The King of Rock and Roll:
The Complete 50's Insult

This began with an innocent find of a better sounding Hound Dog on a 1989 Rhino/Billboard CD. First examinations indicated what appeared to be a source superior to what fans and collectors had become used to. Then some very strange official comments implied that something might be wrong here. The analyses that followed have revealed a situation worse than expected at first and a problem that goes beyond the sound quality of just one song.





 "THE KING OF ROCK 'N' ROLL: THE COMPLETE 50'S MASTERS symbolizes years of work, research and technical proficiency and reflects the commitment of the RCA Records Label and BMG Music to restore and preserve this most valuable of all contemporary music legacies.

The RCA Records Label
BMG Music, 1992"





Let's start with the officially remastered Hound Dog and the reason any sane person would want to compare that to all other released versions.

There is little point in complaining over CD releases of Elvis 50's masters prior to the 50's Box in 1992. Apart from tapes of different sources being used, commercial digital audio was new territory that apparently took the industry about 10 years to fully understand and in the meantime development brought technology to expand the limitations of the chosen format. But by 1992 it should have been possible provide consumers good CD transfers of vintage music as long as the source tapes were of high quality and most of Elvis' 1950's master tapes had indeed been found a year prior to the release of the "Complete 50's Masters". This box set was the turning point and all later releases so far seem to be from the same digital masters, including the restoration work done then. In a way these recordings sounded good, but on the other hand, what was there to compare with? Many fans, including myself, probably chose to believe the official statements that these were the definite RCA 1950's masters. The Sun masters were a different story and for a few of the RCA masters it seemed that the good tape sources couldn't be located. One of the few RCA masters that really sounded bad was
Hound Dog. But then, what's good and what's bad? To be a little more specific, there are at least 3 completely different flaws that can be identified by listening in any normal system.:

1. Too much dynamic compression, resulting in distortion.

2. Too much poor noise reduction, resulting in a total lack of ambience.

3. Poor equalization, resulting a frequency response close to that of AM radio (~10 kHz).

A closer investigation reveals possible pitch problems and a very overdone echo that's different on Left and Right channels. So the song is not even presented in mono.

Although a shame, we'd just have to accept this as a fact if this was best source around. However, Elvis and audio expert Juan Luis González Brugal had found a much better
Hound Dog released on the 1989 CD Billboard Top Rock'n'Roll Hits-1956 (Rhino R2 70599). After just listening to it in late 1999 I had my doubts at first, but when comparing it to the BMG version, it was obvious I had forgotten just how bad BMG's master is. There is absolutely no comparison; the Rhino Hound Dog is so much better and much closer to the original source. Any consumer could tell that. The first MP3 sample has the intro from the Rhino version followed by the same part taken from the BMG version. Fine, no big deal, now that the information of a better source was out, the situation would be rectified after which nobody would ever need to mention it again.

Alas no. Instead, in the first published official reply (Elvis Unlimited #6/2000) we were told that such claims of the original tape being sent to Rhino "
...could lead to a very unpleasant lawsuit between them (Rhino) and RCA" should it turn out that Rhino perpetuates this story. The "story", as it was called, was actually speculation by a couple of persons on this site and had nothing to do with the people behind Rhino. The reason for the speculation was us trying to figure out how the good Hound Dog possible could have made it to the old Rhino CD and BMG keeps releasing the worst sounding Hound Dog ever heard. One would have hoped that the quality of the recording alone ought to be more important than any "stories", claims or potential lawsuits.

Then in Paul Dowling's May 2000 Ernst Jorgensen interview, producer Jorgensen confirmed that BMG's
Hound Dog is mastered from the first generation master tape or the original album master at least and in a recent reply in The Man and His Music #49 he finally said Jehovah: "THE 'BILLBOARD' CD WAS MASTERED AT RCA FROM "SOME TAPE" IN RCA'S VAULTS." He also suggested that perhaps they 'doctored' the compression when it was mastered. 'Doctored the compression'? How do you gate signals when everything is of 'equal amplitude'? The compression is far too heavy for it to work. But the comment about the Billboard CD being mastered at RCA does fit with analyses and sad revelations of some of the worst known audio restorations ever done by the music industry. Although Hound Dog is the worst example, it turns out that most of the BMG 50's Box is a restoration disaster. This is easily shown, so let's take a closer look at the RCA masters as released on the 50's Box, even if it hurts.


As mentioned before, one of the flaws with the BMG Hound Dog master was an echo artifact, different on Left and Right channels. A true mono source should leave a completely silent difference. In reality, a 2-channel mono tape would have different subtle dropouts and weaknesses on each channel. The difference would be a bit noisy with sudden peaks and scratches as one of the channels drops out more than the other. A remastered mono song can be made from the channel that survived best or, if channels are perfectly synchronized in time, the average of the two channels (which also would eliminate random noise that was different on left and right channels). As our second MP3 sample starts to play we can hear that the amplified Rhino Hound Dog L/R difference isn't silent. And a huge dropout or broken peak can be heard after 4 seconds. Apart from that the difference sounds so consistent that it is fair to assume that the Rhino CD version is made from one single recorded track. The difference also implies that Rhino may have re-equalized whatever source they were using. Still, there's no big difference between the channels. The same can't be said of the BMG master that follows. WHAT'S THAT? Was this remastered in the bathroom? Actually, the L/R difference reveals a terribly overdone digital echo or reverb that possibly was applied to both channels. The point of extracting the difference like this is that there will always be a random difference with processing. The left and right channels will not be processed exactly the same even if all the settings were the same. So now that we hear the echo artifact alone an obvious question would be if this echo was on the originally recorded master? The answer is no.

Without making it too complicated let's start with the very first RCA recordings. Complicated because of the legendary stairwell echo. Any odd echo here could be explained if it weren't for the fact that we have high quality mono outtakes that were released on Platinum.

third MP3 sample is the Left/Right difference of I Got a Woman, first the excellent Platinum outtake, then the BMG master. As expected by now, the Platinum version has generated a difference close to that of the Rhino Hound Dog, but what about the BMG master? Well, it has the same dreadful echo difference artifact as the BMG Hound Dog. Why add digital echo when the original recording wasn't dry? Furthermore, frequency analyses show that the BMG master has a huge bass drop from 80 Hz and below. Unfortunately this kind frequency response is typical of BMG's masters, not only the 50's masters, but that's another story. By removing the deep bass and sometimes raising the midrange (even more evident on the Collectors Gold outtake of I Met Her Today), recordings do sound clearer, but also very flat. There is no way to compensate for the lost bass when so much of the original signal is lost. The Platinum outtake, with a minimum of lossy restoration, sounds very good in comparison.

To conclude the echo problem for now, our
fourth MP3 sample is a desperate search for life containing the amplified difference of Don't Be Cruel, Paralyzed and We're Gonna Move. They all are infected with that early 1990's digital echo. Even We're Gonna Move has it which isn't important to anybody who can recognize a digital echo, but worth knowing just in case somebody were to say the echo was on the original tapes or something.

n 1999 BMG Japan released a series of expensive paper sleeve collectors CD's of original LP's with claims of 24 bit/96 kHz transfers. One of the CD's, "Elvis Christmas Album", was even said to be taken from a "recently found mastertape". Still, a careful test of the song Paralyzed from Elvis' second album reveals that this probably is mastered from the same physical transfer as the 50's Box version. The difference in length is about 65 samples (~1.5 ms) after synchronization and there are no random time fluctuations which rather suggests multiple transfers from the same DAT source, but then 65 samples would be a lot. If an old analog tape were to be transferred physically on two different machines the error would show. So unless the BMG master was a 24bit/96kHz transfer in the first place the Japanese claim may be hard to explain. What they did do was a better normalization of amplitude and something very interesting; they seem to have added just a little noise above 16 kHz. This added noise is inaudible and doesn't do any harm nor any good, but it's interesting nevertheless because it shows that the Japanese may have been aware of the ambience problem and probably frustrated because better sources couldn't be obtained. On one channel they also added a little bass from 20 Hz and below of about the same amplitude. Needless to say, this isn't audible either and even difficult to measure.


What about the Christmas Album then?
This September 1957 session is one of the better sounding on the 50's Box and still, the Japanese release sounds much better on a good hi-fi system, mainly because the ambience is there. Blue Christmas is a fair example for a review like this as the difference is more evident on silent songs such as O Little Town of Bethlehem or I'll Be Home for Christmas. Our fifth MP3-sample has Blue Christmas as released by BMG Japan followed by the regular BMG version. Corresponding spectral plot shows the similar difference as for the Rhino/BMG Hound Dog. But considering the Paralyzed trick mentioned above we need more evidence to prove the Japanese version is as good as it sounds. A very interesting question here would be if it would be possible to derive the Japanese version from the BMG one. It looks impossible at first, but remember that the BMG versions of this session are the best on the Box so perhaps it might be possible to "restore" them closer to original splendor than other songs.

An experiment was prepared like this:

1. Playback of BMG CD on a normal player (=>D/A)
2. Analog re-equalization of BMG version
3. Re-transfer (A=>D) 48 kHz/20 bit SBM.
4. Digital re-sampling 48 kHz/20 bit => 44.1 kHz/16 bit of CDDA
5. Digital re-equalization and adding pink noise digitally

It turned out it was possible to bring the BMG version closer to the Japanese, but not all the way. The added pink noise resulted in a noise-spectrum very similar to that of the Japanese version. However, the traces of parametric filters could not be erased and most important of all: It was not possible derive the true peak-signals above 11 kHz of the Japanese track. So even if it wasn't easy to show it, there is no way the Japanese track could have been derived from the BMG version.

And best of all, on our
sixth and final MP3-sample that has the amplified Left/Right channel difference of Blue Christmas (sample #5), we finally find what we've been looking for: A noisy difference with sudden peaks and scratches as one of the channels drop out more than the other.

This Japanese CD is truly mastered from a noisy, old, but genuine 2-channel mono tape. And no CEDAR! One possible analog generation loss is nothing compared to dreadful digital restoration. It would be a waste of time and space to write down what the BMG difference sounds like.

To avoid mistakes here, there are no signs of any other Japanese paper-sleeve CD being mastered from anything else but ruined BMG masters, although I haven't checked all of them.


t is not interesting to find anyone to blame for all this. That's all in the past, but the following question stands out as important right now: Did BMG keep the early 1990's transfers as they were before restoration done then or did they just keep the restored disasters? (This question applies to SUN masters as well and especially You're a Heartbreaker that has a restoration job close to that of Hound Dog and that should be compared to the Bear Family ditto, mastered from the same 78 RPM transfer, as released on their first Sun singles Box.)

I have never heard such a destructive restoration job by any major record company before. There is not much a consumer can do, other than not to buy the products or trying to put pressure on the company to go back to the untouched digital transfers or to the analog tapes if they weren't kept. The latter would probably be expensive, but could perhaps be justified when they realize that their PCM-transfers won't do as digital archive format for the future anyway. (That's another subject, if the tapes will make it to a transparent digital format before falling apart and whether that format is SACD or not.)

Hopefully they did keep the basic digital transfers, or the "years of work, research and technical proficiency" may be the end of this most valuable of all contemporary music legacies.

S.J., November 2000

The Real Thing:
Billboard Top Rock'n'Roll Hits 1956
Rhino/Billboard CD (R2 70599)

This page contains short MP3 samples that are best played or decoded on a PC with Winamp version 2.22(Fraunhofer reference decoder) or version 2.7 or later (equally flawless). All samples are encoded in 256 kbps/Joint stereo with Lame MP3 Encoder version 1.05, engine 3.58 for full frequency response and a minimum of artifacts.


1. The Rhino version
2. The BMG version

Waveform of Hound Dog test file. The left source (Billboard) actually has peaks. The right source (BMG, Elvis 56) is the usual compressed BMG-version.
X-Axis=Time; Y-Axis=Sample Value (+/- 0-32768)

"Perhaps they 'doctored the compression' or something when it was mastered to give it more of a punchy sound ." (Ernst Jorgensen, interviewed in The Man and His Music#49, September, 2000.)

Spectral plot of Hound Dog test file. The left source (Billboard) actually
has frequency response up to 20 kHz and good signal above 15 kHz. The right source (BMG) is the usual noise-reduced "digitally remastered, optimized for AM-radio"-version.
X-Axis=Time; Y-Axis=Frequency components (black=silence; yellow=loud)


1. The Rhino version
2. The BMG version

The difference can be obtained simply by subtracting one channel from the other in any wave editor with a channel mixer. "Vocal Cut" is a common term for this since the subtraction will remove anything that's equal in left and right channels that normally would be lead vocals on a stereo recording.

If anybody want to try this at home:
1. Rip track 4 of CD 2 of the BMG 50's Box with any digital extraction tool.
2. Mix the inversion of Left channel with the right channel


1. The alternate Platinum version
2. The BMG master

The difference was extracted the same way as before. Again, try this at home.

Frequency and amplitude components of a 5-second sample of I Got a Woman. The magenta source (BMG master) shows a huge bass drop while the cyan source (Platinum) shows a more natural frequency content.
X-Axis=Frequency (Hz); Y-Axis=Relative amplitude (dB)
(FFT size: 65536)

"You can go in there and you can take the top frequencies out and boost the middle and you can add reverb, or somehow track the reverb." (Ernst Jorgensen interviewed by Paul Dowling in May, 2000.)


Don't Be Cruel
We're Gonna Move

Spectral plot of
Paralyzed test. The above source (BMG) seems to be the same as source below ("Elvis", BMG, Japan). Watch how they tried to compensate for the noise reduction.
X-Axis=Time; Y-Axis=Frequency components (black=silence; yellow=loud)

The Real Thing:
Elvis Christmas Album
BMG/Japan CD (BVCM-37085)


1. The Japanese version
2. The BMG master

Spectral plot of
Blue Christmas sample. The left source (Japanese) actually
has frequency response up to 20 kHz and good signal up to 17 kHz. The right source (BMG) is the usual noise-reduced, "digitally remastered" version as it appears on the 50's Box or the 1994 CD "If Every Day Was Like Christmas".
X-Axis=Time; Y-Axis=Frequency components (black=silence; yellow=loud)

Spectral plot of
Blue Christmas experiment.

Source 1 = The BMG version (left)
Source 2 = Experiment, derived from BMG version (middle)
Source 3 = The Japanese version (right)

Note that the added pink noise of the derived sample has resulted in a noise-spectrum very close to that of the Japanese. However, the horizontal, narrow/parametric filters could not be removed as indicated by the arrow at Note #1 in the figure (dark horizontal lines). Furthermore, neither re-equalization in the analog domain nor digital filtering can raise the true peak-signals (vertical lines, magenta in color) present on the Japanese track above the arrow denoted Note #2 (11 kHz). There is no way the Japanese track could have been derived from the BMG version.

X-Axis=Time; Y-Axis=Frequency components (black=silence; yellow=loud)

"It's not much better. It's the same." (Ernst Jorgensen interviewed by Paul Dowling in May, 2000.)


1. The Japanese version
2. The BMG master




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