Vinyl Review: Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks




Hesitation Marks came out several weeks ago, so I feel that me reviewing it would be kind of pointless by now. Want my quick take? It’s a good record, a nice return for Trent into the world of Nine Inch Nails, and an interesting change of pace. I like that he’s expanding his sound to include more synthpop and electronic elements, and I hope he continues to branch out and away from the industrial sound he’s known for. “Everything” “Copy Of A” and “Came Back Haunted” are great tracks, with the last really showing how Reznor has grown as a songwriter (while wearing his Gary Numan influences on his sleeve).

So yeah, it’s a good album. You should buy it.

You should just be careful about which version you buy.

As of this writing, there are five versions of Hesitation Marks currently available on the Nine Inch Nails official website:

  • Standard Digital Edition -$12.00
  • Standard CD Edition – $12.00
  • Deluxe CD Edition – $20.00
  • Standard Vinyl Edition – $28.00

All versions are available at most retail outlets, however, if you but the album directly from Nine Inch Nails’ official website, you also get a digital download of an alternate “audiophile” master. When they made this announcement, the “audiophile” version was hyped as being a “quieter” mix, a solution to the overly-compressed, too-loud masters that populate pop music today.

Now, I want you to take in all that information, all the different versions, the different masters, the exclusive nature of the “audiophile” mix. Take your time, go over it twice if you need to.

Because there’s a lot of bullshit we have to cover here.

Let’s start with the deluxe CD edition. This 2CD version of the album comes with a bonus CD that features three remixes of album tracks (including one by Todd Rundgren??). These three remixes are exclusive to the deluxe edition, meaning that if you pay for the more expensive vinyl version of the album, you don’t get them.  If you’re buying the vinyl, you’re literally paying more for less. I get that they wouldn’t press an extra LP with those three tracks, but why not include them as part of the digital download? That would literally cost them nothing to do. There’s only one reason for the exclusion: they want die-hards to buy both versions. I suggest you steal them instead.

But that slight is minor compared to the downright fraud that Trent is trying to pull with the “audiophile” version. As I reported a few weeks back, there’s nothing audiophile about this mix. It’s nearly as loud as the original mix, it still has poor dynamic range and even some noticeable clipping. The audiophile version does have a slight bit more depth than the original master, but not much, it’s barely different. I don’t think that either version sounds bad, as compressed mixes go, the standard mix is fine, but the fact that most people probably won’t be able to tell the difference is enough of a reason for anyone to take pause about the validity of the “audiophile” claims.

Everything (Normal)

“Everything” – Normal Master

Everything (Audiophile)

“Everything” – Audiophile Master

Everything Vinyl

“Everything” – Vinyl Master

Contrary to what Alan Moulder said in the original announcement about the audiophile master, most listeners should be able to tell the difference between a high-quality master and an over-compressed hack job made to satisfy record label idiots. If given the chance, most music listeners can tell when an album is too loud, and if you play an overly-compressed master next to a properly mastered release, I’m willing to bet almost anyone would be able to spot the differences between the two. However, if you made me take the Pepsi challenge with the two masters of Hesitation Marks, I don’t think I’d be able to pick which was which most of the time.

And in case you’re wondering, yes the vinyl version does have a higher dynamic range than the two digital masters, but that’s not really saying much. Also, it doesn’t sound all that great. Hesitation Marks is, at times, a very quiet record, which means a lot of audible surface noise if you’re listening to it on vinyl. Bummer.

Trent used to be one of the good guys, remember? He railed against major labels and told fans to steal his album. He put out an instrumental album and told customers to name their own price. He gave us The Slip for free! While Hesitation Marks is, in my opinion, a decent step forward for Trent’s music, everything surrounding it is a giant step back. He lost a lot of his credibility with this one, I hope he can learn his lesson here and earn it back with his next release.

3 Responses to Vinyl Review: Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks

  • Very interesting. As Reznor’s career has basically paralleled the the loudness war, I’d be interested to see some sample tracks from each of his albums to show the evolution.

  • Maybe the original mixes were already loud? Anyway why do you need to leave the extra headroom for the CD/lossless file format in the first place? I can understand why you need to turn the levels way down for vinyl due to the format’s physical limitations, but you may as well use whatever you’ve got available when it comes to CD – if that’s the style of music you’re producing, which NIN is. As for the actual listening experience as opposed to Audacity screenshots the audiophile version is definitely more vivid, crisper and more dynamic in my experience. A waveform doesn’t replace the act of listening.

  • Brian says:

    Don’t get so caught up in numbers, waveforms and screenshots. It is a work of audio and is meant to be listened to. In listening to it I could here a reduction in distortion and an increase in bass in the audiophile version. Which was the whole point. The louder version has its place when you really want to crank it up but on headphones in a quiet room the audiophile version is a noticeable improvement. Shut off your computer and analyzers and listen. It is music after all and not a math problem.

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