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Topic: Could someone help explain to me why modern music sounds louder? (Read 6416 times) previous topic - next topic
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Could someone help explain to me why modern music sounds louder?

I understand about dynamic range compression and the loudness war, but after lots of searching it's hard for me to get a good grasp of it.

Let's compare two tracks, one louder and motte impactful and more recent than the other, and compare their stats on the dynamic range database:

More recent:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSX13jgRxI4

http://dr.loudness-war.info/album/view/34836

Older:
http://dr.loudness-war.info/album/view/25175

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NvTNWWL4CW4

Dynamic range is rated out of 20. Both are the first track on their respective albums

Now if you notice on the first track,  they are able to get the song extremely loud in a way that in the second song they are not. Also in general the first song seems crisper and more impactful in general. Why is this?

Stats are given at the bottom of each page

First song:

DR       Peak         RMS            Track
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

DR4               over         -6.53 dB         01 - Sowing Season.wav



Second song:

DR        Peak        RMS              Track
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
DR7      -0.12 dB    -9.00 dB      01-Airbag


So, given those stats, why does the first song that is more recent sound the way it does. Was it technologically impossible in 1997 to get a song to sound like that newer track, or was it just as possible but they just decided not to in order to not lose dynamic range?

Could someone help explain to me why modern music sounds louder?

Reply #1
I understand about dynamic range compression and the loudness war, but after lots of searching it's hard for me to get a good grasp of it.

Let's compare two tracks, the first one is newer. It's called "Sowing Season." It seems louder and more impactful in it's production, compared to the second older track "Airbag." Each song is posted along with it's "Dynamic range compression" stats. Dynamic range is rated out of 20. Click on the link below the song to see those stats. Each song is the first song listed so just look at the first number in the sequence of numbers.


Sowing Season:
http://grooveshark.com/#!/s/Sowing+Season/1Xs0nh?src=5

http://dr.loudness-war.info/album/view/34836

Airbag:
http://grooveshark.com/#!/s/Airbag/4CCzFv?src=5

http://dr.loudness-war.info/album/view/55030



Now if you notice on Sowing Season,  they are able to get the song extremely loud about a minute in, in a way that on Airbag they are not. Also in general the first song seems crisper and more impactful in general. Why is this?

Stats are given at the bottom of each page

Sowing Season:

DR       Peak         RMS         
---------------------------------------------------

DR4               over         -6.53 dB        



Airbag:

DR        Peak        RMS             
---------------------------------------------
DR7      -0.12 dB    -9.00 dB     

So, given those stats, why does the first song that is more recent sound the way it does. Was it technologically impossible in 1997 to get Airbag to sound like Sowing season? Or was it just as possible but they just decided not to in order to not lose dynamic range?


OK so for some reason I accidentally quoted myself instead of editing and now I can't edit, sorry. But his post that was supposed to be my edit is more clear, so read this post instead of the OP.

Could someone help explain to me why modern music sounds louder?

Reply #2
Also in general the first song seems crisper and more impactful in general. Why is this?

I'm not sure you can meaningfully compare something like that across two completely different tracks. Ok, if it were two differently mastered versions of the same track then it could make sense to discuss why one was more "impactful" than the other, but I'm doubting that very much can be ascertained by comparing different source material.

Could someone help explain to me why modern music sounds louder?

Reply #3
In 1997 or even 1967 it was definitely possible to master things loud / with no dynamic range. They just didn't take it to the extremes that are commonplace nowadays. Extreme compression is common because it's the "modern" sound, and because everyone is listening with earbuds or mini speakers or in cars, over lots of background noise.

On CD the loud mastering trend started more-or-less in the early to mid-'90s and has been getting worse and worse, to the point where it's common to get albums now that have virtually no variation in loudness from beginning to end. Having DR 7 in a 1997 mastering and DR 4 in a 2006 mastering is pretty typical. Had it been mastered in 1987, there'd be little or no compression, and it'd probably be like DR 13!

Really, DR 4 and DR 7 are pretty close, and our ears apply some extra dynamic range compression as well, so if these two masterings sound dramatically different, it's probably more due to EQ than the 3 dB drop in DR value. In my experience, the difference has to be a bit more than that to really be noticeable.

You can read elsewhere about what dynamic range compression is and how it relates to loudness, but basically it involves turning down the loudest parts of the song so that all the parts are roughly the same volume, then boosting the overall volume level of everything to get the peaks close to the maximum allowed by the digital format. When you play this audio side-by-side with the original, it's louder, because it really is louder...the overall level is hovering very steadily within a few dB of, say, 3 dB below the digital maximum, rather than fluctuating much more wildly around, say, -10 dB below maximum.

Remastering also usually involves messing with the EQ a bit, and sometimes stereo separation as well, so this can affect your perception of loudness.

Could someone help explain to me why modern music sounds louder?

Reply #4
First, "DR" measurements are notoriously inaccurate/misleading, they don't mean much. You are also comparing two different songs made by different bands and producers with different artistic visions (and possibly label requirements) of what they wanted to accomplish. That doesn't have anything to do with the recording technology. For professional recording and mixing of non-synthesized instruments nothing has really changed between 1997 and today.  Going back to 1977 would make more of a difference technologically, but dynamic range compression was being used even before that (with different equipment, of course).


It sounds like the band/producer behind the first track wanted something a bit more dynamic, there are large parts of the song with only clean, undistorted guitar and vocals. The guitars on Airbag are distorted from beginning to end, the song is a bit more of a "rocker".

Since you're looking at Radiohead,  there's a track they did in 92 that is more dynamic than either of the ones you posted:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G3NwTXJq7IY

It's clearly a stylistic choice.


Could someone help explain to me why modern music sounds louder?

Reply #6
DSP technology became affordable and popular in the 1990's and created a true boost in audio compression. One of the first examples is the TC Electronic Finalizer.
The music recording magazine SoundOnSound wrote in 1996:
Quote
"If you are patient enough (and have sufficient understanding) to set up each processor section carefully, the results are nothing short of superb — but in the wrong hands, the Finalizer can wreak more havoc on your music than a second‑hand Chinese cassette in a well‑used 4‑track!”
[/size]We now know how spot on this was.

Could someone help explain to me why modern music sounds louder?

Reply #7
(For some reason I thought the comparison was between two different appearances of "Airbag" ... but you guys are right; it's two different songs / bands altogether! ... apples and oranges)

Could someone help explain to me why modern music sounds louder?

Reply #8
I don't think it's just a stylistic choice, I know of no songs that sound like Sowing Season made in the 90's. Play it at the same time as the loudest 90's song and it'll still completely drown the sound of the 90's song out. You can't tell me that there's not a clear difference in general crispness between any 90's song and that song that's a result of something different being done in the production.

Ok let's take another song by the same band: http://grooveshark.com/#!/s/Degausser/2gEx83?src=5

What 90's song sounds like that kind of production? It definitely just in general seems, not necessarily even louder (it is that too) but more impactful, up front than anything in the 90's.

Could someone help explain to me why modern music sounds louder?

Reply #9
Before we continue, can you define "crispness" please.

Again, you're comparing different songs and trying to come to the conclusion that they sound different/louder/etc.

Could someone help explain to me why modern music sounds louder?

Reply #10
I definitely hear more compression in Sowing Season than in Airbag. If I compare just the loudest parts of each song, Sowing Season sounds more restricted with less depth to the sound. Airbag sounds not as loud, not just because it is literally quieter, but also musically. Airbag sounds punchier and more airy. In Sowing Season, the guitars and drums sound more up front in the mix.

I'm not sure what you mean by "impactful" or "crisp." Sowing Season sounds like it would be a more dynamic song musically, if there weren't so much DR compression on it. I think what you are describing may be more a result of the mixing or sound of the music rather than the DR compression.

Try comparing different masters of the same song to get an idea of what effects modern mastering with DR compression can have on the sound, like Pearl Jam's Ten with the original 1991 release with DR10 and the 2009 remaster with DR6. The more you pay attention to which of your music is mastered loudly and which is not, the more you will notice what the loud albums have in common, and what part of that comes from the compression and what part is just the nature of the music.

Could someone help explain to me why modern music sounds louder?

Reply #11
Quote
I don't think it's just a stylistic choice, I know of no songs that sound like Sowing Season made in the 90's. Play it at the same time as the loudest 90's song and it'll still completely drown the sound of the 90's song out. You can't tell me that there's not a clear difference in general crispness between any 90's song and that song that's a result of something different being done in the production.
Certainly, the styles of music and the style-choices in production have changed since the 90s. 

A lot of bands are probably trying to play in the modern style with minimum dynamics.  Perhaps there are quiet sections, but otherwise they are probably trying to make it constantly-loud (or at least at a constant volume).  And, if you are playing/programming MIDI samples, that's easy to do with no dynamic expression.

I don't think the tools & capabilities have changed that much since the 90s...  We have different hardware & software but the basic principals & concepts of compression & limiting haven't changed.  With a with a digital file, you can "look ahead" and do things you can't do in analog or real-time, but we had that capability before the 90s.  But, the tools are used in ways they were not used 20 years ago.

The "newest thing" is probably multiband compression, but I'm pretty sure that's been widely used for 10 or 15 years (or more).  The Internet tells me there were multiband compressors around in the analog days (but they probably were not widely used on digital recordings).

Could someone help explain to me why modern music sounds louder?

Reply #12
if you study calculus there's a portion of that science that discusses techniques for measuring the amount of volume/energy/area within/under a waveform.  It's very relevant to this because audio waveforms are graphed in such a way that can be interpreted similarly.  Also, the audio waveforms are stored numerically, which can be specifically measured a great variety of ways, so that portion of it is not limited to subjective conjecture. 

but something to consider...

some of the modern trends are actually a step backwards in quality since the 1990s.  if you listen to 2013 album that's been overcompressed such as Will.i.am's "WillPower" album, you can hear the bass and kick drums suddenly disappear when the whole track gets louder.  This doesn't seem aesthetically like it was intended and sounds like an audio sacrifice/artifact. 

For this style of music, most people would want the bass and kick to be pretty much reliable if not constant, excepty during aesthetic breaks.  But what actually happens because it's been so overcompressed is that there's no more room for the bass because all the other instruments are flooding the amplitude range. 

If you load up the tune from a CD into Audacity and look at the waveform compared to other tunes in the same or simlar genre but from previous decades, you can both see and hear a big difference. 

Also, a lot of modern mastering is focussed now on singles instead of albums, so that albums don't push all the tracks down in amplitude just to match the average volume of the loudest track on the album.  This to me is an advancement and allows each track to be as loud as reasonably possibly, without having to resort to overcompression or clipping.
Be a false negative of yourself!

Could someone help explain to me why modern music sounds louder?

Reply #13
For reference here is the waveform image of the last song linked above: http://grooveshark.com/#!/s/Degausser/2gEx83?src=5

BTW. This image was only generated from an analog stream capture from the flash player in the above link.


Could someone help explain to me why modern music sounds louder?

Reply #14
DSP technology became affordable and popular in the 1990's and created a true boost in audio compression. One of the first examples is the TC Electronic Finalizer.
The music recording magazine SoundOnSound wrote in 1996:
Quote
"If you are patient enough (and have sufficient understanding) to set up each processor section carefully, the results are nothing short of superb — but in the wrong hands, the Finalizer can wreak more havoc on your music than a second?hand Chinese cassette in a well?used 4?track!”
[/size]We now know how spot on this was.


And prior to that we had devices like the Aphex Aural Exciter -- not a compressor, more like a fancy equalizer/phase shifter 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exciter_(effect)


Could someone help explain to me why modern music sounds louder?

Reply #15
Comparing firestarter.mp3 (Prodigy) - 1996 with thefinalcountdown.mp3 (Europe) - 1986
https://bash-o-saurus-rex.googlecode.com/gi...ample-scans.txt
you can see similar dynamics, but since firestarter is just higher in the scale, it needs another 2 dB more of the (negative) correction.

simplified: same evil for the last 30 years.

p.s. According to this
https://bash-o-saurus-rex.googlecode.com/gi..._rockTop250.txt
ppl don't seem to care for high LRA that much, 15 or 3 is similar to them as it seems (comparing #1 and #2). < or, if the song is "cool", everything is fine ...

Edit: @peterh, your two candidates:
http://paste.debian.net/plain/106659
To me it looks almost like "brand new" was artificially produced for some sort of "fake" high LRA.
PANIC: CPU 1: Cache Error (unrecoverable - dcache data) Eframe = 0x90000000208cf3b8
NOTICE - cpu 0 didn't dump TLB, may be hung

Could someone help explain to me why modern music sounds louder?

Reply #16
For reference here is the waveform image of the last song linked above: http://grooveshark.com/#!/s/Degausser/2gEx83?src=5

BTW. This image was only generated from an analog stream capture from the flash player in the above link.



I don't know exactly what these waveforms mean since i'm not an expert, but I can see it's very bricked during the loud sections. What about the quieter sections, is that what being bricked looks like too?

Edit: @peterh, your two candidates:
http://paste.debian.net/plain/106659
To me it looks almost like "brand new" was artificially produced for some sort of "fake" high LRA.


I know, but I mean how do they get such a high loudness range? How are they able to start it fairly loud (or at least average volume) then get it far more loud?

Could someone help explain to me why modern music sounds louder?

Reply #17
Quote
I know, but I mean how do they get such a high loudness range?

what do you mean?
Quote
How are they able to start it fairly loud (or at least average volume) then get it far more loud?

my ears and my silly graph doesn't really confirm that, are you looking for something magical or what?
PANIC: CPU 1: Cache Error (unrecoverable - dcache data) Eframe = 0x90000000208cf3b8
NOTICE - cpu 0 didn't dump TLB, may be hung

Could someone help explain to me why modern music sounds louder?

Reply #18
I know, but I mean how do they get such a high loudness range? How are they able to start it fairly loud (or at least average volume) then get it far more loud?

If you can believe that they were able to get the loudest part as loud as it is, then it is no stretch of the imagination to think they would be able to make other parts of the song (albeit pretty loud, but still) not quite as loud. They raise the volume of the whole song, and the loudest parts suffer the most.

Could someone help explain to me why modern music sounds louder?

Reply #19
Don't forget that anything extracted from a YouTube FlashPlayer or similar is going to have compression from the website streaming/storage as well as any compression that may have been in the original recording.  A lot of people that are aware of this complain about the unneeded compression added by YouTube, and they used to even entertain the idea of quitting it, but they still do it.  Also it will be lossy audio and not lossless so it goes through other spectral changes and noise is introduced.  It's better to deal with the original CD tracks when making comparisons, if possible.
Be a false negative of yourself!

Could someone help explain to me why modern music sounds louder?

Reply #20
Quote
I don't know exactly what these waveforms mean since i'm not an expert, but I can see it's very bricked during the loud sections. What about the quieter sections, is that what being bricked looks like too?
You can keep boosting the volume until every "wave" and every little ripple is "bricked"! 

There is a limit and at some point you simply cannot go louder.  A 2kHz 0dB square wave is probably as loud as you can get.    If you boost a 0dB clipped square wave, absolutely nothing happens (if the result is also clipped at 0dB).  (Your ears are most-sensitive around 2kHz). 

When done properly, limiters are used to "round over" the peaks, so they are not clipped (squared-off).  But if you push compression/limiting hard enough you'll still get clipping.  And the harmonics introduced by clipping make it sound even louder!

If you download Audacity, you can look at some waveforms.  You can zoom-in to see the individual samples and individual "waves" if you wish.  And you can boost the volume to see what happens.  You can use the Amplify effect to boost the volume by more than 50dB!  You'll have to check the box to allow clipping, and the volume won't really be boosted by 50dB because it will get clipped.*  But, you will get an idea of what happens to the waveform and what clipping does to the sound.  (You may need turn-off "Show Clipping" if you boost volume a lot, and you still want to see the waveform.  "Show Clipping" makes the display red so you can see where the clipping is, but if there's a lot of clipping it makes it harder to see the waveform.)

Audacity also has compressor & hard limiter effects, or you can download optional compressors & effects.  The hard-limiter is really a "clipper" as it doesn't round-over the waves. 

BTW - You can also find expander effects, or some compressors can be confgured to expand.  Expansion increases the dynamic range by boosting the loud parts and/or reducing the quiet parts.  Expansion is rarely used in audio production except as a special kind of downward-expander called a noisegate.  A noisegate kills the audio completely when the level falls below a preset threshold.

Note that expansion cannot be used to un-do compression, because we never know the compression parameters and often compression is also applied to the individual tracks before mixing.  And, when the signal is limited or clipped there is no way of knowing the original height or shape of the waveform.




*Audacity won't actually clip the waveform because it uses floating-point and there's no limit.  But, your soundcard/driver is limited to 0bBFS, and if you export to a "normal" WAV file, it will be clipped at 0dB.    So depending on your volume setting, you may not hear clipping unless you make a WAV file and play it.  Or, you can set the hard-limiter effect to 0dB, or just below 0dB.

Could someone help explain to me why modern music sounds louder?

Reply #21
Quote
I don't know exactly what these waveforms mean since i'm not an expert, but I can see it's very bricked during the loud sections. What about the quieter sections, is that what being bricked looks like too?
You can keep boosting the volume until every "wave" and every little ripple is "bricked"! 

There is a limit and at some point you simply cannot go louder.  A 2kHz 0dB square wave is probably as loud as you can get.    If you boost a 0dB clipped square wave, absolutely nothing happens (if the result is also clipped at 0dB).  (Your ears are most-sensitive around 2kHz). 

When done properly, limiters are used to "round over" the peaks, so they are not clipped (squared-off).  But if you push compression/limiting hard enough you'll still get clipping.  And the harmonics introduced by clipping make it sound even louder!

If you download Audacity, you can look at some waveforms.  You can zoom-in to see the individual samples and individual "waves" if you wish.  And you can boost the volume to see what happens.  You can use the Amplify effect to boost the volume by more than 50dB!  You'll have to check the box to allow clipping, and the volume won't really be boosted by 50dB because it will get clipped.*  But, you will get an idea of what happens to the waveform and what clipping does to the sound.  (You may need turn-off "Show Clipping" if you boost volume a lot, and you still want to see the waveform.  "Show Clipping" makes the display red so you can see where the clipping is, but if there's a lot of clipping it makes it harder to see the waveform.)

Audacity also has compressor & hard limiter effects, or you can download optional compressors & effects.  The hard-limiter is really a "clipper" as it doesn't round-over the waves. 

BTW - You can also find expander effects, or some compressors can be confgured to expand.  Expansion increases the dynamic range by boosting the loud parts and/or reducing the quiet parts.  Expansion is rarely used in audio production except as a special kind of downward-expander called a noisegate.  A noisegate kills the audio completely when the level falls below a preset threshold.

Note that expansion cannot be used to un-do compression, because we never know the compression parameters and often compression is also applied to the individual tracks before mixing.  And, when the signal is limited or clipped there is no way of knowing the original height or shape of the waveform.




*Audacity won't actually clip the waveform because it uses floating-point and there's no limit.  But, your soundcard/driver is limited to 0bBFS, and if you export to a "normal" WAV file, it will be clipped at 0dB.    So depending on your volume setting, you may not hear clipping unless you make a WAV file and play it.  Or, you can set the hard-limiter effect to 0dB, or just below 0dB.


Ok so basically the answer for why it sounds the way it does is a lot of dynamic range compression?

Could someone help explain to me why modern music sounds louder?

Reply #22
Ok so basically the answer for why it sounds the way it does is a lot of dynamic range compression?

Basically, yes. As mjb2006 said:

(...) it involves turning down the loudest parts of the song so that all the parts are roughly the same volume, then boosting the overall volume level of everything to get the peaks close to the maximum allowed by the digital format. When you play this audio side-by-side with the original, it's louder, because it really is louder...the overall level is hovering very steadily within a few dB of, say, 3 dB below the digital maximum, rather than fluctuating much more wildly around, say, -10 dB below maximum.


This video may be of interest.

Could someone help explain to me why modern music sounds louder?

Reply #23
Iv'e come to the conclusion that this is certainly what it is. I turned on the soundcheck option on iTunes to make all songs play at the same volume, and the more modern songs don't sound much different from songs in the 90's or whatever.

Could someone help explain to me why modern music sounds louder?

Reply #24
(...) it involves turning down the loudest parts of the song so that all the parts are roughly the same volume, then boosting the overall volume level of everything to get the peaks close to the maximum allowed by the digital format. When you play this audio side-by-side with the original, it's louder, because it really is louder...the overall level is hovering very steadily within a few dB of, say, 3 dB below the digital maximum, rather than fluctuating much more wildly around, say, -10 dB below maximum.


There's multiple ways to get something loud. You can slap a brickwall on the loudest track and kill that one to keep the rest somewhat clean... or you can use limiting and simply raise the quiet stuff (in this case, peaks are not turned down and transients are preserved, but overpowered). There's also upwards compression (similar to limiting, but then again, clipping-limiting-compressing is somewhat of a continuum), side chaining, or you could also reduce peaks via a transient designer. Software has come so far that there's so many takes on the basic principles. I would say there is a lot of variety in how loudness in achieved too in the real world, especially with genre in mind. Compare Nicki Minaj to Paramore... say what you want about her, but the sound quality isn't as upfront and suffocating like Paramore. Certain genres/styles of music may be better suited for different techniques. Visually you can see different techniques used on a basic level and make educated guesses about what took place a well.

 
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