Compression techniques ruining modern music (article)

Dennis Nicholls

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I don't look down on pop music unknowingly. I look down on pop music knowingly. I've listened to large amounts of both for decades (I'm 53 now) and have made my decisions based upon knowledge.

What really gets me are young kids who say things to me like "Oh, you listen to classical music: you MUST be a snob." When I ask them how much classical music they have heard, they say something like "I've never listened to ANY, but I KNOW you must be a snob." This is what mental health professionals call projection.
 

Colin Jacobson

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I'm not sure if you're trying to convince us you're not a snob, but this statement guarantees your place at the next annual Super Snob picnic!
 

Brian Little

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So instead of letting "young kids" get away with thinking that people who listen to classical music are "snobs" why don't you show them why classical music is worthwhile. Yeah some of today's "young kids" might not get it but there are a few if given the proper exposure will give classical music a chance.

I'm not that much of an expert on classical music. But if someone like you could perhaps give me an idea on where would be a good piece to give myself an introduction (outside of the 2001 soundtrack, which I love)... then I'm more than willing to give classical music an listen or two.
 

ThomasC

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My favorite composers are Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. Here is my favorite recording of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3: Amazon link

Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 is a good symphony to start with. I have this recording that I purchased because it's a DVD-Audio, but I don't like how fast the conductor goes with the piece. It's still worthy of a purchase, and you may like it more than I do.
 

ChristopherDAC

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I enjoy Mussorgsky and Smetana and Dvorak. I'm sure there are classical music aficionados for whom that immediately marks me out as a low-brow, but I actively enjoy Eastern European Romantic music of the mid-to-late XIX Century (other music too, of course, but for argument's sake I name the category). I can "appreciate" the complexity of some of the very intellectual stuff out there, but I don't enjoy listening to it, and life is too short to waste time that way. I absolutely can't stand John Cage and his sort — 4'33" indeed! I also enjoy plenty of "popular" music ; and much of our older classical music was quite popular when it was new, although it had competitors in dance-hall music and so on. I find Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins worth listening to for the vocal aspects alone ; Al Stewart can be quite clever, and Dylan is an astounding lyricist if nothing else ; and I confess to a fondness for the sprightliness of Japanese "J-pop" (to make a few examples). And, of course, there is "folk" and similar music, which has served for the basis of some of the best classical music in one way or another (there is a world of difference between Orth's Carmina Burana and Dvorak's Sclavonic Dances, but I have a recording of each). In other words, I listen to what I enjoy. To get back to the topic at hand, I certainly find the "uncompromisingly compromised" quality of a lot of recent recordings to be unpleasant. It's sickening to think that this is what's been done with the extra 30+ dB of dynamic range that CD has over the average LP. On the other hand, much of the affected music I wouldn't buy even if it were perfectly-recorded, since what I've heard of it doesn't make me want it. I have heard some very good recent music, but it didn't suit me at all.
 

CarlP

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Would this be a good time to ask Rush to re-record "the worst sounding cd of all time" Vapor Trails? It's a shame too, it is a very good album.
 

PaulDA

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I second the "enjoy Eastern European.." sentiment.

I made the original "elitist snob" comment in this thread but my point wasn't about liking classical music. It was about appreciating subtlety (which can be found in many things, not just classical music) and how our society appears to be losing its taste (fleeting as it may always have been) for subtlety. I find the "dynamic compression disease" symptomatic of this lack of appreciate for subtlety.

I think one of the best ways for anyone to enter the world of classical music in reasonably priced fashion is to explore the RCA Living Stereo SACD releases, as well as Naxos (either in standard or hi-res).
 

Garrett Lundy

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I think two good works are Holst's The Planets and Orff's Carmina Burana. (although in the most snobbish sense neither are "classical" because they are both early 20th century). There are 10 bajillion recordings of either work and they can be had brand-new for under $10 (some labels you might find a set of both for under $10. thats a bargain!).

The Planets - A lot of music "borrows" heavily from this work. When you listen to these you're brain will likely remember 100 TV commercials and movies that sound very very similar to something here. That National beef Council commercial? ("its whats for dinner"), I dare you to listen to Jupiter and not tell me it was stolen note-for-note. Mars has probably been used in every budget sci-fi film ever made.

Carmina Burana - The opening track "O Fortuna" is the de facto movie trailer song. A couple of the lesser-known songs are used by hollywood every now and then.

The single biggest piece of advice I can give about classical:

*TURN IT UP*

The loud parts should be almost deafening. Otherwise you wont hear the quiet parts (This kind of dynamic range just doesn't exist in pop and most classical noobs dont know what to expect).

When I was younger I didn't care for classical because it was always played at fancy dinner levels on a crappy tabletop radio. Good impactful symphonies require more volume than a Motley Crue album, I kid you not.
 

Yee-Ming

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Good grief. And here I thought that when I finally bought New Jersey re-mastered, it was a good thing -- my copy of New Jersey was on cassette, never "upgraded" to CD at first instance, but maybe 2 years ago I found the re-mastered release on sale and thought it would be a good buy.

Then again, I rarely listen to CDs at home anyway, it's usually in the car or in the office, where the volume would be low as it's background music only. Perhaps that's one reason why I hadn't actively noticed the problem, but now that I've read the article and this thread, it does sort-of confirm what I think I've subconciously felt all along -- that there was something odd going on in the way current music sounded, as compared to the pop I grew up with in the 1980s.
 

Carlo Medina

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The really sad thing is that recording engineers make the active effort to TURN UP THE VOLUME. I just got a Pro Tools kit for home (M-powered, Firewire 410 into my Macbook Pro) and have been recording some guitar/vocals songs for a holiday CD I want to send to some close friends. When I record, and set the record levels right (and you have to in order to avoid clipping), the waveforms look like regular non-overcompressed waveforms. I would guess that at the point of recording the individual tracks and instruments, that is the case with most modern music.

It is at the point of mixing and finalizing that someone has to actively make the decision to really crank up the levels.

That guy needs to be fired.
 

RobertR

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I completely agree that much of today's popular music is overcompressed, overprocessed junk, and that classical music is a good refuge from such nonsense, but I disagree that compression didn't exist in the vinyl days. In fact, classical music dynamics suffered in many vinyl recordings because of the dynamic range/noise limitations of the medium. I remember how glorious it was to hear the Neptune movement from Holst's Planets fade into nothingness on CD like it never had on vinyl. Snap, crackle, pop? NO THANKS.
 

ChristopherDAC

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Dynamic range compression and limitation was a necessity for vinyl recordings, and it was (and is) generally done as "gently" as possible, to allow the recording to be cut and played without breaking a needle or jumping the grooves while preserving as much of the sound as possible. Dynamic range compression on CD is being done entirely for effect, because there's no need for it (find me a mic with a 96 dB SNR, somebody), and seems to be perfectly extreme. Sound advantage in this case goes to the recording with the more limited capabilities. With CD, unfortunately, the latitude it allows (you can make more mistakes and still produce an acceptable recording) is taken as a license not simply for carelessness but for actively ruining the sound — essentially, the medium has no limitations to respect.
 

Jeff_CusBlues

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Mark, that original waveform looks compressed also. I don't see a lot of difference in levels in that one either. Sure the second one is louder, but I contend that the first one is also overly compressed. Just my opinion though. It could be because there wasn't a lot of dynamic range in the music itself.
 

MarkHastings

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I don't claim to understand wave forms completely, but look at how the loudness of the second one has crushed the waveform. Isn't that some sort of compression?
 

ChristopherDAC

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The original is fairly weak in dynamic range, but it has an envelope to it, and a nice fringe of peaks. The new recording has completely eliminated the peaks, and a lot of the envelope is gone too. Definitely extreme compression.
 

MarkHastings

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Great link Brian. This thread reminds me of the ENDLESS audio dilemas I have in my business. I provide clients with video compressions and I run into this issue a lot. I'll capture a video according to "Broadcast Audio" standards, but when I play the file on my 'everyday' computers, I have to turn up the volume because I can't hear the movie.

That's because every other sound (i.e. WAV files, CD's, etc.) are SO overblown that my speakers are turned way down. Whenever I play a "good" audio file, you can barely hear it.

It does suck and I often have to explain to clients why their movies (that I made for them) don't sound as loud as their other stuff. They always think I'm doing something wrong
 

Grant B

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I stopped putting my cd Megachangers on Random because of the different levels that would scare my wife.
Without a doubt Oasis being the worst.
I read an article that they admitted they compressed the level out of their records because they wanted to be heard in a crowded pub over the records.
Why don't they just come out with 2 flavors like Widescreen & Full
Sort of a "Ipod /boombox" mix and a "Fine detailed recording mix"
 

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