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The "Loudness War" and the Future of Music

kdawson posted more than 7 years ago | from the turn-that-thing-down dept.

Music 687

An anonymous reader notes an article up at IEEE Spectrum outlining the history and dangers of the accelerating tendency of music producers to increase the loudness and reduce the dynamic range of CDs. "The loudness war, what many audiophiles refer to as an assault on music (and ears), has been an open secret of the recording industry for nearly the past two decades and has garnered more attention in recent years as CDs have pushed the limits of loudness thanks to advances in digital technology. The 'war' refers to the competition among record companies to make louder and louder albums by compressing the dynamic range. But the loudness war could be doing more than simply pumping up the volume and angering aficionados — it could be responsible for halting technological advances in sound quality for years to come... From the mid 1980s to now, the average loudness of CDs increased by a factor of 10, and the peaks of songs are now one-tenth of what they used to be."

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I have the solution (5, Funny)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 7 years ago | (#20328821)

Amps that only go up to 7. Because 7 is quieter than 10.

Re:I have the solution (1, Insightful)

smilindog2000 (907665) | more than 7 years ago | (#20328879)

Of course, mine goes to 11 :-)

I'm probably just ill-informed, but aren't CD's just plain old 16-bit, with no compression, and great sound quality? The summary says 'CDs', but the link refers to technologies used on DVDs, which are highly compressed. As for annoying volumes, TV commercials really piss me off. It's illegal to crank commercial volumes, but every local station does it anyway - advertisers love it. I have to turn down the volume every time a stupid loud commercial comes on.

Re:I have the solution (5, Informative)

Maxx169 (920414) | more than 7 years ago | (#20328933)

Wrong kind of compression. sion []

Re:I have the solution (4, Funny)

mwvdlee (775178) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329335)

You could just assume the most significant bits to be 1, and thereby create both dynamic range compression and filesize compression at the same time ;)

Re:I have the solution (1)

iainl (136759) | more than 7 years ago | (#20328937)

CDs hold the capacity for great sound quality, yes. But not if you crank the master this far, crushing all the dynamic range.

Re:I have the solution (3, Informative)

Andrewkov (140579) | more than 7 years ago | (#20328943)

Different kind of compression. This compression evens out the volume, so you can boost the overall volume level without clipping. Totally different thing than data compression.

Re:I have the solution (4, Informative)

jrsp (513795) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329331)

I wouldn't say it "evens out the volume". It makes the gap between quiet and loud much smaller (a "thinner" signal, if you will) then pumps amplitude into the whole thing (volume level) so that you don't get much/any clipping. The result is a louder signal that is NOT the same as what was recorded.

Yes, many people and many systems can't tell the difference. A casual listener listening to terrestrial radio in a car hasn't a chance in h*** of noticing; the degradation of the signal from other means makes this just noise. If you have a nice home system and actually enjoy LISTENING to the music then you probably can tell the difference.

This irks me almost as much as the whole "sell music in MP3 format" talk. MP3 is a lossy format, by definition, and is NOT the same music as recorded and particularly at 128k is very noticeable in any halfway decent environment. 256k is better, but I do NOT want a lossy format as my only choice for digital audio!

Re:I have the solution (1)

MrMr (219533) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329451)

Well on SGI-IRIX of course it did for a long time. []

Because 7 is quieter than 11. (1)

agent (7471) | more than 7 years ago | (#20328993)

This Is Spinal Tap!

Re:I have the solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20329397)

Doesn't help, unfortunately. Highly compressed music is VERY tiring to listen to at virtually all volume levels.

I experienced this when my girlfriend put her Coldplay X+Y CD on in my house - it was amazingly compressed - I don't think there's much more than 6dB dynamic range across the whole thing. I got tired of the sound quality before I got tired of the music, and that's saying something.

What pisses me off (5, Interesting)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 7 years ago | (#20328841)

Are TV adverts where they do exactly the same. It means I either have to muck around with the volume I was happy with or change channel. Obviously I do the latter.


Re:What pisses me off (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20328917)

heh, in China every channel, advertisement, and tv show seems to have a different volume. So you can't even get away with changing the channel. Perhaps this explains why in hotels why tourists always have their TV so loud, they got sick of adjusting the volume. Well, probably not... but maybe I'll just think that so i don't go crazy next time it happens.

Re:What pisses me off (3, Insightful)

that IT girl (864406) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329019)

Ah, that's what "mute" is for. I say if they're going to assault my eardrums with their crap, I'm not going to pay it a bit of attention. If they were considerate and interesting (far too many incredibly stupid commercials out there, and far too many ambiguous ones where you have no idea what they're advertising), I might actually consider buying their product, if it seemed to meet my needs. As it is, sometimes I decide NOT to buy a product based on their shoddy advertising.

Re:What pisses me off (0, Flamebait)

_14k4 (5085) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329123)

here here!

I hate that too. I can understand how the volume output from the television is a function of the signal, however I don't understand how my television can't compensate for that and limit accordingly. Remember the automatic volume limiting system on old walkmans? Similar concept, I suppose.

Re:What pisses me off (1)

SuurMyy (1003853) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329205)

It seems to me that this is the reason why commercials come from many channels at the same time. You change the channel to see the same commercials on another channel.

Re:What pisses me off (1)

pla (258480) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329247)

Are TV adverts where they do exactly the same.

Not that I watch a lot of TV in the first place, but I can't say I've actually had to suffer through a commercial for at least two or three years. I thought, though, that the FCC cracked down on advertisers trying to pull that loudness BS quite a while back, even before TiVo reduced commercials to nothing more than a blur accompanying four cheerful tone-pairs?

It means I either have to muck around with the volume I was happy with or change channel. Obviously I do the latter.

...Or just skip them entirely. Welcome to the 21st century ;-).

Re:What pisses me off (1)

192939495969798999 (58312) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329407)

TV is literally doing now what Andy Kaufman joked about... they slowly turn the volume down during the program, then as soon as the commercials come on, they boost it to as loud as it will go. I've noticed myself turning up and then way down on a regular basis, even with DVR I can't always cut off the commercials perfectly.

The BBC explained this once (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20329445)

Someone complained to "Points of View" and got read out. The answer: adverts aren't louder, they just *soulnd* louder.

Um, if I recall correctly, loudness is a PERCEPTUAL figure. So if it "sounds" louder, it IS louder.

Example... (5, Informative)

Suicidal Gir (939232) | more than 7 years ago | (#20328857)

Here's [] a good video outlining what the record companies have been doing.

Wow, very informative... (1)

maillemaker (924053) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329027)

That was a great video explaining the problem. I had no idea things like that were going on.

I don't understand why it is felt necessary to record the music "loud", though. Don't they know people can and will adjust the volume however they want with the volume control on their stereo? I don't understand the perceived benefit.

Re:Wow, very informative... (1)

Brother Dysk (939885) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329241)

If you've just got the radio on in the background, and a "loud" song comes on, it'll catch your attention. Or, if your song isn't "loud", and everything else is, idle listeners won't notice it (they'll tune it out). Or so the theory goes...

Re:Wow, very informative... (1)

Andrewkov (140579) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329413)

Actually I think radio stations add a tonne of dynamic compression and normalize the volume levels between songs, so that you can drive without fiddling with the volume constantly.

Re:Wow, very informative... (3, Informative)

marcello_dl (667940) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329321)

The benefit is that a louder signal is perceived as a better signal by the ear. Since our sensitivity is not equally distributed along all frequencies a louder signal "acquires" more frequency range.

Of course that is a lower fidelity signal because high fidelity means reconstructing also the dynamics of the original sound, so to audiophiles a compressed signal sounds crappy.

I think the war started with sound engineers overcompressing stuff out of experimentation (in dance music compression is an important aspect, for instance). That made louder records stand out better in radio programming (even if radio stations have good compressors themselves nowadays) and casual listening, especially on crappy audio equipment.

Once the ear has adjusted itself to the loud recording, the less loud one sounds a little worse.

More info (5, Informative)

Rob T Firefly (844560) | more than 7 years ago | (#20328859)

Wikipedia has a decent article on the Loudness War, [] complete with interesting graphics of the same song from newer and older releases. []

Try it for yourself! (4, Interesting)

mattgreen (701203) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329171)

I listen mostly to modern rock. I was curious to see how much I'd gotten used to the compression of modern albums. After reading the Wikipedia article, I saw they mentioned that Superunknown, so I pulled it up. Keep in mind I haven't listened to it in several years.

Wow! I'd forgotten music could sound this good! And I'm not even a huge fan of grunge these days. The lack of compression in the music seems to make it less tiring to listen to. The soundstage is bigger, the music seems to breathe a little more, and it generally ebbs and flows more. I'm listening on a pair of $30 Sennheiser headphones, not audiophile-grade equipment by any means.

Once again, we see the danger of pandering to the lowest common denonimator: you end up pissing everyone off eventually. It is a shame that we persist in thinking this is necessary. Of course, it is difficult to be surprised by it, given that the music industry is about selling the performer as a product instead of producing art.

Re:More info (1)

Otter (3800) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329185)

I'd imagine that one of the driving forces here is that listening to music is now an outdoor activity. This trend seems to have started in the days of the Walkman and boomboxes and now that everyone below 30 has headphones on for every waking hour, it's only going to accelerate.

When everyone on the subway is listening to headphones, you can see why the priorities of "audiophiles" take a back seat. Anyway, how badly do audiophiles need to listen to Lil' Flip or Chamillionaire?

Re:More info (1)

jc42 (318812) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329375)

I'd imagine that one of the driving forces here is that listening to music is now an outdoor activity.

Nah; that can't explain it. After all, if all the recordings were at half the current level, then you'd just turn the volume dial to get the same loudness.

To understand the escalation, it works better to think of someone listening to their Walkman or boombox or iPod, which is set to "shuffle" (or to a music radio station, which is similar). What the recording companies want is for the track you're listening to now to be slightly louder than the one you just finished listening to (and to the one you're going to hear next), but not enough louder that you turn down the volume.

This leads them to sample the competition, and set their tracks to a bit louder than the average. Over time, they all get louder, until they're all at the max intensity with no dynamic range. Of course, this will be indistinguishable from near silence, since listeners will have the volume at minimum.

Maybe you should just set yours there now.

It's a serious problem (3, Insightful)

Gordonjcp (186804) | more than 7 years ago | (#20328885)

I have a few CDs that I just can't listen to, because it's just a continuous blast of noise from one end to the other. All concept of light and shade is lost. It just sounds horrible.

If I want it to sound loud, I'll turn the volume up.

Re:It's a serious problem (2, Funny)

Mister Transistor (259842) | more than 7 years ago | (#20328959)

Umm... I think you're trying to play your WINDOWS O/S CDROM!

Re:It's a serious problem (4, Interesting)

Hijacked Public (999535) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329175)

Your reference to light and shade provides me the operning to point out that, in photography, there is a trend toward oversaturating color in all shots.

Velvia used to be a moderately popular film that was used my photographers to make some kind of artistic statement through oversaturation. You usually saw it used when someone wanted to emphasize some garish contrast in colors. These days oversaturation is standard practice for some people, for every photo they make. Every photo looks like a Nickelodeon commercial.

To flip the analogy around, the visual noise in the photos blares out at you the entire time, and you leave the gallery with your eyes ringing, desensitized to stuff like stoplights. Subtle contrast is overpowered and lost.

I think people in general are just getting more used to noise, all the time, and to get their attention you have to keep stepping it up.

Re:It's a serious problem (1)

Reverend528 (585549) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329415)

I have a few CDs that I just can't listen to

Why'd you buy them?

The alternative? (0)

Sierpinski (266120) | more than 7 years ago | (#20328889)

Lets see... if they make it louder, I can turn the volume down, to a minimum of 0 (no sound). If they make it quieter, I can only turn it up to max, then if its still not loud enough I won't be able to hear it. I don't think it's that tough of a choice. Besides, if I take a lower-max-volume audio stream and turn it up "too loud" it doesn't seem to sound as good as when I have a higher-max-volume stream that I have to turn down the volume. Maybe its my speakers, but I'd rather have the choice of volume than to be tied to one setting or another.

Re:The alternative? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20328899)

Which knob do you adjust to increase the dynamic range and re-add the lost information?

Oh that's right, you can't. You're right, it's not a tough choice is it?

Re:The alternative? (2, Insightful)

ByeLaw (186453) | more than 7 years ago | (#20328947)

I think your missing the point... Music companies that produce loader CD's do actually have a lower quality due to the fact they have to overcompress the signal (and no, this has nothing to do with MPEG compression) in the first place.

If the volume is set too high (there is a max limit to what CD's can store), then the fine detail can be lost in the noise.

Re:The alternative? (3, Insightful)

sBox (512691) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329063)

Show me what 'finer detail' a listener needs (or wants) in the latest Jay-Z or Sluttany Spears album and maybe that will justify the additional costs...

Re:The alternative? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20329221)

But they are doing it to most cd's - i want all the nuance i can get from my Medeski, Martin & Wood or whatever other band you like that has musical talent and can actually nuance the music...

Re:The alternative? (1)

Hijacked Public (999535) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329281)

Which doesn't mean that it wouldn't be useful to hear more fine detail on Otis Taylor's latest album.

Re:The alternative? (1)

Stooshie (993666) | more than 7 years ago | (#20328951)

Of course people can turn the volume down. Thats not the point. RTFA! The point is that in order for the volume to be turned up in the original track, the dynamic range has to be decreased. Also, form the graphics, it looks like there's a little clipping going on which will give some distortion.

Re:The alternative? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20329055)

You really need to take a look at the demo that another poster has linked to []

Re:The alternative? (1)

Stooshie (993666) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329169)

Just a thought. The youtube compression is going to make the two tracks sound much more similar. Isn't it?

Re:The alternative? (1)

FroBugg (24957) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329207)

Besides, if I take a lower-max-volume audio stream and turn it up "too loud" it doesn't seem to sound as good as when I have a higher-max-volume stream that I have to turn down the volume.

This is where you're incorrect. If you take the low-volume and high-volume originals, then play them so that the volume you hear is identical, the low-volume will contain much greater dynamic range and will sound much better.

When is everyone going to realize? (1, Flamebait)

QuietLagoon (813062) | more than 7 years ago | (#20328891)

The record companies are not interested in the music, they are not interested in the quality of the sound, they are not interested in the artists and musicians.

All the record companies are interested in is maximizing profits.

Re:When is everyone going to realize? (1)

Pojut (1027544) | more than 7 years ago | (#20328941)

All the record companies are interested in is maximizing profits.

Not to omgwtf support the RIAA, but isn't that all MOST non-profit organizations are interested in?

I mean, I know some companies care about their customers more than others, but at the very crest of it all, their goal is to take your money...this is not unique to the music industry.

Re:When is everyone going to realize? (-1, Flamebait)

QuietLagoon (813062) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329095)

Oddly, the last time I posted a nearly identical comment on a thread with a similar topic, my observation was rated as "Insightful".

Go figure.

Re:When is everyone going to realize? (1)

Jaysyn (203771) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329297)

Even RIAA shills get mod points every once in a while.

Re:When is everyone going to realize? (2, Insightful)

mh1997 (1065630) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329181)

The record companies are not interested in the music, they are not interested in the quality of the sound,
Listeners are not interested in the sound quality of music either. When the switch was made from vinyl to cd, improvements to sound quality ended. Sure the cd doesn't have the hiss and pops that a record had, but it was analog and the playback equipment (and record) could improve to match the sound (it did, but not as well as it could have). With digital, the sound quality was limited to whatever the ones and zeros were.

To further prove the point, the next big thing in music was MP3s, a compressed form of the cd ripped at lower bps. Take the MP3 a step further and lower on sound quality, the speakers that an MP3 is typically played through are tiny little pieces of crap that are put directly into the ear (ipod and the like).

After all this, people are complaining about loudness?

Re:When is everyone going to realize? (0, Redundant)

someone1234 (830754) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329239)

Why was this modded down? Truth shouldn't be modded down.

It's more than just music (1, Funny)

downix (84795) | more than 7 years ago | (#20328913)

A few years ago, my in-laws bought one of those digital satellite TV setups. Not bad, a pain when it rained, but otherwise aok. I recorded a few shows onto VHS, for posterity. Well, I visited there, and it still looked fine, especially compared to my digital TV at home, but then I popped in the old VHS tapes... something's happened to the picture. The shows I recorded years ago are sharper, and more pleasing than the modern footage. Then I began digging up old 3/4 and 1" masters from even further back, even better looking still. Then I bought myself a Super8 film camera previously used as a newsreel camera in the 70's. The footage it shot looks astounding.

And then I began looking at my digital cameras output vs my grandfathers old Yashica 35mm. The camera made in 1973 was blowing away $8000 Canons!

We are in an age of eroding quality. The DVD player you buy today likely will not last as long as the one you bought 5 years ago. Companies are cutting every corner they can to reduce cost, and telling us all the way how much better the new systems are.

Re:It's more than just music (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20328957)

I would think that if you have access to 3/4" and 1" masters of video footage, or even own an $8000 Canon, that you would already be aware of the types of changes that are happening with the switch to the digital age. But then again, maybe you're one of those people who likes to buy expensive stuff/spend lots of money without actually understanding things...

Re:It's more than just music (1)

bhima (46039) | more than 7 years ago | (#20328961)

Nice, I wonder how many people are going to fall for this and mod you up.

Re:It's more than just music (1)

downix (84795) | more than 7 years ago | (#20328999)

I hope noone, I said my piece, don't need mods to make myself feel better.

Re:It's more than just music (1)

shibashaba (683026) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329109)

He's probably right. A dvd player is only as good as the cheap ass chips made somewhere in china...those merchants of outstanding quality they are. I remember watching the news one night, and they were showing some footage that was recorderd on standard digital cameras cause they couldn't get their own people there fast enough(they actually said this). I was blown away by the quality.

Only solution? (3, Insightful)

niceone (992278) | more than 7 years ago | (#20328929)

The only solution I can see is to release tracks in two versions, one compressed to an inch of its life so it sound the same volume as everything else, and another with dynamics for those people who are going to listen to the album all in one go in an environment without loads of background noise.

Just releasing tracks that are much quieter than the current standard is going to be annoying for a lot of listeners.

"It's Good Enough" (4, Insightful)

Mister Transistor (259842) | more than 7 years ago | (#20328931)

For the tin-eared masses. The bar of quality for audio/music/telephony has never been lower. We now accept crap MP3 audio as "acceptable", stuttering vocoders and dropped calls as "tolerable", and reduced/compressed bandwidth as "louder (hence better)". We are now getting spoon-fed the worst quality audio since wax recordings and the Western Electric "Noiseless" recording system of movies from the 30-40's. And like everything else around us that continues to suck worse and worse, we take it in stride, shrug and say "well, it sounds good enough, I guess."

Don't get me wrong - I'm not a Luddite, and I love the Digital revolution of music. I am just sickened by it's apparent side-effects, and AMAZED at the tolerance we the "consuming public" have for getting fed shit. As long as we accept this as the standard of quality we find acceptable, the various producers and manufacturers will keep feeding us more and crappier garbage.

Re:"It's Good Enough" (1)

robot_love (1089921) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329045)

For the most part, I agree with you.

What struck me from the article, and what I think applies to your arguments, is the wide range of places that people are now listening to music. We're not listening to music in places that are conducive to a wide dynamic response. My headphones on the Tube need to be fantastic* to make me able to enjoy the highs and lows. For everyone else, compression is good.

* In fact, they are. Etymotic ER-4S headphones inserted into custom moulded ear plugs. It is a wonderful priviledge to enjoy a Debussey piano prelude whilst commuting.

Re:"It's Good Enough" (2, Insightful)

mrjb (547783) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329069)

We are now getting spoon-fed the worst quality audio since wax recordings and the Western Electric "Noiseless" recording system of movies from the 30-40's. Yes, there are CDs out there which have their dynamic range over-compressed. That's something that is reported on Slashdot monthly, more or less. Yes, there is a quality loss associated with the lossless data compression of lossy formats. Duh. But you mustn't have listened to a hissing tape or a crackling vinyl record for a long time. It is amazing how tolerant our (grand)parents were to the poor quality of these media. I listened to a vinyl record only days ago, and am amazed by how little dynamic range even a well-recorded vinyl record has. Is it acceptable? Hell yes. Fact is, each medium has its own audible artifacts. Why would those of CD be worse than those of other media? That's just a value judgement.

That said, a lot of the audible artifacts of digital media can be prevented and they're not. But you can do your share. Don't like the quality of MP3? Don't do lossy compression then (you *do* have the original CD, right?) Unsatisfied with the sound quality of a CD because too much dynamic range compression is going on? Then don't buy it. This will ultimately force the studios to do their share to release a quality product.

Re:"It's Good Enough" (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20329073)

This is a side effect of copyright law, not the "digital revolution". The quality of a well-recorded digital session is awe-inspiring. You can get more range from a 24-bit digital stream than anything I've ever experienced analog (okay, there might be some high-end analog kit that would compete, but I can _afford_ 24-bit audio). Copyright law means producers have monopolies and don't really have to compete on quality.

Re:"It's Good Enough" (4, Interesting)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329075)

Well I can tell you where my tolerance comes from - I can't tell the difference.
When I was in high school I spent an afternoon once in a recording studio and these guys did this one part of a song over and over and over. It was driving me nuts because it sounded exactly the same every single time (to me).
Earlier this week I downloaded an album that is being marketed in a kind of shareware method (saw a link for it in a sig here at the dot) and so what you download is a lower bitrate (or whatever it is called) and the artist hopes you will like it enough to buy the higher quality files. The thing is, what he is giving away sounds just fine to me. Maybe someone with a better ear for this stuff would care, but I don't. And I struggle to see how this is a problem. If I am enjoying a song - I am enjoying it.
In other areas of my life I consciously choose to be satisfied with lower quality because I can't afford the best stuff. (optics come to mind as a great example) I have friends who can afford Swarovski and give me grief about the 'junk' I use. I feel the same way about this music stuff. For people who can really tell the difference, I can understand why they get passionate about it, but I just can't get that worked up over it as it's an issue that doesn't even really exist for me. I only know about it because someone tells me.

Re:"It's Good Enough" (1)

Andrewkov (140579) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329245)

Same reason that 99% of people out there are using Windows, I guess. I'm at IT guy by day, but a semi-pro musician at night, so maybe this stuff is more important to me than most people. Personally, I can't stand the sound of MP3's. I do have an MP3 player, and I love the convenience and portability, but the sound quality is horrible. And I do find the overly compressed "loud" CD's to be fatiguing to the ears. But maybe it's just one of those things that's only annoying if you know about it and pay close attention to it.

Sometimes.... (1)

VikingBastich (920204) | more than 7 years ago | (#20328939)

You just need to turn it up to 11.

Effect on hearing? (1)

salimma (115327) | more than 7 years ago | (#20328945)

Isn't there a problem, for people too accustomed to hearing pre-recorded music, that they will be conditioned not to look for the missing dynamics? What are the long-term effects on one's hearing?

Thank goodness for software solutions that at least lets you normalize your music collection.

Re:Effect on hearing? (1)

Mister Transistor (259842) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329039)

Exactly, people are used to shit and now expect more of it.

BTW - I'm pretty sure normalizing is exactly the opposite of what you want to do here. Normalization makes that quiet contrapuntal ballad as loud as the acid rock song coming up next. Great for being lazy with the volume knob, but it squeezes some of the "soul" out of the material.

Re:Effect on hearing? (1)

jrsp (513795) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329457)

Some of the better normalizations actually just tack on a data field in the ID3 (or equivalent) that says "bump it up some" or "lower it this much" instead of actually performing the normalization themselves. That way you don't run into the problem you mention, which is a valid concern. The playback devices just have to look for and be able to interpret this information and the user should have the ability to enable/disable it too.

Why? (1)

dtml-try MyNick (453562) | more than 7 years ago | (#20328949)

Call me stupid, but........


I mean, it's not like you're going to let the purchase of a cd depend on the volume lvl it was recorded on. Or am I getting that old?

Declining profits... (1)

gweihir (88907) | more than 7 years ago | (#20328963)

Maybe there is a connection? As music gets more industrialized and standardized, nobody cares anymore about having the lastest stuff?

Live gigs (1)

Stooshie (993666) | more than 7 years ago | (#20328979)

Actually, the same thing is happening at live gigs. I was at a Jazz gig recently (not exactly loud thrash metal ;-) ). It was your typical Jazz club, small, smoky, excellent atmosphere. I could talk quietly at one side of the room and you would be able to hear me with no problems. But the jazz bands that go there all have amplification. why?

Re:Live gigs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20329091)

Amplification because going in, they never know what the acoustics will be?

Re:Live gigs (1)

Stooshie (993666) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329117)

But if they find don't need it when they arrive, why use it?

Re:Live gigs (1)

Andrewkov (140579) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329293)

No, it's because of all those damn people talking quietly on the other side of the room! :)

Re:Live gigs (1)

havoc- (26282) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329337)

Actually, I play in a multi-acoustical-instrument band (not jazz though), and we *have* to use amplification because some instruments are so much louder than others. The more silent instruments (flutes mostly, acoustic bass) would not be heard.

Loudness and quality relationship? (1)

D3 (31029) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329003)

Has anyone done a study to find out if loudness is inversely corollated to the quality of the band? Does a modern pop group get amplified but they leave classic acts (pick your own favorite great rock band) alone? In that case I'd say the record companies are doing it because they know full well the level of crap being pushed on consumers and are trying to milk every last penny they can.

I'll also say that if they screw with Dark Side of the Moon so you hear that heart beat in the middle of every song I'll be pissed!

Re:Loudness and quality relationship? (1)

Andrewkov (140579) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329351)

I think it has more to do with politics inside record companies. If one producer makes a CD that appears to be louder than another producers, the first guy will be seen as being more professional or a better producer. Also, when record companies are choosing which artist to push, they will chose the one with a perceived better CD sound (ie: louder).

Earplugs becoming more common pop concert s (1)

mrvan (973822) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329013)

In related news [] [in Dutch], earplugs are becoming common among the *audiences* of pop concerts.

I think that is really shocking: they are turning up the volume so much that people who haven't destroyed their hearing yet (and are not planning to do so) need earplug to listen to a concert! I am pretty sure that turning up the volume at the speaker and then applying a very low-tech filter to turn the volume down at the ear can't be good for the quality...

[raises hand] (1)

dazedNconfuzed (154242) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329165)

Yep, I'm one of those. The volume at concerts is getting SO LOUD that my ears are "clipping", and the distortion is so bad that I can't really hear the music. Stuff in some earplugs, drop the level a few dB, and now I can hear everything clearly. Yeah it can't be good for audio quality, but it's better than the auditory overload.

I clip too. (1)

Benanov (583592) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329453)

My ears clip so bad I hear STATIC at those concerts. So I don't go. It's a shame, I suppose, but you can always sit further back with binoculars.

Re:Earplugs becoming more common pop concert s (1)

jhermans (108300) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329201)

The article was not about the *volume* of the music, but about the compression of the dynamic range. RTFA !

Unfortunately, it makes business sense (3, Insightful)

Idaho (12907) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329033)

Doing this makes most popular music sound much "better" at low-fi audio equipment such as portable cd players, mp3 players, $100 home "mini" stereo sets and cheap surround sets.

When I say "better", I mean that these devices cannot play the full dynamic range that an expensive HiFi set could, which means you'd miss part of the music if a CD is mastered the "old" way, as compared to a CD that is mastered using dynamic range compression.

Now you may guess how many people these days spend $3000 (or even $1000 for that matter) to buy just an amplifier, a CD player and 2 speakers, as compared to the amount of people who listen several hours a day to MP3 players, cheap (portable) sets etc.

That's why "they" are doing this.

Re:Unfortunately, it makes business sense (1)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329295)

Except that you can easily hear clipping on almost any headphones.

The studios are destroying the very music they are trying to sell.

Wall of Sound (5, Funny)

Purity Of Essence (1007601) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329053)

I blame Phil Spector. Thank God he's been brought to trial for his crimes.

Re:Wall of Sound (1)

iamdrscience (541136) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329447)

I never really understood what the phrase "Wall of Sound" meant until the first time I walked into a Best Buy. When I heard the ungodly cacophony of videogames, televisions, boomboxes, car stereos, computers, cellphones, appliances and more, the phrase was the first thing that leapt to my mind. It was a strong, oppressive force that felt like a physical barrier, despite only being sound.

"Aficionados" (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20329081)

There is your first problem. People who look at music as an elevated art that needs to be bowed down to.

Coming from someone in the field, paid by the people you all hate, and also holds undergrads in areas of perception and music and currently working on my final thesis beyond that, we are giving the listeners what they want. This has been well documented over the years that the loudness and distortion are only problems upon multiple listenings, and even then, only upon critical review, hence the idiots that want to know how Rikki Rocket blickemed the drum solo in the 1983 line up of Poison.

In other words, it doesn't matter.

What do listeners want? They want wallpaper. They want something even and uneventful that they can drive to. 95% of all music listened to these days is listened to in the car. That is what it is sold for. Drivetime radio, or burning iTunes tracks to listen to between 730 to 845 and then again at 530 to 645. Two hours a day.

Personally, I don't care much for what recorded music sounds like. I've had my share and I've never heard anything even remotely close to what I know it the real thing. I could care less that the RIAA is beating down teens who pass bad music, I think it is a lesson in aesthetics, not economics, because I don't know anyone in the music industry that likes the crap kids are listening to. This is why we all have our secret bands that we get signed for the fuck sakes of getting signed, promote them all we can, knowing none of the tin-eared teens are going to appreciate it, and take time away to personally make certain that the shit is recorded correctly. The rest? Who the fuck cares. I say jail anyone listening to it.

So if things are clipped and enloundened, you only have bad listeners and human psychoacoustic understanding to blame.

That's why you have a volume knob. (4, Funny)

jonadab (583620) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329125)

Seriously, I don't see the problem. Decreased dynamic range is good, as far as I'm concerned. It means you set the volume where you want it and it *stays* there. Most of the music I listen to has a fairly narrow dynamic range. Most Bach pieces, for instance, have pretty much a steady volume for the entire piece. You don't find yourself straining to hear and cranking the volume up to 11 one minute just to convince yourself the speakers are still attached and then covering your ears and dragging the slider back down to 2 the next moment to avoid angering the neighbors across the street, like you do with Beethoven and his ilk.

Optimised for radio, unlistenable on good systems (3, Insightful)

MeerCat (5914) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329133)

The amount of compression they apply to do this may not be noticeable on portable radios, car radios, and mini hifis and the like, but I know that I can't play the Oasis album "What's the story (Morning Glory)" on my main hifi as the compression sounds just too strange when played thru a proper amplifier and set of speakers.

Explains why people listen to awful demos in department stores (those horrible tinny Bose cube things with terrible hissy fizzy treble and booming vague bass) and think they sound good simply because it's turned up loud for the midrange.

And no, I don't have "exotic cables", just quality speakers and a hefty power amp with plenty of headroom to spare.

Re:Optimised for radio, unlistenable on good syste (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20329463)

agh, no wonder I've been turning up midrange to compensate for problems with sound lately

what people want (1)

jmyers (208878) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329139)

Unfortunately they are giving people (the masses) what they want. I love the dynamics in music and it is one of the elements that makes it interesting, but a lot of people don't.

I hate to make the stupid food analogy, but here it goes. I grew up on home cooked meals and I like a lot a variety. I like all kinds of vegetables and spices. A lot of younger people I know grew up on McDonald's and Pizza and that is all they will eat. Everything else sucks. It is the same with music, I grew up listening to many types of music from classical and jazz to rock and country. I can enjoy most any music and find elements I like in many different styles of music.

A lot of younger people I know grew up in the age of Clear Channel radio stations where you are pigeon holed into one very narrow genre of music. The most popular genres have become almost free of dynamic variety to the point that people don't want to hear it. The record companies are giving people what they want.

It makes you wonder... (1)

Tyler Durden (136036) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329145)

Maybe this has to do with what Bob Dylan was talking about earlier when he mentioned the lower sound quality of modern recordings.

Re:It makes you wonder... (3, Funny)

Dystopian Rebel (714995) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329255)

It makes you wonder... Maybe this has to do with what Bob Dylan was talking about

Sir, people have been wondering what Bob Dylan has been talking about for over 40 years.

I don't understand music writers. (0, Troll)

iamdrscience (541136) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329157)

Why is it that articles like this hardly ever include audio examples? Without audio examples, it's drastically more difficult for a casual reader to understand what they're talking about. As it stands, the article aims itself at the small group of people who know enough about sound to understand what they're talking about, but not enough to already be familiar with it. This problem seems to be pervasive amongst sound/music writers, they'll spend paragraphs trying to describe a sound in vain rather than just including an audio file and allowing the sound to speak for itself. This may be understandable in print publications, but on the web it's just ridiculous.

Trying to describe a sound is often difficult to the point of being futile. Don't bother, just let us listen to it and reserve the writing for describing other things about the sound. Let audio and print do what each does best.

Is this why modern music stinks? (1)

ChangeOnInstall (589099) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329161)

I'm curious if there might be any connection between overloud music and the increasingly popular observation that modern music is inferior to older music? I'm sure engineered bands are somewhat to blame for this, and it does seem that people tend to prefer the music they grew up with during their teens and early twenties.

But then there's the case of bands that have existed for twenty or more years. One of my favorite such bands is Rush. I'm not exactly an audiophile, but their later releases seem to suffer from being overloud. The new Snakes & Arrows album has a track "Far Cry" which I think might have been fantastic had it been mastered 15 years ago.

Upon typing the last statement their, I figured I'd do a quick search for "snakes and arrows loudness". WOW: dustry.html [] They even used "Far Cry"! I swear I typed the above before I found this link.

Sometimes it makes sense all around (3, Interesting)

eagl (86459) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329167)

Sometimes dynamic compression is a good thing all around.

I often am forced to listen to my music in either a loud environment or in an area where I must keep the music volume as low as possible. A wide dynamic range means that in order to hear the quiet parts, the louder parts are unacceptably loud.

Yes if all I ever did was listen to music inside a quiet, soundproof room all by myself, then I'd want the widest possible dynamic range. But since I am almost never in that situation, I find myself artificially compressing the dynamic range myself because I want to be able to hear the quiet parts without bugging everyone else or blowing out my ears during the loud sections.

Plus I'm not an adolescent gangsta wannabe so overall volume and the ability to irritate others by playing my music at full volume simply isn't an issue. And frankly I couldn't care less about the type of music where that sort of thing is an objective, so if that sort of music is "ruined" by dynamic compression it just doesn't bother me in the least. I'm not going to stand on principle to save from destruction something I find offensive, and it's silly to try to get people concerned about the destruction of an industry that they find offensive. I like classical music and rock, and as far as I can tell neither one is being ruined by dynamic compression. You still need a quiet environment to really experience good classical music, and somehow I don't find myself too concerned with not having to strain to hear the words in Holiday or September.

If you're offended by me listening to me listening to Mozart with my windows up and the system down, let me know and I'll see what I can do to be less irritating (heh).

Recurring Topic (1)

jasenj1 (575309) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329219)

Don't we see one of these articles every six months or so?

It's kind of like complaining about fast food: everyone knows it's bad for you, yet people continue to buy it in mass quantities.

There's just not enough people who:
a) Care enough about sound
b) Have equipment good enough to reveal the difference
c) Have sources for the better stuff

- Jasen.

How important is it, really? (1)

Leviathant (558659) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329233)

don't get me wrong here, I have spent more on a single pair of headphones than most people spend on their entire stereo setup, and while I am a fan of high fidelity recording (or, in some cases, synthesis, really), in some cases I either want the music to be loud and dirty, or the music is good enough that the fidelity doesn't even matter. The general public is even less concerned! Do you think anyone really gives a hoot that the production on a song like "Hips don't Lie" is TERRIBLE? I'm sure the dynamic range has been crushed on its way from ProTools to that shiny CD, err, MP3 even.

I appreciate the lengths some modern recording artists go to in order to create dynamic, intricate recordings (nine inch nails' The Fragile comes to mind, or the 10th anniversary edition of The Downward Spiral) but I also like listening to the likes of The Mummies and Mr Oizo (who publishes under "one speaker is enough" music, iirc).

I have long thought that it would be best if label-produced albums preserved the appropriate amount of dynamic range, leaving compression up to consumer devices. I realize that built-in EQ and reverb settings on stereos don't set a particularly good precedent, but give me a tv and a stereo (in the car too!) with a pair of compressor knobs, please. When those poorly mastered tracks from 80 CDs turn up in the playlist, squash away! When the too-quiet movie switches to the overly compressed car salesman ad, handle that appropriately! The hardware and software are out there.

If it's too loud (0)

CaffeineAddict2001 (518485) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329253)

you're too old.

it's the cars that go bump (5, Interesting)

jgarra23 (1109651) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329257)

May sound like a weird topic but it's true. I'm seeing soooo much mis-information in these threads it's ridiculous. The dynamic range is being compressed, yes. This doesn't make your cds "louder" than a "quiet" cd, it reduces the dynamic range between the sounds so loud doesn't sound so "loud" as quiet.

Now, the reason record companies are doing this, yes, to maximize profits, but that cynical answer doesn't explain how or why really. The real reason is because people in cars with loud stereo systems aren't able to distinguish the dynamic ranges in a loud, noisy, moving environment so they compress the sound to make it sound best in cars. Really. Take say, the latest Front Line Assembly album (crazy loud) and listen to it in your car. It sounds great. It's compressed all to hell. On headphones it sounds like a mess though. Now take any Dire Straits album, particularly Brothers In Arms (Quiet as a mouse) and listen to it in your car. It's quiet, you can't hear it, it sounds like crap. Now listen to it on headphones and it sounds incredible. Why? The dynamic range is there so you can hear the nuances of the music throughout the album, unlike the former album where everything sounds approximately the same level.

THat is the difference between loud and quiet and compression on dynamic range.

Dupe from the past (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20329285)

I remember reading about this about a year or two ago. Too lazy to seach :P.
  All about crapy music from today .. the dynamic range and the vinyl rulz (even the casette).
  Anyway, who of you expect quality from today pop music?, content quality, technical quality.
  All the today industry wants is just plain money making machines.
  So if you want better sound quality, search for it in other places.

Bone Fone (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329309)

Maybe the loudness increase is just a reaction to losing real speakers that shake the air all around our bodies. Little earbuds, and even circumaural cup headphones, don't give us the full sensation we want when we're really "getting into" music we like. We crank it up in our ears, longing for the real shake we expect. FWIW, I know I like listening to my car stereo more with the motor running, even when parked, and nothing compares to rocking out while blasting through traffic, screaming the words at the top of my lungs.

Maybe if we brought back the Bone Fone [] we could crank down the ear damage. Just as a subwoofer. Though those annoying people on the subway forcing their tinny little noise byproducts at the people around them will be a real pain in the ass when we sit on the seat next to them.

Good for cheap stereos (1)

goldenrod3 (1146587) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329313)

I can understand why Hi Fi enthusiasts would prefer a wide dynamic range on their CDs, but compressed sound is quite good for cheap stereos which can't do a big dynamic range. Perhaps that's why music companies produce them this way? After all, most people I think listen to music on cheap equipment rather than Hi Fi.

Radio (3, Interesting)

Detritus (11846) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329425)

Radio is even worse. Many stations operate under the philosophy of 100% modulation, all the time. They also use multi-band compressors that split the audio into multiple frequency bands and independently compress each band. The result is boring and fatiguing, with no dynamic range. FM, and even AM, radio can sound very good with decent equipment and engineering. The problem isn't money or knowledge, it's station managers that have become obsessed with producing a "competitive sound".

What an interesting contradiction (3, Insightful)

AnalogDiehard (199128) | more than 7 years ago | (#20329459)

To counter the CD "loudness war", we have DVD movies with
  • too much dynamic range.
Scenes with explosions, traffic, etc are way too loud while the dialogue is way too soft.

I solved the DVD problem by inserting a compressor on the audio out of the DVD player before it reaches my stereo - precisely what the network station did before the era of DVD when everybody watched movies on HBO, Turner Classics, ABC, NBC, etc. I did the same to my parents' TV so they wouldn't get blasted by commercials on cable TV. We are all much happier.

Unfortunately there is no easy solution to "squashed" CDs. Once the dynamic range is compressed to oblivion, you cannot get it back without the source material (IE master multitrack). In the last five years I have bought 10x more DVDs than CDs.

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