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Music Media Science

The "Loudness War" and the Future of Music 687

Posted by kdawson
from the turn-that-thing-down dept.
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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The "Loudness War" and the Future of Music

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  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Thursday August 23, 2007 @07:46AM (#20328821)
    Amps that only go up to 7. Because 7 is quieter than 10.
  • What pisses me off (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Colin Smith (2679) on Thursday August 23, 2007 @07:47AM (#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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by that IT girl (864406)
      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: (Score:3, Funny)

        by readin (838620)
        Ah, that's what "mute" is for.

        You mean the "off" button.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by bughunter (10093)

        Ah, that's what "mute" is for.

        Actually, that's what "30 second skip forward" is for.

        And if you're thinking "TIVO disabled that years ago," then you need to go buy a cheap laptop or a Mac Mini, a 500GB firewire 800 drive, a nice big LCD display, and a CATV tuner, then install EyeTV or MythTV. You won't be sorry.

        I haven't watched a TV commercial for months!

        (At least not one without boobies.) As for the "Loudness War," I've solved that by NOT BUYING CDs. Except from independant labels. There's eno

      • by fm6 (162816) on Thursday August 23, 2007 @01:43PM (#20333753) Homepage Journal
        Mute buttons (or, even better, the skip forward 30 seconds button on your VCR or DVR) are for people who are actually focused on the TV set. The parent poster is probably one of those people (who, I suspect, form a majority of viewers) who just leave the TV on while they do other stuff, and only seriously watch when something catches their attention. So when you're playing cards or cooking or cuddling your significant other, and the TV suddenly starts shouting at you about McNuggets or erectile dysfunction, it can be pretty irritating.

        But you might be right. After all, Google made its fortune serving up advertisements that were easy to ignore. And I often suspect that most advertising dollars spent on traditional media (print, broadcasting) are wasted, since they don't really have a reliable way of measuring their effect.

        On the other hand, there's a school of thought that says that obnoxious ads are more effective. The whole point of advertising is to plant a product meme in your head. Long after you've forgotten which advertisers you're pissed of at, you'll have their trademarks floating in your subconscious. That's why folks don't go out for a burger any more (they go to McDonalds), don't by markers (they buy Sharpies), etc.
  • Example... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Suicidal Gir (939232) on Thursday August 23, 2007 @07:49AM (#20328857)
    Here's [youtube.com] a good video outlining what the record companies have been doing.
    • 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.
      • by marcello_dl (667940) on Thursday August 23, 2007 @08:29AM (#20329321) Homepage Journal
        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 (Score:5, Informative)

    by Rob T Firefly (844560) on Thursday August 23, 2007 @07:49AM (#20328859) Homepage Journal
    Wikipedia has a decent article on the Loudness War, [wikipedia.org] complete with interesting graphics of the same song from newer and older releases. [wikipedia.org]
    • Re:More info (Score:5, Informative)

      by olip (203119) on Thursday August 23, 2007 @08:02AM (#20328985)
      And Slashdot had a decent discussion on the Loudness War [slashdot.org] 3 months ago, complete with the YouTube demo [youtube.com].
      • I heard about this many years ago (probably on Slashdot). I believe the article was called something like "the cd that was too loud", but I can't be certain. I know the author was complaining about the mastering of some Rush album.

        Aha! Here [archive.org] we are; the article's from 2002. There are some pretty charts demonstrating the problem.

    • Try it for yourself! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by mattgreen (701203) on Thursday August 23, 2007 @08:18AM (#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.
      • by Ed Avis (5917) <ed@membled.com> on Thursday August 23, 2007 @09:00AM (#20329743) Homepage
        Did you try a blind test? If you play the CD with the expectation that it will sound better and be less tiring, that's most likely what you will experience. You need to get two copies of the same song (an older one and a modern, squashed remastering), sample them to lossless audio files and get a friend to adjust the volume so that the newer remastering is not obviously louder. Then write a short program to play one of the two at random and ask you which one you think it is. Then you will find out whether you can reliably distinguish between them.

        Many people experienced improved sound quality from using a special pen to draw round the outside of their CDs. They expected it to sound better and so it did.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          I've mixed complete shit that sounds better than the Chili Pepper's Californication. Screw your placebo test - there are no dynamics at all and it's fucking clipping! Non-audiphile consumers were even complaining about it. Dynamics is one of the least subtle parts of mixing - you WILL hear the difference when things get pushed so far as they have.
        • No use. (Score:3, Insightful)

          by mattgreen (701203)

          Did you try a blind test? If you play the CD with the expectation that it will sound better and be less tiring, that's most likely what you will experience. You need to get two copies of the same song (an older one and a modern, squashed remastering), sample them to lossless audio files and get a friend to adjust the volume so that the newer remastering is not obviously louder. Then write a short program to play one of the two at random and ask you which one you think it is. Then you will find out whether y

  • by Gordonjcp (186804) on Thursday August 23, 2007 @07:51AM (#20328885) Homepage
    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: (Score:2, Funny)

      Umm... I think you're trying to play your WINDOWS O/S CDROM!
    • by Hijacked Public (999535) * on Thursday August 23, 2007 @08:18AM (#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.
  • Only solution? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by niceone (992278) * on Thursday August 23, 2007 @07:56AM (#20328929) Journal
    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" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mister Transistor (259842) on Thursday August 23, 2007 @07:56AM (#20328931) Journal
    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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mrjb (547783)
      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 t
      • by Danathar (267989) on Thursday August 23, 2007 @09:21AM (#20330019) Journal
        Have you listened to a modern pressed record played on a modern (made this year) turntable?

        I have a set of flac music files of the latest White Stripes Album. The hiss is almost inaudible, there are no clicks, pops or any of the other crap you would hear on a mid 70's turn table.

        Yes, the frequency range is nothing like a CD, but the dynamic range is SO much better. Plus on the CD version of the same album above is SO loud it actually clips (click sounds on loud points of the album).

        It's a sad state of affairs when the Vinyl version of a record sounds better than the CD.
    • by stoolpigeon (454276) * <bittercode@gmail> on Thursday August 23, 2007 @08:10AM (#20329075) Homepage Journal
      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.
    • 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, shru

  • Maybe there is a connection? As music gets more industrialized and standardized, nobody cares anymore about having the lastest stuff?
  • 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?
  • 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
  • by Idaho (12907) on Thursday August 23, 2007 @08:07AM (#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.
  • by Purity Of Essence (1007601) on Thursday August 23, 2007 @08:08AM (#20329053)
    I blame Phil Spector. Thank God he's been brought to trial for his crimes.
  • "Aficionados" (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 23, 2007 @08:11AM (#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.
  • by jonadab (583620) on Thursday August 23, 2007 @08:14AM (#20329125) Homepage Journal
    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.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by tinkerghost (944862)
      Dynamic range & volume are only vaguely related in that they both are measured in dB.
      Volume is the average 'loudness' of a work - IE volume setting of 5 on the stereo will generate a 50dB tone when input with a 50dB tone. a 4 will generate a 45dB tone & a 6 will generate a 60Db tone.
      Dynamic range is the difference between the intensities of the midline & peak sounds of the track. IE the midline vs the crash of a cymbal or the midline vs 1/2 second of absolute silence. On a CD, the peak level i
    • by tkrotchko (124118) * on Thursday August 23, 2007 @09:07AM (#20329831) Homepage
      He was always a problem.
    • by damaki (997243) * on Thursday August 23, 2007 @09:34AM (#20330215)
      Don't you think that if the volume is low in a part of a song, it is because it was made so that it is low ? Maybe there is a motivation, you know, like an artistic one. I do not think that a single violin should be as loud as a full fledged orchestra, and that a whisper should be as loud as a shout.
      If you do not like to turn the knob, stop listening to music. Each album has its own volume, each song too.

      The issue is not much about turning the volume knob. The problem is that you cannot *unturn* the dynamic range knob. I can use replaygain to have constant album volume, while I can only cry about bringing back the lost dynamics.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Reziac (43301) *
      [laughing] So you probably grok why I've always insisted that punk rock is the modern Beethoven. :)

      (Actually, that's why I like both.)

  • by MeerCat (5914) on Thursday August 23, 2007 @08:14AM (#20329133) Homepage
    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.

  • Maybe this has to do with what Bob Dylan was talking about earlier when he mentioned the lower sound quality of modern recordings.
  • 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 suff
  • by eagl (86459) on Thursday August 23, 2007 @08:17AM (#20329167) Journal
    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).
    • Do it yourself (Score:3, Interesting)

      by tjwhaynes (114792)

      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.

      So process it yourself - there are plenty of dynamic compression filters out there that you can run your music through. If the source material has not been messed around with and is an accurate representation of the original, you can mess it up however you like. However, if the mastering process has done this for you, you can't reverse the process.

      Cheers,
      Toby Haynes

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Pope (17780)

      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.

      Well, that's great. Go muck around with *your* player and leave the dynamic range alone for those of us who want it. Either that, or stop worrying about missing the quiet parts so much.
  • by jgarra23 (1109651) on Thursday August 23, 2007 @08:23AM (#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.
  • Radio (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Detritus (11846) on Thursday August 23, 2007 @08:37AM (#20329425) Homepage
    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".
  • by AnalogDiehard (199128) on Thursday August 23, 2007 @08:39AM (#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.

  • by walterbyrd (182728) on Thursday August 23, 2007 @09:14AM (#20329911)
    Isn't the whole point is to have the loudest boom-car on the block? Who need sound quality when all there is to "music" is: **THUD** **THUD** **THUD** **THUD** **THUD** **THUD**. That and maybe some moron chanting mosoginistic obsenities, racial slurs, and glamorizing drugs and violence.

    Next thing somebody will write an article saying that music should have composition, harmonies, melodies, varity, and subbtle qualities. Or that vocalists should actually be able to sing - not just talk into a mic, or that "musicians" actually read and write music, or that musicians actually play a musical instrument. Or that lyrics should be more than "funk soul brotha" repeated a thousand times.

    Come on folks, this is the 21st century. The point of a sound system is prove that you're a real man by being obnoxious, and irritating other people. And besides, the recording industry is a *business* it's all about your crib and your bling. Screw "sound quality."
  • by erroneous (158367) on Thursday August 23, 2007 @09:20AM (#20330009) Homepage
    The same thing is being done to your food with sugar and salt.

    Except not by the record companies, obviously.
  • by jpfed (1095443) <jerry.federspiel@gmai l . com> on Thursday August 23, 2007 @09:31AM (#20330159)
    A few years ago, I wrote an album using sounds generated within Matlab. The idea was to produce an album that was as entirely original as I could- not using any recorded sounds, and not using synthetic sounds that I had not created myself with my own algorithms.

    When it came to mixing the album, I adjusted things as best I could, but I had no background along those lines. I got feedback from my friends that the loud portions were too loud and the quiet portions were too quiet. But I didn't know to what degree the audio should be compressed. I was at square one.

    I took a cross-section of tracks from my ripped CD library and measured their peak level and RMS level. Having this information would tell me what people would be used to. Unfortunately, the only consistent pattern that I found was that the higher the RMS level, the later the release date of the CD. :(
  • by nocaster (784709) on Thursday August 23, 2007 @09:52AM (#20330503)
    of what happens when a new album is mastered.

    Brick Wall Limiting [prorec.com]

    I found the latest Oasis album to be particularly offensive in this regard. The audio literally sounds like it was smashed against a brick wall and my ears are fatigued after a few minutes of listening. I honestly don't know if I like the album or not because I can't listen to it long enough to tell.
  • by Prototerm (762512) on Thursday August 23, 2007 @10:46AM (#20331169)
    My 14 year old son was digging around in the basement last year and found my collection of around 1200 record albums (sealed and properly stored in air-tight containers). Since then, he's been busily digitizing them, even where he has the "remastered" CD version (the record companies say "remastered" as if it's a good thing). It appears they sound better to his young ears, even with the occasional clicks and pops, and while he can't explain why, he prefers them to the more modern alternatives.

    No wonder the new audio format discs haven't taken off.

    As for me, my ears have deteriorated from going to too many rock concerts over the years. It all sounds the same to me now.
  • iZotope Ozone (Score:3, Informative)

    by jilles (20976) on Thursday August 23, 2007 @12:56PM (#20333027) Homepage
    If you like to fiddle a bit with sound compression and other tools that are used in professional audio mastering, izotope ozone (a commercial product unfortunately) is quite nice to play with. Using a few basic edits can give flat sounding tunes nice warmth and depth. It's basically like the audio equivalent of photoshop and the techniques have very similar intuition.

    The problem is not so much the use of such filters but the fact that they are used to optimize recordings for the very mediocre equipment most people use. Subtle bass sounds are simply lost; as are quiet high pitched sounds, because cheap equipment doesn't do anything with this information anyway. To counter this, the trick is to boost the volume of such sounds (relative to the rest) and to shift the spectrum away from very high or very low sounds. Like manipulating photos generally leads to loss of detail and undesired artifacts, manipulating sound results in similar loss of detail and distortion of what remains. Commercial records are edited to the limit of crappy mp3 players and radio. It's the equivalent of boosting a photo's contrast so much that most detail is drowned out to make it look good on a good old matrix printer. The psychological effect is similar as well: we humans appreciate contrast in all sorts of ways and the matrix printer doesn't do grays very well anyway. Unfortunately if you have a high end inkjet printer, such photos don't look much better than on the matrix printer because there is no extra detail anymore.

    When used properly however, manipulating sound can improve quality significantly. Many expensive highend amplifiers basically contain lots of dsps to 'improve' the sound and do some restauration work on the distorted signal on the CD (e.g. by interpolating and reinserting detail that was lost in the mastering process). Old fashioned valve based amplifiers are all about sound distortion (in a pleasing way). This is no different than what happens in the studios except that the result would be much better if the studios didn't throw out so much detail. This point can be demonstrated easily by playing back some sixties/seventies recordings which have much less aggressive audio manipulation.

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