why cds are "louder" now?

Discussion in 'Music' started by Albert_M, Apr 29, 2004.

  1. Albert_M

    Albert_M Supporting Actor

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    Why is there such a discrepancy from a title printed in the 80s/early 90s to later 90s/now. The difference in tbe volume can be astounding.
     
  2. John Watson

    John Watson Screenwriter

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    Because bigger is better [​IMG]

    Sofas are too fat, burgers are too big, engines are too powerful, and the music is waaaay too loud.

    I remember buying the Sade "Greatest Hits" package a few years ago, thinking it would make a nice complement on the cd carousel to the 2 albums of her's I had, even though there was a bit of duplication among the songs.

    WRONG! The Hits disk was like twice the volume of the earlier cds.

    If the RIIAA had any use at all, it would have lead in the establishment of meaningful standards that only the most idiotic companies or obnoxious bands would have ignored.

    Another example of lack of useful standards is on DVD vs VCR vs TV broadcast volume levels.

    I dislike having to jigger with the volume control when I switch mode because there is such serious discrepancies as to sound level among these media.

    However hoping that these issues will ever be resolved is like expecting Microsoft to create an easier to use operating system [​IMG]
     
  3. Mike Broadman

    Mike Broadman Producer

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    It's done that way to make it seem to sound better on the radio.
     
  4. Brian L

    Brian L Cinematographer

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    Is there not a difference between "loud" and "compressed"?

    I personally don't much mind if a CD uses up all or most of its possible dynamic range. Theoretically, maximizing the level should pay some (although in the CD world, perhaps negligible) dividends in signal to noise ratio throughout the signal chain.

    Back in the day, I made it a point when dubbing cassettes to run the levels up as high as I could, but just shy of clipping or tape saturation.

    What IS a problem though is when a disc is masteretd such that everything is squashed, compressed, and maximized so that there is no dynanmic range (for reference see Rush: Vaopr Trails). The difference between the quiet parts and the loud parts is deminished, and the life of the recording is sucked clean.

    Isn't that whats really the issue?

    Now, why do that? As Mike said, so it sounds good on the radio, and by extension in the car. No one wants to put in a CD with a wide dynanmic range and play it in a noisy car. You will have to crank the volume so that the quiet parts are not drowned out by the ambient noise, then when the band gets rockin', you get blown out of your seat.

    Try playing the CD of Dire Straits, Love Over Gold in a car that is anything less than Lexus quiet...you wiill know what I mean half way into Telegraph Road.

    Of course, that all means that those of us that like to listen to music in a quiet room on a nice system are going to find that a huge percentage of what we buy sounds like crap.

    I seem to recall that some of the early car CD players had user selectable dynamic range controls. I suppose most users would have not had a clue what to do with it, so they fell from favor. But given the choice between piss poor CD mastering and having a little button on the CD deck that would address the problem, I vote for the button!

    BGL
     
  5. Albert_M

    Albert_M Supporting Actor

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    Well I welcome it in the respect that you don't have to crank it up as much, but it's not like the older cds were quiet. I too, used to maximize the loudness short of distortion when making tapes. But since this is digital, I feel that it should be uniform. I have a lot of cds from some of the same people, like Van Morrison and older ones mixed on a disc with some of the newer stuff and it's annoying that you can get blasted if a new track follows and old one - it's not like a tape where you can set the recording level.

    Actually Brian, you mentioned Rush. Put something from the 90s with something from their Mercury cds and it's ridiculous.
     
  6. pitchman

    pitchman Screenwriter

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    Not to open a can of worms, but I think the big factor is how some modern mastering techniques are abused during the digital mastering process. "No Noise" is used extensively by labels when remastering older catalog titles. This special EQ is designed to remove analog tape hiss, but almost always at the expense of high-end. The next overused process is "compression." Once again, compression results in fidelity loss. Today, the majority of all recorded music winds up on devices like mp3 players or minidiscs, so the loss of dynamic range is less of a factor there. Finally, now that all of that nasty hiss is gone, they can crank the hell out of the track and "maximize" it so it will blast better out of the car stereo. Bear in mind, this explanation is an over-simplification, but it gives you the general idea...

    A smarter approach is to always start with the best analog source possible and then transfer the music as transparently as possible to the digital domain. Way back when in the early days of CD's, flat transfers were the norm. Now, unfortunately, they have become the exception.

    Gary
     
  7. John Watson

    John Watson Screenwriter

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    Albert, some of the cd burning softwares do provide for equalizing volumes as between tracks on a cd you are going to burn.

    I wasn't optimistic about it, and don't know how it chooses what volume to "normalize" to, but the Nero I have just now does it, and satisfactorily to me.

    The earlier version of Nero I had did not have that feature, and in order not to end up with those jarring volume differences between tracks, I had to select the contents for a planned compilation from disks that I knew were of similar volume.
     
  8. TedT

    TedT Second Unit

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    I know what the original poster means and I have the same question.

    The problem is with the volume levels. I can use some of the CD burning software and "volume maximize" and the older CDs are still maximized at 100% yet they are not as loud as the newer CDs. I can even set the RH(? or is it RM? whatever you use in Goldwave to "make levels more uniform between songs") levels to those of newer CDs and they are STILL not as loud.

    I think it has to do with mastering. But if that's the case, then how come they didn't do it right the first time around? Was it just a case of doing something half assed in the beginning so they can make everyone buy the re-masters (or in some cases, re-re-masters)?
     
  9. ElevSkyMovie

    ElevSkyMovie Supporting Actor

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    What you are referring two is that music has peak levels and average levels. Older cds can be normalized so that the peak (loudest) part of each song hits zero full scale, but the track hasn't been compressed so that the average level is louder.

    Modern mastering houses have compressors similar to what radio stations use to make the music loud all the time. No radio station wants to be quiter than the others in their market. These compressors break the music down into 3 or 4 bands by frequency and compress each band. It can literally suck *all* the dynamic range out of a song.

    It can be a real problem, but there is not much you can do about it without some great audio software or outboard audio gear (and the knowledge of how to use them).

    You mentioned GoldWave, try opening the wav file and going to the Effect menu, then Dynamics. On the dropdown list pick soft clip. You may have to move the limit up or down depending on how loud the music is. Try processing the file with different limit levels to find one that suits you. Once your happy with that and the dynamic range is reduced, then normalise the track. That will get you closer to current cd mastering.
     
  10. Ike

    Ike Screenwriter

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    This one factor has made it where I actually find the sound of pop (real pop, Top 40 stuff, not the general term) to be repellant. It sped up my disdain for the music. Hearing something mixed properly back to back with something mixed terribly is just eye opening. Listen to the first two Stooges albums, then get the new Raw Power. Absolutely awful. At the end of the day, one is louder, but I play them at the same decibel level.

    This isn't a problem on vinyl.
     
  11. Keith Paynter

    Keith Paynter Screenwriter

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    This is probably the key factor. Average level and peak level are two different things.

    Some labels are going back to their catalogues and remastering with compression to raise the average levels. I believe there was a thread here several months ago (can't remember if it was re: Nirvana or Metallica) and someone showed a side-by-side comparison of an original album version of one song compared to a recent greatest hits version, where the greatest hits version was several db louder on average. I can't find the link though...
     
  12. Jeff Ulmer

    Jeff Ulmer Producer

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    No, it was that the technology used now wasn't available back then. Before L1, there were few ways of limiting audio that wouldn't cause digital overs. Now, music is crushed to sit at 0db digital at all times.

    If you want to point fingers, it is the A&R departments of the studios who are responsible for over limiting CDs. They are the ones who have been badgering mastering engineers to suck as much level out of the recordings as possible.

    To address a couple of other points raised, while No Noise is being used on older recordings, there is no reason, other than poor engineering, for it to affect the high end. Also, with today's sampling rates, higher digital levels are not necessary to maintain good signal to noise ratios, as the noise floor is excellent. The technique being used, while it does compress, is actually limiting, whereby any signal above a certain threshold is limited to the maximum output value, and as the levels at which limiting is introduced are lowered, more dynamic range is removed. The byproduct of this limiting is distortion on lower quality DACs, which clip when presented with signal levels at or just below 0db. Digital distortion is not pleasing to the ear, while the distortion introduced by analogue saturation is more tolerable.
     
  13. Keith Paynter

    Keith Paynter Screenwriter

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    This is technically the correct term. Limiting and compression ultimately do the same thing as far as levels are concerned but they work in 2 different ways.

    Limiting affects the level ceiling, and still allows dynamic range at the lower levels, while compression raises lower levels to reduce the dynamic range (it also raises background noise levels in the process).

    The unfortunate effect of such processing is the narrowing of frequency response, especially in lower frequency, dependant on the compression ratio (2:1, 4:1, 8:1, etc.) and the decay of the compression to normal.
     
  14. LanceJ

    LanceJ Producer

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    Looks like it's time to put a link to this page again:

    "Over the Limit: Ceiling Limited"

    Contains an excellent (& lengthy) explanation of limiting and compression, and graphs of several different Rush CDs. But if you don't have time to read the entire article, scroll down to the huge capital letter portion which very graphically & effectively demonstrates why this latest recording trend sounds so nasty.

    LJ
     
  15. ElevSkyMovie

    ElevSkyMovie Supporting Actor

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    Anyone know what software Rip used to find the number of clipped samples? I would like to do that with some of my newer cds.

    I really wish Vapor Trails wasn't so distorted. The songs are *so* good, but it hurts to listen to.
     
  16. LanceJ

    LanceJ Producer

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    Forgot to add something I learned once from building a little electronic sound effects kit (the manual had a stern warning about this regarding its 3" cone/$1.50 speaker [​IMG] ): the synthesizer chip was capable of generating square waves, which don't naturally occur in Nature.

    But more to the point, these waves are very unpleasant to listen to, due to their sharp and angular profile. And as far as that kit was concerned, lightly-built speakers can be quickly burned out if the overall volume level of the square wave is too high.

    And if you look at severely-clipped music waveforms, they actually look like tame square waves, so no wonder so much new music sounds so sh*tty.

    LJ
     
  17. Jeff Ulmer

    Jeff Ulmer Producer

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    From the looks of it, Rip is using ProTools as his DAW, in which case he is most likely using Metric Halo's Spectrafoo, which also features a host of other very useful analysing tools. I did the same test with Vapor Trails and was pretty disgusted by the results. Due to its price, Foo is not a tool for the hobbyist, but it is an amazing piece of software for anyone looking to seriously analyse audio.
     
  18. Bren_Chris

    Bren_Chris Stunt Coordinator

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    That Rush article was illuminating and I can sympathize with the writer about pegged out signals. (no pun…) But I do prefer the slightly higher volume levels of current CDs, at least the ones I’ve sampled. (I don’t listen to any current rock/pop acts, so for all I know, their CDs may sound horrible.) Compare, say, the original Yes CD issues from way back when with the 1994 remasters, then with the current remasters. The latest batch is finally audible. Or compare the Genesis Archives Vol. 2 box of a couple years ago with the 1994 “definitive edition” remasters – here’s a case where the B-sides and outtakes sound punchier and better than the proper albums. Not an enjoyable discrepancy.

    I’m really more of a jazz fan, and most of the recent reissues have gotten it right. Blue Note’s RVG series is an example of good remastering that also happens to make for a slightly louder listen. Or Columbia’s Miles Davis boxes – definite improvements, and the volume is obviously higher than the previous CD issues. The recent Jack Johnson Sessions box contains probably the loudest CDs I have ever owned, but the dynamics are still there.

    On the other hand, ECM’s current Rarum series doesn’t seem to take advantage of increased volume possibilities. Dave Holland’s collection, for example, has some very quiet tracks, and being that there aren’t extreme musical dynamics in these particular tracks, I’m wondering why they were (re)mastered so quietly.
     
  19. Vince Maskeeper

    Vince Maskeeper Producer

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    I have also written on this in the FAQ and Primer.
     
  20. Mike Broadman

    Mike Broadman Producer

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    This is debatable. Some are excellent, but some are bright.

    And some, like the new Newk's Time, splits people down the middle because the mix apparently leans heavily on the left.
     

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