Don't Try This on CD! #1 (First in a Series)

Here's a vinyl transcription at 96/24 of "Rocks Off" from an original Artisan mastered copy of Exile on Main Street. After the band finished their overdubs in Los Angeles they ran the tape over to Artisan for vinyl mastering. This is the version to own.

Because of severe dynamic compression the anniversary edition is especially terrible on any format. However, recordings with this much treble energy are particularly awful on CD and even though this is bit compressed by YouTube to 384kbs, it should still sound better than any version you've heard on any format (full resolution version at the bottom).

Please connect your computer to a good USB DAC and bypass internal playback via Roon, or JRiver or something other than what's built into your computer... First in a series....

Rocks Off@96/24

gsbischoff's picture

Hi Michael!

I compared this one to the first CD release an I gotta say.... they sound VERY similar! The vinyl just has a bit more treble on it. Maybe you've only heard the poorly-done remaster on CD?

I really enjoy your posts from your collection BTW, you've helped introduce me to a lot of awesome sounding music!!

Michael Fremer's picture
hear the original CD version....but I'm still CD-skeptical, especially when there's a lot of treble energy involved!
gsbischoff's picture

in what way?

supamark's picture

have a sample rate of 44.1kHz, which means there must be a brickwall filter set no higher than 22.05kHz. Brickwall low pass filters cause a lot of phase issues in octaves below them and those phase issues sound (to me at least) awful. This is why oversampling exists, to move the filter up several octaves by making the sampling frequency effectively several octaves higher. It helps a lot, but you're still not going to get any recorded info above ~22kHz, and that ultra-high frequency info is perceptible (and exists in analog formats and high sample rate digital).

Also, pop/rock CD's (re)mastered after the mid 90's tend to suffer from severe dynamic compression and hard limiting which causes everything to be clipped (tops of the waveform lopped off like a WV mountain in coal country). IMHO, the best CD's sound wise were made from the late 80's (when they really got a handle on mastering specifically for the format and A/D converters got a lot better) to the mid 90's when the loudness wars really got going.

Archimago's picture

Hmmmm, brick wall phase issues... As you say, with modern upsampling, I don't think there's any issue - AT ALL.

Can you give me an example of what device are you referring to where 44.1kHz sampling (22.05kHz Nyquist) and brick wall filtering is causing any phase issues in the audible spectrum???

IMO, unless we can discuss specifically about what issues are being raised, it sounds rather mythical at worse or historical at best!

gsbischoff's picture

Wasn't expecting Archimago himself to reply, I love your blog!

The whole skepticism around the transition band on CDs is, imo, very unfounded at this point. In terms of phase and sharpness. Oversampling and then downsampling digitally enables you to use filters which have perfect phase response (even depending on their definition of perfect, whether it's linear or minimum phase) and a practically ideal frequency response.

Once example is FinalCD's resampler which is uses a linear phase filter and is flat up to ~50 Hz of Nyquist or something like that.


supamark's picture

Quote: Can you give me an example of what device are you referring to where 44.1kHz sampling (22.05kHz Nyquist) and brick wall filtering is causing any phase issues in the audible spectrum???

You mean like every single CD player made in the 1980's?

You've obviously not used many (or any) equalizers, but ALL analog EQ's cause phase issues because it's part of how they work (and there's an analog low pass EQ before the output of your D/A converter).

If you want to know what a lot of (even high quality) EQ can do to high frequencies, listen to the album "Kick" by INXS - it's a Bob Clearmountain mix and he smeared the crap out of it with SSL E series EQ (the very popular mixing board, made by Solid State Logic, probably $500k in the 1980's). Oversampling won't matter since it's baked into the mix itself.

gsbischoff's picture

like said by Archimago, it shouldn't be an issue. In fact, if you're concerned, oversampling allows you to put a master with a very clean phase and frequency response (ideal, for all intents an purposes).

Above 22kHz content is pretty moot at this point, M&M showed in their 2007 study that people couldn't recognize a hi-res signal with a CD-quality ADC-DAC in the mix in a double blind setting.

I do agree about the second half, some of my favorite masters come from the 80s before they were remastered worse and worse. But it isn't due to the CD format itself. You can take any of Michael's rips and put them on a CD, proof enough that it can sound as good as any of those old wonders or audiophile rereleases that are only on LP. They just need to be, well, mastered the same.

supamark's picture

In tests done in (I think) the early 90's using an analog signal chain, it was shown people can perceive content above 20kHz (i.e., could tell when it was not present). Even at 50 I can still hear above 15kHz.

Some of the digital 2 tracks available in the early 80's mangled the sound too. Listen to Tears for Fears' "The Hurting", The Cure's "Pornography", or to a lesser extent Peter Gabriel's "Security" to hear what I'm talking about from the A/D side. The phase problems on "Pornography" make my ears hurt. Phase issues (like most things) bother some people more than others.

Even if a CD say's "DDD", there weren't any digital mixers (with direct digital input) in the 80's so there were still multiple A/D/A conversions on anything before the early 90's (and most things until the last 15 to 20 years - Beck's "Midnight Vultures" was sort of a milestone as one of the first major label albums recorded and mixed entirely in ProTools).

robd2's picture

Thoughts on how the recent Abbey Road half speed master compares?

Bigrasshopper's picture

I didn’t try Exile but after listing to Police Ghost In The Machine and another that I can’t remember now, my conclusion was that the series Abbey Road Half Speed Remasters, for whatever reason isn’t anything more than marketing hype. The originals blew it away, at least the two tiles I tried. Exile wasn’t one of them. I can recommend Sticky Fingers Jap SACD, sounds very good, despite what people say about the recording, I found it better than the UK original. Exile just isn’t up there on my list, maybe I’ll take another listen, been awhile.

firedog's picture

The SACDs from decades ago sound great-no added volume compression.
AFAIR, the pre volume wars CDs sound quite good too.

supamark's picture

Always sounded like a full (DDD) digital recording to me, though I've found nothing to corroborate that but it sounds a lot like Peter Gabriel's Security which is full digital. It's also a really wonky mix, with really muddy bass and low absolute levels (my CD is the original A&M CD release (CD-3730) and the mastering on this "Audio Master +" series CD is turrible) but that could just be my version.

firedog's picture

The source is the master tape from the 70's or from the crappy sounding Anniversary remaster?

In digital I listen to a needle drop of my original vinyl from the 70's - sounds way better than any commercial digital release I've heard. Especially that Anniversary edition that's too bright and volume compressed.

I'm continually astonished when bands agree to ruin the sound of a classic album with a "modern" sounding remaster. No one needs that heavy added volume compression. A little bit is okay, but not the amount done on the Anniversary remaster.

supamark's picture

most artists, especially when major labels ran everything (so, until pretty recently), don't have control over their back catalog or what the label does with it. This was especially true from the 50's through the 90's. Here's Steve Albini's take from 20+ years ago though it's still pretty true...

firedog's picture

Yes, I know most artists don’t, but it happens even when they do. That’s what amazes me.

supamark's picture

I think they're just greedy bastards.

I think Paul McCartney *just* regained control of his half of the Beatles Catalog (but not the Lennon half, which Sony still has ASAIK) minus Harrison and Starkey penned songs/rights.

Martin's picture

This is great, someone demonstrating how good the original is pointing out how bad the reissue is.
Some more information.
The guy who remastered Exile is Stephen Marcussen of Marcussen mastering. He butchered it. No that's too kind, he barbarized one of the all time greatest rock records ever made.
Average Dynamic range of original Artisan vinyl: 13
Average Dynamic range of Marcussen remaster: 6

In addition to the dynamic compression, the Marcussen 2010 Exile remaster clips all the way through. This is a highly unpleasant effect in digital when the top and bottom of the sound wave bang up against the head and ceiling of the mastering range. Bad!

Stephen Marcussen has done this to every reissue I have heard he has done.
The Stones "Blue and Lonesome". He did the digital versions. Ron McMaster at Capitol did the vinyl.
Dynamic range of the digital versions - Marcussen: 6
Dynamic range of the vinyl version - McMaster: 9

Additionally, the Marcussen digital versions of Blue and Lonesome clip the whole way through. All of them.

Martin's picture

the average DR value of the vinyl of Blue and Lonesome is a 10.
the average DR value of the digital versions of Blue and Lonesome is 7
By which it must be said, that one track, "I gotta Go", if I remember correctly has a DR of 5.
that track, played through on Audacity, has more red (clipping) than blue (within head and ceiling room)

vogelzang's picture

I always loved my original UniPak version. Is this the one that was mastered by Artisan? Anything in the dead wax to look for?

RLss's picture
vogelzang's picture

Great sound

RLss's picture

Several different pressing plants used the Artisan-sourced lacquer - or stampers made from it - (not quite sure of the chain) - including at least one Canadian version. So there's even variation among Artisan pressings. But they all sound pretty dynamite.

AnalogJ's picture

The SQ varies from track to track, bit many sound natural and dynamic.

Martin's picture

ENORMOUSLY from track to track.
With some sounding great to other that are like - did they do that in the bathroom with the mikes down the hall?? Well, not that bad, but it's like the early 60's hotchpotch albums the way the sound quality bounces around from track to track.
I think that's why this record gets a bad rap for the sound. Some of the them are not great. Others are very, very, good.
Overall, it's just a great record.

StonedBeatles1's picture

Why aren't The Stones or The heads at UMG paying any attention? I loath all of the recent Stones post ABKCO reissues with the early 90's Virgin reissues being the best of the lot to my ears. And, don't get me started with Giles Martins' Sgt. Pepper remix/mastering. Bullocks!

firedog's picture
firedog's picture
firedog's picture
firedog's picture
firedog's picture
firedog's picture
StonedBeatles1's picture

How bout the entire LP plus The White Album??

Martin's picture

the best sounding pressing I have is a UK first pressing with no additional letters after the deadwax numbering. Don't have the record here, so I can't check.
I am guessing this is a copy from the very first run mastered by Andy Johns personally. When Andy Johns took the tapes round to Artisan, he personally mastered the first runs and first lacquers etc. for the UK issue. Subsequent, ie., over the next few weeks I am guessing were done be Artisan people. Anything done by Artisan in that period sounds GREAT, but that first run, that funky UK pressing with the short deadwax numbering has something all the others don't have. This being one of my favourite records, I have something like ten different pressings of this... With the best being the UK, then the German pressings using the Artisan mastering, then the original American pressings (noisier, poorer quality vinyl composition), and a few others... With that Marcussen 2010 remaster at the bottom, that squashed, compressed, clipping piece of shit he produced.
Great record!!!!

gMRfk6LMHn's picture

Firstly, I read the interview with Andy Johns in Goldmine and he said he mastered at Artisan, but nowhere did he mention about mastering for the UK release. Where did you read that?

Also I was browsing through the Steve Hoffman forum and I came across these comments by Greg Calbi talking about Exile on Main Street for CD....

Nothing brought that home to Calbi like working on Exile, his self-described "favorite record" when it originally came out. "Exile On Main Street was probably the most perplexing one of all" the Columbia Stones CDs, he says. "The master tape sounded so drastically different from the record that was out on the market. I wouldn't want to insult anybody, but the master tape I had was dreadful. It was very muddy and there was very little separation between everything. It was obvious that whoever mastered the album did something magical to it, something which I couldn't figure out. I worked for two or three days on it, and I just gave up. I thought maybe over the years the tape had lost some quality. I couldn't get it to jump out. I did the best I could.

Obviously he was referring to Andy Johns (the magic) but didn't know he mastered the original at Artisan.

James, Dublin, Ireland

Martin's picture

Yes, Andy Johns did the first runs.
I am only guessing that the UK was from the first run(s) and lacquers cut - because the Deadwax markings are missing all the additional letters or numbers on every other Artisan pressing I have seen of Exile. I thought it was a pretty reasonable conclusion to draw. That UK first cut by the way, is more immediate and somehow better, more balanced, has more mojo, whatever than even the original American press.
Which I guess would make sense, having lived with it for so long, close to a year, I would think Andy Johns had a pretty clear idea of how it should sound. Plus he was working with the original tapes.

I don't think Greg Calbi got a good tape. If you have the 1994 Virgin reissue mastered by Bob Ludwig, that gives an idea of what Exile can sound like. Such a shame the vinyl issue of that was screwed up by Virgin.....

gMRfk6LMHn's picture

Thanks for the all the info, I just checked my UK copy and it has this deadwax info...

COC 69100 A2 ROLLING STONES RECORDS ST-RS-722507 Artisan logo
COC 69100 B1 ROLLING STONES RECORDS ST-RS-722508 Artisan logo
COC 69100 C1 ROLLING STONES RECORDS ST-RS-722509 Artisan logo
COC 69100 D1 ROLLING STONES RECORDS ST-RS-722510 Artisan logo

James, Dublin, Ireland

Martin's picture

Lucky you :-)
Play it and tell me what you think :-)
Do you have an original American to compare it to?

gMRfk6LMHn's picture

When I saw the video here that Michael put up, it tempted me to dust it off and give it a spin. It most definitely has 'balls' unlike so much of the junk out there, analytical and detailed but just don't stir me the way an original does. I don't have any other copy, I stopped doing that a couple of years ago because I was running out of space.

James, Dublin, Ireland

Lifer's picture

I have it ripped to my system and in comparison they are similar - the sacd is louder and has more energy especially in the treble - very audible in the piano, the lp has more lower midrange. I prefer the sacd.

My system uses HQPlayer to convert everything to DSD 128, so the dac doesn't see a difference in the two files.

Martin's picture

Right, a while back I wrote something over on the Hoffman forum and I think it’s worth repeating here.

I did something I haven't done in the longest time on sunday. I played all four sides of Exile, back to back, the whole way through. Over lunch etc.
I played the UK first pressing.

A few thoughts. This being one of my favourite records.

I love it. A lot of people denigrate Exile a bit as being, well, not exactly an audiophile gem. Here I disagree. Exile is simply a very mixed bag sonically. Very. With certain tracks suffering from a very dense mix - requiring a very good cartridge to make sense of. Others are very narrow stereo, almost mono.
However.... MOST OF IT - thanks to Andy and Glyn Johns, plus Jimmy Miller are role models for some of the biggest, juiciest, airy, thumping Rock n' Roll sound anywhere. Loving Cup for example has some of the best, most realistic drum sound around. It is weird though, and can be disconcerting playing this all the way through on a good, high end, wide band system, because the sound moves all over the place. Moving from nice wide stereo, to near mono narrowness from track to track. Also, it was recorded in something like four different places, each place leaving its signature on the sound. Side 2 is a good example - it goes from nice wide stereo - Sweet Virginia - to narrow - Torn & Frayed and Sweet Black Angel - then back to this wonderful wide soundstage on Loving Cup. The move from All Down the Line - very narrow stereo, and not particularly good - to Stop Breaking Down - huge wide stereo and great sound - is just plain jarring. I think a lot of people focus on the narrow stereo, not so great, or overly dense mix tracks and paint the whole album that way. The thing is, on a good system, you can hear the wide variation in the tracks. Some are excellent. Have a listen to Stop Breaking Down.

The first UK press sounds the best. It is an Artisan mastering, having the Artisan on all four sides. Comparing the deadwax on the U.S. first pressing and the German pressing is interesting. The U.S. and the Germans have a letter after the number.
The U.S. for example is:
Side 1: ST-RS - 722507 - C CC - 1
with the CC - 1 in much fainter letters than the rest.
Side 2: ST-RS - 722508 - B BB X - 1
with the BB X -1 in much fainter letters than the rest.
Also the handwriting varies from side to side. Like the mastering was done by different people.

The German pressings all have letters after the numbers, either -A , -B or -C. But that's it. Again, the handwriting varies from side to side. And side 1 on the German pressings is missing the the Artisan symbol, but the handwriting is consistent with Artisan as is the "PR" written in.

The U.K. pressing however has just the number written in. But no letters. Just the numbers, eg., ST-RS - 722507 - 10.

It's also stamped, COC 69100 A1 , B1 , C2 , D1.

The U.K. actually sounds substantially better than the others and I'm wondering why.

I am guessing that this U.K. first press is actually the first mastering done of this record, by Andy Johns when he brought the tapes round. He says in an interview he mastered the first run for vinyl himself. I suspect this is it. He did the U.K. run, for the May 12 release date? And shipped the lacquers or even metal parts off to the UK for pressing.

Then the U.S. mastering work was done in the subsequent weeks and months.

That the U.K. sounds better because being the first run of the new record from "The worlds greatest rock n' roll band", it got a LOT of love and attention. This being the one everyone involved in the project was going to keep for their own collection?

Then for subsequent releases it was passed to the people working there at the time, like John Golden or others.

mb's picture

Do you really think Glyn Johns would spend all of that time and energy on Exile, yet then only cut a lacquer - at Artisan in Los Angeles - for UK pressings? And he wouldn't take the extra time to cut lacquers - in Los Angeles, California, USA mind you - for US pressings (the world's largest market, by far, at the time) instead of just letting somebody else do it "a few weeks later"?

Also the additional numbers/letters are meaningless; they could have been written into the mother or stamper by pressing plant personal (as was common).

They could be any number of reasons why your particular UK copy sounds better than your US copy. But your story is among the least plausible and seems largely based on coming up with a story to support your anecdotal conclusion about your very small sample size rather than any actual logic or evidence.

Martin's picture

I do think Glyn Johns did just one lacquer mastering. Then left Artisan to carry on. Like the saying, it's tough to write fiction, fiction has to make sense. Fact doesn't have to.
The UK release was shortly before the US release, so it may well make sense.
In any case, I've got a number of copies of Exile, that UK is the best of the lot. Plus the funky matrix markings without the extra letters and numbers.

Like Sticky Fingers, the best sounding version of that is the original A3/B3 matrix markings with T.M.L. in the deadwax.
Glyn or Andy Johns, I forget who brought the tapes round to Doug Sax at the mastering lab and Doug Sax cut the first lacquers - which were sent to the UK and Europe for the UK and European release. That version is to me, the German pressing of it, the best sounding version of Sticky Fingers. Most of the US pressings I've heard are more distant or not as coherent as the TML first pressings....

It's a weird, weird business.

Hats Domino's picture

WOW! That's bright. They did a ton of top end boosting for this version. Where's the midrange? Thats where the music is. The guitars, drums and vocals all sound hollow.

laservampire's picture

Is it just me or is your spindle not centered?

Hats Domino's picture

I'm guessing it adds to the "rhythm and pacing" of the music, whatever the hell that means.

rbienstock's picture

"Please connect your computer to a good USB DAC and bypass internal playback via Roon, or JRiver or something other than what's built into your computer."

Huh????? What's built into a Mac is iTunes. Are you seriously suggesting that iTunes (the only way to play an AIF file on a Mac is superior to Roon or JRiver? No way in hell!

tzh21y's picture

My favorite track. The CD is actually not bad for this LP