In my spare time I seek titles that are upgrades and ones that contain an alternative source. I do not want a title in my collection if there is a better release available. Knowing the differences comparing same show titles is important. I only use original silver disc titles to make my comparisons, nothing else.
My two determining factors for an upgrade are the completeness of the tape and it's sound quality. When I find a title that's even just a tiny better, then it's an upgrade. When those two factors aren't in the same title, I keep both.
My comparisons of differences will mostly be brief summaries or outlines of my more extensive notes, since many differences are considered trivial to normal cd collectors. I will present facts about the audio's continuum/completeness and sound. Since sound is an extremely subjective topic (*please read notes below), I will not simply say "this sounds better than..." I will mention the facts of why the sounds are different, to the extent it can be determined.
Presentation of concrete, provable information learned from listening to these titles is the only way I can help my collection. Furthermore, I don't have sentimental attachments to titles not most closely representing the original bootleg tape.
Premium packaging and pricing never affect the quality of the audio contained therein. It has no relevance. Music is the objective and always comes first. (Delicately extracting an issue from a cellophane wrapper to unfold a paper title and then having to remove a cd jacket from it, just to finally slide out the disc, is a very poor use of time and money.)
While listening to 2 or more different cd titles of the same show, I listen for and compare:
-all cuts I can detect, regardless of severity
-time before the 1st song, between songs, and after the last song
-equalizing differences, including sound level (using a pair of the same model cd player)
-audience talk/noises to determine if different source is used
-cd length/tape speed
Upgrades can sound better due to 2 primary reasons. It can be a different bootleg tape entirely or it can be a lower generation of the same tape. The secondary reasons would be that the tape had LESS of some of the *controllable variables listed below.
Cuts, gaps, dropouts, & stretches during or between songs can be explained by the following:
-Taper turning off recorder between songs to conserve tape.
-Recording device malfunction.
-Damaged tape due to natural deterioration or mistreatment. (This explains many stretched tape sections.)
-Time missed while one tape ended and the next tape got loaded into the recorder.
-Taper or trader "marking" the tape so he can identify it later. Sometimes a trade is made only if the receiver agrees not to trade it. If this "marked" tape is found outside of these special relationships, the taper will know of the deception. Others may mark a tape just to see where it will show up in the future.
-Taper doesn't release his full tape. Sometimes he will only release incomplete songs ranging from slightly cut to only small fragments. The rest of the tape is hoarded.
-*Copy of tape used was placed across multiple cassette tapes, creating more cuts.
-*Tape is not a low generation tape, thereby containing various errors that occurred along with making successive copies over the years.
-*Engineering of the tape (digital, physical manipulation, and equalization) used as the master for the cd can change the audio characteristics for better or worse. Often, the final tape used is not even checked for mastering or other inexcusable errors before being pressed on cd. Digital/electrical interference is occurring more often on titles released in the late 1990's.
-*Unfortunately, some traders simply aren't/haven't been concerned with maintaining the integrity of the original bootleg tape and don't mind unnecessary errors.
*Quality of sound is what most collectors care about. It is the most subjective aspect, meaning what might sound good to one person may not sound good to another. When a person says "this sounds better than that," it may be just because they prefer more midrange frequencies as opposed to high or low. It doesn't necessarily mean the one they like is a lower generation. Tapes can be equalized in many different ways.
How can one determine if a cd title used a different generation tape than some other release? It's not usually easy to differentiate. Some titles are louder than their predecessors. It can be due a closer gen or due to bringing up all of the frequencies. If the difference between two titles is that one tape has boosted frequencies, than truly, the difference is none.
The thing to listen to carefully is the difference between the background and foreground sounds.
When there is not a big difference between generations, most will never be able to notice the difference. In these cases, it takes knowing who supplied the tape to the cd manufacturer.
Often, titles contain multiple sources when available, trying to utilize the best sounding sections of each tape. This creates more cuts. Sometimes this is the only way to compile a complete show. It is difficult to determine exactly why imperfections exist unless you are holding either the original tape reels or a 1st, 2nd, or maybe 3rd generation copy.