Of all words associated with the digital era, there’s one that is ubiquitous like no other: ‘remastered’. It has become tantamount to a religious dogma, that the works we have known and loved from our analogue heritage are holy treasures, deserving nothing less than to be preserved in æternum, and to that end dusted and polished into a shiny, technicolour, everlasting digital form. Like all religions, though, it is capable of havoc carried out in its name; most conspicuous in recent times is the egregious and shamefully unmusical use of – among other things – compression in the vain attempt at making the sound ‘stand out’ (the so-called ‘loudness war’). This kind of treatment, under the banner of ‘remastering’, is to music what George Lucas has become to his own Star Wars trilogy; something that obfuscates, even dirties, the original, under the illusion that in so doing, one is capturing with greater fidelity the ‘original vision’. Back in 2004, Kraftwerk began their own equivalent mission, returning to the ageing tapes of their earlier albums, cleaning them up and remastering them for posterity. Titled The Catalogue, an eight-disc box set comprising each of their albums in its new digitally remastered form, the release ultimately proved to be stillborn, and the few promotional copies that existed quickly found their way, depending on your preference, either to eBay for a ridiculous sum of money, or to torrent sites for a ridiculous number of leechers. It has taken a further five years for the definitive, further remastered versions of these albums to be released, finally seeing light of day last month.
In both its manifestations, i have approached The Catalogue with the utmost trepidation, as, i imagine, have many fans whose appreciation – and, let’s face it, love – of Kraftwerk’s output goes both very deep and back many years. But before one even gets to the music, certain things immediately start to become clear. Highly conspicuous by their absence are Kraftwerk’s first three albums, Kraftwerk 1, Kraftwerk 2 and Ralf and Florian; there’s a clear view being expressed here that only these eight albums, from Autobahn to Tour de France Soundtracks, form the official Kraftwerk oeuvre. It’s a significant disappointment for those, including myself, who descry in those first three albums (particularly Ralf and Florian) much that prefigures what would follow in the years ahead; the bootleg CDs of those albums will have to continue to suffice for the time being. As far as Ralf Hütter is concerned, the mature life of Kraftwerk begins in 1974, with the noise of a car door slamming.
Thus begins Autobahn, and immediately there are tell-tale signs of the remastering at work, tiny glittering digital artefacts that are sure evidence of adaptive noise reduction filters. Not that this album needs much of that treatment, inhabiting as it does a relatively rich and busy soundfield, with few pauses en route. The polishing – and the 2009 remaster is negligibly different from that of 2004 – has, however, allowed the colours and timbres to shine out with astonishing vividness, and this is most evident in the four shorter works. “Kometenmelodie 2” is truly outstanding, sounding wide and powerful, continuing the Beach Boy connection of the title track, as well as hinting at the electronic ‘chugging’ perfected four years later on Trans-Europe Express. “Mitternacht”, too, is revealed for what it is, one of Kraftwerk’s most telling pieces, ominous and unsettling, an eloquent slice of highly effective programme music. The cleanup of this track occasionally mars the surface in the more exposed passages later on, and to my ear it seems that the 2004 version is ever so slightly better than that of 2009. Alongside the remastering, there’s also been a small tweak made to where the transition occurs from the first to the second “Kometenmelodie”. On every CD release of Autobahn, “Kometenmelodie 2″ has begun from the sudden loud jet whistle sound, out of which slowly emerges the bassline figure, with a duration of around 5’48”; in both its 2004 and 2009 remastered forms, this exciting introduction has been removed and put at the end of “Kometenmelodie 1”. This is a strange, highly questionable edit, blunting the latter track’s impressive opening and giving the former a rather bizarre kind of non-ending; after 35 years, Kraftwerk really should have known better, and left such things alone; it’s a significant blight in this otherwise excellent new version of one of the best albums of all time.
A much more challenging prospect for Kraftwerk’s remastering are the raw electronic sounds found on 1975’s Radio-Activity. The original release contained quite a bit of tape noise, along with assorted pops, blips and other ephemera, which the 2004 remaster pretty much removed completely. But to a great extent it could be argued that they contribute to this album’s clinical, scientific sound world, as well as, retrospectively, lending it a pleasantly crude, dated flavour. “Radioland”, for example, originally had some very noticeable hum throughout, and i’m not sure the song is greatly enhanced by smoothing this away. Little has been improved with the 2009 edition, and once again, around the accelerating poundings of “Geiger Counter”, artefacts can be heard distinctly, particularly in the latter half. After this comes the first error in the 2009 remasters: the beginning of track 2, the title track, starts with a hiccup, partway through a beat, clipping the tail end of it (a screenshot comparing 2004 to 2009 can be seen here, with the hiccup circled in red). In light of Kraftwerk’s apparent determination to produce ‘definitive’ versions of their work, this kind of shoddiness is shocking. Also, nothing has been done to improve the slip at the start of “Antenna”; the original release is notable for its almost total absence of background noise here, the track starting cleanly and crisply. In the 2004 version, though, there’s a sudden – very audible – fade-in just before the song starts, ruining its abrupt beginning, and this persists into 2009. The need for this hasty fade-in is due to the brief and utterly pointless fade to nothing inserted between “Antenna” and the preceding “The Voice of Energy”; it’s a shame the apparent attention to detail didn’t hear this glaring event. Overall, though, the remastering gives these pure sounds even greater clarity and definition, in the process enhancing (even exacerbating) their more astringent qualities, especially through headphones. “Radio Stars”, for instance, a somewhat demanding track to listen to anyway, is now positively eye-watering, and the harsh, noisy voice of “Uranium” is now very cutting indeed, the vocal equivalent of a cheese grater. Instances such as these go a long way to reveal anew Kraftwerk’s courage and ingenuity at taking nascent electronics and bestowing on them a voice and a soul.
Trans-Europe Express is, in my opinion, Kraftwerk’s masterpiece, and the remastering is immediately useful; opening track “Europe Endless” was plagued by small noises throughout its introduction, and it’s lovely to hear it sounding clean and new (although the initial ‘thump’ as the track starts hasn’t been removed). For the 2004 remasters, this turned out to be a mixed blessing; the processing stripped away some of the warmth in the lower register, leaving the jaunty bassline sounding a little thin and lacklustre. Thankfully, the 2009 edition has corrected this, and the result is a perfect blend, the rich bass pumping away as it used to. “The Hall of Mirrors” is one of Kraftwerk’s most sublime and thought-provoking creations; the clarity here is superb, and Hütter’s vocals are more telling than ever, particularly in the emphatic, virtually monotone refrain, “Even the greatest stars | Find their face in the looking glass”. Unfortunately, “Showroom Dummies” – which has some odd artefacts in the right channel during the introduction, which were not in the original – is a little too cleaned up for its own good, its constricted percussion now sounding like spasms from within a corset. The 2009 edition is marginally better in this regard than that of 2004, only because it’s been mastered a touch louder; indeed, it’s a mixed blessing, restoring some detail and character, but highlighting the sense of constriction i just mentioned. In general, it appears that the way in which the remastering has been applied is inconsistent and not always sympathetic to the kind of material (this is more true for Trans-Europe Express than any of the other albums, as it has the greatest range of timbral ‘temperature’, from icy electronic drums to warm synthetic strings). The editing of “Trans-Europe Express” and “Metal on Metal” is clearly an issue Kraftwerk have been uncertain about. Hitherto, there has always been a difference between the UK and German editions of these tracks; the German version makes the transition from “Trans-Europe Express” sooner – at 6’36” rather than 6’52” – and splits off nearly the last five minutes of “Metal on Metal” into another track, “Abzug” (which was also used on The Mix). For listeners familiar with the UK edition, the 2004 remaster yielded a surprise or two, combining the two approaches; it retained the earlier transition but did away with “Abzug”, resulting in “Metal on Metal” having its longest duration ever, a little over seven minutes (of course, once again this only applies to the track divisions; the actual material was unchanged). The 2009 edition has returned to the format of the original German release (and The Mix), with “Abzug” restored to its familiar place within the outer segments. Throughout this portion of the disc, a significant but subtle improvement brought about by the remastering is to remove the sibilance and tinnyness that made listening to the original rather tiring. The extended coda, “Franz Schubert” and “Endless Endless”, benefits from the cleanup in much the same way as “Hall of Mirrors”, its ever-moving textures kept sharp and clear throughout.
But nowhere is the benefit of the remastered edition more noticeable and its results more pristine than on the 1978 album The Man-Machine. More than any other, it has been plagued with large amounts of tape hiss in its previous CD releases (why there’s so much is anyone’s guess; it has far more than TEE or even Radio-Activity, made three years earlier), and it’s the startup bleeps and pulses of opening track “The Robots” – the archetypal Kraftwerk song – where this hiss has always been most apparent. The 2004 remaster was nothing short of amazing, and the 2009 edition packs a slightly bigger punch, particularly in the bass registers, resulting in perhaps the most exquisite piece of remastering i’ve ever heard; it’s truly like hearing “The Robots” for the first time all over again, the digital bleeps fresh and ultra-clean, the bassline warm and direct. The opening strike of “Spacelab” – or, rather, the silence following it – presents an even more exposed challenge, and there are some traces of digitalia left by the algorithms, but once the pace picks up the track is again brilliantly defined for the first time in its history, and “Metropolis” after it, with its pointed initial pulses, are now so diamond-sharp that i actually winced in response to them. Though subtle, the additional remastering in the 2009 edition has brought all these tracks to an entirely new place; not one of them has been heard with anything like this kind of clarity before, so it’s an absolute joy that the remastering has been executed with such a deft hand. Their camp classic “The Model” needs less treatment – it was never badly affected by noise in the first place – and its new incarnation is little different from its old one; i’ve always felt “The Model” to be rather dynamically flat, and this has changed very little, although the 2009 remaster has boosted the dynamics somewhat, giving some extra bite that it rather needed. “Neon Lights”, in the 2004 remaster, was also little different, save for its treble sounding more distinct, in relief from the accompanying chords; but for the 2009 remaster, this track has been transformed by a significantly wider stereo image (the original and 2004 versions employ a surprisingly narrow stereo field), resulting in a vividness that grabs the attention. The final, title track, is also much improved on its 2004 version, which, like “The Robots” has had its bass restored, although perhaps too much on this occasion.
After such a brilliant demonstration of what remastering can do, it’s disappointing to hear things going wrong on Computer World – 2004’s remaster was bad enough; 2009 has compounded the problems by falling into the compression trap. Both the eponymous opening track and “Pocket Calculator” continue to sound as though they’re enclosed in a box; the bass has a horrible boomy quality to it that stomps all over the light percussion; it’s a grave mistake. While it does seem to level off throughout “Numbers” and “Computer World 2” – the percussion of the former sprightly, the tonality of the latter warm and smooth – the start of “Numbers” is very unpleasant indeed, the hum brought about in 2004 now exacerbated into a distinctly audible low tone. By “Computer Love” things have clearly returned to normal; despite not needing much attention, it’s good to hear things improved, although some curious panning in the vocal line hasn’t been corrected (perhaps it was intentional); this lovely song – one of Kraftwerk’s best, less demonstrative than “The Model” but so much nicer – has never sounded better than its 2009 version. However, problems return in “Home Computer”; despite similarities to the opening bleeps of “The Robots”, it retains a curious amount of hiss in its opening moments (perhaps highlighted by the emphasis on just the right channel), as though the sensitivity of the remastering had been momentarily reduced; thereafter, however, it goes to the opposite extreme, the percussive surface sounding brutally treated (the effect being similar to listening to a cassette with an excessive Dolby setting). Thankfully, it doesn’t affect the entire track, and the beautifully psychedelic flights of electronic fancy that punctuate throughout are delicious, the final, longest episode (beginning at 4’20”) powerfully living up to the translation of the band’s name, pounding out like an industrial power plant, and continuing thus through the strangely circular final track, “It’s More Fun To Compute” (Kraftwerk clearly have a penchant for ending their albums with directionless, somewhat passive tracks: “Morganspaziergang” (Autobahn), “Ohm Sweet Ohm” (Radio-Activity) and “Endless Endless” (TEE)). This is the one album in The Catalogue where serious errors of judgement were apparent in the 2004 remastering, errors only made more apparent in this slightly louder 2009 edition, and for that reason i’m firmly sticking to the 1981 original, which is largely free of noise and other artefacts, and definitely a great deal clearer and more agile than this stodgy, lumbering travesty.
What happened next in Kraftwerk’s output is now so well-known as to have become legendary: they embarked on their next project, provisionally titled Techno Pop, the first fruit of which was “Tour de France”, before the combination of Ralf Hütter’s obsessive interest in cycling – and subsequent, rather serious accident – and the widespread availability of digital technology led to Kraftwerk abandoning work on the album, refitting the Kling Klang studio with new equipment, and beginning the album again from the bottom up. i remember looking in a very large album catalogue, sometime in the mid 1980s, and actually seeing an entry for Techno Pop, complete with a tentative catalogue number, but with the release date unknown at that time. Of course, what finally emerged was Electric Café, something of a disappointment to those who had waited five long years with increasingly bated breath – which i think is a shame as, while not a masterpiece, the album contains some of their most rhythmically interesting material. Quite why Kraftwerk decided to change the title, i don’t know, although it might have been to distance the resulting album from its mythical earlier existence (and for years, in assorted fanzines, there were umpteen discussions on what might have happened to the original master tapes) – no matter, in its remastered form, Techno Pop is reborn, and i must admit just seeing those words on the familiar cover art sent a real thrill down my spine. Nonetheless, as Kraftwerk’s first digital release, the issue of remastering starts now to become increasingly redundant, and from the outset of “Boing Boom Tschak”, the only significant difference between ancient and modern is a somewhat increased clarity and demarcation of the types of material, making this track more than usually irresistible to sit still to while listening. Having said that, the 2009 remaster is very significantly louder than that of 2004 – which was already louder than the original – which makes this opening track rather too brutal; here’s an illustration of the soundwave of the opening “Boing” in all three versions, showing clearly the dynamic increase. Having got it wrong for “Radioactivity”, Kraftwerk have pretty much corrected the untidy start of the title track, which originally contained a momentary overhang of the reverb from the opener; the 2004 remaster perpetuated this error, so it’s nice that someone actually saw fit to get this track division a little tighter. Now off to a better start, the track itself is once again improved, both in clarity and punchiness (although the increased dynamic exaggerates things), and this is even more the case in “Musique non stop” (a track with striking similarities to parts of Jean-Michel Jarre’s best album, Zoolook), which contains some of Kraftwerk’s most sharp percussion. i’ve always thought “Techno Pop” is rather courageous in its nearly eight-minute duration, consisting as it does of a rather minimalistic continual re-juxtaposition of structural components; it’s tempting to think, this being the group’s first digital album, that it’s the influence of working with sequencing software. All the same, the variety of timbres used is considerable (including some really lovely synthetic xylophones and marimbas), and the combination of these with string gestures keeps it interesting throughout. Strings are an important element of this album; it’s something of a return to the warmth and classical leanings of TEE, working as a valuable foil to the cool electronic beats.
And so to the second half, which has perhaps provoked more discussion in the run-up to its release than any other part of The Catalogue. The facts are these: “The Telephone Call” has been replaced with its much shorter single edit (just under four minutes, instead of the original eight), followed by a remix titled “House Phone”. On the one hand, being as generous as i can be, the edit of “The Telephone Call” actually has a lot more in common with the gestures of “Tour de France”, which was, after all, composed around the same time, and was clearly intended for the original version of Techno Pop, back in the early 1980s. But that’s about all there is to say for this change; the edit loses the breadth and sophistication of the original, which extended the minimalistic approach from the first half, its numerous extensive bridge passages and episodes turning a pretty conventional song structure into a sprawling but splendid eight-minute beatfest. The edit sounds weak and peripheral in contrast, and the less said about “House Phone” the better, an egregious monstrosity with absolutely zero in common with the rest of the album. Overall, the second half suffers from Techno Pop‘s lack of a general theme (as all previous albums had), meaning that “The Telephone Call”, “Sex Object” and “Electric Café” seem rather dislocated from the unified elements of the first half (the three tracks of which together form a single whole). Having said that, “Telephone Call” and “Sex Object” share a lyrical bond in their expression of distance (physical and emotional) from a love interest, and the heavy percussion of both forms a slightly tenuous timbral link to the earlier tracks. “Sex Object” is one of their finest moments on record, a poignant but po-faced outburst at perceived shallowness; the strings are literally everywhere, occupying all registers, and for once the omnipresent beats take a back seat. The episodes are equally striking; some hark back to the psychedelic hints of “Home Computer” while others, filled with an aggressively pounding slapped bass, suggest anger lurking beneath the surface; but, once again, it’s just too loud – in this version “Sex Object” projects not so much repressed anger as drunken pugilism. Finally, not much to say about “Electric Café”, except that it joins the list of flaccid final tracks mentioned before.
The 2009 rendering of Techno Pop is, i feel, nothing less than a disaster, its structure ruptured by the senseless alterations made to “The Telephone Call”, and its surface distorted through the sheer loudness of this remastering. i’m firmly sticking with the 2004 remaster of this album, which retains the original structure and subtly improves the clarity.
While Electric Café Techno Pop marked Kraftwerk’s transition from analogue to digital, 1990’s The Mix was where they brought their music from the past into the present, reinventing their most popular tracks, revivifying them with a burst of energy. The brilliance of this album – and, at the time, fans’ dismay at the lack of new material obscured to them its achievement – is in its ability to give these classic tracks such an impressive new lease of life, while remaining true to everything at the heart of the originals. However, its relevance within The Catalogue, as with Tour de France Soundtracks, can only be justified on the basis of completeness (notwithstanding what i said about their first three albums), as neither of these albums have any significant need for remastering, unless the group is seriously suggesting these recent releases were poorly mastered, which is hard to believe. No doubt conceived with dancefloors in mind, the new forms of these songs underline the simple fact that Kraftwerk invented electronic dance music, and with that end in mind there’s an air of glee and abandon pervading every track: basslines bounce around like so many Tiggers, beats fly off the walls and rebound against each other, shards of electronica explode and shatter in all directions while melodies – such as they are – make curious circles within the mayhem. And presiding over it all, as paradoxically emotionless and passionate as ever, is Ralf Hütter, the man whose singular vision has steered Kraftwerk through their nearly 40-year existence. Despite its determined compilation mindset, the album pays homage to Kraftwerk’s finest album, with “Trans-Europe Express”, “Abzug” and “Metal on Metal” presented back to back. For me, this is Kraftwerk’s finest hour, the same perfect blend of beats, strings and vocals heard in “Sex Object”, its exquisite harmonies matched by truly thrilling industrial percussion. The 2009 remaster adds little, if anything, that’s noticeable, except for the conclusion of the final track, “Boing Boom Tschak”, where the male computer voice seems to have been boosted slightly, as well as sounding more weighty; no-one though, it seems, saw fit to clean up the weird little crackle and noise that spring up as the track fades to nothing.
Which, to my mind, brings the Kraftwerk project to a close. Except, one is forced to make some kind of sense of Tour de France Soundtracks – now rebranded as just Tour de France – the group’s recent exploration of the world of cycling, as incarnated in the race of the title. Unsurprisingly for an album a mere six years old, remastering has no place here, and the band have apparently done the sensible thing and left well alone; its inclusion in The Catalogue is clearly a matter of completeness rather than anything else. Having said that, while the audio is to all intents and purposes the same as both the 2003 original and 2004 “remaster”, the track-to-track editing has altered, and not in a good way; both “Étapes” 1 and 2, as well as – worst of all – “Régéneration” now begin irritatingly late, no longer starting with a clean downbeat, but once again betraying the sloppiness shown elsewhere, with previous tracks overhanging. Considering the album hasn’t been subjected to any tinkering, what on earth has caused these changes is anyone’s guess. So much for the technicalities; what of the music? After its brief opening chord gesture (which, for all its brevity – 31 seconds – is a personal favourite), the troixième “Etapes” and “Chrono” form a similar grouping to those in the first half of Techno Pop, with likewise minimalistic moving around of song units. But it’s more aloof, less engaging than that album, for the most part emphasising the last word of the album’s former title, akin to so much background music. And yet, just as they’ve captured the sounds of speeding cars and trains, here they masterfully conjure up the impression of racing cycles with seemingly effortless aplomb. The pairing of “Aero Dynamik” and “Titanium” spread their material far too thinly, and “Elektro Kardiogramm” is also a rather numb track, lacking either the pace, basslines or melodies that make Kraftwerk’s music as brilliant as it is – it’s perhaps the dullest song in The Catalogue. Thankfully, it’s followed by one of their best: “La Forme”, which demonstrates the group at its most contemporary; despite throwbacks to their earlier work – the simplistic melodic lines and vocals resembling so many recited lists – it has much genuinely different about it, including its relaxed, leisurely pace and de-emphasis on beats (serving here to underpin the song rather than form lines of filigree all over it); surprisingly, its 10-minute duration – including the separate coda, “Regeneration” – never sounds over-long. And finally, “Tour de France”, the song that many bewailed being absent from The Mix returns in its own dancefloor version. It’s genuinely exciting and, like its brethren on that album, stays true to both the style and idea of the original, sounding at once a child of both the ’80s and the ’00s.
In its 2004 version, The Catalogue was no child of the ‘loudness war’; it was an earnest effort at putting forward Kraftwerk’s oh-so innovative music in its best possible form, and as such – allowing for occasional slips and niggles in the otherwise mostly excellent remastering – it lived up to that aim. By contrast, the 2009 version has, to my mind, become a part of that war, the remastering process often going too far, with the worst case of all – Techno Pop – becoming jaw-droppingly vulgar. It’s disappointing that such a laudable (and, indeed, lauded) project has turned out to be so hit-and-miss; 2004 promised much – 2009 too often fails to deliver.
In summary, then, my view is that to buy The Catalogue would be a mistake (unless you’re a sucker for superficial packaging); only Autobahn, Radio-Activity, Trans-Europe Express and The Man-Machine are worthwhile investments, their 2009 remasters significantly contributing to the original material, aiding its clarity and genuinely bestowing on it a new lease of life. All of these can be bought individually, and should be. Computer World is horrid to listen to, and should be avoided, while Techno Pop – as should be abundantly clear by now – deserves nothing more than derision, being the most shameful result in the entire enterprise. In both cases the originals far outstrip the 2009 remasters – although in the case of Techno Pop, the 2004 remaster is worth seeking out. Neither The Mix nor Tour de France are better in 2009 than they were in 1991 and 2003 (indeed, Tour de France, as noted, is worse), so again, the originals are the version of choice.
@Unknown My copy of the 2004 Techno Pop album has no dropout at that point during track 2, and there's no evidence anywhere of "crackly sound" either. Very strange…
I have the 2004 remasters and overall I'm happy with them. I feel no need to purchase the 2009 set. "The Man Machine" is indeed a marked improvement over the original issue.
I have a question about the 2004 "Technopop" disc. I've noticed slightly crackly sound throughout, giving it an almost analog sound. I've also noticed a click or small drop-out at 2:46 of track 2. "Technopop." Is this the master recording or my disc?
Thanks for the thorough review!
I'll take your advice and pick up the first four on vinyl and plunder .flac rips of the CDs.
i would hardly call it a "glaring" anomaly (the ones on other albums are far more audible), but yes, it is there – and as you say, the original CD is fine at that point; ah, the ravages of time…
I'm surprised that in two and a half years no one has mentioned a fairly glaring sound anomaly in "The Model": from around 0:48 to 0:50, something thins out the sound, probably a sign of damage on the master tape. This is especially noticeable on headphones and wasn't present on the original CD.
Overall, though, I have grown to really like the sound of this box. I don't miss the old tape hiss anymore. I'm not sure what happened to "Computer World," though.
That is a great review!
Thanks a lot, but.. am I the only one who is hugely pissed with the band for changing the album covers? I mean, I can't even get close to these cd's, and of course I could never buy any of them.
It's really sad to see people trying to re-edit all factes of their previous works, as if they could freshen up themselves by adding a new pic here and a new art there.
Very nice blog anyway, will stay around.
Want to add something here. The panning I talked about was in Computer Love, around 0:50, actually it is a channel colapse.
While COMPUTERWORLD remaster is indeed a big big sloppy mistake, with muffled sound and saturated punches, the same is NOT TRUE for COMPUTERWELT. The German version of the album has been remastered in a total different way, and this should be really taken into account. The German version is actually an improvement over 1981 version.
The Computer World remaster has one big sloppy mistake, which I believe couldn't be corrected due to permanent tape damage – it is the panning about 0:50. Curiously the German version is not affected by this in the same way the English version was.
Reading the article made me see that these remasters followed some Mute Records rules. Recently, the label has been putting remasters out at a level of -5.50dBFS average. If the band did these remasters themselves, they followed some instructions by the label. Of course not all of them are that loud, particularly the early records from Kraftwerk.
I can confirm a saturation on right side of Autobahn, and others described track timing changes in the article. Stupid mistakes! Amateur job.
One will have a hard time to find out which version is more pleasant, but for that, must acquire every pressing out there and make a deeper analysis.
I first had listened to Computer World in an old cassete tape so I tought that the "curious panning" in Computer Love was a defect on the tape but when I finally got the CD it really surprised and confused me that it was actually the original sound!
Amazing review man! Even for the not-audiophile people like me. 🙂
Absolutely fantastic review, thanks so much!
I've bought most of the CDs over the past ten years or so, excepting Autobahn. I must admit to downloading Autobahn as a torrent, in anticipation of ordering the set. I was pretty shocked at the obvious saturation in the right channel in particular. Is there an Autobahn CD that doesn't exhibit this?
A second question – I'm thinking of ordering the German language 2009 set, instead of the English, as a way to get a bit of the 'shock of the new'. Have you had a chance to hear any of those?
Thanks again. Excellent post.
I have both the remastered version of Autobahn (2009) and a much older CD pressing by EMI Electrola I got around 1995. They both exhibit the same right channel saturation… I don’t know if there’s another version taken from a different source.
Hi Simon. Great Blog you have. Your comments on the catalogue 2009 was very helpfull. I was overthinking buying the catalogue 2009 but know i know not to.
thanks for your great review. I was wondering buying the catalogue 2009 or not. Now the answer is clear, no! I will buy the albums separately. Once again thank you for your useful comments on the remastered retrospective. Next to Kraftwerk your blog is a useful source of information.
Hi! Discovered this blog via the Dubstar website.
Thank you for this excellent retrospective. I have already bought he box set but have not opened it yet so this has been a good read.
Many thanks for this excellent blog!
Comparison tracks of the original and 2009 versions of Geiger Counter would be useful, just to illustrate how intrusive the noise reduction and compression is in places on the Radio Activity album. I have the 1987 German CD, as well as the new release, and though I will be getting rid of most of my old CDs I shall be keeping that one (as well as Electric Cafe).
I wished for scans.
Found this instead, on the wiki:
It's still a tie.
Hi! I am a vinyl lover and I wonder if anyone knows how the remastered sound on vinyl and if they are 180 gr. or not…I also wonder if buying the cd would be more appropriate according to Kraftwerk intentions about these remastered versions moreover,as I don't have the german language versions these remastered could be a good chance to get them. any suggestions? thanx in advance for any response!
Thank you! This was exactly what I was looking for. Great post, that has probably saved me quite a bit of money.
Nice blog too.
Radioaktivität itself has been completely butchered! Every time the whiplash percussion sound sounds, the rest of the sound dulls. Have they really applied an automatic noise filter here? This track now is unbearable to listen to!
And the 50Hz buzz in Sendepause/Nachrichten (Intermission/News) that was so well placed, exactly like an old radio sounds, gone!
Overall, i sympathise with what you're saying; my views about the more negative aspects of the remastered Catalogue are abundantly clear in my article – there's more than a little scope for improvement! Furthermore, on balance, i prefer the 2004 remasters to those of 2009; for albums like Autobahn & Radio-activity, 2009 didn't significantly change what they'd achieved in 2004; but obviously, in the case of Computer World & Techno Pop, things went from bad to abominable.
The Man-Machine is the one where i felt myself particularly torn. i stand by what i said; i do believe the remastering to be excellent – but again, more in the 2004 version than the somewhat over-compressed 2009 edition. i agree sequencing has to be a contributing factor to the excessive tape hiss audible throughout this album, & for me, it's a huge relief to hear that pretty much removed. The effect on the percussion on this album, i feel, is to reveal it for what it really is, harsh, raw & very striking (no pun intended) indeed; i don't find it to be 'constricted' here (but i do elsewhere, as i said).
It seems contradictory to me to say that you object to the noise reduction artefacts while not being bothered about the analogue artefacts from the original tapes; but nonetheless, i agree with you that something has been lost on Radio-activity; if there's anywhere in The Catalogue that hum, hiss & other noises are an integral part of the sound-world, it's there.
Thanks for your comments; i'm glad you found the article interesting.
A very informative analysis. Upon further listening, I really have to disagree with your contention that the 2009 Man Machine is in any way superior to the original CD. If you level match – i.e. reduce the jacked up volume of the remaster – and compare with the old edition, you'll notice that all of the tracks on the new edition exhibit slightly murky definition (due to the mid-bass bloat EQ and use of noise reduction software that plagues every disc in this set) and overall lack of sparkle.
It is interesting that you specifically mention "The Model". To my mind, this track most clearly exemplifies the problems with the entire remastered Kraftwerk remastered series. "The Model" has always suffered from a flat and rather sloppy (by Kraftwerk standards) mix, yes, but on the new edition it sounds even worse than it ever has. The engineers have attempted to artificially bring more life to it via the use of some ham-fisted EQ and compression, and the result is rather gruesome.
It is more readily apparent on "The Model," but listen carefully to all of the percussion tracks on any of the remasters from Autobahn through Computer World. The percussion sounds now come across as constricted – and all too often collapse into a slightly hazy, artificial mid-bass murk. What is missing is the space and vibrancy inherent to these recordings.
As for the original Man Machine] LP and CD containing more tape hiss than other Kraftwerk albums, yes, it did. I would surmise that this is due to the group's reliance on sequencer tracks during this period. Pre-recording the sequencer patterns undoubtedly added another generation or two of tape, but that was the nature of the recording method at that time. I am not particularly bothered by this.
What I *am* bothered by is the removal of these natural analogue artifacts, which results in an airless, dead-sounding sonic space, as the completely butchered Radio-Activity remaster will attest. On top of that, whoever was responsible for hiss removal on these remasters performed an amateurish job. There are too many obvious noise reduction artifacts apparent throughout this series. Either Ralf Hütter is now half-deaf (not unlikely) or simply doesn't care that much to be bothered to critically listen to the results (a real possibility).
The bottom line is that these new discs are in every conceivable way sonically inferior to the 20-year-old CDs.
Great in-depth analysis!
Computer World is my all time favourite album and i also was disappointed when i heard the booming bass on the opening tracks. Last saturday i bought Der Katalog which of course includes Computerwelt (german version of the lp with the tracks sung in german). This one sounds surprisingly better. It still has more bass than you would like, but overall, there is a clearer sound to it. Peculiar, ain't it…
Greetings from Holland,
Thank you for the kind comments, Allen, i'm pleased you found my article useful. The more i think about it, the more annoyed i feel that Kraftwerk have allowed such dreadful remasterings of Computer World & Techno Pop – such a shame.
Thank you for an excellent review.
I thought the original was extremely informative and the recent additions, in respect of the 2009 remasters, have made this review even more of an essential read for any Kraftwerk fan.
It was very refreshing to find a site with such knowledgeable and in-depth posts.
As I already have all the Kraftwerk albums I was wondering whether buying/downloading the 2009 remasters would be a worthwhile use of my limited resources. I think you have answered that question for me.
Hi Markus, actually i should be thanking you for reminding me i needed to get the revision of my article finished; it's sat around 90% done for about a fortnight! i'm glad you found the review helpful.
Wow, what a speedy response to my comment of yesterday! 🙂
Thanks (again) for your detailed review.
Has anyone compared the 2009 Remaster of Computerwelt and Computerworld?
I feel some of the original masters were damaged as time went on, hence some of the mistakes. Whatever they couldn’t fix for these releases might have to do with the fact that they’re quite simply stuck to the recording and can’t really do anything to remove them without making it obvious. Granted, it could also be because they didn’t have the best equipment or didn’t care, which is unlikely.
Some have also mentioned the original German version getting it better in terms of remastering, due to the English ones just being dubbing over secondary copies. The most prominent one being Computer World, which I don’t think was made on a good master tape copy (though it was probably fine in its first years, as proven by the original target pressing, which is fantastic). It also makes me wonder if these were made as multi-tracks, given that it would be easier to remove mistakes.
I decided to get three out of the four you recommended (Autobahn, TEE, TMM), since I finally found them in an American shop (Barnes & Noble) for $10 each, which was a good deal. Considering I’ve been on the 2004 masters on my mp3 player for quite some time, this should be interesting. I actually think the harsher, colder sound of the new Techno Pop master actually makes it work in its favor, not forgetting to mention I’m the only person who likes the track list change. The Mix I also like, sine I like more bass in a house-esque album. Tour de France is the same, though the change in time stamps doesn’t bother me much. Computer World, as mentioned earlier, was at its best in its original target release. I even think it’s the best sounding Kraftwerk album mastering wise. Those are my thoughts in a nutshell.
Great article, although you really should hear my US copy of The Man Machine CD. It’s got a version of The Model that’s at a massively higher volume level than the rest of the tracks and sounds like it was re-mastered for a single, then some smart boy took out the album version and replaced it with the single one, the first time I played it, I burst out laughing but it was the only version of the CD I could find at the time. Remastering is an artistic process and this can lead to differences in opinion about how something sounds but there are problems on these remasters that sound like what I would call digital editing rather than remastering as such. I wonder did they go back to the analogue masters again and redigitize them, for every track or just remaster the already-transferred digital copies. This review makes me think they did a mixture of both. Will download and listen before I buy.
This is an interesting article. I am just getting into a couple of these records on the newer remasters. I am very impressed for the most part.
People talk about being over compressed but I don’t think people really have any clue what is possible with modern mastering. You guys are trying to say without any hint of comedic overtone that a DR10-12 recording is overly compressed lol. Yeah and no. These albums sound fantastic to my ears. That isn’t to say you might not prefer them to the older ones, but to say these are all crushed or compressed to hell is absolutely ludicrous.
DR6 is crushed. DR12 is damn near a classical music album, and nothing Kraftwerk does has that kind of dynamic range. They do not play classical instruments, and there are very few moments that need tons of dynamic range in their output. I very much appreciate the better bass on these records.
About noise reduction? Well thank you. I read how people think the job was done by amateurs, and that is completely laughable. We have arm chair engineers here who clearly have no idea what they are talking about.
Thanks for this; for my part, i wasn’t trying to over-state the compression angle (the remarks in the opening paragraph are more to flag up the inherent dangers and mistakes made in too many ‘remastering’ projects these days). There are various tracks that i feel have suffered from being treated to too much compression (‘Sex Object’ for one), but overall i agree with you, it’s not as bad as it could have been.
And to clarify that last comment, I am NOT saying this box is perfect. It is obviously not, and there are some problems. But let’s be honest here: tons of tape hiss when it doesn’t add anything of value is not cool. You inevitably have to use some sort of NR. And Man Machine and others benefit from this. I’ve never listened to Radio so that one may have been tampered with.
I stand by any comments on compression for the most part. These are fairly dynamic album remasters. As for the EQ people are going to have different opinions about that. But we all have to realize it is 2009, and these tapes are not in the best condition.
Still, the article is very useful, and people should track down and keep all of their existing versions as well.
So I went back to the DR website to compare the old versions of these albums, and of course what do I find:
The old albums often peak around the -3dB to -5dB line even going as low as -6dB on a DR17 track, meaning they are not even close to using their full dynamic range. Never mind they lack bass throughout as well.
The newer CDs being DR9-DR14, peak at the the more normal -.2dB or so and go higher when needed. Peaks are important but routinely ignored by armchair idiots that do not understand modern capabilities of mastering sound. Music at DR16 does not always breathe more than music at DR12 when you have peaks that are exponentially lesser in volume. The old CDs are simply too quiet and do not even make use of the proper CD.
Now Computer World is a stranger case in some regards, as the English version is different than its German release, which sounds superb to my ears. The English one has more bass and also is definitely a bit more compressed than the others even its German counterpart. I don’t think the English one is from the same source. It’s nothing that is going to kill you, but it is worth mentioning. I honestly wasn’t too bothered by it. At any rate the German version is superior. In fact, I prefer the German versions of their music.
This article rightly celebrates the fact that the best albums in Trans and Man Machine have never really sounded better. And the German version of Computer World is amazing as well. DR9-13 does not mean the end of the world. I can’t even believe I have to say this. Often it means the engineers are actually using the full capabilities of the CD.
As for noise reduction it’s a slippery slope. But no one can really argue that Kraftwerk CDs were ever supposed to have all this analogue hiss lol. The exact opposite. KW are the forerunners of the digital revolution. That isn’t to say maybe there is some extra NR applied, but I don’t hear anything too egregious on the major albums.
Regarding your last remark, about hiss, the obvious exception is Radio-Activity: this is an album positively revelling in the glory of analogue sound sources, and to have the hiss removed on that album to my mind really diminishes it, removing something i regard as an inherent part of the music. But elsewhere i agree with you, particularly on Man-Machine, which now sounds wonderful in its hiss-free incarnation!
Of course the german versions are preferable since Kraftwerk is a german band. I don’t want to listen to the Beatles in German either….
Techno-Pop is a DR11 remaster. There is no sheer loudness. It’s using the available dynamic range of the CD, which the old ones failed to do. This isn’t classical music either and does not need that kind of dynamic range.
I’m honestly just lost when you guys talk about loudness. It’s as if you are not properly volume matching anything. Turn down your volume knob. Almost no well mastered CD in existence is above DR13 for these types of albums anymore. This includes the majority of Steve Hoffman stuff. It just makes me wonder what you guys are smoking to think that DR11 is a loud album lol. No bud, DR6 is a loud album. DR11 is not even close.
I also am starting to think I prefer the English versions of a decent amount of their songs. All together these remasters were fantastic. I think people are too blown out by the bass in Computer World. Their music is pretty bassy live believe it or not. I really don’t see the problem unless your system is not a neutral tone system. It still sounds pretty good to me.
i disagree with this; having seen Kraftwerk perform live, of course there’s more bass than on the studio recordings – but that doesn’t mean the albums should be made to resemble a live performance. Bits of the 2009 Computer World are nothing short of a travesty, robbing the music of its nuance and detail, and in no small part that’s due to the bass.
Thanks for such a in-depth and interesting article! I read this when it first appeared, and revisited it now after doing a thorough comparison with the 2009 remasters and the original 80s CDs.
I’ve come to the conclusion that, for me, the originals are much superior in every way to the remasters.
I definitely prefer the original CDs, which I guess are straight copies of the original LP masters, without the unnecessary tinkering found on the remastered versions.
In my opinion, the main offender is the constant use of digital noise reduction on these remasters. I’ll take clarity – complete with tape hiss – over the sterile-sounding remasters any day.
Listening to AUTOBAHN on headphones, you can clearly hear the watery, digital artifacts at the start of the title track. The use of noise reduction, combined with the sometimes heavy handed EQ boosting the bass, takes away the clarity of the original recordings. As you mentioned, COMPUTER WORLD sounds like a mess because of these EQ changes.
RADIO-ACTIVITY sounds mostly excellent in its original CD issue, without digital artifacts and boomy bass. This is a recording that’s supposed to have noises, hum, clicks and static.
TRANS EUROPA EXPRESS might sound a little weak compared to the remaster, which had its bass boosted quite a lot, but again I feel this affects the clarity. And then there’s that horrible noise reduction again. Listen to the intro of FRANZ SCHUBERT. The synth sounds like it’s about to choke and it ain’t pretty.
Another thing I haven’t seen anyone mention before is the added reverb during the “chorus” on SPIEGELSAAL. Why alter something like that?
As pointed out in the article above, there’s quite a lot of tape hiss on DIE MENSCH MASCHINE, but the original CD sounds very dynamic with good bass. Once again, the noise reduction is quite severe in places, giving the synths a “choked” kind of quality. If I want more thumping bass I can always turn up the bass knob on my stereo.
COMPUTERWELT is the only remastered version I’ve kept. From what I understand, the German version is slightly better than the English counterpart? I’ve listened to the English remaster and thought it sounded terrible because of the compression which made the “string/organ” sound in the title track pump like crazy.
The German remaster sounds very good, and adds some much needed punch to the album, which originally sounded kind of thin to my ears. But, the bass DO sound a bit bloated at times, and the remaster can sometimes sound a bit boxy, especially compared with the original CD… But I can live with that. I think.
The remaster of ELECTRIC CAFE, or TECHNO POP as they seem to call it now, is a pointless exercise in revisionism. I have a Japanese “Black Triangle” CD which sounds great and I’m sticking with that. Sound-wise, I get the feeling they just raised the volume on the remaster.
The same goes for THE MIX and TOUR DE FRANCE.
This turned into a long post. Sorry.
Yes, 2009 Computer World not just a bit overcooked like so many digital remasters which are often the only choice on streaming such as with Spotify, but it’s actually ruined in my opinion. Upper mid / high frequencies seem to drop in and out regularly. Check out Computer Love – in particular between about 54 and 59 seconds – there’s a significant drop in higher frequencies, especially on the left channel – it’s almost as if someone tweaked down an eq gain pot, thought ‘no I don’t like that’, and quickly returned it to the original position. I find it unbelievable that this album passed any checking stages. Surely Kraftwerk cannot be involved in the process – I would say they are the last people on this planet that would allow poor production work to be passed and released. However, I can’t imagine they’re not aware?!
I had the cassette version The Mix that I bought in around 1992. That had an editing glitch in the outro where they chopped out a whole beat. I’ll have to see if that was in any other versions.
What a truly excellent, thorough, well-written review. Being a bit of a completist I actually added both the 2004 promo box and the 2009 version to my collection – I’ve only started to compare, but so far I largely agree with your comments. I’m a little less positive on Radioactivity remastered than you are though – I do agree that the hiss removal essentially changes the nature and color of the album as it takes away much of the noise I assumed was deliberate from it :). But to me the loss in character that results from that newfound cleanliness more than offsets the benefits of the extra sense of clarity and frequency range extension throughout. Autobahn and TEE / TMM (that’s where I’ve stopped so far) are no brainer wins for the remasters (2004 / 2009 / 2004 for me respectively), but for Radioactivity the late 80’s CD remains my go-to version. Thank you so much for the article – and also for pointing me in the direction of the German language remaster of Komputerwelt, will seek that one out when this confinement thing is over.