I have just gotten around to fully listening to the new White Stripes album today, Icky Thump. I would like to congratulate those involved in making a great album which is COMPLETELY FUCKING UNLISTENABLE. This album features some of the worst CD mastering I have ever heard -- they did a real butchering job on this one. There is fantastic dynamic range on this album, but all the louder parts on the album clip, distort, and buzz like there's no tomorrow, to the point of giving the alert listener a major headache.
I was curious to know who mastered the CD. I should have guessed that it was Vlado Meller, affectionately referred to as "Vlad the impaler" in audiophile circles. This man is single-handedly responsible for fucking up more albums than anyone else. His master of Red Hot Chili Peppers' Californication is still without a doubt the worst sounding and hottest-mastered album ever. I won't get into the details of this process because I have already written about the problems with current CD mastering at length in the past.
So I decided that it might be smart to buy the vinyl of Icky Thump and do a digital rip myself -- I have all the equipment. Lucky for me someone has already done the work and there is a torrent floating around. Even luckier is that the vinyl was actually mastered by the two best mastering engineers in the business, Steve Hoffman and the lacquer was cut by Kevin Gray. Even better news is that they did it from 1" analogue master tapes. Apparently the vinyl sounds amazing! It's pressed on audiophile-quality 180g vinyl, too.
I keep wondering when people are going to wake the fuck up and realize that this hot mastering does a disservice to music lovers, as well as the artists and engineers who worked on an album. If at the end of the line, the mastering engineer decides to compress the dynamic range or boost the volume levels to the point of clipping (whether they did so on their own will or asked to do so by a producer, the artists, or otherwise), the hard work of everyone else is completely thrown out the window.
I urge everyone to stay the fuck away from this CD. Download the vinyl rip or go out and buy the vinyl. The SH/KG initials engraved on the vinyl will not steer you wrong. It's a throwback to the era where competent engineers pressed vinyl as a labour of love and hard work, and were confident and proud enough of the result that they signed it.
The last bit of good news is that Hoffman and Gray have been doing a lot of great remasters recently on behalf of record labels. Icky Thump is a good one (being their first from 1" analogue tape), but they have recently done the whole Creedence Clearwater Revival back catalogue from the original analogue master tapes. Other notable ones include the Dark Side of the Moon 30th anniversary remaster, Dire Straits, Wilco's latest, Built to Spill's catalogue, Yes' Fragile, etc.
Below are two waveform graphs showing the visible clipping all over the album. Good job, Vlad.