Dream Giver - Simple Minds Online Unofficially Remasters

Remaster in The Rain

By Grzegorz Michalski
Comparative analysis of the 1984 and the 2002 edition of the Sparkle in the Rain CD

This is the second comparison I have made between an original Simple Minds CD and its remastered counterpart. The first comparison was on Real Life, and may be found here as Real Life after Life. Real Life was a very interesting case, since it had been recorded and mastered fully digitally back in 1991 and therefore needed no remastering in 2002, at least for the purpose of a CD version. Still, the wise guys at Virgin had it remastered, and a number of interesting findings came out during the analysis. See it all for yourself there.

Here are the findings on Sparkle in the Rain, recorded and mastered analogue back in late 1983, originally released in early 1984.

The first impression whilst listening to the new edition is that it plays by far louder than the old one. This feeling is confirmed by numbers. The 1983 version peaked at -1.57dB in the left channel and -0.83dB in the right. The 2002/2003 edition peaks at 0dB for both channels. This is not yet the reason for the new CD playing noticeably louder, since a statistical human being will catch the difference only if it is 3dB or bigger. Whilst remastering the album, however, the engineer for the remastered series Simon Heyworth must have put the music through a digital hard limiter, a virtual device that compressed all the peaks in the waveforms, so that the average music power increased. The compression itself, given it is applied in a range not higher than 4-6dB, is barely noticeable by humans IF noticeable at all. However, due to the compression the music plays louder in comparison with an uncompressed (or 'unlimited') recording. As my calculations show, the maximum power increased by c.5dB in comparison with the old CD. These 5 decibels are what we actually notice and this is why we say the remaster plays louder.

The second impression, also confirmed by calculations, is that high-to-low frequency balance between the two CD's is different. On the new one, high frequency sounds are more prominent than on the old one. I see two reasons for that. First, the tape used for analogue-to-digital transfer was the actual master tape, not a second-generation tape, and/or some more effort was given to the tape, the tape recorder and the analogue-to-digital converter. Apparently, Heyworth did all the work in Direct Stream Digital (DSD), the digital format that Philips and Sony set up for Super Audio Compact Discs (SACD). For more on the technical issues related to CDs and SACDs please feed your Internet search engine with the following keywords: DSD, SACD, CD, PWM, PCM. As a rule, the fewer colourful pictures there are, the more information you get :) For now, one of the key issues in transferring analogue recording to DSD is that fewer steps are needed in the circuitry than when transferring analogue recording directly to the format used in Audio CDs. The effects are quite nice. The new edition of Sparkle in The Rain has a wider bandwidth than the original one. Take a look at the figure below.

Figure 1. Comparative average frequency plot for an excerpt from Speed Your Love to Me.

The blue line shows the frequency plot for an excerpt taken from the original CD (Virgin CDV2300). The pink line reflects the jewel-case remastered edition (Virgin SIMCD6). Please note that while the blue line goes below the pink one as if they were identical, near the right end of the plot, the two lines go apart. Figure 2 shows that area in more detail.

Figure 2. Further close-up on the average frequency plot in Speed Your Love to Me.

As you can see, the split starts at 20kHz. The distance between the lines at this point is 6dB. Already at 20.5kHz, the distance is 15dB. Starting from 21kHz, the blue line touches the floor, while the pink line is still 24dB above the blue one at 22kHz.

This 24dB difference at 22kHz is why we get the impression that the remastered Sparkle in The Rain plays clearer than the old edition. One more thing is noteworthy here. Since the frequency plot for the remastered CD shows that there is musical content all the way up to 22kHz, then there is a possibility that the analogue master for Sparkle in The Rain goes even beyond that. Alas, we will not hear it on CD. However, I would not be surprised to discover the frequency plot going way beyond 22kHz on a SACD edition of Sparkle in The Rain once it is released!

To convince yourself that the thing about bandwidth is not limited to Speed Your Love to Me, please take a look at two frequency plots taken from Street Hassle, below.

Figure 3. Average frequency plot for an excerpt from Street Hassle

Figure 4. A close-up on the average frequency plot for an excerpt from Street Hassle

Here are some more statistics for Sparkle in the Rain. The average RMS power on the 1983 master is -19.4dB in the left channel and -19.72dB in the right. The 2002 master has the respective values of -13.79dB and -14.1dB. RMS (root mean square) values show what we may call musical power of a recording. The remastered edition of Sparkle in the Rain is sonically stronger than the 1984 edition by some 6dB, thus we no longer need to fiddle with our amplifier's volume knob to make this album play as loud as some pieces of music recorded in the 1990's or later. And yes(!), you have rightly spotted that there is difference between the maximum power increase and the average power increase between the two editions of Sparkle in The Rain. The difference between the two values is some 1dB. This 1 decibel is what we lose in the dynamic range because of the hard limiter. However, if we were not to use the limiter, we would still have a quiet CD in our player. If we want the music to play loud, we have to sacrifice some dynamics, at least on Audio CDs. Perhaps, the masters for use on SACD editions of Simple Minds albums are without this sort of dynamic processing. We shall see in due time.

Now something for the trainspotters. As was the case with the Real Life remaster, the remastered edition of Sparkle in The Rain plays faster than the old one. The 1983 master clocked at 45:03:15. The 2002 remaster clocks at 44:57:43. The difference is roughly 5.5 seconds. If we take the mute lead-ins off, we get some 3.5-second difference, since the new edition has one second of silence at the start of Up on The Catwalk, and the old one had two. Still, this leaves us with some 3 per mille difference in the playing speed between the CDs. Not enough to make any audible difference, but fairly enough to write about.

Grzegorz Michalski
Poznan, 2003-07-30