“Vienna” Gets Ultrabox After 40 Years As Synth Rock Touchstone [part 2]

ultravox vienna box cover art

six discs is a lot of ground to cover

[…continued from last post]

Let’s continue our examination by delving into disc one of the set; the 2020 remastering of “Vienna” from the original Conny Plank 2-track mixdown. We have already discussed what we think of the music. It’s a classic in our personal canon.What we want to know here is how the mastering of the disc stacks up against the history of the title. Fortunately, I have [as far as I know] every mastering of the title over the last 40 years. At the very least I have six, very differently mastered CDs that we’ll look at in some detail, with all important wave forms and spectral analysis graphs. Starting with the very first CD of the title.

MASTERING


1983

vienna 1983 mastering

The 1983 mastering is not very loud, but has a full dynamic range. Also, the master tape was only three years old. >click for detail<

The baseline 1983 1st remastering for CD is pretty tepid like any other title at the dawn on the CD era when engineers were flying by the seat of their pants and had not worked out just how best to master for this new and very different medium. The dynamic range is all there, but you must really be aggressive with the volume on your playback to get any impact out of it. It sounds thin and a bit brittle. But the album peaks at around -14 dB! So it doesn’t sound bad, just weak. There’s almost sibilance on the vocals…it’s right on the line.

1994

vienna 1994 mastering

The sound had new EQ and compression applied here for more kick. >click for detail<

chrysalis 25 edition of ViennaIn 1994 Chrysalis UK released a special series of 25 significant albums to celebrate the label’s 25th anniversary. These albums came in a unique and sturdy, Chrysalis blue longbox that was sealed with a silver sticker showing the album cover. The Chrysalis logo was embossed into the lid of the longbox. As an Ultravox geek with a policy of buying any Ultravox record that I saw [whether I needed it or not] I knew I had to mail order one of these. I was interested in hearing if the title had been remastered. The original I had for 9 years was really thin, as we saw earlier. The jewel box was solid blue plastic with a small sticker of the cover art on the front cover.

This edition had enhanced bass at the expense of some scant high frequency information that, if you’re my age, you weren’t hearing anyway! Overall, an improved and more balanced mastering. The drums sounded better and the EQ and moderate compression made for a more pleasing overall sound, more vibrant without being uncomfortable to listen to.  It peaks at around -9 dB. I heard what sounded like “cello” synths in the chorus for the first time of listening to “Passing Strangers” [the text track] with phones on. But there were still near-sibilant “esses” in the vocal.

2000

vienna 2000 mastering

The 1st DLX RM with bonus tracks had some hard hard limiting applied. >click for detail<

vienna 20th anniversary CDOuch! The first DLX RM of “Vienna” with B-sides [and the “Vienna” video in QuickTime format] was a budget line release in 2000 and the 20th Anniversary edition with a clear hype sticker. It was the best looking edition of “Vienna” yet. Extreme Voice designed the booklet with photos and full lyrics for the first time. But it’s not the best sounding edition of “Vienna!” Hard limiting has been applied to the sound and those drums are starting to sound like firecrackers. It is too harsh for headphone listening. The sound levels peak here at around -0.5dB. Vocals still showing signs of sibilance.

2008

vienna 2008 mastering

2xCD version with less compression but just as loud at 0 dB. >click for detail<

vienna 2008 mastering

In 2008 the “Definitive Editions” of the Ultravox canon were released in 2xCD sets in O-cards. These had the original album plus a bonus disc of supplemental material. Thorough. But ultimately even louder than the 2000 version, with peaks at 0 dB. Another harsh listen. The EQ here eliminated some of the low end that made the 2000 version more palatable. Mastering was by Steve Rooke @ Abbey Road. The first mastering engineer credited for the work here. I disrespect it when I end up buying DLX RMs for the previously unavailable material and the original album sounds like junk, which is why it’s good to keep your early mastered CDs. Especially in the last 20 years.

2020

vienna 2020 mastering

The Conny Plank mix in its latest mastering was an improvement. >click for detail<

Alchemy Mastering have finally given the music some room to breathe in 2020. Peak average hangs around -6dB and at no point do any peaks come remotely near clipping. More low end has been returned to the music, which for analog, electronic rock music, sounds right to me. The EQ selected had tamed the worst excesses of the sibilance on vocals. A glance at the spectral graph reveals that the high frequency info has been rolled off above 15K, but this was a step back in the right direction for this album. This or the 1994 mastering were the best you can hear of Conny Plank’s production of “Vienna.” But we aren’t finished yet.

2020 [Steven Wilson mix]

vienna stev wilson mix 2020

Steven Wilson’s mix has the best mastering you’ll probably hear for this album. >click for detail<

The Steven Wilson 2.0 mix had the most enjoyable mastering of the “Vienna” album out of all of the ones in my Record Cell. It was a warm, rich sounding mix with compression applied with the lightest of touches. Notice that the waveforms peak at about -6 dB, with even the highest peaks just at -3 dB. The wave as shown here has as much dynamic range as the first mastering, but with the added power that the 1983 mastering lacked. A look at the spectral analysis shows that all of the high frequency information that was lost to EQ settings on other masterings was fully present here. And since he had the multitrack to work with, Wilson has [thankfully] de-essed the sibilance. No longer to those consonants cut my ears like a digital knife.


So the history of “Vienna” in mastering for CD closely follows the overall history of mastering for CD at large. The initial, tentative steps to digital were unnecessarily meek at the hands of technicians who had spent their lives mastering for the very different beast of vinyl. The next wave of mastering hit an early peak while pretty much any mastering in the last 25 years could get very harsh as the dynamic range of digital music on CD was compressed down to a fraction of what the medium was capable of holding. And now, in 2020 the tide has turned back to sensible mastering techniques for the first time in a generation. Just in time for CDs to go away!

One thing I found very fascinating about the 1983 through 2008 masterings was that at the end of the track “Passing Strangers” there was strange noise at the end of the track after the music faded out with about noise and hum for about two seconds on each of the versions of that track. Some more pronounced than others, but none bereft of it. It came after the music faded out completely, so there’s no intrinsic reason why it had not been removed until Steven Wilson finally did it on his mix of “Passing Strangers.” I wonder if it was down to the gear/techniques that Plank had used on his mix of the album. And I wonder if it’s there on every track? To be found only with careful headphone listening?

Next: …Steven Wilson 2.0 Mix

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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18 Responses to “Vienna” Gets Ultrabox After 40 Years As Synth Rock Touchstone [part 2]

  1. negative1ne says:

    Mr. Monk,
    thanks for doing this comparison. I have all of them, except for the new remasters. I wonder if the japanese CD’s, or other European releases sounded different. But i will never find out, as i tend to listen to the latest rips of whatever album i get. I know i’ll breakdown at some point in the future when i get the boxset, to see the extra non-music related material. thanks for posting all the pictures, and details.

    later
    -1

    Like

  2. SimonH says:

    Very interesting! I only have a couple of previous versions, but am happy my ears are reliable enough still to tell me the new mix is great sounding. As soon as I put it on I felt a sense of relief and as soon as it finished I wanted to play it again, always a good sign.

    Like

  3. SimonH says:

    Jumping ahead, but listen closely to the live version of Hiroshima and you can hear an audience member shout, ‘bring back Foxx!’ Ouch!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great report. It’s very pleasing to know that Mr Wilson in particular and the box set overall have done a better job remastering than all the previous attempts. I’m already feeling like my money was well-spent on this repurchase of a classic album.

    Like

  5. Blob says:

    I was joking, of course.
    Regards to Warren, yep he seems to have held a serious grudge.

    Like

  6. Alone With Strangers says:

    The 1994 release is exactly the same, content-wise as the 1992 release. Now, the interesting thing here is that the master used for these was the original master (as used for the 1983 CD) with no remastering undertaken (and you can see that in the 1993 ℗ codes on this issue). However, something was clearly done to the master by the time the glass master was produced: it appears to be just gain and some limiting with no eq adjustment from comparing my copies.

    Otherwise, agree that the mastering progressively worsened with the 2008 releases (and 2017/18 represses) being uniformly poor. However since the new wave of UV re-releases has started, we’ve worked to get the best sounding versions out there with clarity, range & quality being paramount (though I admit I’m always keen to hear more of Chris’s bass guitar 😁). ‘Loudness’ is not an objective: if you want ‘loudness’, just turn your volume up. This approach was used on ‘Extended’ in 2018, ‘Soundtrack’ in 2019 and the various ‘Vienna’ releases in 2020/21 and will continue to be used as long as the current team involved (Chrysalis, Alchemy, me) are working on the catalogue.

    Liked by 1 person

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Alone With Strangers – Welcome to the comments! I’m happy to see you here as I enjoy following your informative posts at Steve Hoffman Forums and the official ‘Vox forum. We appreciate all of the good work you do and you adroitly slipped in the slight bombshell of the 1992 issue, which I never encountered, but can now verify… 30 years later! Amazing! We are duly saving our shekels for the RIE ultrabox, good sir.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Tried to reply earlier but it got lost somewhere….

    Thank you – comments appreciated. You can also sometimes find me under my real name on the ‘UV, MU & Visage Collectors’ group on Facebook which is, usually, a decent little community – although it does get the odd idiot there (not that it is unusual for FB) and sometimes deviates too much into Numan territory for my liking.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      alonewithstrangers – The domain you associated with your most recent comments triggered the spam filter. Now that I’ve had a little break from my sisyphian task for today [re-racking all of my 3-5K CDs in alphabetical, chronological order, to use the 800 disc rack that sat there for 2+ years waiting for me to make the shelves it was missing] I looked at the comments and corrected that. I’m not a FaceBoot user so your secret identity will be safe here. There is definitely such a thing as too much Numan, so I feel for you there! I ignore the last quarter century, basically. The NineInchNuman years do nothing for me.

      Like

      • Odd – it’s just a bog-standard gmail domain(?) and I’m logged into WordPress so it sounds like something is up with their spam filters/whitelisting.

        Numan hasn’t developed since 1990 IMHO and everything has sounded the same. Sure, the Tubeway Army material was good and a couple of early solo songs are decent but he does nothing for m otherwise: I simply don’t get it.

        Now, usually when I say that (i.e. I show nonchalance or apathy for the gun-toting Nuromantic’s outpourings), I get attacked by manic Numanoids who can’t help but take anything except bountiful enthusiasm as an assault on their leader. Calm down people: it’s just a comment that he does nothing for me.

        Like

        • postpunkmonk says:

          alonewithstrangers – It’s that multiply.com domain, not the gmail.com domain, that gets tagged as spam. I just looked in the trash and saw this. I even like the Numa discs [most of them, anyway] but even so, a little goes a long way. As an American, we got Numan here ahead of Ultravox. I first heard “Are Friends Electric” and it was a major thing. I had “Replicas,” “Pleasure Principle” [which I thought suffered for the lack of guitars/variety], and “Telekon” before I chanced to hear “Passing Strangers” in Sept. 1980 and that was it. A sea change in my tastes. I’d seen Numan mention Ultravox, but the band were sub-niche in the US until Chrysalis signed them. Having finally heard Ultravox, the bloom went off of Numan for me pretty quickly. Though “Dance” was one of his best it was still redolent of JAPAN/Eno that time instead of Ultravox. He’s just derivative to me. Unfortunately for me, he’s now been derivative of the already derivative Trent Reznor for a generation. Though I will admit that when Foxx retired and Ultravox should have retired, I did look in on Numan for the first time in about five years and listened to him for another decade for my synthrock fix. I saw him live in 1998 in Orlando, Florida at precisely the last moment I might have cared to.

          Like

  8. alonewithstrangers says:

    Fair enough: people are allowed to change their views over time.

    Multiply.com….gosh, that’s a blast from the past! This is the first time I’ve logged into my WordPress account for years: probably not since 2011/12 and Multiply was a service I used for something or other back then. I’ve removed it from my profile so, hopefully and once it has flushed through all the various cache, it should alleviate the issue.

    Like

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