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Does anyone else sometimes get kind of pissed thinking about the loudness wars?

Sometimes I'm listening to a song that's been made in the past 20 years and I think about how it's a great song but it would be even better and more emotional if the loudness wars hadn't happened, and then I think about how I'll never be able to experience the full beauty of many musician's art because of stupid decisions made in the production process. And if that's not enough even old albums get ruined because they remaster them to be crushed and then the remaster is all that's available in iTunes/Spotify/etc. I can't stand how greedy record companies are ruining art because they think they'll be able to make an extra buck by making it louder (even though research has shown that there's no correlation between how loud a track is and sales, probably because people adjust the volume to their comfortable listening level so if a track is loud they'll just turn it down).

Does anyone ever get frustrated thinking about the same kind of stuff?

Re: Does anyone else sometimes get kind of pissed thinking about the loudness wars?

Reply #1
Considering how often people whine about it I can tell you the answer is yes.

But more emotional?  We have a rule about subjective claims about audio quality, especially when using non-audio related terms.
Is 24-bit/192kHz good enough for your lo-fi vinyl, or do you need 32/384?

Re: Does anyone else sometimes get kind of pissed thinking about the loudness wars?

Reply #2
Does anyone ever get frustrated thinking about the same kind of stuff?

To be honest, not anymore.
I think we've reached "peak loudness" years ago and things are getting progressively better in recent years. I listen mostly to weird underground punk stuff and in that field the situation ranges from "no audio mastering done at all" to "competently mastered and moderately compressed" or even "mastering tools were intentionally (mis-)used to gloriously fuck up the sound". Nowadays i'm more often bothered by releases being unnecessarily quiet (like, they could at least have normalized the overall album volume) than by overdone compression/limiting.

Also, it looks like it will only get better in the coming years. Streaming ist quickly replacing broadcast radio as well as physical media and almost all major streaming services have some kind of volume equalization similar to replay gain turned on by default. So there's less incentive for mastering guys/artists/labels to boost the volume of a release. Most of the pieces are in place for a quieter future. The one thing that bothers me at this moment is the low output volume of current mobile phones' headphone jacks. Well, that is if your phone even has one. Those devices obviously aren't engineered with "quieter" music in mind. When a) using large headphones and b) using replay gain and c) navigating a noisy environment, i still feel compelled to parcitipate in my own loudness war by raising the gain and using a limiter as clipping protection.*

*The better, non-ear damaging solution would of course be to make our cities quieter. Which might happen eventually...

Re: Does anyone else sometimes get kind of pissed thinking about the loudness wars?

Reply #3
When DRC is done solely with limiting the result is fairly benign, especially when done on a per-track basis.

Still, it should be implemented by the hardware like it was in the early to mid '90s for a brief stint, rather than hard-coded into the content.
Is 24-bit/192kHz good enough for your lo-fi vinyl, or do you need 32/384?

Re: Does anyone else sometimes get kind of pissed thinking about the loudness wars?

Reply #4
When DRC is done solely with limiting the result is fairly benign, especially when done on a per-track basis.

Still, it should be implemented by the hardware like it was in the early to mid '90s for a brief stint, rather than hard-coded into the content.
I completely agree to both of those statements.

Re: Does anyone else sometimes get kind of pissed thinking about the loudness wars?

Reply #5
I'm pretty sure you knew what I meant, but to clarify, the hardware should give the listener the option to choose whether to use compression and by how much when practicable.

In a noisy environment, or when listening quietly as not to disturb others, DRC is a good thing.

As an anecdote, the bluetooth in the crappy stereo in my car has a built-in squelch that can't be defeated, so most quiet parts are muted and the hysteresis makes it even worse. Granted, I wouldn't be able to hear these quiet parts very well anyway, in which case DRC would be beneficial.
Is 24-bit/192kHz good enough for your lo-fi vinyl, or do you need 32/384?

Re: Does anyone else sometimes get kind of pissed thinking about the loudness wars?

Reply #6
I really can't say that I do because I don't think that I've ever listened to a piece of music that hasn't been affected by this process, so I have no reference. You might say that it's better not to have this process, but will it sound better to me ?

Generally I only care about how the music sounds to me, if it sounds good then I'm happy with it. For example, I was happy listening to the "Chandelier" by Sia before I started to notice there was kind of a buzzing noise in it, especially when it gets to the loud parts. At first I thought it was due to the clipping of the MP3 upon decoding so I tried MP3gain to fix it, but the noise was still there then I listened to the original FLAC, it also had the noise so my next thought was to compare it with other sources, every other one that I got had the same problem. I doubt that the cause is the clipping of the source because I've not been able to reliably ABX a clipped music from the unclipped so I don't think clipping of the source would be that audible(and annoying), and as I said before it wasn't due to the clipping of the MP3 decoding. The only conclusion I could think of was that maybe it's an artistic effect or something. If anyone is curious enough I could provide samples.

If there are artefacts/loss of emotion in a music, I'd rather not hear them or let my brain amplify them. And I agree with @Groschi, sometimes I amplify my music to the point of clipping just to be able to hear it in a noisy environment.
Just to clarify, I don't like this process. Just my 2 cents.

Re: Does anyone else sometimes get kind of pissed thinking about the loudness wars?

Reply #7
I was happy listening to the "Chandelier" by Sia before I started to notice there was kind of a buzzing noise in it, especially when it gets to the loud parts.

Hello,
Are you speaking for the album or the piano version ?
Have you seen the traces of clipping on the piano version ?

Re: Does anyone else sometimes get kind of pissed thinking about the loudness wars?

Reply #8
I was happy listening to the "Chandelier" by Sia before I started to notice there was kind of a buzzing noise in it, especially when it gets to the loud parts.

Hello,
Are you speaking for the album or the piano version ?
Have you seen the traces of clipping on the piano version ?

That doesn't at all look like clipping to me, especially the second example. Audacity is a bit misleading in that it simply "connects the dots" (newer versions use a lollypop graph as the default setting), but the analog signal that results after D/A conversion will have a nice and smooth waveform.

In case you haven't watched it already, monty's video explains this in depth.

Re: Does anyone else sometimes get kind of pissed thinking about the loudness wars?

Reply #9
That doesn't at all look like clipping to me, especially the second example. Audacity is a bit misleading in that it simply connects the dots, but what will come out after D/A conversion is a smooth waveform.

Sorry, my sentence was not well constructed, i was expecting an analysis from the signal experts about some post mastering issues that have been partially hidden by the sound engeneers (traces : scrap, snippet, crumbs of clipping)
It is probably a recorded noise and it is impossible to know where it comes from... so investigate on distorded waveforms seems logic to me.

Re: Does anyone else sometimes get kind of pissed thinking about the loudness wars?

Reply #10
(...) some post mastering issues that have been partially hidden by the sound engeneers (traces : scrap, snippet, crumbs of clipping)

That's quite possible. Mistakes happen. But those artifacts would be rather hard to see in the waveforms since they'd be buried in the mix and "overlaid" with a lot of unrelated high frequency content. Clipping occuring in the mixing or mastering stage is much easier to spot.

Re: Does anyone else sometimes get kind of pissed thinking about the loudness wars?

Reply #11
(...) some post mastering issues that have been partially hidden by the sound engeneers (traces : scrap, snippet, crumbs of clipping)
That's quite possible. Mistakes happen. But those artifacts would be rather hard to see in the waveforms since they'd be buried in the mix and "overlaid" with a lot of unrelated high frequency content. Clipping occuring in the mixing or mastering stage is much easier to spot.

I'm often frustrated when i hear a powerfull voice (like Sia one) that don't go louder when it i feel that it should be IRL, sometimes the loudness of the screamed voice seems inferior to singed voice.
If the normal modulated voice is around 4-5dB of dynamic and the screamed voice can go to 150dB where is the problem ?
  • It is a human issue (the human voice limit)
  • a technical issue (microphones limits)
  • a commercial issue (the voice is extremlely compressed because the people that d'ont particularly like the music are dictating the rules with their wallets)

Re: Does anyone else sometimes get kind of pissed thinking about the loudness wars?

Reply #12
Quote
Are you speaking for the album or the piano version ?

The album version.

Quote
Have you seen the traces of clipping on the piano version ?

I meant to mention that the piano version didn't have the problem (As I said I don't really think it's clipping), but I forgot.

In the attachment you can see the left channel of the album version (Original FLAC) and below it is the left channel of the piano version (MP3).

If you think it's due to the clipping of the source please explain why.

Re: Does anyone else sometimes get kind of pissed thinking about the loudness wars?

Reply #13
I get most angry about the loudness war when I encounter sensibly mastered CDs from the 80s or classical CDs that just get it right. It's really interesting how close those are (+1/-1 dB) to the EBU128 standard (at least according to the fb2k replaygain scanner) in terms of loudness. Good mastering engineers seem to intuitively understand what sounds good, but commercial pressures forces them to butcher the music. Rock albums with intact dynamics have incredible kick.

I love metal, but the high loudness and compression sometimes leads to fatigue for me when listening for extended periods.

Re: Does anyone else sometimes get kind of pissed thinking about the loudness wars?

Reply #14
Totally with you on this.  Eg - Dokken Under lock and key - 1985 analog tape to cd  - amazing sound despite the 'limitations'

Not only this and not limited to just loudness , I am experiencing a general decline of EVERYTHING related to the sound .  Less and less HIFI  , less Stereo less pleasureable listening with each year.  I have power metal CD: Dungeon - A rise to Power ( date 2003 ) RG -10.50 db, YET its STEREO and the drums and instruments don't sound bad at all considering...

Now in 2018, I buy Paradise Lost 'Medusa' deluxe edition -- RG = -9.50 db BUT just bad production and sound (fat and flat), bad 
 positioning (I don't know how to describe it) , NOT stereo enough, can't hear drums / bass..  Its like I can't believe it.
WTF is happening ??  in 2008 I used to say just give me the sound of 1998 and I'll make do with it. Now I say just give me 2008 'stereo' loudness and all and I'll make do with that.

wavpack 4.8 -b3.5x4c

Re: Does anyone else sometimes get kind of pissed thinking about the loudness wars?

Reply #15
Tbh I'm way more pissed with people whining about this all the time. Compression is an audio effect like any other, like distortion, like filters, like reverb etc. If an independent artist consciously employs it - then I consider it a legitimate artistic choice and how the artists intends his music to sound. Just like I wouldn't complain about particular distortion effect on his guitars, I don't find it sensible to complain about compression. I know for a fact that Deerhoof consciously strive for this kind of loud and compressed sound, can't find the interview where Greg Saunier talks about it though, but it's out there somewhere.

Re: Does anyone else sometimes get kind of pissed thinking about the loudness wars?

Reply #16
Sometimes it may be an artistic choice but the fact that modern albums have such a uniform reduction in dynamic range makes me think that the loudness war isn't driven by such concerns. If the loudness war was really driven by artistic choices then it would be like if essentially all musicians used the same exact distortion effect for their guitars; it can't be the case that the same exact artistic choice is the right one for almost all music made today (or more accurately almost all music that's not classical, jazz, or a soundtrack).

Re: Does anyone else sometimes get kind of pissed thinking about the loudness wars?

Reply #17
How many times have people wondered why their music is quieter because of replaygain and why it doesn't make their quiet stuff louder?

Is it possible that people who want more dynamic range are only an insignificant minority?

Things got the way they are because louder sells better.

...and no, I don't like heavy-handed DRC either, and I'm not saying people should give up the fight, but bitching about it here is only preaching to the choir.
Is 24-bit/192kHz good enough for your lo-fi vinyl, or do you need 32/384?

Re: Does anyone else sometimes get kind of pissed thinking about the loudness wars?

Reply #18
I was happy listening to the "Chandelier" by Sia before I started to notice there was kind of a buzzing noise in it, especially when it gets to the loud parts.

Hello,
Are you speaking for the album or the piano version ?
Have you seen the traces of clipping on the piano version ?

That doesn't at all look like clipping to me, especially the second example. Audacity is a bit misleading in that it simply "connects the dots" (newer versions use a lollypop graph as the default setting), but the analog signal that results after D/A conversion will have a nice and smooth waveform.

In case you haven't watched it already, monty's video explains this in depth.

This *is* a representation of the analog waveform, despite being less than perfectly smooth.  It's not the sort of thing Monty's video is talking about. 

Adobe Audition would give much the same waveform (and smoother).  Three consecutive 'flat' samples really is suggestive of clipping.   However, what's misleading is to draw the conclusion from this highly magnified view of a very short segment of audio, that it  indicates *audible* clipping. 

If you see *lots* of these instances, especially close together  (or long stretches of samples at the same level) then that points more towards audible clipping.

Re: Does anyone else sometimes get kind of pissed thinking about the loudness wars?

Reply #19
I get pissed, yes.

Re: Does anyone else sometimes get kind of pissed thinking about the loudness wars?

Reply #20
Pink Floyd "The Wall" modern releases sound warm and smooth now.
The first digital release sounds the best out of all of them.

Another victim of the loudness wars.  :(

Re: Does anyone else sometimes get kind of pissed thinking about the loudness wars?

Reply #21
We have a rule about subjective claims about audio quality, especially when using non-audio related terms.
Is 24-bit/192kHz good enough for your lo-fi vinyl, or do you need 32/384?

Re: Does anyone else sometimes get kind of pissed thinking about the loudness wars?

Reply #22
How many times have people wondered why their music is quieter because of replaygain and why it doesn't make their quiet stuff louder?

Personally speaking I've never wondered this; in my opinion even old recording's like Roy Orbison records can get plenty loud on the crappy Skullcandy headphones that I have. The amps in smartphones and other devices seem pretty powerful today and so I'm not convinced that this is such a problem. Maybe I'm wrong though, what's everyone else's experience with playing old music in loud environments?


Is it possible that people who want more dynamic range are only an insignificant minority?

Things got the way they are because louder sells better.

This idea is pretty hard to falsify because you can't do a randomized controlled trial on album sales, however there is some evidence that it might not be true:

"Figure 7 shows an x-y scatter plot of scores based on sales rankings vs. dynamic range. The y-axis scores were derived from the Billboard 200 year end charts for 2002 through 2009.” Then if you look at the graph the line of best fit shows no relation between dynamic range compression and sales.

There are a lot of potential flaws with this methodology (which they talk about at length in the paper) but it's still somewhat interesting.

https://www.sfxmachine.com/docs/loudnesswar/loudness_war.pdf



Re: Does anyone else sometimes get kind of pissed thinking about the loudness wars?

Reply #23
Is it possible we are in the minority?

Yes it is possible. Considering there has been no industry wide shift toward more dynamic releases except for the (likely) unfulfilled promise for so-called "HD" releases (a small niche market for gullible audiophiles), the law of supply and demand suggests it is in fact likely and there is insufficient gravity to change the current state of things.

That leaves the louder sells better claim.  I only have anecdotal evidence and appeals to authority as arguments. Still I don't think the line of reasoning that louder is perceived as better was cut from whole cloth.  Even with that in mind it's a bit of a leap to say that translates to higher sales.

Regarding how loud your specific Skullcandy headphones are with your specific player, they do not necessarily reflect the norm.  How how crappy they are is hardly an indication that the combination is quiet.  Furthermore, the EU has mandated maximum output level, IIRC, which does not account for how dynamic your old Roy Orbison records are.  And to restate, we do get the occasional post by someone who doesn't understand replaygain wondering how to make the quiet stuff louder, rather than the reverse. I'm sure this will continue to be the case.

As another anecdote, the singer of my old band who did all the mixing and mastering of the stuff that was released felt that the volume level should match Death Magnetic and some Slipknot album.  Needless to say this didn't make me happy.
Is 24-bit/192kHz good enough for your lo-fi vinyl, or do you need 32/384?

Re: Does anyone else sometimes get kind of pissed thinking about the loudness wars?

Reply #24
The standard anecdote (at one time at least) goes something like this:

At some point, going back decades now, record companies started giving previews of sets of new tunes to panels of listeners  (average blokes off the street, people in the business, it's not always clear).   Like a product taste test.   There was no attempt at level matching.

At these, listeners would tend to prefer louder over softer.

So the biz people would say, 'it's what people want'.

Hardly scientific, as you can imagine.

Then we also heard that *artists*, given a choice of masterings, would tend to like the louder one too.  Or, at least , be convinced by their producers that the louder one would sell more. 

Again, totally anecdotal, no one AFAIK ever 'studied' this sociologically, with any rigor.   But these are the stories that people in/associated with, the business, would tell. 


 
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