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Dynamic Range Compression: Are The Loudness Wars Over?
Nick Southall , November 8th, 2013 08:44

Nick Southall speaks to American mastering engineer Bob Katz and Hookworms about how, with the launch of iTunes Radio, the tide is finally turning against full dynamic range compression

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The other day I bought a copy of Nathan Fake’s rather lovely Drowning In A Sea Of Love album. Nothing unusual about that, except that I’d first bought a copy in 2006 when it came out, and then sold it again, because it was too loud as far as I was concerned.

Seven years ago I was at my most militantly anti-loudness, and I culled plenty of records from my collection that I deemed to be offensive to my dynamic sensibilities, denying myself the potential pleasure of listening to plenty of really, really good music that just happened to be loud. I’m more pragmatic these days, more concerned with how things are mixed and the integrity of frequency ranges and timbres than with pure dynamic range, or lack thereof, but my tastes have definitely changed over recent years: I listen to practically zero mainstream rock or pop these days unless it’s exceptional or dynamic or both.

But it seems as though my struggles to reconcile my sonic and aesthetic tastes might be about to close, because, according to renowned American mastering engineer Bob Katz, the Loudness War - as the quest to be the most attention-grabbing music on the radio (or anywhere else) has become known - might be about to end.

A couple of weeks ago Bob released an announcement on his website stating that the war had been won, and that we – listeners, fans, musicians, engineers etc who give a damn about sound – were the victors. And all because of Apple.

It comes down, in Bob Katz’s thesis, to iTunes Radio, a streaming service which has yet to reach UK shores but which has been building an impressive 20 million plus user base in the US over the last few months.

If you’ve ever played back music using an Apple device – iPod, iPhone, iPad, iEtc – or else out of any computer using iTunes, then you might have come across ‘Sound Check’, a little tickbox in the preferences, which promises to “automatically adjust song playback volume to the same level”. It comes ticked by default on new iGadgets, and makes sure the transition from an old Byrds song to something super-modern by Battles isn’t too jarring. You can untick it, and your old, quietly-mastered music will sound tiny next to the obese monoliths of unsubtle sound we’ve become used to, but most people probably don’t.

With iTunes Radio, though, Sound Check isn’t a tickbox; it’s a standard algorithm or whatchamacallit or gizmo or thingamajig or process that all the audio is run through on its way from Apple’s gargantuan servers to whatever headphones or speakers you’re listening on, whether you like it or not. And Bob Katz likes it a lot, especially after spending several hours carrying our loudness measurements, and finding that current super-loud pop tracks were being attenuated by approximately seven dB in order to make their loudness equal to more sensitively-mastered material. In other words, rather than turning quiet songs up, Sound Check turns loud songs down.

I emailed Bob and asked him to tell me more.

Bob Katz: Everyone should turn on Sound Check in your iTunes players. Right now. Leave it there at least for a month and tell us whether you like it better. First of all that will illustrate what iTunes Radio will sound like before it comes to the UK. I also think it does a nice job of dealing with the differences between hot and quiet CDs, the ‘Pink versus Pink Floyd’ issue.

So, what does Sound Check have to do with eliminating the loudness war? First of all, there's the obvious; it brings down the overcompressed, super-loud hot stuff which is common today to allow the more open-sounding stuff from yesterday a chance to sit on an even footing. I switched between a 70s station and a ‘pure pop’ station on iTunes Radio the other day and the transition was seamless.

Does this mean I’m going to have to re-buy albums from the last 10 years as they get remastered to be quieter?

BK: How many different copies of The Wall have I purchased over the years? Or Thriller. We get saturated by this business of remastering! And many remasters sound worse than the originals.

I think there will be some remastering, but comparatively little. I just see a gradual opening up of sound quality with new releases, for the better, as soon as producers become aware that iTunes Radio is ‘the great leveller’. It took us 33 years after the invention of the Compact Disc to arrive at a very fucked up point. (I use that word for emphasis). I think it will only take us five years to return back to sanity, now that iTunes Radio points the way of the future.

Why are Apple controlling the user experience by doing this?

BK: Apple did this because it’s a better listener experience, and because they had to. Radio has always needed to do some form of regulation from song to song. Sound Check is just a better way to accomplish this. Sound Check sounds much better than any smashed version of FM radio I've ever heard. It also reproduces the original material more authentically, without altering the dynamics or the impact. Finally artists will hear their record on the radio as they intended it to be heard.

So I look at Apple's wish to ‘control the user experience’ from the positive side. It's going to be a better experience for the consumer. Put on Pink Floyd followed by Pink or Green Day. The latter will blow up your loudspeakers. Commercial radio has been trying to control the user experience, with disastrous sounding results, but at least it's consistent loudness-wise. So why can't Apple do it better?

We could pick nits and talk about audiophile quality versus 256 kbps AAC quality, but the fact is all those differences pale compared to the smashing and squashing that traditional radio does to an artist's work. European radio is already moving in the same direction - just levelling, no processing. UK radio may also be moving in that direction. The U.S. will be a holdout, but I predict in five years when internet radio and iTunes Radio starts killing terrestrial radio in sound quality and number of listeners, that terrestrial U.S. radio will come around.

What's the difference between this and 'Mastered for iTunes', and has 'Mastered for iTunes' been a good or bad thing, generally?

BK: Mastered for iTunes is an entirely different initiative. It’s simply an initiative to get higher quality conversions to AAC than ever before, by supplying 24-bit masters to Apple for encoding. This actually has raised the quality of the AAC releases so it is a good thing, generally. 256 kbps AAC sounds as good as or better than 320 kbps mp3, by the way. And 320 kbps mp3 is just a bit below CD quality. However, when the 256 kbps are made from the 24 bit master, everything turns around, and many AAC masters sound better than the CD because the AAC preserves more of the depth and space from the 24-bit original than the 16-bit CD. I still prefer the sound of the 24-bit master of course, and the 2496 master sounds even better than that. But for commercial streaming radio, iTunes Radio already stands out above the rest in sound quality to my ears.

Does any of this make much difference if people are going to be listening in less-than optimum settings, at their desk in an open-plan office, in a car, via headphones on a train, etc?

BK: Of course the worse the playback environment, the worse the sound issues. Soft passages in noisy places is not a problem currently addressed by iTunes Radio or Sound Check. Some of the other streaming services employ limiting and compression, and I do not subscribe to lowering sound quality to the lowest common denominator during transmission. The solution has to happen in the player: in the car, while jogging, in the gym, etc. And it will happen. In a noisy place I would turn on compression in the player so you don't have to ride the volume control during soft passages. Apple has the smarts to, for example, use the microphone that's built into the iPhone as a sensor for outside noise.

Is there a danger that the Loudness War now just manifests itself as a battle between streaming and online radio services?

BK: Yes, I do have that concern. But I believe that Apple is the 200lb gorilla and hopefully its standard will win. Let's hope I'm right. I don't want to see a Loudness War between internet stations either.

It’s a fallacy to judge good sound by loudness range. Rudolph Ortner, an Austrian Sound engineer, wrote a Masters Thesis called The Evolution of Loud. For it he measured the sound characteristics of over 10,000 chart-topping songs from 1950 through 2011. This is a big, statistically-valid survey because of the large number of samples. He demonstrated that loudness range has not decreased one bit over all those years! In fact, in the last couple of years of his survey, loudness range slightly increased by about a dB. So engineers were taking some advantage of soft passages and making more soft passages.

The real smoking gun of sound quality loss during the loudness race is NOT loudness range, but rather "PLR" (Peak to Loudness ratio). Let me explain in layman's terms. Take a recording you know well, like a good Steely Dan [song]. Steely Dan is known for their sound quality and the clarity of their drums and percussion. However, Steely Dan records are very "radio ready" as these records typically have very low loudness range. So, what distinguishes a Steely Dan from, say, a Miley Cyrus ‘Wrecking Ball’? What distinguishes them is that they are not compressed from the top down. The transients (drums, percussion, cymbals) are not deteriorated.

One thing that a record like Tool's Aenima has in common with Miley Cyrus is that Aenima is highly compressed from the top down. Percussion instruments have lost all their snap and punch. But that's the style. And remarkably, Aenima has far more loudness range than Steely Dan. One could argue (fairly) that the producers of the Tool record chose to squash the transients as a stylistic choice. I'm not going to deny that.

But one could also argue that this record, or, more appropriately, Miley Cyrus' ‘Wrecking Ball’, are real victims of the loudness war because they have absolutely no transients left, no life, due to the reduction of transients and the introduction of severe distortion in their place. That's the biggest sign of the loudness war, compression of transients and distortion. You will still find loudness range in many of these hypercompressed pieces, therefore loudness range is obviously not a measure of sound quality.

And PLR (peak to loudness ratio) is how Sound Check is going to improve sound quality. Artists who wish to use less compression and obtain better and clearer sound and more impact will no longer be afraid to produce masters that are lower than the rest. Because they will know that iTunes will bring the other songs down. It's already happening. I've already convinced some of my artists and clients that they don't have to compress as much as before in this new world of loudness-normalized media. This is very good news. I've been waiting for it for 33 years.

[I also spoke to MJ from Hookworms, and asked what he thinks vis a vis the Loudness War in 2013.]

MJ: We cut the last Hookworms 7" with Alex Wharton at Abbey Road almost entirely flat. There was no compression and if I remember right, a half dB shelf of EQ for some presence on top of the original mix I took there and that was it. That song was playlisted on 6music for over a month and anytime it came on and I happened to be listening I didn't think, "Hell, that sounds weak." The BBC smash stuff through limiters so hard that it ends up being the open and dynamic sounding track that retains an excitement. I was grateful to see that first hand to reinforce my opinions that loudness is a race to the bottom.

In a way I think that, ironically, to have a quiet or dynamic record now is to engage with the listener's attention far more than any homogenised hyper-compressed pop music, if only because it stands out and they have to reach for their own volume control. And wasn't that the aim in the first place?

j_hindsight
Nov 8, 2013 12:04pm

if anyone struggles with what the heck the loudness wars are this short article on bob weston's site is really good especially showing the picture of the loveless waveform vs in utero

http://www.chicagomasteringservice.com/loudness.html

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Parson
Nov 8, 2013 4:24pm

Make a list of the best sounding albums of the last few years?

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andy
Nov 8, 2013 5:37pm

Smashing Pumpkins - Zeitgeist, ruined. Shame...

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ee
Nov 8, 2013 5:38pm

um... just turn it down.
sheesh.

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Glyph
Nov 8, 2013 6:20pm

I am a little confused. "Sound Check" has been an option in iTunes as long as I have been using the app (and I have always used it). iTunes is and has been (I thought) a relatively popular way for people to listen to music. IOW, this is nothing new.

Why is the fact that Apple is now applying the option as the default to iTunes Radio (one listening option amongst many, including Pandora, Spotify, Rdio, etc.) the tipping point in ending the loudness wars? Do we expect that iTunes Radio will become such a dominant player that "Sound Check" will become the effective standard and records will be mastered with it in mind?

Because I could be wrong, but I just don't know if iTunes Radio will achieve that kind of saturation/power.

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Glyph
Nov 8, 2013 6:21pm

In reply to Glyph:

have always used it = have always used Sound Check, that is. Not claiming I was the original iTunes user or anything.

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Jeff
Nov 8, 2013 9:03pm

The only thing worse than an audiophile is somebody that doesn't understand it and thinks it's elitist. "Just turn it down" isn't an option, unfortunately. The mere act of raising the volume to the ceiling means that the music MUST be squashed just to avoid distortion... and guess what? You get it on most recordings anyway, due to clipped peaks.

The Loudness Wars won't be over until people in the mainstream (record companies and listeners) start respecting music again. I don't have an ETA on this.

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Hypnoboogie
Nov 8, 2013 9:44pm

In reply to Glyph:

"Why is the fact that Apple is now applying the option as the default to iTunes Radio (one listening option amongst many, including Pandora, Spotify, Rdio, etc.) the tipping point in ending the loudness wars?"

Glyph has this exactly here.

This piece is overoptimistic even by the usual standards of advertising. iTunes Sound Check is bloody awful. It doesn't even normalise for albums, for one thing, only by track. Play a sequence of linked songs and they're ruined by obtrusive jumps in volume. iTunes in general is bloody awful. AAC is an unfriendly format. Apple doesn't care about the quality of its files: I've had the most drawn-out battles trying to get them to fix stupid glitches and the biggest result I've got is, "I've listened, the glitch is most definitely there, but they won't do anything about it". Bloody pirates genuinely put more effort into creating their music files. 24-bit 96 kHz and suchlike is the way to go. I own an iMac and all that but God not AAC or Apple Lossless (or Apple anything going off past and present performance), and certainly no kind of streaming.

As for CDs, just going for the early versions hardly gets you the best sound. CD mastering didn't originally have such a problem with compression, but it had many others at least as bad.

Hookworms has the right idea. Bands like that, the best kind of bands, often do. That won't change.

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Hypnoboogie
Nov 8, 2013 10:06pm

And it's so tiresome yet again to hear somebody on behalf of Apple say that AAC is superior to MP3. It's at least highly debatable, but they've obviously told every employee on pain of death that they have to and that's that.

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John Blonde
Nov 9, 2013 9:27pm

I hope things get better.

In response to the person saying to just turn it down - no matter how quiet you make it with your volume control it will still be unenjoyable because the sound itself is simply a brick with no change in waves that your ears naturally respond to (and desire). Saying to just turn it down is like saying to just throw a brick from a lower floor, it won't hurt as much.

I think what this interview is hoping is that by Apple not giving any playback benefit to horribly compressed songs that engineers may one day go back to a default setting of not compressing a recording from the minute a band steps into a studio.

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Niall
Nov 10, 2013 10:32am

Hopefully this extends to dance music as well. As someone about to release the first run of releases on my own label I'm finding it hard to convince my label partner that we don't need to acquire masters that are super loud just to compete. DJ's playing in clubs have a gain pot on every channel and in my experience they are, for the most part, pretty capable (some might say overly capable) of employing its use to boost tracks to similar levels. Not sure he's convinced yet.

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Phil M
Nov 10, 2013 3:30pm

The idea that AAC can sound better than CD is fallacy - whether from 24 bit or 16 bit the sampling process remains the same; there's no extra bandwidth in the final recording so there can't be a difference based on source, because by design the output file can't describe that difference.

If, for example, the 16/44 file was clipped, and the 24/96 wasn't, then you would hear that difference - but this is really a completely different problem that is being solved accidentally.

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bunch
Nov 10, 2013 9:16pm

The only way we can tell that the loudness wars is over will be when new albums get a DR score of 12. I still think this is a long way off as it will mean reversing mastering trends that started over twenty years ago.

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Nick Southall
Nov 11, 2013 9:01am

In reply to bunch:

What do you mean by "a DR score of 12"? Because if you're referring to this - http://www.dr.loudness-war.info/ - then that's a really, really flawed method of judging sound quality. Bob outlines in the interview exactly why dynamic range on its own isn't a method for judging sound, because I asked him specifically about the DR Database and other similar resources - see the paras on 'peak to loudness ratio' towards the end.

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Nick Southall
Nov 11, 2013 9:03am

Bob Katz read the comments on this piece with interest, and forwarded the following response to me, so that I could post it here:

"Regarding album normalization. The poster is wrong, out of date. iTunes on the computer and on the i-device has quietly begun doing album normalization for several versions now. It's not an advertised feature but I promise you, it is there. On the computer, it's enabled in every mode. On the idevice it's only in album playback mode. Playlist mode on the idevice is singles-normalized. As it probably should be for people on the go. But iTunes Radio will probably not implement album normalization because it's generally not a useful approach in a singles-oriented medium. In fact, when radio brings up the ballads in a singles-oriented station, I think it's a good thing, or the ballad would be lost to the average casual listener. We all recognize that AAC is a lower-fidelity medium, however, the influence of Apple's products on listeners will be so great that I think this lower-fidelity medium will become the saviour for us seekers of sound quality.

"Secondly, the statements about superiority of AAC over MP3 at the same bit rate are only justifiable subjectively as there is no definitive objective measurement tool for that. So the poster with a contrary feeling is entitled to his or her opinion. However, I can state definitively that the goal of the designers of the AAC system was to produce an improved, more efficient coding system than MP3 and to my ears they succeeded. I also can supply measurements using a special test signal which show that 256 kbps vbr AAC performs as well as 320 kbps mp3. I'd like to test 320 kbps AAC someday and see if it's indistinguishable from CD, I would not be surprised. And with Internet bandwidth increasing exponentially it won't be long before Apple starts upping their bitrate and eventually broadcasting linear PCM. It's inevitable.

"Third, this is not a flack piece for iTunes Radio, but a very real observation of the statistics: how the 200 pound gorilla, Apple Computer, has instantly captured a large audience in the states. That audience, listening on their i-devices and their computers, will instantly perceive that iTunes Radio sounds more consistent than regular iTunes and want to have that same performance in their regular iTunes. Thus it's inevitable that Apple will put SoundCheck on as a default in regular iTunes as well. Each of these steps amounts to hammering another nail in the coffin of the Loudness War. I finally see light at the end of the tunnel. Some of your readers doubt that. After 33 frustrating years of fighting against the loudness race I am finally the optimistic one!"

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Nick Southall
Nov 11, 2013 10:16am

Just go back and listen to dynamic range of Simian Mobile Disco's masterful 'Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release' to see what I mean. Those guys know how to produce.

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(the real) Nick Southall
Nov 11, 2013 2:09pm

In reply to Nick Southall:

Not sure who this lolsome imposter is, but lol.

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Lo
Nov 11, 2013 2:34pm

In reply to (the real) Nick Southall:

I'd say more loathsome. You feelin' the new Phoenix then Nick? Some nice scratchy timbres for ya

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Nick Southall
Nov 11, 2013 2:36pm

In reply to Lo:

Predictably, the new Phoenix is one of the worst records I have ever heard, sonically. Up there with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Just utterly, utterly horrible.

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Lo
Nov 11, 2013 2:43pm

Sounds like you need a bit of Bourgeois to brighten your day. Apparently they give you almost anything, maybe not sonic perfection though.
Have a word with my pal Dom Eulberg about that.
Also, wasn't My Dark Twisted Fantasy made like that on purpose? Like that Tool example like

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Tim Goodyer
Nov 11, 2013 3:32pm

I think what is missing here is simple account of how dynamic range compression (at the mastering stage) differs from compression for broadcast. Without this essential understanding, the discussion is open to some very misguided interpretation.
Tim Goodyer/Fast-and-Wide.com

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Hypnoboogie
Nov 11, 2013 11:18pm

Good to hear Apple improved Sound Check. They should advertise the fact more. It's why people went for iVolume, MP3Gain and whatnot. I'm still doing my best to give up on iTunes for all the reasons I outlined, though. Programs like Audirvana play FLAC and all that, plus they have things like hog mode. I'm not saying it's convinced me particularly, but great of Nick Southall and Bob Katz to follow-up. Thanks.

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Phil M
Nov 11, 2013 11:44pm

In reply to Nick Southall:

"I'd like to test 320 kbps AAC someday and see if it's indistinguishable from CD, I would not be surprised"

Well, this (and similar) tests have been done till everyone involved is blue in the face and listening to the same 2 second loop of harpsichord trying to tell it from the CD original.

Generally speaking all modern codecs achieve 'transparency' at about 192kbs. That is to say, in an ABX situation listeners cannot reliably tell 192kbs from a CD original no matter how hard they try.

If self-confessed audiophiles with their golden ears can't hear the difference, in perfect conditions with their equipment worth $1000s, then who is the intended market for anything 'better'?

Though calling lossy compression "lower-fidelity" is technically true, in all practicality iTunes' 256kbs is completely indistinguishable from the original, no matter the listening situation.

I can guarantee anyone leaping on this statement with a claim "that's nonsense" will also carry with them some pre-packaged excuses why they can't ABX 256kbs (or even, god forbid, 192 or 160) from source. They always do.

If anyone actually thinks that 16-bit sampled from 24 bit can sound better than 16 bit encoded from 16 bit, then I urge them to offer a technical explanation of what a 'bit' is in this context, as in doing so they will describe a technical scenario wherein like is like.

I'm sure some of them DO sound better, but this is because they're essentially using a source that is free of clipping. This shouldn't be conflated with notions of 24bit vs 16bit because it's a completely different dynamic being solved accidentally. A 16bit file that isn't clipped to feck will sound identical to one that is 24bit downsampled.
This assumes the de-sampling is good, too. It's likely to be worse, not better.

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Tim Goodyer
Nov 12, 2013 10:48am

This might be of interest...
Sony Computer Entertainment Europe Creative Services Director Garry Taylor gave a presentation called Fighting the Loudness War at the Develop conference last year, including comparative measurements of Average Loudness vs Dynamic Range for a sample of film, TV and games.
http://tinyurl.com/8zjz5a7

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Hypnoboogie
Nov 12, 2013 7:32pm

Thanks so much for the link. Great to hear Sony taking a stand in the loudness war too. I wonder if Bob Katz knows about this. He's everywhere talking about Apple. Spotify is doing the same thing as iTunes Radio too, apparently. Strange he didn't mention that too. It's almost as if it'll be efforts from many directions that'll resolve the loudness war rather than just from Apple.

I don't remember the album that got me to go from lossy back to lossless, which will put quite a hole in this anecdote. (Yep, this'll be scientific.) I think it might've been West by Wooden Shjips. Anyway, I'd bought an album on iTunes mainly for the extra tracks, I remember that. I had the CD version as well. The lossy files seemed quite a bit worse. Definitely different. "Seemed." Could well have been nonsense. So I converted the CD to 320 as a test, and lo, although I thought I could tell the difference between the iTunes version and the CD, I couldn't tell the difference between the CD and 320. Although Apple claimed their 128 was the equivalent of 192 (hmm), which is in the range where a file becomes indistinguishable from lossless, this wasn't so long ago that it'd be a 128 file. Might be that it was a "mastered for iTunes" album and I just didn't get along with that aspect of it. I dunno. I think it's part of the reason many people prefer lossless to lossy, though. There's less chance they're dealing with a transcode (I'm not suggesting the Apple files were transcodes) or anything other than a copy with integrity. And yeah, I'd quite like more 24-bit 96 kHz files, but that's with some serious reservations. Apparently the 24-bit end of things is of more value (given the appropriate source) than the 96 kHz. Apparently you don't have to go much beyond 44.1 before sound quality levels off or even worsens depending on equipment. I fancy a doughnut.

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Spacious
Nov 12, 2013 11:01pm

Actually, a "make everything have a predictable volume even if it sounds a bit shit" switch IS the end of the Loudness Wars.

As Mr. Katz pointed out, super loud audio causes that kind of limiting software to clench up, revealing the flaccid bass and percussion sounds one associates with contemporary big money pop acts. Overmastered songs will sound flat and damaged, ruining the careers of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Muse forever.

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littlebitchard
Nov 13, 2013 8:54am

nick what did you make of the compression/range on kanye's yeezus?

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Nick Southall
Nov 13, 2013 10:08am

In reply to littlebitchard:

I've not listened to it massively as I find him and his music pretty obnoxious and unpleasant these days, but from the minimal exposure I've had to it, it's obviously as loud as all hell, but, because the arrangements are much more minimal and less ornate-rock-pomp than MBDTF, I thought it worked much better than that record. Minimalism seems, to my ears, to work better when pumped up than maximalism, because each element can thrive much more in the mix. Which is why 3-piece guitar bands are almost always way more exciting and visceral on record than 5+ piece guitar bands, and why I prefer Spoon, say, to The National, as a rule.

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Hypnoboogie
Nov 14, 2013 5:16am

I just keep popping up.
It seems I was wrong when I suggested that 24-bit has intrinsic advantages for playback. If a 24-bit file sounds better, it's only in the way that an SACD or whatnot does. SACD technology doesn't offer improvements that matter to the human ear. When an SACD sounds better than a CD version, it's down to extra mastering effort (or yeah the placebo effect for some people). I'm not telling Neil Young. You do it.

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Jason
Nov 22, 2013 8:14pm

Good writeup and good news, indeed. Thank you.

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matt
Nov 25, 2013 9:49am

thank god for that. i have been thinking though that a lot of the problems with lack of dynamics is becuase of how much music is consumed on head phones. saw this http://whiteyonthemoon.net/2013/11/24/how-technology-and-space-affect-song-writing/ which adresses quite similar points

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Jon Tufnell
Nov 25, 2013 5:29pm

Next we will see all the streaming services doing the same thing, but maybe competing for loudness against eachother. Spotify reducing things by 4DB because iTunes do 7DB leading eventually to streaming services introducing radio style loudness maximisers and beginning a new loudness war!

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Ben
Dec 10, 2013 3:27pm

It all comes down to psychoacoustics, and fundamental flaws in the ways in which we hear. It will take a long time before we are able to account for our perception of loudness with technology, especially when we are still like the dog that will eat steak until it is sick because it knows it likes steak.

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Some dude
Oct 18, 2014 6:18pm

Dude really, you can't hear the difference between a 24 bit master and a 16 bit 'cd quality' master. 24 bit only makes sense in the recording studio for headroom purposes. 16 bit PCM audio has 96 dB of dynamic range above a floor of some noise function. The amount of accumulated noise of all recorded tracks accidently introduced is at least 30 dB louder than that, simply because microphones aren't that good and because even the perfect studio isn't quite so perfect. And if that problem was solved, you still don't need more than 96 dB of dynamics: The noise level in a very quiet listening room is about 30 dB. So if you would want to hear all the dynamics that can be represented in 16 bit format, you will have to turn up to volume so the quietest sounds are at about 30 dB. This means the loudest possible sounds will be 30+96=126 dB = just below the threshold of pain. Do you really need more dynamic range than that, to encode a song that is already being compressed as fuck? I didn't think so. And it gets better: in the dithering process, they usually employ a noise function (e.g. pink noise) that puts the noise in frequencies that the human hearing cannot sense very well. Some sources claim that this way, you can squeeze more than 120 dB of dynamic range in a 16 bit enconding. The whole 24 bit for consumers thing is just another excuse to sell you new crap.

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Another dude
Oct 18, 2014 6:29pm

In reply to Phil M:

With 'modern codec', I hope you don't mean mp3. When encoding at 192 Kbps, the LAME encoder cuts off everything above 18 KHz. The result is, to me (less than 30 years old), a very audible absense of the highest frequencies, and other kinds of distortion introduced by the encoder.

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