Ultra-compression of new CDs is depressing.

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Philip Hamm, Mar 27, 2002.

  1. Philip Hamm

    Philip Hamm Lead Actor

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    I was listening to the latest CD by Bruce Cockburn, probably my single favorite musical artist, today, and it depressed me. The CD is a collection of his more recent "greatest hits" with two new songs throwin in for good measure.
    The CD, particularly the new songs, are so compressed that the whole thing sounds lifeless. It really sounds awful, I could barely stand to listen to it. [​IMG] His last full fledged studio album "Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu" is just as bad, too. Bruce Cockburn is not a big "radio play" artist, he's a true "art" rocker with compelling poetry and wonderful music in his songs. One of the most talented songwriters alive today as far as I'm concerned. And his new CDs sound like absolute dogshit. There's a card insert that touts new remastered versions of his older albums. If this is what they're going to sound like, no thank you!
    Recently I've been mastering many of my LPs to compact disc using my MiniDisc deck to convert to analog and a digital connection to my computer. The results are excellent, these CDs sound really great. What is so striking is that my old LPs where I can only manage an average 45-60dB dynamic range have much better dynamics than current CDs. It's depressing. Music that I otherwise would enjoy on a medium capable of fantastic quality is pumping with compression out the wazoo and sounds like total shit.
     
  2. DonaldB

    DonaldB Supporting Actor

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    Here's a brilliant tirade from an article called "The Problem With Music" by Steve Albini, the world's greatest record engineer:
    Producers and engineers who use meaningless words to make their clients think they know what's going on. Words like punchy," "warm," "groove," "vibe," "feel." Especially "punchy" and "warm." Every time I hear those words, I want to throttle somebody.
    Producers who aren't also engineers, and as such, don't have the slightest fucking idea what they're doing in a studio, besides talking all the time. Historically, the progression of effort required to become a producer went like this: Go to college, get an EE degree. Get a job as an assistant at a studio. Eventually become a second engineer. Learn the job and become an engineer. Do that for a few years, then you can try your hand at producing. Now, all that's required to be a full-fledged "producer" is the gall it takes to claim to be one.
    Calling people like Don Fleming, Al Jourgensen, Lee Ranaldo or Jerry Harrison "producers" in the traditional sense is akin to calling Bernie a "shortstop" because he watched the whole playoffs this year.
    The term has taken on pejorative qualities in some circles. Engineers tell jokes about producers the way people back in Montana tell jokes about North Dakotans. (How many producers does it take to change a light bulb? "Hmmm. I don't know. What do you think?" Why did the producer cross the road? "Because that's the way the Beatles did it, man.") That's why few self-respecting engineers will allow themselves to be called "producers."
    Trendy electronics and other flashy shit that nobody really needs. Five years ago everything everywhere was being done with discrete samples. No actual drumming allowed on most records. Samples only. The next trend was Pultec Equalizers. Everything had to be run through Pultec EQs. Then vintage microphones were all the rage (but only Neumanns, the most annoyingly whiny microphone line ever made). The current trendy thing is compression, compression by the ton, especially if it comes from a tube limiter. Wow. It doesn't matter how awful the recording is, as long as it goes through a tube limiter, somebody will claim it sounds "warm," or maybe even "punchy." They might even compare it to the Beatles. I want to find the guy that invented compression and tear his liver out. I hate it. It makes everything sound like a beer commercial.
     
  3. Vince Maskeeper

    Vince Maskeeper Producer

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    Wait, when did Steve become the worlds greatest engineer?
    LOL
    -V
    PS: Thanks Donald for the link to my site. [​IMG]
     
  4. Rachael B

    Rachael B Producer

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    Hi Phillip! I bought 100 60 minute MD's to archieve LP's on to recently. I'm not going to bother to transfer to CD. The well-conditioned records sound hot.
    Donald, that was amusing![​IMG]
    Maybe they'll make all the CD's sound like shit as a ploy to swing the market to a better format that's copy-guarded? Who knows? Who knows? Could there be a big push for SACD or DVD-A or both soon? It seems like that's what they did with records, well worse, the vinnyl was so BAD in the twilight of it's age. Damn, they wanted us to switch, not fight. [​IMG]
    All kidding aside, maybe my jest could come true? Best wishes!
     
  5. Ryan Spaight

    Ryan Spaight Supporting Actor

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    They're mixed to sound good on computer speakers, boom boxes, bass-happy car stereos, discmen and "home-theater-in-a-box" systems.
    Quaint folks like us who listen on real stereo systems are out of the loop.
    In a way, new CDs are premixed for MP3. How ironic. [​IMG]
    Ryan
     
  6. Philip Hamm

    Philip Hamm Lead Actor

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  7. Vince Maskeeper

    Vince Maskeeper Producer

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    Phil,

    Speaking as another engineer, I can say the artists are often involved in these butcheries as well. Certainly no engineer, even mastering people, really are fans of squeezing 2db of dynamic range out of the first real medium (CD) we've ever had which allowed real dynamics.

    There are pressures from all sides, the label specifically-- but I have certainly seen some pretty "smart" artists get caught up in the loudness game and push me to squash the poop-snot out of recordings.

    The continuing emphasis on album as product (where, IMHO, the industry would be seriously reformed by taking all emphasis of the album and shift it to the performance-- making the album promo for the gig, instead of the other way around)--- you're going to see this get worse and worse. I find it funny that we push for a 20 or 24bit playback format, yet engineers use the top 3db of the available headroom.

    -vince

    np: Sunny Day Real Estate Diary.
     
  8. Ted Lee

    Ted Lee Lead Actor

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    slightly off-topic, but i bet you guys will know the answer.
    why do today's cd's sound louder? if someone could explain this in layman's terms that would be helpful to my not-so-technical brain. [​IMG]
    i know when i listen to my older cd's, i have to turn the volume up..sometimes by quite a bit. also, when i'm making compilation cd's, i'll encounter this.
    i suspect it must have something to do with this compression bru-ha-ha?
     
  9. Fredrik E

    Fredrik E Stunt Coordinator

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    Yes, the compression makes them sound louder, it increases the average sound level on the CD.
     
  10. Vince Maskeeper

    Vince Maskeeper Producer

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  11. James RD

    James RD Supporting Actor

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    Thanks, Vince. That was a great explanation.
     
  12. Jeff_A

    Jeff_A Screenwriter

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    That WAS a beautiful analogy, Vince! [​IMG]
     
  13. Philip Hamm

    Philip Hamm Lead Actor

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    Beautiful analogy.
    But you forgot to stress that the compressed music often sounds like total ass.[​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Most of my LP record recordings look at least as dynamic the CCR sample above, and some are amazingly dynamic (T-Bone Burnett's "Proof Through The Night" particularly). Even with a 50dB noise floor they have MUCH better dynamics than typical modern CDs. Depressing.
    Rachael, I'm abandoning MiniDisc. I got screwed by Sony's 510, and a 920 went dead on me one week out of warrantee and Sony didn't stand behind it. How long before my other MD gear dies? I need a long term solution and CD-R, not MD, is it. So far my results have been very good. I've transferred about 30 albums to CD using the MDS-JB920 to convert analog to digital, using a digital in on my PC and Sound Forge to record. Not running any noise reductionn other than eliminating major ticks before normalizing.
     
  14. Vince Maskeeper

    Vince Maskeeper Producer

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  15. Brian Perry

    Brian Perry Cinematographer

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    The crazy thing is that the studios will eventually try to sell us DVD-As and SACDs of these albums, and they WILL sound better; not because of the inherent superiority of those formats (which is real) but because the compression was removed. We are going backwards...
     
  16. Andrew 'Ange Hamm' Hamm

    Andrew 'Ange Hamm' Hamm Supporting Actor

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    It can't be removed if it's in the original mastering.

    Speaking as something of a home studio enthusiast (see link below), I use compression for almost every part I record--but not very much of it. Fact is, I'm not very good at recording, and compression helps me cheat. It makes my work a lot easier, especially on drums. But then if you compress the drums too much, all the crash cymbals sound like "WHOOSH-OOSH-oosh-oosh..." as the other drums intrude on their decay. This is audible almost to comic effect on the new Cockburn song "My Beat," as well as Sixpence None the Richer's "Breathe."

    Why is everybody so damn afraid to be quiet for a few bars? Write something worth listening carefully to and they will listen carefully.

    NP: Bruce Cockburn - Inner City Front (because I just learned "Broken Wheel" on guitar)
     
  17. Philip Hamm

    Philip Hamm Lead Actor

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  18. Lee Scoggins

    Lee Scoggins Producer

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  19. Philip Hamm

    Philip Hamm Lead Actor

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    Lee if you've never heard dynamics on CD then I recommend picking up DMP's gold re-release CD of Flim & The BB's "Tricycle" and listening to the track "Thunder & Birdies".

    Also, my CD copies of my LPs all have similar dynamic presence as the original. I guess the A-D converter on my MDS-JB920 is fairly decent, but the key is that I'm not modifying the WAV files in any way and there is no additional compression in the chain.

    But you're right, the LP format has fantastic dynamic abilities, even with the poor "on paper" s/n ratio.
     
  20. Ted Lee

    Ted Lee Lead Actor

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    vince - thanks for that information. your post was totally helpful in explaining it in a way i could get. [​IMG]
     

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