A lot of people have asked me about the recent 10th anniversary edition of The Downward Spiral. "Is it worth getting the Deluxe Edition or the Dualdisc, or both?" The simple answer is that if you have a system that can play any of the 5.1 formats (Dolby Surround and DVD-A on the Dualdisc, or SACD on the Deluxe Edition), it is definitely worth it, the album works very well in surround sound. However, if you only have a two-channel setup (i.e. a regular CD player), the aural benefits are not nearly as pronounced to the less trained ear, and if your sound system isn't all that great anyway, you might not even perceive a difference.
Though the 5.1 mix has been remastered and remixed, the 2-channel versions are "just" remastered copies of the original mix. What does that mean? In short, it's a little bit louder, the bass and high end are represented a bit better. There's polish to the album. Here are some specific details on what's different about the remastered release of the album.
The top lists some statistics for the original CD, the bottom for the remaster. What do all those numbers mean?
Cursor position and cursor value are just references to where my cursor was on the waveform when I ran the statistical scan. Not important, but I didn't feel like editing them out.
Minimum/maximum sample values and positions tell where the loudest & quietest points were, and how loud or quiet they were. These are somewhat misleading, and not terribly informative, except to say that the remastered version is, at it's loudest point, 0.07db louder than the original release.
The RMS power is a measure of overall loudness. RMS is short for Root Mean Square. For more details on RMS, search Google Groups. What is shown here is that the remaster is an average of about 1.1db louder than the original.
And finally, the Average value, or DC Offset. DC offset is when the zero amplitude of the waveform (i.e. absolute silence) is not aligned to the zero amplitude of the playback system. This results in the positive side of the wave not being equal to the negative side of the wave (in amplitude) or vice versa. This screws with your speakers, digial-to-analog conversions, and hampers your dynamic range. Dynamic range in laymans terms could be categorized as the measure of volume-difference between the loud parts and soft parts of a waveform. The average value/DC offset shows that the original mix wasn't fully utilizing the available dynamic range, and by fixing that, the remaster is able to make the dynamic range just a little bigger.
Some further graphic examples of the differences between the two:
This image is a composite of the full waveforms of both the Deluxe Edition CD remaster and the original CD release. The differences between the two releases are visible as black and red. This is probably not a very accurate view, but it shows how much of a difference can be found between the two versions. The two waveforms represent the left and right channels.
This image demonstrates a zoomed in view of the drumbeat for March of the Pigs. The Deluxe Edition is on the top, and the original release on the bottom. You can very clearly see that the waveforms on the remastered Deluxe Edition are "fatter," with a greater overall loudness.
image shows a spectrum analysis of the entire waveform of both versions,
the original in red, the remaster in black. You can see that the high
frequencies were rolled off in the remaster. This also illustrates the
slight increase in overall loudness, with the remastered spectrum analysis
showing slighly higher levels than the original overall.
In addition to these aural enhancements, some minor glitches that were present in later pressings of the original CD have been corrected in the remastered release - for instance, the start of A Warm Place does not contain the split second of noise from the previous track, Big Man With a Gun. Actually, that's all I could really discern, besides the loudness stuff.
Even if you don't have a 5.1 Surround System, I would recommend picking up either the DualDisc or the Deluxe Edition of the Downward Spiral so you can listen to it in surround when you actually do get a surround system. The 5.1 remix is fantastic. The Deluxe Edition has far better packaging, and the inclusion of three demo tracks, but the DualDisc's DVD has some great close-up photography of the Russell Mills artwork from the TDS-era releases, nicely lit video backdrops behind the menus, and videos for Closer (in surround), Hurt and March of the Pigs.