CD sound quality: original pressings vs regular remaster vs MFSL, etc

I'm expanding my music collections and acquiring/reacquiring many very old works e,g, Cat Stevens, Traffic, Moody Blues, Coltrane/Miles Davis/Brubeck, and some classical and newer popular works as well.

Does it matter much whether the disk I get is "original" older pressing, or a remastered version?  Or a MFSL?

I remember CDs were unlistenable first 5-10 years, but no idea if that was the disk or the players and not sure I'd run across any used CDs that old anyway.

Thanks for your time.
Hi Berner,  I have replaced many, probably most, of my CDs purchased 20-30 years ago with reissues that are described as remasters. Most are much better than the originals.  The Moody Blues classic seven albums have been reissued several times.  The last set I purchased was a project overseen by Justin Hayward. I like them more than my MFSL gold set.  Traffic's "Low Spark" and "Shootout at the Fantasy Factory" have been reissued with improvement heard.  Look for your favorites, and you will find most have been offered again as remasters that are well worth the price.  
Yes it does matter. There are good and bad sounding 80s cds, remasters and hi-res versions of most of the albums you're looking for.  There are quite a few pressings of most popular albums and there is no simple rule to determine which is best.  Sometimes it's the original cd, sometimes a remaster, sometimes a Japanese or German import and sometimes an audiophile pressing.

The best sounding version of a particular album is a frequent topic on the Steve Hoffman Music Forums.  You'll just have to go there and search the forum for a discussion of the album you're interested in.  There's no simple way to do that either.  

When you determine the particular release you want, you can look for it on Discogs where albums are supposed to be listed for sale by specific release (but the listings aren't always correct so you may want to ask the seller to check before you buy).  The Hoffman forums also have a classified section where you can pick up some of the releases determined to be the best.

Good Luck!
Players over the last 10 years are SOOO much better sounding than they were for a very long time. In particular, redbook playback is much better.

MFSL - Really variable. Have a really bad Pink Floyed DSotM. You are better off with older releases.


Good advice as above. There has never been a better time to buy CDs.
If you like the sound of flat transfers, seek out the original pressings.
Reissues and remixes offer a modern sound but watch out for too much compression (loudness). Those MFSL discs vary in sound quality as well. Audiogon is a resource as is SH Forums. Use the search engine to read about your fave artist/title. Discogs is excellent as well. Have fun!

Happy Listening!
CD sound quality: original pressings vs regular remaster vs MFSL, etc

Use the "Dynamic Range Data Base" it’s your guiding hand to the best release copy.

One of the ones you mentioned Moody Blues Days of future passed.
You can see the earlier ones are far less compressed better dynamic rage than the later ones.
I use this as a guide to give me the date (say the 1986) then click on it for the catalog number (820 006-2) West German made, and get a used one on ebay for $10

BTW I have two of this and the 1986 German one is better than the more expensive 1990 MFSL which sounds a bit dull in comparison like they rolled off the highs at 8khz

Cheers George
Just to expand upon the comments from tomcy6, It’s actually easy to search for "best versions" of cd’s on the Steve Hoffman forum. Simply google "best version of ____" whatever title cd and the search will inevitably bring up a Steve Hoffman thread. Once there, posters quite often mention additional threads or other references. I have used this strategy for some time now and have acquired many CD’s using this method. I typically find them on Ebay or Discogs and try to stick to new items vs. used if possible. I have purchased some VG (very good) condition used CD’s and haven’t been disappointed yet. In a few cases the jewel case has been cracked but the CD has been in excellent shape. Good luck to you. Oh wait, I’ve just given away my strategy! ;-)
+1 @georgehifi . I do the same thing. 
And like @falconquest  i Google Steve Hoffman to find a recommendation.

georgehifi has brought up one of the factors to consider. George is a dynamic range true believer. He always likes the release with the greatest dynamic range. There is nothing wrong with that.

Dynamic range is the difference between the loudest and quietest sounds on a song or track. In the 90s and continuing to this day, record companies began compressing music. You may have heard of the Loudness Wars. This is what they are talking about. Albums with too low a dynamic range sound loud and harsh. They will give you a headache or make you want to turn the volume down.

Greater dynamic range is always desirable but, IMHO, sometimes an album with lower dynamic range (but not too low a dynamic range) can sound better due to greater clarity, better mix, etc. It’s one factor to be aware of and you should try to find out by comparing different releases of the same album with different dynamic ranges what level of dynamic range you are comfortable with.

I also wanted to add that you don’t always need to find the best release of an album. People disagree about which is the best and the best may be expensive and hard to find. The second or third best might be good enough and the difference between them and the best may not be as great as the impression you get by reading the SH forums. There are people there that are sound quality extremists. Most people would never notice some of the sound problems they find intolerable.

Again, Good Luck!
Greater dynamic range is always desirable
No it isn’t.
Make this experiment:
Take your most dynamic cd and play it in you car when you drive somewhere.

You will greatly be disappointed that in that noisy environment you will not be able to hear the faintest details you do at home. But you know that they are there and you completely missing them and the performance is more or less gone out of the window.

I did that once and were looking forward to get a treat during my car ride. And wow what I got disappointed.. And I the vise versa is also true take out from your car, for example the lady gaga album Joanne on CD an play it at home in your main system. It is unbearable to listen to in a environment of 30 dB.

In your car the noise level is 60-70 dB..

Yes, it is always desirable to have the right amount of compression depending on noise level of the environment.

That is why we can find a setting called volume level in Spotify that has 3 different states: "quiet", "normal" and "loud" (something like that mine is not in US language).

When we understand what that setting means and do.. it is actually translate to: "no compression", "some compression" and "more compression".
Depending on how noisy your environment are.
optimize, I almost included the road noise point in my post, but felt I had gone on long enough. You’re right, the car is a good place for lower dynamic range recordings. I don’t think the OP wants to upgrade his album collection for use in his car though.

While I'm at it, let me recommend getting a streamer and DAC and a subscription to Qobuz or Tidal, as an alternative to replacing your album collection.  Both have a free one month trial period.  Qobuz has a large number of hi-res recordings and Tidal has a fair number of MQA recordings.  You can listen to a lot of hi-res music for $15 to $20 a month and when you decide which albums you really want a physical copy of you can seek out the best version of those.  It might save you some time and trouble.
What matters most is the dac these days, not the transport. A very good dac today can make a lot of the old cds sound much better. Some remasters sound better than the original and some the other way around. Get the best dac you can afford and it will make any digital source sound the best it can be.
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If you can find the titles you desire in  HDCD are excellent if your player can decode them.
Great topic for a thread. I have a Marantz SA-KI Ruby and have regular vintage CD's, HDCD, Japanese BluSpc CD's, Remastered CD's, MOFI Gold CD's, SHM-CD, UHQCD's, K2HD's, MasterSound CD's, Canadian SACD, MOFI Hybrid SACD, multichannel SACD, SHM-SACD............

Each sounding different, some great and some surprisingly lousy for their cost. Every person has their opinion on which format they like or think is the best. I'm a collector so I have to try what's out there. Of course there always is the argument people have on specs, file transfer, reading, cd construction material, etc.

I have read discussions in other forms about cd formats and various artists and some agreements are surprising. On one forum the consensus of Bostons 1st album is the original US disc is the best sounding of all formats. The SACD is bright, Mastersound sucks etc etc.

As people have stated here, it's a good time to buy cd's since record prices have gone insane.....

Thanks for all the advice.  Re-entering high end audio after like 30 years.

I just bought an oppo/modwright 105 CD player.

I was going to do the streaming/save all my CDs to HD, but after some brief research it seemed like doing it well was more complicated than I wanted to deal with learning now, though I'll probably hook up streaming to my system eventually.  I've tried the amazon streaming on my iphone and it is convenient (though terrible for searching classical).  I'll check out Quobuz and Idagio when the time comes.

I own a lot of CDs and vinyl. More and more these days I'm just streaming. I have a new DAC that helps things sound good - in general I'd say "near CD quality". It is an MHDT Orchid.
I also think this is a great time to buy CDs - prices are good and seem to be going down. But lately I sometimes scratch my head - do I really need to own a physical copy of this? Dunno. Sometimes yes.
BTW, I kind of envy you that you have that Oppo/Modwright 105. From what I've read it sounds like what I need.
I have the Oppo/Modwright 105d and it is great when you upgrade all the tubes to vintage NOS, however, if I upgrade to a DAC I will be bypassing all the tube glory I invested in, so that won’t help me!

I have a hard disc in my Lincoln and loaded several albums for a trip.  To my discovery I had two different versions of the Police The Singles and was shocked at how much better one version was from the other.  It’s as if one was 2 or 3 clicks louder in volume.  This has proven to be an interesting thread.
In terms of which version of a CD to buy, a general (but not always applicable) rule for playing through good HiFi equipment is that an original CD from the 1980s or early 1990s is preferable to any remaster. The exception is classical music and some jazz where remasters of older recordings are usually better (in classical music and jazz when they remaster they do not add so much compression, as opposed to the ’brick-walling’ often done in contemporary music remasters) .

Most remastering makes things sound better on earbuds and in cars, but not on audiophile equipment. It might sound more impressive on an initial A/B comparison, but your ears will find it fatiguing after a while, and it won’t sound as 'musical'. 
Agree with @duckworp. After hearing some terribly compressed rock CDs on my home system, I set out to find the best quality releases of my favorite rock bands.
I listen mainly to classical and the quality of Redbook sounds so good thru my system, I couldn't listen to the vastly inferior rock albums.

Using the Steve Hoffman Forum and Discogs I researched early releases of Zeppelin, Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Heart (known to be excellent recordings), and others. The first generation of CDs issued 1984 thru 1987 were the best by far. Now that digital playback technology has caught up to the silver discs, these albums sound very analogue-like.
CDs pressed in '84 and '85 mostly came from Germany and UK since the US pressing plants weren't up to speed yet. 

The Zeppelin CDs from Germany consistently had  higher quality sonics than the same albums pressed in the US and UK. These were early and 1st releases. Some Japanese releases were excellent as well, but were usually more detailed and not as musical. 
I grew up in the analogue days (vinyl and tape) so tape hiss is to be expected on recordings. In fact, it's a good sign that the music isn't overly compressed.

OTOH, there are many recordings from the 60s, 70s, and 80s that are of poor sound quality. These are the CDs that remastering was able to improve. Except for remastering performed during the Loudness Wars.

Some of the early CDs sounded sharp/bright because of unstable/jittery A/D clock during digitizing process. This jitter cannot be reduced, like playback jitter, and the only option is to digitize again (if original analog tapes still exist).  
I have a lot of late 60's and on rock in the original vinyl. As time went on and my turntable wasn't hooked up I would buy the early CD releases of the same albums. What I noticed was the early CD releases from the mixed for vinyl masters were mostly horrible. When the same albums' remastered CD's were released I would buy those and for the most part they were pretty good. I especially liked the HDCD versions (I have a player that decodes them). I haven't delved into some of the other Hi-Rez formats so can't comment.

When redbook CD's were released from mixed for CD masters the quality was pretty good (until we got to the Loudness Wars as others have stated) and I think then you were looking for specific pressings, usually from different countries, (also, as others have pointed out). 

I think as time went on improvements in digital recording and playback equipment also played a significant role but I don't know of a specific time frame when there was a sea change that could be pointed to.
As @stilljim stated, some of the early US CDs were incorrectly mastered using the RIAA equalization for vinyl records. These CDs were pressed and sold by retailers. I believe these discs were recalled, but in any event, this hurt the public's experience with the new format.
These albums were then mastered and released using the proper EQ for the digital standard. 

I find one cannot generalize on whether an original, a remaster or a audiophile version of a particular title is the best . I CAN generalize that when the mastering is brickwalled, avoid it like the plague. Sometimes the remasters are simply compressed and LOUD. What is the point of having a format that allows for much more dynamics than the LP to be so compressed? So do not assume just because a title is remastered that it will sound better than the original issue on CD. And there are many audiophile titles that are not as good as their regular issue counterpart. It is all in the mastering techniques and the sources used. It is hit and miss. It may take a LOT of research to find the pressings that you would prefer over the others. (the ones that have been almost universally recognized as the best typically are expensive).

I feel for the "remastered" hype too many times. I have the 2008 Moody Blues remastered/expanded series. They HURT my ears, very harsh and grainy. I have ended up seeking out older issues on many CDs because of my foolish mistakes. 
I have the 2008 Moody Blues remastered/expanded series. They HURT my ears, very harsh and grainy. I have ended up seeking out older issues on many CDs because of my foolish mistakes.
Just like I said above compressed loud s**t, get the one with the most "green squares" (usually the oldest) click on it for the cat no. search it on ebay for a $5 used one.

Cheers George
I have several Moody Blue remasters on CD and they all sound great.  Should not be hurting the ears if all is well.  
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THe original CD master of "The Present" CD by The Moody Blues is particularly bad.    The remaster fixes that.  Night and Day.

I recently found there is a disc from Japan called Blu-spec and Blu-spec2.  Both produce redbook CD using Sony blue-ray production equipment and have been available since 2008.  The process was improved in 2012.  As an experiment I purchased the same most recent  remastered version on regular CD and Blu-spec2 of Blizzard of Oz by Ozzy Osbourne.  The regular CD new was $7 and the Blu-spec was $23.  The difference was night and day.  Like Tommy Lee Jones said about the disc in the original Men in Black movie "Oh well, I'm going to have to buy the White Album again".
THe original CD master of "The Present" CD by The Moody Blues is particularly bad.   The remaster fixes that. Night and Day.

Mapman I haven't got this at all and there were only two, but I find it hard to believe it after seeing how compressed the remaster is.

Cheers George
I like both Blue-spec and MoFi ok, as a rule. I tried comparing the Blue-spec and Mofi versions of Billy Joel's Turnstiles CD.

The Blue-spec was Wayy open way more than most. The vocals sounded ok, but not like the original vinyl back in the day. A sort of nice, if over-hyped, uber-detailed kind of sound overall.

But, the Mofi was comparatively more closed in sounding, almost comparatively plain sounding at first. No uber detail. But, it sorta took me awhile to understand what it was I had in front of me, exactly, by way of the comparison, since the two masterings were so plainly different in character.

After a few listens, I could tell that the Mofi version was vastly more in line with what I could recall from the LP. If anything, the Mofi was faintly more closed-in than the LP, but that might be the only difference other than a slight improvement to everything overall (my tt setup back in the day was modest).

By comparison I had to conclude that the Blue-spec mastering was Way off, so much that it seemed tonally 'stretched' somehow so that the vocals were no longer accurate. It seemed to have slightly more dynamics to the vocals, that uber detail and "air" and "space" in spades. But, having heard the original vinyl before, I could tell that the sound was all 'spaced out' just too bizzarely to be the real thing. I know for one thing, that whatever studio sound Joel was aiming for, it probably was Not something as hyper-real or as somehow psychedelic as the Blue-spec edition. Not for this material. Nor in the rest of his albums.

But, I can almost see someone being tricked into thinking that that version of the album was superior, since some of its sound characteristics are seemingly better in the head-to-head. But, I'm glad in this case I'd already heard the vinyl, otherwise the comparison, with no guide, might have had me confused for some time.

But, like others, I just don't put much stock in the recording-house/label technologies - it may be nice, but none of that matters if the mastering/remastering is no good.
I suspect what the mastering/remastering issue comes down to is not so much a technical decision as it is a business decision. Like the way Rhino seems to treat the Stevie Nicks catalog, for example. Lots of earlier issues of SN or Fleetwood Mac by them are of quite good sound quality. As well as are their more recent reissues of the same material. But, they know there’s a certain segment of the market that is hounding them for more releases. But, a new remastering of one of the heretofore unreleased titles in that catalog would be just as expensive as one of the original titles they had already released and they could be afraid that the end sales would not justify the expense. I expect that’s because no matter what technology is used, it still takes a guiding engineering "ear" throughout the process in order to come up with a winner of a mastering/remaster. That process simply demands time, knowhow and care, period. And time, certainly in this case, equals money. So, maybe it’s no real surprise that a lot of the more recent SN catalog has all suffered the same sort of audible affliction, that characteristic "Rhino"-type of hardness that on some titles can border on brittleness, for example. As if they were released "down-n-dirty" style just to make a quick buck without risking a loss. It’s a bit like it’s not whether they Can do a good job, but whether they Want to take the time (money) to do a good job versus how much financial gain they can see coming from it. Note that if we’re talking about, say, the Beatles catalog, by way of Apple releases anyway, they are clearly such a perennial favorite and can be thought of in such a financially profitable promotional light, that’s it’s very unlikely that Apple would knowingly take the chance on releasing a dud. With such a potential cash cow as that, they may simply be unwilling to Not do a good job.

Not that any of this is earthshaking news exactly, I just think any technical considerations are thought of within the music industry as simply interchangeable with financial considerations (profit vs loss).
Exactly! Somebody in corporate did a customer survey and found out they were mostly teeny boppers. 👫 Vice Presidents have to eat, too!
The Blue-spec was Wayy open way more than most. The vocals sounded ok, but not like the original vinyl back in the day. A sort of nice, if over-hyped, uber-detailed kind of sound overall.

Blu-spec and other Japanese remasters usually have very good dynamics, but an analytical presentation. With some of these remasters it seems like they are trying to achieve the best specs and with so much detail makes them less musical. I have quite a few Blu-specs that I don’t play anymore. Many standard Japanese pressings sound better to me.

IME, the best Japanese remaster technology is XRCD. It is a product of JVC and involves using a 20 bit sampling rate plus using a glass master in which a laser cuts the pits more precisely than standard CD technology. This provides better jitter control.
I only own 2 XRCD’s due to the high cost, but they sound far superior to other CD remasters. I still prefer finding an early release from the first production run.