• WANTED: Happy members who like to discuss audio and other topics related to our interest. Desire to learn and share knowledge of science required as is 20 years of participation in forums (not all true). Come here to have fun, be ready to be teased and not take online life too seriously. We now measure and review equipment for free! Click here for details.

Mastering Hall of Shame

jackenhack

Active Member
Patreon Donor
Joined
Oct 25, 2018
Messages
190
Likes
411
Location
Stockholm, Sweden
#1
The reason I enjoy this forum so much is because it's so refreshing to have objective measurements compared to the subjective audio forums out there. But it doesn't do any good if you feed the excellent equipment with inferior software, aka music. Here's a pet peeve I have. My son complained about me always playing "old" music. So I sat him down in front of my main stereo system and showed him the difference between music mastered today and how it used to sound. So now every time I played music, he asked me to play some "dynamic" music. Within months he started to give me tips on great music like old blues artists and other great recordings. So it seems there is hope for the younger generation. If one looks around on the subway, people are starting to buy better headphones, so maybe we will have a revival of good sounding music? Perhaps the main reason people purchase vinyl again as well? You can't over-compress music without the needle jumping out of the groove. they have 12" vinyl singles for that.

We have the "loudness war" raging, and it's not getting any better. The funny thing is that it used to be used to boost the volume when the records where played on the radio and be easily listened on crappy sound systems in cars. But all the streaming music services today use variants of replay gain, which negates the effect and actually plays hot mastered records at a lower volume!
It still baffles me that people who master records don't know about inter-sample peaks, they just looking at the dB meter on the digital side. All they need to do is to download the free plugin Bitter to check, or even better, the music microscope, appropriately named MusicScope which I highly recommend even to the casual music listener.

So why not put up a thread on the worst mastered records you've encountered? If I buy a CD and it's over compressed and with a metric ton of inter-sample peaks, for me thats an defective product and should be handled as such.
Here's one from the latest album I bought. Billy Gibbons - The Big Bad Blues. Here's a guy who (at least before Eliminator), has put out some excellent music that is impeccable when it comes to the recording. Let's have a look at how one of the songs look in MusicScope. The software emulates the analogue output and shows inter-sample peaks, how much compression, and also tells you if you've been fooled by high-res music that's actually just 16-bit 44.1kHz upsampled.

Unlike analogue recordings, where you could overdrive the recording level (for specific effects,) when done in digital, it just clips. Even if the peaks are within limits, the interpolation between samples can be outside of the limits, thus creating distortion. If you have $2000 to spend on a DAC, you could get a Benchmark DAC which has built-in 3dB of headroom. But isn't that kind of overkill?

So let's take a look.

You see that red wiggly line around the circle? Everywhere you don't have a green line but red, you have intersample peaks. Not a lot of variation of the dynamic either. This mastering was done by a guy called Joe Hardy, who also plays guitar and bass on the album. I guess he should stick to his day job.

Billy-Gibbons-The-Big-Bad-Blues.jpg


Just for shits and giggles, let's compare this to a Mötorhead song? Should be loud and over-compressed wouldn't it? This is an older recording, so no. It still doesn't follow the CD specifications, aka "the red book", because it should nicely taper down at 20kHz, but compared to the Billy Gibbon one, just wow...

08 Tear Ya Down.flac_report.png

Maybe there should be a thread of good mastering as well to accompany this one?
 

bennetng

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Joined
Nov 15, 2017
Messages
557
Likes
413
#2

jackenhack

Active Member
Patreon Donor
Joined
Oct 25, 2018
Messages
190
Likes
411
Location
Stockholm, Sweden
#3
When software volume control and/or Replyagain is correctly used, there is no need to have a DAC with intersample headroom.
Sure, there's even software to upsample the albums and fix it, then downsample again to fix the problem. But isn't that like putting bandaid on something already broken? Why not just make sure the mastering engineer does his job? 99.9% of music listeners don't have a clue how to fix it. They think that's the way it should sound.
 

bennetng

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Joined
Nov 15, 2017
Messages
557
Likes
413
#5
Sure, there's even software to upsample the albums and fix it, then downsample again to fix the problem. But isn't that like putting bandaid on something already broken? Why not just make sure the mastering engineer does his job? 99.9% of music listeners don't have a clue how to fix it. They think that's the way it should sound.
If you have time, please read the links I posted. Loudness war and intersample peak are related, but intersample peak alone is not a crime, since it is highly dependent on the playback equipment and method. Intersample clipping can be completely avoided by using the methods I mentioned and there is no need to "repair". It is not something "baked" in the audio files.

Some of my posts explained why end users should handle intersample peaks themselves rather than asking mastering engineers to do that.
 
Last edited:

Wombat

Major Contributor
Joined
Nov 5, 2017
Messages
3,348
Likes
1,594
Location
Australia
#7
I mostly don't like heavily compressed recordings but the target market obviously does. Luckily most music can be auditioned via the internet so purchasing of the 'offending' examples can be avoided.
 

Don Hills

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Joined
Mar 1, 2016
Messages
610
Likes
256
Location
Wellington, New Zealand
#8
Californication by Red Hot Chili Peppers is absolutely awful...
I don't agree. Yes, it is very compressed. But it is compressed to achieve that sound, not to make it loud. The music is arranged and produced to allow it to be heavily compressed. The problem is all the people who have tried to follow the fashion without understanding the prerequisites.
 

watchnerd

Major Contributor
Beer Hero
Joined
Dec 8, 2016
Messages
4,546
Likes
1,570
Location
Seattle Area
#9
I use +9 dB tape with my 0 VU set at 355 nWb (+6dB over NAB 185) @ 1khz @ 15 ips.

Keeping the peaks at 0 dB gives me plenty of headroom to avoid nastiness, and if the instantaneous peaks momentarily slap into the red, hey, it's analog.
 

Soniclife

Major Contributor
Joined
Apr 13, 2017
Messages
1,333
Likes
829
Location
UK
#10
Luckily most music can be auditioned via the internet so purchasing of the 'offending' examples can be avoided.
Absolutely, or for many of us now we stream an album, and if we don't like it for any reason we don't stream it again. I do wonder if this is behind the stats that show a decline in loudness war mastering, it's no longer good enough to just tempt people to buy once, you need them to keep coming back again and again to drive revenue.
 

jackenhack

Active Member
Patreon Donor
Joined
Oct 25, 2018
Messages
190
Likes
411
Location
Stockholm, Sweden
#11
The funny thing is when we finally got rid of the masses listening to music on crappy car radios, now having excellent (ahem) sound in new cars, people start to listen to the small mono Bluetooth speaker instead. Or even worse, through the built-in speakers of their phones. Gahh! But I think that the majority of music consumers now listen through headphones connected to cell phones and there seems to be an upswing in sales of better headphones. So maybe the loudness war trend will be broken. My mind still boggles that the mastering continues to be done for radio playback, when in fact most use streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music etc. They use different variations of replay gain, where over compressed songs plays back at a lower volume. So if you retain some of the dynamics of the song, you win. I don't get it.
 

L5730

Active Member
Joined
Oct 6, 2018
Messages
145
Likes
52
Location
East of England
#13
Wow, there are a few points to cover here:

1. It's not always about the mastering. A lot of the problems can come from the mixing stage. There are examples where the mastering stage did nothing to the audio, only the usual sorting out the fades, track order building the CD layout etc. I think Metallica's Death Magnetic is one example.

2. Here's the "but" to the above. It's not always about trying to make the loudest possible digital product. Sometimes, maybe more often than we want to accept, the production is done the way it is to sound a certain way. I suppose there is also a contradiction to that, which would ask how can the engineers determine what it will sound like when, for example, true peaks will be handled differently? Surely better to leave the headroom to maintain consistent playback on any DAC and actually bake in the sound of clipping distortion using plugins or play out of a DAC and re-digitize the analogue clippped sound.

3. It has been shown time and time again that when put through radio processing a cleaner, clearer and less processed version sounds closer to the intended and has less artefacts, whilst still ending up being a dynamically squashed radio-friendly sound. Using the same music, but hyper squashed already, just end up being mangled more by the radio processing.

4. Adding to point 3. I don't think digital releases are done so much for on-air radio play, but more to push little earbuds, cheap little stereos and lousy car audio. Grabbing a bunch of older material with Integrated LUFS around the -18 LUFS ballpark and putting on a phone, in a car etc. all seemed too weak, and like there wasn't enough I could do to make them sound fuller. Bunging the same audio through a few VST plugins including a limiter at the end, allowed me to bring up the loudness to around -12 LUFS which seemed to work better in these noisy scenarios.
When comparing my 're-mastered' version to the original at home, in a quieter room, it was louder and had some artefacts that weren't the most pleasant, and when level matched in this scenario it was clear that the quieter, fully dynamic and properly peaking audio sounded much better.

I guess my point is that in noisy situations and when not really relaxing and listening a lot of audio nasties disappear and we just want more level to get above background noise. Buying well isolated headphones would be a better option instead, but they aren't sold as standard.

5. Old specs for CD samples allowed for something like no more than 3 maximum value samples together. What this actually means in terms of the analogue waveform is something else, but interesting none the less. Quite a lot of boutique audiophile releases have 100% maximum value digital peaks and I wondered why they did this, especially when they had gone through so much effort in sourcing the cleanest tape source etc.
These aren't ISPs / true peaks, these are the sample values in the digital data. Presumably the ISP would be greater than digital 0 in these cases, but likely such fast transients I doubt they would be audible.

6. What about transients in analogue and (pre-)amplifier input sensitivity headroom? Could, say, vinyl with particularly high peak transient amplitude not be amplified with the phono pre-amp and overload the input of the headphone/speaker amplifier? I guess the frequency would likely be high and the RIAA roll off would fix the problem before it even was one, but technically would it be possible?
I doubt that anyone is going to start making some test vinyl for the sake of checking that out though.

7. I thought the loudness war was already over. A few folks have said this. Having a look here : TT DR Database I see an awful lot of DR5 material for this year. So much for that then.
 

maxxevv

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Joined
Apr 12, 2018
Messages
737
Likes
532
#15
Hmm ... I would think Adele's 25 falls into that category.

Bad mastering/ mixing .... sibilance is so evident in so many tracks !
 

L5730

Active Member
Joined
Oct 6, 2018
Messages
145
Likes
52
Location
East of England
#18
Does the DR metric used there include the inter-sample peak issue focused on in the OP?

It's just a question. I have no idea. But it seems it should, else it's incomplete.
No, it does not. The original TT DR Meter just shows the highest sample peak value in dBFS.
 
Joined
Jan 11, 2019
Messages
79
Likes
76
#20
seems to be an upswing in sales of better headphones. So maybe the loudness war trend will be broken. My mind still boggles that the mastering continues to be done for radio playback, when in fact most use streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music etc. They use different variations of replay gain, where over compressed songs plays back at a lower volume. So if you retain some of the dynamics of the song, you win. I don't get it.
I've never bought into the "mastered for radio" argument. The radio stations have compressor/limiters that work very well. Handing them stuff that has already been through waveform clipping just results in a radio mix that is far worse than handing them unclipped material. I think the heavy compression was done to get that "clean, crisp sound" on cheap speakers and car radios. Now, I assume its being done just because it's always been done, or to make it sound "better" over the pitiful cellphone speakers.
 

Similar threads

Top Bottom