Nine Inch Nails, whose upcoming LP Hesitation Marks was reviewed by Tom yesterday, has been mastered in two different ways, according to the band’s Tumblr. There is the standard, or “loud” mastering (which is what you will find on the CD, iTunes, etc. editions), which “will be preferable [for most people] and [the] differences will be difficult to detect” and an “audiophile” mastering for listeners “with high-end equipment and an understanding of the mastering process.” The latter will be available for free download for people who purchase the album via NIN.com. The Tumblr post assures “[t]he standard mastered version is in no way inferior to the Audiophile Version – we wouldn’t release something inferior as the default. And vinyl purists rest assured, the vinyl edition was mastered to sound the very best for that format. The Audiophile Version is merely an alternate take on the mastering, which some people will appreciate. It’s meant to give a slightly different experience, not denigrate the standard version.” Read more about the mastering from album mixer Alan Moulder and the mastering engineer Tom Baker below.
When we were mixing Hesitation Marks we decided to treat the mastering process in a slightly different way to the usual. Since we had tried to treat every other aspect of making this record differently to how we were used to, it seemed to make sense. We were mixing as we went along with the production of each song rather than at the end, so we thought that once we had a song pretty close we would send it off to Tom Baker, our long time serving mastering engineer, to give it some mastering treatment. Normally you wait until the record is finished being recorded and mixed, then take all the mixes to mastering. But we thought doing it again, as we went along, might make us push the process further and spend more time on mastering rather than rush through it at the end. Whilst doing this we became aware of how much low bass information there was on the record. Since that can define how loud of a level the mastering can be, we were faced with a dilemma: do we keep the bass and and have a significantly lower level record, or do we sacrifice the bass for a more competitive level of volume? The biggest issue in mastering these days tends to be how loud can you make your record. It is a fact that when listening back-to-back, loud records will come across more impressively, although in the long run what you sacrifice for that level can be quality and fidelity. So after much discussion we decided to go with two versions. On the main release Tom did exceptional work to maintain the integrity of our mixes and reproduce the low end as much as possible and still get a decent level, although it’s still nowhere as loud as a lot of modern records. The Audiophile Mastered Version is more true to how the mixes sounded to us in the studio when we were working on the songs. Have a listen, turn up the volume and enjoy the experience!
I believe it was Trent’s idea to master the album two different ways, and to my knowledge it has never been done before.
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.