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Thread: The Loudness War

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    Cyburbian dobopoq's avatar
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    The Loudness War

    Building off the thread started by rcgplanner called ďCDís vs Digital MusicĒ here: http://www.cyburbia.org/forums/showthread.php?t=38393
    I thought it apropos to bring up the whole issue of the Loudness War.

    This isnít just some elitist concern of audiophiles with $10,000 stereo systems:

    Most CDís made in the early 90ís sound noticeably more quiet than those from the past decade (and modern digital music files). Thatís because producers have been using compression to boost the overall signal. This makes their albums sound louder. To an extent, making an album sound louder has been one way of making it stand out Ė and thus get airplay. The tragedy of this, is that doing so robs the music of its dynamic range. Compression boosts the volume of quiet parts and when all the music sounds loud there can be no FORTISSIMO crescendos. After a while listener fatigue sets in.

    But most people are too distracted to even notice the loss of dynamic range. Compression will make a track easier to listen to while in a moving car with a window rolled down because without it, the music would have to be cranked to hear the quiet parts Ė which would then make the loud parts too loud. MP3 exacerbate this tendency because they are designed to sound louder than an old school CD. Unless you listen critically, youíll probably be drawn to the MP3 simply because it has a louder signal. Compression is useful in the car driving context, but when all mainstream music is being compromised for such poor listening environments Ė music suffers as an artform.

    I can remember when I first listened to the Appetite For Destruction album of Guns Ní Roses. I liked the hits but found the album harsh to listen to. It took a while before I could appreciate it. Other examples include, Oasisís (Whatís the Story) Morning Glory?, The Stooges, Raw Power, Dirt by Alice In Chains, & Californication by Red Hot Chili Peppers. Metallicaís 2008 album Death Magnetic brought the issue of the loudness war out in the open.

    So what do cyburbians think? Do you notice newer music sounding louder? Do you notice less dynamic range in newer music (compared to stuff from the early 90ís or older)? Have you experienced listener fatigue?

    If you never listen to CDís anymore, you probably donít notice this or care.
    "The current American way of life is founded not just on motor transportation but on the religion of the motorcar, and the sacrifices that people are prepared to make for this religion stand outside the realm of rational criticism." -Lewis Mumford

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    Cyburbian imaplanner's avatar
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    my man! where you been? I think you are correct about music getting louder. Maybe we are getting deafer?
    Children in the back seat can cause accidents - and vice versa.

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    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    I thought this thread was going to be about something else. I guess I haven't noticed that CD's were getting louder over the years. The fact that my hearing has been getting worse over that span may be why I haven't noticed it.

    Now, stylistically speaking, I remember the first time I heard the Sex Pistols (this was back in the late 70's) and thinking 'that is just the most raucous and raw noise I've ever heard'. Fast forward to 2005 - I blew the dust off the old vinyl I hadn't listened to for about 20 years and listened to that same album and thought that it sounded much much tamer than I remembered.

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    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    Loudness in terms of dynamic range has been dramatically increased. I listen to records produced prior to Spector's "Wall of Sound" methods and each instrument is identifiable and there seems to be good balance between the different instruments. The big downside is that to truly appreciate the music, you need to have the volume level quite high. Compare to current days music production and all levels are equally loud. You can listen at a low volume and still hear all the pieces of the music, however, the richness of the individual instruments in lost in the arrangement.

    I like both techniques for different reasons and different music styles benefit from different mix techniques.

    Oasisís (Whatís the Story) Morning Glory?
    That is the poster child for loudness in production. Compare that to Fleetwood Mac - Rumors and the difference in production is striking.

    Lastly, I've been told there are giant differences in the quality of The Beatles mono recordings vs. their remastered stereo mixes. Apparently, most of their tracks were mixed and balanced for monaural play and the stereo mixing screwed up the instrument balance. I'll have to find out on my own.
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

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    Cyburbian illinoisplanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by dobopoq View post
    I can remember when I first listened to the Appetite For Destruction album of Guns Ní Roses. I liked the hits but found the album harsh to listen to. It took a while before I could appreciate it. Other examples include, Oasisís (Whatís the Story) Morning Glory?, The Stooges, Raw Power, Dirt by Alice In Chains, & Californication by Red Hot Chili Peppers. Metallicaís 2008 album Death Magnetic brought the issue of the loudness war out in the open.

    So what do cyburbians think? Do you notice newer music sounding louder? Do you notice less dynamic range in newer music (compared to stuff from the early 90ís or older)? Have you experienced listener fatigue?

    If you never listen to CDís anymore, you probably donít notice this or care.
    That's funny, you mention Appetite for Destruction. I actually find that album to be quite soft compared to most of the stuff released after it. I feel I have to turn that album up much louder than most of the other stuff I have. I'm surprised you find it harsh to listen to. For whatever reason, Guns N' Roses records are among my favorite albums to listen to, because I think the sound quality is really good. And there are soft parts on that album. Take for instance, the beginning of "My Michelle".

    I also never really noticed a problem with Dirt. You really mean to tell me that "Rooster" or "Down in a Hole" are too loud? I don't know, maybe I'm misunderstanding.

    You definitely have a point with Death Magnetic, which is kind of like symbolic of the loudness phenomenon. It's not an album I listen to all the time anymore, even though I really like most of the songs on that album. I think because it is such a giant wall of the same loud volume of sound does kind of produce listener fatigue. Especially with the 8-minute tracks. It's like, OK, we get the point.
    "Life's a journey, not a destination"
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    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    There will always be people complaining about the lack of dynamics (myself included) but a far greater number of people either don't care or prefer the more "modern" sound of most new recordings. It depends on the type of music too - Lady Gaga wouldn't sound right with no AutoTune and the dynamics of an old Rolling Stones album. Like everything else audio production styles come and go depending on technology and the public's taste.

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    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    My biggest beef with the sound quality of Appetite for Destruction is the lack of low end. The album was mixed in such a way that everything below 80hz, i.e. all bass guitar and kick drum fundamental, isn't audible. Such an awesome album that could have been even more awesome if it has been mixed a little better. Probably my favorite rock album of all time, still.

    I picked up Alice in Chains' recent album Black Gives Way to Blue and found it to be the most compressed-sounding album I've ever purchased. You can hear the clipping quite audibly on a lot of the tracks.

    I find most jazz albums, both new and old, to have a lot more balanced and nuanced of a mix, with a lot less compression then most of the rock & pop stuff released these days.

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    Cyburbian imaplanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Seabishop View post
    . It depends on the type of music too - Lady Gaga wouldn't sound right with no AutoTune and the dynamics of an old Rolling Stones album. Like everything else audio production styles come and go depending on technology and the public's taste.
    I wonder if Jagger's voice would have been considered awful were the stones to have started in the modern age. They probably would have tried to autotune him?
    Children in the back seat can cause accidents - and vice versa.

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    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by imaplanner View post
    I wonder if Jagger's voice would have been considered awful were the stones to have started in the modern age. They probably would have tried to autotune him?
    Probably not. rock and roll is still normally auto-tune free. if they do you use auto-tune, they use it with great skills and quite sparingly.
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

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    Cyburbian Emeritus Bear Up North's avatar
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    Just for perspective, here's a tune I often listened to loud.....and, in fact, still do.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Cg0qJ-ieRk

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    Cyburbian illinoisplanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by MacheteJames View post
    My biggest beef with the sound quality of Appetite for Destruction is the lack of low end. The album was mixed in such a way that everything below 80hz, i.e. all bass guitar and kick drum fundamental, isn't audible. Such an awesome album that could have been even more awesome if it has been mixed a little better. Probably my favorite rock album of all time, still.
    Really? Maybe I'm misunderstanding, but I've always thought Guns N' Roses had a very audible bass guitar, much moreso than most rock bands of their ilk. You can clearly hear Duff's bass-work on many songs, especially on tracks like "It's So Easy", "My Michelle", and "Rocket Queen".
    "Life's a journey, not a destination"
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    Cyburbian dobopoq's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by illinoisplanner View post
    Really? Maybe I'm misunderstanding, but I've always thought Guns N' Roses had a very audible bass guitar, much moreso than most rock bands of their ilk. You can clearly hear Duff's bass-work on many songs, especially on tracks like "It's So Easy", "My Michelle", and "Rocket Queen".
    That's what's I was thinking too. The bass was quite audible compared to say early Van Halen where Michael Anthony is surrounded by guitar. Guns N' Roses always sounded to me like an amalgam of guitar wanking hard rock with punk and funk influenced bass thump.
    Quote Originally posted by MacheteJames View post
    I find most jazz albums, both new and old, to have a lot more balanced and nuanced of a mix, with a lot less compression then most of the rock & pop stuff released these days.
    Yeah, the loudness war does seem to mostly apply to mainstream pop/rock music.
    Quote Originally posted by imaplanner View post
    my man! where you been?
    Lying low waiting for my ducks to line up. Glad to see you on the board ima
    Quote Originally posted by boiker View post
    Loudness in terms of dynamic range has been dramatically increased. I listen to records produced prior to Spector's "Wall of Sound" methods and each instrument is identifiable and there seems to be good balance between the different instruments. The big downside is that to truly appreciate the music, you need to have the volume level quite high. Compare to current days music production and all levels are equally loud. You can listen at a low volume and still hear all the pieces of the music, however, the richness of the individual instruments in lost in the arrangement.

    I like both techniques for different reasons and different music styles benefit from different mix techniques.
    Good points. If 90% of your music is mixed low volume - you'll be annoyed by the 10% that's loud. Have to turn the stereo down for those hot tracks. Nowadays its the reverse of this so we're used to keeping the volume down and are annoyed by the rare quiet record we have to crank up.

    From the liner notes of my Cure Disintegration album from 1989: "THIS MUSIC HAS BEEN MIXED TO BE PLAYED LOUD SO TURN IT UP". Even truer today I guess.
    Quote Originally posted by illinoisplanner View post
    I also never really noticed a problem with Dirt. You really mean to tell me that "Rooster" or "Down in a Hole" are too loud? I don't know, maybe I'm misunderstanding.
    For their time Appetite and Dirt were loud – but they’re tame by today’s standards.
    Quote Originally posted by Maister View post
    I guess I haven't noticed that CD's were getting louder over the years.
    In a relative sense – yeah it doesn’t matter. One album sounds as loud with the volume knob at 5 as another does with it at 3. But of course there’s more at play than simply decibels. The album you play at 3 probably has some clipping and sounds more straining to the ears.
    Quote Originally posted by illinoisplanner View post
    You definitely have a point with Death Magnetic, which is kind of like symbolic of the loudness phenomenon.
    When I stop listening to that album I can feel my ear drums suddenly relax as if someone just stopped pointing a gun at me – like I was cringing the whole time. Musically the songs kick ass but the album is readily fatiguing as well. In fairness to digital music, according to Wikipedia, the download Death Magnetic for Guitar Hero is said to have much more dynamic range. So at least in this case, the download probably sounds better than the CD.
    Quote Originally posted by Seabishop View post
    There will always be people complaining about the lack of dynamics (myself included) but a far greater number of people either don't care or prefer the more "modern" sound of most new recordings. It depends on the type of music too - Lady Gaga wouldn't sound right with no AutoTune and the dynamics of an old Rolling Stones album. Like everything else audio production styles come and go depending on technology and the public's taste.
    Always a nuanced and well-reasoned response from you Seabishop.

    I guess I’m kind of a luddite. I can’t stand how it’s the rare exception these days to find a bar that doesn’t have several flat screen tvs on at all times. The trend in music just reflects the overall distracted nature of modern life, IMO. Commercial breaks are cranked to get your attention. When everyone gives in to the arms race of using volume to get attention - something is lost. When every sentence out of your mouth includes the word Fcuk, the word is kinda robbed of its intensity. In the 90’s 3 bladed razors were plenty, then you had to have QUATTRO, nowadays nothing less than FUSION & HYDRO will do. Sounds like we’ve solved the energy crisis, right? Wrong. Where does it end? [Sorry to expand/go off topic briefly - I just see these subjects as inter-related threads of a larger phenomenon.]
    "The current American way of life is founded not just on motor transportation but on the religion of the motorcar, and the sacrifices that people are prepared to make for this religion stand outside the realm of rational criticism." -Lewis Mumford

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    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by illinoisplanner View post
    Really? Maybe I'm misunderstanding, but I've always thought Guns N' Roses had a very audible bass guitar, much moreso than most rock bands of their ilk. You can clearly hear Duff's bass-work on many songs, especially on tracks like "It's So Easy", "My Michelle", and "Rocket Queen".
    The bass guitar attack (the noise of the pick hitting the strings) is VERY audible as Duff has a bright tone and plays with a pick. He's also a fantastic rock bass player with great pick bass work. The bass guitar attack is audible but the actual low end fundamental tone is steeply rolled off on that album, and that goes for all low end, bass guitar and kick drum included. He finally got his tone right on the Velvet Revolver stuff, which had some of the greatest rock bass tone I've ever heard.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian illinoisplanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by MacheteJames View post
    The bass guitar attack (the noise of the pick hitting the strings) is VERY audible as Duff has a bright tone and plays with a pick. He's also a fantastic rock bass player with great pick bass work. The bass guitar attack is audible but the actual low end fundamental tone is steeply rolled off on that album, and that goes for all low end, bass guitar and kick drum included. He finally got his tone right on the Velvet Revolver stuff, which had some of the greatest rock bass tone I've ever heard.
    Oh, OK. Fair enough. I see what you're saying now. And yeah, and I think VR's Contraband is a really great album and very listener-friendly.
    "Life's a journey, not a destination"
    -Steven Tyler

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