Is LOUDER better?

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by mike_decock, Sep 26, 2002.

  1. mike_decock

    mike_decock Supporting Actor

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    I was complaining about the sonics of the new RUSH album on Audio Asylum and one of the folks pointed me to this very cool article:
    Over The Limit
    As technology "improves", the record execs find new ways to ruin the music we love.
    -Mike...
     
  2. Lee Scoggins

    Lee Scoggins Producer

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    Mike,
    Great post!
    This is a very interesting question.
    Allow me to relate some pro audio views on this from an audiophile standpoint.
    When we go into the studio to record jazz musicians, we use as few microphones as possible and usually go straight to two-track. This creates a very natural sounding recording. We also use good cables, anchor the mike stand on concrete and do other important things.
    When we play back the music to musicians, they are usually blown away because in their usual recording sessions everyone has a microphone and it gets mixed together which means more circuits and less sound quality. So the jazz and acoustic artists we work with love the sound.
    The whole philosophy is "less is better". Heck, we don't even use mixing boards at all. They are superfluous.
    Here is where it gets interesting - psychoacoustics. We don't have to record at as high a volume because the accuracy of the session is much higher. One's ears will perceive additional volume if the recording is very accurate. This is why sometimes when I lived in apartments with my audiophile soundsystem playing, neighbors might complain due to the music sounding too loud because the accuracy is very high.
    The problem with the Rush is also that valuable bits of musical information is being clipped. This is 180 degrees opposite of how good engineers work.
    I just wanted to relate the accuracy idea, because scientists have studied the phenomena and found that higher resolution and accuracy are perceived to be louder than the same recording with less accuracy at same dbs of volume.
    The ears are truly a complex and accurate instrument. [​IMG]
     
  3. Ryan Spaight

    Ryan Spaight Supporting Actor

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    This is a great article which everyone should read. Thanks for posting it here.

    If you want to get really depressed, rip a few tracks from the latest whiz-bang CD (new release or remasters) onto your computer and look at them in a wave editor (like Cool Edit or something similar). Instead of a waveform with peaks and valleys, they're just huge solid lines with nearly no dynamics at all.

    It's so very sad that CD is a format with huge potential dynamic range, and this new mastering trend crams everything into a few dbs.

    It'll be even sadder if they ruin SACD and DVD-A like this.

    Ryan
     
  4. Vince Maskeeper

    Vince Maskeeper Producer

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  5. RaulR

    RaulR Stunt Coordinator

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    Lee,

    From a little experience as a sound designer and engineer, and mostly from day-to-day experiences with what kind of recordings people complain about as being "loud," I've come to the same conclusions that you have about the complexity and subjectivity of human hearing.

    I'd just like to add that for this reason I personally always make a distinction between "loud" and "noisy." An accurate recording played back over good equipment can be loud, but it's never what I'd call noisy (i.e. distorted, unpleasant, harsh, etc.). Conversely, a poorly recorded or badly engineered/mastered recording can be quiet, but it's always noisy.
     
  6. mike_decock

    mike_decock Supporting Actor

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    I know that over-compressed recording methods have been discussed here before but I thought that article was extremely well-done with good graphic examples and analysis of what is happening and what the results are.

    I picked up the Rush album because I had heard it was better than their other "newer" stuff. Musically it was good but the production rendered it unlistenable. It's easily the worst sounding album ever to enter my collection and there's some really crappy albums for it to compete with.

    THIS TIME IT'S PERSONAL AND I'M PISSED!!!!

    -Mike...
     
  7. Lee Scoggins

    Lee Scoggins Producer

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  8. Alan_P

    Alan_P Extra

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    Appearantly some people have tried to "remaster" the disc. I haven't tried it yet so I don't know if it works.
    I got this document through one of the Rush forums. I have the original word document if anyone wants it.
    RE-MASTERING ¡§VAPOR TRAILS¡¨ AT HOME
    Written by Mark C. Daniels and Michael Yount
    Re-mastering process conceived by Michael Yount
    I may not be the best person to represent the ¡§Vapor Trails was mixed/mastered wrong¡¨ side of the Sound Wars argument. Just weeks ago, I would¡¦ve told you that anyone who thought the album was of poor sound quality and contained distortion was an anal-retentive audiophile with inflexible notions of what a CD should sound like.
    But then I discovered that these audiophiles weren¡¦t crazy¡K there was distortion on Vapor Trails, and although I couldn¡¦t really hear it, they could. What changed my mind was a multiple-page thread on a Rush bulletin board. It was there that a dissatisfied fan named Michael Yount had posted a ¡§Vapor Trails re-mastering¡¨ method he had come up with. Yount¡¦s process could be done at home by just about anyone. Using free audio programs available on the Web, one could eliminate unwanted distortion from all thirteen Vapor Trails songs in about one hour. Yount had also uploaded to the Internet short samples of ¡§Secret Touch¡¨ and ¡§Ceiling Unlimited¡¨ that had undergone his re-mastering techniques. I listened to these samples and became a believer.
    To my ears, Yount¡¦s ¡§re-mastered¡¨ versions of the songs were better than the original versions. I couldn¡¦t hear any distortion before on the released songs, but I could certainly hear the lack of distortion now, on Yount¡¦s re-mastered songs! On these ¡§clean¡¨ versions of the songs, I heard subtle musical nuances I¡¦d never noticed before. Perhaps these ¡§anal-retentive audiophiles¡¨ had been onto something all along, I thought.
    It¡¦s not my intention to point the finger at any band member, producer, or engineer and say, ¡§The album is full of distortion and it¡¦s your fault!¡¨ In fact, I don¡¦t know whether the original album contained Rush¡¦s intended sound or whether an unwanted mistake was made somewhere along the line. The only thing I¡¦m sure of is I prefer Yount¡¦s re-mastered album to the original. Maybe you will, too.
    Yount¡¦s re-mastering techniques neither add nor subtract musical notes to the songs. Likewise, the frequency ranges are neither raised nor lowered. The music on the re-mastered album remains as ¡§pure¡¨ as before ¡V perhaps even more pure, since the CD has been cleaned of distortion and more intentionally created music is revealed.
    I believe everyone should have a copy of Vapor Trails that pleases their ears. If you like the released version, continue to listen to it. But I encourage everyone ¡V especially those who¡¦ve complained of the sound quality ¡V to at least try Michael Yount¡¦s re-mastering process. I think you¡¦ll like this ¡§re-mastered¡¨ Vapor Trails more than the original. Now here¡¦s Mr. Yount to explain the details of the re-mastering process...
    MCD
    The following is a recommended list of tools required to perform this task:
    1. A rather fast PC with plenty of memory and a CD-R/RW drive will be greatly beneficial. (My personal system is an AMD Athlon 1.2 GHz with 640 MB RAM, and the process for the entire CD takes me slightly more than an hour to complete.) The calculations to be performed by the various audio-processing applications are extremely CPU-intensive, and will consume large amounts of memory in the process. A rather powerful PC is not an absolute necessity, but it more than likely is the ultimate deciding factor in whether this project takes you 1 hour or 4 hours to complete.
    2. Exact Audio Copy v0.9 Beta 4 (www.exactaudiocopy.de/eac09b4.exe) ¡V 1.2 MB. Even though most digital audio editors now include the ability to extract digital audio from CDs quite well, I still prefer EAC. When configured properly to match your PC and CD/DVD-ROM drive specifications, EAC¡¦s speed and accuracy is truly impressive.
    3. Cool Edit Pro v2.0 (http://ftp.syntrillium.com/pub/cep/cepsetup.exe) ¡V 19.34 MB. This is one of the more intuitive and popular digital audio editors available, and has online support. It has an extremely elegant user interface, and is quite simple to learn how to use efficiently. Even though the link provided points to a time-limited demo version, it is fully functional, and it will allow plenty of time for you to perform all of the same tasks as the registered version. Do not hesitate to dive into the included help files, as they provide a wealth of information about the settings for the different areas of the program.
    4. Waves Masters Bundle v3.5 (http://www.waves.com/download/3.5/Wa...s3.5NoDocs.exe) ¡V 6.53 MB. Again, a link to a fully functional, time-limited trial version (14 days), but worth its weight in gold! Waves Ltd. has what many consider to be the ¡§Rolls Royce¡¨ of audio plug-ins, and you will see why soon. The particular plug-in that we will be using from this bundle of gems is the ¡¥L2 UltraMaximizer.¡¦ It is a DirectX plug-in that utilizes ¡§intelligent¡¨ look-ahead algorithms to detect upcoming peaks in the audio that go out-of-bounds. It allows for impressive volume maximizing and proper peak-limiting without introducing distortion in the process. Here is the L2 User Guide in pdf format: (http://www.waves.com/download/pdf/L2.pdf).
    Once all of the necessary software has been downloaded and installed, the first step is to extract the digital audio from the CD. Exact Audio Copy is fairly straightforward in its operation (after initial setup and configuration). Just create a folder somewhere on your hard drive where you want to extract the wave files to, and let EAC do its job. Use the ¡¥Copy Uncompressed¡¦ option (or ¡¥F5¡¦) when you¡¦re ready to extract.
    Here¡¦s a summarized outline of the steps that will need to be performed to each wave file:
    „h Remove DC offset
    „h Convert to 32-bit resolution
    „h Run Cool Edit Pro ¡¥Clip Restoration¡¦
    „h Run ¡¥Waves L2 UltraMaximizer
    „h Convert to 16-bit resolution and Save
    1. First, after all of the audio has been extracted from the CD, some preparation needs to be done to the files before processing. Load each of the wave files into Cool Edit Pro and begin by removing the DC offset. The can be done by selecting Effects > Amplitude > Amplify > Center Wave. This is done to center the waveform along the baseline (-inf), and to ensure that additional artifacts are not introduced to the audio during processing.
    2. Next, the files must be converted to 32-bit resolution to allow for more precise editing. This can be done by selecting Edit > Convert Sample Type > Resolution=32. This will yield a much improved end result than processing through at 16-bit.
    3. Now, run Cool Edit Pro¡¦s ¡§Clip Restoration¡¨ feature to rebuild the clipped peaks of the audio. Perform this by selecting Effects > Noise Reduction > Clip Restoration > Restore Normal. This will eliminate the flat lines along the top and bottom of the waveform, thus removing the cause of the static.
    4. After the clipped peaks have been restored, use the Waves L2 UltraMaximizer DirectX plug-in to bring the peaks within range, but limiting the peaks properly without introducing harsh clipping in the process. The L2 plug-in ¡§intelligently¡¨ redraws the peaks instead of performing a hard ¡¥brick wall¡¦ limiting approach (which, for some reason, was done somewhere along the line to Rush¡¦s ¡§Vapor Trails¡¨ CD. This is simply the equivalent of taking scissors to the waveform and cutting off the excess. There are applications where this approach is desired, but not here.) Access the L2 plug-in by selecting Effects > DirectX > Waves > L2. If the plug-in does not show on the list, select ¡§Refresh Effects List¡¨ from the Effects menu. The preferred settings for L2 can be chosen by simply choosing the ¡§Hi Res CD Master¡¨ preset from the drop-down menu, but change the Threshold value to 0.0 dB. Even though I am suggesting using a built-in preset for quick configuration, it will still be a good idea to ensure these parameters are configured as follows: Threshold = 0.0 dB; Out Ceiling = 0.2 dB; ARC = Enabled; Quantize = 16 bit; Dither = Type 1; Shaping = Ultra.
    5. Finally, the files must be converted back to 16-bit resolution in order to be played through audio CD players. Select Edit > Convert Sample Type. Now, ensure that these parameters are configured as follows: Resolution = 16; Enable Dithering = Checked; Dither Depth = 0.5; pdf = Shaped Triangular; Noise Shaping = 44.1 KHz.
    After this has been completed, all that is left to do is to save the file, overwriting the original if desired. From this point, you can either encode the wave files to MP3 format, or burn a new CD using the newly saved wave files. Using any particular CD authoring application (such as Easy CD Creator or Nero) will most likely achieve the same results, since wave files are uncompressed audio and require no internal processing (encoding or decoding) during the CD writing stage. It boils down to a matter of personal preference and what you are already familiar with.
    I hope everyone finds this useful, and finds the outcome to be a more enjoyable listening experience. I always welcome suggestions for improvement, as I would not have reached this point without the invaluable assistance of others along the way. This is not a perfect solution to the problem, but it is a good start. Hopefully, those that have been dissatisfied with the sound quality of ¡§Vapor Trails¡¨ will be happy at last. Hopefully, we can all listen to a version of the album that satisfies our ears
     
  9. Lee Scoggins

    Lee Scoggins Producer

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    Interesting, but the point is all this conversion itself will take a sonic toll on the output also.
    We should not have to do this, the labels should. [​IMG]
     
  10. Steve Owen

    Steve Owen Second Unit

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  11. Craig_T

    Craig_T Second Unit

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    Between the awful compression and copy protection, labels are almost begging people NOT to buy their goods...
     
  12. mike_decock

    mike_decock Supporting Actor

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  13. Zane Charron

    Zane Charron Second Unit

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    I feel the same way about this album. The first time I even listened to it was as an MP3 online I could tell it was incredibly noisy. And after I listened to it at home, both my Rush-head friend and I said that it sounded like overdriven, noisy shit. I've noticed this happening as their recordings have progressed through the years, particularly starting with Counterparts.

    And the REAL shame is that Rush (and the record company) make their money from album sales and concert tours, NOT from radio airplay (anymore). Any Rush fan knows this, so why not buck the trend and make a great, dynamic sounding album? I look forward to Rush albums less and less these days.
     
  14. mike_decock

    mike_decock Supporting Actor

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  15. andrew markworthy

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  16. Kevin Farley

    Kevin Farley Second Unit

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    Sad, sad, sad. It's unbelieveable that actual "professionals" would allow this crap to be released, not to mention Rush. I'll bet even money that Neil is an audiophile, and for the band not to have final say on the master release of their sound is ludicrous. Maybe they should go down Prince's road and start releasing their own albums; i.e. screw the record companies. This is insane.

    The other thing I hate is compression! Most modern recordings have almost no dynamic range. I went to Full Sail, and had the opportunity to meet and learn from Bruce Swedien, chief engineer for Quincy Jones productions among other people, and he said that he refuses to use any compression. Granted, he works with some Very good singers, MJ included, but he noted that compression ruins the recording. Listen to any current pop cd, then pop in Thriller, Bad, QJ Back on the Block, or The Dude, etc. Incredible. We had a weeks lectures from him, and it was all-time. Even got to hear some of the 2 track Michael Jackson masters in the studio over Urei monitors... unreal.

    There has to be a backlash. I wish it was possible to email Neil directly and let him know.

    My other beef, is that in Most Cases, digital recording sucks. It definitely sucks for acoustic instruments. Sure, mix and master with it if you have to , but at least track in analog. Case in point: Metallica And Justice For All. Great music, absolutely crap recording. Sure, it's clean. Windexed even. but this is grungy hard metal with teeth! It's not supposed to be clean! Compare it directly to Master of Puppets or any of their earlier work.

    The Absolute Sound was jumping on this years ago at an AES convention. What scares me is that with file-sharing, most people will accustom theirselves to 128kbit mp3 compression and begin (gasp!) paying for it from record companies. We're really in trouble then!

    rrrrrrrrrrrrrrggggggggggghhhhhhhhhh.
     
  17. Evan S

    Evan S Cinematographer

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    This is an awesome link and really explained to me visually what I have read on this forum about this problem. However, this doesn't answer my question. How do I know when an album has been compressed. Does a higher volume level always associate itself with compressed music? How do I know if the album I buy has been compressed to the degree to which the recent Rush album was butchered and how can I determine this before I make my purchases?

    Are there programs you can run on each CD to analyze dynamic range and compression (keeping in mind that I have a rather antiquated PC)?

    Thanks for the great link that answered a lot of questions while creating a lot of others.
     
  18. Rick_Brown

    Rick_Brown Second Unit

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    Steve Owen wrote: "I personally have done similar things with older CDs that suffered from hiss or extreme sibilants. Rip. Run through Cool-Edit. Burn."

    Steve, how do you remove these sibilants using Cool-Edit? I hate sibilants! Thanks.
     
  19. Rich Malloy

    Rich Malloy Producer

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    BTW, I just found out that our very own Lee Scoggins was a PA on one of my favorite recordings -- the McCoy Tyner Quartet's "New York Reunion". Not only is the sound very natural, open, and realistic, it also requires that I twist the volume knob up a few notches! [​IMG]
     
  20. Frank_S

    Frank_S Supporting Actor

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