The Contingency of Listening – by Damon Krukowski:
Albums are mixed in order to be reproduced. When that process truly was 100% analog – the last of my own records made that way was Galaxie 500’s second album, in 1989 – the master tape was deliberately mixed with more high end than desired, because it was predictable that some of that would be lost in the reproduction process toward pressed records.
In other words, the original master tape is not how those analog albums were meant to sound. The record is.
There is a further irony as we add digital into the picture. Digital reproduction does not alter the master the way that analog does. For many commercial CDs, the final product actually is the original master, and vice-versa. Even when a digital master is higher resolution than CDs can reproduce, it is still possible to listen to them via computers without any degradation at all.
When CDs first came out, many of them sounded awful in part for this very transparency – they were duplicating analog master tapes more or less directly, rather than interpreting how they were meant to sound at the end of the process for reproducing records. Digital was blamed for those “harsh” CDs – but that is also simply how some analog master tapes can sound.