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How has redbook CD sound changed in the last 20 years...

Discussion in 'Music' started by redshifter, Sep 8, 2002.
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  1. redshifter
    ...and has i changed for the better?

    i've been collecting cds since they first came out, and many of the first ones have a very different sound quality than the latest ones. obviously advances in mastering have changed the sound, but also producers are lately using more dynamic compression as well. older cds tend to have a dry, sometimes brittle quality to the sound, but often had better dynamics (especially in rock and pop music). post 1990 cds and remasters to my ears have a more lush sound, like there is more detail in the midrange, but often sound very compressed dynamically. sometimes the older cds sound a little easier on my ears. also, some new cds have copy protection, which supposedly impacts the sound quality. has cd sound really advanced, or is it just different than it used to be? and do you prefer the "new" cd sound to the "old"?
     
  2. lan
    How can the copy protection affect sound quality?
     
  3. gloco
    Excellent topic!

    I think pre '90's cds definitely sound better due to the recording process and the equipment that was used back then compared to now.
    Most of those albums back then were recorded ADD or AAD which tends to sound more lush compared to everything sounding compressed dynamically nowadays. I've been wondering if the whole dynamic compression has to do with using HD's as storage (i read somewhere that albums recording to HD's were in the gigs storage-wise). Imagine compressing a 4 minute song thats 600 MB's to 40 MB's? Currently, if your tranferring reel master to cd, how can you botch a tranfer to cd or vinyl compared to HD>cd/vinyl.

    I know albums are compressed sonically to make them LOUD all the time (what better to catch a radio listeners attention?). On the other hand, there's a decent amount of rock albums released presently that sound very good.
     
  4. redshifter
    Quote:

    Originally posted by lan
    How can the copy protection affect sound quality?



    from what i have heard, cd copy protection introduces noise which the cd player's filters have to remove. this can degrade the sound quality especially in audiophile setups.

    Quote:

    I've been wondering if the whole dynamic compression has to do with using HD's as storage (i read somewhere that albums recording to HD's were in the gigs storage-wise). Imagine compressing a 4 minute song thats 600 MB's to 40 MB's? Currently, if your tranferring reel master to cd, how can you botch a tranfer to cd or vinyl compared to HD>cd/vinyl.



    gloco,
    correct me if i'm wrong, but dynamic compression and data compression are two different things. lossy type data compression like atrac, dolby, and mp3 remove "inaudible" information, but dynamic compression removes dynamic range (in musical terms ppp to fff). both do degrade sound quality, but in different ways. i think a lot of cd's sound bad not because the source was digital or analog, but that poor master tapes were used, or the engineer screwed up. i agree there are some new rock cd's that sound superior. stereolab's "sound-dust" comes to mind.

    when i record cd's to md, i've noticed on older cd's the recording levels jump much farther. newer cd's tend to stay at the same level. with lp's the recording level jumps the farthest: some drum beats will have something like a 15db attack.
     
  5. gloco
    Quote:

    Originally posted by redshifter
    gloco,
    correct me if i'm wrong, but dynamic compression and data compression are two different things. lossy type data compression like atrac, dolby, and mp3 remove "inaudible" information, but dynamic compression removes dynamic range (in musical terms ppp to fff). both do degrade sound quality, but in different ways. i think a lot of cd's sound bad not because the source was digital or analog, but that poor master tapes were used, or the engineer screwed up. i agree there are some new rock cd's that sound superior. stereolab's "sound-dust" comes to mind.

    when i record cd's to md, i've noticed on older cd's the recording levels jump much farther. newer cd's tend to stay at the same level. with lp's the recording level jumps the farthest: some drum beats will have something like a 15db attack.



    Inaudible? Certainly not. I can clearly tell the difference between mp3's, MD's recorded at Type R and the CD itself. Shouldn't dynamic and data compression go hand and hand with the use of Hardrives to back up the recording process?

    Ok, dynamic compression, i don't think engineers are screwing up at all or poor master tapes were used presently. It's done on purpose to catch the listener's attention (like your average pop album). I'm thinking albums are purposely mastered to stay peeked with little or no fluctuation so the listener rarely has to get his/her arse out of the seat (or grab the remote) to change the volume. Just look at FM radio, everything sounds compressed and LOUD all the time, for what reasons? To grab the listeners attention so they'll run out and buy the album. So the engineer is sacrificing sound quality for volume. Sucks doesn't it?
     
  6. Joe Bloggs Contributor
    Quote:

    Imagine compressing a 4 minute song thats 600 MB's to 40 MB's?



    I'd imagine that the actual size at CD quality is closer to 40MB than 600MB.

    I could sort of understand what you are saying if you mean that there were multiple tracks recorded with 24/96 (not the final mixed track)

    But still, what artifacts are you hearing--psychoacoustic compression artifacts or dynamics compression artifacts?

    If you can't hear any psychoacoustic compression artifacts you need not complain about any data compression they are using...
     
  7. DarkAngel
    Asolutely CD has changed dramatacally better over 20 years. Several phases which I would comment on:

    Inception to 1985
    These are the worst sound sound quality, learning curve involved here. Often very bright hard treble, I usually avoid these if at all possible.

    1985-90
    Engineers got better feel on how to master better CD sound quality, a step up from early CDs, gradual evolution.

    1990-95
    Regular CDs continue gradual improvement, first appearance of the remastered CD and DDD recordings. Early remasters were hit and miss, some improve on original others were not as good, suffering the same learning curve as first CDs.

    1995-Present
    This is the golden age of CD, remasters now are offering very noticeable consistent improvements over older original CDs, often
    new aluminum remasters are better then high priced MoFi gold discs. Much of this tech was first introduced in Classical Cds remasters, and offers very noticeable improvements. Better sound, bonus tracks, reduced price.....yeah baby!

    For example compare new Rolling Stones hybrid CDs to original ABKCO Cds...........can you dig it.

    The technology is present to make much better CDs now vs early 1980s versions, but that doesn't means some groups still may release a crappy recording.
     
  8. arnett
    this is a strange thread. i see several things that need some correcting.

    Quote:

    I think pre '90's cds definitely sound better due to the recording process and the equipment that was used back then compared to now. Most of those albums back then were recorded ADD or AAD which tends to sound more lush compared to everything sounding compressed dynamically nowadays. I've been wondering if the whole dynamic compression has to do with using HD's as storage (i read somewhere that albums recording to HD's were in the gigs storage-wise). Imagine compressing a 4 minute song thats 600 MB's to 40 MB's? Currently, if your tranferring reel master to cd, how can you botch a tranfer to cd or vinyl compared to HD>cd/vinyl.



    gloco,
    you have to distinguish between data and dynamic compression. data compression deals with playback, not the recording itself. whether a recording is AAD or DDD has nothing to do with 'overcompression'. that's a dynamic compression concept.

    note: most modern recordings are done on pro tools, a 24-bit/96K computer-based recording platform. i doubt very strongly that any data compression is going on there.

    but i agree with you that many great sounding recordings are ruined these days because they are dynamically overcompressed in mastering (which is redshifter's point). this leads to distortion/mushiness on loud transients and sometimes a grainy character. radiohead's ok computer is a good example. recordings made on the chesky label sound good because, among other things, there's no dynamic compression going on. the result is a clean and open kind of sound.

    i completely agree with redshifter's statement that:
    Quote:

    . . . older cds tend to have a dry, sometimes brittle quality to the sound, but often had better dynamics (especially in rock and pop music). post 1990 cds and remasters to my ears have a more lush sound, like there is more detail in the midrange, but often sound very compressed dynamically. sometimes the older cds sound a little easier on my ears.



    Quote:

    1990-1995
    Regular CDs continue gradual improvement, first appearance of the remastered CD and DDD recordings.



    DA,
    i bet the first CD ever to roll down the production line was a DDD recording. telarc was making digital recordings back in 1979 before the introduction of CDs. the first CD i ever bought in November 1986 was rush's power windows, a DDD recording. of course, it didn't sound that good . . . [​IMG]
     
  9. redshifter
    Quote:

    Inaudible? Certainly not. I can clearly tell the difference between mp3's, MD's recorded at Type R and the CD itself. Shouldn't dynamic and data compression go hand and hand with the use of Hardrives to back up the recording process?

    Ok, dynamic compression, i don't think engineers are screwing up at all or poor master tapes were used presently. It's done on purpose to catch the listener's attention (like your average pop album). I'm thinking albums are purposely mastered to stay peeked with little or no fluctuation so the listener rarely has to get his/her arse out of the seat (or grab the remote) to change the volume. Just look at FM radio, everything sounds compressed and LOUD all the time, for what reasons? To grab the listeners attention so they'll run out and buy the album. So the engineer is sacrificing sound quality for volume. Sucks doesn't it?



    that is why i put "inaudible" in quotes. i disagree with the non-audiophile software developers (whom i have worked with) who claim the information removed in their codecs is inaudible. perhaps inaudible on their crappy computer speakers, but not to my ears. the best compression schemes i have heard yet are atrac type-r for 2 channel and dts for multi.

    i would put dynamic compression under "engineers screwing up". yes, they do it in purpose, but it is still a mistake. i don't think anyone here will disagree with that. btw, the main reason for maxing the cd volume and compressing the dynamic range is it sounds better on cheap equipment with poor amplification, and when it is played on a changer, if it sounds louder than the other cds to most people louder=better. the audiophiles lose again. also, some of the first cds were mastered from tapes intended for records, which tend to be very bright to compensate for lp wear over time. of course, cds don't wear down like lps, so you get that "perfect[ly awful] sound, forever!" [​IMG]

    Quote:

    If you can't hear any psychoacoustic compression artifacts you need not complain about any data compression they are using...



    what you can't hear can't hurt your wallet, eh joe?[​IMG]

    darkangel,
    i agree with your timeline for the most part. i do have some early chandos ddd cds (mid 80's) that sound very good. prokofiev's 6th symphony with jaarvi conducting for example: superb dynamics and clarity, with even a touch of warmth. some companies seem to have been doing it right from the beginning. some early dg and archive classical recordings are very edgy.

    for the most part ddd rock recordings are hard to find. peter gabriel's "security" is one of the few decent sounding ddd rock recordings i've heard--huge dynamics. studios still prefer to master in analog, and my guess is it is simply 30ips analog master tapes just have a much higher resolution (yeah i know, apples and oranges, but you get the gist). the reason i have been given by studio engineers i've talked too is, there is a slight delay in analog tape that musicians are used to, vs. digital where it is harder to get the beat right.[​IMG] another reason i've heard is that analog tape introduces harmonic distortion into the sound which our ears find pleasing. personally i don't buy either one. i think analog mastering is the preferred format because it sounds better. besides, what are we going to do with all those redbook ddd recordings now that high resolution digital is here? upsample them? i'll bet there are some people who now wish they had used an analog master.

    by the way, exactly when did record companies realize that aad, add, and ddd was essentially meaningless and drop them? also, does anyone remember the warnings on early cds that went "the music on this compact disc was originally recorded on analog equipment... due to it's high resolution, however, the cd can reveal limitations of the source tape." while valid in some cases, this warning seems like a put-down against analog, which coincidentally the cd format was competing with... [​IMG]
     
  10. gloco
    Quote:

    Originally posted by redshifter
    that is why i put "inaudible" in quotes. i disagree with the non-audiophile software developers (whom i have worked with) who claim the information removed in their codecs is inaudible. perhaps inaudible on their crappy computer speakers, but not to my ears. the best compression schemes i have heard yet are atrac type-r for 2 channel and dts for multi.

    i would put dynamic compression under "engineers screwing up". yes, they do it in purpose, but it is still a mistake. i don't think anyone here will disagree with that. btw, the main reason for maxing the cd volume and compressing the dynamic range is it sounds better on cheap equipment with poor amplification, and when it is played on a changer, if it sounds louder than the other cds to most people louder=better. the audiophiles lose again. also, some of the first cds were mastered from tapes intended for records, which tend to be very bright to compensate for lp wear over time. of course, cds don't wear down like lps, so you get that "perfect[ly awful] sound, forever!" [​IMG]




    I agree with everything you said [​IMG]
     
  11. redshifter
    i've wondered why they compress fm radio music so much. i remember when i was a dj in college we had these twin dbx compressers and i just wanted to turn them off. my guess is it is 1) so you can hear the music over the static and 2) to protect from lawsuits in case some loud transient blows out some listener's pos stereo.

    on topic: i agree with darkangel that this is the golden age of cd, except for the dynamic compression. is there any way to restore dynamics to a recording like "ok computer"? the record has so many dense layers of detail, someday i would like to hear it as played in the studio before the producer screwed it all up.
     
  12. gloco
    Quote:

    Originally posted by redshifter
    on topic: i agree with darkangel that this is the golden age of cd, except for the dynamic compression. is there any way to restore dynamics to a recording like "ok computer"? the record has so many dense layers of detail, someday i would like to hear it as played in the studio before the producer screwed it all up.



    have you heard the LP version? I dunno if your a fan or not, but Oasis' Whats the story morning glory cd sounds atrocious, it has always bothered me by how bad it sounds. I finally hunted down a 2LP version of the album and guess what? It sounds a heck of a lot better, dynamic compression is still noticeable in some tracks, but many "softer" tracks sound lush!!! Now, that's scary!
     
  13. CaptBubba
    Quote:

    Originally posted by redshifter

    by the way, exactly when did record companies realize that aad, add, and ddd was essentially meaningless and drop them? also, does anyone remember the warnings on early cds that went "the music on this compact disc was originally recorded on analog equipment... due to it's high resolution, however, the cd can reveal limitations of the source tape." while valid in some cases, this warning seems like a put-down against analog, which coincidentally the cd format was competing with... [​IMG]



    I have a good number of those. I think what they are mainly refering to is tape hiss and pops, which would blend into normal LP surface noise.

    Dynamic compression is quite annoying though. Just because some people listen in noisy enviroments doesn't mean we should all have to suffer dangit....
     
  14. j-curve
    I don't agree in general with the idea that modern CD's are compressed at the studio. I think the compression you're noticing takes place at the radio station, in order to keep the music sounding loud without overmodulating the FM carrier (which would violate the broadcast licence). Radio stations do this to win listeners who are channel-hopping, since loud sounds better. It also improves the signal-to-noise ratio, at the expense of the dynamic range. Stations which don't do this (and which play classical) often sound like there's no music at all, just a carrier.
    I like to pick up hip-hop tracks from the radio and slice-and-dice MD mixes from them. If I splice an MP3 or CD into the mix the difference is obvious. Bass and bass drum dominate while vocals disappear into the deeper dynamic range. If you try to keep vocal volume constant, the massive bass sounds from a CD or MP3 will drive the recording levels into distortion. The compressed FM radio sound brings the vocals and mids forward (as redshifter mentioned), giving a fuller, sweeter sound. If I had to second-guess what they're doing at the CD recording studio I would say they are still up to their old "dum-n-bass" tricks.

    As far as uncompressing a compressed CD, I think it is possible if the compression scheme has linear characteristics and you uncompress it in an equivalent way. This requires various assumptions plus some cooperation, so your chances are greatly reduced. An example of a reversible compression scheme is Dolby C for tape decks. In that case though, the problem is that if you playback without it you can hear the volume surging, so I never use Dolby C. The best way to compress without pumping or dropouts is to do it offline or to introduce some time delay, so that you know where the volume is going before you have to adjust for it. This makes for smoother shaping.

    BTW gloco, I have a question for you re: ATRAC-R versus CD but I've decided to post it to this thread.
     
  15. redshifter
    Quote:

    have you heard the LP version? I dunno if your a fan or not, but Oasis' Whats the story morning glory cd sounds atrocious, it has always bothered me by how bad it sounds. I finally hunted down a 2LP version of the album and guess what? It sounds a heck of a lot better, dynamic compression is still noticeable in some tracks, but many "softer" tracks sound lush!!! Now, that's scary!



    i've seen the vinyl version of "ok computer" at the record store, and i have the "kid a" double album, which sounds fantastic and has a hidden track. i also have the cd and double album of stereolab's "emperor tomato ketchup", and the lp sounds so much better. not all records sound better though; it comes down to the producer not the format.

    it may be worth dropping $25 on the vinyl for "ok computer", but i had to already buy the cd twice, so i think i'll wait.

    Quote:

    Dynamic compression is quite annoying though. Just because some people listen in noisy enviroments doesn't mean we should all have to suffer dangit....



    i totally agree. they should just start adding digital compression circuits to all cheap stereos and portables (like "train" mode or modified avls), and leave the dynamics on the cd alone.
     
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