“The Loudness War”: Oh Please…

Posted by on Feb 3, 2008 in Rumors, Tips/Tutorials, Top Articles | 57 Comments

Loudness War

Everyone in the audio industry by now should have seen the video going around to raise “awareness” for the infamous Loudness War and deterioration of the audio quality during the mastering process nowadays…  No? Well, click and watch…

It would be so Google-friendly for us to just post the video, give them an amen, and join the masses of industry professionals that think audio quality is (once again) being threatened by ignorance. Yes, people are ignorant in this world, and yes, we see what they’re trying to say. Hey, we’re audiophiles too.

But no, Moozek.com is not getting in the “Loudness War” choo choo train of coolness. Why, you might ask? Because there’s always two sides to every story. And this one is getting too one-sided for our taste. If you see the video, you’ll understand. We’re giving you the other side of the story – the reason why music is not dying just because people want it loud without touching the Volume knob. The Loudness War is a problem, but not a catastrophe:

– First, the obvious: audio waves are not just digitally chopped off by raising up the gain knob during mastering process. They are soft-clipped with analog gear. Big difference.

– Second, the not-so-obvious: audio quality tendencies change. Any distortion, even from a beautiful Gibson plugged in to a Marshall stack, would make your parents or grandparents cover their ears. Dissonance in musical chords would have given W. A. Mozart a stomach ache. Some people still can’t listen to music without tape hiss in the background (true story). And teenagers who grew up in the 90’s might really enjoy the planned over-clipping and brickwall limiting in Limp Bizkit’s guitars and snare drum. You might find it offensive, just the way vinyl fans found digital offensive when it came out. But hey, it’s life! People get old 🙂

– Third: the part the other side never told you because it’s a huge hole in their logic. Guess what, albums are mastered this way today, not because those silly A&Rs, mixing engineers (what do they know, they only made the whole friggin’ mix sound amazing…) and mastering engineers are secretly conspiring to make music sound bad and get more money. No way. Records today are mastered loud because most bands request it that way. Most of the time, the artists want to hear their creations loud and compressed so they won’t feel like they’re falling back in time!

– Fourth: if you really hear that much of a difference in a record mastered after 2001, it’s because the mastering engineer who did it might suck. So even in that event, it’s not the loudness – it’s the engineer who’s (maybe) incompetent, or succumbed to other people’s requests (see Third point).

There is definitely truth in the Loudness War argument, we’re not denying that. We’re just exposing the potentially untrue side of this Loudness War campaign. Ooh… The industry zombies are coming to make your records louder. Spooky…

57 Comments

  1. Hal Keuntz
    February 3, 2008

    “Audiophiles”: Oh Please…

    Jonathan, I couldn’t disagree with you more. Criticism of the loudness war has nothing to do with audiophiles, luddites, old people, distortion, or bands wanting it or not. Seems like you’re kind of missing the point.

    Some would say, “the louder the better”. But modern records aren’t actually getting louder, because listeners simply turn down the volume as the mastering engineers keep turning it up each year.

    What happens instead, is the music simply becomes less dynamic, and the problem with that is it robs music of it’s emotional power. It’s really not better at all.

    The practice of using brickwall limiting and soft-clipping has been perpetuated based on the mistaken belief that it makes these records have more impact and drives sales. Neither of these beliefs comes even close to being true.

    Modern brickwall limited music is near impossible to enjoy the sound of (fall out boy… anyone). There’s no impact if the music sounds so bad it compels you to turn it down or off. The limited dynamics musically castrate these records. They’re void of emotion, drama, and power. All tension with no release. That’s not music… it’s noise. Sonic decisions based on economics are never well informed. They’re ignorant.

    Not only is the music industry waking up to this obvious conclusion, but so is the mainstream press. There have been major articles criticizing it in rolling stone, chicago tribune, and many other national and international newspapers and magazines in recent months. This isn’t a bandwagon… it’s a groundswell.

    I think you’re giving the music industry too much credit, if you see this as progress. Every person I know in the business (on all sides of the glass) are completely unwilling to defend the “loudness wars” sonically. The only defense anyone is willing to give is that “we have to do this because everybody else is doing it.” Which is the only reason bands ask for it. And clearly, unless you’re a lemming looking over the edge of a cliff, that’s not a very good reason.

    And the argument that some people make, that consumers are in any way influenced to purchase music based on it’s “loudness” is clearly false. Sales have never been driven by the sound of records. As always, they’re driven by the music (fall out boy… anyone). People are buying these records in spite of how bad they sound. So, why not at least make them sound good, if we’re going to pay for them.

    The ramifications are that today’s music sounds like crap (there’s wide spread agreement on this… even by 17 year olds) and sales are tanking. Clearly, the “loudness race” is not the source of the sales problem, but it sure as hell isn’t the solution.

    Nearly everyone in the business has come to the conclusion that by making records a little bit louder each year that they passed the point of making it sound better a few years back. But since the change was so slight each year, they actually didn’t realize it until they went too far.

    You may disagree with all of this and that’s totally cool. But you should understand the reasoning behind the widespread criticism. It’s based on the effect it is having on the music, not the effect it is having on the sound.

    Reply
  2. Jonathan Grand
    February 3, 2008

    Thank you so much for a great comment!

    It really doesn’t matter if the reasons to it are right or wrong. All evolution comes from a reason, whether it is “right” or “wrong”. Because that notion is relative. You missed the point a little.

    I fully understand what you’re saying. And I can agree at a certain level. What you’re missing is, most people nowadays might think less dynamics is bad and it’s just noise, but younger generations either don’t care or got so used to it that they now love it! Hi-Fidelity exists when it’s requested. If there is no commercial demand for it, a trend might start… in the opposite direction.

    Because that’s all it is. A trend. Eventually this war is understood and mastering will be more forgiving on the dynamics. I don’t believe this will go on indefinitely. I believe it’s a phase, just like so many phases we had in music and other arts.

    The post-Inquisition period in England brought dissonance that today is considered just awful sounding, because of discordance of ups and downs in the variable scale runs. It was a phase. They loved those horrible sounding harmonies at the time! 🙂 If you review your music & art history, you’ll find there is a pattern.

    The loudness wars is just another example of people saying “that’s not music, it’s noise. And whoever thinks this is right, is ignorant”. That has been happening for CENTURIES! And you just said it again… 🙂 Coincidence? You just sounded like my mom talking about rock guitar distortion.

    I’m not saying it’s a progress, I’m saying ideas change, for commercial, musical or convenience reasons.

    Sound quality does influence record sales, and if something’s wrong they’ll have to make adjustments to stop their own demise.

    I don’t disagree with you. I just think you missed the bigger picture. And that’s what this article was for 🙂 You’re not wrong. You just could be more right… And we’re artists. We’re always trying to learn more and improve. Right?

    Jonathan

    PS: I hope you don’t stop reading the blog! We want to keep making people happy, making them think and be fascinated with the audio world we all love.

    In my own defense, if a “re-mastered” edition of an old album comes out, I usually prefer the new version…

    Reply
  3. Hal Keuntz
    February 3, 2008

    Thank you so much for a great comment!

    Sure thing, and you’re welcome. I’m just trying to help you see the bigger picture as I see it, because in my view your analysis is incomplete.

    It really doesn’t matter if the reasons to it are right or wrong. All evolution comes from a reason, whether it is “right” or “wrong”. Because that notion is relative. You missed the point a little.

    I didn’t mention “right” or “wrong”. Aside from being relative, it’s irrelevant to this issue. This is not about absolutes.

    Music is a creative act. It’s art. There is obviously no wrong or right in art.

    Your argument about guitars and distortion is obscuring the issue, because you keep seeing this as an “evolution” or “progress”. Like Hendrix distorting the crap out of his guitar. That was progress. That was using a technology “wrong” to create something new that had never been heard. (Marshall was originally a bass amp, and Jimi used it because guitar amps back then couldn’t distort that heavily.)

    You’re drawing a parallel between guitar distortion and distortion of music.

    But this distortion is not being done for musical, sonic or artistic expression.

    The point you’re missing is, none of the mastering engineers are doing this because they think it sounds good. Ask any of them, they will emphatically tell you that brickwall limited records don’t sound good or musical, and the ONLY reason they do it is because the clients ask for it (as you said).

    But the clients don’t ask for it because they think it sounds good. They ask for it because everybody else is doing it. And herein lies the folly…

    EVERYBODY is doing it because EVERYBODY ELSE is doing it.

    Do you see the problem here?

    No one is doing it because they actually want to.

    If they were… THAT would be musical expression.

    But they’re not.

    This is commercial expression.

    What the industry has done is sonically paint themselves into a corner. But all the while they were doing it, they didn’t notice how far they had gone. Then one day everybody looked around and realized. Oh crap… we’ve gone way too far with this thing.

    You can’t find one person in the business who will tell you this is good for the music. Or that it sounds good. (At least I can’t.) NO ONE thinks it’s good for the music.

    The ONLY reason anyone will give you is that it can help you get noticed. Or at least that’s what they thought it would do…

    Have you listened to fall out boy? I can guarantee you that the band doesn’t even think their own record sounds good. It is crushed to within an inch of it’s life. But they mistakenly believed that it was necessary for them to make it that loud to compete with everybody else (who were doing it because THEY had to compete with everybody else (who were doing it because THEY…))

    If you try to listen to the fob record loudly, you can barely get through a song. It actually hurts. Let alone listen to three in a row. That doesn’t help sales. That record’s success is absolutely not based on it’s fidelity or lack of. You know as well as I do, it’s selling because kids love the band, music and lyrics. Same as it ever was.

    This is not progress or evolution.

    It’s an industry chasing it’s tail.

    I fully understand what you’re saying. And I can agree at a certain level. What you’re missing is, most people nowadays might think less dynamics is bad and it’s just noise, but younger generations either don’t care or got so used to it that they now love it!

    No they don’t. I talk to kids about this all the time. They think records today sound like crap. Why do you think they’re buying vinyl? Why do you think they’re buying albums from the 60s, 70s and 80s? Ask them. Two of the reasons they’ll tell you is that they like the music and it sounds better.

    Just type the title of that rolling stone article into google. You’ll find a ton of kids discussing it. Or go to the RS website and read the comments for the article. When the symptoms of brickwall limiting are pointed out to kids, they immediately realize why they think records sound so bad these days.

    Hi-Fidelity exists when it’s requested. If there is no commercial demand for it, a trend might start… in the opposite direction.

    Again, you keep coming back to hi-fi.

    You’re really missing the point. This is not about people digging classical music, or any other hairsplitting audiophile voodoo. This is a core musical issue. This music doesn’t FEEL good. It’s about the homogenization of music’s emotions into an unrelenting stream of…

    NOW! NOW! NOW! NOW! NOW! NOW!

    After awhile it just wears you down. Dynamics are a fundamental building block of the musical vocabulary for a reason. That is where A LOT of the emotions are.

    Eliminating them is emotionally crippling to the music. The dynamics were there in the original performances, but they are all flattened out by the end of the process. The emotions are turned into cartoon versions of themselves. Hollow and fake.

    And the kids are realizing this.

    You see this as some kind of audiophile backlash. You’re out of step with the times. The audiophiles were screaming about the loudness war 20 years ago.

    This has reached critical mass within the music industry. Why do you think it’s spilling out into the mainstream media?

    You do realize, that technically this trend doesn’t really have much room left to go? The avg rms of music today is -5 dB. There is not much dynamic room left after that. So, the industry has already realized they have to reverse the trend. Consumers are realizing right now the trend needs to be reversed. And indie artists (who always set the trends in music) are already abandoning the practice.

    Why do you think they’re releasing records on vinyl? Because vinyl inherently cannot be brickwall limited. The needle will jump right out of the groove. Literally. I’m not kidding. Vinyl is much more dynamic and the artists know their label can’t make them crush it. It’s simply physically impossible.

    And incase you think I’m some kind of vinyl luddite, let me assure you… I can’t stand vinyl. But I do love records that have emotion and power. Records that I can turn up and enjoy loudly. And the indie scene has a lot of them.

    The tide is turning as we type.

    Because that’s all it is. A trend. Eventually this war is understood and mastering will be more forgiving on the dynamics. I don’t believe this will go on indefinitely. I believe it’s a phase, just like so many phases we had in music and other arts.

    As I said above, we’re about 5 dB from going any further. So, you’re right. It would be impossible for it to continue.

    The post-Inquisition period in England brought dissonance that today is considered just awful sounding, because of discordance of ups and downs in the variable scale runs. It was a phase. They loved those horrible sounding harmonies at the time! If you review your music & art history, you’ll find there is a pattern.

    You keep making analogies that you think are parallel, but they simply aren’t.

    There is no one who is doing this for a creative reason. I defy you to find even one. I’ve tried. I can’t. No one will tell me they are doing this because they want to. EVERYONE tells me they are doing this, because they have to.

    The loudness wars is just another example of people saying “that’s not music, it’s noise. And whoever thinks this is right, is ignorant”. That has been happening for CENTURIES! And you just said it again… Coincidence? You just sounded like my mom talking about rock guitar distortion.

    Nope.

    That is not what I said. I said it was ignorant to make sonic decisions based on economics. Do you disagree with that? Engineers work to make records sound great. And there is broad spectrum of great. Rezner to Krall. I like them all. (fob too… they just don’t sound so great.) But does it make sense to make records sound a certain way ONLY for an economic reason?

    We’re talking about music. Not tires.

    Make musical decisions based on the music. Make sonic decisions based on the sound. But don’t make either based on the money. That will move you away from music and towards “product.”

    Again, this is not about fidelity.

    It’s about an industry that has gone too far with an effect. They now realize this and they are slowy backing out of the corner… trying not to get paint on their shoes.

    Or egg on their face.

    They know they’ve gone too far. They all get it. They just don’t know how to back out. But the first step to solving a problem is identifying it. Which they have. They’ll work it out.

    The indie scene has already.

    I’m not saying it’s a progress, I’m saying ideas change, for commercial, musical or convenience reasons.

    This is not about convenience or music. But I agree with you on one thing. What got us to this point was exclusively commercial reasons.

    Sound quality does influence record sales, and if something’s wrong they’ll have to make adjustments to stop their own demise.

    IF?

    So, you think these records sound good?

    Come on… you’re kidding. Right?

    And please give me one example of sound quality influencing sales.

    I’ll give you thousands of records widely agreed upon to sound utterly horrific… that sold millions.

    Records have always sold for the music first.

    EVERYthing else is secondary.

    I don’t disagree with you. I just think you missed the bigger picture. And that’s what this article was for You’re not wrong. You just could be more right… And we’re artists. We’re always trying to learn more and improve. Right?

    What bigger picture?

    You’re right I missed it. If you mean this trend exists because it’s consumer driven, you’re mistaken. Consumers for the most part had no idea this was happening until very recently. If you mean it’s artist driven, you’re kinda right.

    But the most important point is that it’s NOT artistically driven.

    In reality, it’s entirely industry driven. It has been for the entire 50 years it has been going on. It started back in the early sixties with motown, atlantic, and all the other labels of the era competing with each other to have the hottest record.

    But what always kept the practice in check was vinyl. The dynamics that vinyl was capable of reproducing were pretty damn musical. But digital can reproduce pink noise at 0 dBfs. There is nothing else after that. End of the dynamic line.

    As the industry continued to creep up the volume, they also continued to wither away the dynamics. And because CDs allowed unlimited volume (before zero) and brickwall limiters allowed zero dynamics, things kept “progressing” (I use the term loosely) — a half a dB here, a half a dB there — until we got where we are today.

    Zero nuance. Zero shading. Zero subtlety. Zero depth. Zero air. Zero space.

    Just flat fat brick songs. Musical wrecking balls. An aural assault. On. Off. Song over.

    Which might be cool… if it wasn’t all eleven songs on every album I buy. After awhile you just have turn it off. Anything for some oxygen please.

    I love music. I love the music on these records. I hate it that they make we want to NOT listen to them. But what’s to love in these emotionally barren music sledgehammers?

    Now it’s time to step back off the edge of this sonic cliff.

    Which we are essentially doing by having this conversation.

    And yes, we can always learn and improve. That’s why I’m posting this… to help you understand the fallacy of the practice.

    I hope it’s helping. I’m not trying to berate you. I’m tying to hip you to the circular logic that got us here. You don’t want to follow it. It won’t do you one bit of good. If crushing your record was the key to record sales, how do you explain all the crushed records that you’ve never heard and never will?

    Everybody crushes their record, but only 5% of them ever turn a profit. So, crushing a record has NOTHING to do with sales.

    It’s the music, music, music.

    PS: I hope you don’t stop reading the blog! We want to keep making people happy, making them think and be fascinated with the audio world we all love.

    Sure, I’ll keep reading your blog.

    I’m just trying to get you to think too.

    In my own defense, if a “re-mastered” edition of an old album comes out, I usually prefer the new version…

    Just fyi, the remastered albums can’t come close to being as loud as modern releases. If they crushed them to modern levels they would simply not musically resemble the original record. The loudest they usually get is about 6 dB quieter than records today. And therefore also 6 dB more dynamic.

    They might be louder than they were before. They might be brighter, or have more bass. But they just can’t make them as loud as my chemical romance, because it would really sound horrible. The level they are making them is a fairly reasonable and musical level.

    So, that explains why you might like the sound of them. For the most part, I do too.

    Reply
  4. Jonathan Grand
    February 3, 2008

    “I didn’t mention “right” or “wrong”. Aside from being relative, it’s irrelevant to this issue. This is not about absolutes.”

    You said “What happens instead, is the music simply becomes less dynamic, […] It’s really not better at all.”.
    “Not better at all” is a right vs wrong judgment that you’re applying to it like an irrefutable principle.

    “There is no one who is doing this for a creative reason. I defy you to find even one. I’ve tried. I can’t. No one will tell me they are doing this because they want to. EVERYONE tells me they are doing this, because they have to.”

    “You can’t find one person in the business who will tell you this is good for the music. Or that it sounds good. (At least I can’t.) NO ONE thinks it’s good for the music.”

    I personally have done this in mastering with that purpose in aggressive “nu” metal. I know a quite successful mixing engineer who does/requests this constantly. And a couple more people in the US. It’s possible to overdo it, like everything in life, obviously.

    There IS a parallel with guitar distortion and variable scale runs in the 16th century. More than one mixing textbook will tell you how extreme limiting will give the illusion of a sudden, aggressive wall of sound in nu / heavy metal, without requiring the listener to constantly change volumes. That is one use of it for artistic expression (and necessity) in a world where people want to turn on their CD player and not have to touch the volume knob, just like when they have the Radio on.

    So there you go, some people ARE doing it to a certain degree, to apply an effect that is considered inside the artistic expression. In a world where, you can’t deny, art has blended with commercial purpose. If an artist doesn’t sell, his attempt to express and communicate is deemed obsolete to the masses…

    Even if most people ARE doing it because everyone else is doing it – like we agreed, there is no right or wrong. The reason might be “wrong” to your eyes, and the result might be “wrong”, but it still happens. And it still has an effect on how music is perceived, and people take it in.

    I promise you at least %80 of kids who buy vinyls from the 60s and 70s also do it for peer pressure, because everyone else thinks it’s cool to be old school. Because sadly, most of those kids don’t understand why some old school IS better and in what ways.

    Have you done a statistical study? You’d be disappointed! They don’t listen to Jimi Hendrix or Pink Floyd or Beatles because the recordings sound better to them, I can assure you that! Yes, because of a balance between mixing, mastering, the arrival of digital and use of analog gear, records in the 90s (not 80s and back) tend to sound better, recording-wise, than today’s releases. If the original Dark Side of the Moon sounds better to our ears than today’s albums, it’s for musical reasons – certainly not recording/technical! 🙂 2007’s Blackbird from Alter Bridge (hard rock) sounds a lot better to my ears (recording wise – don’t get me wrong!) than any rock album in the 60s to 80s.


    “This is a core musical issue. This music doesn’t FEEL good. It’s about the homogenization of music’s emotions into an unrelenting stream of…
    NOW! NOW! NOW! NOW! NOW! NOW!
    After awhile it just wears you down.”

    Again, you sound exactly like the critics who explained why bands like The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix were a fad of “bad guitar music” that would not stay for long.

    And like our grandparents when they explain why they hate that rock music from the devil.

    It’s amazing how you don’t see a clear pattern of excessive complaining 🙂

    “Why do you think they’re releasing records on vinyl? Because vinyl inherently cannot be brickwall limited. The needle will jump right out of the groove. Literally. I’m not kidding. Vinyl is much more dynamic and the artists know their label can’t make them crush it. It’s simply physically impossible.”

    Technically, loud frequencies below 100 Hz in the recording make the needle jump out of the groove. Not brickwall limiting.

    “I’m just trying to get you to think too.”

    Oh I love thinking about this stuff, it’s better than sex to me. I’m addicted to it. That’s partly why I created Moozek. I had to write 🙂

    Reply
  5. Hal Keuntz
    February 4, 2008

    You don’t get it.

    You are the only person I have ever heard argue that this sounds good. Seriously. And it seems like I can’t get you to even say that. I’m convinced you’re debating these points, because you enjoy being contrary. Not out of a deep seated belief that sonically this is a good thing.

    Again, both you and that mixer are doing this based on circular logic. You’re caught in a feedback loop. It makes your records sound better compared to other records at the same level. That’s all.

    But take your mixes before and after they’re brickwall limited, and compare them to each other at matched volumes. In other words, turn the brickwall limited mixes down the same amount it was limited. Generally about 6 dB. And compare those to each other. That is the only fair comparison.

    The most recent 6 dB of dynamics that was eliminated over the last ten years or so has nothing to do with any of the things you said.

    No one has to change the volume knob on their stereos with an album at an avg rms of -11 or -12 dB.

    We’re not talking dynamics between sections of a song. What’s been eliminated in recent years is the space between the notes. The microdynamics. This is the air, space, depth and dimension of the sound.

    Please name one mastering engineer that says an avg rms of -5 or -6 dB sounds good and improves the music.

    And please answer this question… does the fob infinity album sound good to you?

    Reply
  6. millifoo
    February 8, 2008

    Hal, Jonthan doesn’t appear to have an open mind here. I wanted you to know that your post weren’t for naught, they really made *me* think. Thank you.

    Jonathan – you need to step back and read and digest what he’s said. He’s presented his case clearly, your responses are nit-picky and not convincing.

    Reply
  7. Corey
    February 12, 2008

    I think the new Fallout Boy album sounds good.

    I also think mix engineers have become pretty savvy at creating punch and clarity in today’s heavy limited music.

    And its still very possible to mix dynamics into the songs, you just have to adjust your ways a bit. Successful mix engineers these days mix knowing that the song is going to be crushed to high hell, so obviously its important to mix with some sort of limiting, as to get a feel for what mastering will do.

    Now, I agree a bit of clarity, warmth and punch is lost – but sonically the records coming out these days take full advantage of the sound spectrum, and they do so very well – MUCH better than records of the past.

    By the way, I’m 20, and I’m and engineer by trade and I a musician by profession, so I face both sides of the story. Oh, and Hal, I have not heard one kid ever complain of the sound quality on new records; I’ve ONLY heard complaints about the quietness of old records. I’m not sure which kids your talking to, but I socialize with hundreds of kids on an almost daily basis when on tour, and a good amount in the studio, and this is a rock-solid opinion from everyone I’ve spoken to. I think you should give Jonathan a bit more credit here.

    I think we can all agree both sides have their ups and downs, but while I think we may back off the limiting a bit, music is never going back to the days of -11 or -12 dB.

    Corey

    Reply
  8. Hal Keuntz
    February 12, 2008

    Again… name ONE mastering engineer that says an avg rms of -5 or -6 dB sounds good.

    Reply
  9. Corey
    February 12, 2008

    Why do I need to name a mastering engineer to qualify my opinion that I THINK IT SOUNDS GOOD? Besides, any mastering engineer I list, you wouldn’t know anyways so what good would it do?

    You changed your opinion anyways, before you were saying all the kids didn’t like it, and now you are into the 0.001% of the population known as mastering engineers. If the populace likes it (and they are the ones buying/stealing it), then give it to them!

    Corey

    Reply
  10. Hal Keuntz
    February 12, 2008

    I wouldn’t know them? Why would you assume that?

    I might know them personally.

    My point is that you can’t find one. Every ME I know hates doing this. They only do it at the request of their clients. And they say, their clients aren’t doing it because they think it sounds good or it is good for the music, they’re only requesting it because they want it to be as loud as everyone else.

    You don’t see the fallacy here?

    The dog chasing it’s tail effect?

    MEs are the ones doing this. And they’re doing under protest. That’s why it makes perfect sense to ask the ones doing it they’re opinion. They are considered to have the best ears in the business. They should know.

    ———————–

    Let me put it to you this way.

    When using an eq, compressor, or processing of any kind, there is always a point where an engineer, producer or artist realizes it’s too much, and they back it off to find the setting that works for the music.

    Considering that records get less dynamic every year, and records currently have a dynamic window of about 10 dB, at what point do you believe the industry should stop decreasing the dynamic range?

    For the last 20 years we’ve lost about 1 dB of dynamic range each year. At some point there is nowhere left to go and it will clearly be destructive to the music.

    So, where do you think that point is?

    Reply
  11. Corey
    February 12, 2008

    I’m not totally disagreeing with you. Read my posts, I agree that there are negatives. And as I’ve said, I think we’ve pretty much reached the edge, I don’t think we’ll push much hotter than what the current standard is (-5/-6 dB).

    But you were saying that kids and musicians didn’t like the sound. I’m telling you that’s wrong. Sure ME’s may not like it, and I’m sure quite a few bands would want it backed off a bit, but in general, loud is good, compression is the current sound, and it works.

    I don’t see why you’re arguing with me, I’m not really opposing anything you’ve said other than the whole “kids/musicians think limiting sounds bad.”

    So let me put it you this way:

    Yes, limiting has its downfalls, and we’ve definitely reached a point where we can’t go much further. Currently trends dictate that limiting will start backing off a bit, especially since Indie is dominating the market right now.

    So what is there left to argue?

    I agree with you on 70% of your points. I just happen to be of the opinion that I like the sound of the new Fallout Boy album, and I know A LOT of kids and bands that also dig the sound of a hard compressed record.

    Reply
  12. Dan
    February 13, 2008

    Jonathan,

    This is without a doubt one of the best things i have read with regards to this subject.

    I understand the points you are trying to make.

    Count this blog added to my list of places to visit. It has a lot to offer.

    Reply
  13. Jonathan Grand
    February 15, 2008

    🙂

    Reply
  14. Hal Keuntz
    February 15, 2008

    Great conversation. Really.

    70% is an excellent start… so, let’s just argue the remaining 30. 🙂

    About -11 or -12…

    You say, “music is never going back to the days of -11 or -12 dB” as if we’re talking about the level of a michael buble, josh groban, or james taylor album. But that’s not what I’m talking about. Those records are very mellow and quiet with an avg rms more like -17 to -22 dB.

    An avg rms of -11 or -12 dB is a pretty damn loud and heavily compressed record.

    For example, these albums are about that loud:

    metallica – black album
    def leppard – hysteria
    gnr – appetite for destruction
    gnr – use your illusion
    nirvana – nevermind
    aerosmith – pump
    stp – core
    u2 – achtung baby
    soundgarden – superunknown
    nin – broken
    pearl jam – ten
    rage against the machine – ratm
    megadeth – countdown to extinction
    beastie boys – licensed to ill
    smashing pumpkins – siamese dream
    black crowes – money maker
    tool – ænima

    These are very powerful, aggressive, and screaming loud records. They’re extremely hard compressed, hitting you square in the chest with massive impact. They have depth, space and size. Most importantly, these records sound amazing and are anything but fatiguing to listen to.

    There is nothing the least bit wimpy about an avg rms of -11 or -12 dB.

    The impact and power of these records comes from the dynamic space around the drums. In contrast, on more recent records, as the spaces between the drum hits get louder, the less impact the drums are actually able to have. Because, as the avg rms creeps up, the drums have nowhere to go but get pushed down into the guitars and bass. This of course means the record is louder, but in response listeners turn these records down.

    The result is the impact of the record is actually lessened. Not increased.

    About compression vs limiting…

    I know you’re an engineer and I don’t mean to insult you, but I’d like to point out that compression (which you keep mentioning) and brickwall limiting (which I’m talking about) are not at all the same thing. They may both be dynamic range processing, but they don’t sound the same, and don’t have the same affect on the music.

    While I’m criticizing the overuse of brickwall limiting on modern records, your response is to defend the creative use of compression. But you and I are on the same page about compression.

    Compression has been used creatively in record making for over 50 years. Brickwall limiting is a new technology that came along in the mid 90’s. If that seems like a coincidence, let me assure you, it is not. That is exactly when this trend of decreasing dynamics turned from using musical compression to employing less-musical brickwall limiitng.

    Take any of the pre-brickwall limiting era records I listed above, and listen to them side by side next to fob infinity or any other modern rock record, without moving the volume knob the modern record will sound much bigger and more powerful.

    Then make the same comparison with the volume adjusted to compensate for the louder record, just like music fans do to louder records. They turn them down to a comfortable listening level. Basically, turn the modern record down about 6 dB. Now, listen to them side by side at your normal listening level, and tell me which sounds bigger and more powerful.

    I’d be curious to hear your opinion on this. Really.

    About the kids…

    I’m not sure what kids you’ve been talking to and what questions you’ve been asking them, but just to share some insight on who I’ve been talking to, these kids are not engineers or musicians, they’re just music fans.

    They tell me they had noticed that music kept getting louder and louder each year, and in the last few years they’ve also noticed they can’t listen to their newer albums very many times without wanting to skip ahead to the next song, or just turn them off altogether. Even though they really like these artists, they tell me they just don’t enjoy listening to their records. And they didn’t understand why.

    But when they learned about the loudness war from various articles and that youtube movie. They tell me it all makes sense to them, because they’ve never felt this way about older music.

    If you don’t believe me just read the comments here on the rs website that regular music fans have been making in response to that rolling stone article I mentioned above. It’s incredibly eye opening. Not everybody agrees, but it is very suprising how many regular music fans feel this way. Many more than I would have expected.

    It’s interesting to see music fans coming to terms with something they’d been feeling for awhile, but didn’t understand. And now they do. Some of them are literally coming to this realization as they’re typing their comments.

    About complaints of quietness…

    Again, I don’t mean to insult you, but you do realize that “complaints about the quietness of old records” most probably aren’t sonic criticisms, they’re instead complaints of convenience.

    These kids are complaining that they have to turn the volume up on older records compared to their newer records, and they find this annoying. Which I totally undersatnd. But this is not the same thing as saying that older records sound bad.

    What would happen if you ask these kids to turn the volume up on the older records? What do they think of the sound then? None of the kids I’ve spoken with believe records from the early 90’s sound bad. They’re simply quieter.

    But as I’m trying to point out, that quietness is what gives engineers like yourself the headroom to give impact and power to your work. Really.

    Reply
  15. Corey
    February 15, 2008

    Alright, lets move the agreement meter to 90%.

    About compression verses limiting – I guess I’m just lumping them in the same category since, at least in my experience, a multiband is used in conjuction with the limiter – and really does most of the “limiting” with the limiter merely boosting and clipping off any stray peaks left over. So for me, these levels are reached mostly through compression, and only slightly through limiting. Again, though, that is just my experience, and I’m no ME.

    While I do agree that all those albums you mentioned are great, I still don’t think we’ll ever return to songs averaging -11 or -12 dB. That’s just my opinion, but I stand by it. Now, if it does swing that far, then great, it makes all of our jobs that much easier, because, as you’ve mentioned, giving power to drums in the -5 dB region is not an easy task.

    The kids…well, I mean these are kids that come out to our shows, and to music shows in general. Most of them aren’t versed in recording theory, music theory, or anything of that sort. I don’t really what more to say here, this again is just my experience, and it differs from yours. While the article you link is definitely a good sign, its such a small portion of listeners that its hard to even credit. I’m definitely glad to see kids coming to terms with things though.

    Agreed on your ‘complaints of quietness’ – but we live in a lazy age (a disgustingly lazy age at that). But besides that, there is a certain adrenaline boost when you hear a distorted signal of audio, we witness this all the time in live concert settings where BE’s crank the kick drum into audible distortion in the low end. The subs hit harder, and the kids get more into it. The trained ear can hear the driver distorting, but at the level the music is at, the kids simply don’t hear it. They just feel the bass, and like it. Same thing in car stereo’s – modern hip hop distorts the low end terribly, but kids turn it up, loud. It gives them that rush that only low end can.

    I guess my point with that is while turning up the volume can make the song louder, it still doesn’t infuse it with that, well, over compressed (or limited) sound that today’s music thrives on. I can’t what a hip hop song would sound like if it wasn’t constantly clipping – just doesn’t seem like it would sound right…

    I’m not saying that -5 sounds better than -11 or -15 or whatever. I am simply stating that I don’t think it sounds bad. It may lack punch in certain areas, but it creates a different punch in a different area.

    Reply
  16. Jonathan Grand
    February 15, 2008

    Oh come on, Hal. How far do you want to take this? You keep trying to justify your way of thinking and your brief experience with people who told you otherwise.

    We’re not saying brickwall limiting is the best thing in the world, we’re just saying everything is relative, and getting mad at it is as dumb as your grandmother being mad at electric guitars and the “decadence of music since her time”.

    Just don’t act like a bigot. That’s the short answer to everything you said. I don’t feel like breaking down the new little arguments you could come up with. It’s obvious that you’re not going far with them.

    And listen to what Corey was trying to tell you. What else can I say?

    Reply
  17. Hal Keuntz
    February 15, 2008

    How far do I want to take this? It’s a conversation. You don’t want people to have a conversation on your blog. That’s cool. I understand.

    Reply
  18. Hal Keuntz
    February 15, 2008

    Wow…

    Reply
  19. Corey
    February 15, 2008

    I have no hard feelings here either way.

    I just think we all have strong opinions on the subject matter, and are pretty much set in our ways. Hal, I respect that you detest brickwall limiting – and definitely agree that it can be damaging to music. In return I just ask that you respect my feelings towards the subject (which I think you do).

    With subjects like this, there is no good answer, because its so hard to spot progress over pollution. In 10 or 20 years, we’ll see where the world takes us.

    Reply
  20. Newcomer
    March 5, 2008

    Jesus !!, I’m amazed to read the last comments.

    I agree 100 % with Hal , and Jonathan what the hell are you thinking ?, You don’t want people discussing things here, then you should’ve close this blog, you can’t support any of your badly exposed toughts, your point of view is really limited, and I am not your grandmother, I swear.

    Reply
  21. John Doe
    March 21, 2008

    Brotha Grand, if you keep having multiple personalities you’ll end in the birds cage.

    just my 2 cents.

    Mr. Doe

    Reply
  22. MR AUDITORY ILLUSION
    May 2, 2008

    it’s funny to know that people seem to love the illusion that louder is better, but it’s just an illusion people! If it’s not loud enough, there is something called like a volume-knob :p

    Reply
  23. Davor
    May 7, 2008

    I don’t want to offend anyone but this Corey-Jonathan Grand guy must be plain hearingly challenged – or have an unmusically numb nervous system, if he is able to perceive these squashed, smashed, dynamics deprived modern sonic crap as superior to the beautiful sounding dynamic, exciting, colorful recordings from the late the 70s and the 80s, mastered with full dynamics.
    I agree with Hal on all but the one point, and that’s remasters. There are very few remasters today that sound superior to the original masters – they just sound louder. Original CD masters from the 80’s and early 90’s almost always sound closer to the record, with better dynamics etc. than the remasters. And some remasters sound plain horrible, and are as squashed as any “modern” crap they put out today. Of course, there are some great sounding remasters – like the Deep Purple – Burn (30th Anniversary Edition) or Deep Purple – Machine Head (1972 – 25th Anniversay). They indeed do sound perfect – great AD transfers, and dynamics completely intact. Interestingly enough, these reissues contain also new remixed versions of tracks, and these remixed versions sound like shit compared to the original 70’s mixes. All the punch and the excitement is gone, gone, gone. So much about the progress in mixing……
    Heck, even the Dire Straits original masters from the 80’s sound superior ( better dynamics, better bass, more organic-less processed sound etc) to the remasters from the 90’s – and Dire Straits are conmsidered “an audiophile band”. I’ve read on Steve Hoffman forum that Led Zeppelin CD masters from 80’s are highly sought after, cause they sound best – closest to the sound of the vinyl., etc, etc…

    P.S. Hal please keep spreading the word-
    -you’re expressing the crucial points very eloquently, and in a way that most people who don’t have technical background can understand, and in that respect your contribution is invaluable.

    Reply
  24. LN
    June 20, 2008

    Brilliant post here, but as much as i love my IPOD it was this that started the craze a little, i know it was louder before that but..why? well people complaining there ipod tracks are diffrent volumes AND then wanting a good sounding mp3?? how well make it louder and slammed and then yeah sorted..but no screwed even more.cant belive people pay for 128kbps files off itunes a 3.8mb file when the original is 45mb ?? does not compute.
    I’m just mastering my bands album and im like umm shall i do it at 8.0 db or shall i drop it in fear of noone liking it cuz it wont fit???
    I mean what do you seriously do.

    Reply
  25. Jonathan Grand
    August 4, 2008

    Thanks for all the comments! 🙂 I’m now working with Rip Rowan on ProRec.com, he will release a new, updated article soon on this subject (Over the Limit).
    Recommended specially if you disagree with me 😀

    Reply
  26. Tom Volpicelli
    August 6, 2008

    As a professional mastering engineer I’ve seen this issue debated on many forums. I believe that both points are well made. The loudness wars are not something new as many would lead you to believe, they have been happening probably since the first wax cylinder was cut.

    During the 60’s labels wanted their single in the jukebox to stand out (i.e. loud). Competition on the radio also is a reason why labels wanted their records to stand out along with compilation CDs. As mentioned is was the limitation of technology and the distribution meduim (vinyl)that prevented levels from reaching those of today.

    In addition albums have gotten louder not only due to digital limiting and other technology but because certain types of music have gotten more aggressive.

    Does it sound better? Well this is totally a subjective issue as can be seem from the debate above. In some cases where the music is extremely aggressive it may be part of the “sound”. I can’t really say that Death Metal sounds better at -20 RMS levels than -6. Music in these sort of genres aren’t know for their subtlety. OTOH for Jazz, Acoustic, and other types of music that demand dynamics these levels seems totally out of context.

    Anyway in summary the loudness wars aren’t a recent fad, it’s existed for far more than all of these rants have been going on. Maybe it has finally reached it’s limit that people are willing to tolerate and we’ll see an trend downward or maybe we’ve reached the final “standard level” for CD. In either case there are certainly other issues in modern audio production that deserve to be discussed. I think that we’ve beaten this dead horse enough.

    Reply
  27. Jonathan Grand
    August 6, 2008

    Thanks for the comment Tom, it was a great read! You summed it all up better than my own post. It’s always good to be reminded that we’re not insane or alone 🙂 I see the other side, but basically this post was a reminder that we have saturated the subject – and what becomes saturated tends to become dogmatic and preconceived.

    Reply
  28. Before The Music Dies | Moozek
    August 8, 2008

    […] the point I tried to make with The Most Successful Article on Moozek Yet, back in February, I believe this is something a lot more important to us as music professionals, […]

    Reply
  29. Hal Keuntz
    August 24, 2008

    Previously posted by Jonathan Grand:

    “??? Look, don’t be an ass. I love the conversation, but you’re trying too hard to be bullet proof to any argumentation. Yes, we know your side, we know what you’re trying to say. Limiting is bad. Now listen to the other point of view. Without being cynical. Is it really asking that much?”

    What is your point of view?

    I’ve yet to hear an articulate defense of this practice. Not just from you, but from anybody.

    I’ve spoken with 100’s of industry pros (multi-platinum, grammy-winning, etc) about the loudness war and not a single one has yet to defend the practice.

    Not a single one has said they like the sound of it.

    Not a single one has said they want to do it.

    Many of them are moving away from the trend.

    And those that continue to do it, claim their hand is being forced and that they “have to do it” because of the marketplace.

    I can see you enjoy being the contrarian. That was the entire point of your initial blog post.

    But contrarianism aside Jonathan, I have one very simple question for you…

    Are you defending the practice of aggressively brickwall limited mastering at an average rms of -5 or -6 dB as a sonically good thing?

    Reply
  30. Jonathan Grand
    August 24, 2008

    Hal: No, we’re not defending anything. Just because you post an article about the upsides (if any) of the war on drugs, doesn’t mean you’re against drug legalization. A lot of people might think you are – and a lot of those people might get angry at you because that could be used to promote a view opposite to theirs.

    I understand how this article could angry some people. And angry people state their points more aggressively – leading to better discussions.

    I hate the obvious brickwall limiting presented in certain records. I just don’t see it as “the end of music as we know it” – and I know some who agree with me. That’s the whole point of this short article.

    I’m not going to lie – I’m happy and even flattered that it attracted so much attention and even angry people. And I’m not lying when I say I really love you guys for being so passionate about it. That’s how you should be about your views – never change that! You proved to be very intelligent and capable professionals.

    Reply
  31. Chris
    August 26, 2008

    Jonathan,

    I’m afraid your attempted “defense” of the loudness war is completely at odds with facts, evidence and logic – so much so that I’m not even sure if it’s necessary for me to respond, especially since, by your own admission, Hal already demolished over 90% of your original argument. However, here goes.

    You say “there’s always 2 sides to every story” – [i]no there isn’t[/i]. Not “always” – not when there are physical and mathematical laws at play, as is the case here. It is a [i]fact[/i] that, in digital recording, the peak volume limit is absolute and cannot be exceeded; it’s a [i]fact[/i] that, as the RMS volume is pushed towards digital zero, there is a point (around -6dbfs) at which the audio signal ceases to be a [i]sine[/i] wave (musical) and becomes a virtual [i]square[/i] wave ([i]non[/i]-musical), and that when the peaks try to overshoot digital zero they produce an [i]actual[/i] square wave (which is [i]anti[/i]-musical, as it involves the active destruction of musical detail); it’s a [i]fact[/i] that, in general, crushing the dynamic range results in the loss of the very things by which sound quality is measured – clarity, detail, separation and transient-response. These are all [i]facts[/i] – there are no “two sides”.

    The video created by Matt Mayfield was designed to [i]illustrate his point[/i] of how the loudness war results in the loss of clarity and detail; it’s true that, if he’d wanted to be even more realistic, he could have used hard clipping instead of soft, but he obviously didn’t want to give people listening to the video a worse experience than was necessary to make the point!

    You then draw a false comparison between distortion as an element of musical arrangement & composition, and distortion as a by-product of over-processing a digital audio signal. Another false comparison is your likening criticism of clipping and brickwall limiting to analog fans’ criticism of digital media; this is irrelevant, as we’re not talking about a [i]change of format[/i] per se, but about [i]recording practices[/i] within an [i]existing[/i] format. As for Limp Bizkit, let me quote what Bob Katz, one of the world’s foremost mastering engineers, said about them in an interview with “Electronic Musician” magazine (http://emusician.com/interviews/emusic_keeping_dynamic/ ):

    [i][u]Katz[/u]: …Take the Black Sabbath song “War Pigs,” from the ’70s. That was considered to be radical [in terms of level], and you put it on today and you just turn it up — it’s incredible. That thing really kicks. That was called “metal” back then, and today we call it “hard rock”. Today’s metal in general, Limp Bizkit or whatever you want there in that genre, really, really sucks — there’s no dynamics left.[/i]

    [b][i]EM: So with more-current heavy bands, the peaks are all getting squashed down so that the overall level can be raised.[/i][/b]

    [i][u]Katz[/u]: If you compare it to the Led Zeppelin or the Black Sabbath of 1978, Limp Bizkit sounds — limp. Does that help?[/i]

    And regardless of whether the pressure on mastering engineers to create “loud” records comes from labels or artists, the point is that it’s an [i]industry[/i] pressure. Artists may be requesting it, but as Hal pointed out, they’re not requesting it for [i]artistic reasons[/i]. The notion that they would be “falling back in time” by having a dynamic record is clearly nonsense. In the first place, records that were made in the early ‘90s (for example, Nirvana’s “Nevermind” or Jeff Buckley’s “Grace”) have a level of loudness perfectly acceptable to contemporary listeners (in the ballpark of -11 dbfs), and yet have enough dynamics to capture the true power, passion and emotion of the music. (Actually, the early 90’s was a period when records reached a healthy balance between loudness and dynamics – it was in the [i]mid[/i]-90’s when the “tipping point” occurred, so to speak.) In the second place, current independent artists and labels are now abandoning “loudness” practices, and are starting to again produce records averaging around -11 to -10 dbfs. (In fact, -14 to -12 dbfs is regarded as the ideal level [in rock and pop] for making things as loud as possible while still allowing full dynamic range.)

    Furthermore, it is misguided to think of pushing digital-audio volume to full scale – in the process crushing the dynamics – as “progress”. It’s [i]not[/i] progress – it’s a dead-end street, ending smack-bang in the wall of digital-zero. The strength of CDs – especially Super Audio CDs – is that they possess a capacity for [i]wide and increased[/i] dynamic range. To not take advantage of this capacity, to rather violate it instead, is not “progress” or “evolution” at all. Quite the opposite: it’s actually a [i]re[/i]gressive – one might even say retarded – mentality, a return to the 1950’s mindset of playing ‘45s in jukeboxes, with each disc striving to be the loudest. [i]True[/i] progress would be [i]exploring[/i] the huge potential dynamic range which the CD offers.

    It’s also inaccurate to say that bad-sounding “loud” records are the result of incompetence on the part of the mastering engineer. As mentioned before, mastering at an RMS volume of -6 dbfs (let alone -3 to -2 dbfs, which is actually where we are at this moment in time) will produce virtual square waves. Square waves, by definition, are [i]not musical[/i] – they have about as much musical value as a TV test-pattern tone, or a telephone “engaged” signal. The [i]reason[/i] that they are not musical is that they have no [i]variation[/i]; and variation in volume – macro- and micro- dynamics – is, along with accompanying variations of melody, harmony, timbre, pitch etc., fundamental to what the human brain perceives as music. Square waves are, literally, [i]un[/i]musical – and no matter how hard you try, you can’t [i]make[/i] them musical. It doesn’t matter how good a mastering engineer you are; one cannot make square waves with the musical properties of sine waves. Not unless you find a way to break the laws of physics (in which case you must be an extraordinary engineer indeed!).

    Reply
  32. Thor Legvold
    August 27, 2008

    A few comments to the general discussion.

    I’m one of the guys who gets asked on a regular basis to take (often) great sounding mixes and crush the life out of them so that they are as loud as their buddies records.

    Talk about artist insecurity. Imagine if fine artists (I’ve always considered music an art form) went to exhibitions, saw someone else’s work, and rushed home exclaiming “I must use as big a canvas and as bright colours as that guy did, otherwise no one will buy my paintings!” That would be insane.

    Yet that’s what we’re doing to records – potentially great sounding records (I mean great as in true to the artists’ vision – clean or distorted, but with dynamics, spatial cues, etc) get compressed/limited so that they’re as loud as the other guy’s. Only in audio has art become a competitive sport – “mine’s LOUDER than yours!”.

    Corey wrote:
    While I do agree that all those albums you mentioned are great, I still don’t think we’ll ever return to songs averaging -11 or -12 dB. That’s just my opinion, but I stand by it. Now, if it does swing that far, then great, it makes all of our jobs that much easier, because, as you’ve mentioned, giving power to drums in the -5 dB region is not an easy task.

    I’d say that about half of the masters I cut these days are at -11 or -12dBFS RMS. A few years back it was one out of ten, so things are definitely turning around. There are a few artists who still want the ‘crushed and destroyed’ sound, f.x. hip hop/rap artists. Judging from the trend elsewhere and with mastering colleagues I talk with, this seems to be happening most places, a return to greater dynamics.

    Giving power to drums when aiming for -5 dBFS RMS is not just a difficult task, it’s impossible. Physics 101. The only way you’re going to fool anyone is if everything else sounds even worse (i.e. -4 dB) or all your listeners have been conditioned into not knowing the difference or not caring. Who knows, we might just see that -4 dB one yet…

    Corey continues:
    Agreed on your ‘complaints of quietness’ – but we live in a lazy age (a disgustingly lazy age at that).

    I would say in fact that we have left an age where quality took precedent over convenience and have entered a paradigm where convenience is more important than quality. Quality is on the way down the tubes in quite a few areas, not just audio. Look around you. Audio, video, construction, healthcare, economics, etc etc.

    And:
    But besides that, there is a certain adrenaline boost when you hear a distorted signal of audio, we witness this all the time in live concert settings where BE’s crank the kick drum into audible distortion in the low end. The subs hit harder, and the kids get more into it. The trained ear can hear the driver distorting, but at the level the music is at, the kids simply don’t hear it. They just feel the bass, and like it. Same thing in car stereo’s – modern hip hop distorts the low end terribly, but kids turn it up, loud. It gives them that rush that only low end can.

    That’s funny. Because, if the track is compressed/limited (especially so that you can hear distortion), the subs do not hit harder at all. In fact, quite the opposite. This is simple grade school physics. That the kids turn it up loud misses the point – the point being that if there are no dynamics to begin with, there still won’t be any when you turn it up. If you had a dynamic track and turned it up, it would knock them to the floor (in comparison).

    I guess my point with that is while turning up the volume can make the song louder, it still doesn’t infuse it with that, well, over compressed (or limited) sound that today’s music thrives on. I can’t what a hip hop song would sound like if it wasn’t constantly clipping – just doesn’t seem like it would sound right…

    I’m not sure (in fact I disagree) that today’s music thrives on an over compressed/limited sound. I think millions of kids with iPods and MP3’s listening to low res versions of crushed tracks of cool bands have either ceased to care, or simply don’t hear the difference anymore, or hear the difference but prefer having 10000 songs in their pocket (referring back to my convenience vs quality statement earlier).

    It appears that MP3’s on earbuds have become a sort of reference for many kids today, although I know more than a few who easily spot the difference when they listen on a regular hi fi system. But a home stereo is just not convenient.

    I’m not saying that -5 sounds better than -11 or -15 or whatever. I am simply stating that I don’t think it sounds bad. It may lack punch in certain areas, but it creates a different punch in a different area.

    I’d say most definitely that -12 sounds better than -5. The physics alone would be enough to explain it. Let Jimi, Keith, etc (or whomever) distort and clip their guitars as much as possible as part of their musical expression. But don’t remove the actual dynamics of the performance, they are an integral part of the performance!

    Releasing music without any real dynamics (i.e. -5) is like trying to play guitar with both hands tied behind your back. Music has but a few basic components with which to communicate an artists message. Notes and rests are one of them. Loud and soft are another. Hyper compression/limiting effectively eliminate those two factors. There isn’t a whole lot left. Pitch, timbre, melody…

    Know anyone who likes listening to white noise? 😉

    Now, you might be into musical expression that does not require dynamics or punch (say nu metal or black metal), which is fine, in that case I say express yourself. But I would still posit that your music would be even more convincing, engaging, moving and achieve better contact with the listener at an emotional level if it was more dynamic (at least at around -12dB, as an example). Again, we’re back to basic physics and basic psychology. Available in any library or community college near you ;-).

    Cheers,
    Thor

    Reply
  33. Slando
    August 28, 2008

    Piss off and buy an LP…

    Especially in MONO

    Reply
  34. Chris
    September 1, 2008

    And another thing: you refer to the loudness trend as a form of “musical expression”, but how is music supposed to EXPRESS itself when its very MEANS of expression – namely, dynamics and detail – are taken away by brickwall-limiting and clipping? It would be more accurate to call it UN-musical INexpression! When there are no dynamic shifts at all, what one is listening to is, to all intents and purposes, a STATIC SIGNAL: in other words, noise – white noise.

    And there are definite indications that artists DON’T want it – that they are not happy at all about the way their music is being processed. Check out the following articles, particularly the comments about Tom Petty’s “Mudcrutch” album in the USA Today article:

    http://www.usatoday.com/life/music/news/2008-06-02-better-sound-formats_N.htm

    http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/music/la-et-code30-2008aug30,0,9296.story

    Reply
  35. Kevin
    September 16, 2008

    Wow. Just wow. That was the worst defense of the loudness wars I’ve ever seen. Although, come to think of it, it was the ONLY defense I’ve ever seen. I guess there isn’t much to live up to when everyone disagrees with you.

    Compression and limiting are destroying music. Period. It’s not open to an opinion piece, it’s a fact.

    Reply
  36. Corey
    September 17, 2008

    Wow…

    A lot of hostility thrown about here. And I thought we were dealing with professionals…

    Kudos to those who disagreed with me respectively. I completely respect your opinion, and would like to again reiterate that I don’t think the over compressed sound is better than under compressed, or no compressed or whatever.

    To those throwing out insults and slander: grow up – people have opinions. The fact that mine is different than yours shouldn’t be all that surprising.

    I DEFINITELY DO NOT AGREE that compression and limiting are destroying music. I don’t think there’s ever been a time in history where music has thrived more. Yes, the value is definitely been questioned…but most people can’t go an hour a day without some form of music.

    It appears that music is indeed lightening up on the limiting anyways, so everyone just relax, take a breath – its going to be ok!

    Corey

    Reply
  37. br0adband
    September 24, 2008

    Lightening up? Yeah, right. Here’s a waveform of a track from the just released album “Down To Earth” by Jem, someone that’s squarely in the “pop” category. This is the title track in Sound Forge 9 ripped direct to WAV (standard 44.1 kHz, no edits, no modifications at all):

    http://img166.imagevenue.com/img.php?image=21885_Down_To_Earth_122_1036lo.jpg

    The beginning 55 seconds or so are some orchestral-style backgrounds with a piano track, and a heartbeat noted by the peaks which accelerates towards the 55 second mark.

    Then all hell breaks loose… which of course means the album itself is ruined as this is the opening track. It’s insanity. How anyone with half a brain and a background in audio recording or production can look at such levels and think “Oh yeah, that sounds great” must be sniffing too much head cleaner or something.

    Absolutely bizarre… truly. The basic tenets of audio: Attack, Decay, Sustain, and Release… where are they in such recordings? It’s all “Press Play and max it out, songs ends, silence…” and not much else.

    That’s just sad.

    Reply
  38. Corey
    September 24, 2008

    If you think that’s bad, you should open up the new Metallica tracks, or the Fallout Boy album.

    That looks good compared to those. I stand by my statement that limiting is lightening up.

    Reply
  39. Niels
    October 23, 2008

    Referring back to one of the first post above; it’s ironic that the LP is actually sort of responsible for mastering as a concept, and therefore the insane levels of today’s music. The reason why a compressor was ever invented in the first place is because of the relatively small dynamic range a LP can handle without jumping out of the groove.

    Low end has nothing to do with that: it will make the groove wider though (and therefore less music will fit on a single side…). By the way, LP’s are still widely used by DJ’s, and those tracks they play are all mastered by today’s standards…

    Do I have a point with this? Not really, sorry, let’s get back to the issue.

    Reply
  40. Jonathan Grand
    November 7, 2008

    yes, limiting is lightening up recently. Which is exactly what this article was about, in the beginning of this year 🙂 I guess I was right, fellas. Give me cake

    Reply
  41. Hal Keuntz
    November 12, 2008

    Posted by Jonathan Grand:

    yes, limiting is lightening up recently. Which is exactly what this article was about, in the beginning of this year 🙂 I guess I was right, fellas. Give me cake

    Uhm… yeah, sure it was.

    Reply
  42. Deathspell
    November 13, 2008

    I’m in my early 20’s and though I’ve enjoyed music for as long as I can remember I would really only consider myself to be a diehard fan of music the past ten years or so. Back then, I was completely oblivious to the “Loudness War” (as some people still are) but there’s definitely more and more people, especially teens, picking up on the problem. I understand that it’s been an issue for quite some time, but I can only really reflect on my experience as music fan.

    Over the years through buying CDs and listening to music, I did begin to notice that the volume on CDs was getting increasingly louder – but I assumed it was because modern technology was enabling it to do so without affecting the music in any negative way. But particularly over the course of the last few years, I’ve felt that the sound of many modern albums has begun to sound quite generic and lackluster and for example the drum sound, quite dull, flat and without any punch or feel to it. The drums always seem to standout to me for whatever reason, especially if they sound awful. I listen to hundreds of hundreds of bands and though I can still listen to many modern albums without having to shut the music off, the album’s sound/production values is often now the first thing I notice when listening to a CD – I absolutely hate this! I listen music for the music, but sometimes it’s hard to even do that when the music is being overshadowed. I have absolutely no problem listening to albums made in the 80’s or recent albums that do not adhere to modern style of production – they sound absolutely fine! And I do listen to a variety of music including lots of (extreme) metal – so I will say that with more popular bands in metal, an album produced in the modern way will sound “heavier” and definitely louder – but I personally (as do many people) believe they give the album generic qualities, and affect the music negatively.

    Reply
  43. James Reid
    December 6, 2008

    Any discussion that can raise emotion and eyebrows is exciting. I was late to this but wanted to make a couple of comments.

    1. Dynamics are beautiful and are why many of us love audio and well engineered music. If you have driven a fast sports car part of the thrill (for some the biggest) is in the acceleration not just the top speed performance. A brickwall limited loud recording is like being dropped into a sports car without the thrill of the 0-100 throwback. If the music is all about top speed then by all means just drop the listener in. However, a great many of us want the thrill of getting there too, and that takes dynamics. Zero to a hundred is fun.

    If low dynamic, all black waveforms was what we all wanted lets throwaway the 24/192 khz stuff and get back 16/44.1. What do we need a low noise floor for ?!! If fact, lets go back 1/4 inch half track. Thank goodness for the classical and film scoring folks. Some of us like dynamics.

    2. Low dynamic, all black waveforms is really another form of music expression. And with Hiphop it makes some sense and part of the overall expression. And as a practice for those listening to songs on an iPod on a crowded subway it may be justified just to hear a song. So some of us need to reach into the toolkit and crank the limiter and fill the window, if it is right for the job.

    The scary part for me is when low dynamic all black wave forms are taught or preached as a good general engineering practice without concern for the music. Or the technique is used on music and recordings that simply do not lend themselves to expression. I have been reading in magazine that low dynamic, all black waveforms is good recording technique and that is scary. The Jem waveform was truly disgusting, I liked the FOB recordings, but would love to hear them with some wider dynamics.

    Anybody for discussing higher sampling rates ?

    Reply
  44. Corey
    December 6, 2008

    Well, I’d take you up on the higher sampling rates, if you hadn’t referred to extremely limited files as “all black waveforms.”

    That’s a good indication you might have the technical insight to properly discuss the subject.

    Sarcasm aside – sampling rates, like limiting, are just another preference. If you can hear a difference, great. Pick the one you like better. If you can’t, then pick whichever is most practical.

    Reply
  45. Eugene
    February 26, 2009

    Hello!
    I am from Russia, so please excuse my English. I am 33, I listen to all kinds of music genres, but I have a special interest in heavy music: black metal, power metal, death metal. Even with regard to these music styles, which many people find not conducive to audiophilia, I absolutely hate the sound quality of modern albums. I think that they would benefit very much, if they were produced just like those old classic albums in the 80s. I cannot understand people who defend the principle “the louder, the better”. The wide dynamic range is one of the beauties of Music. It’s a sin to destroy it. People who do it do not love Music, do not have ears for it. It’s a shame that such people are allowed to spoil Music.
    Let’s fight for Quality. Carry the flag, I’ll follow you.
    Regards,
    Eugene

    Reply
  46. nikoli
    March 29, 2009

    I must have missed where the author stated that he actually prefers the “louder is better” sound. I did see him say “it’s a problem” though. So I don’t know what this Hal dude is all upset about.

    I agree with the author in that this is a trend. And I totally agree with the parallels that he draws. I don’t know why those parallels are so hard for some folks (Hal) to accept. Things change, sometimes permanently, sometimes not permanently. Sometimes trends go away and then resurface. It doesn’t have to be a matter of what’s right or wrong. It seems folks have gotten downright religious about this whole issue!

    I’ll draw another parallel… Pornography! Think about it people. Porn has followed the exact same path as rock music. Even the different phases have stuck to similar timelines. Now it’s to the point where it’s all just so airbrushed, bigger, nastier, etc… where else can it go?

    Reply
  47. Ana
    April 2, 2009

    What no one has mentioned, at least in simple terms, is this: Extreme compression/limiting means viola strings don’t sound much like viola strings anymore, and drums sound a hair better than drum machines. It means you might not hear the breath the singer takes before singing the next line, because the background drowns her out.

    In the end, none of this makes much difference, because today’s music is designed to sound good over shitty iPod earbuds, as background in clubs and restaurants where no one will really be listening to it. It’s designed so it sounds just like it might on the radio, and you may not notice unless you’re visiting an audiophile friend and you bring along some of your music to play on his home stereo. Which makes me sad, but grateful that there is still good-sounding music out there.

    Reply
  48. Marko
    June 28, 2009

    There was a party yesterday and the playlist was full of music that goes back from the ’80 and 90′. I’ve noticed that people get completely exited with “classic” Rage Against the Machine or Nirvana songs, even more with older disco and funk music…then come the Killers, Block party, the Editors etc…and something strange happens: the energy was gone…maybe because you can’t hear any impact, any punch just VOLUME!!!! How can you dance if nothing kicks you?

    Reply
  49. They Tell Me I'm Just Another Kid.
    July 10, 2009

    Music, in itself, cannot be bad or good simply because of the process used to render it. It’s a combination of millions of possible characteristics and their effect on listeners that really matters. I can listen to some great new albums for days and not get burnt out from the “lack of dynamic range.”

    People will do what they want. In the end I don’t really care. I either like it or I don’t, and not because its too LOUD.

    (For the record, Fall Out Boy’s albums are around -10db on average, not -5db or -6db.)

    Reply
  50. Murkin
    January 26, 2010

    When I was younger (80’s/90’s), I would listen to albums. I’d play them over and over, press repeat and leave it in there all day! Over the last ten years or so, that’s fallen off. I can’t make it through an album anymore. I hear music on the radio that I like, so I buy the album (that’s what I was trained to do as a kid — no downloads back then, and who would buy a CD single?!). But then I can’t even make it through the album, even though I like the music… I get a strange impatient twinge inside and find myself skipping ahead, or switching to a different artist.

    I had always assumed that this was due to some declining capacity on my part, but I’ve recently come across this “loudness war” controversy, and a lightbulb has gone off over my head! The symptoms of “ear fatigue” are exactly what I feel when I listen to modern albums. Even though I like the music, I physically/psychologically/whatever-it-is cannot listen to it very long. I’ve never had the budget for hi-fidelity equipment, so issues like dynamic range are less apparent for me, but the brickwall phenomenon applies on any equipment!

    I wish there was an easy way to know whether an album was produced this way… Can anyone recommend any particular forums or blogs that track this issue, album-by-album?

    Also, perhaps someone could recommend a method for making CD’s that mix music from different eras… It’s almost impossible to put them next to each other! I imagine one could simply compress the older music to the same level as the modern music so it holds up in the mix, but then we’re back to that issue of “ear fatigue,” which if it’s not relevant for some, it is relevant for me! 🙂 Is it possible to re-introduce some dynamics to “brickwalled” music? Even just a little bit, so it isn’t quite so pulsating and overbearing? There are a lot of tools in Sound Forge, and I hardly understand most of them, even if they’re fun to play with!

    Reply
  51. Ferenc Szabo
    January 27, 2010

    The ironic thing about the modern recordings being “louder” (less dynamic) is they are more often listened to QUIETER exactly because they don’t sound good loud. You can crank up a dynamic heavy rock recording from decade(s) ago and it’ll take a lot of volume for it to hurt your ears and be really annoying.

    But a modern ultra-compressed recording will grate the nerves even at modest volumes. It sounds a bit like listening to FM radio when the station isn’t quite tuned in properly… you hear lots of noise. I know it isn’t literally like that, but it comes close in the “annoying” factor.

    Reply
  52. Ferenc Szabo
    January 27, 2010

    Some folks compare the hate of ultra-compressed modern recordings to the way an older generation might have hated rock and roll. A newer generation comes along and digs it, and can’t get into their parent’s music. And they say an even newer generation will dig this ultra-compressed stuff.

    But the big difference is that the love/hate of the music way back had to do with a music STYLE (not in any technical method of recording/mastering). An old fogey might hate Elvis Presley or Black Sabbath or The Clash, regardless of how it was recorded.

    There are some recent recordings that I absolutely can’t stand listening to, but I LOVE the music. Huh?? But what about horrible quality recordings from the past? Surely they existed before??? Yes… I have some awful sounding cassette recordings of crapily recorded music. There is so much “wrong” with the sound quality, but I can definitely stand listening to it. Loud even. For a long time. The “badness” of those old recordings just doesn’t have the physiological effect of making me turn it down or off.

    Reply
  53. Peter
    March 22, 2010

    >Also, perhaps someone could recommend a method for making CD’s that mix music from
    >different eras… It’s almost impossible to put them next to each other! I imagine
    >one could simply compress the older music to the same level as the modern music
    >so it holds up in the mix, but then we’re back to that issue of “ear fatigue,”
    >which if it’s not relevant for some, it is relevant for me! Is it possible to
    >re-introduce some dynamics to “brickwalled” music? Even just a little bit,
    >so it isn’t quite so pulsating and overbearing?

    @ Murkin

    Yes it is possible to place music from different eras next to each other. It is called Replaygain. There are two ways to apply it – the first is by tags, but in this case the playback software has to be aware of these tags for it to work. The second, and I think it is only MP3 and maybe AAC that this is possible with is that the playback level itself it modified (with attached tags allowing the change to be reversed) and this is by a piece of software called MP3Gain (that does both MP3 and AAC with renaming of the encoder .exe.

    Unfortunately other than de-clipping software all the good stuff has been lost (dynamic range) but at least the music is less likely to harm your hardware once the music has been declipped!

    http://replaygain.hydrogenaudio.org/

    Reply
    • Alexandra
      July 24, 2016

      Going to put this arlitce to good use now.

      Reply
  54. Joey
    July 25, 2010

    After reading much of this debate, I’ve thought of a novel way to deal with over compressed/limited modern recordings. While listening on an IPod shuffling, why not bring Down the levels of the modern squashed records to an average closer to the average of a dynamic record. that way, there can be both types of productions and they aren’t at different levels.

    It would be easy to write a program that anaylyzes your collection on the Ipod and finds the average volume and lowers the loudest tracks to that volume.

    Just an idea.

    Reply
  55. Hoi Keeton
    January 24, 2011

    Everyone posting except Hal is a pompous idiot who needs to get a hearing check if they think this loudness war is doing good for music.

    Reply
  56. Dave
    September 29, 2011

    As a committed audiophile (I should be XD) I tend to notice Brickwall Limiting more than your average bod with an iPod.

    Frankly I’m with Hal on this one. In fact I’ve become somewhat militant about it and I refuse to purchase or listen to any track or album that exhibits this type of sub-standard engineering practice. It’s done for sales, pure and simple. If enough punters are made aware of this dire phenomenon and the damage it is doing to music and the music industry and do as I do, the practice will die a death pretty quickly.

    Incidentally, to put right a few misconceptions, being an audiophile does not mean I sit in front of my HiFi listening to classical music all day. Personally, I have very eclectic musical tastes and you are as likely to hear Massive Attack or Faith No More belting out of my speakers as you are Beethoven’s 5th or the soundtrack to Star Trek – The Motion Picture by Jerry Goldsmith.

    I enjoy music, I don’t enjoy restricted dynamics, period…

    Reply

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