Hesitation Marks: A Tale of Two Masters – Part 1

Last week, word came via Nine Inch Nails’ official Tumblr that they would be offering two different masters of their latest album Hesitation Marks: a “loud” master and an “audiophile” master. The “loud” master would be the one found on iTunes, Amazon and on the CD itself, while the “audiophile” master would only be made available as a download to those who bought the album via the official Nine Inch Nails website.

Why? Well, as the album’s engineer Tom Baker explained via the official announcement, “The standard version is “loud” and more aggressive and has more of a bite or edge to the sound with a tighter low end. The Audiophile Mastered Version highlights the mixes as they are without compromising the dynamics and low end, and not being concerned about how “loud” the album would be. The goal was to simply allow the mixes to retain the spatial relationship between instruments and the robust, grandiose sound.”

So what it sounded like was that this idea was basically Trent’s way to try and have is over-compressed album and eat his dynamic range cake too; offer a “competitive” loud mix for mass consumption while delivering a properly mastered mix with full dynamic range to those who care.

Sounds great, right?

Well, it would have been, if it wasn’t a damned lie.

Below are waveforms of each track on Hesitation Marks. For each example, the “loud” version is on top while the “audiophile” version is on the bottom.

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The Eater Of Dreams

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Copy Of A

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Came Back Haunted

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Find My Way

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All Time Low

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Various Methods Of Escape

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I Would For You

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In Two

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While I’m Still Here

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Black Noise

As you can probably tell, the differences between the two versions are minute and the “audiophile” version really isn’t much quieter than the “loud” master. In fact, according to the Dynamic Range Database, a website that tracks the loudness of albums, several tracks on the “audiophile” master are actually LOUDER than their “loud” counterparts. I thought the point of the “audiophile” master was to give the songs more breathing room and range? What the hell?

I’m traveling right now and working on a laptop with shitty speakers, so I can’t really speak to whether or not the “audiophile” master sounds any better than the “loud” versions. However, from a completely objective standpoint, it doesn’t set out what it was supposedly created to accomplish, which was to offer a quieter, more complex version of the album.

Once I get home and I can compare the two versions more significantly (and then compare them to my vinyl copy), I’ll probably write more about this. In fact, I know I will, because there’s a lot about their official statement about all this that pisses me off, as well as how they’re selling the album as a whole.

Until then, I’m interested in hearing your opinions about the two masters. Anyone actually hear a difference between the two versions? Or is this all just smoke and mirrors and a heaping pile of bullshit?

UPDATE: It’s come to my attention that some idiotic idiots are reading this under the assumption that it’s some sort of review, and that I used my laptop speakers as a judge of the master’s audio quality (even though I explicitly stated otherwise in this blog post). That’s not the case. Please see my full review for my actual, final thoughts on the master, and why it’s bullshit regardless of its overall quality.

3 Responses to Hesitation Marks: A Tale of Two Masters – Part 1

  • Guy says:

    I’m an angry dork and I’ve decided to judge how something sounds by analyzing waveforms and cross-referencing dynamic range data, not by actually listening to it! I am pissed off about things and assume that I am being ripped off somehow! I breath out of my mouth and live in my parents’ basement!

  • I don’t think looking at a graphical representation of a waveform gives a really good idea about the music. After all – it’s music, you really need to hear it. Also are you looking at the plain waveform or the dB waveform? Even The Cure’s 17 Seconds “looks” loud if you look at the dB waveform. The whole idea of retaining the fuller dynamic range (in the audiophile) would imply that necessarily some songs will sound relatively louder than the mainstream master as the overall “room” is going to be larger. Many of the arguments I have read about this release seem to focus on overall signal amplitude, rather than relative dynamic range. Personally I can definitely hear the difference between the two masters. The audiophile has a lot more detail and dynamic range within and between songs while the mainstream master is mixed to be as loud overall generally. The ironic thing is that when it comes to NIN’s style of music I’m not sure that’s necessarily better (compared to say a Beethoven symphony) but that’s just a matter of subjective taste. It’s all about listening context anyway. Eg If it’s 4AM in my share-house and I’m listening to this I’m gonna put a compressor over the top of it no matter which version I’m playing as I need to keep the volume right down. If you’re listening to buds on a noisy plane, the mainstream master is gonna sound more consistent no matter what. If on the other you’re doing some serious private listening to this album with a nice pair of speakers the audiophile is the better version to highlight the dynamic range.

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