Can CD's be loud and ok?

I've read on an other thread how a lot of new releases on CD are overcompressed or eq'd to distortion levels.
Certainly heard that on the last Jayhawks record.
However,surely (or maybe not)CD's can be mastered to a higher volume without distorting the original recording?
Just that I have some new CD's that are loud but seem (to me at least)to have a good balanced sound.
Madonna's last record and the last Blur album sound like that to me(to name but 2)-loud in regards to some older CD's.
Likewise if you listen to remastered versions they do get noticeably louder.
Check out Pink Floyd's DSOM from Mob.Fid to the 94 version to the SACD hybrid.

I'm sure I'll stand corrected if I'm wrong but when CD's are mixed so that the quiet passages are too loud then that is compression. A whisper should be a whisper, not a shout. That's my complaint with so many of today's CD's. It seems that the artists must like the "hot" sound. I would think that distortion would occur only when the signal is too much for the circuitry invovled.
Yes Lugnut and I agree I state the last Jayhawks CD as one that's been messed up-it's too forward and the distortion is in fact obvious.
I'm not arguing that happens but take the likes of Sea Change by Beck-rated highly as a recording-that CD is loud.
Lugnet gets it. It is not necessary for the recording to have other types of distortion just because it is dynamically compressed. But realize that, even though it may sound good, compression is distortion since it is a deviation from the original sound.
Ok I'll put it another way because I am still confused.
Is it possible to make a good recording without compression and the CD sound reasonably loud.
The latest Steely Dan release is mixed loud, but it sounds quite good. The audible distortion you hear on some records is because at some point in the recording process they exceeded digital zero. Sometimes this is done by accident, and though it's hard to believe, sometimes it's done on purpose. To call an engineer's use of compression distortion is to miss it's creative uses. Virtually all of your classic (60's - 80's) rock has used compression as a creative device. Check out the Kinks "All Day & All of the Night". One of the reasons alot of professionals love recording to analog tape is the gentle compression effect it gives. Vinyl mastering also has some well known compression artifacts.
Ah now were getting somewhere thank you Onhwy61......
Lucinda Williams' "Car Wheels On A Gravel Road" is both one of the loudest and best sounding CDs I have ever come across.

It is an HDCD, and easily sounds better than a "normal" CD on a regular player. But, on my HDCD player, the difference becomes much larger.
The direct answer to your second question is yes, it's possible, but such a recording might not have the best signal to noise ratio. You won't be able to get the slammin' in your face sound of recent pop/rock recordings without the use of advanced compression techniques, but your recording can still be reasonably loud.

The dynamic range of live music is enormous and dosen't easily translate to any recorded medium. Limiting and compression are automated volume regulation techniques used to control the wide dynamic range signal. Using a compressor is the equivalent of turning up the volume when the sound is soft and turning down the volume when the sound is loud. Originally the performance of the compressor was supposed to be imperceptible to a listener, but then came the British Invasion. Several artists used audible, aggressive compression as an integral part of their "sound". The modern use of "hyper" compression is the result of artists emulating the sound of loud radio stations. There's nothing inherently wrong with the use of compression, but like any effect, it's over use can be annoying.
Thanks to everybody for answering.
I'm finding this interesting-is it possible to fully know extents of this technique?
Obviously I state The Jayhawks case which I would guess is extreme with it's distortion.
But do the more perceptive listeners (and I do believe that is a talent)every hear a recording that confuses them?
I'll also be interested to hear comments on particular releases the likes of the last records by Norah Jones,Beck,Radiohead,Peter Gabriel or indeed any record that Audiogoners might use to state for their argument.
Have you listened to any of the Patricia Barber sacd's Ben? Dynamic range, black background and plenty loud in my book, a true SOTA recording that does answer your question.
A recent interview with Pat Barber's engineer, Jim Anderson, had him quite proud of the way that he rides the gain of the vocal mike by hand. This is just manually compressing the sound rather than letting machines do it.
And proud he should be, now if we could just get him to compress some more of the music for us, he's got the touch!
Sogood-no I haven't but I don't particularly care for the limited amount of P.Barbers work I've heard.
Thanks for the tip-I tend to find the majority of recordings I buy aren't that bad but I don't claim great ability to detect compression.
I am certainly very clear in my own mind on recordings that are plain bad (for whatever reason)and productions I don't like-which is part of the artistic whole to me.
I'm really trying to understand where people are coming from and I can see their genuine concern and dislike for overcooked or compressed productions.
However part of me can't help thinking it's part of the "average" Audiophile's make-up to end up analysing that aspect but also to be led to the likes of say Santana or U2 where the mainstream meets their tastes and perhaps that is part of the problem and frankly artists who are pretty concerned with being (extremely) popular despite their heritage-thus perhaps "pressure" to compress the sound for universal acceptance on lower end kit.
Maybe not.
I'll state a list of recent recordings (not all totally perfect I grant you)but a reflection of music that is not absolutely far out but to my ears shows that the artists and producers are very concerned how the disc sounds.
Radiohead,Blur,Beck,Wilco,Springsteen,Steely Dan,Bowie,Zwan,David Sylvian and then onwards onto lesser known bands......
I look forward to your comments.....
I can understand the P. Barber thing for sure Ben, I used her work as an example of compression done right. I have the Beck sacd also but find it harder to pick apart due to the nature of the music in regards to your question.
While I would not pass artistic judgement on the use of compression on the Pat Barber recordings, I find it hard to describe anything as "SOTA" that uses this degree of compression, even if it is in the name of artistic enhancement. "SOTA", to me, would be a recording which minimizes all forms of distortion, including dynamic compression.
Well, SOTA to me is: anything that sets a standard against which others can compare to, as far as cd's go, this is one of them. Music is distortion in one form or another and this can not be changed but can be brought to a shape to please the ear and sometimes fool the brain. Some distortions of the right kind in the right amount seem to be needed everywere in the musical chain.