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Why music sounds worse.

01 Jan 10 - 05:04 AM (#2800665)
Subject: Why music sounds worse.
From: GUEST,The Shambles

I thought this was interesting.

01 Jan 10 - 05:50 AM (#2800678)
Subject: RE: Why music sounds worse.
From: GUEST,matt milton

I find all this stuff fascinating.

Generally speaking though, the "loudness war" has calmed down a little bit.

People still routinely master CDs right to the line - to 0.0 decibels, which is pretty damn loud - but that doesn't *necessarily* mean every song has no dynamic range. A producer with any kind of taste could still make a mix with a volume that peaks as loud as all those other chart releases, but which still goes all the way down to a whisper.

The thing about the "loudness war" that is slightly ridiculous is that most chart music doesn't have much dynamic range anyway. A sound engineer friend of mine once told me that it's not just pressure from record companies - a lot of bands he deals with actually want a very over-compressed mix.

01 Jan 10 - 07:06 AM (#2800697)
Subject: RE: Why music sounds worse.
From: treewind

Oh dear!!!!
The first paragraph about the loudness wars was spot-on (and I've seen that Youtube video before)...

Then it all gets hopelessly lost and confused as under the heading "Digital Compression" they start talking about the process that reduces the data rate to make MP3 and similar files. The only thing the two have in common is the word "compression", which unfortunately is the same word used to describe two quite different processes that have totally different purposes.

The loudness thing is dynamic range compression. There is a physical limit to the maximum loudness you can store on a CD, but music goes up and down in volume all the time, so you can make a track seem louder by having the peaks at maximum and boosting all the quieter bits to make them louder, thus raising the average loudness... but also making everything a uniform constant, relentless and tiring barrage of all-at-the-same-level mush, if you overdo it.

The process described under "Digital Compression" in that linked article doesn't alter the dynamic range of the sound at all. It's about reducing the amount of storage needed for music in your MP3 player or hard disk. It's also controversial in some quarters (opinions vary on how much it audibly affects the sound), but it has NOTHING to do with the loudness wars.


01 Jan 10 - 07:52 AM (#2800709)
Subject: RE: Why music sounds worse.
From: Acorn4

I always record my own CDs, but get a professional to do the mastering, which is the stage at which the limiting and final compressing comes in. Most of the people I've spoken to on the subject seem to agree that anything with a slightly folky tinge to it shouldn't be trying to compete with Metallica - they tend to adopt a half way house in trying to bring up the level of the quietest parts a bit.

A lot of listening to CDs is on car stereos these days and the lower volume bits can get lost against background noise.

01 Jan 10 - 08:17 AM (#2800716)
Subject: RE: Why music sounds worse.
From: GUEST,Phil B

Therein lies the principle catch 22 about mainstream radio play. If you're lucky enough to even get a radio producer/dj/ presenter etc to give your music a listen, if the level in the the first few seconds is way below the metallica track they've just played, they reject it without even bothering to listen to the content. C'est la vie. We spend days trying to master our stuff at a radio compatable level without squashing it to death.
The Metallica album, by the way, is mastered at such a daft level that it automaticaly distorts on many older cd players. They had a major problem with CDs being returned as faulty. I have the album and am a bit of a fan but even I would say, on carefull listening, that the life has also been crushed out of this one to achieve pointles and relentless volume.. Metallicas music, beleive it or not, also has light and shade in it!!
Of course, sometimes the level thing is carefully used to 'advantage'. The Hooters (Philadelphias finest) deliberately do light acoustic intros to some songs which is a ploy to make the listener turn up the hi-fi (Satellite/ Karla with a K to name a couple). When the full band comes in your hair goes backwards.
Those of you who may have wondered what happened to them might want to note that they are a working, touring band again and playing lots of shows both in the US and in europe this year. I'm very mauch looking forward to opening for them in Germany at a festival next summer.
Happy new year!!

01 Jan 10 - 08:18 AM (#2800717)
Subject: RE: Why music sounds worse.
From: GUEST,Kendall

I wont listen to any piece of music where the drums carry the melody. To me, that Metallica thing is nothing but noise.

01 Jan 10 - 08:39 AM (#2800723)
Subject: RE: Why music sounds worse.
From: treewind

For cars, the answer is to have compression built into the player in the car - that is a special case where you are listening against a high background noise level. Then your same CD can be listened to properly at home.

When I had a minidisc player in the car, I experimented with making highly compressed MD copies of CDs exclusively for use in the car. It worked well though I couldn't be bothered with making many such copies.

As for radio - everything that goes out on radio is squashed mightily to make it as loud as possible by an Orban Optimod or similar - and the irony of this is that the Optimod works best when it is fed with clean music with a wide dynamic range (Robert Orban has written loads of stuff about this.) If you feed it something that's already been compressed to death, it makes it sound worse without being any louder.


01 Jan 10 - 11:46 AM (#2800806)
Subject: RE: Why music sounds worse.
From: GUEST,leeneia

Shambles, thanks for posting that link. I enjoyed the article.

I don't do downloading and I don't listen to today's pop (I consider rock to be a form of pop), but I am interested in the science of it.

Here's something I've been wondering. I know that most pop singers use a program to put their music in tune. Often, when I hear a pop singer (as in a store) I find myself listening and saying "What vowel was THAT supposed to be?" Because there are sour, whining sounds on the long notes that I'm sure are not a vowel in any language on earth.

Does a tuning program distort vowels, especially in a long note?

(this would fit with our topic, why music sounds worse.)

01 Jan 10 - 12:48 PM (#2800841)
Subject: RE: Why music sounds worse.
From: GUEST,Phil B

What you are listening to is the use of the Software or hardware autotuner being used now as a vocal effect. It's become a pop music standard now completely transcending its original designed use. Its the rather bizarre 'warble' that is so prevalent in commercial recordings. Its the crossover point set at whichever notes are chosen in the programme. The song that sparked this train of use was a Cher chart hit (Do you believe in love?? Think thats the title)
Some twentyfive or more years ago, Mark Knoppfler brought to the fore the use of extreme in line compression as a sustain tool for the 'clean' electric guitar. It stuck! Once the genie is out of the bottle etc etc.

01 Jan 10 - 03:29 PM (#2800942)
Subject: RE: Why music sounds worse.
From: Sandy Mc Lean

Compression of volume range was a trick used to improve signal to noise ratio by bringing low levels higher at the transmit end, then reducing them back down to their proper level at the receive end through an expander, which reduced any inherent noise as well. It worked well in the days of analog broadcasting. These were called compander circuits.

01 Jan 10 - 04:43 PM (#2800983)
Subject: RE: Why music sounds worse.
From: GUEST,Phil B

Still in regular use in my studio for working on old stuff. Both hardware and software versions. Throughout the long period that we had Gerard O'farrell as our live engineer, we recorded every gig we did. I'm now engaged on digitising literally thousands of recordings for future appraisal. All of these tools are a regular and valuable part of the armoury for bringing old recordings to life.

02 Jan 10 - 04:38 AM (#2801275)
Subject: RE: Why music sounds worse.
From: Darowyn

It is worth pointing out that the highly compressed sound of recent pop and dance tracks is only 'worse' to people who have educated their ears to expect something different. The context is important too.
A couple of years ago I gave an old friend a copy of the recording of my song "Doormat", as a bonus birthday present. I have always considered it a throwaway , near-pop song. Accordingly it was heavily compressed and maximised at the final stage.
My friend insisted on having the DJ play it at the party. It came between a Madonna track and Amy Winehouse.
It stood up reasonably well- certainly nothing to be ashamed of, but I sat there thinking "I should have compressed it more." In context it lacked the raw power of the commercial pop stuff. In sum, less compression sounded worse.
Personally, for the vast majority of the music I do, I feel that every sound processor, (analogue or digital, dynamic, pitch correction or reverb) should have a control labelled "Good Taste" or even "Class". You would be able to turn it up or down in the awareness of what you are doing to the final sound.

02 Jan 10 - 05:13 AM (#2801287)
Subject: RE: Why music sounds worse.
From: treewind

"I sat there thinking "I should have compressed it more."
In a direct side by side comparison, louder is always preferred, other things being more-or-less equal. It doesn't ultimately means it's better.

02 Jan 10 - 06:52 AM (#2801329)
Subject: RE: Why music sounds worse.
From: Stower

Some years ago a record company put out some CDs - folk and early music - that had a label on saying that not only was there no compression whatever used, but also that some recording technique and mics had been used to display the complete dynamic range. I can't remember the label (I'd know if you told me), but recordings included the fiddler Laura Risk and some lute music. I know nothing about the technical issues here, but I do know I could hear the crystal clarity and they are beautiful *recordings*, as well as the music being great.

02 Jan 10 - 01:57 PM (#2801672)
Subject: RE: Why music sounds worse.
From: Barry T

Whenever I morphed CD's to mp3 I found myself frustrated with having to adjust volume constantly from track to track and from CD to CD. Many of the converted tracks also had some distortion.

After a bit of surfing I discovered a freeware utility called MP3Gain ( ). When you analyse a folder of mp3's with MP3Gain you will quickly see and hear how the volume was pushed, especially on the more recent CDs.

When I adjusted the gain using MP3Gain, the resultant MP3 tracks seemed to have their quality and clarity restored.

The software claims the following:

'MP3Gain does not just do peak normalization, as many normalizers do. Instead, it does some statistical analysis to determine how loud the file actually sounds to the human ear. Also, the changes MP3Gain makes are completely lossless. There is no quality lost in the change because the program adjusts the mp3 file directly, without decoding and re-encoding.'

I don't profess to understand the technology, but my ears tell me this is a good little program that has made my MP3 listening more enjoyable... especially when I listen to my library on shuffle play!


02 Jan 10 - 04:56 PM (#2801811)
Subject: RE: Why music sounds worse.
From: Edthefolkie

In the UK, if you want to know what compression does to music, just listen to BBC Radio 3 (not very compressed)in the car then switch to BBC Radio 2 (compressed). Even in the noisy environment you can tell straight away that the fidelity level has gone down the pan.

I just cannot understand why dedicated people have worked for over a century to make recorded music more like the real thing - and we end up with the bloody iPod!! Thanks Jobs.

And yes I know you can get less compressed iTunes but they still ain't up to CD standard. Simple physics! Bah, humbug......

02 Jan 10 - 06:26 PM (#2801884)
Subject: RE: Why music sounds worse.
From: GUEST,matt milton

I think you're confusing data compression with audio compression, as treewind pointed out in his post above.

iTunes sells MP3s, which are an information-compressed audio format.

That's a whole different kettle of fish to broadcast radio using audio compressers, which normalize the volume level of the music they play, reducing the dynamic range, and making everything overall louder.

It's a bit like talking about the volume of information present in something as opposed to the volume level of the audio of something.

Personally, I find it quite hard to spot the difference in terms of high-fidelity between an MP3 recording, a WAV recording, an AIFF recording and a CD recording. You have a pretty sophisticated pair of ears if you can tell that the Radio 3 broadcast you're listening to in your car is a 16-bit MP3 of a Tchaikovsky concerto rather than a compact disc of a Tchaikovsky concerto.

Whereas you can spot the difference between an audio recording that has used a compressor on heavy settings and one without right away.

02 Jan 10 - 06:46 PM (#2801904)
Subject: RE: Why music sounds worse.
From: s&r

My itunes defaults to M4a whatever that is


02 Jan 10 - 07:12 PM (#2801919)
Subject: RE: Why music sounds worse.
From: Darowyn

Basically it's MP4. Even more data compressed, but supposedly better sounding.

02 Jan 10 - 07:42 PM (#2801941)
Subject: RE: Why music sounds worse.
From: GUEST,matt milton

ultimately it comes down to where you expect your music to be heard.

for myspace, it'd be understandable if you wanted to have a recording that was peaking as loud as possible, if you were going to be using your myspace page as a way of impressing promoters to get gigs or management, say. You might want to have as much immediate impact as possible.

You might even want to make a 'myspace mix', with a bit more mid-range, and a toppier bass, going on the presumption that more people will be tending to listen to music off their computer on tinnier speakers that probably aren't big on bass. (That assumption isn't necessarily correct, of course.)

03 Jan 10 - 12:42 AM (#2802064)
Subject: RE: Why music sounds worse.
From: GUEST,Guest from Sanity

When I lived in a VERY rural, area, in Colorado, we had the mix set in such a way that you could CLEARLY hear everything comfortably at the end of our road...A QUARTER MILE AWAY!!.....but, you could talk to each other, and be heard in the same room, where the speakers were!!!...CLARITY!!..with LOTS OF presence!!!

03 Jan 10 - 08:42 PM (#2802583)
Subject: RE: Why music sounds worse.
From: GUEST,leeneia

Are you in the hearing-damage range?

04 Jan 10 - 12:15 AM (#2802704)
Subject: RE: Why music sounds worse.
From: GUEST,999


04 Jan 10 - 08:45 AM (#2802917)
Subject: RE: Why music sounds worse.
From: Dave the Gnome

I hadn't thought about new audio formats but this thread has set me off. I have a Tom-Tom satnav which also acts as a short-range FM transmitter so I can listen to MP3s via the car radio. I have found that while the car radio works quite hapily on volume setting 6 or 7 I have to turn it up to 10 or more for the transmitted MP3s. It is not affected by the volume control of the satnav as that just seems to turn the spoken directions up or down. Is this an MP3 issue or an FM transmission issue?

Second thing - When CDs came out I worked on the basis that Analoge recording, Analogue Master and Digital Re-master (AAD) was the best combination. Only because someone who seemed to know their stuff told me I hasten to add - I don't realy have a clue:-( Anyhow - Is there a similar rule of thumb for MP3s WAVs or any of the others?



04 Jan 10 - 09:18 AM (#2802937)
Subject: RE: Why music sounds worse.
From: GUEST,matt milton

I'd have said having your mastering done with some (though not necessarily all) analogue equipment will probably add a bit of warmth you couldn't get digitally. Though even then, these days you can do so much digitally... If you really want things to sparkle, get it professionally mastered.

That's about as far as I'd go to a rule. Other than that, it's whatever works best with whatever you have.

04 Jan 10 - 10:39 AM (#2802979)
Subject: RE: Why music sounds worse.
From: GUEST,Mr Red

Before Ralphie ROARS into action

I have been saying this for years. It is not just the compression, though the compression has a beneficial effect in that it puts up the average versus the peaks. The inner ear has a fluid whos viscosity increases when the brain detects loud noises. But it responds to the average (RMS that is) and has a time constant of the order of 300-500mS. This means that the peaks do the dammage and the brain can't catch-up within a second (approx until the bulk of the viscosity change nears the asymptote of the exponential increase).

The aesthetic problem is that the as the viscosity changes it clamps the hairs for safety and the little ones don't get to move much or to put it another way, the higher viscosity damps transmission of sound down the cochlea. That means the higher frequencies are suppressed. HiFi is less Hi, when volume is Hi! Fletcher-Munson curves showed that 50 years ago.

Another fact that dear Ralphie hasn't quite got his head round yet is that if you constantly listen to one volume (or frequency distribution) then the brain compensates as best it can and tries to make sense of the lower Fi (attemptoing to boost the higher frequencies). That then becomes the norm. So when you then are presented with a similar scene (visual) at a lower volume the brain is already compensating for a lower Fi that is not there. It sounds tinny to those ears! I have heard him remark just so!

Another effect that demonstrates the power of the brain to compensate, yet not realise what it is doing is: "Mortimer's Reflex". In a loud environment we raise our own volume. I do it when wearing earplugs, others do it when wearing earphones with music playing. I am sure we all can cite examples where have heard the increased in a person's volume even though we can't hear the noise they can.

I am sure there will be rejoinders - by loud people who like loud music. That is they way they like it. That is why they get angry and loud when they are reminded of the dangers and the anti-social aspects of sharing an environment. I bet Radio3 wouldn't let them get away with it.

04 Jan 10 - 11:32 AM (#2803027)
Subject: RE: Why music sounds worse.

As a senior person, I would venture the following. When people of my generation were in elementary school in California, we had music instruction in class. We had a weekly program of exposure to recorded classical music, plus an occasional field trip to hear orchestral music, folk music and popular songs at our local high school or university. We had a music room with instruments to loan for those who could not afford their own, plus an opportunity to learn to read and play a variety of music. This, by the way, was at a rural school with little money and a dirt playground.

My point is that a couple of generations of people who did not have those opportunities have grown up with a different perspective on music generally. Those whose parents were able to provide musical exposure and training and those few with the drive and determination to accomplish something on their own are the exceptions. Rhythm and volume often mask a lack of fundamentals.

04 Jan 10 - 06:15 PM (#2803459)
Subject: RE: Why music sounds worse.
From: Joe_F

Because it *is* worse?

05 Jan 10 - 02:20 AM (#2803682)
Subject: RE: Why music sounds worse.
From: GUEST,Ralphie

Errrrm? (1)
I haven't said a word....!
Errrrm? (2)
Worked on/in Radio 3 for 30 years!
I seem to have upset someone by not saying anything. Is that a first?

05 Jan 10 - 03:31 AM (#2803702)
Subject: RE: Why music sounds worse.
From: treewind

"you can do so much digitally... If you really want things to sparkle, get it professionally mastered."

Most professional mastering is done digitally.

What you're paying for with good mastering is a pair of good and experienced ears, a pair of accurate and frighteningly expensive speakers, a well acoustically treated listening room, sophisticated processing equipment (usually digital) and someone who knows how to use it.

Oh, and nobody has satisfactorily defined "warmth" to me in terms that distinguish it from distortion of some sort. 30 years ago there was a lot of really bad digital kit because some of the problems weren't fully understood, and you could still get better sound out of a well-aligned Studer A80 or A800. Now any affordable digital recording system is better than any affordable analogue recording system, unless you actually need to use tape saturation as an effect.

So as a modern digital recording system adds nothing* to the sound, I'm not sure that "adding warmth" is going to improve things...

* i.e. nothing within the audible range of frequencies, except a little pure white noise at a much lower level than normal tape hiss

05 Jan 10 - 05:02 AM (#2803741)
Subject: RE: Why music sounds worse.
From: GUEST,Phil B

As a matter of interest. I'm just working towards re-introducing a 16 track analogue machine into the studio. I obtained it to digitise and remix some old stuff and now have the relevant synchroniser to integrate it with Pro-tools or Logic. Be interesting to see how it holds up.

05 Jan 10 - 05:35 AM (#2803761)
Subject: RE: Why music sounds worse.

I seem to have upset someone by not saying anything. Is that a first?
depends where it has been said. And how it is said. And when.
    Please note that anonymous posting is no longer allowed at Mudcat. Use a consistent name [in the 'from' box] when you post, or your messages risk being deleted.
    -Joe Offer-

05 Jan 10 - 08:31 AM (#2803871)
Subject: RE: Why music sounds worse.
From: GUEST,Ralphie

Hi Phil B....
Is it a one inch 16 track?
If so, I might be in touch. I have three rolls of 16 track stuff that needs re-doing.
Will get in touch off line. Not naming the band here.!!
As for un-named GUEST...
I don't respond to people who haven't got the courtesy to name themselves.

05 Jan 10 - 08:34 AM (#2803876)
Subject: RE: Why music sounds worse.
From: GUEST,Phil beer

1 inch Tascam. Good working order and hoping to pick up another next month for spares. Anytime Ralph.

05 Jan 10 - 09:30 AM (#2803924)
Subject: RE: Why music sounds worse.
From: GUEST,Ralphie

Thanks Phil.
Will be in touch...Have to speak to the band first!
Regards Ralphie