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Craig Anderton’s Open Channel: So…Who Needs “New” Mixes?

Lots of cherished music is being remixed and remastered for immersive music formats, but are those mixes more about the sound than the music itself?

Craig Anderton
Craig Anderton

Reissuing vinyl as CDs certainly made sense. Yes, I understand the nostalgia for the vinyl ritual, the cover art, and the bifurcation into those 20-minute, bite-sized chunks of music. But I’m not a fan of scratches, surface noise, poor-quality vinyl, warped records, inner-groove distortion, turntable rumble, RIAA filters, and cleaning the suckers before playback. Digital works for me.

But then the slippery slope began. Hey, why not “remaster,” not just “reissue,” the music? After all, our technology is soooo much better now! However, many of those remasters sounded like misfires to me. Some were made brighter, some were maximized, and some suffered other indignities from well-meaning engineers who wanted the music to have a more “contemporary” sound (occasionally defined as “music with zero dynamic range”).

The reissues sometimes included outtakes you might listen to once, which seemed more like a way to pad the CD’s length than serious fan service. After all, when someone has a connection with a song, it’s that song—not a lo-fi version recorded during a rehearsal.

At least the remasters/reissues had now been converted to the CD’s “perfect sound forever” format. The odds were good they would survive for at least a decade, and being digital, you could make a backup copy.


But then the slippery slope got more slippery, with remixes that messed with fans’ memories. There’s no denying that the 2017 remix of Sgt. Pepper’s was done with care and respect, and exposed the music in stereo with a previously unheard clarity. Regardless, reactions in discussion groups ranged from, “This is the best Sgt. Pepper’s has sounded. It has a fullness to it, and the voices and instruments are properly centered and mixed” to “I think it is abrasive. Bass does jump out of the mix, very irritating. I think it sounds almost over-modulated and I quit on it halfway through.” And another: “Harsh, loud, trebly, booming bass, more detail but hard to listen to.”

They were all listening to the same music. Why the difference?

I think it’s because music is inextricably linked with memory. In the immortal words of Herman Cain, “I don’t have facts to back me up,” but I would bet those hearing Sgt. Pepper’s for the first time would prefer the remix. Those hearing it for the hundredth time might feel it’s not quite right.

Then the slope became even more slippery with Dolby Atmos.

Sgt. Pepper’s was the first major project to be remixed for Atmos. It was designed to be played at live listening events, in Dolby Atmos theaters. But according to an article in The Verge, Giles Martin, who produced/mixed the immersive version, stated, “I’m gonna replace it. It’s good. But it’s not right.” Specifically, Martin said it “seems to lack a bit of bass and a little bit of weight behind it.” He further explained that “Sgt. Pepper’s is a theatrical mix that’s then being converted into a smaller medium…I’m gonna go back to the theatrical mix and make it into what’s called near-field Dolby Atmos, as opposed to the cinema Dolby Atmos. It’s a bit bright. It’s a bit digital. But again, I’m gonna replace it, so that’s cool.”

So, here’s my question: Who are remixes for? With Atmos, Sony 360RA and DTS:X working their way to consumers, we need to ask this question before we travel any further down the increasingly slippery slope.


I believe casual listeners, no matter how much they love and listen to music, hear it differently from musicians and engineers. Consumers hear music more as a wash of sound, compared to the pointillistic tapestry that audio professionals hear. This point was driven home when I played a work-in-progress to a music-loving friend. She said, “It sounds finished to me.”

I realized that for her, it was finished. The vocals, drums and bass were finished, and the other instruments were in place. The music gave what she wanted to hear from a piece of music. I heard EQ and automation tweaks I wanted to make, some glitches to clean up, and hand percussion parts we could add to flesh out a couple sections.

She didn’t care. I realized she was listening to the music. I was listening to the sound.

“Immersive audio” (can’t we just call it surround?) doesn’t, or at least shouldn’t, change the music. It changes the sound, and if done well, can enhance the experience. But ask Giles Martin if it’s always done right. This is a new world, and we haven’t found our footing quite yet.

Atmos remixes are more about the sound than the music. Worst case, it’s a cash grab that may have some sonic appeal for people raised on MP3s, or it massages an engineer’s ego. Best case, it more accurately reflects an artist’s original vision that was limited by the technology of the time. But the only board that can pass judgment on remixes is the board of caveat emptor.

If elected Emperor of the Music Industry, I’ll mandate a two-year moratorium on Atmos remixes of existing material. All Atmos projects would be for new music only, and musicians could apply for grants from streaming services to create mind-boggling Atmos projects. I believe that’s what will convince consumers to jump on board with surround—not creating new versions of music that conflict with their personal, cherished memories.