a lucrative industry, as supposedly "upgraded" versions of movies, albums, and other entities compete in the marketplace. Remastering can be done well, or it can be done poorly; as a word, however, it's largely meaningless, and the research of individual releases is often the best way to insure that an improvement has actually been made.
- Movie Review Query Engine Movie/DVD review meta-site
The contents of this article is licensed from www.wikipedia.org under the GNU Free Documentation License. Click here to see the transparent copy and copyright details