Nirvana – Nevermind Review (CD, Streaming Amazon Qobuz Tidal, LP)

‘Nevermind’ is the second opus of Nirvana released on September 24, 1991, it is the reference rock album. This reissue is available in different versions, CD and vinyl versions, and also deluxe editions on vinyl and CD including in addition to the album the music of 4 concerts.

You can find the measurements of each edition in the different parts and listen to the samples of these albums here.

This album includes 13 tracks : 

  1. Smells Like Teen Spirit
  2. In Bloom
  3. Come As You Are
  4. Breed
  5. Lithium
  6. Polly
  7. Territorial Pissings
  8. Drain You
  9. Lounge Act
  10. Stay Away
  11. On A Plain
  12. Something In The Way
  13. Endless, Nameless

We will review 9 editions (Vinyl Back to Black and 2021, Streaming Amazon Music and Qobuz, Tidal) of this album.

First we will analyze each edition in detail (technical and qualitative analysis) then we will compare the successive editions with their dynamics and assign a final score and you will be able to listen some samples.

Review of the editions:

Part 1: Presentation of the editions

Part 2 : Waveform and dynamique comparaison

Parts 3 : Spectrum comparisons

Part 4 : Spectrogram comparaisons

Part 5 : Summary, scoring and Sample

Part 1: presentation of the editions

Ed1 : Vinyl ref 720642442517 – Back to Black – 2015
Presentation

It is a vinyl proposed here in single LP remastered version in 2015.

Includes a coupon to download an MP3 version of the album.

LabelDavid Gellen Compagny – Back To Black
Reference720642442517
Format (speed)LP 33.3 RPM
TypeLP
MasterDigital
Mastering/PressingRecorded at Sound City Studios
Mixed at Scream Studios
Mastered at Masterdisk
Original recordingAnalog
StateEU
Year original1991
Year production2015
Ed2 : Vinyl 30th ref 3846123- 2021
Presentation

It is a very nice vinyl proposed here in single LP remastered version in 2021 with a SP 45rpm. Album remastered from the original analog tapes on 180-gram vinyl.

LabelDavid Gellen Compagny
Reference3846123
Format (speed)LP 33.3 RPM + 7-Inch 45 rpm (3 tracks)
TypeLP 180g + 7-Inch 45 rpm
MasterDigital
Mastering/PressingMixed at Scream Studios
Recorded at Sound City Studios
Mastered at Sterling Sound
Lacquer cut at Sterling Sound
Original recordingAnalog
StateEU
Year original1991
Year production2021
Ed3 : CD ref GED 24425 – 1991
Presentation

It is the orignal CD released in 1991. Track 12 contains a hidden track “Endless, Nameless” that begins after a silent period at 13.51 seconds. CD tagged AAD (Analog for recording, Analog for mixing, Digiral for mastering).

LabelDavid Gellen Compagny
ReferenceGED 24425
Format (speed)16 bits 44.1 kHz
TypeCD, AAD
MasterDigital
Mastering/PressingRecorded and Mixed at Sound City
Original recordingAnalog
StateGermany
Year original1991
Year production1991
Ed4 : CD MFSL ref UDCD 666 – remastered 1996
Presentation

This is the Mofi remastered Album edited in 1996. Track 12 contains a hidden track “Endless, Nameless” that begins after a silent period of 10 minutes.

LabelMobile Fidelity Sound Lab
ReferenceUDCD 666
Format (speed)16 bits 44.1 kHz
TypeCD 24kt Gold Plated
MasterDigital
Mastering/PressingRecorded and Mixed at Sound City
Original recordingAnalog
StateES
Year original1991
Year production1996
Ed5 : Streaming Amazon Music UltraHD – Remastered 2011
Presentation

it is the Streaming Amazon Music remastered in 2011 presented in UltraHD 24 bits/96 kHz.

LabelAmazon Music – David Gellen Compagny
ReferenceAmazon Music UltraHD
Format (speed)Digital 24 bits 96 kHz
TypeDigital
MasterDigital
Mastering/PressingRecorded and Mixed at Sound City
Original recordingAnalog
StateUS
Year original1991
Year production2011
Ed6 : Streaming Qobuz Hi-Res – Remastered 2011
Presentation

It is the Streaming Qobuz remastered in 2011 presented in Hi-Res in 24 bits/96 kHz.

LabelQobuz – David Gellen Compagny
ReferenceQobuz – HiRes
Format (speed)Digital 24 bits 96 kHz
TypeDigital
MasterDigital
Mastering/PressingRecorded and Mixed at Sound City
Original recordingAnalog
StateUS
Year original1991
Year production2011
Ed7 : Streaming Qobuz 30th – Remastered 2021
Presentation

It is the Streaming Qobuz remastered in 2021 in HiRes 24 bits 192 kHz.

LabelQobuz – David Gellen Compagny
ReferenceQobuz – HiRes Streaming
Format (speed)Digital 24 bits 192 kHz
TypeDigital
MasterDigital
Mastering/PressingRecorded and Mixed at Sound City
Original recordingAnalog
StateUS
Year original1991
Year production2021
Ed8 : Download Qobuz 30th – Remastered 2021
Presentation

It is the Qobuz download remastered in 2021 in HiRes 24 bits 192 kHz.

LabelQobuz – David Gellen Compagny
ReferenceQobuz – HiRes Download
Format (speed)Digital 24 bits 192 kHz
TypeDigital
MasterDigital
Mastering/PressingRecorded and Mixed at Sound City
Original recordingAnalog
StateUS
Year original1991
Year production2021
Ed9 : Streaming Tidal 30th – Remastered 2021
Presentation

It is the Tidal streaming remastered in 2021 in Master MQA 24 bits 192 kHz, read in 24 bits 96 kHz in Audirvana.

LabelTidal – David Gellen Compagny
ReferenceTidal – Master Streaming
Format (speed)MQA 24 bits 192 kHz, converted in PCM 24 bits 96 kHz
TypeDigital
MasterDigital
Mastering/PressingRecorded and Mixed at Sound City
Original recordingAnalog
StateUS
Year original1991
Year production2021

Part 2 : Waveform and dynamic comparaisons

Waveform

The waveform represents all the tracks of the album.

The curve of the Ed1 vinyl shows the dynamics with the differences in the levels of the music. The level differences are slightly larger on the Ed2 vinyl 2021 version.

Waveform Ed1 : Vinyl Back to Black
Waveform Ed2 : Vinyl ref 3346123- 2021

The 1991 (Ed3) and 1996 (Ed4 MFSL) CD versions are very dynamic without any trace of dynamic range compression that degrades the signal. The black area represents the silence before the hidden song on track 12.

Waveform Ed3 : CD 1991
Waveform Ed4 : CD MFSL

All streaming and download versions released (Amazon, Qobuz, Tidal) in 2011 and 2021 are highly compressed as confirmed by the DR7. We can see that the levels are pushed to the maximum.

Waveform Ed5 : Amazon Music Streaming 2011
Waveform Ed6 : Qobuz Streaming 2011
Waveform : Ed7 : Streaming Qobuz 30th – Remastered 2021
waveform : Ed8 : Download Qobuz 30th – Remastered 2021
Waveform : Ed9 : Tidal Qobuz 30th – Remastered 2021
Waveform Ed10 : Streaming Amazon Music UltraHD 30th – Remastered 2021

Dynamic

We start this test by measuring the dynamic. Dynamic represents the ability to reproduce a wide range of sounds from the softest to the loudest. 

For our 9 editions we have obtained the following Dynamic Range (DR):

 Ed1: Vinyl 2015Ed2: Vinyl 2021Ed3: CD 1991Ed4: CD 1996Ed5: AmazonMEd6: QobuzEd7: Qobuz 2021Ed8: Qobuz Download 2021Ed9: Tidal 2021
GLOBALDR10DR11DR12DR11DR7DR7DR7DR7DR7
MinDR9DR10DR10DR11DR6DR6DR6DR6DR6
MaxDR11DR12DR13DR13DR8DR8DR8DR8DR8
Smells Like Teen SpiritDR9DR11DR11DR11DR6DR6DR6DR6DR6
In BloomDR9DR11DR11DR12DR7DR7DR6DR6DR6
Come As You AreDR10DR11DR12DR13DR7DR7DR6DR6DR6
BreedDR9DR11DR11DR12DR7DR7DR7DR7DR7
LithiumDR10DR11DR11DR11DR7DR7DR6DR6DR6
PollyDR11DR11DR10DR11DR8DR8DR9DR9DR9
Territorial PissingsDR9DR11DR12DR11DR6DR6DR7DR7DR7
Drain YouDR10DR11DR12DR12DR7DR7DR7DR7DR7
Lounge ActDR9DR10DR12DR11DR7DR7DR6DR6DR6
Stay AwayDR9DR12DR12DR11DR6DR6DR8DR8DR8
On A PlainDR10DR12DR12DR12DR6DR6DR7DR7DR7
Something In The WayDR10DR11DR13DR13DR8DR8DR6DR6DR6
Endless, Nameless  DR12DR12DR7DR7DR7DR7DR7

For the digital versions produced before 2011 (Ed3 and Ed4) we find a good dynamic with a DR11/DR12. For the 2011 and 2021 versions, the loudness war dominates and imposes a small DR7.
The vinyl is still dynamic with a DR11 for the version of 2021 (Ed2) and DR10 for the version of 2017 (Ed1).

As a reminder, the scale goes from 0 to more 20, but the dynamics are considered good from 12, quite good between 10 and 11, and deteriorate below 10.

Part 3 : spectrum comparisons

Spectrum

The Spectrum allows to check the tonal balance of the music (balance between treble, medium and bass sounds) and to detect process that may have been carried out during the recording, the mixing, mastering or manufacturing phases. It is also possible to detect frequency interference issues.

The curve represents the average frequency distribution over the sample track “Lithium”.

The curve of the 2017 Ed1 vinyl is similar to the 2021 remastered vinyl (Ed2). There are small differences in levels (yellow arrow) and especially an attenuation from 15 kHz followed by a 20 dB peak around 19 kHz (green zone).
The red arrows show two small peaks which correspond to the peaks present on the digital master (see the following curve).

Spectrum Ed1 Vinyl (white) vs Ed2 Vinyl 2021 (blue)

The 2021 vinyl curve (Ed2) is identical to the 2021 Qobuz curve (Ed8) up to 12 kHz. Above 12 kHz, the vinyl has a slightly higher treble level (1 to 3 dB).
The difference between the curves in the green area shows the difference between the background noise of the vinyl and the digital source.
The small red arrows show the correspondence between the peaks of the digital version and those of the vinyl version, indicating the use of a master with a sampling frequency higher than 48 kHz.

Spectrum Ed2 vinyl 2021 (white) vs Ed8 Qobuz 2021 (blue)

The curves of CD 1991 (Ed3) and CD MFSL (Ed4) are similar but with a difference of 5 dB in the area from 3 kHz to 6 kHz (yellow arrow).
The green arrow shows an attenuation of the Ed4 CD MFSL at 20 kHz, and also the 22 kHz cutoff which is normal for the sample rate of the CD (44.1 kHz).

Spectrum Ed3 CD 1991 (white) vs Ed4 CD MFSL (blue)

Here we have a perfect overlap between the two streaming versions of Amazon (Ed5) and Qobuz 2011 (Ed6). The other measurements (DR ans Spectrogram) also show that these versions are based on the same master.

Spectrum Ed5 : Streaming Amazon2011 (white) vs Ed6 : Streaming Qobuz 2011 (blue)

The graph below shows a perfect superposition of the curves between the Qobuz Streaming (Ed7) and Qobuz Download (Ed8) versions which shows the use of the same master.
We find the 2 parasite peaks around 20 kHz and a big peak of 40 dB above 70 Khz. Attention, the scale of the graph below is different from the other graphs with a maximum frequency of 96 kHz (instead of 48 kHz) necessary to show the whole spectrum for the sampling frequency of 192 kHz.

Spectrum Ed7 : Streaming Qobuz 2021 (white) vs Ed8 : Download Qobuz 2021 (blue)

The graph below presents a perfect superposition of the curves between the Tidal Streaming (Ed9) and Qobuz Streaming (Ed7) versions which shows the use of the same master.
We can see the 48 kHz cut (yellow arrow) of the Tidal version which is due to the fact that the MQA software decoding of a 192 kHz MQA file is limited to a 96 kHz sampling frequency.
We find the 2 peaks around 20 kHz (red arrows) and a high peak of 40 dB above 70 Khz (only on the version working at 192 kHz). Warning, the scale of the graph below is different from the other graphs with a maximum frequency of 96 kHz (instead of 48 kHz) necessary to show the whole spectrum for the sampling frequency of 192 kHz.

Spectrum Ed9 : Streaming Tidal 2021 (white) vs Ed7 : Streaming Qobuz 2021 (blue)

Part 4 : Spectrogram comparaisons

Spectrogram

Spectrogram is another representation of frequency versus time of a track. For each channel (right and left), horizontal axis represents time, and the vertical axis represents frequency. The amplitude is represented by the intensity (brightness) of the color of each point in the image.

For the spectrogram of the Ed1 vinyl, the yellow arrow shows that the limit is above 20 kHz. The white arrow shows the higher frequencies composed partly by the music and partly by harmonics created by the vinyl reading method.

The black arrow shows the peak at 19 kHz clearly visible on the spectrum which represents a straight horizontal line.

Spectrogram Ed1 : Vinyl Back to Black

For the spectrogram of the Ed2 remastered in 2021 vinyl, the yellow arrow shows that the high frequencies rise above 20 kHz. The white arrow shows the higher frequencies composed partly by the music and partly by harmonics created by the vinyl playback method.

The black arrow shows the high frequency peaks (like on digital versions) visible on the spectrum ith a straight horizontal line. This shows that vinyl can reproduce frequencies above 20 kHz.

Spectrogram Ed2 : Vinyl ref 3346123- 2021

The CD (Ed3) and CD MFSL (Ed4) show the frequency limit at 22kHz (yellow arrow) . The black area (white arrow) shows that there is no signal above 22 kHz, which is normal for a 44.1 kHz sampling rate. A 10 min silence is present before the last “hidden” track.

Spectrogram Ed3 : CD 1991
Spectrogram Ed4 : CD MFSL

Streaming Amazon 2011 (Ed5) and streaming Qobuz 2011 (Ed6) have a sampling rate of 96 kHz. The yellow arrow shows that the 20 kHz limit is exceeded, the signal goes up to 40 kHz (white arrow).
The black arrow shows the result of the peaks above 20 kHz presented on the spectrum with the red arrows.

Spectrogram Ed5 : Amazon Music 2011
Spectrogram Ed6 : Qobuz 2011

Streaming and download Qobuz 2021 (Ed7 and Ed8) have a sampling frequency of 192kHz. Warning, the scale of the graphs goes up to 96 kHz and not 48 kHz like the previous graphs. The yellow arrow shows that the signal increases well above 20 kHz. The black arrows show the peaks above 20 kHz and at 70 kHz also present on the previous spectrum of these editions.

Spectrogram Ed7 : Streaming Qobuz 30th – Remastered 2021 (scale 96kHz, not 48Khz)
Spectrogram Ed8 : Download Qobuz 30th – Remastered 2021 (scale 96kHz, not 48Khz)

Streaming Tidal 2021 (Ed9) has an original sample rate of 192kHz for the MQA format. Warning, the scale of the graphs goes up to 96kHz and not 48kHz like the previous graphs. The yellow arrow shows that the signal increases well above 20 kHz.
The white arrow shows that there is no signal above 48 kHz. This is normal, because the MQA software decoding is limited to 96 kHz decoding.
The black arrows show the peaks above 20 kHz also present on the previous spectrum of this edition

Spectrogram Ed9 : Tidal Qobuz 30th – Remastered 2021011

Part 5 : Summary, scoring and Samples

Ed1 : Vinyl ref 720642442517 – Back to Black – 2015

The Back to Black vinyl is a good pressing with low surface noise. The rendering is precise and more dynamic than the digital versions of 2011 and 2021. Especially in the second part of the extract, where we find the rhythm of the drums.
The sound is a little warmer than the CD versions (ED3 and Ed4).

  • Rating:
    • Dynamic: ●●●oo (3/5)
    • Bandwidth: ●●●●● (5/5)
    • Surface Noise: ●●●●o (4/5)
    • Restitution: ●●●oo (3.5/5)
  • Sample : “Lithium” vinyl 24 bits 88.2 kHz :
Sample “Lithium” vinyl
Ed2 : Vinyl 30th ref 3846123- 2021

The 30 year anniversary vinyl of the album is an equally good pressing with low surface noise. Like the BTB vinyl (Ed1), the rendering is precise and more dynamic than the digital versions of 2011 and 2021.
Especially in the second part of the extract, where we find the rhythm of the drums. But the bass is a little more precise than the Ed1 vinyl version (the level is a little lower at 50-100 Hz).

  • Rating:
    • Dynamic: ●●●oo (3.5/5)
    • Bandwidth: ●●●●● (5/5)
    • Surface Noise: ●●●●o (4/5)
    • Restitution: ●●●oo (3.5/5)
  • Sample : “Lithium” vinyl 2021 24 bits 88.2 kHz :
Sample “Lithium” Vinyl 2021
Ed3 : CD ref GED 24425 – 1991

The 1991 CD is very good, we find all the dynamics and the detail of all the instruments. This version, with the MFSL CD (Ed4) dominate the Hi-res digital editions of 2011 and 2021.

  • Rating:
    • Dynamic: ●●●●o (4/5)
    • Bandwidth: ●●●●o (4/5)
    • Restitution: ●●●●o (4/5)
  • Sample : “Lithium” CD 1991 16 bits 44.1 kHz :
Sample “Lithium” CD 1991
Ed4 : CD MFSL ref UDCD 666 – remastered 1996

The MFSL (MOFI) CD version is a little bit different from the 1991 CD. We find the same dynamics and the separation of the instruments, but with a better follow-up of the rhythmic certainly due to the small hollow between 3 and 6 kHz. Compared to the digital versions of 2011 and 2021, this version is more dynamic and more precise.

  • Rating:
    • Dynamic: ●●●oo (3.5/5)
    • Bandwidth: ●●●●o (4/5)
    • Restitution: ●●●●o (4/5)
  • Sample : “Lithium” CD MFSL 16 bits 44.1 kHz :
Sample “Lithium” CD MFSL
Ed5 : Streaming Amazon Music UltraHD – Remastered 2011

This streaming version of 2011 is proposed with a sampling frequency of 96kHz, which is clearly visible on the curves.
We can congratulate this effort to present editions with high sampling frequencies. But, this effort is broken by an important compression of the album compared to the original versions. It’s a tendency to compress everything, no artist wants to have a track that doesn’t sound as loud as another artist’s. So we have a 16-bit 44.1 kHz CD that sounds better than a 24-bit 96 kHz file that can contain 3.5 times more information!

  • Rating:
    • Dynamic: ●●ooo (2/5)
    • Bandwidth: ●●●●● (5/5)
    • Restitution: ●●ooo (2.5/5)
  • Sample : “Lithium” Streaming Amazon Music UltraHD 24 bits 96 kHz :
Sample “Lithium” Streaming Amazon Music UltraHD
Ed6 : Streaming Qobuz Hi-Res – Remastered 2011

This version is similar to Amazon’s 2011 streaming version (Ed5).

  • Rating:
    • Dynamic: ●●ooo (2/5)
    • Bandwidth: ●●●●● (5/5)
    • Restitution: ●●ooo (2.5/5)
  • Sample : “Lithium” Streaming Qobuz Hi-Res 24 bits 96 kHz :
Sample “Lithium” Streaming Qobuz Hi-Res
Ed7 : Streaming Qobuz 30th – Remastered 2021

For the 2021 remaster, we get a 192 kHz master, which is double the 2011 version (96 kHz). It’s a great technical effort to offer us this resolution. But, as for the 2011 version, the compression spoils the sound result and does not do better than the original CD in terms of dynamics and precision.

  • Rating:
    • Dynamic: ●●ooo (2/5)
    • Bandwidth: ●●●●● (5/5)
    • Restitution: ●●ooo (2.5/5)
  • Sample : “Lithium” Streaming Qobuz 30th 24 bits 192 kHz :
Sample “Lithium” Streaming Qobuz 30th
Ed8 : Download Qobuz 30th – Remastered 2021

The Download version is similar to the Qobuz streaming version (Ed7)

  • Rating:
    • Dynamic: ●●ooo (2/5)
    • Bandwidth: ●●●●● (5/5)
    • Restitution: ●●ooo (2.5/5)
  • Sample : “Lithium” Download Qobuz 30th 24 bits 192 kHz :
Sample “Lithium” Download Qobuz 30th
Ed9 : Streaming Tidal 30th – Remastered 2021

The Tidal version is particular, because unlike other streaming versions that use a lossless format like Flac, Tidal uses a proprietary MQA format.
This format encodes a high resolution format (192 kHz for example) into a 24 bits 48 kHz file. So we have a gain of bandwidth, which is practical for those who do not have high network speeds.

But, there is a constraint, you have to decode the MQA. It is possible to do it with a DAC integrating the decoder, in this case, we can go up to a sampling frequency of 192 kHz. If your DAC is not compatible, the reading software (Tidal, or Audirvana…) decodes the format but with a frequency limited to 96 kHz.

But, it is the quality of the master which makes for this album the difference, indeed, we find the same characteristics of compression as the Ed7 and the Ed8.

  • Rating:
    • Dynamic: ●●ooo (2/5)
    • Bandwidth: ●●●●● (5/5)
    • Restitution: ●●ooo (2.5/5)
  • Sample : “Lithium” Streaming Tidal 30th 24 bits 96 kHz :
Sample “Lithium” Sreaming Tidal 30th

In conclusion, we note the effort made to propose digital masters with very high sampling frequencies (192 kHz), but, it would be necessary that the editors propose these versions without loudness war to take benefit of it completely. Half of the way has been done, but the result is still behind the 1991 CD and 1996 MFSL versions. The vinyl still remains more dynamic than the corresponding digital version (streaming or download) and brings the warmer sound of this support.

Detail of the ratings :

  • Dynamic :
    1. Significant dynamic compression, DR less than 7
    2. Compression of the present dynamics, DR between 7 and 9.
    3. Correct piece DR >=10
    4. No dynamic compression (DR >12), dynamic rendering
    5. No dynamic compression, high DR and very dynamic sound rendering
  • Spectrum :
    1. Spectrum cut and less than 15 khz
    2. Spectrum cut at 15 khz
    3. Spectrum not conforming to the original and cut (not HD) or original but limited bandwidth (but less than 20 kHz)
    4. Spectrum conforming to the original (but not HD)
    5. Spectrum conforming to the original with HD resolution (higher than 24kHz)
  • Surface noise (only for vinyl):
    1. Continuous audible noise
    2. Audible surface noise except on passages with a high level of noise
    3. Reduced surface noise, barely audible on low level crossings
    4. Low surface noise, very good quality
    5. Very low surface noise, no defects, almost inaudible on the quiet passages (exceptional disc)
  • Restitution :
    1. Low quality of the restitution mixing dynamics, clarity, separation of voices and instruments.
    2. Average quality of the restitution mixing dynamics, clarity, separation of voices and instruments.
    3. Quality of the restitution mixing dynamics, clarity, separation of voices and instruments. Good record.
    4. High quality of the restitution mixing dynamics, clarity, separation of voices and instruments. Very high level disc.
    5. Maximum quality of the restitution mixing dynamics, clarity, separation of voices and instruments. Exceptional disc.

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