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Parlophone respond to David Bowie ‘Berlin’ box set mastering criticisms

David Bowie / A New Careeer In A New Town 1977-1982 / 13LP or 11CD box

In the last few days there has been mounting criticism from some of the audiophile community about perceived mastering errors on Parlophone’s new David Bowie box set A New Career In A New Town.

In terms of specifics, criticisms levelled include the following points:

  • There is a volume drop during the title track of Heroes at around the 2.50 mark
  • Low has a rather overcooked bass-heavy remastering which spoils side one, in particular.
  • Various issues with the Lodger remaster, including a similar increase in bass some tape/noise flutter being present and an incorrect fade-up on the beginning of Red Sails

Not everyone complaining has problems with all of the above, but there is a general consensus that given the status of the iconic track, the Heroes issue is disappointing and rather puzzling. The accusation is one of sloppiness; lack of quality control.

In fact, the strength of feeling is reflected in the reviews on Amazon UK, many of which bring up these issues. There have been enough complaints for the UK arm of the online retailer to actually stop selling the CD box set for the time being (it’s still available from third party sellers) so this issue is obviously of concern to the record label.

SDE put these criticisms to Julian Stockton, David Bowie’s publicist and and as a result I was invited to Warner’s London HQ this morning to discuss this issue in some depth, with Julian and Tim Fraser-Harding (President, Global Catalogue, Recorded Music for Warner Music Group).

‘Bottom end’ on remastering

During a conversation that lasted close to two hours, the team stressed how much time and energy had gone into both getting the music and the presentation of this set right. I was told, for example, that over 50 vinyl test pressings for just one of the albums in A New Career In A New Town were checked. In terms of the issue around the mastering and the additional bass or ‘bottom end’ on albums like Low and Lodger, the point was strenuously made that Tony Visconti has never been involved in remastering these albums before, and what you hear on these new remasters is how he always wanted them to sound. Back in the 1970s, there was only so much bottom end you could deliver, due to the limitations of vinyl, but this was an opportunity to address that. Visconti of course, was the producer of all four records (Low, Heroes, Lodger and Scary Monsters) and therefore ‘in the room’ when they were being made. He has the credibility to make this call, even if the sound isn’t to everyone’s taste (or what they are used to via previous remasters). This approach was discussed with Visconti and agreed on beforehand. In other words, the object was never to make these sound as much like the original vinyl pressings as possible. Warner Music/Parlophone categorically reject the notion that these sound differences constitute any kind of error or fault with the box set.


Heroes ‘change in volume’

In terms of the problem on the title track of Heroes, it was explained that this is down to an issue on the master tape. It was stressed that for all four albums, the label went back to the original analogue master tapes for new digital transfers (done at 192/24). The issue on the master tape of Heroes is described as a ‘loss of energy’ on that title track that starts at around the 2.42 mark, and lasts for about four or five seconds. Parlophone stressed that they were very keen to maintain the integrity of using the original master tape. So rather than ‘fly in’ a section from another tape generation or source (such as a safety copy) they kept to the original master tape transfer and the track Heroes was given a boost of high frequency during the period of this loss of energy. When this high frequency boost finishes (around the 2.50 mark) the effect creates the impression of a drop in volume but Parlophone insist that this simply isn’t the case. The level is consistent with the start. Again, Warner Music/Parlophone reject the notion that this disc is in any way faulty. You are listening to the original master tape with this slight frequency adjustment for a short period in the middle of Heroes to correct an issue inherent with the master tape itself. I asked why this issue on the master tape hadn’t come up before and was told that it was probably because this was the first time in a very long time that the original master tape was being used and no-one knows when the issue with the tape may have come about.

Tape hiss etc. 

Warner Music / Parlophone emphasised that there was no de-noising at all on any of the remasters within this box set any hiss present is as per the original master tapes.


Above is a summary of the issues discussed at the meeting, but below you can read a statement in full issued by Julian Stockton, David Bowie’s publicist:

“DAVID BOWIE A NEW CAREER IN A NEW TOWN – HEROES

Concerning ‘Heroes’ what fans are hearing is not a level drop. This is, through mastering, an attempt to resolve an issue that exists on the original master tape.

On the flat unmastered transfer, there was a temporary loss of energy on the track just before 2.50. During the album mastering some high-frequency automation (in the region of +- 6dB) has been added in order to compensate for this. So to clarify, there is not a drop in volume, there is a high frequency boost for a couple of seconds at the loss of energy which then returns to normal and the track continues to the end at a level consistent to the start.

As the co-producer of ‘Heroes’ Tony Visconti, was both fully involved and approved the remastering of this and all original albums within the set.

DAVID BOWIE A NEW CAREER IN A NEW TOWN – REMASTERING

The albums contained in A New Career In A New Town are how Tony Visconti, who was not involved in past remasterings, always wanted them to sound. He was previously hampered by the restrictions of vinyl regarding the bottom end.

Any tape hiss on the albums comes straight from the original analogue tapes. For A New Career In A New Town, there was no de-noising as had happened on the previous remastering of these records. The hiss is far more true to the sound of the original analogue tapes which Bowie and Visconti would have heard when making the record.”


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461 Comments

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Paulg

Does anyone know if the versions on HD tracks are the fixed versions or the original versions.

John Marshall

I emailed them today and got a response within hours
I was looking for Vinyl

The offer for replacement discs of “Heroes” from the David Bowie box set “A New Career In A New Town (1977-1982)” has now come to an end. However, the version of the album with the updated “Heroes” is available from all streaming and download services, as well as on individual CD and LP via all good physical outlets.
Kind regards,
Warner Music Customer Services.

Now disappointed I might have to purchase 3 albums. I’m going to contact DavidBowie.com and see if they will help…

[…] In A New Town box set. This issue was well reported on SDE (you can read the initial coverage here, and then peruse the follow-up post) and resulted in the record label offering CD or vinyl […]

JonesTWorth

God, you people complain a lot.

michael

genius in, garbage out.

F. Ger

I did receive my Heroes replacement cd.Thank you to Paul Sinclair and everyone on the forum.

Tim

I received my “heroes” replacement cd today. Haven’t seen any mention of any others getting theirs, so don’t know if I’m early or late with this news.

Dave B

I received my replacement cd today..

F. Ger

Sami,thanks for the update,can you provide the email address you received the response from?Still trying to contact them with no response

Sami

For some strange reason I Still haven’t received my replacement cd and lp.
I sent my info to them on the first date that the replacement-program was announced december 8th.
After then I’ve received few emails, I understand that they originally somehow tried to lessen the mistake, by producing only small quantity of replacement.
They only sent email that they were waiting for more them to be produced.
Still, I wonder, how did they originally decide to prioritize on when and where they would send the replacements, since there’s some people who have gotten their many weeks ago.
Something not quite right there and they should be ashamed and actually compensate this harm much better.
Last email was on january 31, where they said that I should ask the whereabouths of the replacements in 2 weeks time again, so I sent them email, another, and yet another but no reply.
Right now I won’t believe any explanations from them, as they should have handled this thing more carefully. It’s now almost 5 months since the boxsets were released and most of us still haven’t received replacements.

F. Ger

Sami,thanks for the update,can you provide the email address you received the response from?Still trying to contact them with no response.

Mad Earwig

F. Ger

The email is heroes@wmgcustomerservice.com

You will need a copy of your receipt

F. Ger

Can anyone on the forum provide an update on the corrected Heroes cd? I am trying to reach David Bowie website to inquire about how to receive the replacement disc but have had no response from them.Any help would be greatly appreciated.Thank you.

F. Ger

I’m having trouble getting a response from the David Bowie website on how to get the replacement cd of Heroes.I have emailed them four times in last two weeks with no response.

[…] is the ‘new’ version – it will not feature the controversial sound issue on the title track that blighted the editions within the box set. It will be the same as the […]

Phil

Received my replacement vinyl copy of “Heroes” from Parlophone in the post at work today. It’s just the LP in an inner sleeve, no outer sleeve, posted in a brown cardboard package. Just need to get it home in one piece to see how it sounds…

F. Ger

Hello,

Has there been any word on the replacement discs yet?Any update would be appreciated,

Thank you-

Paolo

Hi Paul – any news on the replacement disc and how to get it. Will Amazon customers just be sent it based on who purchased ? Thanks

[…] In late September Parlophone and Rhino partnered for release of a Tony Visconti-remastered box set of Bowie’s “Berlin Trilogy” (and beyond) albums, and the project’s been getting a lot of press — and not all of it good. […]

phlmarie

Hello Paul

Thanxs a lot for your quick reply !

:-)
Phil

phlmarie

Hello,

Sorry for my bad english, I’m French…

I’ld like to buy the CD Box for Christmas.
But, for the matter, I would prefer to receive the “good” release without errors.

Do you think that the new sold boxes are ok ? (for example, those sold by Amazon)
Is it a way to make the difference between the two versions ?

Thanks for your help,
Cheers,
philippe

F. Ger

Thank you for the update-

Mijacmad

New 24bit found available today is glitch free. Replacements possibly incoming.

scat-man-biddle-pants

So, if we are to believe Parlophone’s statement regarding the “error” – everything after the rise in volume should be exactly the same as it was on the version with the error (as there is only a perceived drop in volume rather than a real drop). So if they get rid of their +-6db thinger-me-jiggery “fix” for the “loss of energy” the volume after that point will not sound quieter anymore, without having to do anything to the track after that point. Is that the case? I hope that it is – as telling porky pies to your customers isn’t a very good thing to be doing.

I assume they haven’t done anything about the loss of dynamics due to over-compression, though, have they?

David

Hi Paul – any news on the replacement disc and how to get it. Will Amazon UK customers just be sent it based on who purchased ? Thanks

David Fisher

Use heard the glitch – ouch! I’m a sound engineer and musician and would go crazy if any recording of mine was put out with such an error. Why didn’t they patch it from a snippet from a second generation tape? No-one would ever know.

Jimi Fletcher

“Heroes” the LP is 40 years old today! Play your copy! Even better, with the new version you can, at 2:50, truly turn on, tune in and, ahem… ‘drop out’.

Joseph

Is there anything wrong also with vinyls and High Res FLAC versions of this box set?

Wayne Klein

The vinyl uses the same digital source so, yes.

Marien

Paul there is an appologie from Parlophone.
There wil be an replacement for Heroes.

See the official David Bowie site.
Thanks for all,
Marien

[…] aren’t going to go away, that’s a much more subjective debate, as the 400+ comments in last week’s post will attest. But there was no getting around the problem on Heroes. If you take their comments last […]

Lee

Has anyone asked Eno about all this tomfoolery?

Uncle Arthur

It’s back on sale at Amazon UK Prime for £99.99 in stock.
Seems they have amended the product description to make a virtue of the analog transfer & mastering flaws / mistakes
in the light of Parlophone rebuttals…?

“Product Description
“DAVID BOWIE A NEW CAREER IN A NEW TOWN – “HEROES” Concerning “Heroes” – what fans are hearing is not a level drop. This is, through mastering, an attempt to resolve an issue that exists on the original master tape. On the flat unmastered transfer, there was a temporary loss of energy on the track just before 2.50. During the album mastering some high-frequency automation (in the region of +- 6dB) has been added in order to compensate for this. So to clarify, there is not a drop in volume, there is a high frequency boost for a couple of seconds at the loss of energy which then returns to normal and the track continues to the end at a level consistent to the start. As the co-producer of “Heroes”, Tony Visconti was both fully involved and approved the remastering of this and all original albums within the set. DAVID BOWIE A NEW CAREER IN A NEW TOWN – REMASTERING The albums contained in A New Career In A New Town are how Tony Visconti, who was not involved in past remasterings, always wanted them to sound. He was previously hampered by the restrictions of vinyl regarding the bottom end. Any tape hiss on the albums comes straight from the original analogue tapes. For A New Career In A New Town, there was no de-noising as had happened on the previous remastering of these records. The hiss is far more true to the sound of the original analogue tapes which Bowie and Visconti would have heard when making the record.” ”

So the corporate line is, “It was intentional, this is how it should sound…!!!”

Now I would not be surprised if this is in order to refuse any more partial refunds….????

JWL

An interesting article here on the Bowie box from the buy who headed up the Ryko Bowie campaign
http://www.jeffrougvie.com

F. Ger

Very good article by Jeff Rougvie,thanks JWL.

Bevan James

Music A+
Box, CD Packaging, Book etc A+
Mastering E-
Parlophone Response to Fan Criticism F

Will

I thought I might chip in with my impression of the new Bowie boxset. I did not pick up on that “Heroes” misstep but certainly went back and listened to it. It’s definitely there and I don’t think they corrected much. From there the recording never seems to get back to it’s building energy as we all know that’s how “Heroes” goes.
I do have another complaint and I believe it’s worse. I’m not digging that Lodger remix. Some of that reverb stuff is pretty cheezy and I could never see Bowie ever going for that. And the remaster of Lodger is pretty nondescript, it’s almost nonexistent. I’ve seen the improvement of remastering elsewhere in the boxset series where there is better clarity and a sharper sound. This seems to be missing from the Lodger remaster. It’s almost like they’ve dumbed down the Lodger remaster in order to point up the Lodger remix. Again which I’m not impressed with. Possibly Tony Visconti was going to have a bigger role in the upcoming boxsets and they want to promote his contributions to make them more marketable in following releases? I’m not trying to be critical of TV but I really feel the remaster was purposely left flat. There’s plenty of clarity in the Lodger remix, that should be readily apparent in the remaster then if the remix has it and it does! Does anyone have any similar thoughts?

Andy

What are the odds that Parlophone will put out a stand-alone, ‘fixed’ edition of Heroes? It’ll placate those ngry at the dropout debacle, plus it’ll mean more money in the label’s coffers. Cynical much?

F. Ger

I should have said the best way for Parlophone to respond to the criticism would be in a truthful way.Sorry.

Robert

Thank you so much for this in depth article!!

F. Ger

this is a really good forum for discussion,however,the only thing that one could consider “blasphemous” about this box set is the remaster of the album “Heroes.” Mistakes happen,the important thing would be for Parlophone to address the criticism of the “Heroes” album in an objective way.I am enjoying the original “Lodger” very much.

Diego Zapple Imperatore

Hi Paul. So your opinion about Heroes? You’re happy with it?

Seth Hollander

If I wasn’t so damned open-minded I would call you blasphemous for that!
Over the years my Bowie collection has always contained something that for me that transcended mere music listening and induced spiritual feeling and sustenance.
Starting with side 4 of the Ziggy Sdtk album in the early 80s (my early teens) to side 1 of Scary Monsters (college/late 80s) to Station To Station (CD, no sides!/San Francisco, 90s) to a simple tonic, extremely concentrated, of “Heroes” (album version, Live Aid version, Freddie Mercury Tribute version).
I was so excited about this box that I almost bought it despite successfully not buying the first two.
If it had been any other song disfigured, I would have spent the money anyway.
Imagine saying “It is a great release of Sgt Pepper’s LHCB, despite the error in “A Day In The Life”!”

Uncle Arthur

.. as an aside, I recall the hunt for some of the missing The Move master tapes
about a decade ago.
The team involved wrote that during the search they found tapes of other important artists
stored uncared for in the most deplorable conditions.
If I remember correctly, Bowie tapes were among them…???

We’re lucky so many tapes still survive at all, and were not discarded completely after transfer to that new modern Hi Tech audiophile DAT format…

Uncle Arthur

Observing the extreme hissy fit reactions to merely a flawed box set…
makes you wonder how some of these over dramatic people would cope with a genuine problem in life…!!!???

[Ok, I admit I sulked for weeks after my parents refused to let me have the money to bunk off school for an afternoon to go see Bowie at Taunton Odeon]

So right now I now own a bodged CD remaster of one of Bowie’s better post Ronson LPs.
It may or may not eventually get sorted by Parlophone.
Hope so.. but if it doesn’t, life goes on…
Far worse things occur in life at our age, like gout and piles….
.. and those are just two of the least problems we might have to contend with……..

Chris Squires

I had my first tooth out last week and that hurts way more than a box-set that isn’t quite perfect. Hopefully I can stave off the ailments you mention for a tad longer.

Nigel D Day

Well I’ve tried 4 times to get Amazon to pick up my damaged, unwanted box. They keep telling me a courier will be out the next day but no one has turned up I’ve given up now and cancelled my Amazon account. The Bowie box I’ll sell as separates on eBay.

Anyone got any recommendations as to who I can buy my vinyl/CDs from now ? Anyone reliable ?

Nigel D Day

It’s not the first time they’ve screwed up orders. 4th time this year.

Mar Wolfgang

Hi Paul,

when you began this site a few years back, the comments were much fewer. Now, your site deservedly attracts more viewers and hence more comments, like this section. I wonder if it would be possible to change the order, i.e., having the latest comments showing up first so one does not have to scroll all the way down to see the newest comments. There maybe pros and cons of each order but I do believe that the articles receiving most attention would benefit from the change of order. This is especially relevant when browsing the site on a smartphone.

J

Paul
Yea that would be super nifty. Particularly in a post this long.
Best of luck
J

Michel Bendichou

“Parlophone stressed that they were very keen to maintain the integrity of using the original master tape”

What a load of nonsense. The objective is surely to accurately portray what was intended and not reproduce clear errors. Plenty of instances of companies selecting the best parts of masters to reissue and surely Parlophone had access to more than one master.

Glad I didn’t waste my money on this.

Andrea

There’s at least one thing I really don’t get: if one of the purposes of this remaster was to overcome “the limitations of vinyl”, what about the vinyl version of the new set? Was it mastered differently than the cd version?

This, together with the “loss of energy” fixed with an added “high-frequency automation” resulting in a perceived drop in volume when the added frequency ends (couldn’t they just leave the “loss of energy” be as it was in the first place, since the result seems to be the same?), makes it seem like they’re bs-ing us, big time. And quite shamefully if I may say so.

As the co-producer of ‘Heroes’ Tony Visconti, was both fully involved and approved the remastering of this and all original albums within the set.

Ben

Honestly, while I obviously understand many audiophile’s frustration with certain remasters, there is a point where it starts to transcend into fanatical nitpicking over details that only become noticeable with ultra-advanced audio technology that no normal person could get their hands on without selling an arm and a leg.

True, a bad remaster is a bad remaster (look at the 2007 Genesis remasters/remixes, or the 2010 remaster of Supertramp’s “Breakfast in America”, which had extreme amounts of compression), but at the same time, when you’re trying to refurbish and remaster stuff recorded more than forty years ago, you’re bound to run into issues that cannot be avoided, regardless of how the music was recorded or produced originally, because things age and decay over time.

And luckily, at least we had the original producer on hand to make these particular remasters, versus handing them off to some random person, who may not understand the needs of the individual pieces of music.

Interestingly, I rarely see this sort of intense nitpicking and debate in the classical music genre, which seems to have generally good audio. Probably because of the nature of classical music versus pop music, since recording a Beethoven symphony or a Shostakovich string quartet is going to present radically different challenges to recording stuff like The Beatles or Led Zeppelin, or Muse or Coldplay or Katy Perry or what have you.

Also, on a final sidenote, I personally felt the mastering on Blackstar was quite good. It managed to have a decent kick to it, without tripping into ear-bleeding territory, and was able to capture the dynamics of the jazzy style of the music (particularly on Lazarus and the title track, which are both masterpieces). Also, it’s entirely possible that Bowie might have chosen a more dense mix on some songs deliberately. Who can say.

F. Ger

Yes,maybe we could get a new and corrected remaster of the entire “Heroes” album mailed out to everyone who bought the box set.That would be great.

Daniel Lalla

THE PERFECT/CHEAPEST FIX:

Remaster that disc
New copies of the box get the new version
Also press a promotional single of the corrected version (throw in Helden on B side)
Others with the old box get a corrected version of that track on a single by mail and have an EXCLUSIVE BOWIE COLLECTIBLE. PEople will be happy now.

7

“Thin Line Between Love and Hate”?

Uncle Arthur

Nitpicking OCD details aside…
At the price demanded for these box sets, the HD tracks should have been included as a disc or download voucher.

The two HD tracks sets are an outrageous rip off !!!

[ and yet again – incomplete ]

nora

Heroes drop out is ridiculous!!!

J

Amazon USA Update
1) The number of 5 Star ratings sits @ 14% (down 1 point from the previous 15%)
2) The number of 1 Star ratings is now 54% (Down from 61%)
3) I did get to hear this yesterday for the 1st time & I really like the Low mix a lot, the first lodger disc to me sounds better than my Ryko issue, the second Loder disc is definitely different
4) The Top Postive review mentions SDE by name. This a repost and this gentleman’s opinion differs from mine or SDE Paul
5) If all 3 were the same opinion then we would not need @ least 2 of them
6) Heroes is a mess. You think that when the producer listened to the music without the vocal track (which is why they get paid) they would have noticed all the VU meters going spastic. Amazing to me that this would be released to the public
7) The box set itself is beautiful
8) One bad apple doesn’t spoil the whole bunch. On the whole, this is a great set
J

Alexander Supertramp

Only just listened to the ‘pigs ear’ that is Heroes …..the ( 2017 second half recorded in the bathroom with the door closed mix).

The PR guys are missing a trick , simply pull the box set to fix it ……and we will all want to make sure we have our copy of this rubbish for posterity .

[…] first of all you need to take the rest of the day off to give give yourself time to digest the Bowie story and all 374 comments on the post. If you don’t want to do that, the short version is that […]