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Is Louder Better? 544

Posted by michael
from the mastering-mastering dept.
GoodNicsTken writes "Rip Rowan over at prorec.com did an analysis of 5 different Rush CD's released from 1984 to 2002. The results show a definite trend in the recording/mastering style from each album. Rip contends that louder is not necessarily better as the record execs believe. The artist however, is often left with little choice in the matter."
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Is Louder Better?

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  • by mao che minh (611166) * on Friday August 01, 2003 @04:56PM (#6591638) Journal
    "Rip Rowan over at prorec.com did an analysis of 5 different Rush CD's released from 1984 to 2002."

    Now that is one tough, durable fellow. I would have split my own head open with a .44 slug by the start of the third album.

    Air Supply [airsupplymusic.com], now there was a real band! ;)

    • I've been listening to the VAPOR TRAILS CD in the car, and I thought I was hearing clipping. Knowing that Rush albums are among the most meticulously crafted in the business, it never occured to me that the CD might have been mastered clipped, but that is exactly what seems to have happened.
    • How it is done (Score:5, Informative)

      by TransientAlias (683322) on Saturday August 02, 2003 @02:32AM (#6594434)
      Many different people do 'Mastering',. and each one does it in his or her own special way that they want to convince you is better than everyone else's. The main steps in mastering are eq, compression, and level matching. Very few cd's are printed with clipped samples, because this data is out of range, it can't be reproduced, if the playback of the cd results in a clipped waveform it could be either a perfectly recorded clip or it is a failure of your hardware to faithfully repoduce the waveform as it is encoded on the disc. Most generally it is the latter.

      When finished tracks are sent to be 'Mastered', they are usually compressed a little bit, or a lot, depending on the taste of the Mastering Engineer. Compression in this case doesn't refer to encoding audio in a compressed format, rather a compressor is a dynamics processor, with it you can set a threshold above which the sound will be modified based on a ratio like 2 or 3 to 1. So for a 2 to 1 ratio any sound that is above the threshold will be reduced by half.

      This was initially done back in the old days when you had at best 45 dB of dynamic range to work with on your recording medium, a very noticable noise floor, and material with a dynamic range of 120 dB (Live Rock). Obviously you can't stuff 120 dB into a 45 dB (cassette tape(if you are lucky)) dynamic range, So the material was compressed to fit within the dynamic range. Also because of the quality(lack thereof) of consumer audio equipment and the previously mentioned very noticable noise floor, most music is compressed into the top 3-5 dB of whatever medium it is recorded on.

      Nowadays, we have a playback medium with a 96 dB dynamic range and close to a 96 dB noise floor, but because people got used to the way it used to sound, they want to keep hearing it that way. Pretty much the only recorded materials that truly benefited from the increase in dynamic range allowed by CD's and digital recording are orchestral works, and the people that listen to these avidly, and care about the recording truly reflecting the performance, still want more!

      The other aspects of 'Mastering' are a great deal more subtle, equalization and level matching between tracks are things that most people do not notice unless it is done badly. At the end they turn the result up to the top of the mediums allowable dynamic range and start printing tens of thousands of them at a few cents apiece.

      If you think a cd has clipped samples recorded on it the best way to check is to rip the track off the disc into a PCM (Non Lossy, Non compressed, Non MP3)format at 16 bit/44.1 (Redbook native format) and look at the samples in question with a wav editor. If you have blown up the waveform to the point where you can see a single sample, and the tops of the waveform are at the cieling and flat, then complain to the recording engineer, because it is probably his fault.

      BTW make sure it is a clean non scratched cd, any unrecoverable data loss can appear as a clipped waveform, and is heard as such depending on the smoothing filter on the output side of your cd player.
  • by ScoLgo (458010) <scolgo@g m a il.com> on Friday August 01, 2003 @04:57PM (#6591641) Homepage
    'nuff said! ;-]
  • I totally agree. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DeathPenguin (449875) * on Friday August 01, 2003 @04:58PM (#6591651)
    I'm a fan of the heavy metal genre and I've seen (or heard, more like) many songs that would be absolutely great if they weren't subjected
    to the same LOUDER IS BETTER butcher job Rush's Vapor Trails went through. One example is the song "Here Comes the Pain" on Slayer's latest album. I can barely make it past the intro because it simply sounds so terrible. Or if I really want to listen to it, I turn my volume down so my speakers don't peak or bottom out. Turning metal DOWN??? That just ain't right. Damn their sound engineers to hell.

    On the other hand, In Flames' latest album entitled Reroute to Remain sounds absolutely beautiful on any speakers I play it on. Same holds true for other Nuclearblast artists such as Old Man's Child and Dimmu Borgir. Kudos to foreign audio engineers!
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 01, 2003 @05:09PM (#6591756)
      > One example is the song "Here Comes the Pain" on Slayer's latest album.
      > I can barely make it past the intro because it simply sounds so terrible.

      Probably that's why it's called "Here Comes the Pain"..
    • In Flames' latest album entitled Reroute to Remain

      Finally! Another "In Flames" fan. Another album in the same style of music that was also engineered perfectly was Emperor's "Prometheus: The Discipline of Fire & Demise" CD. Simply brilliant work.
    • Bingo! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by dnoyeb (547705) on Friday August 01, 2003 @05:38PM (#6592006) Homepage Journal
      Indeed. There is a point after which you begin to clip the music and reduce its dynamic range. If you record the damn thing too high, I will never be able to play it loud without distortion.

      My brother tought me this 20 years ago when he showed me how to make tapes. I would sit there and stare at the VU meter throughout the WHOLE song, turning down the record volume slightly every time it hit red. Then rewind the song, and now with the volume properly set, record it.

      Later I learned to let a bit of red slip in there, to taste. If its loud and distorted, its just pure garbage.

      Personally I do not like rock and roll. But if its lound and 'clear' I can dislike it with a sort of appreciation...
      • Re:Bingo! (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Ooblek (544753) on Friday August 01, 2003 @06:16PM (#6592306)
        My brother tought me this 20 years ago

        Well, this is most likely the problem. It probably isn't a louder is better trend. More than likely, it is the next generation of recording engineers that learned on Avids and cheap PC based eqipment, and ignored the whole measurement part. They ruined the whole job market for the experienced engineers. Now, no longer able to get work for more than $20/hr when they were getting $50-$75/hr, the experienced guys go to low-key post houses and mix sound effects into TV and radio commercials. At least that work is steady.

        Of course, I've been called an elitest pig for suggesting that the Avid jockeys out there should not have gotten to where they are now with so little time learning to do the job. Now there are tons of these cheap engineers that are only good as long as the producer does not know how to read a VU meter. I say reap what you sew, and I'll stay an elitest. Perhaps when someone finally realizes what went wrong, it will be like the Cobol programmer's watershed of the late 90's.

        • Re:Bingo! (Score:3, Funny)

          by dogfart (601976)
          They haven't started outsourcing these jobs to India yet, have they?

          There's hope yet...

        • Re:Bingo! (Score:4, Interesting)

          by ibennetch (521581) <bennetch@noSPaM.gmail.com> on Friday August 01, 2003 @08:26PM (#6593122) Journal
          You mention Avid operators, which brings up a sore point with me.

          Try explaining to a client why they should someone hire a good Avid editor for (say) $150/hr (or audio- or lighting- or camera-person) when they can have their son do their company's commercial on the family's Final Cut Pro machine with their $700 digital camera?

          I'm a TV guy and very interested in where the market is going to go in the next few years. I know your comment was about music production but it's really the same thing...people who used to get paid decently can't get work because potential clients don't understand that they're paying for experience.

          I'd rather work in sports...
    • Vapor Trails (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Overly Critical Guy (663429) on Friday August 01, 2003 @06:26PM (#6592375)
      I'm a fan of the heavy metal genre and I've seen (or heard, more like) many songs that would be absolutely great if they weren't subjected
      to the same LOUDER IS BETTER butcher job Rush's Vapor Trails went through.


      The article mentions that artists usually don't have a choice in the matter, but Geddy Lee himself did Vapor Trails. He stated in interviews that he was having breakdowns because everything was digitally clipping, but that he was reassured that it sounded okay by the rest of the band.
      • Re:Vapor Trails (Score:3, Informative)

        Geddy Lee himself did Vapor Trails
        Have a reference to those interviews? According to this list of credits [artistdirect.com] (scroll down the page some) Mastering on Vapor Trails was done by Howie Weinberg and Roger Lian. Lee (and Lifeson and Peart) are all credited as Engineers in addition to their performances.
  • No kidding. (Score:5, Informative)

    by yroJJory (559141) <me@ j o r y.org> on Friday August 01, 2003 @04:58PM (#6591655) Homepage
    I always mix to -20 dBFS RMS because louder is NOT better. Headroom is much better.

    Hopefully, surround music formats (DVD-Audio & SACD) will convince the tried & true engineers that they don't have to slam recordings at -0.1 dBFS like they've been doing with CDs.

    A nice 24 dB of headroom allows for dynamic range in muxic, as well as loud transients. This is something you don't get when your music is an L2 brick.
    • I always mix to -20 dBFS RMS because louder is NOT better. Headroom is much better.
      Then, you have to aim for Max Headroom [google.com]???
    • Re:No kidding. (Score:5, Informative)

      by clifyt (11768) <sonikmatter@gm a i l . com> on Friday August 01, 2003 @05:27PM (#6591924) Homepage
      Wow! We've been waiting for DVD-A and SACD for 24dB of headroom!!!

      Quite honestly, most pop music has about 16 - 32db at most.

      With 16bit Audio, we get 96dB of space to play with. With 24bit, ya get 144.

      144dB is equivelent of going from a dead silent room to standing about 10 feet behind a jet engine at take off.

      16bit audio is MORE than anyone needs to work in any pop medium -- and I'd count the metal albums I've seen listed here within that medium as well.

      A lot of classical and jazz might do well with 24 bit...anything that is uncompressed as a rule. But even that could be done reasonably well with 16bit audio -- unless we are talking Varses on the classical side or Zorn in the jazz end of things....

      Mixing in 24+ bits, however rocks...its always nicer to mix in a higher bit rate than what you are going to be presenting in as it allows ya to have the data errors out of the range of what will be heard by the consumer anyways.
    • Re:No kidding. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by curtlewis (662976) on Friday August 01, 2003 @05:51PM (#6592104)
      I just set my target for unity gain no matter what I'm recording. That way it's as clean as you can get given the source material.

      What annoys me is the poor audio engineering in movies and DVDs today. I have fine hearing, but I often have to turn on the subtitles because if I turn up to hear alot of the dialog, other sections of the movie will fry the voice coils on my speakers. I like dynamic range and all, but there's such a thing as a signal that is too low.
      • See if your receiver has any compression settings. Sometimes changing the size setting for your speakers will also introduce a little dynamic range compression.
      • Re:No kidding. (Score:4, Informative)

        by evilviper (135110) on Friday August 01, 2003 @07:34PM (#6592800) Journal
        I have fine hearing, but I often have to turn on the subtitles because if I turn up to hear alot of the dialog, other sections of the movie will fry the voice coils on my speakers.

        One of the reasons I will never buy a multimedia device again...

        With a DVD-Drive in my computer, hooked up to my TV, I just add "-aop list=volnorm" to mplayer's list of options, and the volume is evened out quite well, and I don't have to buy a special reciever that costs $100 more than everything else, I just do it with a handful of CPU cycles, and my $30 SB LIve soundcard.
  • Limbaugh? (Score:5, Funny)

    by zapp (201236) on Friday August 01, 2003 @04:59PM (#6591657)
    Did anyone else shudder at the thought of 5 Rush Limbaugh CDs?
    • That guy is loud enough as it is...
    • by angle_slam (623817)
      I was listening to music one day in my office. Someone who could hear my music asked what I was listening to. I said Rush. She approved. Later that day she started talking to me about Rush Limbaugh. It was only then I realized that, when I said I was listenting to Rush, she thought I said I was listening to Rush Limbaugh.
      • by Keith Russell (4440) <keith.russell@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Friday August 01, 2003 @05:24PM (#6591907) Journal
        I said Rush. She approved. Later that day she started talking to me about Rush Limbaugh.

        Dude, you work with Ann Coulter? That must really suck.

      • by feepness (543479) on Friday August 01, 2003 @07:09PM (#6592657) Homepage
        I was listening to music one day in my office. Someone who could hear my music asked what I was listening to. I said Rush. She approved. Later that day she started talking to me about Rush Limbaugh. It was only then I realized that, when I said I was listenting to Rush, she thought I said I was listening to Rush Limbaugh.

        I was told I could play my radio at a reasonable volume between the hours of 11am and 1pm. Also I seem to have lost my stapler and I also did not get any cake last time there was a birthday and I could poison you all and burn the building down and I will too.
  • huh:? (Score:2, Funny)

    Whaat? Whaaaaaaat?
  • They really ought to know, given Disaster Area's track record [google.com]...
  • by TerryAtWork (598364) <research@aceretail.com> on Friday August 01, 2003 @04:59PM (#6591665)
    that the louder speaker system always sounds better. They move a lot of expensive speakers like that.

  • 11 (Score:5, Funny)

    by The_Rippa (181699) * on Friday August 01, 2003 @04:59PM (#6591667)
    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?
  • Radio broadcast (Score:2, Redundant)

    by Pieroxy (222434)
    It's all about the radio. If your song has a lower volume than another one, it'll just sound Lame when it'll start.

    Of course all radios should/would/could normalize their playlists

    • Re: Radio broadcast (Score:5, Informative)

      by Black Parrot (19622) on Friday August 01, 2003 @05:04PM (#6591719)


      > It's all about the radio. If your song has a lower volume than another one, it'll just sound Lame when it'll start.

      > Of course all radios should/would/could normalize their playlists

      I just wish they wouldn't blast the commercials out even louder than the music.

      • by billsf (34378)
        Radio (and TV commercials) is one of the most exploited areas of compression over certain audio frequency band to create the illusion of a louder signal. This is analogue compression and often it is very 'lossy' indeed. The paper is quite technical and is probably aimed at analogue engineers like myself. When certain frequency ranges are turned up to the point of 'clipping' the signal, other more subtle information in the audio signal gets litterally "modulated" which is to say it is simply added distortion
    • The solution is to send a radio mix to the station, and sell the good mix on the CD. Of course, that requires more expenditure in production, so unless there's some trivial way to generate the louder radio version, it will never happen. (I'm not a sound engineer, can you tell?)
    • In SOVIET Russia, the playlist normali....

      ...aaaah, screw it....
    • RTFA (Score:5, Informative)

      by siskbc (598067) on Friday August 01, 2003 @05:24PM (#6591902) Homepage
      Radio does have automatic limiters. Listen to a rock station sometime, it all comes out about the same level, despite the different levellings of the individual recordings. This was in the article, btw.
  • by L. VeGas (580015) on Friday August 01, 2003 @05:00PM (#6591682) Homepage Journal
    RRRRR, matey.

    Rip Rowan recounts rummaging Rush recordings.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 01, 2003 @05:02PM (#6591701)
    And don't forget that every Canadian decibel is almost two American decibels.
  • by CTho9305 (264265) on Friday August 01, 2003 @05:02PM (#6591702) Homepage
    Another great read here [raritanval.edu].
  • More range is better (Score:5, Informative)

    by 192939495969798999 (58312) <.info. .at. .devinmoore.com.> on Friday August 01, 2003 @05:02PM (#6591703) Homepage Journal
    More range is better, which can equate to louder "loud"'s, and softer "soft"'s. Just having the record be louder is going to sound like crap on really super-hi-fi systems that can pick up every little thing... you'll hear cats meowing in the studio, etc... I know from experience in the studio!
  • 1 Year old article. (Score:5, Informative)

    by cioxx (456323) on Friday August 01, 2003 @05:05PM (#6591727) Homepage
    It's been covered in many web publications back in 2002.

    Dynamic range problem is real though. This is why you whould avoid mainstream, "radio-ready" artists and bands. Another excellent reason to buy indie music.

    If you want to see how bad the problem is, get yourself a copy of the latest Foo Fighters CD and listen to the album with decent headphones. (Grado sr-80/125 or Seinheisers of equal quality). It's just noise.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    There is unrest in the changers
    There is trouble with CDs
    For the rockers want more volume
    And the amps ignore their pleas

    The trouble with the rockers
    (and they're quite convinced they're right)
    The say the amps are just too puny
    and the volume's just too light

    ~~~
  • CD vs Vinyl (Score:5, Interesting)

    by spudchucker (680073) on Friday August 01, 2003 @05:09PM (#6591762)
    When I working in a night club, I would receive promotional music on vinyl and cd formats. I could not tell the diff until the volume was way up. Bass sounded amazingly deeper and cleaner from the record. The speakers were flubbering at the same volume from the cd. http://www.howstuffworks.com/question487.htm
  • by YllabianBitPipe (647462) on Friday August 01, 2003 @05:09PM (#6591768)
    Just like how DX-7s and putting huge amounts of reverb on your Linn drum machine were in vogue during the eighties, I think this phase will play itself out. Right now the recording style seems to be centered around, compress everything, auto-tune the vocals, and master it so every track, it feels like the guitars and drums are burrowing into your eardrums. This too may pass. And besides, if people get sick of the excessive mastering trends of today, the record companies can just go back to the master tapes and re-re-master everything, and get everyone to buy all new cds.
    • And besides, if people get sick of the excessive mastering trends of today, the record companies can just go back to the master tapes and re-re-master everything, and get everyone to buy all new cds.

      Better watch your back.. those RIAA goons can be sneaky..

  • Today, every commercial CDs comming out are compressed so heavily that you can barely see any difference between smooth and busy parts of any given mix.

    Mastering engineers use all sorts of multiband compressors and loudness maximizers so that if you use the CD in a multiple CD charger, you don't have to ride the dial and ajust the level to make it sound even.

    That means that the louder one goes, everyone bassicly has to follow so that they are not the softest playing CD in the set...which most people will
  • softer is definitely better. Volume at 0 db is definitely best.
  • by pestie (141370) on Friday August 01, 2003 @05:11PM (#6591786) Homepage
    No, of course louder isn't better. What rock 'n' roll music clearly needs is more cowbell.
    • Re:More cowbell (Score:4, Insightful)

      by JayBlalock (635935) on Friday August 01, 2003 @05:46PM (#6592059)
      I think you were being funny, but I agree with you whole-heartedly. Wanna make a song sound REALLY frantic and driving? Have some bashing the hell out of a cowbell. It's great. I DO wish more bands would pick up on this.
      • Re:More cowbell (Score:4, Informative)

        by SunBug (31218) on Friday August 01, 2003 @06:06PM (#6592234)
        It's from a Saturday Night Live skit where Wil Ferrel is playing the cowbell for the Blue Oyster Cult. Christopher Walkin is the mixer, and he comes in and says something like "that was great guys, but it really needed more cowbell." Funny stuff.
    • Re:More cowbell (Score:5, Interesting)

      by evilviper (135110) on Friday August 01, 2003 @07:23PM (#6592741) Journal
      Funny, but I kinda agree. As a percussionist, I am always surprised at how terrible every drummer on the planet it... What do they all do? 4 hits on the ride cymbal, and one on the snare... In some songs, just to be innovative, they use the hi-hat instead of cymbal, and maybe even hit a drum other than the snare... Gasp! How incredibly skilled these highly-paid artists are!

      I just wonder if a monkey can keep a beat, that'll show 'em. Hey, you know you aren't doing a good job if a beat-box can replace you.

      Personally, I think what music needs is some of the cooler instruments out there. I can't imagine why none of the metal bands out there have heavily used low-pitch chimes, or tympani. It would have such a different sound than people are used to that they'd certainly get serious airtime. And in case your monkey of a drumer can't handle it, I can certainly find millions of Jr. High band students that can replace him in an instant...

      What I want to see is a drummer for a mainsteram band stand up in the middle of a song, and go over and play the vibraphone for at least a minute or so. That would show they aren't all chimps with sticks.
  • Not only dynimically compressed music sound terrible, at the same time it drowns out the quieter, better made albums. A solution has been proposed that records maximum and average loudness into the sound file, so a music library can be played at a constant volume, to help alleviate the problem. See:
    http://replaygain.hydrogenaudio.org/
  • by richlb (168636)
    Rush made 5 albums after 1984?
  • by Openadvocate (573093) on Friday August 01, 2003 @05:14PM (#6591806)
    All you need to do is to get the TK421 modification for your amp and everything will sound much better.
  • What? WHAT? (Score:3, Funny)

    by spun (1352) <(moc.oohay) (ta) (yranoituloverevol)> on Friday August 01, 2003 @05:16PM (#6591823) Journal
    Sorry, I can't hear you, you'll have to speak up. Seriously, I have tinnitus because of you recording industry idiots. How about some music with a little dynamic range, you know, some quiet parts mixed in with the louder bits? Oh wait, my hearing is so damaged that when I listen to music with real dynamic range, like a symphony, I have to turn the volume up until the loud bits shake the windows in order to even hear the quiet bits. Guess I'll just go listen to some heavy metal instead.
  • by PeteyG (203921) on Friday August 01, 2003 @05:16PM (#6591825) Homepage Journal
    I think this guy is failing to grasp the implications of the 'loudness' of Vapor Trails. Yes, it is quite 'loud'. It definately SOUNDS louder than previous Rush CDs. But this has nothing to do with the engineering of the album. It has to do with the sound that Rush was trying to make.

    Rush was on like a 6-year hiatus. They produced the album (along with another longtime Rush producer guy). Do you think that they would have put out an album that didn't sound like they wanted it to?

    Vapor Trails does sound different. There's more distortion, the amplifiers are more overdriven, being pushed to their maximum more... But that is more a style thing than anything else. There's been a lot of Rush stuff that has been very clean, very free of distortion, very clear.

    And Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Niel Peart have said that they chose to make things 'louder' and less clean to give the album a bit more of a 'jam' feeling. They wanted to get back to their roots, and distinguish themselves from the different clean and synthy sounds they had in the '80s.

    So... Vapor Trails doesn't sound loud and overdriven because it is engineered poorly, or because not enough effort went into producing it... it sounds that way because that's the sound Rush was going for

    And for the (slashdot) record, Vapor Trails has generally been recieved well by fans, and has gotten very good reviews. And I like it, so you KNOW it's good stuff.
    • If it really is the artists that are making the decisions in this case, the bell tolls for them... Sorry, but Vapor Trails is the worst sounding album in their entire catalog. I played it a couple of times and coudn't stand it anymore. These guys used to know how to make a "loud jam" sound good.... witness 2112. Maybe the new digital equipment is getting in the way? If they recorded onto a wax cylinder it would have sounded better than "vapor trails".
    • by Keith Russell (4440) <keith.russell@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Friday August 01, 2003 @05:58PM (#6592165) Journal

      Actually, Rush has been getting progressively heavier and louder since Roll The Bones. Boy, was that album a mess. Someone in another thread mentioned how Presto was too bright and lacking in bass. Well, for RTB, producer Rupert Hine overcompensated by clipping all the highs, too. Neil Peart does really cool stuff with cymbals. You'd never know it from RTB. The mid-range is so overwhelming, I can't tell the difference between my home theater setup and my clock radio when playing that CD.

      Once they got out on tour for RTB, everyone told them how much better the new stuff sounded live. That was the end of Hine's association with Rush. They went back to Peter Collins, whom they had worked with through the '80s, for Counterparts. He brought in some guy nicknamed "Caveman" to engineer. The result was a very broad range of sounds. Some of the more complex arrangements, like Nobody's Hero and Cold Fire were quite clean and crisp, like '80s Rush. But heavier songs like Animate and Stick It Out have a dirtier, garage-band sound. IIRC, Geddy used an old amp with burned-out tubes to get that big, thick, heavy bass sound.

      And it's been all downhill (or uphill, depending on your opinion of Rush's synth-happy days :-) ) from there, which leads us to Vapor Trails. They decided to take their time with that album, mostly because Neil had completely dropped out for a couple of years. They spent over a year in the studio. And when your as well-established* as Rush, the record companies don't meddle as much as they would with some flavor-of-the-month copycat band. So Rush certainly got the sound they wanted out of Vapor Trails. And if the results sound loud on the album, you should have heard it live. Damn.

      *: Rock and Roll Speak for "old". :-)

    • by leviramsey (248057) on Friday August 01, 2003 @06:03PM (#6592215) Journal

      Geddy Lee (who was the only band member present for the mixing) has said a lot of the clipping wasn't discovered until late in the process and he ended up trying to compensate for it in the mixing. That may well be why (as the article elaborates) the guitars, bass, and drums all clip at the same times; Geddy decided that the only way to cover up the drums clipping was amp the guitar so it was clipping.

      Agreed with you on Vapor Trails. Best Rush album since Moving Pictures, and I might even say best since Hemispheres. Then again, I can't really rank Rush albums; there've been times that Presto or Hold Your Fire are what I'd call the best.

  • by spankenstein (35130) on Friday August 01, 2003 @05:23PM (#6591892) Homepage
    There was a thread on prosoundweb.com about this same thing.

    To top that off almost all the radio stations in my area (Kansas City) add crap tons of compression on top of the already loud mixes. It's so bad you cna hear the compressor "breathe" on some songs.

    Most indie bands record with a more natural sound. I think music sound good when it sounds like you are standing right in front of a band and the instruments sound as iff they would were the band set up where your stereo is.

  • by Insightfill (554828) on Friday August 01, 2003 @05:24PM (#6591908) Homepage
    Here's a link (reassemble as needed).

    http://www.personal.uni-jena.de/~pfk/mpp/clippin g. html
  • Old news... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ktakki (64573) on Friday August 01, 2003 @05:35PM (#6591982) Homepage Journal
    First of all, the article is dated September 2002, though that doesn't make the writer's concerns any less valid.

    Second, this has been going on for almost twenty years, starting around the time digital tape decks (like Mitsubishi, Sony, 3M) gained wider currency in recording studios. Digital audio sounds really harsh when you push recording levels, as opposed to analog tape, which has a "softer" limit.

    Rowan makes a very valid point: radio stations are notorious for compressing their feed, mostly to get the hottest signal within their transmitter's power limit. Television stations are even worse. I recall taking a road trip with my band in a rented van that didn't have a cassette player; we were at the mercy of every Top-40 station and all of them were playing Phil Collins's "Sussudio" every ten minutes. Some of the stations flattened the signal so much that we thought it was some sort of remix just for robots (the drum machine was at least twice as loud as the lead vocals).

    Where I don't concur is Rowan's placing the blame for this on the labels. True, the A&R people are the ones who have right-of-refusal on the final mix, but you can't let engineers, producers, and the mastering lab off the hook. I've been on the other side of the glass and I know that I've been guilty of patching compressors into a channel to keep the kick drum at a managable level, make up for a singer's lax microphone discipline, or "punch up" the final mix. Note that I'm not blaming the musicians; they do whatever they have to in order to get the track on tape. If that means Joe Frontman is going to sway back and forth like Bill Gates at a deposition, so be it. It was my job to deal.

    Finally, not to sound too much like a Luddite, but back in the analog days, there was a limit on the number of effects you could employ, the limit being the number of physical units present in your studio rack. Now, with ProTools or Cakewalk, your limits are RAM and CPU cycles, both of which are cheaper to expand than buying more compressors, limiters, gates, reverbs, etc.

    k.
  • by jeorgen (84395) on Friday August 01, 2003 @05:37PM (#6592000)
    If a recording sounds louder it has more compression. This also means that there are no strong peaks either. With low compression you sometimes turn the volume up while listening, which means loud spikes will be very loud: The brain integrates (smears out) loud noises over 100ms but the ear only over 10 ms. So sudden spikes hurt the ear more than they sound to the brain.

    /jeorgen

  • by phaeton (65227) on Friday August 01, 2003 @05:45PM (#6592056)
    I tend to have a theory that perhaps the Music Buying Public is starting to get tired of all these empty, manufactured pop bands that come out of Disney. That and a lot of the mainstream stuff that was based on the Seven Formulas To A Perfect High-Selling Pop Song (or whatever that was) (read: what 80% of the population buys, because 80% of the population buys it) has just become way too tired after 25 years. I think the music industry's own marketing is thier biggest problem.

    That said, let me step on my soapbox for a sec..

    As a music buff, a musician, and someone who's seen the musician's side of the music industry in nearly all its forms (garage, stage, touring, studio, etc)...

    I will first say that getting music recorded is a fairly long-winded and convoluted process...

    1) The sound you get out of the instrument's amp in the studio is not what you'll get on tape

    2) In the mixing process, there is a great deal of EQ'ing, Compressing (this is what gives the LOUD), and various other things to get things to come together in a certain fashion. When all is said and done, the sound you had on tape before is now going to be totally different.

    There are many many schools of thought on how best to master a recording. Some go for atmosphere, some go for candid honesty, some go for a super-polished sound, well, you get the picture.

    However, the trend i'm seeing lately with a lot of old albums, is that they're getting remastered in a modern studio with the attempt at "Updating" them. I don't know if this is something rookies cut thier teeth on or something, but i've got a lot of horribly done CDs. I do realise that the difference of listening to stuff on my old, worn out vinyl or tapes as opposed to a CD will be fundamentally different just because of the analogue/digital conversion.

    Sabbath albums that are gated so hard, that everything is muffled to hell, but the vocals are enough to spring THE ENTIRE MIX open and everything distorts.

    Maiden albums where someone took the effort to attenuate the feedback from the guitars. This really blew me away. like "Dewd, Adrian Murray WANTED that there!"

    I've got a few hendrix and yardbirds albums where everything was squashed into oblivion with a compressor/limiter (failed attempt at making something LOUD). Yes, the album is loud, but it doesn't *breathe*.

    I've got a fleetwood mac album where everything sounds cold, thin and empty. Too much noise reduction. Noise reduction being my biggest beef.
    IMHO, the bass guitar rattling the snare drum in an intro, the 60hz hum of the PA, all the delicious lil freaks of sound that come out of guitar amps..... to me, that's just as much a part of the music itself. I love the *noise*. My old vinyl was full of it.

    When stuff gets too `polished' i think it loses too much of it's `soul' and becomes a little too mechanical. I don't expect everyone to agree with me on this, though, so to each thier own. /me gets off his soapbox and offers everyone else a try
  • The Real Reason (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Sloppy (14984) * on Friday August 01, 2003 @05:50PM (#6592093) Homepage Journal
    I'd be willing to bet that it was caused during the mastering process. At least I hope it was during the mastering process. At least that way there's some chance that one day I'll be able to buy a remastered copy of Vapor Trails that's worth listening to.
    Aha. Master it badly, and you get to sell it twice.
  • by kasperd (592156) on Friday August 01, 2003 @06:23PM (#6592358) Homepage Journal
    My first though when I read the headline and the resume was: Of course louder is better. Because louder allows you to utilize more of the 16 bit quality of the CD. If the sound was too low, it would maybe only use 15 or 14 bits of the quality. I started reading the article, and at first it sounded to me like this guy didn't know anything about what was really going on. But finally about one third into the article he got to the real point. That the sound is simply scaled beyond the 16bit. So as loud as possible was simply not enough, it had to be louder than that causing irrecoverable damage to the sound. Those trolls saying you could just turn down the volume either didn't read the article, or didn't understand it. Turning down the volume will not bring back what was lost.

    So what can we do about this? It would be nice with some analysis software to evaluate individual CDs. Not that software can tell you how good something sounds, only the ear can tell you that. But still it is good with some subjective meassures instead of only objective meassures. But that is not all. How about releasing two masterings only differing in the volume. One of those too loud, and another one that is simply scaled just enough to not cause clipping. So people could listen to whatever version they prefer, or even mix the two in a way that would actually reproduce the original with more than 16 bits of quality.

    What would be even better was a new format and a standard somehow forbiding this practice. From the article it sounds like they are pushing the volume about 9dB too loud. How about a format the forbids an average volume higher than the -18dB of the range allowed by the given number of bits. The problem is that everybody wants to have the highest volume, so standardizing a volume below what will cause damages to the sound seems like a good plan.

    Of course requiring a lower volume will loose some bits of quality. 18dB equals to 6 bits of your samples, so my suggestion would be to use 32bit samples which is a nice number and 8 bits more than I have heard about anybody using. Sure it is not going to happen with CDDA, but it is about time to get a replacement format anyway. Unfortunately I'm afraid those designing that stuff today are not focusing on quality, but a lot of other stuff like screwing their customers as much as possible.
  • by pmbuko (162438) <pmbuko@gma i l . com> on Friday August 01, 2003 @06:25PM (#6592367) Homepage
    Mastering with a "louder is better" mentality is akin to overexposed photography: the details get washed out and are lost.

    Just like a nicely balanced black-and-white photograph will have black blacks (but not too black) and white whites (but not too white), a well-mastered CD's content should fall between the media's minimum and maximum dynamic range.

    The parallels between photography and music start to fall apart when you bring normalization into the picture. If you are familiar with Photoshop, you know that you can tweak the blacks and whites in a photo so that the blacks are black and whites are white with the Level tool. This is normalization. When you normalize, you either expand or compress the information to fit between a maximum and a minimum value. This works great with photos, but not as well with music, especially if the source material is bad.

    If your source material is not recorded at the proper levels for CD mastering, normalization can definitely put it in the proper range, but it comes at a price. If the source is too quiet, normalization will raise the noise floor and may introduce or enhance undesirable artifacts. If the source is too loud, normalization can compress the sound so the differences between loud, medium, and quiet are not as distinct as they should be. Imagine a smooth gradient from white to black suddenly becoming scrunched towards the edges so there is a wide band of mushy gray in the middle).

    All this can be summed up with the phrase:
    junk in, junk out
  • Misleading title (Score:3, Informative)

    by DunbarTheInept (764) on Friday August 01, 2003 @06:27PM (#6592380) Homepage
    Reading the article, the guys' title was misleading. It's not the volume he's complaining about. (That's controlled at the listener's end anyway.) It's the fact that the signal isn't being mapped down into a representable range of values in the digital samples. (So, if one sample is a number that ranges from -32767 to +32767, the engineer is trying to record a lot of samples that are in the +40000 or +50000 range onto that and they are getting "cropped off" to the maximum. Thus the part of the wave that was supposed to be at amplitue 40000, and the part that was supposed to be at 45000, and the part that was supposed to be at 34000, all end up getting "mashed" into the same spot and you lose clarity.

    It's not about loudness being good or bad. It's about the (alleged) misunderstanding by execs in the recording industry that make them think they are making louder music. In fact they are not. Once you hit the limit of what the digitization can record, any further attempt at loudness doesn't actually work, since loudness is caused by the size of the *change* in value, not the value itself. (A sine wave that wavers between +40 and +60 is exactly the same volume as one that wavers between -10 and +10) by making the waves "top out" they actually make it quieter by truncating the top of the wave off, resulting in a long period of time during which the speaker won't be moving at all. Had they made it "quieter", by reducing the amplitude, they would have actually gotten a louder sound because the speaker would still be *moving* during that time instead of stuck against the stops not moving any air.

    So he's not complaining about volume. He's complaining about losing the tops of the waves because the amiplitude has been punched up to the point where they hit the flat top of the representable range. This is not more volume. It's more distortion.

    More volume comes from that knob you turn.

  • by RDPIII (586736) on Friday August 01, 2003 @06:34PM (#6592421) Journal

    I've always wondered about why (more or less) permanent audio storage formats like CDs or DAT use linear PCM when it's fairly clear that the human auditory system uses a logarithmic transfer function. Wouldn't we be better off using 16 bit logarithmic samples instead of linear samples on CDs and such?

    Note also that the article points out the legitimate uses for pushing up the volume without any distortion. For example, many pre 1980s recordings are now getting a second workover: the original release was on vinyl, then there was the simple 1980s digital transfer to CD, and now many classical recordings (e.g. most of Rudy Van Gelder's recordings for Blue Note) are released a third time after 24 bit remastering and mixing. (Plus there are the Japanese 20 bit releases from the 1990s.) This does make sense, since you when transfering your final 24 bit mix to a clunky old 16 bit audio CD, you need to make sure that you keep the volum as high as possible without introducing distortion, coz if you don't, you lose detail in the softer passages due to the fact that you have to drop the least significant byte of each sample. So louder is in fact better, as long as you don't clip the peaks.

  • by Hao Wu (652581) on Friday August 01, 2003 @06:46PM (#6592518) Homepage
    For Those About to Rock, Back in Black, Highway to Hell... their loudest albums were about the best, generally.
  • by quark2universe (38132) on Friday August 01, 2003 @07:05PM (#6592638) Homepage
    Those waveforms are from copyrighted music and are NOT the intellectual property of Mr. Rowan. He posted them right there on his web page and therefore he is potentially liable for a DMCA based lawsuit. Here's comes the RIAA...
  • by niko9 (315647) on Friday August 01, 2003 @07:34PM (#6592804)
    And I quote "No computers were used during the writing, recording, mixing, or mastering of this record"

    "All songs on this record recorded to eight track reel to reel at Toe-Rag Studios, Hackney, London, England by gentleman Liam Watson in Apil 2002 except track 4 recorded at the BBC Maida Vale studio by Miti"

    I haven't seen liner notes like this (i.e. referring to the recording process) on a rock album in a really long time.

    This was the same album that was sent to radio stations in vinyl only, the speculation being, they were trying to avoid it being uploaded to a P2P network. But accoring to an interview, vinyl is their preferred listening medium, and they wanted people to hear it in that same manner.

    I have both versions of this album, and I must say, that the vinyl disc, on a VPI Aries Scout [vpiindustries.com] and a tube phono preamp are not subtle.

    And the detail! It sounds glorious!
  • by mihalis (28146) on Friday August 01, 2003 @09:02PM (#6593292) Homepage

    I used to live in Britain, and travel to the US frequently. Now it's the opposite way around. In all this time I have had the strong impression that US FM and TV audio is horribly compressed and disgusting compared to Britain. (This is by no means a more general point about the two countries. I'm not trying to stir up anything.)

    Anyway, I recently watched the Foo Fighters DVD single of "times like these" and it has US and UK versions of the video. To my ears, the mix for the UK video was quite different and much better. It had more punch... so I wonder now if engineers perhaps pre-crappify video soundtracks for the US market. Perhaps the Foo Fighters engineer thought he could compress the signal to broadcast standards and achieve a better result than if it was left to the TV stations.

    My theory is that the BBC lead the way with reasonable dynamic range in the UK, because if they needed more powerful transmitters the taxpayer picked up the bill, and so commercial TV had to follow their lead. (But it's all pure speculation!)

You know that feeling when you're leaning back on a stool and it starts to tip over? Well, that's how I feel all the time. -- Steven Wright

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