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NPR - "The Loudness Wars: Why Music Sounds Worse"

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 
An interesting article on something that most of us have been experiencing, reading about, and talking about for years. The more people that understand, the greater the chance something might be done about it, right?





The Loudness Wars: Why Music Sounds Worse : NPR
post #2 of 15
Part of a presentation i'm doing is going to be about loudness war, but there's something you guys can maybe explain to me....

as you can read in this article or many others, the whole frequency response is elevated by so many decibels...

but can't this "bad mastering" be eliminated just by turning down the volume assuming it's not that bad that there's clipping?
i don't understand why they say that the difference between highs and lows is then smaller...
If you're just boosting the whole frequency response, doesn't the difference stay the same?

Hope someone can clear me up on this... just started studying electrical engineering, so i want to understand this technical stuff....
post #3 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by Shauntell47 View Post
Part of a presentation i'm doing is going to be about loudness war, but there's something you guys can maybe explain to me....

as you can read in this article or many others, the whole frequency response is elevated by so many decibels...

but can't this "bad mastering" be eliminated just by turning down the volume assuming it's not that bad that there's clipping?
i don't understand why they say that the difference between highs and lows is then smaller...
If you're just boosting the whole frequency response, doesn't the difference stay the same?

Hope someone can clear me up on this... just started studying electrical engineering, so i want to understand this technical stuff....
No this can not be solved by using the volume knob. What they are doing is called compression. Compression is used to bring the soft volumes up and the loud volumes down. Nothing wrong with compression in itself and is needed to a certain extent because some noises are just too loud or too soft. Problem is when you do so much that you have no difference in impact between a quiet passage and a loud passage. This lack of difference can not be solved with a volume knob.

Think about a song like 1812 Overture, if you over compress the song the impact of the cannons is completely lost. Note this is also a good example of why some compression is required because you can not capture or reproduce the dynamic range of that song, cannons are just too loud but you can still get pretty decent impact given the constants of the CDs dynamic range.
post #4 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by Shauntell47 View Post
Part of a presentation i'm doing is going to be about loudness war, but there's something you guys can maybe explain to me....

as you can read in this article or many others, the whole frequency response is elevated by so many decibels...

but can't this "bad mastering" be eliminated just by turning down the volume assuming it's not that bad that there's clipping?
i don't understand why they say that the difference between highs and lows is then smaller...
If you're just boosting the whole frequency response, doesn't the difference stay the same?

Hope someone can clear me up on this... just started studying electrical engineering, so i want to understand this technical stuff....

The issue with the loudness war is that the dynamic range is reduced to prevent clipping, not that it is loud.
post #5 of 15
A good example of this is the Pearl Jam-Ten Remix. Eddie Vedder's vocals weren't very 'up-front' in the original release; but in the remix they've been boosted and sort of stand above everything else. It is kinda cool, since you can hear things you never heard before in certain songs (such as his voice echoing in certain parts of Black, it really adds to the emotion of the song), but at the same time it DOES seem a bit harder to listen to compared to the original release.
post #6 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by Shauntell47 View Post
If you're just boosting the whole frequency response, doesn't the difference stay the same?
The problem is you are not boosting the whole frequency range. What is happening is at the mixing and mastering stage, the low level sounds are being cranked up so that they are much closer to the high level sounds. The high level sounds can't go any higher, -0 dbFS is as high as they go. 15 years ago, most of an album would be at levels far lower than that, in the -10 to -15 dbFS range. When that is done and you have a particularly loud part of the song, the swing between -15dBFS and a quick peak close to -0 dbFS is massive and gives the song a lot of impact.

Now albums are being mastered at like -3dBFS, so there's almost no difference between formerly low level and high level parts of a song. It's all just loud. Dynamics and impact have been wiped out. Which is why most mass market albums produced in the last couple of years sound like garbage.

A prime example is what happened to "Death Magnetic". The versions of the songs used in Guitar Hero were pulled out prior to the final master for the CD verson, and weren't butchered. This picture perfectly illustrates what the loudness war does to music. The GH versions are more than 10dB quieter than the CD.



Check out the loudness war Wikipedia page for a lot more info on this subject.
post #7 of 15
One strange effect that you can get with "loudnessed" albums is a singers voice trailing off at the end of a phrase without actually getting softer. The singer will trail off a phrase with some decrescendo and you can hear the vocal get more airy or pull back and it should get softer at that point. But the compressor kicks in and keeps the vocal at the same level. It's a strange and unnatural effect. A normal (non-compressed) human cannot sing that way. How do you sing softer without actually getting softer?
post #8 of 15
Wow, DaveBSC...no kidding. I remember hearing that the Guitar Hero version of the tracks were much better, but that picture says more than a thousand words. I honestly thought that since Lars is the uber-piracy-police they purposely leaked terrible versions of the tracks to the online masses as a temporary kick in the pants, and then would have a great sounding physical album, but nope... not even close.

The entire game of putting mixes through a +12dB potato masher has unfortunately turned me off entire genres of music. Trance is an example. I was a mega fan of Tiesto (in reality, Denis Waakop Reijers-Fraaij) and Armin Van Buuren for example, but what in the hell happened?? There is no breathing room in any of those mixes anymore, just good ol' potato mashing for the E-ridden Ibiza fleas.

The QUALITY of the music produced is what I base my music purchases on now, which is unfortunate. The quality of a professional mix shouldn't even have to be considered.

There are very few artists and fewer labels whom realize that an attack transient is not a pissed off hobo.

End of Rant.
post #9 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by T_Schmidt View Post
Wow, DaveBSC...no kidding. I remember hearing that the Guitar Hero version of the tracks were much better, but that picture says more than a thousand words. I honestly thought that since Lars is the uber-piracy-police they purposely leaked terrible versions of the tracks to the online masses as a temporary kick in the pants, and then would have a great sounding physical album, but nope... not even close.

The QUALITY of the music produced is what I base my music purchases on now, which is unfortunate. The quality of a professional mix shouldn't even have to be considered.

There are very few artists and fewer labels whom realize that an attack transient is not a pissed off hobo.

End of Rant.
Ironically, pretty much the exact opposite happened. The CD version is fine I guess for people who listen with Apple earbuds, but for the people who were demanding a decent sounding record, pirates pulled the GH version of the album out of the game using the Xbox 360's digital output and released it as a FLAC download.

The loudness war is somewhat similar to the way new TVs are set up out of the factory. TV manufacturers set the default brightness and contrast to max and crank the colors up to ridiculous levels so that when their TV is placed on a store shelf next to a competitor, hopefully its super brightness and cartoon colors grab your eye.

Artists and music labels are doing the same thing, trying to make their record louder than the next guy's. The difference is you can recalibrate a TV so that it has accurate grayscale and color levels. You can't fix a bad sounding album though. You just stop listening to it, and probably end up selling it.

My hope is that this madness ends. Albums like Californication and Death Magnetic got a lot of bad publicity for their atrocious production, and hopefully it will shame producers into actually doing their jobs again, rather than just turning everything up to eleven.

Here's a YouTube video that further demonstrates the issue with Death Magnetic. Notice how in the CD version, all of the high frequency detail has essentially been destroyed.

+ YouTube Video
post #10 of 15
I heard this while driving and I got all excited. Anything to bring some awareness to the problem.
post #11 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by Punnisher View Post
I heard this while driving and I got all excited. Anything to bring some awareness to the problem.
Definitely. This has been going on for a very long time, but it seems things took a dramatic turn for the worse starting around 2007 or so. Loudness just skyrocketed to the point of audible clipping in recordings. In order for anything to be done about it, people have to know.
post #12 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by DaveBSC View Post
In order for anything to be done about it, people have to know.
More than that. They also have to care.

Sadly, there probably aren't enough who do to make any difference in the record companies' bottom line so we can probably expect more of the same for some time to come.

se
post #13 of 15
I read in "The Absolute Sound","HI-FI+" and "Tape Op" magazines earlier this year that this "LOUDNESS ISSUE" with recordings is all the rage with most recording studios! They're just Mastering the finale mix with excessive compression and DB boost in many records. They said, Quote, "The majority of people will really think it sounds like it's been mixed BETTER", if it's LOUDER.....Most of us would perfer, at least I do, The recording mastered as close to what the musicians laid down in the studio! Right...I don't need some engineer adding anything to the "TRUTH" just because HE thinks it will sell better...or captivate a radio listeners attention....Garbage in......Garbage out...just M.O.


This is a repost by myself from an earlier thread, as many have said above we need to stop buyin' these crap recordings and at the same time EVERYONE should write the record labels and the Artist and tell them "WE'VE HAD ENOUGH"!!!! I listen before I buy anything anymore........
post #14 of 15
thanks alot for all your responses, i think i'll just use that pic of "Death Magnetic" to show people the difference...

btw i did look at the wikipedia page which is very informative indeed
post #15 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by Koyaan I. Sqatsi View Post
More than that. They also have to care.

Sadly, there probably aren't enough who do to make any difference in the record companies' bottom line so we can probably expect more of the same for some time to come.

se
This is spot on. Head-fiers should know that we are (as a market category) out-lying freaks.
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