Friday, July 11, 2008

Loudness and new music

I've started playing with pandora.com, and I'm hearing much more music that is new to me than I have in years.

Some of the newer rock has potential, but the way most new rock is recorded is so bad that it makes it un-listenable to me-It is virtually all over-compressed to the point of distortion, sounding muddy and unclear. Google loudness war for why, but a simplified explanation-

Other things being equal, most people will judge the slightly louder song of two heard back to back as better.

CD and radio have an absolute limit on peak volume.

There are ways to make a song sound louder without exceeding the limits of CD or radio. Done judiciously, it can even make the song better. Done to extremes, it adds considerable audible distortion, and drastically decreases clarity.

Record execs want their music just a little louder than the competition, and are willing to suffer the other sonic consequences to get there, Meanwhile, the competition is doing the same...Loud matters more than clear, because the competition isn't clear either, and people still tend to pick the louder of two muffled, muddy songs as better in a direct comparison.

Many people old enough to remember vinyl say they prefer the sound of a good vinyl album to CD. What they really hear is the difference in mastering methods rather than the medium. For various reasons extreme compression was not used on albums--Partly because the war had not started in ernest, but probably more that the medium didn't respond the same way.

Sony took advantage of loudness war the SACD format. A well-recorded CD is close enough to perfect that most people could not hear the difference between the original master and the CD made from it--Hard to promote a new format under those circumstances. While SACD is "closer to perfection", few can hear that aspect. The brilliant thing that Sony did with SACD was political more than technical--They included a specification for maximum average volume, with room for peaks above that. This means that a properly mastered SACD will sound clearer and "better" in almost any listening environment.

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