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Streaming inferior to Cd and vinyl? Sinéad O’Connor – I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got , comparison between CD, vinyl, streaming from Amazon, Tidal...

Jean.Francois

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Irish artist Sinéad O’Connor, whose recent death has left the music world in mourning, made a stunning international breakthrough with her second album “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got”, unveiled in 1990. The critically acclaimed opus included the iconic single “Nothing Compares 2 U”, a poignant cover of a Prince song.
I Do Not Want What... - small.jpg


For this review, you will find 6 versions tested: vinyl, CD, Qobuz, Qobuz Deluxe Version, Amazon and Tidal.

This test compares the quality of an album on a physical support (CD, vinyl) and streaming. Are we sure we’re getting the best possible quality from the album when we listen to it via streaming?
The curves below compare waveforms for the song “The Emperor’s New Clothes”. CD and vinyl are the most dynamic versions. For the streaming versions (standard and Deluxe), we can clearly see the effect of the limiter, which caps the maximum peak level. The Deluxe version is the one most affected by the use of a limiter. All 4 waveforms are adjusted to the same sound level of -16.7 LUFS.
waveform - I Do Not Want What... - Qobuz vs Qobuz DV vs Vinyl vs CD -- -16.7 -- small.jpg

Waveform CD vs Vinyl vs Streaming vs Streaming Deluxe version

Here are the waveforms for the whole album in CD and Amazon streaming versions (same for other streaming services):
waveform - I Do Not Want What... - CD--small .jpg

Waveforn: CD

waveform - I Do Not Want What... - Amazon--small.jpg

Waveform: Amazon

The limiter is constantly used to increase the overall sound level. This is particularly noticeable on the last track.
Curve analysis is confirmed by the Dynamic Range measurement with a DR15 for the CD and a DR10 for the streaming version.

But what's most striking is that we've taken the CD master and applied dynamic compression to increase the overall level for streaming the Deluxe version, as shown by the superposition of the two spectra below:
Spectrum - I Do Not Want What... - Qobuz Deluxe Edition (white) vs CD (blue)-- small .jpg

Spectrum: CD (blue) vs Qobuz Deluxe Version (white)

Unlike the normal version, which uses the new 2009 mastering.

If you want to find the original recording, you'll have to opt for CD or vinyl. This is not an isolated case, there are other albums in the same situation, and also others that don't have this problem. It is therefore impossible to guarantee the quality of a streaming album.

You can listen to the samples and find all the measures here.

Enjoy listening
Jean-François
 

raindance

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On Amazon, can you confirm that Loudness Normalization was disabled?
 

Zensō

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Thanks for this. While interesting, it only gives us an isolated example that can't be extrapolated to other genres (which you alluded to). In my experience, the issue of excessive compression/limiting is primarily prevalent among a handful of popular genres and is not a widespread issue outside of the mainstream.

My take is that these loud remasters are primarily driven by the desire to stand out among the competition on the most listened to pop music playlists. These are decisions made by the artists and labels, not the streaming services (they deliver what they're provided).
 
OP
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Jean.Francois

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Thanks for this. While interesting, it only gives us an isolated example that can't be extrapolated to other genres (which you alluded to). In my experience, the issue of excessive compression/limiting is primarily prevalent among a handful of popular genres and is not a widespread issue outside of the mainstream.

My take is that these loud remasters are primarily driven by the desire to stand out among the competition on the most listened to pop music playlists. These are decisions made by the artists and labels, not the streaming services (they deliver what they're provided).
I agree with you, normally the use of limiters to increase loudness is found on more modern and recent genres.
That's why I was surprised to hear this type of treatment on a 1990 album. I'd already seen it on Jean Michel Jarre's Oxygen album, on Thriller (but not on Qobuz, which uses a different master) and on a few other older albums.

I'd have to check whether this is common for this publisher's productions.
 

Snoopy

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Has nothing to do with streaming. Different masters will sound different. And needle drop Vinyl DR is not really accurate anyway.
 
OP
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Jean.Francois

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Has nothing to do with streaming. Different masters will sound different. And needle drop Vinyl DR is not really accurate anyway.
In this example, we can see that the streaming master is indeed treated differently from the CD or vinyl master. It's interesting to know that the renderings are different, so you know which version to choose if you want to be as close as possible to the original.

The DR measurement, even for vinyl, is an interesting value. If you're careful not to have any crackling or major defects, you'll find a representative DR. But you mustn't forget that vinyl doesn't behave like a digital system, and that you need to make a master that respects its characteristics, or risk distorting the signal.
I've touched on this subject here, and it's the same behavior with tape recorders.
 

restorer-john

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Has nothing to do with streaming. Different masters will sound different

It has everything to do with streaming. And the 'masters' are most likely not masters anyway- they are manipulated (compressed/louder) versions derived from CD in the first place.

Quite simply, you do not know what you're getting with streaming.

It's just like the tape to tape dubbing cassette decks- it get's worse with each generation and with each 'expert' having a go at the files.

Another case of buy the original CD if you want the best.
 

BDWoody

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In this example, we can see that the streaming master is indeed treated differently from the CD or vinyl master. It's interesting to know that the renderings are different, so you know which version to choose if you want to be as close as possible to the original.

When we buy and download music from Qobuz as an example, do we know if that would be the CD version or the streaming version?


Another case of buy the original CD if you want the best.

Certainly looks that way.
 

restorer-john

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Certainly looks that way.

I think with historic (older music), there is no doubt the original CD pressings were mostly the best. I have enough of the 'old guy' music from the 80s and 90s to know that is correct.

But, newer/current music is different. If it wasn't sent to CD and streamed from day one, we have no idea what is the 'best' and what isn't. A whole generation or two doesn't really know what is 'original' and what isn't. Perhaps that is why they seem to flock to the physical vinyl versions- they think are more 'authentic'?
 

JeffGB

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This is very interesting. I have been streaming Amazon music for about 6 months and just played back some of my CD rips on JRiver media player with the same EQ settings used in JRiver as I use in EqualizerAPO/Peace. The difference in sound is not trivial to me. The CD rips are clearer, with tighter bass and cleaner highs. I'm not sure what I'll do now because I only started using Amazon when buying CD's became difficult. I was hoping that the sound would be identical but, for me at least, it's not. I may have to start ordering CD's from Amazon and go back to ripping them.

I like the simplicity and variety with streaming but for critical listening I'm not happy. I have all the highest quality settings in use on Amazon, with no loudness normalization etc. The only difference is the fact that I am bypassing a lot of the Windows 10 processing by using Jriver with it's EQ rather than EqualizerAPO. Is anyone else rethinking streaming after trying it for a while? Is this the real reason some are switching back to vinyl (I am not)? Are people finding streaming boring by comparison? I wouldn't be surprised because the difference is large, at least to me. I have quite a large collection of ripped CD's and have been comparing them to my Amazon Music stream.

I'll stop now because I'm probably sounding like a lunatic :). I'm just dissappointed that streaming is NOT as good as CD.
 

Watire

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Should we be surprised that the record companies prevent the best sonic experience to be on the streaming platforms ?
Or is it the applications fault ?

In general we don't know which master is been used. It stays unclear if the online tracks are identical to the CD/HD version.

The amount of limiting observed here on Qobuz is suprising. Spotify promises not to touch the files but only modulate the volume.

Nowadays even classical music tracks can be loud.

SPOTIFYD provides this kind of message:
<La mer, CD 111: I. De l'aube a midi sur la mer> with Spotify URI <spotify:track:4RsIBxK9hVGLq6VyjBSlAc>
This track will at its peak be subject to 2.32 dB of dynamic limiting. Please lower pregain to avoid.
--
All of this makes playing Compact Disc records quite satifying. Though of course not every CD is from the same master either as the Dynamic Range DB demonstrate.

@Jean.Francois ' work is an essential service to our community. I have learn so much from it and gained a new level of respect for vinyl mastering.

Reference
Dynamic Range DB - Website
Spotify LUFS: How Loud Should Your Songs Be?
 

tmtomh

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Regarding the O'Connor album, it came out in 1990. The 1990 CD is of course far more dynamic than the remaster CD, which came out as a single CD and a 2-disc deluxe edition in 2009.

Streaming services are almost always going to use the most recent digital source, which in most cases is a remaster - because that's what the record companies supply them with. So if you're comparing any CD from about 1997 or earlier to a streaming version, you're usually going to be comparing apples to oranges mastering-wise.

I have no idea what's up with that additional squashing of the track shown in the Qobuz deluxe version. I do know that the 2009 remaster Deluxe Edition 2nd CD is mastered even hotter than the 1st disc containing the original album, but that wouldn't explain the waveform in the OP since the track is from the main album aka the first disc.

At any rate, the reason I don't subscribe to a music streaming service is precisely because I want to be able to choose the mastering I listen to. That's difficult or impossible with most albums on streaming services.
 
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