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Dynamic range, loudness war, remasters.

PresbyByrd

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The loudness wars preceded CDs by approximately 40 years. The perceived volume of masters was quite important at the time, as louder recordings were more likely catch the attention of radio listeners. When mastering for vinyl, the medium's inherent physical characteristics limit the amount of compression that can be applied. Digital media such as CD (and certain analog media) introduce no such limitations and so studios were afforded the freedom to make their masters as loud as desired.



This is rather subjective but there are many remasters possessing less dynamic range than the originals which most people find preferable; AC/DC's Shoot to Thrill being one such example. More dynamic range is not always preferable.


Not by any appreciate amount. If the noise floor of a given recording is audible, this would in fact reduce the maximum dynamic range.



As mentioned, more dynamic range is not always preferable. Depending upon the individual recording and the genre of music, it can absolutely be preferable to most listeners (audiophiles included).


If you are at all familiar with Queen's earlier albums, then I'm sure you will agree that the remasters are a significant improvement! :p

To most listeners, anywhere from 8dB to 15dB of average dynamic range will typically sound quite pleasant but once again, it is highly dependent upon the content. Some modern music is crafted with limited dynamic range being an intentional component. The trouble often arises when a studio decides to further compress music which was never intended to be "loud", destroying the nuance of the recording.
Thanks, this was super helpful.
 

dfuller

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Hi all!
Im confused about the so called loudness war.

First, I wonder why DR compression became a thing with CDs. It seems to me nobody was discussing loudness war before CD. But I might be wrong. Yes, there was DR compression but I don't remember it was an issue. That's because CDs have no limits on how loud program material can be. Too low of a crest factor will cause the cutting lathe stylus for record production to overheat, and too high of a peak level will cause the reproduction stylus (as well as the cutting stylus) to jump out of the groove and create a pop. Plus, lookahead brickwall limiters were only possible in DSP.

I have read that making music sound louder makes people wrongly think it sounds better, like louder=better, hence people buy it. But by the time CDs arrived, people were already enthusiastically buying DR uncompressed vinyl. So from the pure marketing point of view, I see no reason to DR compress music. There was no need to convice people to buy CDs. CDs where the real deal back then and everybody loved them. Then, what was the need to DR compress music when CD arrived? The argument that this was done purely for marketing reasons does not convince me. But Im no marketing expert and I might well be completely wrong. It was entirely marketing based.

My second question is perhaps a heresy. Can a DR compressed album (remastered) sound better (be more faithful) than the previously DR uncompressed version of it? The answer is, as usual, "it depends."

Let me explain. Lets take any Led Zeppelin album. It seems to me that the newer the version, the less dynamic range it has. There have been countless of versions of Led Zeppelin IV, for instance. As you go from vinyl to CD and as years go by, every newer version seem to have less DR. As far as I know, band members have been involved in the remasters. They seem to endorse all remasters. The same happens with Iron Maiden remasters. As far as I know, band members seem to claim their newer versions (remasters) sound better. Yet these newer versions have less DR. But can you argue against the artist? Fidelity seems to be related to being faithful to what the artist intended. If artists tell you their remasters sound better, does it make sense to argue against the artist? With in reason, yes. Artists often have compromised hearing from high volume shows - prior to the days of IEMs they usually didn't even wear earplugs, and shows are definitely at hearing damage levels.

Now, Im probably gonna say something very, very foolish because I know my knowledge is very limited (Im basically ignorant and I admit it): Is it possible that one particular album shows a very wide DR but in truth some of that wide DR is due to some very, very soft noise introduced in the recording process? I mean, very soft sounds or noise that are very soft but that should not be there, not part of the song, but somehow got their way into the final recording.... Then if you release a new version and you cut out such unwanted soft noise, DR might seem to be reduced when in fact, it is not. Actually, yes! That's entirely a thing. For that reason, LUFS incorporates a gate so noise below a set level is not included in the calculation.

Now, Im also confused because some people in music forums strongly (almost religiously) recommend to buy japanese remasters of old CDs. For instance, I have read people who absolutely recommend buying the japanese remasters of Judas Priest. But when I look for them, these japanese remasters are also heavily compressed. The same people consider the UK/US 2001 Judas Priest remasters to be absolute crap, but the newer Japanese remasters to be absolute gold. Yet the japanese remasters are heavily comporessed. So, why one must be better than the other? Why one compressed version is garbage while the other is diamond if both are DR compressed? Because the Japanese one sounds better. There's more to sound than compressed/not compressed, the tonal balance also must be considered.

Here I have talked about rock, pop and metal and sometimes I think for such kind of music DR compression is unimportant. Within reason, yes.

As far as I know, classical music CD are never DR compressed and if done it would be a huge mistake, I guess. That's because compared to pop music (which I am including rock, blues, pop, EDM, etc) classical and jazz has enormous composed-in dynamic range. Compression would be stepping on the composer's intentions.

But I wonder, is it a mistake to buy remasters? Or is it a case by case situation? Absolutely case-by-case. Some sound better than others.

Thanks all.
Answers in bold.
 

Frgirard

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That's because compared to pop music (which I am including rock, blues, pop, EDM, etc) classical and jazz has enormous composed-in dynamic range. Compression would be stepping on the composer's intentions.
I desagree

in Jazz, it's not enough loud is common

John Coltrane & Don Cherry The Avangarde
year Dr avg min max

2012 08 07 08
1990 13 13 14

https://dr.loudness-war.info/album/list/album/3?artist=coltrane

Remasters i bought from film soundtrack, jazz are compressed and recoded in the 50's 60's

over compression and the loud mastering is a common practice, a reflex. the business trumps art.
 

j_j

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I desagree

in Jazz, it's not enough loud is common

John Coltrane & Don Cherry The Avangarde
year Dr avg min max

2012 08 07 08
1990 13 13 14

https://dr.loudness-war.info/album/list/album/3?artist=coltrane

Remasters i bought from film soundtrack, jazz are compressed and recoded in the 50's 60's

over compression and the loud mastering is a common practice, a reflex. the business trumps art.

More than a reflex, there is a belief out there that people listen ONLY in cars in noisy settings.

You may correctly assume I don't agree.
 

Weeb Labs

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What we really need is a neural network trained on relatively high dynamic range masters to de-brickwall otherwise wonderful tracks. ;)
 

JJB70

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I know a lot of classical music fans who whinge about compression and who then whinge about how tricky it is to set the volume level with a properly wide DR symphonic recording. Nothing is quite like the DR of an orchestra, I think many don't realise just how loud they go live
 

MRC01

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It seems a lot of people like that heavily compressed sound. They find it punchy and exciting. I find it unnatural and fatiguing. Dynamics is an important element of musical expression in and of itself, while also being perceptually tied to timbre. Compressing it squashes that.

If "high fidelity" means anything at all, it means being true to the musical event, recreating it as realistically as possible. If that musical event is a rock concert at a bazillion decibels, that's one thing. If it's classical or acoustic music, it's a whole 'nuther thing.
 

digitalfrost

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The real solution would be some new format that puts the final compression stage into the playback equipment. Now that nobody buys physical media anymore, it would even be easy to introduce. Just distribute files with the respective metadata and standardize a final compressor with different settings for different usage types.

I have some prog rock albums that I cannot listen to in the car unless I crank them uncomfortably loud because the quiet parts will simply disappear in the road noise. I have jazz albums that I remastered myself because they had so much dynamic range that even at home I had to turn it up louder than I want. And then of course I have this huge amount of albums mostly from 2000~2010 where I like the music, but I rarely listen because they are loudness war victims.

As far as I know, band members have been involved in the remasters. They seem to endorse all remasters. The same happens with Iron Maiden remasters. As far as I know, band members seem to claim their newer versions (remasters) sound better. Yet these newer versions have less DR. But can you argue against the artist? Fidelity seems to be related to being faithful to what the artist intended. If artists tell you their remasters sound better, does it make sense to argue against the artist?
Artists often don't know about the technical side of making a record. Also I don't know if trusting the ears of old people who have been exposed to very loud music for decades is really the best idea. I think musicians listen differently than let's say audiophiles. Other things are important to them. It would be good if they listened to the professionals in the studio instead of just doing what they want. Especially to rock/metal people, if you ask them if they want it louder, of course they want it louder. Also, nobody wants to risk being quieter than somebody else. Sadly this leads to a lot of metal albums with absolutely dead drums and horrendous upper midrange because the spectrum is already full of energy anyway (because of all the guitar overtones) and then they compress it to hell.

One perfect example of this is Metallica's Death Magnetic. Because the songs were also released for the video game Guitar Hero 3, the game got unmastered pre-release versions with more dynamic range.

Short example:

Long example:

I don't need to "argue against the artist". The product is the total sum of all parts, that is the musicianship, but also the sound. If they decide to make their album sound like shit, I'm not gonna listen to it. And I think sound is a huge part of the success of a song or an album. The world is full of well-known songs where people say oooh I love the music, but would they still love the music if the song didn't sound as good in the first place?

I have a lot of different versions of albums and it's sad that not all versions are available for buying. Remasters became better I would say in the 2010s especially after 2015 there are some well done remasters out there. But anything from the late 90s through the 2000s is mostly garbage.
The sad thing is, most people are not even able to compare for themselves since the original releases are often unobtainable unless you buy them used.

I have the original CD version of AC/DCs Back in Black, it even says on the CD it was recorded analog and then converted to digital. You can hear the tape hiss before the songs start if you make it loud enough. This is my favorite version of the album and I think it's vastly superior to the remasters that came later. If you like Black Sabbath you have to listen to the 1987 Warner CD releases they are amazing. G'n'R Appetite for Destruction has several good releases, but still the original 1987 Geffen is something that everybody should have access to to be able to compare to the newer releases (for example the 2018 Super Deluxe). In general I think the late 80s to early 90s were peak quality for sound.

Dynamic range is not everything and there can even be too much dynamic range, but if it's really not enough you could always compress it more later, but once everything's squashed to death, nothing can be done anymore.

It would be wise to fit the dynamic range to the playback circumstances.
 
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MRC01

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The real solution would be some new format that puts the final compression stage into the playback equipment. ...
Exactly!

... I don't need to "argue against the artist". The product is the total sum of all parts, that is the musicianship, but also the sound. If they decide to make their album sound like shit, I'm not gonna listen to it. And I think sound is a huge part of the success of a song or an album. The world is full of well-known songs where people say oooh I love the music, but would they still love the music if the song didn't sound as good in the first place? ...
While my preferences run mainly to acoustic/classical music, there's a good amount of modern music that I would buy, or at least listen to, if the recordings weren't squashed to death. Rival Sons, Dream Theater to name a couple, have some music I like but is so severely compressed it is simply un-listenable at any volume quiet or loud. It's really a shame. Some musicians deserve much better recordings of their art. I understand they want their music to sound punchy & exciting, but that is best achieved with a MUCH lighter hand on the dynamic compression settings. The heavy hand currently being used is so extreme it simply squashes the life out of the music.
 

cany89

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@skymusic20

I check https://dr.loudness-war.info/ to see the values of the copy that I have or plan to buy. But it's definitely not the whole story. Bruno Mars' 24K Magic is compressed to death. One of the best sounds that I have ever heard lately. (In contrast, any album of Norah Jones with avg. DR below - let's say - 12 are not so good. I listened to Come Away With me with 14 avg. DR, then a badly published 9 avg. DR it was really bad compared to the good one.)
 

dfuller

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The real solution would be some new format that puts the final compression stage into the playback equipment. Now that nobody buys physical media anymore, it would even be easy to introduce. Just distribute files with the respective metadata and standardize a final compressor with different settings for different usage types.
This would be intensely difficult to design. Different limiters don't behave the same way - it's not uncommon for mastering engineers to have multiple different brickwall limiters in their "toolbox" so to speak for different program material because their compressing action actually changes the spectral information differently from one another. I can speak to this for sure as I've tested it. DMG Limitless doesn't sound the same as FabFilter Pro-L 2 doesn't sound the same as Izotope's Ozone Maximizer, and it's visible in a spectrum analyzer.

Beyond that, asking playback equipment to do that is just asking for trouble.
 

MRC01

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This would be intensely difficult to design. Different limiters don't behave the same way - it's not uncommon for mastering engineers to have multiple different brickwall limiters in their "toolbox" so to speak for different program material because their compressing action actually changes the spectral information differently from one another. ...
Another perspective is that once you are applying compression, you've already thrown fidelity out the window so why worry about the finer points? Some audio players and car stereos have built-in dynamic compression for just this purpose. It does the job, raising the quiet parts so you can hear them over ambient noise.
The nice thing about this (applying compression on playback, not in the recording) is you can keep the original recording unmolested for folks who want fidelity and listen in quiet environments that can handle the dynamic range.
 

dfuller

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Another perspective is that once you are applying compression, you've already thrown fidelity out the window so why worry about the finer points? Some audio players and car stereos have built-in dynamic compression for just this purpose. It does the job, raising the quiet parts so you can hear them over ambient noise.
The nice thing about this (applying compression on playback, not in the recording) is you can keep the original recording unmolested for folks who want fidelity and listen in quiet environments that can handle the dynamic range.
you know, I can't help but find it funny that people throw compression around as a boogie man, because to get music loud requires mixing and arranging for it. It comes into mastering already loud - it's not uncommon for me to get mixes in that are already above Spotify's -14 LUFS Int guideline, and the client (be that artist or producer or label) always wants it louder.

Anyway, brickwall limiters are computationally intensive, high latency processors. I don't want that sucking down power on my phone, nor do I want the latency.


It makes very little sense to do this on the playback side for multiple reasons. There's the ones I've already listed re: program dependent processing and power wastage, but there's another point from my perspective, and that is "do you really want to put this in the hands of a tech company?"

Let me explain. Think about how Apple automatically enabled spatial audio and the up-channeling algorithm on Apple Music. It sounds terrible. Putting the final brickwall in their hands wouldn't help things. All this would do would inspire another round of loudness wars, but this time between different streaming services. This moves it further from the artist's and mastering engineer's control.
 

MRC01

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... it makes very little sense to do this on the playback side for multiple reasons. ... there's another point from my perspective, and that is "do you really want to put this in the hands of a tech company?" ...
Yet that is precisely the point. When compression is only applied during playback, it gives listeners the option to eliminate it entirely. Or use whatever they need for their listening environment or their tastes.

A key difference in our perspectives is that dynamic compression can be used for different reasons. When it is part of the artistic rendering of the music, then it belongs in the recording / mastering chain. When it is used to compensate for loud or otherwise non-ideal listening environments or equipment, it belongs in the playback chain.

Some people (like me) are purists who want the recording to be the most realistic rendering of the musical event, that technology allows. And listen to mostly acoustic music where dynamics is an important element of musical expression. This means no dynamic compression, or at least a very light hand.

OTOH, when discussing the use of dynamic compression in non-acoustic music, there is no longer any absolute reference for what it "should" sound like, there is no "fidelity" because "fidelity to what?" The music is created with electronics and can't exist without it. Dynamic compression is part of the musical instrument, or expression. In this case the argument boils down to taste & preferences.
 

Anton S

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There appears to have been a false equivalency established in some minds between ever-hotter recordings ("the loudness wars") and dynamic range compression. Yes, they are often pursued simultaneously, but either can be accomplished without implementing the other.

As we all should know, dynamic range is simply the difference between the loudest and softest parts of a recording (or the brightest and darkest parts of a video or photograph). Audio recordings by all the mass market labels are compressed, and have been forever. The amount of compression applied is referred to as the "compression ratio" and can range from relatively mild to terribly aggressive. The initial motivation for the use of compression was to "fit" an entire recording - the softest to loudest parts - within the capabilities of the playback media of the time. (All analog formats are quite limited in this regard.) With the advent of digital sources, the primary reason became twofold: to keep all of the content audible in noisy environments, such as vehicles, and to keep everything audible on playback devices with inherently limited dynamic range, such as table radios and portables.

However, the dynamic range of any recording can be compressed around any signal level. That level is typically referred by studio engineers to as the "transition" level. Signals of greater amplitude than the transition level are compressed downward toward that level to make them softer, and those above the transition level are compressed upward. The end result is that the difference between the loudest and softest signals is reduced. That's all, but it's enough for our minds to identify the playback of much recorded music as artificial, regardless of the quality of the playback system.

But all is not lost! Both hardware and software means are available to restore the dynamic range of compressed recordings, and selecting the correct transition level, as well as an expansion ratio that is approximately the inverse of the compression ratio used in the studio will help to make the music sound more natural and lifelike. Obviously, choosing incorrect settings will make it sound worse, so achieving the best results from dynamic range expansion requires some practice and a discerning ear.

The loudness wars have to do with producing hotter and hotter recordings with respect to driving up their input levels during production. This has been going on for a long time in an attempt to capitalize on on the universal human perception that louder sounds better, and for no other reason. Louder songs played among other, softer ones sound clearer. This practice can be compensated for - up to a point - by simply turning down the volume. However, the most outrageous offenders will actually saturate input circuitry, driving distortion through the roof. (Input overload sounds similar to output clipping, because they're analogous.) There isn't much that can be done about it if the signal overload events occur at the production end, because they become baked into the recording. I have a few recordings where this is the case. But if the signal overload occurs at the input end of the playback equipment, migrating to gear with higher input voltage capabilities can help. It just shouldn't be necessary.
 

JJB70

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A certain amount of compression can be very positive to help set the volume level with playing with it during playback as it goes through the roof or drops away.
 

Anton S

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A certain amount of compression can be very positive to help set the volume level with playing with it during playback as it goes through the roof or drops away.
Agreed. Considering an orchestral piece can span 90dB of dynamic range, a small amount of compression can be beneficial, depending on the background noise level of one's listening environment. That is generally provided at the production end.
 
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skymusic20

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I check https://dr.loudness-war.info/ to see the values of the copy that I have or plan to buy. But it's definitely not the whole story. Bruno Mars' 24K Magic is compressed to death. One of the best sounds that I have ever heard lately. (In contrast, any album of Norah Jones with avg. DR below - let's say - 12 are not so good. I listened to Come Away With me with 14 avg. DR, then a badly published 9 avg. DR it was really bad compared to the good one.)

Hello, thanks, yes, I know that site well and I used to visit it a lot...
I don't know who runs that site but he is a hero!!

But in some way it leads to despair.
It is not as: "oh I will buy the 1985 release of this particular CD instead of the 2010 release"
Good luck finding the 1985 release in good shape.
Yeah, it can be done through intensive internet search (discogs, facebook groups, CD forums, etc, etc) or physically browsing through your local used CD store...
But, good luck if you find it and good luck it is in good shape if you find it.
Most old releases are already sold out and the probability of them being re-released is very low.
You have to head straight to the used market which is a wild world.
(Discogs is great, that said) Ebay is another reliable source with good results for me...
None is perfect.

Just as an example, take a look at two of my fav all time albums:

Scorpions In Trance:

https://dr.loudness-war.info/album/list/year?artist=scorpions&album=in+trance

Scorpions Taken by Force:

https://dr.loudness-war.info/album/list/year?artist=scorpions&album=taken+by+force

I have the "Taken by Force" 1989 release. I bought it used.... Average DR =11db. Then, I also bought the 2015 release with average DR=6db

1989 release was more expensive and it is not in great shape though it is in good/ok shape and plays with absolutely no issues.

But it doesn't feel that good to spend more money on a used CD with light scratches than a brand new one in perfect shape.

How about the sound of the 2015 release? Not that bad. It is a somewhat brighter but not really bad.

But I have no HiFi gear (I have a Yamaha entry level AVR and entry level Sony SCSS5 Speakers).

Probably in a true HiFI gear it would sound very bad...

But it feels bad that the market is so difficult. If you want brand new then it is very compressed.

If you want low compression then... good luck!
 
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