Red Hot Chili Peppers - Californication
Album Comparisons: Californication
This is one of the most infamous albums ever released - in audiophile circles, at least - and it's easy to see why. When this album debuted in 1999, it was heavily criticized for its audible distortion and hyper-compressed mastering. It's certainly a candidate for one of the worst sounding mastering jobs in my music collection, and it lives up to its reputation, with crackling, staticky distortion throughout. But this album was released during the tail end of the cassette era, during a time when CD volume levels had begun to really get out of hand but cassette and vinyl releases (presumably) were still being mastered as before. So how do the levels on the Californication disc compare with the analog releases? I got my hands on an original, period copy of the cassette release in order to find out. Note: The cassette waveforms below are from a digital transfer of a 1999 mint condition, factory sealed copy of the album that I acquired via eBay [release #247386-4], played back using Dolby B noise reduction. The volume level of each individual song from the cassette version has been normalized for a more accurate comparison of dynamics.

Around the World

1999 original CD release

Around the World

1999 original cassette release

Around the World

Parallel Universe

1999 original CD release

Parallel Universe

1999 original cassette release

Parallel Universe

Scar Tissue

1999 original CD release

Scar Tissue

1999 original cassette release

Scar Tissue

Otherside

1999 original CD release

Otherside

1999 original cassette release

Otherside

Get on Top

1999 original CD release

Get on Top

1999 original cassette release

Get on Top

Californication

1999 original CD release

Californication

1999 original cassette release

Californication

Easily

1999 original CD release

Easily

1999 original cassette release

Easily

Porcelain

1999 original CD release

Porcelain

1999 original cassette release

Porcelain

Emit Remmus

1999 original CD release

Emit Remmus

1999 original cassette release

Emit Remmus

I Like Dirt

1999 original CD release

I Like Dirt

1999 original cassette release

I Like Dirt

This Velvet Glove

1999 original CD release

This Velvet Glove

1999 original cassette release

This Velvet Glove

Savior

1999 original CD release

Savior

1999 original cassette release

Savior

Purple Stain

1999 original CD release

Purple Stain

1999 original cassette release

Purple Stain

Right on Time

1999 original CD release

Right on Time

1999 original cassette release

Right on Time

Road Trippin'

1999 original CD release

Road Trippin'

1999 original cassette release

Road Trippin'
And the winner is: Cassette release. I normally would not recommend a cassette tape of an album over a compact disc, but after doing these listening tests, it's an inescapable conclusion that the cassette version is the better sounding of the two in this case. As the waveforms demonstrate, the extreme brickwalling present on the compact disc is totally absent on the cassette. Furthermore, from a listening perspective, the largely monaural sound of this album's mix helps to further ameliorate the usual sonic deficiencies of the analog format, making this recommendation easier still. It goes without saying that the levels on the CD are ridiculous. Why the people responsible for this thought it was a good idea speaks to the mentality that has pervaded the music industry since the mid-1990s through to the present day - that having the loudest album on the block somehow makes yours better than everyone else's. I can't help but wonder if the mastering engineer here was a little too envious of Raw Power's blisteringly hot levels and sought to equal or at least to emulate them with this release. That being said, the compact disc version of Californication still sounds better to my ears than either Death Magnetic or Raw Power, which may or may not be saying much depending on your opinion of those two albums. Audio fidelity isn't everything, but it's important enough to make tracking down a cassette or vinyl copy of this album worthwhile if you're a hardcore fan.