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Interesting Read? Dynamic Range & The Loudness War.

post #1 of 23
Thread Starter 

http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/sep11/articles/loudness.htm

post #2 of 23

Yeah, this pops up every so often.  The loudness war is a war without any winners, the music is the casualty, the listeners are POWs. No real fix except to get everyone to vote with their wallets and stop buying overly-loud, processed music, or even better, demand a refund when they discover it's be hammered to all heck.   Unfortunately, this they will never do because the reality is, people will always buy what they want to hear, processed to death or not, the majority doesn't know and doesn't care.  

 

Sorry to be cynical, just been down this road too many times.  The loudness war in recorded music has been building for about 20 years, gotten really bad in the last 10, but it's been going on in radio for half a century at least.  Radio discovered that nobody ever complains that the station is over processed, but owners, programmers and managers can't stand to tune in their station to find it quieter than the competition, so up the loudness (and distortion) goes.  "We upped our loudness...up yours!"

 

You know what happens when you feed loud music to a radio processor set up for more loudness?  Yes, it's ridiculous.  But funny thing, one broadcast processor manufacturer now has an algorithm designed to somehow minimize their units additional destruction of already destroyed music!  So that would be an anti-loudness loudness processor.  

post #3 of 23

Well yes and no.

 

Sure, some people do not even know what compression is and they will buy regardless of sound quality, but stopping to buy such music will probably not stop the war.

Instead of recognizing what tremendous, irreversible damage they have done, the industry will blame it on piracy.

 

The only way to fight the loudness war, imo, is to enable ReplayGain on all modern devices, players. That way compressed tracks will be punished in volume and what's left is that <insert curse words here> sound at normalized volume.

 

Only when the industry and the artists hear that and say: "well, that sounds like crap," they will change something.


Edited by xnor - 9/10/13 at 2:56pm
post #4 of 23

Ah, but replay gain (and the variants) don't even begin to deal with the results of dynamic range compression, and the resulting distortion.  You can play it at a lower volume, but all that does is volume-match it to other tracks.  It's the automatic hand on your volume control adjusting track by track.

 

But the real problem remains, and there's no post-processing that can undo it.  

 

I use Replay Gain, but just today, stopped listening to a track because it had been over processed, and distorted, but replay gain had fixed its relative level already.

 

The only way to fight the war is to hit record producers in the wallet.  That's where they listen.  And, that's not going to happen.

post #5 of 23

Yeah, it just changes volume but once you listen to a nice track with some dynamics left followed by a compressed one you'll know what I mean.

 

That's what those warlords do, they compare a mix to some other extremely loud CD and then tell the "engineer": "you have to make it louder still."

With ReplayGain enabled it will be almost equally loud during comparison no matter how crazy the compression so there is no point in increasing volume (further). Only thing compression will change is distorting the sound.

 

How to distinguish yourself from the competition when volume is normalized? I can think of one very important thing besides content: sound quality.

post #6 of 23

Exactly.  It's funny too, because we've had Replay Gain for decades...it's called a volume control, it's not automatic, but we'd reach for it if the record was too loud, or to soft and adjust, right?  Strange any of that should matter.

 

Producers are worried about their record standing out in a playlist without replay gain (soundcheck), or not being loud in a background music stream.  It's all silly, and sad.  Even ancient juke boxes often had volume compressors in them to un-do what those guys did to their records. That goes back to the 1940s. 

post #7 of 23

Sure, the consumer will probably reach for the volume control when a mix really is a lot louder, but not if it's just a bit louder. When every new track is a bit louder than the previous one ... after a few years you end up with the crap we have nowadays. But the problem is again the artist and guy(s) judging the mix, comparing it to the competition in terms of volume. They most probably will not match volume between the preliminary mix and competitive tracks to compare sound quality... They will often just prefer the louder one even if it is more distorted, clipped etc.

 

Soundcheck is a way in the right direction, although last time I checked it was not based on ReplayGain 2.0 or EBU R-128 so volume matching was not as good. I don't think it is enabled by default. The average Joe will buy a track on iTunes, click on play, or sync it to the iPod and press play. I guess especially Apple users do not want to change settings.

 

 

What also would help is if these guys used some headphones to check the mixes and masters. Not for stereo imaging, frequency balance or the like (which is hard to judge with headphones anyway) but for distortion, clipping, noise.


Edited by xnor - 9/11/13 at 4:16am
post #8 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by jcx View Post

Perceived loudness wins over musical quality

at a recent talk at a mastering studio we were told that several candidate mixes with differing levels of compression were provided for their projects and the most heavily compressed was always selected by the clients - even after it was explained what the compression was doing to the music and that the world renown mix engineer recommended the lesser compressed mix...
 
post #9 of 23

The loudness wars are also driven by how and where people listen, and what they listen to.

In the mid-70s (when I first started having enough $ to get LP's and a stereo), headphone listening was rare, and mobile listening happened through tinny little transistor radios, and just a few years later, boom boxes.

The transition to earbuds listening through MP3 players or equivalent means that people are listening in mostly high-ambient noise environments. All through the 90s and 2000's, I saw thousands of people listening **on the subway**, where ambient noise rarely dips below 80 and often tops 100db.

  Formula for ear damage, #1.

  #2, wide dynamic range material need not apply.

 

I can see that for some program material range matters little. I didn't listen to the Sex Pistols for dynamic nuance, or punk generally, their appeal lay elsewhere [although I have to put in a plug for this astonishing punk piece--if you don't like the style skip to the end for the dynamic nuance]: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qM7MgyqEuKQ

 

But if I'm listening to classical, or prog rock, or jazz or world music etc etc, then trying to hear it "out in the world" where the ambient noise is high is problematic, to the point where I won't turn it on in the first place.


The loudness wars address that listening style. They don't solve it, because they destroy musicality in the process. But there are listening-habits reasons why loudness functions in the marketplace.


Edited by UltMusicSnob - 9/11/13 at 7:07am
post #10 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by jcx View Post

Perceived loudness wins over musical quality

at a recent talk at a mastering studio we were told that several candidate mixes with differing levels of compression were provided for their projects and the most heavily compressed was always selected by the clients - even after it was explained what the compression was doing to the music and that the world renown mix engineer recommended the lesser compressed mix

 

And that's exactly why I only see something like ReplayGain / EBU R-128 / ITU BS.1770 fixing the problem.

 

Austrian and German (and maybe other) broadcasters have adopted that recommendation couple of months ago and the result are less compressed, annoying, distracting, blaring in-your-face commercials.

post #11 of 23
Quote:

Originally Posted by UltMusicSnob View Post

 

#2, wide dynamic range material need not apply.

 

Well, what about a simple compressor in the playback device which you can enable on demand if you really need it?

 

In today's age of technology I see no reason why music should be delivered in rigor mortis, so to speak. If the consumer wants to reduce dynamic range or compress it to death - fine.


Edited by xnor - 9/11/13 at 7:51am
post #12 of 23
Quote:
Originally Posted by xnor View Post
 

Sure, the consumer will probably reach for the volume control when a mix really is a lot louder, but not if it's just a bit louder. When every new track is a bit louder than the previous one ... after a few years you end up with the crap we have nowadays. But the problem is again the artist and guy(s) judging the mix, comparing it to the competition in terms of volume. They most probably will not match volume between the preliminary mix and competitive tracks to compare sound quality... They will often just prefer the louder one even if it is more distorted, clipped etc.

Yes, and you hit the root cause too.  The guys making the final decision don't value quality over loudness.  It's an emotional reaction, not a reasoning one.  The guys doing the actual mix and mastering do understand the problem and the resulting damage processing does, but they want to get paid, so they just make recommendations which get ignored.  

Quote:

Originally Posted by xnor View Post
 

Soundcheck is a way in the right direction, although last time I checked it was not based on ReplayGain 2.0 or EBU R-128 so volume matching was not as good. I don't think it is enabled by default. The average Joe will buy a track on iTunes, click on play, or sync it to the iPod and press play. I guess especially Apple users do not want to change settings.

This is true, and Soundcheck isn't as good as ReplayGain.  There is a work-around, which involves a ReplayGain scan outside of iTunes, then keeping Soundcheck off, which works, but very few will do it.  I'm optimistic, though, as there's someone in a key position at Apple now who understands loudness better than most people in the audio industry.  I would look for a major improvement in Soundcheck in the future.  Loudness control is one of his hot buttons.  I would guess it will eventually scan with an accurate loudness algorithm, and end up defaulted on, but I really have no information, I just happen to know the guy and how he thinks.

 

Originally Posted by xnor View Post

What also would help is if these guys used some headphones to check the mixes and masters. Not for stereo imaging, frequency balance or the like (which is hard to judge with headphones anyway) but for distortion, clipping, noise.

Mixes are check with several different kinds of monitors, depending on the studio.  I worked with a client a few weeks ago who keeps a vintage 1940s AM radio on his meter bridge, and uses just the speaker (no actual radio) to check his mono mixes.  He mixes 5.1, 2.0 and mono, and checks everything several ways, down to the lowest common denominator.  Engineers know what to do, and what to check for, but can't respond because the guy with the check book want's it loud.  They're more frustrated with the loudness war than we are!

 

As long as we're at it, might as well list the links again:

 

Pleasurize Music (Dynamic Range site, activist to reduce loudness war)

Dynamic Range Day (explains the problem, tries for more awareness)

DR Database (should theoretically help buyers pick more dynamic music)

Loudness War - Wiki (the 'short attention span' explanation)

 

And, as always, Google.

post #13 of 23

Re last paragraph: yeah I didn't mean just the engineers but also the guys "with the check book" should be forced to listen to different mixes/masters on headphones. Crazy distortion and clipping is easier to hear with headphones.


Edited by xnor - 9/11/13 at 10:10am
post #14 of 23
The trend in general though is more towards portable listening in potentially loud environments using stock earbuds that provide no isolation, as opposed to a traditional hi fi setup in your quiet living room. Loud, low dynamic range recordings are pretty much essential under such listening conditions, where with a "good" recording that has dynamic range, they would struggle to hear the soft notes and have their ears damaged by the loud ones. Hopefully with the increasing popularity of replacing stock earphones with IEMs and closed headphones, this will help reverse that trend.
post #15 of 23

I'm sorry but saying that people need compressed music like we have today due to the environment sounds like a lame excuse to me.

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