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Pretty Hate Machine Remaster

My parents weren’t cool enough to buy their 5 year old a Nine Inch Nails album when Pretty Hate Machine was first released. Actually I probably didn’t hear PHM until 10 years after its release. The Downward Spiral was my first NIN album, then I got Broken, then I started listening to Marilyn Manson, Skinny Puppy, KMFDM and others. When I first heard Pretty Hate Machine I didn’t like it, it sounded old. I still listen to Nine Inch Nails regularly and of all their releases spanning 22 years,  PHM is my least favorite. I don’t hate it, but don’t listen to it as often as the others. I’m telling you all this as a disclaimer.

Recently Trent Reznor announced that Pretty Hate Machine was going to get an update and re-release.

I’m happy to finally announce the re-issue of the first Nine Inch Nails record “Pretty Hate Machine,” releasing worldwide 11/22. UMe and Bicycle Music Group managed to locate the original mixes, so I went in the studio with Tom Baker and remastered it for a greatly improved sonic experience. In addition, Rob reinterpreted Gary Talpas’ original cover to make for a fresh new package.

It’s been an interesting trip watching the fate of this record float from one set of hands to another (a long and depressing story) but it’s finally wound up in friendly territory, allowing us to polish it up a bit and present it to you now. We had fun revisiting this old friend, hope you enjoy.


Tonight I had a listen to the new and improved Pretty Hate Machine to see if I liked it more. About a minute into ‘Head Like A Hole’ I asked my wife if she heard anything different. She did immediately. “It sounds different, I don’t like it, its not as dirty.” So there’s the totally non-audiogeek first impression. It does sound cleaner, and louder, more modern in some ways. I dropped the original and remaster into a DAW to A/B compare.

These are my thoughts as I listen to Head Like A Hole on speakers and headphones. I like this song more than the others on the album.
*NOTE* the remastered file is an mp3, I’m not going to buy it again, remember I didn’t like it all that much the first time

  • Clearly a louder master, as is the trend
  • Fuller bass, the kick drum definitely hits deeper
  • More midrange, listen to the synth bass, the original had the mids aggressively cut out
  • Much less dynamic, as are most hard NIN songs
  • Some of the percussion parts can be heard more clearly
  • Wider stereo image

[soundcloud width=”400″][/soundcloud]

[soundcloud width=”400″][/soundcloud]

It sounds better to me, but I wish they would have just rerecorded it with modern equipment. The very dated sounds, drum machines, cheap reverb etc and of course immature songwriting keep me from really liking most of the album. *flame suit on* Let me know what you think.


  1. Andrew
    Andrew December 9, 2010

    I don’t agree with him just remastering this dated music. Seems like he’s just killing time and trying to make a buck on some past success. Though I don’t blame him for it he should realize that PHM was great for its time and just adding a new paint job to the over all work isn’t really going to make it any better then it already is. For the most part I don’t agree with artists just rehashing old work and trying to make it relevant, it’s almost like he is denying that works place in history. Sure the quality of the original sucks but it is what it is, cheap sounding or not.

  2. Shaggy
    Shaggy December 9, 2010

    I’ll spare you the flames.

    The quote from Trent himself, I think, is honest and reveals that he’s not just in it to ‘rehash old work’. The PHM recording is a seminal release and holds a place as masterwork in album form.

    To my ears, the remaster (which I have in MP3 and Vinyl) is true to the original intent.

    I always wished that PHM was a bit louder (when I played it in clubs and radio), and that it needed a good brushing up.

    I think Trent did an excellent job on this and reaffirmed its great place in history.

    • TheK-Man
      TheK-Man August 2, 2013

      Shaggy: If you want a song or album a bit louder, there’s this incredible feature located on all home and DJ sound equipment. It’s called a VOLUME KNOB.

      Learn to use one instead of depending on mixing and mastering engineers compressing and regaining everything to be earsplitting loud at volume level 1-2 out of 10. smh..

  3. Robin
    Robin December 10, 2010

    Great article on something I had been wondering about for some time now. Should I go find that remaster or not?
    I guess not, because what you’re describing is exactly what I was afraid of…
    PHM is firmly lodged in my memories and that’s where it’s going to stay. Not that a remastered version would essentially ruin it for me, but because it wouldn’t add anything to my experience of the record I’ll steer clear.
    I don’t even care if any “cashing in on older work” is involved, I think Reznor has proven enough times that he’s not that kind of musician, but just personally, I’m not interested in a remastered Pretty Hate Machine…
    Also… +1 on the immature songwriting, I thought that was something you weren’t supposed to say… 😀

  4. Derek D.
    Derek D. December 13, 2010

    I have to disagree that he’s “killing time” and “trying to make a buck on past success” with this remaster. First, the album has been out of print for several years, so he’s making it available in the marketplace again. And if he’s doing that, why not clean it up. The original was a product of it’s time and it sounds that way. Many artists remaster their work, usually for the better, sometimes for worse, depending on whose listening. It’s all subjective. In this case, I’d say Trent made good changes to bring the album in line with today, but not to take away from what’s there. And there’s always the original that can be listened to.

    And to the author of this article: “I wish they would have just rerecorded it with modern equipment”. That’s what the live arrangements he does on tour are for; those are updated and sound much more in line with the rest of his catalog. It would sound like a different album had he gone back and rerecorded the whole thing, and I don’t think he’s too keen on revisiting half of these songs anyway.

  5. qwerty
    qwerty January 15, 2011

    The Non-Remaster sounds better

  6. Mish
    Mish October 18, 2011

    I gotta contribute to this one here. I got hooked on NIN when I was introduced to the song Echoplex in grade 8. (My first listen to NIN)
    At that time I had virtually no perspective of how music sounded like before the 2000’s. (Except Classic Rock)

    When I heard the original PHM, I thought it sounded really “old fashioned” and I didn’t realize it was Trent’s first album, nor did I know what retro meant lol.

    In 2011 I gained a far greater knowledge in retro music. I thought I’d give the old PHM a try again vaginally remembering that it had this peculiar sound to it.

    I found myself falling in love with it. It’s thick with the era it was created; flying with the colour of the album cover; hands down my favorite album. (though he has written far more sophisticated lyrics after PHM)

    Anyway about the remastered edition. It’s weird because it’s a hybrid; old style, new sound. My ears love the enhanced drums, bass and clarity, but my soul says that this album has lost it’s 1998 integrity.

    Off on the side here, if you want to listen to something a bit more retro and raw by Trent, check out his album demo called Purest Feeling.

    • TheK-Man
      TheK-Man August 2, 2013

      I scored the original Pretty Hate Machine at a thrift store in 2012. Since learning the difference between orginal and remaster, and having acquired a digital audio workstation software, I’ve wisened up:

      I never buy CDs new in a record store or electronics big box. Thrift stores and flea markets have been my domain since 2009, and I’ve had very few regrets. That unremastered, original to the source sound can’t be beat!

      ALL LOUD = no loud! Remember that.

  7. elph
    elph September 1, 2012

    Mish, PHM came out in 1989, not 1998.

    Anyway, I have always enjoyed PHM since I picked it up in 1997. Thinking about it, I have considered this my favorite album at least a few times in my life, and might still consider it now.

    Checking out the remaster, I feel that I still enjoy the original more, I know that it isn’t as loud as the remaster, but I always felt it was perfect the way that it is.

    By the way, something you all failed to mention is that Sanctified now has a huge vacant sounding spot in the middle, as the track was originally mixed to have a sample from Midnight Express played for nearly a minute there, which was left out of the remastered version.

  8. Cat Stanish
    Cat Stanish March 19, 2014

    As someone who thoroughly learned the album by heart and long since have lost the cd. I bought the remastered version. I love the clarity of sound it has and the songs seem improved to me. As a first time buyer, I may have bought the original version and been equally satisfied.

  9. sparbanie
    sparbanie October 18, 2014

    Pretty Hate Machine is a classic. The songs are not immature, they’re brilliant. Quite frankly, records like Spiral overused digital distortion. In general, I am opposed to messing with art. Leave it alone. But I was willing to give this remaster spin since it was done by Trent. After reading some reviews that the dynamic range has been reduced on this remaster, I am hesitant to buy it.

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