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Why Music Really Is Getting Louder

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the what's-that-grandpa dept.

Music 388

Teksty Piosenek writes "Artists and record bosses believe that the best album is the loudest one. Sound levels are being artificially enhanced so that the music punches through when it competes against background noise in pubs or cars. 'Geoff Emerick, engineer on the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album, said: "A lot of what is released today is basically a scrunched-up mess. Whole layers of sound are missing. It is because record companies don't trust the listener to decide themselves if they want to turn the volume up." Downloading has exacerbated the effect. Songs are compressed once again into digital files before being sold on iTunes and similar sites. The reduction in quality is so marked that EMI has introduced higher-quality digital tracks, albeit at a premium price, in response to consumer demand.'"

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388 comments

404 File Not Found (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19448437)

Looks like /. is a scrunched up mess!

It is not too loud! (5, Funny)

mi (197448) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448447)

You are too old!

Re:It is not too loud! (3, Funny)

Sigma 7 (266129) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448585)

You are too old!
Can you repeat that? I have trouble hearing you... </joke>

The older I get the louder I need it (4, Interesting)

ahbi (796025) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448721)

I have noticed that the older I get the louder I need music to be. Especially voice.

In fact I am 35 and I watch all DVDs with the subtitles. (Of course, part of that is that I watch a lot of DVDs at 1.2x to 2x speed, but ... Really who the Hell could actually stand "A Scanner Darkley" at normal speed?)

But back to my point, as I age I am less and less able to sift background noise from speech.
And we now live in an aging society.

Re:The older I get the louder I need it (1)

Peter Cooper (660482) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448793)

part of that is that I watch a lot of DVDs at 1.2x to 2x speed

How do you do that? I haven't seen a DVD player that continues to show subtitles while on fast forward, so I'm interested to know how you have this going.. sounds like a great idea!

Re:The older I get the louder I need it (4, Informative)

ahbi (796025) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448829)

PowerDVD
Yeah, I have to use a PC. Well, my laptop.

I usually copy a DVD or 3 to my laptop before going on a business trip. NetFlix has gotten me so DVD dependent that I can't watch normal TV anymore. So, the hotel TV is out (unless HBO just happens to have something on). (I am always stunned when I watch CNN that that is what network news has devolved into. 2-3 people screaming.)

My wife would never handle the 1.2x speed for things she watches.
My actual DVD player appliance that I bought ... mmm ... 5 years ago when they finally dropped below $100. It doesn't do sound or subtitles during fast forward. Nor does it do 1.?x speeds. Just 1, 2, 4, & 8x. Whereas PowerDVD has 1, 1.1, 1.2, 1.5, 2, and up to 32x. Normally I watch at either 1.1 or 1.2x.

I used to hook my laptop up to the TV via the S-Video port, but that is cumbersome.

Re:The older I get the louder I need it (1)

beyondkaoru (1008447) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448973)

i don't know about dvd's, but mplayer's been great for speed up/down for me.

Re:The older I get the louder I need it (1)

jimmydevice (699057) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448849)

If you are 35 and have that much hearing loss, You're screwed.

JimD, WHAT??? (pushing 52)

Pete Townshend reference not included at a courtesy detail.

Re:It is not too loud! (4, Interesting)

saskboy (600063) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448831)

It's tough being able to hear. Unlike many of my peers, I'm not going deaf, and so going to a bar is painful, since I haven't spent years ruining my hearing like they have. Yes I'm old, but their ears are older, and they wouldn't need it up so loud if they'd cared for their ears like I have done for mine.

I try to congratulate DJs that don't cross the pain threshold with their volume level. There are even some restaurants like Boston Pizza in some locations, that play their music loud enough to damage hearing after not a long exposure.

Cranked up to 11 (5, Insightful)

tbo (35008) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448889)

It's tough being able to hear.

I know what you mean, and I'm not even old and wise. I went to a concert for the first time in a few years, and was reminded of why I stopped. I had to wear ear plugs most of the time, which, since they don't attenuate all frequencies evenly, totally messed up the sound.

Imagine if, when you entered an art gallery, they stabbed out one of your eyes. That's how much sense it makes to destroy people's hearing when they go to concerts.

Re:Cranked up to 11 (4, Informative)

Eideewt (603267) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448949)

Hearos make a good pair of reusable ear plugs for only $15. They're not as good as custom molded plugs, but they're fairly flat and don't even come close to totally messing up the sound. If you plan to go to a concert ever again, think about picking up a pair. Heck, just carry some in your pocket all the time, since you never know when you'll meet with loud noises.

Re:Cranked up to 11 (1)

tbo (35008) | more than 7 years ago | (#19449077)

Thanks, I just looked at the Hearos site, and the listed attenuation data actually looks pretty reasonable.

What I don't get is why it has to be so loud in the first place.

Also, the Loudness War (5, Informative)

antdude (79039) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448451)

VideoSift [videosift.com] mentions an one minute and 52 seconds YouTube video [youtube.com] showing big-name Compact Discs (CDs) [and other audio sources] manufacturers are distorting sounds to make them seem louder. At the same time, sound quality suffers.

Re:Also, the Loudness War (4, Funny)

Penguinisto (415985) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448641)

...and here all this time I thought it was just because the latest top-40 bands simply sucked. I never knew there was a technical explanation for it.

(The real scary part is, I can't even tell for myself if I'm just kidding or not, now that I think about it...)

/P

Dubious reasoning (4, Insightful)

Puff of Logic (895805) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448455)

The reduction in quality is so marked that EMI has introduced higher-quality digital tracks, albeit at a premium price, in response to consumer demand.
Odd. I was under the impression that the higher quality tracks were incidental to releasing non-DRM'd tracks in iTunes. Essentially, the higher quality eased the pain of another $.30 per track.

Re:Dubious reasoning (1)

cabd (970146) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448481)

Congrats!
You got it!

They are tying to hide the fact that you are paying an extra 30 cents to not have your fair use rights trampled on!

Re:Dubious reasoning (1)

squidinkcalligraphy (558677) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448667)

There was a story only a couple of days ago on slashdot about how digital compression is less important than earphone or speaker quality. In the study, people found the 128kbps compressed audio through high quality earphones (shure) better than uncompressed PCM through original ipod earphones.

It's called hearing loss (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19448461)

From all that loud music.

Re:It's called hearing loss (2, Funny)

Hal_Porter (817932) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448709)

THAT'S NOT TRUE. HEARING LOSS CAUSED BY LOUD MUSIC IS A MYTH SPREAD BY BORING PEOPLE.

I had to put this in because the lameness filter doesn't have a sense of humour or irony.

Re:It's called hearing loss (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19448837)

WHAT??

Sound engineers can bitch all they want, (3, Insightful)

Spazntwich (208070) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448463)

but if the music keeps selling, the labels are providing exactly what the cloth-eared idiot masses want, and in the end they're out to make a profit, not "quality music."

Re:Sound engineers can bitch all they want, (4, Insightful)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448525)

Most people listen to music while doing something else, such as driving, ironing, gardening, trolling slashdot, etc. The quality does not matter that much during those activities. It is noticed by audiophiles far more than Joe Blow.

Re:Sound engineers can bitch all they want, (3, Informative)

Hal_Porter (817932) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448907)

Most people listen to music while doing something else, such as driving, ironing, gardening, trolling slashdot, etc.

The best music to troll to is alternative rock like Laibach since everything they did was a troll to dim witted lefties. Most real punk rockers would appreciate the concept of trolling too - consider Sid Vicious in his Swastika T shirt. Sid probably didn't like the Nazis, he just wanted to trigger a debate on their alleged crimes. Post Dead Kennedies however punks have a simplistic worldview where the US is evil and its opponents are good. If you argue with any part of it, you must be evil.

Not coincidentally, this worldview is identical to the Bush supporters' worldview they pretend to hate but with all the signs reversed, a sort of ideological mirror image. This sort of music is therefore very bad to troll to, since it is just designed to agree with the prejudices of its fans, much like Fox News does for Republicans.

If I were flaming slashdot or driving however I'd go for Neanderthal, irony challenged Rap music. Or Post DK punk, something dumb and angry.

Re:Sound engineers can bitch all they want, (1)

Lorkki (863577) | more than 7 years ago | (#19449019)

The best music to troll to is alternative rock like Laibach since everything they did was a troll to dim witted lefties.

I thought they were more of a satire of dim-witted "righties", but to each his own I suppose.

Re:Sound engineers can bitch all they want, (1, Troll)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448637)

that's a terrible attitude to have in any business, people like you are whats wrong with the world.

RTFA (2, Informative)

weighn (578357) | more than 7 years ago | (#19449035)

but if the music keeps selling, the labels are providing exactly what the cloth-eared idiot masses want

"The brain is not geared to accept buzzing. The CDs induce a sense of fatigue in the listeners. It becomes psychologically tiring and almost impossible to listen to. This could be the reason why CD sales are in a slump."

The <b> is added for emphasis. The "buzzing" is clipping - where the audio signal peaks and the wave is squared off. Cloth ears don't make you immune to that.

A good video explanation (4, Informative)

aaron p. matthews (96130) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448477)

This video explains the effects of audio compression quite clearly, albeit the sound quality is only what YouTube can allow.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=3Gmex_4hreQ [youtube.com]

cheers.

Re:A good video explanation (2, Informative)

weighn (578357) | more than 7 years ago | (#19449069)

This video explains the effects of audio compression quite clearly, albeit the sound quality is only what YouTube can allow. cheers.

you can do this yourself using Audacity. Rip part of any rock album produced prior to c.1993 (from what I can recall it has been happening for this long) and compare it to any form of rock recorded in a studio since the "Seattle sound" came to the fore.

the older stuff has some dynamic range - the corporate rock produced during the past 15 years can virtually be defined by the shapelessness of the wave.

Terminology confusion? (5, Insightful)

megabyte405 (608258) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448483)

Is it just me, or does that article (intentionally?) confuse the two meanings "compression" can have with regards to digital audio? The loudness bit is audio compression: reducing dynamic range (which they do talk about). Then, they bring in the bit about data compression and the EMI iTunes Plus downloads, which is entirely different (admittedly, it also introduces artifacts, but of a completely different nature). The bit about the Los Lonely Boys album "compression-free" could easily be free of either (or both!) kinds of compression.

While the logical part of me chalks it up to confusing terminology being misunderstood, part of me wonders if those meanings are being intentionally conflated to make the article more impactful... it would sound less impressive if EMI wasn't "admitting there is a problem with compression"

Re:Terminology confusion? (4, Informative)

mypalmike (454265) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448521)

You are completely correct in your analysis. Compression [wikipedia.org] isn't really related to compression [wikipedia.org] . But it makes a good "double whammy" for the article.

Re:Terminology confusion? (1)

Rimbo (139781) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448779)

It makes a good double whammy for the article, and the effect in both cases is that sound quality degrades.

Re:Terminology confusion? (1)

Penguin (4919) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448903)

Yeah, guess they really raised the whammy bar on this one.

Re:Terminology confusion? (4, Informative)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448589)

Never attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence just as easily.... The whole thing strikes me as an article written by someone who simply doesn't understand the difference between psychoacoustic-based data compression and dynamic compression....

I'd be amazed if any album other than classical music were made without compression. A drum kit or other similar drums without at least some compression sound pretty silly. Basically, you end up burying the entire mix in the mud to keep the drums from clipping... unless you record on analog tape and just let it clip (soft saturation), but in that case, you're really compressing the signal, just without calling it compression. The peak of the sound is just too soft compared to the meat of the sound to give you a usable volume without either adding compression or limiting (which is just a special case of compression).

Re:Terminology confusion? (0)

mabhatter654 (561290) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448725)

it's not about compressing the DATA... they purposefully mess with the sound to make it more "radio" and "professional". I think most live bands I've heard have a very bad balance... you can't hear vocals.. coming from playing in school band, the balance of the instruments is key to it sounding like music and not just a bunch of people playing instruments. In a band or orchestra, there's no "sound engineer" to fix the balance.. you have to listen to the people around you.... but that's not what this is about.

I notice it in radio because certain women voices I simply can't hear. I have the radio so loud my ears hurt, but I can't hear what the woman is saying. That "radio voice" is tuned for a man's dynamic range, a womans and they sound terrible over the air, and you only get woman DJs that can sound "good" with those horrible conditions... none of the woman DJs sound like what a woman with a very good speaking voice would sound like. If you watch the YouTube they've squished the minute parts of what we intrepet as speech and it's hardly intelligible. In radio, they do that because we all listen with crappy speakers anyway. Most of the time you won't notice it when your moving around, but it also increases the "quality" of the broadcast by "compressing" the frequencies to fill the spectrum...and at the same time letting them make "clear edges" to account for frequency drift and interference. Unfortunately, they started mastering all the CDs that way because that's what people are told is "right" on radio and TV audio. They whole push against this really started after 9/11 when broadcast stations made the switch to more spoken word for news and it sounded terrible... it came to light how badly they were mangling the music and they backed off some, but a lot more people started paying attention to their ears.

Re:Terminology confusion? (1)

ozmanjusri (601766) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448929)

Yes, if you compress all your data into a single block with no spacing, it becomes unclear and unpleasant to contemplate.

Re:Terminology confusion? (1)

RegularFry (137639) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448875)

Don't psychoacoustic models involve dynamic compression to increase the quantisation of the signal, thus making it more susceptible to data compression?

Re:Terminology confusion? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19449037)

I think that they actually meant, that the music was being (audio-)compressed again when encoding to mp3's. A lot of internet radio stations do that.

There is a difference (1)

comm2k (961394) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448487)

between file compression (mp3 / ogg / whatever) and compression as used by sound engineer. It will basically make the music have more of 'punchy' feeling. Google for loudness race - 'carefully' listen to a current top-ten pop song and you will easily notice how crappy it actually is.

Not all pop songs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19448489)

If you try mixing music and spend a lot of time doing it on many different styles, you'll notice that still quite a few pop albums are mastered without inducing clipping. I've mostly noticed this in Japanese pop though, so what I'm saying may not apply to what's being told in the article.

Similar to (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448495)

Kind of reminds me of the banner ad obnoxiousness arms race. The flashing red-to-black-to-yellow ones drove me crackers. I downloaded Mozilla just to block that kind of crap. The rotting toenail cream ad was also a doozy.

New model speakers (4, Funny)

Bob54321 (911744) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448501)

The problem is that todays speakers go up to eleven. That one louder...

Old news.. (1)

Hooya (518216) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448879)

Amps that go to 11 are old news. Nigel confirmed it himself that he now has amps that go to infinity. On The Satch Tapes [satriani.com] . Or was he saying that Satriani had those amps? I forget. Whatever the case may be, somebody has amps that go to infinity dammit. Top that you evil volume level compressors!

2001 called... (1)

psyburn (790106) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448507)

They want their news back sans EMI item

Now for my karma beating...

Peaking (5, Insightful)

zerocool^ (112121) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448511)


We always called it "peaking", and it's something that everyone who's recorded an album in the spare bedroom of their band mate's house can attest to - if you record with fewer peaks (places where the sound wave maxes out at the top of the available volume area), it sounds better. It just plain sounds better.

But, take songs off that CD and slam them onto a mix-tape style rotation or an iPod, and you'll be reaching to turn up the volume every time your song comes on.

From what I can tell, recording engineers are responding to the bands who don't want people to have to turn the music up (in particular record execs). It's one of those terrible problems - if everyone would agree on such-and-such date to back off the recording volume and get less peaks (say, no more than 7 per album), everyone's music would instantly sound better. But the fact that everyone's competing, and you don't want your copycat pop punk band to be the quiet one, means it's a self perpetuating problem.

~X

Re:Peaking (0)

mypalmike (454265) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448643)

Sounds like a Nash equilibrium.

Re:Peaking (1)

Belacgod (1103921) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448915)

A Graham Nash Equilibrium?

Re:Peaking (5, Informative)

varkatope (308450) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448699)

The issue isn't the peaking itself. A peak happens when a signal has surpassed what the receiver of that sound was designed for. If you pump a really loud signal into a preamp on a mixing console (even a small cheap one these days) and the "peak" light has come on, it means the signal is too loud for the equipment. It results in audible distortion and you should turn it down. What a compressor would do in this case is take the full spectrum, from lowest to highest point of the sound frequency and compress in a way that in effect, makes the highest and lowest frequencies squish into a tighter waveform. It's like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, but then shaving off the corners of the square peg to make it fit. In effect, you're avoiding actual peaking or overloading of the equipment so you can turn the signal up louder without overload. Therein lies the problem.

Compression is a necessary part of recording. Judicious use of compression can make a mix really come together and fit everything into it's right place. Notice that I said judicious. It's unfortunately a very useful tool which can easily be abused. OVER compression starts to result in the degradation of the signal. Sometimes you can hear it "pumping and breathing." Over compression is nasty, plus it destroys dynamics. Forget that crescendo on the second movement. Your violin solo is now exactly as loud as your entire orchestra. Are you excited yet? It's also extremely tiring to listen to. Take a pure square wave and pump it through a speaker. Look at that speaker and notice how fast and constantly the speaker cone is vibrating. Take your newfangled over compressed rock/pop CD and extract audio into some sort of multitracking software like Pro Tools or Ardour even. Expand the view a bit and look at the wave form. Looks a lot like a square wave the way the tops and bottoms of that wave form are chopped off doesn't it? Extract audio from a cd you really like from say, the mid 60s. Look at the wave form. There are peaks and valleys and quiet parts and loud parts, the tops and bottoms of the waveform are not chopped off. Now imagine what that new over compressed pop/rock record is doing to your eardrum even at low volume while keeping in mind the speaker cone. Your ear works a lot like that speaker cone. It's vibrating exactly as fast as that speaker cone. It's a mechanical part. There is fatigue involved. Plus it's just boring to listen to. It sucks out emotion and excitement.

By the time you hear your average top 40 hit on the radio, it has been compressed during recording twice (on individual sound sources and probably again when a stereo mix is produced), during mastering, then again at the radio station. Radio stations want their station to catch your ear, plus it helps in keeping signal strength over long distances. Labels want louder songs to compete with the other loud songs, bands want their record to sound like this other loud record, mastering engineers are asked by either the band or the label to make it as loud as possible. You know who's paying the bill so they do it. Recording engineers can be pressured to over-compress by the band or label or just by wanting to have a job in the next year and they might do it as well. Even if they turn in a good balanced mix for mastering, it's a crap shoot whether their mixes will sound the same when the record actually gets put out.

It's a shite state of affairs all around.

Re:Peaking (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19449051)

Compression is a necessary part of recording. Judicious use of compression can make a mix really come together and fit everything into it's right place. Notice that I said judicious.

not everyone uses compression, as an engineer from Polyhymnia [sa-cd.net] says:

Many if not most CD's and lots of SACD's, even of classical music, have their dynamic range significantly compressed, either with a compressor or by manual gain riding. At Polyhymnia, we generally do little or no gain riding, and no compression, preserving the dynamic range of the original performance as much as possible. That why some of our SACD's may sound softer than some others. Rest assured that we are competent, and that every master we send out is recorded at full level.

Re:Peaking (1)

ghyd (981064) | more than 7 years ago | (#19449089)

At the same time, only top 40 (or wanabe top 40) music is always over compressed and, well it's not a great loss.

Re:Peaking (1)

djw (3187) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448711)

Not quite. It isn't the number of peaks that counts, it's the ratio of peak to "trough" -- how much louder the loud passages are than the quiet passages. If that ratio is high, then since the peaks are relatively rare, listeners will have to turn up the recording to hear the rest of it at a satisfying level.

The problem is that in digital recording you never want to "max out" as you put it -- you'll lose part of the sound due to an unpleasant kind of distortion called clipping [wikipedia.org] . So the mastering technique called dynamic range compression [wikipedia.org] flattens out the overall contour of the audio by smoothing out the peaks, and then you can master the whole thing at a louder volume.

Excessive compression leads to a harsh, unvaried, and tiring sound. AKA modern popular music.

ReplayGain (1)

_Shorty-dammit (555739) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448965)

I never reach for the volume control from song to song, because all music I listen to has been ReplayGained. They're all the same average volume after that processing, so I just set my desired listening level, and that's that. One song isn't louder or quieter, overall, than the next one. CDs should be mastered to meet ReplayGain's levels to begin with. Older CDs with nice mastering are actually pretty damn close. I don't know how this issue is taking so long to deal with, lots of us have been complaining about this clipping for well over a decade.

Good audio example (5, Informative)

Guanine (883175) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448515)

Here's a great audio and visual (narrated) example of the "loudness wars" [digido.com] and the way that reduction in dynamic range reduces the quality of the recorded sound. Keep in mind, this isn't audiophile mumbo-jumbo... this is a very real and very unfortunate trend in what the engineers who master albums (specifically pop albums) are required to do to keep their albums "competitive" with all the other loud albums.

Re: Good audio example (2, Informative)

gotgenes (785704) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448609)

That's a spectacularly illustrative link. Also, here's a preemptive Coral Cache link to the media file [nyud.net] in case of a /.ed server.

Re:Good audio example (1)

Lisandro (799651) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448813)

There's a very good article in Wikipedia (here [wikipedia.org] ) regarding this very issue, including some very good waveform images and analysis - both the comparison [wikipedia.org] of a 1981 album and its' 2005 re-release, and the waveform of an Oasis single [wikipedia.org] are particularly telling.

Thanks for uploading this (0, Offtopic)

kent12er (1109455) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448517)

"great article, thanks for sharing it." http://www.greatdownload.org/ [greatdownload.org]

How about a technical fix for MP3/AAC/etc? (1)

RalphBNumbers (655475) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448533)

Couldn't we just add a tag to every track with a floating point number by which to multiply the magnitude of all the samples in that track by default.

That way the track could be recorded with it's full dynamic range preserved, so people who care about dynamic range can hear it clearly. And as the loudness war progresses that one multiplier could just be incremented, so that people who don't care about dynamic range will hear the track loudly.

Re:How about a technical fix for MP3/AAC/etc? (1)

saxoholic (992773) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448621)

I've played around with sound engineering and recording a decent amount, and the problem here is that if you just blanketly increase the sound like that it can distort, and if loud peaks in dynamics are already at or near the max, then just increasing the volume of the track will cause it to clip, or distort at those points. It's annoying, especially when I record myself and want to put it on my ipod with other stuff, because when my recording comes on... I need to turn the volume up.

Re:How about a technical fix for MP3/AAC/etc? (2, Informative)

astromog (866411) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448715)

So... replaygain [wikipedia.org] ?

it's called normalize-audio (5, Interesting)

Erris (531066) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448777)

Couldn't we just add a tag to every track with a floating point number by which to multiply the magnitude of all the samples in that track by default.

You already have a built in upper limit, normalizing the range to that limit fixes the problem.

Normalize-audio is a package that does this. Here's what the Debian repository says:

normalize-audio is a tool for adjusting the volume of WAV files to a standard volume level. This is useful for things like creating mix CDs and mp3 databases, where different recording levels on different albums can cause the volume to vary greatly from song to song.

The package also works on ogg vorbis and mp3. You can do it on ripping, or playback. Each song can be normalized individually or as a collection. The result is that you don't have to reach for the volume knob all day.

You are SOL if the record company has already applied dumb techniques to the CD before you get it. Peak "compressing", where all of the peaks are maxed out is a real distoriton of the original sound. When you add a heavy handed turn up that clips as well, you get Californication as mentioned. As the article also notes, it's difficult to digitize clipped audio. A clipped wave is like a square wave - it has all frequencies and takes lots of bandwith.

News ... that matters? (1)

BorgCopyeditor (590345) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448535)

It's an interesting fact, but one that people on usenet groups frequented by aesthetically-minded audio engineers have been talking about for years. The earlier post in this thread shows some pictures of the sound that are interesting.

compression vs. compression (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19448537)

Dynamic range compression is wrecking today's music, but the summary seems to have gotten it mixed up with lossy audio compression, which entails encoding, say, an MP3 or AAC file from uncompressed data (typically a CD). The word "compression" in the context of audio can refer to either of these unrelated processes.

See the Wikipedia articles:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dynamic_range_compres sion_(audio) [wikipedia.org] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Audio_data_compressio n [wikipedia.org]

Vinyl? (1)

Niten (201835) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448545)

I've come to the opinion that modern vinyl records often sound in some respects better than their digital versions - even though vinyl is an inferior medium, today's records presumably aren't "engineered to death" like the CDs and MP3s that are the subject of this article; radio stations don't play records any more, so the same pressures that factor into the digital masters don't apply.

Of course, this could be entirely in my head. I don't really know anything about the mastering process. Can any audio engineers out there confirm or deny this?

Re:Vinyl? (2, Interesting)

Lisandro (799651) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448655)

Sadly, you don't have to go back to the vinyl days for examlpes of this.

The "engineering to death" that you talk about is usually dynamic range compression [wikipedia.org] , where you artificially limit the difference between the softest and the loudest sound reproduced in the media. Compression is very useful in certain situations (guitar compressors are fairly popular to "focus" the sound of the instrument, and compressing vocals is a common practice), but nowadays it has become popular to over-compress pretty much everything in modern music. The net result is that the music appears louder, since the volume variations are reduced, but what you get is tracks where it is impossible to discerne fine details - everything feels mashed together, in a way. This might be good for certain styles (hiphop, perhaps), but the practice is so extended that it has become impossible to find new music with proper production and mixing.
Adding insult to injury, it has also become very common to boost the audio levels (volumes) in the CDs so much that they "grow" outside the margins that the media offers, again, trying to make it sound louder and meaner. This is called clipping [wikipedia.org] , and creates clearly audible, horrendous distortion. I've noticed this in a shitload of new tracks, and it boggles my mind that anyone might find ok to distribute audio in that state.

Nowadays i have a hard time finding music produced after mid 90s' that doesn't suffer one of these symptoms. Pop music, particularly, is horrid in this sence. The art of subtely crafting layers of sound seems to be lost... and i'm not saying that every band should sound like Pink Floyd, but, for Gods' sake, when you have all the instruments sounding constantly at the same level in a rock trio it just becomes annoying. Tool is one rock band i've discovered still cares about proper mixing, off the top of my head. On the other hand, i fell in love with the self-titled CD of Army of anyone... or their songs, atleast. It's a shame such a fine album can wear you out after a few listens because of poor mixing.

Re:Vinyl? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19449039)

Adding insult to injury, it has also become very common to boost the audio levels (volumes) in the CDs so much that they "grow" outside the margins that the media offers, again, trying to make it sound louder and meaner. This is called clipping [wikipedia.org], and creates clearly audible, horrendous distortion.

Actually instead of just boosting the volume until it clips, generally a limiter (of sorts) is used. In the strict sense a limiter just clips the signal at a certain point, but for audio engineering many limiters shape the sound a little so it's not quite as harsh. Or so is my understanding, I'm not an audio engineer. It still sounds terrible when overused.

Also: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19449093)

Don't blame the band for a shitty mix. Most of the time it's beyond their control, unless they're firmly established as a well-known act and they're really pushy about it.

Re:Vinyl? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19448981)

Part of that is because the loudness war didn't really start until the early/mid 90's. Digital compressors made it easier to do, among other reasons. Mind you I remember reading somewhere (wikipedia?) about how motown records in the 70s were advertised as being "the hottest mixes" or something, referring to the fact that they did their best to get the volumes as loud as possible. But it just wasn't possible to get the same kind of huge loudness boost as with digital audio.

But another reason is that with analog medium like vinyl, the kinds of distortion you get are different. Also different mastering techniques etc.

So in short: sort of.

It would be interesting to see what happens to the loudness war if Super Audio CDs http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_audio_CD [wikipedia.org] were to catch on. Besides the fact that the mindset might switch to quality over loudness (why move to a new format if the mastering job is going to sound as shite as the old format?), SACD uses a pretty unique way of representing an audio wave, much different than PCM, which is what basically any digital uncompressed format including CDs use.

What a shame! (1)

oshii'sdog (1112047) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448565)

Long live earphones

Re:What a shame! (3, Funny)

Eideewt (603267) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448575)

Long live ears!

What are we talking about?

Re:What a shame! (1)

oshii'sdog (1112047) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448601)

If it's just the competition in a place with ambient noise, or with other music that is driving the loudness wars, it is indeed a shame. Hence, long live earphones.

Re:What a shame! (1)

Eideewt (603267) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448647)

I suppose that applies to headphones with good isolation, but not really to the kind that everyone is actually using.

Re:What a shame! (1)

oshii'sdog (1112047) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448679)

Earphones sire. And within Slashdot, I suppose there's no question of going to the pub to listen to pop :P

Re:What a shame! (0)

Eideewt (603267) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448851)

Earphones and headphones are the same thing (with the proviso that a single-ear speaker would probably not be called a headphone).

Re:What a shame! (1)

mabhatter654 (561290) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448749)

exactly..

Save the ears!!!! The ears are taking a beating as everything is LOUDER... but we still can't hear it.

I Wonder Why It Is Louder Too (3, Funny)

Skeetskeetskeet (906997) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448579)

Nigel Tufnel: The numbers all go to eleven. Look, right across the board, eleven, eleven, eleven and... Marty DiBergi: Oh, I see. And most amps go up to ten? Nigel Tufnel: Exactly. Marty DiBergi: Does that mean it's louder? Is it any louder? Nigel Tufnel: Well, it's one louder, isn't it? It's not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You're on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you're on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where? Marty DiBergi: I don't know. Nigel Tufnel: Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do? Marty DiBergi: Put it up to eleven. Nigel Tufnel: Eleven. Exactly. One louder. Marty DiBergi: Why don't you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder? Nigel Tufnel: [pause] These go to eleven.

Not just music (2, Interesting)

Sigma 7 (266129) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448605)

It's involves all audio devices in general, although it could have to do with unintentional design specifications.

More often than not, I find that I need to set the Windows master volume to an extremely low level - one or two pixels above silence. After that, I need to set the wave volume to that same region - near the bottom. Next, my speaker volume is set to low as well. After all this, I'm actually comfortable with the standard operating system sounds.

Unless there's some boost or gain that I haven't noticed, it's more than just the music industry that's having problems.

How do I adjusted volume? (2, Insightful)

Eideewt (603267) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448607)

I find the notion that people are unfamiliar with their volume knobs ludicrous. Putting together tracks with more dynamic range isn't going to make people listen to them at whisper quiet levels -- they're going to turn it up to normal listening volume.

I suppose the good news is that we literally can't compress music more than we are now. We've hit the wall, and the only way to go is the right direction.

Re:How do I adjusted volume? (0, Troll)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448683)

uuhh, fill me in on what wall that would be?

Re:How do I adjusted volume? (1)

Eideewt (603267) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448737)

What what would be? The right direction? Less compression.

Compression & Compression (1)

VividU (175339) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448629)

Slightly misleading line: Songs are compressed once again into digital files before being sold on iTunes and similar sites.

The first "compression" is traditional audio compression where the dynamic range of the track is "compressed" the second "compression" is digital data compression. These are two completely different things with no relation to each other - the only thing they share is the name.

this just in... (2, Insightful)

wordsnyc (956034) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448631)

if your music sounds good on an iPod, you're listening to crap.

Mod article -1, troll (2, Informative)

mrjb (547783) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448649)

Some studios indeed attempt to make the end result of their recordings louder. Why? For one, because the client wants their recording to sound as loud as the other recordings they own. Another, better reason is because it will lift up some detail from below the noise floor into the audible range. Only thing is, there is such a thing as the 'maximum amplitude' that one can represent on the medium. Let's call it 10, these people want to push the volume up to 11 because it will give them a richer listening experience. Now there are various way to do that in the studio. Simplest way is just to make it 'one louder'. Something along the lines of 1. select all, 2. amplitude->maximize, 3. amplitude->amplify->110%, 4. file->save 5. Profit! However this will clip the sound (most likely the bassdrum, in the case of rock bands). This is what the article is complaining about. Example: the Californication album from the Red Hot Chilipeppers. With good (monitoring) speakers you can hear the clipping in the bassdrum. But it's trivial to see this clipping with a wave editor. A better way to up the average volume is to use a dynamic range compressor- smooth out peaks to make them less high, then do amplitude->maximize, and the result is a louder sounding recording without audible artifacts (when properly done). Unless you have a trained studio ear, you'll rarely notice the loss of dynamics, because, that is what a dynamic range compressor is for. However, in extreme cases we *do* notice. In classical recordings, louder passages may not "jump out" so much anymore). So instead of having a richer listening experience, you end up with a poorer one. So it's all a tradeoff. The problem depends on the material that is recorded. You can't go and treat all music styles in the same way. Usually classical recordings do not contain as many 'little detail sounds' as current studio recordings, so you want to do as little as possible to the dynamic range and let the listener decide how loud (s)he wants it. Pop recordings usually do not need as wide a dynamic range, so the sound level is upped artificially. Either way, the sound engineers and record companies are aiming for the richest possible listening experience, albeit in different and opposite ways. In that sense sound engineers and programmers share one thing: they usually have big egos and like to badmouth their competition. Geoff Emerick doesn't seem to be an exception to the rule.

Dynamics compression vs. digital compression (2, Informative)

daBass (56811) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448663)

Songs are compressed once again into digital files before being sold on iTunes and similar sites. The reduction in quality is so marked that EMI has introduced higher-quality digital tracks, albeit at a premium price, in response to consumer demand.

Basically, TFA is written by someone without the first clue about the difference between dynamic range compression [wikipedia.org] and lossy audio data compression [wikipedia.org] .

The two have absolutely nothing in common and yet they are somehow grouped together by the author.

This is a duplicate article (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19448669)

This is a duplicate article. It was posted in the last 2 years. Slash search sucks so I'm not going to go look for it, but this is old news.

EMI's reasons... (4, Interesting)

nick_davison (217681) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448671)

The reduction in quality is so marked that EMI has introduced higher-quality digital tracks, albeit at a premium price, in response to consumer demand.
Hmm. Anyone else remember this post [slashdot.org] only 9 days ago?

To our subjects' ears, there wasn't a tremendous distinction between the tracks encoded at 128Kb/s and those encoded at 256Kb/s. None of them were absolutely sure about their choices with either set of earphones, even after an average of five back-to-back A/B listening tests. That tells us the value in the Apple's and EMI's more expensive tracks lies solely in the fact that they're free of DRM restrictions.

Re:EMI's reasons... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19449055)

depends on the speaker.

Soory to rant, but I am so sick of this...

I have VMPS RM40's and I can't listen to my iPod through them. The music sounds like shit.

on my laptop speakers on shitty altec lansings I can't tell the difference.

the importance is in the quality of the transducer (speaker).

The probllem is that people listen to music through shitty speakers because they will spend $5k on their laptop and then buy some shitty $1k speakers.

The computer generation, of which I am a part of...has no respect for music, musicians, or live sound.

It's just a fact.

I can take aperson down to my listening room and they can tell the difference if I am using SACD, CD, masterdisk or DVD-audio. A compressed song is blaring to them. I've done it a nuber of times... When you spend $15k on your stereo, you want to reassure youself....

blindfolds and all.

face the facts...you just want an uptempo break beat and a hum to give you the psychoacoustic boost that a vamp gives... you probably do not pine for the dark space in the woodwin echo, or the undertones of a french horn or the fuzz on a speaker with a pencil through it.

Go get Elton Johns live in australia... in cd format it you can hear the polyps on his vocal chords that he was about to have surgery for... you can't hear that at 128 k. Because they did not know if he would ever be able to sing again... they pulled out all stops in the rcording of the concert... it is possibly the finest live recording ever made... compressed you notice nothing... at a simple CD level recording... slight flucuations on his voice can be heard where you can tell the lyrics hit him emotionally.

bjorks last album was $50 for DVD-a and I heard it on a friends system.. it was significantly beetter than the cd...

go buy some decent speakers that have the signal to noise ratio that will dissect the signal... something like an avalon sentinel or even an eidolon...

then babble about how there is no difference.

Until you have tried a high quality transducer in a fully tuned room you sound as dumb as a MSFT employee ragging on OSX.

Good thing I don't buy music (2, Funny)

Cheezymadman (1083175) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448681)

Otherwise I might have to worry about getting quality for my money. Piracy means never having to say "Why did I pay for this?"

peaking (1)

Ep0xi (1093943) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448691)

it's true.. many times the music goes from the original to a mp3, then back to wav, and forth to mp3 and the loss of quality is so big that your ear bleeds
anyways only uncompressed hi quality tracks survive to the process of amplification, because mostly we use only one amplifier for many sources of the digital sound (16 or 24 bits) then the sound distorts with lower volume, and when you amplify it distorts even more, but the level of noise related to the amplifier goes lower because the amplifiers are thought to work betwen 60 and 90 of the total volume.
Usually the amplifiers are thought to be used with high quality speakers which means less lost of sound, and of course less signal of output. But most of speakers sucks wich means a loss of overall volume by 25percent so you have to put the amplifier about 40 percent more to supply the same volume, which leads to an excessive noise at the front of the speaker and of course, the bleeding in your ear.
The percent of quality of sound related to a bad amplifier instead of a good one is about 40-60 percent of the original sound, and if you sum that to the bad processing of sound in a non equipped computer, or the compression-decomp-compression of sound at rates lower than 160kbps, you are in deep trouble, because the ear starts to fail after some years
An usual high quality studio hardware could be a Carver amplifier, and some Yamaha speakers.
I can use some Technics amplifier and JBL speakers as well, but the difference is for about 20 percent of sound loss even with those priced sets.
CD's are cheap and their life is for no more than 5 to 10 years
downloaded mp3 at 320kbps are really close to my needs, but the decompression-amplification process leads to a no less than 15 percent of loss even in the most priced sound hardware.

My ears are broken.. 60 percent off, the left ear, and 35 the right.
I still trust in science.

ridiculous (1)

Goshzilla (1048512) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448701)

No, not the article itself, but the habits of ipod people(hah a name for a bad 50's sci fi flick), and other people who use portable music devices. Bottomline, listening to a music player in a noisy environment is bad for your hearing.

Example, start out at home or in a very quiet environment, keep the volume at what you might consider an appropriate level of hearing. Now go to some place where there is more noise activity, that same volume will not be adequate. What is going on is that people are raising the volume in an attempt to drown out environmental noise. If the outside volume is at 70 decibles, people might raise the player volume to 80 or 90 decibles to listen to music. That can cause permanent hearing loss if exposed to long enough.

There are three options, a headphone/earbud set that is designed specifically to dampen outside noise. The best reduction headphones might get is 25 decibles. The other one would be the noise canceling type of headphones, but they only work for constant noise(like an airplane or a car, I had a pair that worked so good I just left them on for the flight because it reduced the engine noise). The most impractical would be to wear a pair of saftey earplugs and using headphones.

Again when none of these work well, it means the environmental noise is loud to the point where you shouldn't be trying to listen on a portable music player.

normalization (1)

mithras invictus (1084169) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448713)

Couldn't this be solved by normalization? If most devices had such a function the volume race would be over and the quality race could begin.

If you want LOUD... (3, Funny)

creimer (824291) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448717)

There's a version of the 1812 Overture [wikipedia.org] with real cannon fire that will blow out your speakers if the volume is too high. I been trying to get my friend to play that on his 1969 Marshall amp to see if that would happen, how many windows it would take out in the neighborhood and how fast the landlord would kick him out.

Larry Flynt Blog IS News for Nerds. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19448729)

Forget the orange suit. Exxon Mobil Corporation, which admits it was behind the criminal complaint brought by Homeland Security against me and television producer Matt Pascarella, has informed me that the oil company will no longer push charges that Pascarella and I threatened "critical infrastructure."

The allegedly criminal act, which put us on the wrong side of post-9/11 Anti-terror law, was our filming of Exxon's Baton Rouge refinery where, nearby, 1,600 survivors of Hurricane Katrina remain interned behind barbed wire.

I have sworn to Homeland Security that we no longer send our footage to al-Qaeda--which, in any case, can get a much better view of the refinery and other "critical infrastructure" at Google Maps.

Given Exxon's back-down, I hope to confirm with Homeland Security, Baton Rouge, that charges will be dropped today.

Matt and I want to thank you, our readers and viewers, for your extraordinary and heartfelt responses. Public support undoubtedly led Exxon to call off the feds.

Of course, this was never about our tipping off Osama that Louisiana contains oil refineries. This has an awful lot to do with a petroleum giant's sensitivity to unflattering depictions of their plants which are major polluters along Louisiana's notorious "Cancer Alley."

I've learned that, in April last year, Exxon brought a similar Homeland Security charge against Willie Fontenot, an assistant to the Attorney General of Louisiana. Fontenot was guiding a group of environmental studies pupils from Antioch College on a tour of Cancer Alley. Exxon's complaint about the "national security" threat posed by their photos of the company's facility cost Fontenot his job.

The issue is not national security but image security. You can get all the film you want from Exxon of refineries if you'll accept nice, sanitized VNRs (video news releases) of clean smokestacks surrounded by happy herons.

What's dangerous is not that reporters will end up in Guantanamo; the insidious effect of these threats is to keep networks from filming government and corporate filth, incompetence and inhumanity. Besides the Exxon foolishness, our camera crew was also blocked from filming inside the notorious Katrina survivors trailer encampment.

Furthermore earlier that same day, a FEMA contractor had grabbed our camera, in mid-interview, when polite but pointed questions exposed their malfeasance.

As with Exxon, the bar from filming at the refugee camp and in the offices of the government contractor were presented to us as a "Homeland Security" matter.

After the September 11 attacks, CBS Newsman Dan Rather said, "George Bush is the President. fWherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where."

Reporters who step out of line, who ask uncomfortable questions and film uncomfortable scenes, soon find their careers toasted, as Dan can attest to.

One of George Bush's weirder acts in office (and that's saying a lot) was to move FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, whose main job is to save us from floods and earthquakes, into the control of the Department of Homeland Security. Exxon's refineries, once "pollution source points" scrutinized by government watchdogs, are now "critical infrastructure" protected by federal hounddogs.

As the front lines in the War on Terror expand from Baghdad to Baton Rouge, we find that America has been made secure only against hard news and uncomfortable facts.

Again, our sincere thanks and gratitude for your support. Cakes with files have been consumed.

*****

Loudness (4, Informative)

steveha (103154) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448755)

You can read more about the loudness war here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loudness_war [wikipedia.org]

It really is true: if you apply too much sound-level compression to a recording, the recording sounds worse. Music is more interesting with some dynamic range. Some of my favorite classic rock songs sound much better from the CD than they do when played on the radio, because the radio station applies sound-level compression.

On the other hand, it's not really wrong for the radio station to apply the sound-level compression; you wouldn't thank them if you set your volume control knob for one song and then the next song was much louder. And the compression helps the music "cut through" the background noise of driving, so you can hear it better. But it is a pity if the CD is mastered with that kind of sound-level compression from the beginning!

Here's another really good web page about this.

http://www.mindspring.com/~mrichter/dynamics/dynam ics.htm [mindspring.com]

Just take a look at the Ricky Martin song. The gain was set far too high, and as a result many waveforms went outside legal bounds; when you try to master a CD with a wave that is simply too extreme to be legal, it is hard-clipped to make it legal. That sort of clipping makes an unpleasant sound, and makes the CD sound even louder. And hard-clipping means discarding audio data; there is no way to reconstruct it later.

The above is one of the reasons why vinyl LPs still have their fans. You simply cannot push an LP so hard that it's playing hard-clipped square waves. But a well-mastered CD will have more dynamic range than even the best-mastered LP, and less distortion. (Some of the distortion you get with an LP can actually improve your music, and that's another of the reasons why LPs still have fans. But you could apply a digital effect that sounded like LP distortion, if you wanted to.)

steveha

Oh God. (1, Insightful)

rhizome (115711) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448791)

THIS IS SO FUCKING OLD.

Dolby Digital has various levels for sound (1)

SpecialAgentXXX (623692) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448841)

My SoundBlaster Audigy X-Fi Elite has Dolby Digital settings: Night, Normal, and Full. The Night level tries to keep all sounds - quiet dialog to explosions - in the same volume amplitude. I can keep my speakers turned down and still hear the dialog as well as the explosions. Normal widens that range so the explosions are louder than dialog. However, I nearly always keep it on Full - dialog is low (like it is in real life), but the explosions are loud. It's great for horror movies, etc. where sound is used to create the mood.

So these Dolby settings can be used to "quiet" down these soundtracks. However, if the volume has already been encoded above a maximum level (think of a sine wave with the peaks and troughs capped), the quieter sound will still be distorted.

They do it because it works (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19448863)

The pioneer of this kind of thing was Phil Spector. He was maybe the most famous/influential producer of all time. Among other things, he used to listen to the music he produced on a truly lousy audio system, the car radio. His music was tailored to sound good on a car radio. Given the number of albums he sold, you have to say he was right. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phil_Spector [wikipedia.org]

The connection between music, the environment, the ear and the mind is seriously studied and is reasonably well understood.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychoacoustic_model [wikipedia.org]

Loudness War has been around for a while (1)

progprog (1016317) | more than 7 years ago | (#19448873)

Here [moozeek.de] is an excellent article giving the background behind the "Loudness War" and a case study of a particular album. It is dated September 2002. This odious practice has been escalating for a long time.

Topic importance litmus test. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19448925)

Another unimprtant and useless topic. How did I come to this conclusion? Via something I call the "Caveman test". It goes as such.

When determining whether something is truly worth caring about, I apply the following question to it: "Would this issue be worth fretting about if you were a caveman living during caveman times?" If the the answer is yes, it is care-worthy. No, and it gets forgotten quicker than Janet Jackson's nipple.

That is partially right, but there's more to it... (5, Insightful)

yroJJory (559141) | more than 7 years ago | (#19449011)

WHY are albums mastered so damn loud?

It's a vicious circle and it is caused essentially by one feature: shuffle mode.

Here's how the problem reveals itself:

Band A decides they want to have the "heaviest, loudest album ever made", so they tell the mastering engineer to make their master louder.

Band B is hears Band A's album and wants to be louder (or at least AS LOUD) as Band A. So they tell their mastering engineer to pump up the volume, too.

Assume the same thing happens with Bands C through L.

Now Band M comes along and they've had these other 12 albums playing on iTunes while they're mixing their album. Band M isn't so concerned with being "the loudest", but when the put their ref CD into iTunes and are listening in shuffle mode, their songs get completely drowned out by a factor of 6-12 dB of amplitude difference.

So Band M now asks their mastering engineer to make their master louder so they'll match up with everyone else's.

And Bands N-Z follow suit.

It's a very difficult domino knockdown to break out of, since no one wants to make the album that is super quiet and requires intervention with the volume knob. (Yes, I'm aware of the "Sound Check" feature in iTunes, but that's just a lousy attempt to solve the problem with technology.)

In 2005 I recorded an album for a Hawaiian band. It was gorgeous and I convinced the band to master the album at Universal because I knew the main mastering engineer and was adamant that he was the ONLY guy who could do the record justice. I was also adamant that the album did NOT need (and would avoid) any compression.

We only boosted the overall level of the album by 4 dB and that was purely using a limiter to ensure no overs.

I then sent the first ref CD to the band member who couldn't be present. He was thrilled with the mastering but had just one question: Do they make it louder when the CDs get pressed?

I told him that it was at the level I was recommending and that Mastering was the time to change levels, but that we really wanted it to sound good, not loud. His response? "Oh. But it's so much quieter than every other CD I own."

And he's right. Compared to every CD that has come out in the past 5 years, his album is seriously quiet. Possibly as much as 8 dB quieter than current albums. And maybe we did it TOO quiet. But it matches in amplitude to CDs that came out in 1989, back when some dynamic range was still an OK thing in music. Nowadays we don't like ANY dynamics.

So who is right? And can we go back?

I've been a HUGE advocate of dynamic range and NOT destroying our months of hard work at the last step in the process. But I can only do what my clients want. And I was really hoping we had a chance with DVD-Audio and other surround formats, but the over-compressors are winning out there, now, too. And it's a bigger problem on that format, since you are now forcing people to change levels between movies and surround music, when both are calibrated identically.

Not all, just some (1)

tezza (539307) | more than 7 years ago | (#19449047)

Competent Artists who've heard of Dynamic Range:

Sigur Ros
Rufus Wainwright
Belle & Sebastian
Radiohead
Gorillaz
DJ Shadow
Goldfrapp [Felt Mountain]

Competent Artists who've heard of Dynamic Range, but choose to use a lot of compression anyway:

M83
Outkast
Daft Punk
++


Compression is not the death of an album, and there are still artists who do not use it every song.

Doesnt need to be so loud! (1)

drifta303 (1113363) | more than 7 years ago | (#19449085)

Its the same when I go out every week to hear one of my favorite bands play.. they don't need to be so loud to be enjoyed but the sound-desk guy cant resist getting the maximum volume out of the sound system. I must admit when I used to work as a dj, it was very tempting to crank it to the max.. Also I think its a great idea how they are releasing higher quality DRM free tracks on itunes. I advice people NOT to buy music online sometimes simply because DRM causes such headaches.. Paul
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  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>
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