It has been noted that the sound of the music on the "Elements" anthology is distinctly brighter and more forward-sounding (and, at times, even shrill) than on the two CDs issued on the Island Masters label in the early 1990s. The latter two discs were mastered for CD by Jon Field, while the entire "Elements" collection was mastered by the staff of Polygram.
In 2006, Eclectic Records released all four of the Island albums in a newly-remastered form. To my ears, these editions have a sound balance which is quite close to that of the Island Masters discs, and are far more pleasant to listen to than the "Elements" versions.
The following spectral plots demonstrate the differences between the various masterings.
|Eclectic Discs||Island Masters||Elements||Overlay|
Compared to Jon Field's mastering, the Eclectic Discs version has a slight rolloff above 10 kHz, and slightly greater extension into the very upper treble. It's likely that neither of these differences are significant, and in fact they're probably inaudible to most listeners over 25.
On the other hand, the "Elements" mastering shows a very significant boost in all frequencies above 3 kHz, when compared against either the Island Masters or Eclectic Discs masterings. The boost looks to me as if it's as much as 5 dB or more, and probably accounts for the brighter and more forward sound of the "Elements" version.
The differences visible in the low-frequency portions of the logarithmic-frequency plots (below 20 Hz or so) are probably not musically significant. I believe that they probably reflect differences in the playback recorders' heads, and in the tape playback equalization electronics.
It's impossible to compare these two versions against a version mastered for CD by Jon Field, since no such version exists. However, it is apparent that the upper midrange and treble of the "Elements" version are distinctly "hotter" than on the Eclectic Discs version.
This difference seems to be on the same order as what we saw above with "Heaven stone".
I think it likely (based on this analysis and on a conversation with a Polygram representative some years ago) that Polygram probably applied a consistent boost to the upper midrange and treble of all four of the albums mastered for the "Elements" anthology.