Are "louder" CD's, re-mastered or otherwise, really "better"

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Joel Fontenot, Aug 8, 2002.

  1. Joel Fontenot

    Joel Fontenot Supporting Actor

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    Hello all.
    I have an issue to ask about here for all you audiophiles out there. This is a long one, so if you’re interested please hang in there [​IMG].
    If you listen to a new CD by some group, or even a re-issued one (whether it’s listed as a “re-master” or not, or even a “greatest hits”) and you notice that it seems to play back significantly “louder” than your old one (or, in the case of a “greatest hits”, any song plays louder than your album version of the same song on CD), is that a good thing?
    I ask this because of several things I’ve discovered making my own mixed CDs for the first time after years of doing this on tape. I make mine on a PC using a digital extraction program that works very well called “Exact Audio Copy”. It’s been recommended on this forum, and I concur.
    I also call attention to the thread entitled Finally! Supertramp re-masters!
     
  2. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    Louder is neither good nor bad. It all depends on why it is louder. If it is louder because the dynamic range has been digitally compressed to the point of distortion so that the average overall level could be raised, that is bad.

    If it is louder because the old master used dynamic range settings for a modern orchestral recording of the 1812 Overture for a pop song and basically wasted some of the alloted 16 bits per sample, there is nothing wrong with that.

    Regards,
     
  3. Mike Broadman

    Mike Broadman Producer

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    It seems to me that what is happening with most CD releases is analogous to edge enhancement for video: both sacrifice clarity and detail to provide the illusion of being brigher or louder.

    And it sucks.
     
  4. Kevin C Brown

    Kevin C Brown Producer

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    Compression. Compression sucks.
    I 1st noticed when this comparing lps to CDs years ago.
    The irony is that CDs have the *capability* of greater dynamic range, s/n, lower noise floor, etc, than vinyl. But nobody in the pop/rock world takes advantage...
    "It's 11. It's one louder." [​IMG]
     
  5. Kevin C Brown

    Kevin C Brown Producer

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    Double post...
     
  6. Jeff Ulmer

    Jeff Ulmer Producer

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  7. Joel Fontenot

    Joel Fontenot Supporting Actor

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  8. John Watson

    John Watson Screenwriter

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    This thread is going to be very interesting. Haven't read it all yet, but I'll go out on a limb now and say - many disks are made louder because BIG IS BETTER. Sofas, houses, office towers, cars and SUVs, TV sets - everything has to get bigger to impress that mindset.

    I had a couple of the earlier Sade disks, thought they would fit nicely on the carousel with the Greatest Hits cd of a few years ago, even if there was some song duplication. Instead, the greatest hits sound level was so wildly discordant with the early albums (ie, twice as loud) that it was impossible to put the 3 disks on for a relaxing listening session.

    Where does stupidity like this stop?
     
  9. Philip Hamm

    Philip Hamm Lead Actor

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    Three words:

    Dynamic Range Compression

    It sucks. I recently got Bruce Cockburn's retrospective, with two new songs and a collection of songs from the last 25 or so years. The two new songs are so compressed they're practically unlistenable, and so are some of the older songs. I hate it. It kills music.
     
  10. Steve Owen

    Steve Owen Second Unit

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    I wouldn't always blame it on compression. I've ripped CDs only to find that the the peak amplitude doesn't come anywhere near to the maximum 16-bit level. That seems incredibly stupid... it's like mastering the CD at 10 or 12 bits when 16 is available. Makes no sense.

    So, I can perceive of instance where a remastered CD might sound "louder" because they're making a concious effort to use all of the available CD resolution where they might not have in the past.

    -Steve
     
  11. Joel Fontenot

    Joel Fontenot Supporting Actor

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  12. Vince Maskeeper

    Vince Maskeeper Producer

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    First of all, we have to be careful about generalizations. The use of terms like compression (or "Dynamic Rage Compression" which is actually a consumer dolby digital term, which I've never heard used in music preparation) and the association with "bad" is incorrect.

    The vast majority of recordings- whether tracked in pro tools last week, or tracked at Motown four decades ago contain some forms of "compression". Often the "analog" sound people enjoyed from older recording comes from butchered dynamics caused by "tape saturation"- which is a form of compression. Tube pre amps are often the rage, and again provide a subtle compression simply from the slope and response- and of course are often driven to saturation specifically for the "warm" tube sound (which is often little more than midrange smearing from harmonic distrotion resulting in a compressed signal). Most of the "punchy" drum tracks that big prog rock fans droll over are 100% the product of creative use of raw compression.

    Basically- compression is a tool, like any other tool- and it can be used in wonderful ways to help recreate what our ears would hear in a real environment.


    The issue of post production limiting and digital stage sweetening is a separate issue from the tool of compression. While compression can be used as a tool in this stage as well- it isn;t mutually exclusive, nor the prime scalpel in the surgery. Often this finalizing type boost is taking place in the digital realm, and involves applying brickwall filters and goosing the level for all that it is worth.

    The ironic part is, you will find the majority of mastering engineers don't like the concept any more than you do. However, they will claim their hand is forced by the artists or the producer, and the buck will be passed on up the line. The bottom line is that louder discs are seen as better- even in all knowing "audiophile" circles. "Remaster" versions of vintage recordings (or worse, multichannel remixes) are "ooooh'd" and "ahhh'd" over every day on this forum- and often the biggest difference is the application of dynamic controls to push the overall level.

    But this is not at all "news". I would suggest to Mr. Fontenot that his hard found research is akin to discovering America in 1982. These processes and basic of digital effects on transient response are as old as digital audio technology itself. The ideas of how modern recording are created are not at all a secret- and the waveform example are almost literally page one of digital recording knowledge.

    What you're seeing is not necessarily "clipping" in the traditional sense- as the signal is not authored (or attempted to be authored) in excess of the maximum available headroom. Instead filtering is applied to create a limited of the dynamic response. This does not really result in a "loss in freq" as you first post suggests- just a loss of the original dynamic difference between loud and soft. This, in turn, often pulls details which were obscured by the extreme in dynamics to the front a bit more- resulting in a "different" sound- I would never argue better or worse, as I am unaware of the original intent.

    Anyway- I'm babbling. Point is that if you look at a physical rip of the majority of modern recordings, you find sharp limited resulting in albums which really only exploit the top 4-5db of the Dynamic Range of CD. This is a circle that feeds on itself, as engineers and producers compare their finished product to others- and they feel theirs sound whimpy. The push to limit their record to really hit harder, and the cycle repeats.

    Ironically, the recent release of LOTR on DVD will probably push the DVD film audio into similar directions. BY reducing the dynamics on LOTR, Mi Casa created a mix which is essentially "louder" in average level-- and it's getting rave reviews in the "I've got a big subwoofer" world of HT audio.

    I'm actually amazed daily at how little the average person, even "enthusiasts" understand about recording and the audio technology. I would suggest to anyone serious about music listening to understand the production element- and how the entire atmosphere of a recording facility is designed to suck the life out of music. Subscribe to a magazine like Mix or Recording, or heck- subscribe to TAPE OP (it's free).

    -Vince
     
  13. John Watson

    John Watson Screenwriter

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    I guess the old saying that some people's taste is all in their mouths might apply? In this case, they are overdosed on aural candy.
    The Academy of Ancient Music tried to perform the work of the masters as they were played in Mozart's (or whoever's) time. But by putting these performances out as recordings, the Academy was defeating its purpose?
    [​IMG]
     
  14. Joel Fontenot

    Joel Fontenot Supporting Actor

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    Mr. Maskeeper,
    I understand everything you’ve written, and it makes perfect sense to me, believe it or not.
    Perhaps I should start searching around more on this issue.
    Listening to music is, after all, just a fun hobby of mine that I’ve been fiddling with since the mid 70’s when I was recording music from the radio onto a portable tape recorder with the built-in microphone slapped up against one of the stereo speakers. Those were my first mixed tapes – at 10 years old.
    In later years, friends of mine would wonder why I wouldn’t peg the VU meters deep in the red when recording albums on cassette tape decks the way they often did (I refused to buy pre-recorded cassettes).
    I know that I’ve only just begun to understand what many others have known for years now that I’m just getting into the “common folk” home digital recording area. But, this whole “louder” issue is something that I’ve seen crop up a lot in various places lately – including this forum – without any real understanding of the consequences, if any at all.
    I see quite often comments like: “I like this new release because it’s (fill in the number) dB louder than this other one”. Maybe the “other” one had the room to go louder, maybe not.
    I only have a few MFSL gold CD’s, and one very early MFSL disc before they went gold (I, Robot, from The Alan Parsons Project). Those and my one Sony “MasterSound” gold CD (Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here) all are mastered with some headroom left in the possible amplitude range. The several DCC gold CD’s I have are a bit “hotter” in that the peaks do tend to top out quite often, but the mass of the sound is kept lower. And the “flat-lines”, for ignorance of a better term, at the top end aren’t for nearly as long as these newer releases.
    I brought this up so that someone who might understand what is really going on in the recording industry could at least help clarify – whether it’s for the good, the bad or the ugly.
    Sounds like it’s for the ugly – people pushing other people into doing something they don’t really want to do.
    I would still rather a CD try to remain faithful to the original recording artist’s and engineer’s intentions – sonically, dynamically, whatever... as best a CD can. However, it is hard to know what that original intention would be on today’s new releases, because that “punched up” (if it was done) release would be the only standard available to go by.
    And as you say, Vince, maybe that is what the artist wanted.
     
  15. Steve Owen

    Steve Owen Second Unit

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    Joel, you said exactly what I meant... I over-generalized.

    I see very little reason to NOT use all 65536 steps. Just for giggles, I've taken a look at some (what are supposed to be) audiophile CDs of "quiet" music like violin concertos and the like only to find that they're using only 20-25% of the available resolution (peak range somewhere around step 8200 or so... when normalized to the same output, that's the equivalent of about 13 bits or so). To me, that seems to be a complete waste of resolution.

    What's the point in going after 24 bit resolution when a lot of CD mastering doesn't bother to use the 16 that they already have.

    -Steve
     
  16. Dave Morton

    Dave Morton Supporting Actor

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    Vince,
    Great explanation! I'm getting into the world of home recording and am trying to learn as much as I can. I must have learned something because I understood your comments. Also, what do you think of the magazine Electronic Musician?
    As for as 24 bit is concerned, cd players cannot play back at this resolution. Thus, the mix must be dithered down to 16 bit to maintain the dynamic range. I believe most new recordings are all 24 bit if they are recorded digitally. Actually, you can maintain the 24 bit off of old analogue tapes too.
    I think this is correct. But someone will correct if I'm wrong. [​IMG]
     
  17. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    Besides just being ready for the future, another reason 24-bit masters with higher sampling frequencies are used is so that when engineers use their digital tools for various things, the artifacts are less severe when dithered back down to 16-bit.

    Regards,
     
  18. Luke Pacholski

    Luke Pacholski Auditioning

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