Nirvana - Nevermind
Album Comparisons: Nevermind
Of all my favorite bands from back in the day, Nirvana probably qualifies as the one whose style would be most compromised by today's hyper compressed mixing and mastering practices. How would a band known for its sudden dynamic shifts (songs like "Heart-Shaped Box" and "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle" come particularly to mind here) fare in a day and age where all dynamic expressiveness is squashed in order to make things as loud as possible? The Bleach remaster kept to this trend, sacrificing several decibels of dynamic range in the quest for loudness, and the Nevermind remaster seemed poised to follow in its footsteps. Fortunately, there was an audiophile release still floating around the second hand market with the potential to deliver whatever the remaster didn't. How do the three compare?

Smells Like Teen Spirit

1991 original DGC release

Smells Like Teen Spirit

1996 MFSL release

Smells Like Teen Spirit

2011 20th anniversary remaster

Smells Like Teen Spirit

In Bloom

1991 original DGC release

In Bloom

1996 MFSL release

In Bloom

2011 20th anniversary remaster

In Bloom

Come As You Are

1991 original DGC release

Come As You Are

1996 MFSL release

Come As You Are

2011 20th anniversary remaster

Come As You Are

Breed

1991 original DGC release

Breed

1996 MFSL release

Breed

2011 20th anniversary remaster

Breed

Lithium

1991 original DGC release

Lithium

1996 MFSL release

Lithium

2011 20th anniversary remaster

Lithium

Polly

1991 original DGC release

Polly

1996 MFSL release

Polly

2011 20th anniversary remaster

Polly

Territorial Pissings

1991 original DGC release

Territorial Pissings

1996 MFSL release

Territorial Pissings

2011 20th anniversary remaster

Territorial Pissings

Drain You

1991 original DGC release

Drain You

1996 MFSL release

Drain You

2011 20th anniversary remaster

Drain You

Lounge Act

1991 original DGC release

Lounge Act

1996 MFSL release

Lounge Act

2011 20th anniversary remaster

Lounge Act

Stay Away

1991 original DGC release

Stay Away

1996 MFSL release

Stay Away

2011 20th anniversary remaster

Stay Away

On a Plain

1991 original DGC release

On a Plain

1996 MFSL release

On a Plain

2011 20th anniversary remaster

On a Plain

Something in the Way

1991 original DGC release

Something in the Way

1996 MFSL release

Something in the Way

2011 20th anniversary remaster

Something in the Way

Unlisted Bonus Track (aka "Endless Nameless")

1991 original DGC release

Endless Nameless

1996 MFSL release

Endless Nameless

2011 20th anniversary remaster

Endless Nameless
And the winner is: 1996 Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab release. In 1991, I discovered Nirvana. Nirvana's Nevermind was one of the very first tapes I ever bought, and the night I acquired my first copy, I practically wore the cassette out with play after play after play after play. It was the first album that really made me want to play music, one of the very first soundtracks to my teenage years, the one that really kick-started my interest in music and performance. There are few if any other albums that I know as intimately, sonically speaking, as this one. And, that being the case, I can say with absolute, 100% certainty that the remastered version is absolute garbage. The dynamics have been suffocated, the sonic balance completely upended. Drums in particular plop where they used to sound with a sharp, distinct crack, and now practically disappear in the mix due to the peak limiting that has been employed. The jumps in dynamics from soft to very loud to soft again are terrifically muted, stripping out the punch of the original recordings and turning Nirvana's signature sound into a dulled, flattened out disaster. The Mobile Fidelity disc, on the other hand, is a notable improvement over the original DGC release. Stereo separation and bass response are noticeably better, and the sound is much cleaner and clearer by comparison with the original 1991 disc, which actually sounds rather muddy by comparison. Whether this is due to improved analog to digital transfer technology, the use of the original master tape by the folks at the Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab, or a likely combination of both, the audiophile disc is clearly the way to go for this seminal early 90s release.