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How Did This Win a Grammy?
Old 18th February 2021
  #1
How Did This Win a Grammy?

So, I picked up a couple new reference discs, because they won Grammies for ‘Best Engineered Album,’ and because they’re in the same sonic ballpark as some tracks I’m working on. For example, Beck’s ‘Colors.’ Sounded excellent on Spotify through headphones, so I bought the CDs and - blam! - nuclear-grade compression. Solid rectangles. Painful to listen to.

How does this pass for ‘best engineered album?’ Maybe it’s just the CDs that got crushed?

I don’t understand.
Old 18th February 2021
  #2
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Jeremiah Sheets's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
I can’t speak for that particular album, but generally I suggest not basing your decisions on Grammy winners. Requirements for entry are limited and it is judged by a peer review of artists and engineers who paid a fee to be a member.

Basically of all the submitted albums that year, that group of people had to give that award to someone and they decided it was that album over other albums.

Again, I don’t know the album. Maybe it’s great. That’s just how the Grammys work. The Oscars are the same, btw.
Old 18th February 2021
  #3
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MIKEHARRIS's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
Peer review...exactly why you have the expectation of quality engineering
Old 18th February 2021
  #4
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Trakworx's Avatar
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Resort Records ➡️
So, I picked up a couple new reference discs, because they won Grammies for ‘Best Engineered Album,’ and because they’re in the same sonic ballpark as some tracks I’m working on. For example, Beck’s ‘Colors.’ Sounded excellent on Spotify through headphones, so I bought the CDs and - blam! - nuclear-grade compression. Solid rectangles. Painful to listen to.

How does this pass for ‘best engineered album?’ Maybe it’s just the CDs that got crushed?

I don’t understand.
I bet the CD and streaming tracks probably have the same loudness.

Maybe it's the difference between listening on your phone/headphones vs professional DAC/monitors.

I've often found consumer systems tend to forgive the harshness of hot masters, and when I check reference tracks in my control room I'm surprised how obvious the limiting or clipping is.

Critical listening environment vs musical enjoyment environment.

Did you try listening to it on Spotify through your monitors with normalization turned off? Rip a track from CD into your phone and check that on your headphones?
Old 18th February 2021
  #5
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I don't know how it sounds on a CD, but listening through Tidal MQA (96kHz/24bit) it sounds squashed and flat, so I guess it's the same as CD. I don't see the mastering credits, but Serban Ghenea mixed it. I tried to listen to whole thing but my ears are tired after 4 songs
Old 18th February 2021
  #6
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https://www.discogs.com/Beck-Colors/master/1250570

Mastering: Chris Bellman, Emily Lazar, Randy Merrill, Tom Coyne.

4 different MEs? Weird. Maybe they compressed it 4 times!
Old 18th February 2021 | Show parent
  #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Trakworx ➡️
https://www.discogs.com/Beck-Colors/master/1250570

Mastering: Chris Bellman, Emily Lazar, Randy Merrill, Tom Coyne.

4 different MEs? Weird. Maybe they compressed it 4 times!
I guess it's the same situation as 4 executioners, all of them pull the trigger but no one can say which bullet actually killed the convict
Old 18th February 2021
  #8
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Hahaha, each of them just added another db of limiting on the previous ME's version.

And regarding the Grammies....all I have to say is: Jethro Tull.
Old 18th February 2021
  #9
Ugh. That's disappointing.

Over the years, I've accumulated many reference discs from that list - and they're technically reliable: Wildflowers, Ten Summoner's Tales, Gaucho, Elephunk, Rage Against the Machine, etc., etc.

But none of these were produced in the current century, and I'm doing more hard rock / electronic rock lately, so I really need to update my library. And, no, I don't trust myself to choose wisely from my own music collection. I know what I like but that doesn't mean it's "good" on every technical point.

For the record, Bob Katz' Honor Roll is another list I frequent, but it hasn't been updated in decades. Too bad.

More recently, iZotope has some blog posts and Spotify playlists that look promising but I haven't poured through 'em all yet. Of course, the one track I jumped on (Polyphobia by Deadmau5) doesn't exist on CD or lossless download - MP3 or vinyl only. Wasted two hours looking for it. But I like that they've segregated some of their suggestions into genre-specific lists. Very useful.

Thanks for the background info. Expectations are adjusted.
Old 18th February 2021
  #10
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For a very interesting exercise, listen to the classical grammy winners over the years. As time has passed, they have progressively sounded less and less like a real orchestra.
--scott
Old 18th February 2021 | Show parent
  #11
Quote:
Originally Posted by Trakworx ➡️
Maybe it's the difference between listening on your phone/headphones vs professional DAC/monitors.

I've often found consumer systems tend to forgive the harshness of hot masters, and when I check reference tracks in my control room I'm surprised how obvious the limiting or clipping is.

Critical listening environment vs musical enjoyment environment.
Yeah, I think you hit the nail on the head. And it's compounded by the fact that these discs I've purchased are more recent releases. Didn't they get the loudness memo?
Old 18th February 2021
  #12
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mbvoxx's Avatar
 
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I suspect being involved in any capacity with The Grammys is a lot about who you are, who your management team buddies up to, and who's palms get greased... and not so much about how good your product is. This is America where everything runs on money.
Old 18th February 2021 | Show parent
  #13
Quote:
Originally Posted by cyjanopan ➡️
I don't know how it sounds on a CD, but listening through Tidal MQA (96kHz/24bit) it sounds squashed and flat, so I guess it's the same as CD. I don't see the mastering credits, but Serban Ghenea mixed it. I tried to listen to whole thing but my ears are tired after 4 songs
Yeah, that answers that. Thanks for taking the time to validate.
Old 18th February 2021 | Show parent
  #14
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lowland's Avatar
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Resort Records ➡️
Ugh. That's disappointing.

Over the years, I've accumulated many reference discs from that list - and they're technically reliable: Wildflowers, Ten Summoner's Tales, Gaucho, Elephunk, Rage Against the Machine, etc., etc.

But none of these were produced in the current century, and I'm doing more hard rock / electronic rock lately, so I really need to update my library. And, no, I don't trust myself to choose wisely from my own music collection. I know what I like but that doesn't mean it's "good" on every technical point.

For the record, Bob Katz' Honor Roll is another list I frequent, but it hasn't been updated in decades. Too bad.

More recently, iZotope has some blog posts and Spotify playlists that look promising but I haven't poured through 'em all yet. Of course, the one track I jumped on (Polyphobia by Deadmau5) doesn't exist on CD or lossless download - MP3 or vinyl only. Wasted two hours looking for it. But I like that they've segregated some of their suggestions into genre-specific lists. Very useful.

Thanks for the background info. Expectations are adjusted.
If it helps and you don't already know it, I've found Weezer's red album (2008) a useful rock reference. Mastered by Dave Collins from 1/2" tape (and who by his account used a fairly light touch as the mixes were in good shape), it has a generous sprinkling of the sorts of sonic cues I look for in the genre at quite a moderate level. Standout tracks for me: Troublemaker and Pork And Beans.

Last edited by lowland; 19th February 2021 at 12:58 PM..
Old 19th February 2021
  #15
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Thomas W. Bethe's Avatar
 
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I used to purchase the GRAMMY compilation discs but found that a lot of them were hyper compressed and sounded really bad. It is too bad that a lot of the music we listen to today is "less than pleasant sounding" and is compressed beyond belief. FWIW
Old 19th February 2021 | Show parent
  #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Resort Records ➡️
Of course, the one track I jumped on (Polyphobia by Deadmau5) doesn't exist on CD or lossless download - MP3 or vinyl only. Wasted two hours looking for it.
FWIW this track is available on TIDAL.
Old 19th February 2021
  #17
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Jerry Tubb's Avatar
 
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Yes, I’ve been on the Texas branch committee (several times) that submits “Best Engineered” recordings.

We listen to around 400 recordings, and submit a list of about 10 of the “Best” to the central committee in L.A.

Then the results are compiled, and the top nominees are listed for voting by the general membership.

It’s a good process that works, and yes, many of the recording were very compressed, depending on the trend at the time.

But also other factors are considered, recording quality, mixing quality, performance, the music itself, and yes... the mastering.

Generally, records with distortion from mastering level, were tossed.

This was 10-15 years ago when i was very active in the Texas Chapter & related boards and committees.

Nowadays, the submissions are played from DAWs.

I’ve always enjoyed the yearly Grammy CDs, they were usually a good reference for trendy hot levels of the day.

Cheers, JT
Old 19th February 2021 | Show parent
  #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Resort Records ➡️
Of course, the one track I jumped on (Polyphobia by Deadmau5) doesn't exist on CD or lossless download - MP3 or vinyl only. Wasted two hours looking for it.
You can buy this track in lossless format on Beatport https://www.beatport.com/track/polyphobia/11491154
I think you need to login, add to cart and then you can select either AIFF or WAV for a £0.50 extra.
Old 19th February 2021
  #19
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illsoulprod's Avatar
 
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Yea, that's not how things work anymore. And you don't buy your way in you pay a fee every year no different to a subscription fee aka chapter dues. And we all only get 15 votes out of 40 something categories so your "winners" as you say are probably voted by the people with a vested interest in that very category because that's how it is now. And peer review is how it's always been so when people complain and think it's some board of overseers it's really not, it's your peers voting within the confines of their ability and work they've done that is up for consideration that year.
Old 19th February 2021 | Show parent
  #20
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hippocratic Mastering ➡️
FWIW this track is available on TIDAL.
Quote:
Originally Posted by elcct ➡️
You can buy this track in lossless format on Beatport https://www.beatport.com/track/polyphobia/11491154
I think you need to login, add to cart and then you can select either AIFF or WAV for a £0.50 extra.
Thanks, guys! That's awesome.
Old 19th February 2021 | Show parent
  #21
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jerry Tubb ➡️
Yes, I’ve been on the Texas branch committee (several times) that submits “Best Engineered” recordings.

We listen to around 400 recordings, and submit a list of about 10 of the “Best” to the central committee in L.A.

Then the results are compiled, and the top nominees are listed for voting by the general membership.

It’s a good process that works, and yes, many of the recording were very compressed, depending on the trend at the time.

But also other factors are considered, recording quality, mixing quality, performance, the music itself, and yes... the mastering.

Generally, records with distortion from mastering level, were tossed.

This was 10-15 years ago when i was very active in the Texas Chapter & related boards and committees.

Nowadays, the submissions are played from DAWs.

I’ve always enjoyed the yearly Grammy CDs, they were usually a good reference for trendy hot levels of the day.

Cheers, JT
Thank you for sharing your experience - I appreciate seeing it from your perspective.

This has me thinking, would anybody like to collaborate on a "universal audio report card?" If we can agree on some fundamental judging criteria, I'll throw together a fillable PDF form and re-share via Creative Commons license. Better still, it could be used as a template to follow in any discussion forum's <cough> built-in polling system.

Just a thought. Maybe I'm overthinking this. Wouldn't be the first time.
Old 19th February 2021 | Show parent
  #22
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roger's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jerry Tubb ➡️
Yes, I’ve been on the Texas branch committee (several times) that submits “Best Engineered” recordings.

We listen to around 400 recordings, and submit a list of about 10 of the “Best” to the central committee in L.A.

Then the results are compiled, and the top nominees are listed for voting by the general membership.

It’s a good process that works, and yes, many of the recording were very compressed, depending on the trend at the time.

But also other factors are considered, recording quality, mixing quality, performance, the music itself, and yes... the mastering.

Generally, records with distortion from mastering level, were tossed.

This was 10-15 years ago when i was very active in the Texas Chapter & related boards and committees.

Nowadays, the submissions are played from DAWs.

I’ve always enjoyed the yearly Grammy CDs, they were usually a good reference for trendy hot levels of the day.

Cheers, JT
Love this post and “a good reference for trendy hot levels of the day” is still bang on in these times (weather we like it or not)! RE this Beck record: the songs are dead cool. Beck’s close-to-mono doubled phasey vox don’t help with the perceived distortion but it’s still a great record. Deserved the Grammy and is definitely a relevant current reference for the appropriate client, surely?
Old 19th February 2021 | Show parent
  #23
Quote:
Originally Posted by roger ➡️
Love this post and “a good reference for trendy hot levels of the day” is still bang on in these times (weather we like it or not)! RE this Beck record: the songs are dead cool. Beck’s close-to-mono doubled phasey vox don’t help with the perceived distortion but it’s still a great record. Deserved the Grammy and is definitely a relevant current reference for the appropriate client, surely?
Agreed. It's a terrific album and for all of your points, why I wanted it in my reference library.

But from a purely technical perspective, I would argue that any award for "Best Engineered" album should be sensitive to loudness and distortion - especially when it's so blatant as to make the recording so harsh.

To quantify, I threw the single, "Colors," through a loudness meter (see attachment) and was surprised to see that the track isn't merely over-compressed - it's actually clipping. Never mind the -4.6 LUFS (!) - true peaks are hitting +0.07 dBTP. That just seems sloppy. And, take a look at the waveforms close-up (other attachment) - they're lopped off.

I guess if we're calling this an "effect" and the "new sound," then I have no choice but to accept it and (maybe) quit my whining, but for better and worse, I don't know that I'll ever be able to work this way.

If it wasn't such a terrific album otherwise, I wouldn't be so disappointed. Seems a shame.
Attached Thumbnails
How Did This Win a Grammy?-beck_colors_izotope_insight_screen_cap.png   How Did This Win a Grammy?-beck_colors_cubase_sample_editor_screen_cap.jpg  
Old 20th February 2021 | Show parent
  #24
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roger's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Resort Records ➡️
Agreed. It's a terrific album and for all of your points, why I wanted it in my reference library.

But from a purely technical perspective, I would argue that any award for "Best Engineered" album should be sensitive to loudness and distortion - especially when it's so blatant as to make the recording so harsh.

To quantify, I threw the single, "Colors," through a loudness meter (see attachment) and was surprised to see that the track isn't merely over-compressed - it's actually clipping. Never mind the -4.6 LUFS (!) - true peaks are hitting +0.07 dBTP. That just seems sloppy. And, take a look at the waveforms close-up (other attachment) - they're lopped off.

I guess if we're calling this an "effect" and the "new sound," then I have no choice but to accept it and (maybe) quit my whining, but for better and worse, I don't know that I'll ever be able to work this way.

If it wasn't such a terrific album otherwise, I wouldn't be so disappointed. Seems a shame.
Agreed! It is a shame. Beck must feel the same way I reckon. He knows what sounds good.
Keeping with the crunchy times I guess.
Old 20th February 2021 | Show parent
  #25
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Adam Dempsey's Avatar
 
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🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by roger ➡️
Agreed! It is a shame. Beck must feel the same way I reckon. He knows what sounds good.
Keeping with the crunchy times I guess.
At the end of the day (or any time of day), the artist approves their master(s).
Old 20th February 2021 | Show parent
  #26
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roger's Avatar
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Adam Dempsey ➡️
At the end of the day (or any time of day), the artist approves their master(s).
Of course. And he’s an artist who’s seen the good old days of the industry when a record deal with a big label and a number 1 hit meant serious life-changing pay-dirt...to now where sales mean nothing but you gotta pull the crowds on tour so you have to keep the kids interested on Spotify. I’m just saying a piece of him probably dies when he does sign them off. Or maybe it sounds great to his ageing, rolled-off hearing! Ha!
Old 20th February 2021 | Show parent
  #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cyjanopan ➡️
I don't know how it sounds on a CD, but listening through Tidal MQA (96kHz/24bit) it sounds squashed and flat, so I guess it's the same as CD. I don't see the mastering credits, but Serban Ghenea mixed it. I tried to listen to whole thing but my ears are tired after 4 songs
Minor nitbit here: Tidal is not 24/96! The MQA format is marketed as high-res but in fact is a lossy compression that yields typically 13-15 bits and 48khz max sample rate. MQA sample rates above 48khz are lossy compressions and/or oversampling. On top of that MQA applies euphonic filters on playback.

Or to put it more bluntly: MQA is a scam. If you want an in-depth look at it's innards see here: https://audiophilestyle.com/ca/revie...cautions-r701/
Old 20th February 2021 | Show parent
  #28
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Hippocratic Mastering's Avatar
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mcgilroy ➡️
Minor nitbit here: Tidal is not 24/96! The MQA format is marketed as high-res but in fact is a lossy compression that yields typically 13-15 bits and 48khz max sample rate. MQA sample rates above 48khz are lossy compressions and/or oversampling. On top of that MQA applies euphonic filters on playback.

Or to put it more bluntly: MQA is a scam. If you want an in-depth look at it's innards see here: https://audiophilestyle.com/ca/revie...cautions-r701/
Yep. I always stick to 44.1khz, 16bit on Tidal.
Old 20th February 2021 | Show parent
  #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mcgilroy ➡️
Minor nitbit here: Tidal is not 24/96! The MQA format is marketed as high-res but in fact is a lossy compression that yields typically 13-15 bits and 48khz max sample rate. MQA sample rates above 48khz are lossy compressions and/or oversampling. On top of that MQA applies euphonic filters on playback.

Or to put it more bluntly: MQA is a scam. If you want an in-depth look at it's innards see here: https://audiophilestyle.com/ca/revie...cautions-r701/
Thanks! I'll stick to 44.1kHz then, it still sounds as good as it gets in streaming at this point
Old 20th February 2021 | Show parent
  #30
-4.6 LUFS on a beck album!

Wow. It’s been a long time since I listened to beck....the “loser/odelay “ days to be exact.

I had no idea alternative bands were mastering this loud ...I thought -4 was the realm of super squashed dance records

I need to listen to this to understand. I can’t get anywhere near -5 with a mix and have anything left of its original vibe I had early in the production phase
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