Category Archives: general

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Loud CDs get played more quietly

Here’s something odd. After my efforts researching the loudness wars, I’ve become more aware of which CDs are mastered for loudness at the expense of dynamic range, and sometimes sought out older masterings of favourite recordings. Yesterday I received a copy of Bowie’s Let’s Dance in its earliest CD release (made in Japan for Europe, often a sign of an early CD). It is far less compressed than the nineties issue I had before. Comparing the two I noticed an odd effect. When playing them, I used the volume control to find a comfortable level. That level was actually quieter, in an absolute sense, on the CD that was mastered louder.

I am not just saying that I turned down the louder mastering to match the volume output by the quieter mastering. Rather, I went beyond that and played it more quietly, because otherwise it did not sound good.

It’s ironic that, for me, the loudness wars have the opposite of their intended effect.

CD swapping with HitFlip

I took a look at the CD swapping site hitflip.co.uk, after seeing it recommended in The Independent newspaper.

Here’s the deal:

Disposing of CDs

You list all your unwanted CDs (DVDs, games, etc). Each one is assigned a value in “flips”, the currency of hitflip. Currently a flip is worth £2.30; CDs tend to be assigned from 2 flips up. If someone wants a CD, they request it, and you send it off to them. You get the value in flips credited to your account. You can’t cash in your flips; you have to use them to acquire other items.

Acquiring CDs

You browse the library for an item you want. When you find one, you request it. If it is immediately available, it is posted to you. You pay the value in flips, plus a cash fee to hitflip, currently £0.79 for a low value item, increasing for more valuable items.

My Hitflip review

I don’t much like it. Main problem: there’s not much immediately available that you are likely to want. The obvious risk is that you merrily post off all your best items, then find there is nothing you want that is actually available. You get stuck with a pile of useless flips.

The problem is that you are not really swapping. Instead, you are selling for virtual money. That’s more flexible than real swapping, but lacks the advantage of a real swap, where you do not approve the trade unless you get something you want in return.

There seem to be several flaws in the hitflip system:

  • You can’t set your own price in flips, you have to accept what the system assigns.
  • There’s no way I can see to describe your item, its condition, special features etc. Everything is just meant to be in good condition.
  • You can run a wish list, but you can’t add items of your own description, only select from the hitflip library which is not remotely comprehensive.
  • Privacy: it appears that you can get anyone’s address by offering an item on their wishlist. I realise that you need someone’s address in order to send them something (duh!). But I’d have thought there should be an approval step. X is offering the item, do you want to accept? If X is new, or has a bad community rating, you might want to decline.
  • Bugs: The system originated in Germany, and I found German language messages popping up now and again.
  • User interface: browsing the library is laborious and the UI overall is not great.

It’s not all bad. It all hinges on finding items you want. If you succeed, you get them in return for your unwanted items at the cost of the fee.

Overall though, I find it hard to recommend.

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The declining price of recorded music

I recently purchased a second-hand copy of Physical Graffiti, Led Zeppelin’s tour de force from 1975.

These sell for anything from £1.50 – £8.00 or so on eBay. Mine was the old unremastered release which usually sells at the upper end of the range, as there are fewer of them circulating and some people prefer the sound.

I was interested to find the original sales receipt inside. The double CD was purchased from HMV in Portsmouth in 1993. The price: £22.99.

Prices have risen by about 40% in that time. So £22.99 in 1993 equates to about £32.00 today.

Amazon UK has this CD (remastered) new for £7.97 – 25% of the 1993 price at HMV.

OK, so bricks and mortar shops are more expensive than online, and CDs are often reissued at budget price. So try a new double CD: Bruce Springsteen’s Live in Dublin is £11.98 at Amazon UK, or complete with a DVD at £17.99, still way below the 1993 price.

It is not just the decline in CD sales that is hurting the music industry, but the fact that they are selling for much less money.

ELP: bombast or brilliance?

From time to time I get an urge to revisit past musical pleasures. The other day it was Emerson Lake and Palmer, and I dug out Brain Salad Surgery, the eponymous first album, and the sprawling live affair Welcome Back my Friends.

I can’t make up my mind about this band. It seems to be a mood thing; sometimes the interesting rhythms, Keith Emerson’s flowing keyboard and Greg Lake’s delicate vocals fill me with admiration. Other times it sounds over-the-top and adolescent.

I suppose in an absolute sense it is more like the latter. Still, I think you have to concede at least moments of inspiration.

Fripp’s Exposure: a reissue done right

My copy of the Exposure re-release arrived today. It’s priced like a single CD but the package contains two, one the original 1979 release, and the second a 1983 remix called confusingly “third edition”.

This takes a bit of untangling. Exposure was intended as part three of a “MOR trilogy”, where part one was Daryl Hall’s Sacred Songs and part two Peter Gabriel II. The original pre-release version of Exposure included several vocals by Daryl Hall, but a dispute over the credits resulted in most of these vocals being replaced by Fripp.

So, the first edition is the version as released in 1979 (no Hall vocals). The second edition is a 1983 remix, as released in 1985. The third edition, new to this release, is the remix but with Hall’s vocals restored. I think the idea is that the “third edition” is to some extent Exposure as it was meant to be; at the same time, Fripp is ever the completist; the contentious songs with the Fripp vocals appear as an appendix and Fripp notes that we can reconstruct the second edition or make our own alternate third edition if we want to.

As for the music, I love it. If you heartily dislike Fripp/Eno noodlings you won’t be much taken by this; yet it is relatively accessible and includes some real songs, not least Here Comes the Flood with Peter Gabriel vocals.

Climate change is a theme; hence “Here comes the flood”. This was prophetic in the seventies; Fripp comments in the notes:

My life changed direction in July 1974 following a terrifying vision of the future. Now, three decades later, I find that I underestimated the extent of radical change that presently underway. In 1974 my response was terror. In 2006 I trust the unfolding process.

Intriguing stuff. And finally I get to the point: in the twilight years of the CD, it’s great to see a reissue done right, respectful of the original, interesting extras, and a high-quality booklet with lyrics and new notes and pix. Recommended.

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