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The 'loudness wars' of modern music production

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  • The 'loudness wars' of modern music production

    Discission of the processing of modern recordings to make them louder and therefore more marketable to the general public.

  • #2
    Bok Katz talks about loudness and compression - the sort of distortion the 20-somethings generation

    Modern mastering kills music by crushing it's dynamic range to make it more marketable to those who do not know any better.

    Excellent introduction here. Tragic quote "In the next 30 years there's going to be a lot of deaf people walking around."

    DAW = digital audio workstation ( a computer/software deticated to editing audio)

    Bob Katz Part 1 here.

    Bob Katz Part 2 here

    Bob Katz here.

    Comment


    • #3
      Great music destroyed by " remastering"

      I've mentioned beofre (and show examples I think) of how remastering seems to have everything to do with marketing and nothing to do with fidelity.

      Having show in my videotalk on clipping how to interpret the sound analyser display (suggest to look at Clipping #1 and specifically, Clipping #2 to get a feel for the subject and the critical importance of giving the audio some 'air to breath' = dynamic range and away from the 100%, 0dB line) then look at real music examples from the Michael Jackson catalogue here.

      Another one of thousands of examples here from Billy Joel. Fatigue in my book is an absolute no-no. The point the presenter makes is that to sell modern music radio air play is absolutely essential. And as he says, when a normal dynamic recording is buttend up against a super-compressed on, the normal one sounds completely washed-out. Nobody would buy it.
      Alan A. Shaw
      Designer, owner
      Harbeth Audio UK

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      • #4
        Great music from the past

        It's a good thing that the best music (i.m.o.) has long been written, and released with good to excellent fidelity. Original versions (not the remastered ones) can usually be found quite easily, whether in libraries*, used or even the internet. Most 'music' that's being produced these days wouldn't be worth bothering even if it was recorded and mixed with the greatest respect to fidelity.
        Good new releases still find their way into the shops though, they might not be advertised much, or at all.. But if you look hard enough, you will find them..

        *I don't know how it works in the UK, but libraries here usually have a respectable media section as well, full of great music of the past, as well as new material..

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        • #5
          Can we measure - and require publication of - clipping distortion?

          Very eye-opening: thank you for posting.

          What really hit me the hardest is when Katz subtracted the mp3 signal from the original leaving mainly the residual noise and distortion caused by clipping. Absolutely horrendous.

          While I understand that establishing standards for loudness across an industry might be very difficult (especially getting people to follow them), would it be possible, I wonder, to have a single objective measurement of clipping distortion caused by signal overload and excessive compression, and force publication of this spec? That way there'd be something objective to look at, and people might be more attracted to lower-distortion recordings, even if the distorted ones initially sounded "better" on a superficial level.

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          • #6
            Good read

            A really good read about this subject (and a lot more) is the book: "Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music" from Greg Milner.

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            • #7
              A full day on the tanning bed

              Originally posted by A.S. View Post
              The point the presenter makes is that to sell modern music radio air play is absolutely essential. And as he says, when a normal dynamic recording is buttend up against a super-compressed one, the normal one sounds completely washed-out. Nobody would buy it.
              Exactly like the marketing of HDTV's, which on display in the stores are always set on "Vivid", or some such thing, so the greens look nuclear and the skin tones like a full day on the tanning bed. Display such a TV next to one with accurate colors, and the accurate one will never sell.

              Bruce

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              • #8
                Mad world of music

                It's depressing to think that the future of music is in the hands of morons. These engineers and producers should think themselves artists but act like con men. Are we really living in an era of minuscule attention spans? It doesn't take long to hear compressed music for what it is, despite it being more ear-catching initially.

                It should be the easiest thing in the world to buy music you want to listen to, but even that has become like work and needs to be researched etc.

                This world is mad, and the audio world no less.

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                • #9
                  The lost art of the appreciation of quality

                  Originally posted by jair44 View Post
                  This world is mad, and the audio world no less.
                  I wouldn't say that. I would say that we live in a world in which, for a variety of reasons, people's attention spans are growing ever shorter and more fragmented. One of the results of that is to increase the motivation to grab people's attention by any means necessary. The problem with that is that the real appreciation of quality in almost any area of human endeavour requires both knowledge and time.

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                  • #10
                    All is not lost

                    Originally posted by EricW View Post
                    The problem with that is that the real appreciation of quality in almost any area of human endeavour requires both knowledge and time.
                    Yeah, I guess you're right, it's probably always been this way.

                    At least I can listen to Richard Hawley's Truelove's Gutter cd to prove to myself that there is still hope.

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                    • #11
                      A sound engineer explains BBC loundness policy

                      Originally posted by jair44 View Post

                      At least I can listen to Richard Hawley's Truelove's Gutter cd to prove to myself that there is still hope.
                      I would like to think that somewhere there is, apart from in the classical world, an uncompressed or limited vocal recording, but I doubt it very much, even for Richard Hawley. In voice capture the most important part of the vocal recording chain is a compressor / limiter.

                      To get an idea of how much sound is compressed, all you have to do is to listen to the relative volume of the BBC audio streams mentioned elsewhere. They are all engineered to the same PEAK level but the AVERAGE level is determined mainly by the source material and, to a lesser extent, treatment in the studio. I have to increase gain for the Radio3 stream by at least 10dB if not more to get the same "volume" as Radio2, especially during the afternoon.

                      I remember a heated discussion between a BBC channel controller and a group of us "purist" BBC engineers over the addition in the signal chain of a processor designed to "increase the range" of FM broadcasts in poor reception areas and in cars. It worked by increasing the average volume, and transmitter modulation by compressing the audio by as much as 20dB. The effect of this multi-band compressor was to create a "tearing" effect on choral music most noticeable on boy treble voices during the Wednesday broadcast of Choral Evensong, in addition to squashing the life out of the music's dynamic!

                      Listening today, I feel our engineer's voice was heeded as the broadcast which now in any case falls outside of "drive-time" is much less compressed than before, but the PEAK limiter must still be in place.

                      I no longer live in the UK so cannot directly compare the internet / satellite streams with the FM output.

                      A COMPRESSOR increases volume in proportion to the input level "squashing" the sound a little or a lot dependent on it's settings. Soft sounds are made louder, and loud sounds are attenuated.

                      A LIMITER is basically an audio brick wall set to the maximum level a recording system / transmitter can accept without overload. A limiter is a form of compressor with an extreme setting.

                      see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dynamic_range_compression
                      Paul

                      "If all else fails, read the instructions"

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                      • #12
                        Thanks for bringing this up! Vinyl and cutting loudness v. digital

                        Thanks for bringing this up! This may be part of the reason many audiophiles are frustrated with their systems. Is your system fatiguing, or is it the recording? On a high resolution system, unfortunately also deficiencies in the source material become very evident. When listening at home I do not want a system that is too revealing, for this particular reason.

                        I would really recommend Bob Katz book "Mastering Audio" to anybody with interest in recording and audio. Explains why many modern CDs are not very listenable and give the reader a good insight into the (digital) recording process.

                        It should be possible to produce better digital recordings these days, and also newly remastered CDs should sound better than ones mastered 20 years ago due to the development in AD converters. But it all boils down to the engineers and record company decisions on what makes business sense. Luckily there are a some quality studios and engineers out there still producing good sounding records! ECM and Daptone are two labels coming to mind.

                        A possible solution is to buy new music on LPs, these are in general mastered to sane levels and in my experience provide better sound, even if the original recording is digital. Ironic that in a digital age we still get superior sound from LPs, not because of any technical limitations with digital, but because of record company decisions!

                        Svein

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Compression - thanks

                          Originally posted by HUG-1 View Post
                          Modern mastering kills music by crushing it's dynamic range to make it more marketable to those who do not know any better.

                          Excellent introduction here. Tragic quote "In the next 30 years there's going to be a lot of deaf people walking around."

                          DAW = digital audio workstation ( a computer/software deticated to editing audio)

                          Bob Katz Part 1 here.

                          Bob Katz Part 2 here

                          Bob Katz here.

                          Very very interesting, thanks

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Vocal recording au naturele

                            I'm lucky? to be of an age (same as AS) to be able to return to much loved 'prog' albums of my youth, where increasing studio technology was able to better capture the complex musical messages from many rock bands. of course compression was used, but sparingly in many of these records. I also appreciate the post-punk method of setting up in the studio laying the tracks down with the minimum of processing. Some of these albums translate very well to 'digital' I found, even using the more basic original A-D systems then (Sony 1610?). The problems then were early digital editors, which apparently audibly degraded the signal passed through them - Decca designed their own in the early days and it wasn't until the late 80's that things began to stabilise audibly.

                            Not being a recording or mastering engineer, I wonder if it's really possible to properly record a powerful singing voice 'close up' with no compression. maybe the addition of some compression is a standard thing added without thought?

                            So much to discuss and no time to discuss it in right now...

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Compression, a must

                              Originally posted by DSRANCE View Post

                              Not being a recording or mastering engineer, I wonder if it's really possible to properly record a powerful singing voice 'close up' with no compression. maybe the addition of some compression is a standard thing added without thought?
                              Vocals HAVE to be compressed in pop music. As an illustration of the relative dynamics between voice and instrument, consider this: Imagine standing next to a drummer playing. You can shout loud enough that they could hear you asking to stop playing, but speak and they wouldn't hear you. This illustrates the dynamic range of the voice.

                              A singer at the top of his/her voice if recorded without compression could be mixed so they could be heard well at their loudest point, but as the voice dropped away audibility would be lost. You could then boost the volume of the voice for the lower registers, but then what happens when they get to the chorus if the gain is not reduced? Overload!

                              A compressor / limiter allows this gain control to happen automatically, reducing the level on high / loud notes.
                              In earlier times, singers learned to back off the microphone on high notes but I haven't seen that for a while in pop performance. First settings for a vocal channel is a bass roll-off to reduce proximity effects (popping on p-losives), then a compressor, set according to the vocal range and style of the performance, and finally a limiter.
                              Paul

                              "If all else fails, read the instructions"

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