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Ed from OC

The Loudness War

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For the last few years, I've complained often about new rock and pop CDs sounding noisy and muddy. An example for you Rush fans: compare the production quality of 1982's Signals to 2002's Vapor Trails. The major difference is in the dynamic ranges. The earlier album is recorded to fill the full 96dB range of the CD format, while the later album is mastered with everything turned all the way up. To my ear, the current fad makes the different instruments sound like they are drowning each other out, fighting for sonic space rather than playing with each other and allowing each to breathe and dance with the others.

This article from IEEE does a nice job of explaining the history and technology.

"You're listening to your favorite Pink Floyd CD on your home stereo when you accidentally hit the “change CD” button on the control panel. All goes quiet for a bit as your CD player urgently shifts to play whatever is in the next tray. With dread, you desperately reach for the volume knob, but it's too late—your speakers blast the latest Green Day album. Reacting like you were just pricked by a pin, your hand jolts to the volume knob and turns it down. You breathe a sigh of relief. But that's not the end of it. Ten minutes later you feel that something isn't right. Even though you love this album, you can't listen to it anymore. You shut it off, tired, puzzled, and confused. This always seems to happen when you switch from a classic album to a modern one. What you've just experienced is something called overcompression of the dynamic range. Welcome to the loudness war."

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For the last few years, I've complained often about new rock and pop CDs sounding noisy and muddy. An example for you Rush fans: compare the production quality of 1982's Signals to 2002's Vapor Trails. The major difference is in the dynamic ranges. The earlier album is recorded to fill the full 96dB range of the CD format, while the later album is mastered with everything turned all the way up. To my ear, the current fad makes the different instruments sound like they are drowning each other out, fighting for sonic space rather than playing with each other and allowing each to breathe and dance with the others.

Rock doesn't have much dynamic range to start with. When I hear the doof doof doof from cars as they go by, subtleties of dynamic range seem of little interest to them. In today's culture of rap, I can see why the record companies see no real incentive for fine recordings.

By the way, one doesn't want much range in a car, as the lower levels fall below the ambient noise.

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Rock doesn't have much dynamic range to start with.

I totally disagree. There are plenty of counterexamples, from Beatles albums to Pet Sounds to Pink Floyd albums.

When I hear the doof doof doof from cars as they go by, subtleties of dynamic range seem of little interest to them. In today's culture of rap, I can see why the record companies see no real incentive for fine recordings.

By the way, one doesn't want much range in a car, as the lower levels fall below the ambient noise.

That's not the context I had in mind, and though you are right for the most part, there are again counterexamples. I was stunned by the fidelity of the audio system in the Acura TL, for instance. (That's a good excuse for a test drive, BTW -- just roll up the windows and turn on the sound. It's great!)

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I totally disagree.

I'd have to disagree as well. And I can give a couple of examples. Kashmir from Led Zepplin is all about sonic balance and ambience, as is their Stairway to Heaven. I am not saying that these are on Rachmoninoff's level, but each sound in those recordings (unless they were just idiot savants) was balanced to create a whole.

Tool is a band that uses both. They have periods in their songs that is the modern "wall" but done around a structured progression tones, sonics, and even melodies. Wings for Marie is a good example from their 10,000 Days CD.

I do agree that most of the modern bands have no concept of sound in any respect, whether of tone, resonance, sonics. I don't even think most of these "bands" know much outside of the Metallica licks they learned growing up. It used to be that a lot of rock bands were made up of studio musicians that had a huge catalog of expertise, musical knowledge like actual musical theory, and a knowledge of recording techniques.

The range used to be quite wide. Now, I can't tell one band (for the most part) from another from any aspect. There used to be terms like "signiture riff", "signature sound" - you couldn't confuse Steven Tyler of Aerosmith with Brian Johnson of AC/DC, or Glen Fry of the Eagles with Mick Jagger - nor the sound of those bands. Nor, in a lot of cases, with the individual musicians from those groups.

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For the last few years, I've complained often about new rock and pop CDs sounding noisy and muddy. An example for you Rush fans: compare the production quality of 1982's Signals to 2002's Vapor Trails.

True, but I looove the title song from the latter album.

;-)

Rush's "Counterparts" album not only has every adjuster set at 11 out of 10, but it's thickest sound I've ever heard. After a few tracks it gets to be a bit much.

Herbert von Karajan, a conductor with a passion for engineering, controlled all/almost all facets of his recordings. Many of his DDDs force the listener to constantly spin the volume knob from one end of its range to the other-- a shame, really, as I find many of his recordings to be untouchable. (You get some of the same silliness on his LPs and the material he remastered for CD, but it seems far worse on the pieces he recorded digitally.)

I find such errors baffling -- not as baffling as the fact that Bob Dylan dared to lay down a vocal track, but baffling.

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Herbert von Karajan, a conductor with a passion for engineering, controlled all/almost all facets of his recordings. Many of his DDDs force the listener to constantly spin the volume knob from one end of its range to the other-- a shame, really, as I find many of his recordings to be untouchable. (You get some of the same silliness on his LPs and the material he remastered for CD, but it seems far worse on the pieces he recorded digitally.)

I find such errors baffling -- not as baffling as the fact that Bob Dylan dared to lay down a vocal track, but baffling.

I avoided DG recordings because of the multi- miking they employed. It completely flattened the sound, and had the violins screeching.

Telarc followed the old Mercury style of a simple two mike setup, which gave a great depth of sound, although they had their duds as well.

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I avoided DG recordings because of the multi- miking they employed. It completely flattened the sound, and had the violins screeching.

Do you know when DG started using multiple mikes, Arnold?

Does anyone know if Karajan the Difficult also recorded with multiple mics?

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I remember when Vapor Trails came out and I wondered why - why does it sound so horribly distorted?

This article by a sound enigineer and Rush fan explains "what happened" and gives detailed examples comparing older Rush recordings to the latest.

And, according to a source very close to Alex Lifeson, the band wasn't even aware of this travesty of sound until after the CD was released. They even went so far as to remaster this release a year later - I even had one ordered from the record label - yet Atlantic Records pulled the plug at the very last minute and decided not to re-release it. I was very disappointed yet hoping somehow the band can release the corrected version at some time in the future.

I miss the analog days...instead of "Digital Man" (actually one of my fave Rush songs) maybe they should write a song called "Analog Man". :P

theDML2112

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And, according to a source very close to Alex Lifeson, the band wasn't even aware of this travesty of sound until after the CD was released. They even went so far as to remaster this release a year later - I even had one ordered from the record label - yet Atlantic Records pulled the plug at the very last minute and decided not to re-release it. I was very disappointed yet hoping somehow the band can release the corrected version at some time in the future.

It will probably not be too many more years before the entire record industry racket has been effectively dismantled. Ready availability of the technology to process the audio, and the internet to directly provide a sales channel, means that their days are numbered as more artists bypass them entirely (including bypassing fools employed by those companies that mangle their creations.) Of course they hate this and will do everything possible to lobby Congress to pass laws making it difficult to go around them.

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Metallica's recently released Death Magnetic CD is the epitome of loudness, a war whose weapon is a permanently clipped noise wall targeting my ears. My only defense is to turn it off and head back to the 70s / 80s. Rush's Vapor Trails was bad, but Death Magnetic is much much worse. Do a search for a waveform sample, when I say permanently clipped I mean it. :)

FYI, Vapor Trails had more problems than mixing / mastering, there was distortion introduced during the recording process which could only be corrected by recording new tracks.

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Wow, I've been waiting literally years for a discussion like this: an intelligent analysis of the degeneration of rock music over the last 30-40 years.

What y'all are saying about loudness is like a revelation to me, as it suddenly explains many things I've noticed in the past. I like to play bass guitar as a hobby, and it always bothered me that the bass is just about literally inaudible in so much of Metallica's music because the guitar and drumming just brutalize it out of existence. Then a few years ago I started listening to early 80's Iron Maiden and it blew me away! Heavy Metal where you could hear distinct, amazingly intricate melodies, and best of all (gasp!) a prominent bass guitar.

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It is quite startling to realize that the reason I never could get into Counterparts or Vapor Trails my simply be because of production. Signals is one of my favorite albums by Rush, and from this discussion it makes sense; it is one of the cleanest albums I have ever heard, and all the instruments/voice are balanced perfectly.

It's funny really. I remember a few years ago listening to an album by The Police for the first time and trying to figure out what was so different about it that I enjoyed so much. I described it to myself as the music has "a sense of space", where the individual sounds of the instruments aren't crowding each other out, and each one can be distinctly heard and appreciated.

And yeah, the rock musicians of the 60's-80's were actually musicians. The 90's and up are their spoiled, snobby, brat kids strumming two chords in a garage and thinking they are god's gift to music.

I recently bought the album "Music" by Carol King, and it amazes me that such well made music was the norm. Now we have Screamo... :)

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Now, I can't tell one band (for the most part) from another from any aspect.

Sometimes you can't tell one song from the other... Look up "Nickelback two songs at once" on google; some guy took two of their songs and overlapped them.

The result? One better song!

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In today's Wall Street Journal their was an article regarding the new Metallica release and the "loudness" that the music industry insists in almost every CD release. I don't understand why record labels knowingly release audibly defective product to the consumer. These ears can't stand it!!

I've heard the new Metallica CD and that's the first thing I noticed. I was enjoying the music on this one yet it's difficult to enjoy listening to it.

theDML2112

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For the last few years, I've complained often about new rock and pop CDs sounding noisy and muddy. An example for you Rush fans: compare the production quality of 1982's Signals to 2002's Vapor Trails. The major difference is in the dynamic ranges. The earlier album is recorded to fill the full 96dB range of the CD format, while the later album is mastered with everything turned all the way up. To my ear, the current fad makes the different instruments sound like they are drowning each other out, fighting for sonic space rather than playing with each other and allowing each to breathe and dance with the others.

Rock doesn't have much dynamic range to start with. When I hear the doof doof doof from cars as they go by, subtleties of dynamic range seem of little interest to them. In today's culture of rap, I can see why the record companies see no real incentive for fine recordings.

By the way, one doesn't want much range in a car, as the lower levels fall below the ambient noise.

Depends on the car! But for most cars that's true. There is music I can enjoy at home, the subtleness of which is just not picked up by my ears above all the noise of my (pretty darn noisy) old Volvo wagon.

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It is quite startling to realize that the reason I never could get into Counterparts or Vapor Trails my simply be because of production. Signals is one of my favorite albums by Rush, and from this discussion it makes sense; it is one of the cleanest albums I have ever heard, and all the instruments/voice are balanced perfectly.

It's funny really. I remember a few years ago listening to an album by The Police for the first time and trying to figure out what was so different about it that I enjoyed so much. I described it to myself as the music has "a sense of space", where the individual sounds of the instruments aren't crowding each other out, and each one can be distinctly heard and appreciated.

And yeah, the rock musicians of the 60's-80's were actually musicians. The 90's and up are their spoiled, snobby, brat kids strumming two chords in a garage and thinking they are god's gift to music.

I recently bought the album "Music" by Carol King, and it amazes me that such well made music was the norm. Now we have Screamo... :)

Go back a few more decades and it gets even better. Try Ella Fitzgerald, for instance. If you have XM radio it's fun to listen to the "Decades" stations. I especially like the 40s. There is some garbage in every era, but for some reason I can handle a little inanity from the 1940s, maybe because it's not constant. And they occasionally have newscasts, which are a blast.

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It will probably not be too many more years before the entire record industry racket has been effectively dismantled. Ready availability of the technology to process the audio, and the internet to directly provide a sales channel, means that their days are numbered as more artists bypass them entirely (including bypassing fools employed by those companies that mangle their creations.) Of course they hate this and will do everything possible to lobby Congress to pass laws making it difficult to go around them.

youtube certainly gave this man the fame he deserved:

http://ca.youtube.com/watch?v=nmE3QaGetn4

http://ca.youtube.com/watch?v=Ddn4MGaS3N4

He became one of my favorite musicians overnight.

"Drifting" is nearly at 17 million views in just a few years, click it and help it to roll over :)

Candyrat Records publishes his music: http://www.candyrat.com/news/contact.asp?p=about

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Holy crap Carlos, that guy is thoroughly spectacular. That is some of the best guitar playing I've seen, and I've seen a lot. Thank you for bringing him to our attention. Now I have to see if I can pay him - see if he has an album for sale.

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Stupid no edit button...

Candyrat records has all kinds of good stuff! Man, you've just fed me for years - I love solo acoustic guitar. I wish there was an equivalent for piano and classical, but a lot of it is garbage nowadays.

You can also order the notation books for his music as well - I'd like to see what that looks like - particularly Drifting - I can't make out what he is doing with the harmonics - never seen that before. I play guitar (rather badly next to players like this guy) and I can understand what a player is doing even if I can't physically duplicate it, but here I can't catch it, I don't know how he is doing that.

Again, amazing.

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Stupid no edit button...

Candyrat records has all kinds of good stuff! Man, you've just fed me for years - I love solo acoustic guitar. I wish there was an equivalent for piano and classical, but a lot of it is garbage nowadays.

You can also order the notation books for his music as well - I'd like to see what that looks like - particularly Drifting - I can't make out what he is doing with the harmonics - never seen that before. I play guitar (rather badly next to players like this guy) and I can understand what a player is doing even if I can't physically duplicate it, but here I can't catch it, I don't know how he is doing that.

Again, amazing.

You may like Stanley Jordan then, here:

http://ca.youtube.com/watch?v=OHZTyfKseZE

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Wow, I've been waiting literally years for a discussion like this: an intelligent analysis of the degeneration of rock music over the last 30-40 years.

What y'all are saying about loudness is like a revelation to me, as it suddenly explains many things I've noticed in the past. I like to play bass guitar as a hobby, and it always bothered me that the bass is just about literally inaudible in so much of Metallica's music because the guitar and drumming just brutalize it out of existence. Then a few years ago I started listening to early 80's Iron Maiden and it blew me away! Heavy Metal where you could hear distinct, amazingly intricate melodies, and best of all (gasp!) a prominent bass guitar.

I play bass, too, although I'm long out of practice. I learned in the era of great bassists like Paul McCartney, Klaus Voorman, Bill Wyman, etc. Even the best songs today don't have decent bass. (However "Sheep Go to Heaven" by Cake has a nice bass line, and I absolutely love the sound of the instrument on that track.)

It's funny really. I remember a few years ago listening to an album by The Police for the first time and trying to figure out what was so different about it that I enjoyed so much. I described it to myself as the music has "a sense of space", where the individual sounds of the instruments aren't crowding each other out, and each one can be distinctly heard and appreciated.

And yeah, the rock musicians of the 60's-80's were actually musicians. The 90's and up are their spoiled, snobby, brat kids strumming two chords in a garage and thinking they are god's gift to music.

I recently bought the album "Music" by Carol King, and it amazes me that such well made music was the norm. Now we have Screamo... :)

There are exceptions in the 90s - present era, but sadly they are only exceptions.

Now, I can't tell one band (for the most part) from another from any aspect.

Sometimes you can't tell one song from the other... Look up "Nickelback two songs at once" on google; some guy took two of their songs and overlapped them.

The result? One better song!

I've been saying that for years. Yep, all the bands like Nickelback, and all their songs, sound the same to me. At least in the "classic rock" era you could distinguish Led Zeppelin from Aerosmith from Yes from The Rolling Stones from Rush from...

As I said, though, there are exceptions. I always hold up Barenaked Ladies as an example. They're my favorite present-day band (and they happen to be right in my range, so they're one of my karaoke staples :)). Norah Jones is phenomenal. Her "Turn Me On" reminds me so much of the jazz singers of the 40s - 60s that for a few years until I actually saw a picture of her I thought she had to be a 50-year-old black woman. :) Some individual tracks stand out as well - KT Tunstall's "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" for one, though it's the only song of her's that I've ever heard. I also think Green Day is quite good, especially the "Warning" album.

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It is quite startling to realize that the reason I never could get into Counterparts or Vapor Trails my simply be because of production. Signals is one of my favorite albums by Rush, and from this discussion it makes sense; it is one of the cleanest albums I have ever heard, and all the instruments/voice are balanced perfectly.

Counterparts is loud but it was made loud with some care, it is not even close to the butchering of Vapor Trails. My favorite Rush album is Power Windows, I love the meshing of synth, guitar, and bass. :)

I found something interesting on youtube, a short comparison of the Guitar Hero version and the retail version of Death Magnetic samples. :)http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=DRyIACDCc1I&...feature=related

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