back to article Why modern music sounds rubbish

A few year ago Bob Dylan echoed a complaint that many of you share with me from time to time: music sounds rubbish. Dylan hates recording these days, because the outcome is too loud and it's too bright. As he said: "You listen to these modern records, they're atrocious, they have sound all over them. There's no definition of …

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  1. Absent
    Mushroom

    There was...

    Years ago there was a TV documentary or something about/featuring this. A sound engineer was recalling a story about a record executive complaining that just finished Pearl Jam (for example) master tape wasn't as loud as the new Metallica (for example) album and could they mix it again to make everything louder.

  2. Chris Redpath

    I've noticed it too

    Now I cannot listen to music for long periods like I used to, it's too grating on the ears. I'm not sure though if it's just me getting old or recordings being massaged into square waves.

    It'd be interesting to see what this loudness crap does with lossy encoding, since it must be generating some interesting additional noise with all the clipping.

    1. Elmer Phud
      Trollface

      Eh? is for Apple

      There ought to be a sticker on iPods "Louder does not mean better".

      1. gafisher
        Megaphone

        iRoglyphics

        // There ought to be a sticker on iPods "Louder does not mean better". //

        Can you express that as an icon? (Preferably in, er, loud colors?)

    2. Naughtyhorse

      I know the problem

      the dobly stopped them turning the amps up to 11

    3. Naughtyhorse

      sorry to hear that

      you are bothered by the extra harmonics in digitally recorded/mastered/stored music.

      not really the industries fault though.

      you have non standard ears.

      even crappily sampled audio - say 20k samples/second would introduce harmonic distortion _starting_ at 60khz. hiven that even an asthmatic child (i.e. those with the greatest acuity, outside the fantasy world of the audiophile) would not be able to reliably detect anything above 22-25khz

      so the real question is... are there many bats in your family tree?

      1. Chris Redpath

        It's unlikely to be digital artefacts

        Since they don't exist for all practial purposes - and I am not an audiophile or have expensive equipment. I don't believe any of my equipment is capable of producing much above 20KHz and I probably can't hear anything above about 16 anyway.

        I can't believe that anyone can listen to the CD version of something like Death Magnetic, then the Guitar Hero version and tell me there is nothing wrong with the CD. It's mashed.

        I love dubstep too, so it's not just loudness. It's something wrong with the mix.

      2. MD Rackham

        Paging Mr. Nyquist

        Not sure how you did that calculation. With a 20kHz sample rate, you can't accurately reproduce anything above 10kHz due to aliasing. And given practical limits on filters, you probably have to limit the input to around 8kHz or so.

  3. Player One

    The title is required, and must not be too loud

    nice article in soundonsound about this http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/sep11/articles/loudness.htm

  4. flying_walrus
    Boffin

    Mp3 and compression

    Isnt a lot of the current dynamically compressed music driven by the fact that most people listen to everything in lnitwit rate mp3 (or some other lossy format) which achieves file size compression partially Through dynamic compression?

    Because producers know this, they're pre-compressing the tracks so the can at least controll how the mp3 will sound

  5. Powelly
    Unhappy

    Self fulfilling prophesy

    The problem is that the genie is out of the bottle and no chart acts are likely to change. Because heavy compression means that your song sounds louder anyone who bucks that trend to give more dynamic range is by definition going to sound quieter on the radio than their contemporaries. Quieter means fewer sales. Not a chart band, but Iggy's Raw Power remaster that was released a few years ago was notorious for this - everything was clipped and unlistenable.

    Can't see the attachment from work, so apologies if I'm repeating what's posted.

  6. JimC
    FAIL

    I dount it: too many cloth ears...

    The way "loudness" is achieved is also a lot to do with the use of compression: signal processing that reduces the difference between loudest and quietest bits of the music. Bearing in mind that the maximum is a fixed limit before distortion sets in it means that compressed music sounds louder because you have a higher average volume. I understand the same trick is used to make the adverts on TV sound louder than the programs.

    Although compression does have its musical uses, it has a definite tendency to take all the life out of the music: especially with physically played instruments, whether acoustic or electric, where the control of the volume is an important part of the expression of the instrument. That's not saying that digital electronic instruments can't have the dynamics, just that its less prone to come with the territory.

    Radio is usually compressed anyway BTW.

    I dunno, kids these days etc etc etc...

    A lovely illustration of this phenomenum is with graphic equalisers... I remember seeing one in a friends car many years ago with all the sliders turned up to maximum. What this does is to make the music louder, but with a rather uneven and slightly distorted sound. I tried to persuade him that he should return them all to neutral and just turn the volume up a bit, but what happens is that the user pushes up one slider, sounds a bit better 'cos its louder, pushes up another, and soon they are all back to max again...

    1. AdamWill

      Simply put...

      ...no. Lossy audio compression formats do not use dynamic range compression.

    2. Steven Jones

      Confusing your compressions

      Dynamic range compression and MP3 lossy compression have absolutely nothing to do with one another. They are completely and utterly different things. CDs and other earlier forms of recording have used dynamic range compression. In essence it simply means making quieter sections louder. It was done for good reasons - so that quiet passages could be heard in noisy environments and for radio broadcasting, and for bad reasons. The latter is essentially to make records sound "brighter" or, some might say, less easy to ignore.

      MP3 lossy compression is a completely different thing - it basically loses less audible features. An MP3 file can exceed the dynamic range of a CD as it does not use linear encoding.

      Anyway, this is hardly a new phenomenon. It's called the "loudness wars" and arose from music producers wanting more of an instant hit. As it happens, the dynamic range on almost all contemporary music is nothing compared to some symphonic pieces which truly only work in quiet rooms or on headphones.

    3. Dagg
      Holmes

      I dunno, kids these days etc etc etc...

      45 discs were also compressed and they ended up doing it on cassette tapes because the noise became audible during the quiet parts and because most cassettes were played on sh*t boom boxes...

      1. Daniel B.

        @Dagg, Dolby NR

        "most cassettes were played on sh*t boom boxes..."

        That's why Dolby Noise Reduction was invented. Amp up the trebles while recording, then lower the trebles during playback, so the cassette's "shhhhhh" sound is lowered. Even if your cassette player didn't have Dolby support, you could get the same effect by lowering the treble setting. :)

        Mine's the one with the Walkman...

    4. Mike Flugennock

      re: graphic equalizers

      "A lovely illustration of this phenomenum is with graphic equalisers... I remember seeing one in a friends car many years ago with all the sliders turned up to maximum. What this does is to make the music louder, but with a rather uneven and slightly distorted sound. I tried to persuade him that he should return them all to neutral and just turn the volume up a bit, but what happens is that the user pushes up one slider, sounds a bit better 'cos its louder, pushes up another, and soon they are all back to max again..."

      Sounds like your friend wasn't really clear on the concept regarding graphic EQ units; either that, or he just had a tin ear.

      I've also wondered about the point of graphic EQs in car stereos, anyway. In a home setting where background noise can be controlled to a point, sure; but in a car, with all that uncontrollable background noise -- even in today's much-quieter cars? Not so much.

      1. gafisher

        Little to do with background noise

        Several decades as an audio engineer have shown me that wherever a graphic EQ isn't behind a locked door, most or all of the controls will be maxed out, even in theaters and concert halls where background noise isn't an issue. Many times I've earned my fees by simply restoring the controls to their proper, usually minimal, levels -- and hiding the EQ behind a panel.

      2. Dr. Ellen
        Windows

        Graphic Equalizers

        I use the equalizers in my car because I'm more than a bit deaf. It shapes the music up like my hearing aids would. (Hearing aids in a car are no fun -- they amplify the road noise as well as the music.) I have the high frequencies all the way up, mid frequencies normal, low frequencies down a bit.

        And who expects a concert experience in a car, anyway?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Equalizers good for old time radio

          I listen to a lot of old radio serials and, for many, graphic equalization is a must to clean up hiss and even mute overly bass recordings.

    5. gafisher

      ... only to a point

      "Not a chart band ... ... - everything was clipped and unlistenable."

      The second clause may substantially explain the first. In the end, the public does not base music purchases on meter readings.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      BBC preserves dynamic range

      The BBC has a long tradition of using more dynamic range than U.S. broadcasters. If you can listen in a quiet environment, it is a much better sound. If you can't, you lose the whispers. I envision a time when processors on portable devices will be fast enough to allow an on-the-fly compression adjustment. Producers will still have to be persuaded to leave the full dynamic range on the original material.

      1. Chris Holford
        Megaphone

        Peak Programme Meters

        Decades ago the BBC developed 'peak programme meters' to use in studios so that engineers could adjust levels to preserve the transient peaks in the music.

        US broadcasters used 'volume level' meters which respond to average sound levels.Even in the 70s audio enthusiasts complained of over compressed music. The problem is that most music is heard in noisy environments where music with a wide dynamic range is inaudible during quiet passages. A serious listener in a quiet environment (eg in the concert hall or in a quiet living room with a good hi-fi system) can enjoy the wide dynamic range.

      2. Mike Flugennock

        US radio and car radios

        Y'ever hear any old rock'n'roll records from the early through mid/late '60s on a proper modern stereo, and notice how flat and "punchy" the bass sounds? I wondered about it for years until a friend of mine who mixed sound for clubs and concerts explained how the "car radio mix" works -- that is, that most rock'n'roll records made back then were listened to by teenagers in their cars, and so the records were mixed to sound good within the limited range of the speakers in car radios and small record players.

        I drove a '68 Mustang during part of high school and all of college; the old 'Stang had the original factory-installed Philco AM/FM radio with its 7-inch oval speaker installed in the dash, pointing upwards so that the sound reflected off the windshield glass and disperesed around the interior. An unintended --- but pleasing -- by-product of this was that all that space under and behind the dash not taken up by instrumentation and the glove compartment acted as a kind of crude bass-reflex enclosure, making the mid-low and low end sound a little bit fatter. More "modern" recordings sounded a bit "boomy", but any records made before around 1967 or '68 sounded really nice -- while 24-bit remastered CD reissues of stuff like early Beatles or Paul Revere & The Raiders sounded really flat on my home component stereo system; and I'd find myself edging up the low/mid and low end on my EQ to try and squeeze a little more bass out of it.

    7. Someone Else Silver badge
      Coat

      Interesting

      I found the **original** mix of Iggy's Raw power to be unlistenable also. Perhaps this problem with the original source?

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Happy

    Over compression

    It is interesting to hear other people start talking about over-compression, it is something I have been complaining about for years. The first place that I noticed it was in TV advertising. Even the advertising of their own programs that the BBC does. Interestingly, I noticed it for a very mundane reason. I'm a bit of an insomniac and whilst watching late night TV at a volume designed not to disturb my flat-mate, I would notice that when adverts came on the volume would noticeably jump. It would actually jump far enough for me to dive for the mute button.

    With music I think things are a little different. I haven't tried this, but I'm pretty sure I can find multiple tracks from the 80s that are heavily compressed. I'm sure the backing tracks to the stock, aitken and waterman manufactured stuff was heavily compressed. I'm also sure there are other genres, maybe punk, that would also be heavily compressed. But in the 70s and 80s we had a genre that was the antithesis of compression - prog rock. My suspicion is that a lot of musicians who weren't doing prog were being influenced by it, and dynamics were therefore much more important.

    The trend to more heavy compression probably comes about through various routes. Listening in cars could be one, the proliferation of cheap DACs which lack a decent dynamic range may be another. As would be listening to music on cheap walkmans (or worse still cheap walkmans with cheap speakers), or cheap ghetto blasters. The accessibility of cheap electronic compressors in the 2000s may have perpetuated the problem.

    The solution, at least to me, is the solution to all the music industries woes. Live. If band's begin and end with the live experience, they can't be cheated by pirates, and they have to get a good live sound, which probably won't be compressed to hell and back.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Pint

    Too true

    I myself dabble in the world of music production and always fascinated to see what makes a track 'listenable' and can only hope that one day we will move away from making our tracks "as loud as possible" and focus more on making the sound as "dynamic" as possible.

    I feel that the wave of American Punk Rock has helped influence this whole idea of making music as loud as possible.

    One of the early examples of the "Loudness Wars" is Red Hot Chilli Peppers - Californication, to the point that even the listener could notice that it was a poorly produced album.

    1. launcap Silver badge
      Boffin

      re: over comprssion

      I certainly notice a real difference in audio quality between the 70's prog stuff (Yes, Genesis et. al) that seems to be much 'quieter' than the modern stuff from prople like Spocks Beard or Marillion. It also sounds much better at higher volumes (even in the car!).

      I don't really listen to a whole lot of modern rock or pop for comparison though..

    2. Absent

      RE: Over compression

      It definitely goes back to the 60s, there's an interview with 'Big Brother and the Holding Company' talking about mixing their first mainstream studio album; paraphrasing "every time the needle would go into the red, the engineers jumped. We wanted it in the red all the time, they wanted it in the green".

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Thumb Up

        Prog Rock all the way

        I think this really goes down to the equipment that Genesis had, compared to the equipment Spocks Beard have.

        And by the way, may I just say, you sir have a great taste in music :)

        1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

          @launcap & mattyrasker

          Glad to notice that people still listen to the right kind of music :-)

      2. Mike Flugennock

        Big Brother & The Holding Company...

        ...what?

        I said, "Big Brother & The Holding Company".

        WHAT?

        I _said_ ...oh, never mind.

        Seriously, though... keeping your levels in the red isn't necessarily a bad thing; it's when your levels start "pegging" that you have problems. As a hobby, I used to mix sound -- for PA and tapes -- for a friend's pickup band at their regular Saturday night basement jam parties. One of the guitarists was also a professional sound tech, and one valuable bit of advice he passed on was that if I wanted to mix and record it loud, the thing to do was have my levels "tickling the red" -- that is, to keep my levels in a space at the top end of the green, and occasionally nudging into the red, and that mixing totally in the red ran the risk of "pegging" and causing distortion.

        This advice did me well in my years of bootleg taping from the audience at Grateful Dead shows, where I used either Sony D5 or D6 rigs, and the sound -- as usual for live performances -- was dynamic and constantly changing. Keeping it totally in the green produced a tape with slightly weak levels and a "distant" sound, totally in the red produced oversaturation and distortion, but taking care to "tickle the red" -- what I called the "Goldilocks Zone" -- gave me a tape that was just right.

        Back to Big Brother & The Holding Company, though... "Cheap Thrills" is one of my favorite albums of all time -- not just for Joplin's singing and Sam Houston Andrew's ass-ripping guitar playing, but because it's so goddamn' bone-crushing loud -- and yet, so clean. It's loud as shit, but doesn't sound trashy or messy; it doesn't sound like "hamburger", as my sound-tech buddy put it.

        Another example: In the summer of '75, just out of high school, I went to see Slade -- opening for Aerosmith -- at the old Capital Centre in the Washington, DC 'burbs (unlike 90% of the kids at that show, my friends and I were there primarily to see Slade), and I was amazed at not only the massive volume, but how each band sounded. Slade were actually perceptibly louder than Aerosmith, but they sounded far cleaner and caused no discomfort; every instrument was clearly discernible in the mix. Aerosmith, on the other hand, just sounded like a bunch of noise, and not in a good way; though not as loud as Slade, Aerosmith made my ears hurt. I spent most of the Aerosmith sets either standing towards the back of the hall or on the concourse, because that was the only place where my ears didn't hurt -- and also because, to be quite honest, musically, Slade ate Aerosmith's lunch that night.

    3. PsychicMonkey
      Unhappy

      Guess I'm not an audiophile then

      I quite like Californication.

      1. nyelvmark
        Coat

        Optional? Finally?

        >> I quite like Californication.

        Without wishing to be insulting, I'll observe that "quite liking" any non-standard form of fornication probably qualifies you as a something-phile, but not an audiophile.

        I was just leaving anyway...

    4. Mike Flugennock
      Megaphone

      punk? not necessarily

      The first wave of punk may have taken massive volume to a whole new level (so to speak), but let's not forget the pioneers in the field of loud-assed rock'n'roll: the major stars of the late '60s -- especially Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead (and their famous "Wall Of Sound" system* in the early '70s) , and last but not least, The Who.

      Jesus H. Christ, The Muthafuckin' Who. As I recall, The Who were listed in the 1974 Guinness Book as the loudest band in the world, clocking something like 140db at front-row center. And, god damn, was it ever fucking awesome.

      Still, I found the sheer fat mass of volume in the Sex Pistols' tracks -- especially "God Save The Queen" and "Pretty Vacant" -- to be strangely pleasant and cathartic, somehow.

      Bullhorn icon, because... well, it's loud, but sounds really trashy.

      .

      *Grateful Dead "Wall Of Sound" setup, circa 1974:

      http://savoies-pix.chez-alice.fr/personnel/gd/gd_wall_of_sound.jpg

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Flame

        I can attest to that

        I saw The Who (well, the surviving half) a few years back and it was LOUD. 140db sounds about right... I think the standard example is "jet engine at 10 feet distance".

        I've been into classical/traditional music for the last decade but I would LOVE IT if I could enjoy rock/metal concerts without clarity-destroying earplugs. I used to play that stuff... rehearsals were a pain in the ass. Blame the drums. It was barely tolerable at first when our drummer had a basic 5-piece set... but he expanded to about 7 drums and 7 cymbals, so we had to keep turning up the guitars, then the drummer wanted to be louder, and by that time he had mics for demo recording, so all he had to do was turn up the PA. And the two band members who couldn't be bothered with earplugs, they developed high-freq hearing loss and thought everything sounded fine. Jesus Fucking H. Christ.

        1. Derek Williams
          Thumb Up

          Earplugs

          I rarely leave the house without my Musician's earplugs - no distortion, only quieter, but then again I work as both a sound engineer and pyrotechnician so hearing protection is really important

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          What? Could you say that again?

        3. Mike Flugennock

          I've seen The Who, too...

          What?

          I said, "I've seen The Who, too."

          WHAT?

          Oh, never mind.

          But, seriously... I was actually surprised to find out that it wasn't stage volume that murdered Townshend's hearing -- he used filters, as I recall -- but his use of headphones in the studio. About ten, fifteen years back, I read an interview with him where he describes what happened, and about how he was under a doctor's orders to limit his studio/headphone time to no more than three hours at a stretch to keep his tinnitus under control. I wasn't surprised, back in the mid '70s, to see Moon going with a set of full-cup headphones for his monitor mix on stage, likely to keep Townshend and Entwistle from crushing his head with volume.

          During the last four or five years of their career, the Grateful Dead switched from fold-back stage monitors to filtered earpieces to get their monitor mixes to try and cut down their stage volume, which Jerry Garcia described as "like standing in the middle of a hurricane."

          I was surprised to find the Stones not nearly as loud as I'd expected -- they were loud, for sure, playing to a football stadium -- but, bascially "average" live rock'n'roll volume. The Dead, the Who, and Slade were all louder.

          Pink Floyd turned out to be one of the "quieter" bands I've heard, largely, I think, due to their playing style and the wide dynamic range of their material -- they'd smash my head open with "One Of These Days" and then totally mellow out with "Fat Old Sun". The last time I saw them, in '94, they were playing a lot of stuff from "Momentary Lapse" and "Division Bell", so they sounded a little more crash-bangy than usual.

  9. Scotty81
    FAIL

    And sometimes they turn the loudness up to 11....

    And cause the audio to "Clip" i.e digital distortion, The last Metallica album Death Magnetic being a notable example (Lars claimed it sounded Great!!), but there's no doubt lots more examples other people can point out.

    I'm certainly no audiophile, but I'm all for turning up the volume myself over having it done for me to get sound lost sound quality back.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The mastering of Death Magnetic is horrible!

      It's absurd that after buying the album, I have to resort to illegal downloading Guitar Hero rips, to get a non-distorted version.

      http://www.musicradar.com/news/guitars/blog-death-magnetic-sounds-better-in-guitar-hero-173961

      Show and tell: http://www.youtube.com/watch?fmt=18&gl=GB&hl=en-GB&v=DRyIACDCc1I

      AC, because I haven't been able to come up with a cool handle yet ;-)

      Post anonymously: Checked

      Error message: You have not yet created a handle. Please supply one in the form below.

      Wait, what?

  10. Forget It
    Thumb Up

    Classical music instead

    This doesn't effect classical music - just listen that that instead duh.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    No...

    ...modern music sounds rubbish simply because it is.

    Full of (c)rap 'tastic lyrics and percussion samples (clap, finger snap, cymbal, rides etc. etc.) - listen to a Neyo, Tinnie, Derulo, Chipmunk or any of a dozen other would be's of the same style and you'll swear they simply twidled a knob and recorded the next track.

    I'm sick of the fake caribbean or south london accents, drawly vocals and general crappiness of what this country is putting out. Even the pop bands have resorted to hiring in one of the (c)rap performers to add something to make their latest release appeal to the yoof culture of this country. Sad really.

    At least the rest of Europe and the USA (mostly) doesn't seem to be overun with this stuff yet. Give me my Nightwish, Within Temptation, Kamelot, Lacuna Coil and the rest.

  12. The Grinning Duck
    Megaphone

    If it’s too loud, you’re too old!

    Seriously though, I think the trend is already shifting. My main music of choice is technical metal, and the production values have gone through the roof over the last 10 or so years. Compare Gojira’s ‘The Way of All Flesh’ to Meshuggah’s ‘Destroy, Erase, Improve’ for a prime example of that. What I don’t quite get is where/when the sound is getting mushed. The CD of Slayer’s ‘Reign in Blood’ I bought in the early 90s seems to have way better production value that the copy I bought a couple of years ago (someone spilt wine on the inlay of my original, I’m not normally that anal but this is Slayer). That just makes no sense to me.

    1. Chris Miller

      Agreed, but

      there is a not dissimilar effect. Digital recordings seem to feel they must demonstrate the *full* dynamic range available. So anything marked pp is played pppp; and ff becomes ffff. While this may sometimes sound terrific in the quiet of your own listening room, playing it in a noisy environment (such as a car) becomes a problem. You turn the volume up as you strain to catch the quiet passages, only to have your eardrums assailed by the louder bits.

      I think ClassicFM apply compression to their broadcast signal, to reduce this problem.

      1. Jason Ozolins
        Headmaster

        FM broadcasts are always compressed at the studio

        Classic FM would definitely apply *some* compression/limiting, as would any FM station:

        The bandwidth occupied by an FM station is greater when they are transmitting a louder signal than a quieter one. There are real financial penalties for an FM station causing interference with the neighbouring channels by transmitting too hot a signal, so they put compressors/limiters in the signal chain to make sure that their transmission stays within its allocated bandwidth.

        The irony comes when music that was compressed when it was recorded (for musical effect, this has been done for decades), then compressed to death when it was mastered (because some overpaid guy in a suit wanted it to be louder than everyone else's record), gets compressed AGAIN before it goes out on the air... it may be over the airwaves, but there's no air left in the recording.

        My son is 9 years old and is starting to listen to commercial FM, and I am getting mighty sick of hearing Photoshopped autotuned chipmunk vocals over music that sounds like it is being squeezed out of a toothpaste tube... the YouTube clip narrator gets it right: "wimpy loud sound" is the perfect description for that music.

    2. Ru
      Stop

      Not quite

      This trend also affects older music (that may or may not be crap) that is remastered and rereleased, only with less dynamic range.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Have you *heard* Europop lately?

      I think you might be suffering from perception bias.

      90% of US music falls into either the 'urban' 'country' category, or is badly produced Nu Metal / Punk that also suffers from poor production. The bands you cite are not mainstream, and as soon as you depart from the mainstream in this country you'll also find plenty of decent music.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Erm...

      Genre has no bearing on it, generally. I don't listen to chart music either, but the likes of Within Temptation and Nightwish are just as guilty as chart acts in turning it up to 11 in the studio. Compare Nightwish's production values with a quality recording of some classical music and it's blatant.

      If anything, metal acts are just as guilty as the purveyors of drum and bass.

      Production values were poor in the 80s, and then everything was looking up for a while. Now; things have slumped again. Badly. I can't help but think that maybe the industry realises that most of the time people listen through headphones and computer speakers or in the car, so figure that good production isn't worth bothering with.

    5. unitron

      It wasn't a copy (not really)

      That is, it wasn't an exact copy, even though the digital nature of CDs makes this trivial.

      "The CD of Slayer’s ‘Reign in Blood’ I bought in the early 90s seems to have way better production value that the copy I bought a couple of years ago"

      That's because somewhere in between the first purchase and the second somebody "remastered" the album, i.e., ran it through compressors and limiters and reduced the dynamic range to nothing.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Unhappy

      Classical music - agonisingly not perfect!

      It really pains me to say this, but the 1984 Deutsche Gramophon recording of Karajan conducting Beethoven's 9th features -- at a critical juncture, no less! -- a momentary crack of distortion. An otherwise perfect piece marred by a moment's lapse. It's a bit like Judy Collins' "Amazing Grace", where one male voice gets one word wrong -- he says "I" instead of "we".

      What would "Bolero" sound like, mixed according to modern pop standards?

      1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

        Bolero

        "What would "Bolero" sound like, mixed according to modern pop standards?"

        I don't know but you should listen to King Crimson's version of it on their 40th anniversary remastered edition of Lizard :-)

      2. Anonymous Coward
        FAIL

        Beethoven, Karajan, 4th Symphony... Deutsche Grammophon... 1984

        You can hear a chair being dragged or falling. Only with earphones. On a quiet room. Yes, my Dad owns the LPs and I hear all of them whenever possible. And love the lot of them. Well, it is a loud crack, and it is not part of the piece, nor dust in the vinyl.

        You would have every Classical listener squealing in agony if anybody had the guts to dinamically compress any Classical piece, let alone Beethoven (all 9) Symphonies.

        Roger Norrington had the nerve to play all symphonies 20% faster so they could cram 2 symphonies in each CD, and it SUCKS. The lead violinist can't keep up and misses a lot of the notes.

        Yes, and I am 32. And I like Californication too. I just take it with a pinch of salt, admitting it is supposed to be loud and go with the flow.

        But Classical? Hell no. These demand locked doors and windows. And yes, the same 9 symphonies in original tape tickled the red, just like another comment described.

    7. Mike Flugennock
      Thumb Up

      Agreed!

      While I'm not a huge fan of "modern" metal -- though I really dug Black Sabbath and Uriah Heep as a teenager -- I'm definitely of the "If It's Too Loud, You're Too Old" school.

      The key here is quality (see my previous comment re: Slade vs. Aerosmith). Compare, say, the mix on Blue Cheer's "Vincebus Eruptum" vs. The Who's "Who's Next". Now, I think "Vincebus Eruptum" is a helluvan album, but the mix is totally hamburger, whereas on "Who's Next", they're loud enough to peel the paint off the walls, but every instrument can be heard clearly and cleanly, so that when I go to crank it up a notch or two for the big finish on "Won't Get Fooled Again", the sound doesn't turn to hamburger.

    8. Anonymous Coward
      Mushroom

      Modern music is rubbish indeed.

      As far as I understand, Modern music covers 1890-1910 (e.g., Musicologist Carl Dahlhaus). And it sounds mostly rubbish.

  13. andy 45

    I dont think Dance music has helped the loudness war

    Most of the dance music scene is about big fat beats and bass.

    Over the years everyone has been trying to push it that little bit further to have 'the fattest beats EVER' because when a DJ plays your track to a floor full of dancers, the last thing you want is that your song sounds a little limper than the last one he played.

    On the plus side, I've noticed a few tracks coming out which don't prescribe completely to the loudness war -- like Roisin's Boadicea. Maybe there's hope.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Metal and Rock are just as guilty.

      DJs keep an eye on the levels and don't like it when songs are recorded at wildly different levels. If a DJ can't check the levels before mixing in a track in order to see that it's not going to drown the last one and blow the limiter, then they shouldn't be DJing.

  14. Timjl

    This covers it in more depth

    http://thequietus.com/articles/06872-loudness-wars-dynamic-range-compression-mastering

    1. Matt K

      @Timjl/Quietus

      I was hoping someone would reference that Quietus article, it's what first got me vaguely interested in the subject.

  15. Mr Tumnus
    Pint

    Turn Me Up

    There's a group called Turn Me Up who campaign for better dynamic range on records. First heard of them on the Elbow album Seldom Seen Kid, which had the logo, and went on to win multiple awards.

    Worth a look;

    http://www.turnmeup.org

  16. Ian Ferguson
    Meh

    Different view

    I'll probably be 'disliked' out of existence for this.

    I listened to the video clip repeatedly and could barely tell the difference between the two. And if I was listening on my iPod, on a busy noisy train (which is where I listen to 99% of my music), I would prefer the 'louder' lower quality version, as I'd be able to hear the rhythm and tune better. The 'quieter' original would be drowned out, and I'd only hear the drum beats and stand-out chords.

    I appreciate that audiophiles will prefer the 'quieter' version, but - for good or for worse - the way the majority of people listen to music has changed.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I think you need new speakers,

      or new ears :) The difference was really obvious to me and I'm just listening on the crappy built in speakers on my macbook pro.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Thumb Up

        Perhaps you are listening to the wrong part.

        Listen again and concentrate on the sound of the drums just when they come in.

        It is "snappier" and there is a slight reverberation that gives it a feeling of "space" that is totally missing from the compressed version. Even with my sh*t headphones on a laptop that I have at work here, I can hear a sense of stereo "position" of the drums different to the other instruments when they come in that the compressed version lacks.

        I don't know what others think, but my perception of the stereo altogether is reduced in the compressed version.

    2. Annihilator
      Boffin

      re: Different view

      Wouldn't you prefer the option to choose for yourself? To get the "loud" version from the original, one of your iPods many equaliser settings would be able to do it for you. You can't get back to the original that way though.

      You claim to barely be able to tell the difference, but in the same breath state why you'd prefer the loud one - you can clearly hear the difference in that case and even manage to explain what it is. I'd suggest getting even a semi-decent pair of earphones to block out surrounding sounds. That way you can protect your ears by listening at a lower volume and hear all the nuances of the music.

      1. Ian Ferguson
        Boffin

        Ackshully

        I use a £350 pair of noise cancelling Sennheisers, but still find I have to boost loudness to be able to hear what song I'm listening to in a noisy bus or ferry. I bought them for exactly the reason you say.

        My point is, we don't all have standardised ears. Audiophiles tend to forget that just because they might be able to hear all the nuances, the majority (including me) can't.

        1. Annihilator
          WTF?

          re: Ackshully

          "I use a £350 pair of noise cancelling Sennheisers"

          You spend £350 on a pair of cans and use the term audiophile at other people?? Sheesh... I'd suggest taking them back though. I've got a cheaper set of Bose noise cancellers and they completely remove the noise on a plane, train or busy tube. Heck, I've even tested them in a busy pub with music blaring with success. Even noise-isolating earbuds do a good enough job.

          My point still stands though - you can boost the original's "quiet parts" yourself with the equaliser, you can't do the reverse.

          And if you *really* can't tell the difference, why does it even matter to you? Surely the original "audiophile approved" version is just as good?

      2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        @Annihilator

        "I'd suggest getting even a semi-decent pair of earphones"

        I wonder if that isn't actually the driving force behind the trend identified here. 30 years ago, headphones were an exotic piece of kit used by professional sound engineers. 20 years ago plenty of people had a Walkman but they also did a lot of listening through conventional speakers. Nowadays, huge numbers of people do almost all of their listening through the crappiest earpieces money can buy and "dynamic range" just isn't technically possible. Even if the device can manage it, the listener is half-deaf from headphone abuse and so *they* can't manage it. Unsurprisingly, then, recordings no longer have any dynamic range.

        Against that line of argument, I'd have to concede that most (all?) MP3 players have the ability to apply their own loudness and so there's no technical reason to bugger up the recordings just because the majority of playback devices (and ears) are rubbish.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Reversed? I hope so. Don't count on it though.

    Back in halcyon days we (a bunch of students) dabbled with web/net/multicasting audio over the university network and of course that was a great excuse for an excursion or two to the local "real" radio station. It was interesting for everyone involved.

    One of the things we were shown was a Very Expensive Magic Soundbox that was basically a bunch of companders and graphic equalisers and such. I forget the details but what was really interesting was this difference: The "sound makers" explained that the thing put their "station fingerprint" on the sound. The techies explained that the thing folded the sound so as to most efficiently fit on an FM carrier, sound the loudest, and so on.

    Maybe both had it right, in fact I think it's likely both are true at least to some extent. The interesting thing to me was the wildly different explanations. Anyhow, I think it's a somewhat relevant data point. And as mentioned already, loudness sells.

    Another dot to connect is that music quality has come down, not so much because in yon days of yore everything was just better (which is indubitably true but not relevant here) but because Big Music doesn't appear to want, or at least it fails to bother with investing in and nurturing new actual talent into becoming the new Rolling Stones or David Bowie twenty years down the road.

    What they want is more stuff to push out on airwaves and into sales channels as quickly as possible, in as large amounts as they can get people to pony up for any way they can.

    Point in case: Bad Candy. You probably will never have heard from them, but I was a hand at their first performance as the primary and in fact only item on the lineup.

    Picture this: Some five 15-something girls that yabber somewhat uncertainly into the mike they've been training really really hard (in a villa somewhere, for half a year or so), honest, at being a punk band. Why yes, that's how you start a punk band of course.

    Right under a really big, custom made electric banner flashing the band name, amidst a sack of equipment even seasoned musicians likely can't afford, and with some of the best session musicians in the country for roadies and guitar tuners.

    This was a project by one of the names behind that big name of yore, The Golden Earring. It didn't work out so was abandoned, and rightly so, no offense implied to the cute girls. And, well, the big guy wanted to know if it could be done and didn't mind footing the bill, more power to him. But it illustrates the thinking.

    The point with this is that according to big music, music doesn't need to be good. It only needs to sell, in large quantities. If it's not quality, and feh they'd rather not have that for it's something of a hindrance to cranking up the quantity, then something's got to make up for it. Well, loudness helps, meshes well with that other great marketeering trick, hype.

    A few years back the problem of endless rehashing of old things on a snappier beat did come up on industry conferences. There it was recognised as a problem, a lack of input of fresh new ideas and talent, a lack of investment and so on. I haven't much paid attention lately as I stopped listening to top of the pops type stuff entirely, so I don't know whether they're still doing that. Maybe they've found new ways to "create music" out of no talent and no investment that isn't quite as blatantly copycat ripoffs. It was quite cynical in that the then-current generation hadn't hear that much abba and contemporaries. I could imagine that the only reason they stopped being so blatant was that the execs themselves got fed up with hearing the same thing rehashed over and over again. Anyhow.

    And as long as that quantity sales thing remains the goal, unchecked by massive customer walkout that can't be handwaved away with mumbling about piracy and backed with made-up numbers, well, they'll keep right on trucking of course.

    If that's indeed the thinking and the industry is still stuck believing their own bullshit it's easy to see how they won't turn around and go back to a more thoughtful, artistic, sustainable, and less obnoxiously loud route to making large amounts of money.

    And now if you'll excuse me, I have an urgent appointment with a The KLF collection that needs listening to.

    1. defiler Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      "music doesn't need to be good. It only needs to sell"

      Bingo - +1 for that right there...

  18. sgtrock
    Joke

    "In MY day, we had Phil Specter's 'Wall of Sound'...

    ...and we LIKED it!"

    Seriously, though. He's the clown who really started the push-the-sliders-all-the-way-up-so-it-blasts-out-of-those-cheap-transistor-radios crap back in the '60s. CDs only accelerated the trend.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Agree. Kinda.

      Wall Of Sound was more about using lots of similar instruments, rather than pushing the sliders all the way up, though. Today's music is attempt at getting that "AM and analog" sound on FM and digital ... and it fails miserably. The only thing I listen to on the radio anymore is Baseball.

      Current tunage: Charlie Daniel's "Devil Went Down To Georgia", last track was The Stranglers "Peaches", next track (according to the computer) is going to be Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues"[1], followed by both versions of Robert Johnson's "Crossroads"[2]. Eclectic? Moi?

      [1] One of the first "rap" songs, BTW ...

      [2] No, Clapton didn't write Crossroads, as much as I like his cover of it :-)

  19. WonkoTheSane Silver badge
    Trollface

    Why modern music sounds rubbish?

    Simon Cowell.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down

      So?

      And before that there was Stock Aitkin and Waterman, and before that there was disco.

      Music has been dominated by mainstream pop acts for the last 50 years. This is nothing new. I'm a fan of 80s music, but if I were to remove my rose tinted glasses and listen to everything released in the 80s, I would be reminded that 90% of it was awful chart-orientated commercial poppy crud, by people who disappeared after a career spanning the whole of a year.

      Cowell is just the latest king of pop. Removing him from the scene just makes room for another.

  20. Thomas Gray

    Don't forget to blame Digital recording

    Even Audacity has the ability to compress and make louder the most banal of inputs, and since everything is done on computer these days it's just too easy to do. With analogue, the engineer was forced to keep the sounds within the dynamic range of the tape, so they did.

    1. unitron
      Boffin

      Digital not entirely to blame...

      AM radio stations used to use vacuum tubes limiters and compressors to be the loudest thing as you manually tuned across the dial, so it was possible long before digital.

      It's not a matter of staying within the dynamic range of any particular medium, it's only using the very top part of that range.

    2. TheOtherHobbbes

      Ackshully

      most analog tape recordings were heavily compressed deliberately using tape compression.

      The technique is still used in mastering. Some engineers run a track off to an expensive analog two-track with heavy compression and re-record the output digitally.

      A lot of people like that sound.

      But lest we forget - most people's experience of vinyl was utterly crappy. Vinyl has a maximum dynamic range of 60dB, and most recordings had to be compressed to minimise needle jumping. So a good digital re-recording of an analog master tape is vastly better than the sound most people got to hear in the 50s to 80s - and that's not counting crackles, pops and record wear, all of which turned a typical plastic platter into an audio horror within ten or twenty spins.

      I suppose pristine vinyl cleaned with the angelic breath of demure virgins and played on five figure hardware may sound better, but I've never had that experience, so I don't know - and given some of the raving nonsense printed in the exclusive upmarket hifi glossies, I rather doubt it.

      Then digital recording and CDs happened, and the sound was crap in a different way. A lot of late 80s and early 90s recordings are almost unlistenable because digital technology was so raw you lost all of the nuance and detail. The sound was flat, tinny and edgy.

      Digital didn't really get its act together until the late 90s after a couple of magic techniques - dither, jitter reduction - made it sound smooth and listenable and not a splashy mess.

      Now good digital is at least as smooth as old analog was. Audiophiles can get high bit rate recordings that sound pretty damn close to the original master.

      Consumer music remains pants, but that's always been true. Take a look at a typical chart from the 70s and 80s to see who was making the hits of the day. There was almost as much disposable bubble gum as there is now.

  21. HMB
    Alert

    There is a Technological Solution Damn it!!

    Seriously, this is all so pointless and sad. It would be so easy to have a sound format that had large dynamic range (better quality), but that as part of the standard, defaulted to dynamic compression (making it louder) for the ignorant, with an option on the playback to enable the full dynamic range.

    That way you can please everyone!

    Seriously, why hasn't this been done already?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      How about having music players

      that can read high dynamic range music files, and can also apply equalisers to get the 'louder' version?

      Oh wait, they already exist. They're called MP3 players...

      1. Tomato42 Silver badge
        Facepalm

        equalizers...

        equalizers to compressors are like apples to oranges. I've yet to see a MP3 player with in-build compressor...

    2. Fred Dibnah Silver badge

      @ There is a Technological Solution Damn it!!

      It has been done on radio - DAB can transmit Dynamic Range Control information. Turn it on in the car, off on the hi-fi.

      The first analogue radio station that bought a compressor to 'be the loudest on the dial' was only the loudest until everyone else bought their own compressors. So now they are all equally loud, and all CTF (a well-known technical term).

    3. Wilseus
      Mushroom

      It HAS been thought of

      I read in a HiFi mag a couple of years ago that the DAB standard supports this by allowing the broadcasters to specify how much (or little) the receiver is to compress the audio. Audiophiles can then just disable the compression.

      Of course the broadcasters just transmit everything compressed anyway and completely ignore the compression flags.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Unhappy

    Want an obvious example?

    Dig out a CD produced sometime around 1988 and then listen to the exact same "Re-Mastered" version released within the last year or two. The later version is almost always unlistenable due to the huge compression and "loudness" that's put in to boost it up. Re-mastering can add some benefit but most of the time it simply seems to be an excuse to "push the loundness button" and send it off for printing and distribution.

    There are some bands fighting back and demanding to have the music sound they way they want, better range and less loudness and compression but very few have the cachet to demand it from their record company's.

  23. Michael Jarve
    FAIL

    An embarrassment of riches...

    One of the great potential virtues of digital recording is the incredible dynamic range it can afford, particularly on a hi-fi designed for maximum fidelity. Indeed, one of the primary selling points originally in CDDA's favor (and digital recording/playback in general) was the 90dB of dynamic range afforded by CDDA's 16-bit resolution. When you consider that a 3dB change in level requires double (or half) the power output of the associated equipment, this resolution can result in tremendous dynamic range. A premium audiophile cassette deck (with decent tape) might approach 50-60dB of dynamic range, once the noise floor was factored in. Today's best phono cartridges (I'm talking $5k-$10k) might just approach that, with many "mortal" carts getting only the better of 30-50dB.

    So, while HD audio formats like SACD and DVD-A have in excess of 100dB of dynamic resolution, the horrible recordings only make use of 3-9dB, never mind MP3's or what not.

    Indeed, audiophile LP recordings, on appropriately high-end equipment, wipe the floor with today's "HD" digital formats for just that reason. Many analog houses realize that their range is limited and do their best to maximize what they have. Some publishers like Telarc, BIS, Mobile Fidelity, and other's (mostly out of Japan) do take digital seriously and release material that can more fully utilize the capabilities of digital formats. One piece in particular that comes to mind is the (in)famous Telarc recording of the 1812 Overture that actually came with a warning label because of its dynamic range- people would turn up the volume during quieter passages, but when the canons sounded, speakers would hyper-extend, amps would blow up or go into protection mode. Recorded without compression, it took advantage of nearly all of the nascent CD's resolution and dynamic range. Sadly, many publishers like Telarc feature catalogs limited to classical and Jazz recordings, or rather obscure indie artists. Much popular music would not benefit much from such careful mastering in any event, but there is a good deal of it that would.

    Audiophiles for years have been lamenting the degradation of recording quality, and the acceptance of just-good-enough releases. Stereophile has had many articles and papers on the subject.

    But, as long as Joe-Sixpack feel's his 256k MP3 is good enough, the loudness wars, regardless of who is involved, will be one of attrition.

    1. The Flying Dutchman
      Boffin

      Methinks you're a bit off...

      ... on the dynamic range of phono cartridges.

      A decent MM cartridge with a decent preamp would be capable of about 65dB of dynamic range, the limiting factor being the thermal noise from the cartridge's high-ish impedance.

      MC cartridges on the other hand have very low impedance so the thermal noise generated by the cartridge usually isn't the issue. They have much lower output levels than MM cartridges so they require up to 20dB more gain from the preamp to get them up to line level. Which means that the noise floor issue (and thus dynamic range) is very much determined by the cartridge preamp's input stage.

      Anyway note that a very good MM preamp does not necessarily cost a fortune. Regrettably, in "audiophile" territory there's very little correlation between a given piece of gear's actual performance, and its cost.

      Of course, the performance of even a common garden variety MM cartridge can be heavily compromised by the quality of the vinyl. Virgin vinyl was (still is) costly, and in the early eighties, many labels used part recycled vinyl which included the paper labels and the occasional rodent. Brand new, full price LPs would sound like they'd been played a few hundred times with a rusty nail standing in for the stylus. Pressing waaaay to much records from a single set of matrices didn't improve things either.

      On the other hand, I do have a few LPs from labels such as Windham Hill and ECM, and an OMR copy of Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" that sound absolutely lovely.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      one obscure Telarc artist

      would be P.D.Q. Bach.

      Although the disc I have with the widest range is one produced by Alan Parsons, titled Sound Check. And, yes, the square wave track does begin with a well deserved warning.

  24. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Unhappy

    and another thing...

    Constant volume is very fatiguing. In the first place your brain regards constant sound as noise and starts to ignore it, but tries to pick out 'meaningful' information. Also your ears will physically stiffen up as a protection mechanism. Your average iPodder will then turn up the volume.

    Rinse, repeat.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      re: Constant volume is very fatiguing.

      Not to mention stressful.

      So your body starts producing adrenalin, leaving you feeling a bit pumped.

      After a while you can't deal with all the adrenalin and you end up adrenochrome, which is a mild psychodelic.

      Or so I've heard. It could be all wrong of course, but if correct, we're back to good old sex, drugs & rock 'n' roll.

      Nothing's changed really.

  25. Steve Mann

    Bah!

    Interesting that the article mentions Bob Dylan, a man who for years moaned and dripped about compression ruining his music (and this complaining went way back before CDs) but who led the stampede to get his catalog into MPsquash format where compression is orders of magnitude worse than in the old vinyl days. Mr Z doesn't let his aesthetics get in the way of his dollar fountain any more than the next man.

    That said The Marching Moron Syndrome is always with us. I happen to agree that modern recordings sound crappy, but it wasn't until I saw this article that I understood why.

    Don't mind me. I'm still recovering from two attempts to find an acceptable digital conversion of 10cc's Sheet Music. Buggered master (by the sound of it) and a remaster that did little to fix the problems and introduced some of its own. Bah, and double bah. Thank Azathoth I have the original vinyl version. Maybe I'll convert it myself, crackles and all.

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      I do this often

      mainly because finding CDs (and perish the thought, MP3s) of some of my older vinyl is almost impossible.

      I leave all of the compression and tone altering filters out, and only turn on the digital scratch filters on if the amount of noise is very bad.

      The CDs I produce like this sound very good (to my ears), even using the commodity A-D converters on generic mobos. Even though these cannot do the highest dynamic range, I suspect that my turntable and cartridge combination (good budget equipment - Pro-Ject Debut II with Ortofon OM-5e) is probably more of a limit on the dynamic range than the sound chip in the computer.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Several reasons...

    Being very interested and active with sound myself I have to concur that he's right. And there are many reasons for it to come up with. My personal stake here is "home studios and scared studios".

    First the home studio.. I think the wonder of modern times is that anyone interested in sound, or music, can setup a home studio without that much of an investment. Of course the more you want, the more you pay, but hardware and software quality have risen so great that a mere laptop can be enough to power your studio. Think of such an audio program (a 'DAW': Digital Audio Workstation) as a multitrack sound recorder and editor, which often comes with its own load of synthesizers too.

    And so we have many people recording their own work and trying to come up with a good sounding music score. So far, so good... The downside here is that there is a huge difference between making music and processing it. First there is the "mix down". Basically making sure that all your tracks will come together and sound good. If you mix your own music chances are high that something goes 'wrong'. Not wrong perse but not as optimal as could be.

    The main problem IMO is /mastering/. Many people out there believe that mastering a music score is required for it to sound good. Here a lot of things go wrong. For non-techies: you watch TV, commercials come up and suddenly the sound is twice as loud? That can be achieved by mastering. Carefully processing the sound spectrum to make all / certain frequency ranges work well together.

    Unfortunately this often goes wrong because many people believe that a "mix down" should have a volume level around 0dB, just as if you were recording something on your home stereo. While in fact the optimal range lies around -6 to -4 (/ 3) dB instead thus leaving less room for an audio technician to play with. Resulting in....

    "So why not tell the home artist to do it again?". If you pay $600 up to $1800 (say around E 1400) to get your work processed, would you accept a "Sorry, but please mix it again" from a studio? (note: this is an assumption on my part).

    Scared studios...

    Copyright protection can come in many different ways. I've ripped tracks for the sake of it (on different computers, so a 1 on 1 copy) and analyzed the sound material using my own studio equipment, often resulting in the picture in the article. Distorted, clipped and way too loud. I then took the same CD to a friend who is more into hardware than software and analyzed the cd while it was playing in a regular CD player. Suddenly we got totally different results; often still quite loud and leaving much headroom, but still nothing so loud that the sound was clipping.

    But still; applying copyright protection onto a CD will influence the music. And as the article states, most people don't even really hear it because many music players (mp3, home stereo, etc.) apply a massive battery of filters before the music even leaves the speakers.

    All in all a rather sad development IMO.

  27. Geoff Thompson
    Thumb Up

    Very good article

    Excellent illustration and an intelligent article with thoughtful comments. The effect is even worse on commercial radio where the recording is further compressed. Not listening to music on the radio much, my gripe is often the opposite with the BBC. I listen a lot in the car, which, despite being better than 20 years ago, it still not a quiet environment. The dynamic range for speech much loved by many BBC engineers has me constantly twiddling the volume as the presenter is too loud when I turn up the guest to hear what they are saying and vice versa. It would sound lovely at home but a huge percentage of radio is consumed in vehicles.

  28. Geoff Thompson
    Pint

    Little mono speaker

    Forgot to add, years ago every production desk had a little mono speaker, which was used to check that the mix sounded at least something like the intended track, because hundreds of thousands of potential purchasers of the record would get their first exposure to it on one of the new fangles transistor radios. Often under the blankets, after official "lights out."

    1. The Flying Dutchman
      Boffin

      The small "monitor" speaker...

      ... present on most Studer 2-track decks such as the A-80 is eminently suitable for this purpose.

      Anyway, most recording studios had a set of small full-range speakers (known by their brand name as "Auratones") perched on the console's meter bridge, these were used to get a reasonable impression of how a mix would sound on an average compact stereo.

      Also, I have modded a number of small ghetto blasters - fitted them with line inputs such that they could be used for similar purposes. Sometimes the mod cost more than the market value of the ghetto blaster.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    /^Auto-\w+\b/i

    One big problem that has emerged over the last 15 years or so is the technology becoming too clever and affordable for its own good. Too many effects processors and digital mixing desks do important things automatically to make life easier and make production and recording processes more accessible. All good stuff, supposedly. It facilitated MySpace and its impoverished, unconnected artists who simply would never have their fame & fortune in the old days, apparently. You know, people like Lily Allen.

    But imagine everyone having access to Photoshop and only ever using the auto-fix buttons or plug-ins that allow you to point and click in order to perform complicated tasks. The outcome would be lots of identikit images with the same skin tones, tonemapping, lack of wrinkles and blemishes, the same noise reduction artifacts in the hair, over-white teeth & eyes, and striking blue skies, greenish water and green grass.

    Al very nice, but the whole notion of capturing a moment or atmosphere has been lost. Even the notion that a picture paints a thousand words has been compromised because every picture's words follow a template more ridged than a chick flick.

    This is what's happened to music, through clever virtual effects processors, mixers and even affordable outboard effects such as domestic finalisers etc. The music they produce by most workmen using these tools is so polished that it's DOA.

    Setting Sun by the Chemical Brothers was one of many frustrating records in the mid-late 90s, because it was so technically 'perfect' that it had no dynamic range. It starts off quietly and builds up until the very loud drums and bass kick in - Except it doesn't. The solo acoustic guitar loop at the start is almost as 'powerful' acoustically as when everything is playing. There kick when the big drums and bass finally drop is simply unrewarding straight off the CD. I'm sure whoever mastered that one thought they were the god of all sound engineers as they watched all the bars remain level right across the spectrum on their fancy colour screens, and read the digital noise level indicators etc, but what popped out of that desk was a McVities biscuit, devoid of any organic element.

    And being electronic music has nothing to do with it. Earlier artists, such as 808 State, LFO and even Stock Aitken & Waterman never had these mastering problems, even if what was on the master tapes sounds a bid dated these days.

    In much the same way that the arrival of (proper) home computing (not BBC Micros, even Vince Clarke's) spelled the end of a century's pursuit of Hi-Fi, it would appear music production has also thrown a lot away as it's gone solid state. I reckon we'll have another decade or two of this and then a new generation will begin to 'discover' high fidelity music production and playback, looking back on today's methods as a musical dark age, and priding themselves in how much better their modern sound is.

    Some historian will try to point out they already had Hi-Fi sound in the 20th century, but no one will listen, with people explaining away the quality of 70s/80s records they still listen to as some kind of modern remastering process that must have massively enhanced the original sound or sommat.

    Mark Ronson's son will probably win an award for remastering a Who/Zep/Queen album and 'giving it' such incredible dynamic range and punch, something that simply wasn't possible back in the day... apparently.

    And just as builders want to get the job done quickly and get paid, using the cheapest stock in the Screwfix catalogue customers will put up with, modern producers and mastering bods can't be arsed to make an effort for an audience who'll only end up listening over 112kbps joint stereo DAB radio or 128kbps MP3s on their phones - managed by 'clever' Sony software on their laptop that cleverly 'optimises' and 'enhances' their tracks for 'improved' sound...

    Mine's the one standing by Camden Lock playing Stairway to Heaven on the spoons.

    1. Arnie

      Well

      "Setting Sun by the Chemical Brothers was one of many frustrating records in the mid-late 90s, because it was so technically 'perfect' that it had no dynamic range. It starts off quietly and builds up until the very loud drums and bass kick in - Except it doesn't. The solo acoustic guitar loop at the start is almost as 'powerful' acoustically as when everything is playing. There kick when the big drums and bass finally drop is simply unrewarding straight off the CD. I'm sure whoever mastered that one thought they were the god of all sound engineers as they watched all the bars remain level right across the spectrum on their fancy colour screens, and read the digital noise level indicators etc, but what popped out of that desk was a McVities biscuit, devoid of any organic element."

      I happened to work on this "back in the day". I say worked on it. I did the PQ encoding on the final prod masters as well as various 1610/dat clones and cassette dupes @ chop em out in ladbroke grove. Classic record ruined by the compression.

  30. Armando 123

    Not new

    As sgtrock said, Phil Specter had a wall of sound. In fact, Robert Johnson's records might have had a similar effect; apparently Vocalion Records was notorious for this, so those classic blues tracks, so gritty and raw, may be uptempo, more exciting [sic] versions of what Robert Johnson really recorded. Just don't tell Keith Richards, it might kill him. Well, okay, nothing could do that, but it wouldn't do him any good.

  31. Charles Osborne

    Companders...feh!

    Back the campus radio station the GM insisted that the Amplimax (or whatever it was called) was to always be active so we could "get out a good strong signal." Yeah, classical music compressed and leveled. No crispness, just a dull roar. Idjits that can't even count to eleven.

    1. unitron
      Boffin

      If it was long enough ago...

      you would have had an Audimax and a Volumax (one's a compressor, one's a limiter, I used to know which was which).

      Later on, it would probably have been an Orban Optimod, which was both.

      Apparently an Amplimax was a radio receiver from the 1920s.

      1. The Flying Dutchman
        Boffin

        The Optimod...

        ... was an excellent piece of kit. Especially the old (analogue) Optimod FM. It gave a station's sound *punch*, but it was the smoothest and sweetest punch I've heard yet.

        Orban still makes makes Optimods, of course nowadays they're digital.

        As a sidenote, building good compressor/limiters is a high art. Nowadays one can buy a two channel analogue compressor/limiter for a few bucks and they sound, well, reasonable... But top flight analogue gear (Drawmer, BSS) is still in production and commands premium prices, as do second hand units.

  32. Bad Beaver
    FAIL

    Yeah, well

    That's why the little music I still buy tends to be SACD versions of older recordings. It's not necessarily the medium that allows for better sound (it does, to a point) but the better mastering that goes into making a "better" SACD disc. Luckily there are much more good recordings than I ever have time to listen to. Nevertheless, it's a shame in terms of art and craft.

  33. poobumwilly
    Thumb Down

    Loudness war?

    The only people who refer to it as a "Loudness War" are beardy weirdy real ale drinking music puritans who would rather audio signal compression didn't exist AT ALL!... and for whom I couldn't give a toss about.

    It's not that I disagree with their sentiments though, but I think there is a wider issue which isn't being addressed... and that is the emergence and domination of electronic based music forms over the past 2 decades, and the relative stagnation of more traditional "band" music (i.e. Rock, metal, punk, emo, whatever...)

    Rock (n' Roll) enjoyed being the coolest sound around for near on 40 years, but now has to compete against RnB/Hip Hop, Electronica (encompassing DnB, dubstep, techno, etc.)... so what can it, as a genre, and it's proponents do?

    Well, it's stuffed in terms of any kind of real innovation - bands are still typically 1 singer, 1 guitarist, 1 bassist and 1x drummer, with the techniques for playing the same as they always were. The amps and effect pedals have also changed very little over the years and so the sounds bands can make are similarly limited to the "same old, same old" sounds.

    Heavy compression, in essence, is one of the few areas of the music production process that Rock can "do" to compete.... and if you want to know why electronic music is heavily compressed, see Clubs/DJs/the-necessity-to-have-some-kind-of-standardised-dynamic-level-for-the-benefit-of-mixing

  34. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    Not just modern music, modern tv too

    I''m reminded of trying to watch the (turned out to be atrocious) US version of Skins (that was actually filmed in Canada! go figure)

    But kept on having to tweak the volume because they used automatic dynamic volume compression on the damn show; whenever someone stopped speaking for half a second the backround sounds would suddenly start becomming louder to the point where it sounded as loud as the talking did, until someone started talking again and the automatic dynamic volume would quickly react - making the average volume of the entire show near the clipping level.

    Honestly, those sound tech numpties need a swift kick in the nuts for allowing this kind of crap to happen.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down

      No.

      I couldn't disagree more. On every point.

      Look at the number of tracks being released by conventional independent bands playing 'real' instruments, and it dwarves the number being released 20 years ago. You are suffering from perception bias, or maybe just not keeping up with the enormously vibrant indie music scene. Live music is bigger than ever before in this country, and for every chart single released, there are a greater number of non-commercial acts putting stuff out.

      Hip Hop has now been around for 30 years, so is hardly a new thing eclipsing other music.

      'Electronica' (as you seem to label all electronic music) has been around longer... close to 40 years now. Unless you somehow want to exclude synth-based prog-rock bands of the 70s and the likes of Kraftwerk?

      DJs most certainly do not need a shared compression standard in order to mix. [That's what separates a DJ from a bloke who plays records to people]. And indeed there is no shared compression standard between electronic acts. eg: Despite cited mutual inspiration, you couldn't get much further apart than a NIN and a Numan recording.

      1. The Flying Dutchman
        Boffin

        'Electronica'...

        ... as in, music composed specifically for reproduction by electronic waveform generators, has been around since the early 1950s and maybe earlier. Stockhausen, "Electronic Studies", 1954.

        1. poobumwilly

          No, "Electronica" (note the A on the end) is generally used to refer to contemporary electronic dance music. The works of Stockhausen and that of other proponents of musique concrète and elektronische Musik, would probably be best described as Electroacoustic music.

          The term "electronic" music however (without the A suffix) would encompass them all.

      2. poobumwilly
        Thumb Up

        You've completely missed my point, and as such, have decided to nit-pick at the peripheries of my argument.

        *slow applause*

  35. Hatless Pemberty
    Go

    Not always a bad thing, I say

    Then again, without over engineered loudness there wouldn't be a Yo-Yo Ma or a Julian Lloyd Webber. Or at least, they wouldn't be famous.

    The fact is that in a live performance, the cello just doesn't shine as much as in a CD recording. Purist, of course, will disagree.

    But anyways, back to Mettalica etal

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My 70s Quad system ...

    No loudness switch, no tone controls (they are switched out) and valves ... played through electrostat speakers. I inherited it. Could never afford it. Sounds lush ... and I can still get valves no

    trouble.

    BUT! Every modern recording sounds garishly awful. The system is ruthless in pointing up the faults.

  37. David 45

    Agree

    Yup. I too have noticed the disgusting amount of processing that goes on these days, both on CD's and radio. I have reel-to-reel recordings of old vinyl 45's and they sound great. Shove a so-called "re-mastered" version from a compilation CD into Audacity and it looks and sounds as flat as the proverbial pancake. As for radio......well, I don't listen much, as I find it painful. Some stations can be heard "pumping". Truly awful. Again, my old radio recordings outshine loads of new stuff. DAB in the UK is also one of the worst cons ever pulled on the great British listening public. Promises of near-CD quality but what do we get? Still the same old compression and processing and ever-decreasing bit rates that actually make it sound worse than FM. Use-adjustable compression was originally promised for DAB. Whatever happened to that? Current sound quality is at an all-time low in my opinion.

  38. Chris Redpath

    FM

    I can happily accept that FM radio is compressed to buggery, after all most of the time it's piped to crappy speakers and in cars where the background noise levels are high. I do wish CDs sounded better though.

    That SOS article linked above is certainly worth a read - it shows that there is a similar misconception around the consequences of the loudness wars and that it's not as simple as you might expect.

    Whatever the actual cause is (dynamic range, RMS curve ratio etc.) the result is that a lot of music is not suitable for sustained listening any more. Music industry, please fix it!

    1. Anomalous Cowturd
      Pint

      Re: My 70s Quad system

      My trusty old Quad 33 amp shows up plenty of shortcomings in modern recordings, which is why I mostly listen to vinyl played from a similarly aged Thorens deck.

      If you want to enjoy music like in the good old days, get off your arse and go watch some-one doing it for real. Just hope whoever's on the mixing desk can cut the mustard!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Real Music

        You guys are far too modern! Try going to the mechanical music museum and you can hear the music as it was originally played on the original instrument. Punched card systems have prior art!

        I must admit, I still like my Tannoy speakers from the 70's. Digital Music(?) is for the inexperienced young.

  39. Dave 126 Silver badge

    AVLS function in playback device- simple solution.

    I want to second a point made in an above post. That is, publish music with high dynamic range, and allow those users who want it to use the built-in AVLS (Automatic Volume Limiting System) of their audio player. Seemingly every CD/Minidisc walkman seemed to have this feature back in the 90s.

    I like high dynamic range in an ideal world ( good headphones or quiet room) but some situations do benefit from AVLS - prime example would be watching films without disturbing housemates / neighbours. Or hell, stopping the tv adverts from disturbing your sofa snooze.

    [In fact, I would enjoy reading a separate Reg article about trends in dynamic range in movie audio... presumably due to shift from Analogue to Digital, as outlined in another comment above. Seems it's DVD players that really need an AVLS button. (Big quality speakers: Check. Remote house in rural Devon: er no)]

  40. JeffyPooh Silver badge
    Pint

    A comment on the ultimate reference...

    I went to a live symphony orchestra performance once. It was disgusting. Don't get me wrong, the sound quality was more or less perfect (by definition). What almost made me almost vomit was having to watch the entire brass section constantly emptying huge amounts of spittle out of their instruments onto the floor. They were all doing it, all through the entire performance. Gross!

    Just saying...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      0.01

      Would you rather they were blowing bubbles.

      Personally, that's one of my favorite scenes from the end of Mr. Holland's Opus.

  41. Richard Neill

    Compression knob?

    Why don't more mp3/ogg players/car-radios feature a compression knob as well as a volume knob? When I listen to classical music on an aircraft or an audio-book on a train, I want to crush the dynamic range, to compete with the background noise but not be deafened. But I want to hear the same music with full range on my home HiFi.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    old vs new

    Compare the difference in sound on old Iron Maiden CD's vs new Iron Maiden CD's...

    So I spend $xx on CD and get poor quality or I obtain from the t'internet (legal downloads only of course)...and get poor MP3...If I'm paying for it I want quality dammit.

    Yes I have good audio equipment

    Yes I would prefer SACD or FLAC (if downloaded) but I can't always get them...

    Yes price can be an issue - especially in NZ...where a SACD can cost well over $45

    Yes Anon as I meant to be working...

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's an oild recording trick to...

    ... make any 'product' sound 'better' on consumer playback devices and has been going on for many, many years.

    When people first listen to something, the brighter sound tends to be more attractive. Continued listening becomes uncomfortable, eventually. Ever tried auditioning a cheap set of speakers and then a quality pair, on the same amp in the same room? If not, go do it.

    If you play a well mastered disc on the cheap speakers, it will sound less appealing than on the better ones. If you play a toppy and bright disc on the cheap speakers, it will sound pleasant at first, however, it will sound quite a lot less pleasing on the good ones.

    Also, much modern 'music' is merely performance and has not much musicality. e.g. Coltrane vs Lil Wayne, etc.

  44. ceebee
    Facepalm

    of matched impedance...

    Volume, dynamic range, equalization and frequency response arguments have been around for as long as we have been recording.. ie. since the 1880s!

    When "electrical" recording was invented in the 1920s, essentially by Western Electric working with the Victor Talking Machine Co. (which became part of RCA), many commentators and critics complained of the unnatural brightness of the new recordings.

    Suddenly recordings had upper frequencies approaching 9khz ... unheard of in the acoustic era.. but these new recordings sounded dreadful on older gramophones/phonographs. Only newer gramophones with improved horns (look up orthophonic or folded horns) revealed the full beauty of the new electrical recording.

    And with electrical recording came equalization which has been an essential part of the recording process ever since.

    In the 1950s came the battle of equalizer... as the major record companies each adopted different equalization schemes ..ultimately settled by the adoption of the RIAA standard.

    There really is nothing new...

  45. Purlieu

    Compression

    Compression was first introduced for AM radio, because if the signal was more or less the same amplitude then the current drawn by the transmitter aoutput valves would be fairly constant, thus extending the life of these expensive parts.

    Along came CD with a dynamic range of 94dB so what pray tell is the point of compressing the material to withing 0.5 db of maximum ? You are losing the benefit. Thankfully "serious" music i.e. classical or jazz, does not in the main suffer from this blight.

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Until The Light Takes Us

    I've heard this argument over and over. The answer is sometimes you are right and sometimes you aren't, it really depends on your purpose and outcome.

    Who even cares, why not use a pair of military pilot headphones to scream into instead of a microphone. Record the whole damn thing off a baby monitor, or cut the bandwidth to 5KHz via a phone call.

    Whole people don't care about whatever other people say, so I wouldn't call that guilt. The metal industry isn't guilty of anything. If you want crisp drums pop on your cannons of 1812 LP album (if it don't have dust and scratches now), but don't bitch about the way things are done, when they are done that way on purpose. Just like in video where you can enhance the color or damage the video, so too can you enhance tracks or damage them.

    "Until The Light Takes Us" To understand fully, Watch this video, Learn.

    The other side of this coin is when the bands popping up today use whatever they have financially, and it determines their sound quality as well as style.

  47. Anonymous Coward
    Trollface

    Maybe 'fashion' is the answer?

    Maybe one way to try and move back to a semblance of decent recordings, compressed or not, is to make that the 'New' thing in music/recordings. Some sort of trendy badge that effective says 'Hey, I'm a class band/artist who cares about my audience and my music. Here is a recognised stamp of approval to show this.'

    I see this was mentioned earlier, but if some of the industry legends, artists and producers alike, where to get behind this maybe there would be a chance. Especially now that compressed digital is becoming more and more popular. This would also open up the 'audiophile' market for decent computer speakers, headphones etc once this mass education starts hitting the unknowing.

    Most people don't get this discussion. So make it trendy/fashionable/requirement. Sort of what Intel did with Intel Inside.

    When the 'Recorded with AudioPortal(tm) excellence' stamps start to appear everywhere, as long as I get my 1p commission....:)

  48. MJI Silver badge

    Car audio

    I fitted some decent speakers and a mid range amp.

    But I do not own much new music, but the car seems to manage a decent dynamic range

  49. atomic jam
    Pint

    Louder doesn't mean better!

    I've said this years ago when I was about 15, fellas would drive around listening to banging music screwed up on their 400watt amps, sitting in their car the sound was all distorted and I couldn't tell which tune if any they were playing. At that age I built some low wattage amps that provided good all round sound, I avoided those cheap in-ear headphones and bought the really big ones that could cover all the audible frequencies, And fifteen years later I still have a similar set up. I have an old amp with variable volume, bass and treble controls, it even has a loud button, and people are amazed when they listen to music through the huge headphones at a normal volume, everything is there, I have to turn the bass to normal "the middle of the dial" and everything sounds fantastic.

    A pint, because today is Thursday and tomorrow is Friday.

  50. Dave K Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Maybe 5-10 years time

    You're right, the sound quality of modern recordings is nothing short of appalling. Muffled drums, awful compression artifacts, blatant clipping and digital distortion, and a flat wall of fatiguing and lifeless sound as a result. The problem is that people therefore become fatigued and hence bored of music much faster now, hence music has far less value as a result. And if it has less value, you're less likely to pay for it.

    The fact is that the "loudness war" exists to supposedly boost sales, yet they've continued to fall as loudness has increased. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that it's a concious decision that people make, but if you "pirate" an album so see what it's like and it turns out that it sounds fantastic, aren't you more likely to support that artist by then buying the album? Certainly moreso than if you pirate an album and it turns out to just be a wall of muffled, distorted, ear-destroying mush?

    Ultimately, the thing that will end the loudness war eventually is ReplayGain (or variants of it). Imagine a world in 5-10 years time when iTunes automatically volume levels your music, Windows Media Player also does it, as does Winamp, plus all your portable devices also volume level the music automatically. Volume becomes irrelevant as the louder you master the music, the more iTunes etc. will simply turn it down to compensate. Hence we move to a situation where volume becomes pointless - and you can master music to sound great whilst knowing that it won't sound quieter when listened to. That's what I'm waiting for!!

  51. dodge
    Facepalm

    And the reasons for the loudness wars are bunk

    Check this piece, which looks at Jack White and his defence of it, and also why the record industry thinks it needs to crank the loudness (but doesn't actually, it's all just group think).

    http://gearburn.com/2011/07/jack-white-you%E2%80%99re-a-musical-genius-but-youre-wrong/

    1. Lonesome Twin

      It's a good and well written article by an obviously knowledgeable author. Sadly, the comments reveal a different truth about the people who actually buy (?) music these days.

  52. MJI Silver badge

    Scared of buying music now.

    With all this compression what can I safely buy?

    Do admit to liking DVD-A and SACD

    At least I know understand why a lot of modern music sounds so bad.

    What I do hate is music through bad speakers. Mobiles, computer monitors ect.

    I have 5 nice quality speakers to use at home, the front stereo pair are floorstanders

    1. sheep++;
      Coat

      Re: Scared of buying music now

      "the front stereo pair are floorstanders"

      Does that make them 'Outstanding' then ?

      (Coat - Looking for my MP3 player)

  53. Graham Jordan

    I like dubstep I do

    And every time I admit it a piece of my soul dies.

    Quite frankly it's just noise. But the more noisey it is the more likely it is to make my penis erect.

  54. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    One door closes, another stubs your toe ...

    Fortunately for every 'modern' compressed pop song there is an equal and opposite film broadcast with unfathomably wide range so that in order to hear the dialogue over the deafening sound of the oxygen molecules crashing noisily around my room the volume is turned loud enough to slam the door when something loud happens, like a slamming door, on the TV. This maybe realistic but trying to watch a rendition of the Pacific war without actually forcing my neighbours to join me in the trenches of a Japanese assault just so I can hear the faintly whispered dialogue is irritating me far more than a load of compressed pop songs that I don't listen to.

    I watch films with subtitles on.

    1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

      Broadcast sound

      "film broadcast with unfathomably wide range"

      Either you have a special fat pipe pumping that wide range material into your TV or you are mistaken - TV broadcasts are just as range- and bandwidth- compressed as radio broadcasts.

      But anyway, video soundtracks and music are two different things - they have different requirements and should be listened to on different equipment.

      P.S. Dig around in your TV setup menues, I'm sure there are some dynamic-range compression options you can use to protect your neighbour from the sounds of US naval artillery barrage and Pratt & Whitney Double Wasps radials flying overhead...

      1. Inachu
        Devil

        Those soloutions will never help.

        I agree with the person who you are replying to and I have done those setups endlessly and it just makes matter worse so then when you finally think you got the movie sounding great and at a perfect level at a sound level lets call it sound level 15(digital LG TV) then movie stops for a tv commercial break and the TV commerical sound level is at 58 even though tv is set at level 15 and you must set volume at 1 or 2 until movie comes back.

        I think the whole sound industry for both TV and radio are totally screwed to hell.

    2. Chris Redpath

      Yep

      Doesn't your Home Cinema have a night mode? It reduces the dynamic range so you can set the volume to something appropriate and still hear everything. Useful for watching at night, funnily enough :)

  55. Anomalous Cowherd Silver badge

    Software can alleviate this

    While you can't compensate for bad production, you can at least set all your tracks to the same range so going from a track made in the 80s (normalized to 87db) and a recent one (normalized to 100db) doesn't blow your eardrums.

    iTunes does a poor job of this with SoundCheck, but there are others - google the ReplayGain algorithm or take a look at http://qtunes.org/qnormal (disclaimer: I made this)

  56. Shakje

    I've always been curious

    as to whether, given the rate at which the ear seems to lose frequencies, music just keeps on getting less bright and exciting as you get older, meaning that the music that you really like will either be the ones that really walk you by the hand, or ones that you already have a mental 'image' of, and that your brain automatically aligns for you.

    1. MJI Silver badge

      Not sure

      Late 40s but still can hear 16kHz at least (Digital Audio Essentials frequency sweep).

      I have found though modern recordings give me headaches!

      1. Lonesome Twin

        Just on 50. 12.5kHz is a struggle, as are a few other things...

  57. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    Why modern music sounds rubbish?

    Why fast food tastes rubbish and gives you heart disease?

    The reasons are similar, both are manufactured by industries reliant upon selling maximum volume of low quality, low added value, commoditised cheap product to disinterested consumers who don't know better.

    The quality is pegged at the lowest common denominator. In the music's case - a hooded teenager listening to his iPod through iPod earphones on a Tube train or demonstrating it to his friends using his phone's loudspeaker.

    The quality of music must inevitably match the quality of the audio - i.e. be as bland, forgettable and unsatisfactory as possible so as to encourage the said consumer to delete it quickly and move on to buying the next lot of the same commodity.

    That is a conscious choice the industry has made and that will eventually be their undoing (that and not the "piracy" they so much like to wail about).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      That would be true...

      ... if pop music was noticeably worse (production-wise) than indie stuff by 'real' bands.

      But it's not. It's a pretty much across the board phenomenemomemeonen.

  58. Inachu
    Pint

    I totally agree with this article! Makes me sick!

    The techno babies like to max out the sound and that drowns the highs and lows

    Then I am always fiddling with the trebble and bass in my car.

    The loudness turned on in the CD itself means for less bass and I have turn down the trebble.

    And yes the music at default is very very flat.

    This flat music is what makes car driver go out and buy those $3,000 sound system to bring out the bass and trabble to try and attempt to fix the music.

    These tone deaf people..... sorry to say ....... they need to be fired or sent to school to learn about sound.

    Back in the 1980's when everyone was still carrying boom boxes on their shoulder would have a copy of a copy and the loudness would go past the peak thus killing that thump thump thud boom that everyone craves and they thought maybe their boom box sucks and that is not the case at all. I had a very nice boom box made by GE back in 1987 and with proper recording and sound settings my boom box among the hundreds others on campus was always the best sounding and the most loud/clear with the least distorition of them all.

    Here is the best boom box ever made by GE. (its the larger radio at bottom)

    http://i26.tinypic.com/fasrgj.jpg

  59. David Kelly 2

    ZZ Top has been a prime example of this problem coming for a long time.

  60. a_mu

    cd formats

    Once apon a time, there was a format bit in the cd sec that was something like 'compresion'.

    it was intended for just this,

    so a cd could play normaly, or with the compression turned on.

    the thought was that compresion amounts controled by the studio engineer and written to the cd, would be better than one generated in the car cd player.

  61. Renny

    Music wars for centuries

    Ok, different war - but still based on what sells more... For a good while, "concert pitch" has been getting higher, in an attempt to make one instrument sound brighter/better than another... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concert_pitch#Pitch_inflation

  62. heyrick Silver badge
    Stop

    Will the industry change?

    I very much doubt it. In recent years the legal/copyright issues have increased as a way to maintain revenue now that - essentially - nobody can sing. Knocking the dynamic range back to reality is only half the battle. Then we need to kill AutoTune, find performers who can perform, and people who right songs from feelings and emotions as opposed to those visualising dollar signs...

  63. James Gibbons
    Thumb Up

    Distortion is not Loudness!

    Compression by itself is not the problem because if properly done it doesn't add distortion. Almost all the new mixed recordings push the sound through hard limiters which apply flat sections to the tops and bottoms of waveforms. They don't always do it to all instrument tracks either, usually just the bass and possibly the drums. This causes distortion and listening fatigue.

    In the old days of the LP the sound was always modified somewhat. You couldn't stick low frequency bass too far off the center or the needle would skip. There were also "S" filters to remove the high frequencies from speech which would also cause tracks to bump sideways into each other and cause skips.

    When CDs and digital came around this all went away, but other problems hit. If you recorded a quite section several dB down you weren't using all 16 bits. For example, reducing the volume by 1/2 would only use 15 bits. Drop to 1/16 volume and you are at 12 bits which makes quiet classical passages sound not quite as good as they should. Thus, recordings were always pushed as close to 0 dB as possible and also compressed somewhat.

    Another problem with CD reproduction has to do with the filtering going on to reduce digital artifacts in the output. The early filters didn't do a very good job and if you pushed the sound up near 0 dB then you could get output distortion with certain waveforms. More modern circuits have solved this problem somewhat. The 16-bit CD is not really as good as they make them out to be.

    The real problem is the distortion present in most modern pop music. Push an amplifier beyond its limits and you get clipped waveforms and noise. At least you can fix it by lowering the volume. Modern recordings have this feature added by the sound engineers and there is nothing you can do about it except not purchase the product unless you like playing distortion on your expensive sound system you spent many $$$ on to avoid said distortion.

    Oh, and in my opinion the Grateful Dead Wall of Sound was not so much about loudness but about low distortion quality sound. Most of the PA systems at concerts of the time were total crap and the Dead were simply taking the control into their own hands. Many sound systems were rented locally rather than coming with the band. I was quite impressed when I saw them back in the 70s. Quite nice seeing the topless fans dancing away to the quality sound!

  64. Alan Brown Silver badge

    Other brightening methods...

    Radio stations used to (some still do) routinely pitch up their turntables by 5%.

    It sounds brighter without obviously speeding up the track AND allows an extra 3 minutes/hour of advertising.

    For the most part, compression is used to compensate for shitty audio reproduction gear. BUT it has to be used with great care. Most radio station techs will tell you that unless the gear is locked away some bright spark DJ "expert" would fiddle with the aural exciters, etc to make it sound good in the (utterly tweaked acoustic environment) studio but absolutely appalling on anything other than tinny portable sound gear with natural 20% THD.

    This kind of compression of course led to AM tuners being poor cousins even on good setups (Bad memories of 1980s-era NAD tuners with excellent FM characteristics and 2.5kHz bandwidth AM with 15% THD output being "acceptable") even though every station cranks out decent bandwidth if you listen with a good tuner.

    As for music quality - it's simple. Vote with your wallet.

    I don't buy material which has poor production values - the same as I gave up on going to most cinemas years ago because of dickhead managers who crank the processing so badly all you can hear is DISTORTED bass, and a midrange peak akin to fingernails on a blackboard

    1. Fred Dibnah Silver badge

      @ Alan Brown

      "every station cranks out decent bandwidth if you listen with a good tuner."

      In the UK and Europe, AM transmissions have an audio bandwidth of 5kHz, which is going to sound horribly muffled even on a decent tuner.

  65. John Savard Silver badge

    Perhaps The Only Hope

    Maybe some groups could make two versions of their singles. One with compression to send to the radio stations to play on the air, and one without for people at home to listen to and enjoy the full musical experience of the song.

    Ideally, this would give them the best of both worlds - they wouldn't get buried by the louder competition on the air, but people who buy the record and take it home would find it sounds better than those of the bands that don't do this.

  66. malcom

    Beautiful people

    There are some websites exclusively for beautiful people. I don't know how these websites operate.

    I came across this website CrushBlvd (http://crushblvd.com). See for yourself.

  67. Havin_it
    Meh

    Well, shit.

    I listen to music for possibly the majority of my waking life, and for that part of it over which I'm in control of the dials, I honestly can't come up with one scenario in which it isn't *necessary* to normalise the loudness, be it in order to be consistently audible over background noise, or to avoid pissing the neighbours off with the louder bits. (And I refuse to sit in my house wearing headphones, that's just wanky.) I guess some people are luckier :(

  68. Zog The Undeniable
    Unhappy

    And then there's MP3

    which, at typical 128k compression rates, makes everything even more "fizzy". The kids have become used to this too. Fortunately VBR, 320k or better compression algorithms than MP3 are slowly taking over.

  69. Doug Glass
    Go

    Won't Matter

    In fewer years that most want to consider, most of today's loud "music lovers" will be essentially deaf and the process will start all over again with softer music. Revenge of a sort on those who keep plugs in the ears and loudness at max. I just laugh ... "the times they are a changin' " BD is right in more ways than one.

  70. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Damn kids.

    Turn your music down and get the hell off my law!

  71. Reuben Thomas

    Radio 3 News

    That does explain why BBC Radio 3's newsreaders are so much quieter than Radio 4's: I'm guessing that R4 is compressed simply because it's mostly speech, in a fairly small volume range). It does make R3 news sound peculiarly personal, though (it's the delivery, not just the volume). It's "I say old thing, have you heard..." vs "HERE IS THE NEWS".

  72. Purlieu

    Thumbs down

    Would the people who put "thumbs down" for my post titled "Compression" please explain why.

    K THX

  73. BongoJoe
    Alert

    Rush

    If one looks at the pattern of the unlistenable Rush album, Vapor (sic) Trails, and compare it to their previous outings one can only wonder what happened to the ears of the engineers.

    Still we can expect this loudness nonsense from our cloth-eared yoof.

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