Best CD versions of Iron Maiden albums.

Cornfed Hick

Ancient Mariner
I posted this missive in the vinyl picture-disc reissues thread, in response to a post by pilau about the CD versions. I think it may be the most important post I've made on this forum (not saying much) from a value-added perspective, given the self-selected tastes of the forum members. So, I thought it important enough to start a new thread, so everyone can see it in case they are understandably ignoring the thread about the $40-per-record picture discs.

Executive summary: Most folks on this forum are not necessarily audiophiles, and neither am I, really -- but, even those listening to MP3s through earbuds can tell the difference in CD masterings. These differences can be striking, none more so than in the case of Iron Maiden, where the mastering matters a lot. If you are just getting into Iron Maiden and considering adding an album to your catalog, I STRONGLY recommend you get hold of a used CD from the 1980s on the Capitol or EMI labels, rather than downloading from iTunes or buying the currently distributed "remastered" or "enhanced" CDs. Simply put, the old CDs sound better. A LOT better. More dynamic range, less distortion. Yes, they are "quieter," but that's easily solved -- turn up the volume. Martin Birch did a fabulous job producing the 80's albums, and the mastering preserves his great work. The remastered versions, however, which have been on the market since 1998, ruin it. And, the best part is, the old CDs are usually less expensive if you buy them used than what you'd pay for a new CD or on iTunes. In sum, "fly on your way like an eagle" to get used versions of the CDs originally distributed in the 1980's, and "run like the hills" from any CD issued in or after 1998.
 

Yax

Ancient Mariner
I'll sign this. I don't listen to the remasters.

But that being said. The remastering done to Maiden's catalogue is much better than Astley's nuked Priest remasters. Dude even flipped the guitar channels...
 

The Flash

Dennis Wilcock did 9/11
I only have the remastered versions of the albums, sadly. It's almost impossible for me to find original ones, I've tried very hard to do so.
 

Yax

Ancient Mariner
Second hand ones from Amazon.co.uk. No problem. If they ship to Turkey that is.
 

The Flash

Dennis Wilcock did 9/11
Amazon wasn't shipping musical stuff to Turkey when I bought the albums. Don't know if they do now.
 

Yax

Ancient Mariner
Mind you that these are from sellers like Zoverstocks that sell through Amazon, not Amazon itself. Many of these sellers ship worldwide.
 

mckindog

Living for Sanctuary from the law
Staff member
This is good news to us old guys.
I think all of my pre-Blaze stuff was bought way before '98.
In fact, I am positive Somewhere In Time (along with BOC's Club Ninja and Triumph's Sport of Kings) was the first CD I ever bought, when I started switching from vinyl sometime back in 1986/87. I had all three already, I just remember thinking I wanted to try out my new player with albums I really liked the sound of.

On a note related to this thread, I would really like to hear how and where people acquire their music these days, and why you do it that way.
 

Mosh

And I should contemplate this change
Staff member
On a note related to this thread, I would really like to hear how and where people acquire their music these days, and why you do it that way.
Mostly used CD stores. Some artists, such as Zappa and Rush, I go to Best Buy for. But 90% of the time, it's a used store. They're usually cheaper and have a much wider selection.
 

mckindog

Living for Sanctuary from the law
Staff member
Largely for convenience reasons, I find myself increasingly drifting from CDs to direct iTunes purchases.
How much am I selling myself short on sound quality? For basic iPod listening, and for higher quality systems?
 

Cornfed Hick

Ancient Mariner
mckindog:

Depends what you're getting. If it's just one-off songs you'll mostly listen to while exercising or driving, iTunes is fine. For albums you truly love, get the CD, and look for the best mastering of the CD. Most people can't tell or don't care about the sound quality between 256kbps (i.e., iTunes Plus) and CD quality, but bear in mind that compression of the file really does result in the loss of data, and therefore music. Think of the difference between a 10 megapixel digital camera vs. a 2-megapixel digital camera. For simple snapshots, it doesn't make a meaningful difference. For a framed piece of art, it makes a huge difference.

Far more important than the format or bit rate, however, is the mastering. iTunes is going to have the modern remasters, by and large. And, in the case of many bands -- Iron Maiden and Judas Priest being good examples, as noted above -- that's a bad thing. You're much better off getting old CDs of old music as opposed to modern "remasters" which basically make the music louder so when you "shuffle" songs on your iPod the music is at least as loud as all the other music. This leads to distortion and the loss of dynamic range, and thus sounds like crap. Here is a link to a good article that explains the "loudness wars" that threaten to ruin the sound quality of music. Not all modern remasters are bad, and there are some very good modern masters -- Tull's Aqualung 40th anniversary version, G'n'R's Chinese Democracy and the latest Beatles remasters, for example, are quite good -- but be very careful about "remastered" editions of anything. You can search for the most dynamic (in many cases, best, though that is a matter of subjective taste) masterings of various titles here: http://dr.loudness-war.info/.

In case anyone is skeptical about the importance of CD mastering, the video below presents a very short but striking illustration. It compares and contrasts the CD release of Metallica's Death Magnetic, which might be the all-time worst-mastered recording in the history of music, to the version found on the Guitar Hero: Metallica video game, which is well-mastered and sounds great. Consider this exhibit A why mastering matters (and why Lars, who has tried to defend the CD version, is a doofus). Put on headphones while listening to this video, and turn it up. The difference is shocking: in the CD version, the music is heavily distorted, you can't hear the cymbals, and all the instruments sound mushed together. In the GH version, it sounds like Metallica are in the room with you. Huge difference. And, if you can't tell a difference at all, then ignore this thread, as your hearing is totally fucked already.

 

Mosh

And I should contemplate this change
Staff member
Well I dunno much about sound qualities, just that I prefer listening to music on a CD or vinyl as opposed to a compressed file on a computer. I've never bought an mp3 file from iTunes or anything like that, and I don't plan to. Without getting into a debate about piracy, I don't really care to pay for digital music.

I love getting physical music though, be it CD or vinyl. Not only does it sound better to me, but I love all the packaging that goes with it. I'm easily amused enough that I enjoy reading liner notes. :p Also, I've found that on mostly older albums, all the artwork that goes with it really sets a mood for the music, and with mp3's and such, that's lost.
 

Cornfed Hick

Ancient Mariner
Can't believe I forgot to mention: Other good recent remasters that come to mind are the Sanctuary 2009-2010 "Deluxe Edition" remasters of the Black Sabbath catalog, especially Mob Rules, which sounds amazing (and has Live at Hammersmith on Disc 2, to boot, along with the awesome demo version of the title track that was used for the Heavy Metal movie soundtrack) -- a "must own" for all Dio/Sabbath fans.
 

Mosh

And I should contemplate this change
Staff member
I've heard that the Mono versions of the Beatles remasters are far superior to the stereo. However those are only available in the box set and I'm not really willing to buy those albums again. The Stereo remasters sound awesome though.
 

mckindog

Living for Sanctuary from the law
Staff member
Thanks for the detailed response.

mckindog:
Depends what you're getting. If it's just one-off songs you'll mostly listen to while exercising or driving, iTunes is fine. For albums you truly love, get the CD, and look for the best mastering of the CD.
Purchase-wise that is essentially what I had been doing, but I've been drifting away from that.

To follow your photo analogy further, I guess the way I'm going to frame it makes a difference? Am I to conclude that as long as I'm listening on my computer, or my iPod, the difference in quality will be negligible, but if I were to pop a ripped iTunes Plus version into a nice home stereo system, it would not sound as good as my store-bought CD?
Also, is iTunes capable of giving me better quality sound than the 256kbps, or is that the top end of what the program is capable of delivering?


I've seen the loudness war video before. It seems like it's just common sense and these guys were pros.
Never been able to figure out what they were thinking.

Maybe Yax can enlighten?
 

Cornfed Hick

Ancient Mariner
Sorry to sound like a lawyer, but it depends. iPods and computers are capable of decent sound -- Apple's iMacs have pretty good sound cards. So, if you use good headphones, then the quality may be noticeable. There's a way to test. Take a CD and rip a song to iTunes, first with the "Import Settings" set to 256kbps/iTunes Plus, then rip it again (add a suffix to the title, otherwise Apple will just replace the version you just ripped) with the "Import Settings" set to .WAV file or Apple Lossless. Then, using your iPod, computer, car stereo, or whatever rig you use to listen to music, compare them. Frankly, most people won't hear much, if any, difference. If you do notice a difference, then that tends to favor listening to CDs.

What I do -- I rip CDs to Apple Lossless or WAV format, which I can play over my (decent quality) stereo using a (decent quality) digital-to-analog converter. This is if I'm lazy and don't want to fish out the CD. For my iOS devices, however, I sync them by ticking the box that converts everything to 256 kbps. That way, all my music can fit on my iPod, so I listen in the car or while traveling. They still sound fine. Any difference I think I can tell is probably just psychological and illusory. Again, the difference between 256 kbps and CD quality (which is 1411 kbps) is negligible to most people. I'm not aware of any higher-resolution downloads from iTunes, though I've heard some rumors that they may start offering lossless downloads. Neil Young has a service coming out called Pono that supposedly will offer high-def, SACD-quality downloads, and Apple may try to compete with that using lossless or HD downloads, but I really do think that's gilding the lily, as there is literature saying that the differences between HD and CD quality are too subtle for any human ear to pick up. By analogy: no one complains that televisions don't offer the full UV spectrum, because it can't be seen by the human eye anyway -- same goes for so-called "high-def" audio.

To be clear, the real crime is the mastering/loudness war, which is not the same as whether your version of the song is lossless or compressed. The "compression" problem in the loudness war refers to the compression of the dynamic range during the equalizing/mastering process, which is noticeable in any format -- CD, high-def, MP3, iTunes, whatever -- and does not refer to the compression of the digital file to a smaller file size. The former makes a huge difference in the sound quality, while the latter usually makes only a negligible difference -- assuming you don't compress it too much: a 256kbps file would sound fine, but a 64kbps file wouldn't sound as good.

Another suggestion is to subscribe to MOG (or Spotify, but MOG is generally thought to be better). For 10 or 12 USD per month, you get a huge library of albums that you can stream or download at 320 kbps, which is higher quality than iTunes and, to the average human ear, is effectively CD quality. That's about the price of a CD per month. However, the problem with using MOG or iTunes is that often you're unable to control which mastering you get. And often an old CD is based on a better master than the iTunes, MOG or other downloadable file that may be compiled using a remaster. Nowadays, nearly all of the CDs I buy are versions of my favorite albums that I have researched to find the best reasonably-priced mastering. You can usually track those down, albeit used, in the Amazon marketplace.
 

Cornfed Hick

Ancient Mariner
The point of this thread, again, is not a knock on iTunes vs. CDs. It is to focus attention on how much better the pre-1990 mastered Iron Maiden CDs sound than the 1998 remasters. As Yax points out, that is not unique to Iron Maiden. Judas Priest and AC/DC are two bands that have really good original CD masters and really bad remasters.* If you find digital downloads of the pre-1990 mastered recordings, grab them -- doesn't have to be the physical CD format.

* BONUS EDIT: I don't think you'll find AC/DC on iTunes or MOG. When buying the classic AC/DC CDs, look for the original pre-1990 CD versions mastered by Barry Diament, not the 1994 Ted Jensen remaster or the 2003 George Marino re-remaster.
 

mckindog

Living for Sanctuary from the law
Staff member
Thanks CH. Will give Lossless rip a try.
My iMac through the phones or my mediocre home stereo amp is what I use most for music and am generally fine with what it gives me.
I'm mostly concerned that if I invest in a high-quality audio system in the future I will be disappointed in what I have been buying from iTunes.
I think the answer for me though is to be more patient in the future and just wait to buy the CD, instead of giving into the temptation of the immediate grab from iTunes.

Edit: and yeah, sorry I diverted the thread there. I had actually been thinking of starting a new thread on the iTunes versus CD topic, but this one seemed close enough.
 

Forostar

Ancient Mariner
The remastering done to Maiden's catalogue is much better than Astley's nuked Priest remasters. Dude even flipped the guitar channels...
Come on Yax. The guitar channels were only flipped on one album (Defenders.. to Tipton's disliking).
But these are great remasters, never thought the sound was worse (actually British Steel sounds way stronger, and Unleashed also sounds at least as strong) and they had interesting bonus tracks. Real, unreleased stuff. Some of these songs were not great but others were very interesting I think. You won't find that with any other band of that (or bigger) size. So, I'd say the Priest remasters were better on all fronts.
 

Yax

Ancient Mariner
That's one too many albums.

Funny you bring up British Steel, It's the one I feel suffers the most. I hate what he did to British Steel - My favorite metal production. Original release was perfect and I don't want it tampered with in any way, shapre or form. Keep your hands off the EQ thank you very much. The extra compression on the drums
and master bus is a given since it's a remaster, but for the love of god, leave the guitar sound as it was. It was perfect.

Regarding Metallica though. It didn't sound like crap because of the mastering itself. The mastering engineer wouldn't even put his name on the CD (and that's pretty much unheard of). He was given bad stem tracks that were already heavily distorted and compressed and if that's the case there is little you can do. It will sound like crap. You have to fix it at the source. Guitar Hero must've been given different stem tracks.

I'm going to go ahead and clarify on what mastering if anybody here's curious. Mastering is what happens after the mixing and it's really about getting a second opinion. You mix it and then you pass it along to have some other guy give it a quick listen and then work on it. The engineer will then EQ if needed and compress it (nobody wants to compress it to hell, it's just because it's mandatory) and if he wants, cut the song up into sections and compress the different sections so he doesn't have to heavily compress everything.
 

LooseCannon

Yorktown-class aircraft carrier
Staff member
I seem to remember an older version of this thread where the end result was that the Japanese presses of Iron Maiden CDs sound the best. And then I search for the thread and see that was CFH himself discussing the Black Triangle releases, meaning my contribution here is irrelevant.

SAN DIMAS HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL RULES!
 
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