Is music quality moving away from the "audiophile"

I recently read an interesting post on the production of the new Metallica album and how its sound has been catered to the Ipod generation. Formatting the sound of the album toward the ipod itself. With computer downloads, mp3's etc, etc. it seems that "compression" over quality is becoming the norm.

In the Metallica example, I have been a fan since 84. Now, i know they are not a good example for the so called "audiophile", but that being said the production on this album is terrible. Actually, worse than their previous album St. Anger. Who makes the call on this? The band, engineer, record company? A combination of all?
I have found that the quality of Jazz cds are still quite good....
The CD from Rebelution "Courage to Grow" is absolutely outstanding. We are talking audiophile quality and some great grooves - you can really crank it and enjoy.

Personally I have dropped bands that have gone the way of ugly compressed sound even if I loved their stuff maybe ten or fifteen years ago - to me I want to buy music not noise.
while the trend is not universal in my experience the quality of recorded music is headed away from audiophile quality in order to cater to the ipod users and downloaders.
I think the answer to your question is any or all.

Many bands will go to a specific record producer or engineer or studio based on personal abilities/experience/reputation and then place their trust and reliance on the person to do their job. However, some bands will want greater control during production and can butt heads with their producer as to what the final sound will be. Sometimes it's even a three way fight between two strong willed band members with the producer trying to broker something between the creative tensions of the band.

The record companies' role is more indirect and in the interest of marketing/sales. They want something that will sell. They will put pressure on both the band and the producer to produce something commercially viable. However, I don't think they interfere too much during actual production. They come into play in the beginning in deciding whether to sign the band, and after, in deciding whether to keep the band or what effort they put into marketing.

As to what is happening with the Metallica example, I have no inside knowledge of the dynamics going on in that case.

I think it's an interesting speculation that modern thinking copyright holders will be exploring new avenues of marketing/distributing their products such as through downloads. Many bands that do not have major record deals or are having difficulties with their labels are exploring direct marketing of their creative efforts through the internet. It seems to be that it is the record labels who are having difficulties making the transition to new, emerging business models. For this reason, it may be the artists and producers who are leading this shift, with the stuffed shirts in the record company executive offices slowly being dragged into the new technologies. All IMO of course.

It's an interesting business to work given the evolution that's occurring.

I agree, the recording industry is but a shadow of its former self, say 20 yrs ago. A&R reps, Tom Zutaut comes to mind, who actually went to gigs and heard a band and then pitched it to the record exec to be signed is history. So you are probably correct re bands with no major label support are pushing the download aspect of selling their product.

Too bad, it takes away the musical romance of the entire
Every once in a while in Stereophile there is an interview with a well know record producer. It's quite interesting to hear their philsophies of production and stories of their experiences with particular artists/bands/albums. Oops, did I say "albums"? I meant "CDs". My generation is showing through there.

Metallica are well know for being aware of and aggressive in preventing illegal copying of their music. I would not be at all surprised if it is the band that is behind the observation in your post. They may be trying to be proactive and use the emerging technologies to their advantage rather than just going around bringing lawsuits against people.

If you're a fan of the band and follow them, maybe you might come across some interviews as part of promotion of the new album in which they address this. Maybe even in their website.

It's probably a good thing for the band, if not from an audiophile's perspective. The audiphile's may just have to grit their teeth and bear it until data bandwidth infrastructure increases and higher quality downloads become more feasible.
...and then there's Mr. Tom Petty...who made sure that in the recent Mudcrutch release, NO compression was used. Classy guy...
Is there 1 or 2 of these type of post a week?
It's not a big problem for me. I turn down the treble a bit, goose up the bass, and then enjoy the music! It is amazing what an EQ can do for compressed recordings. It doesn't make them perfect of course, but I listen for the music and not the recording quality anyway.

Slikric3000....there's one or two of EVERY type of post each week! :)
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Compression is generally part of the mixing or mastering process (often both). I can't blame most artists for doing whatever it takes to appeal to the iPod generation - I would be doing the same thing myself. However, there are still plenty of good recordings being put out, though they aren't the easiest to find. The latest Lindsey Buckingham album is a good example; it was recorded, mixed, and mastered on analog tape with no compression. The CD version sounds great, but the vinyl is divine and his virtuosity on the guitar is readily evident.

In your example of the latest Metallica release, try to get your hands on the Guitar Hero version of the album - it is uncompressed. That's right, the version made for the video game is better for audiophile level equipment. Why? Likely they didn't spend the time and money on mixing/mastering for that version than on the commercial release.
...and then there's Mr. Tom Petty...who made sure that in the recent Mudcrutch release, NO compression was used. Classy guy...

For sure compression would sound harsh on Tom Petty's ATC speakers. I find Tom Petty's CDs are often extremely well recorded: his careful attention to sound quality is probably only exceeded by Pink Floyd.
There are hundreds, probably thousands, of great recordings out there! Many are old, but they can be found. As indicated by others, there are very few current artists that care about sound quality. Look for the older gems and you won't be disappointed.
Are most artists and producers moving away from "audiophile" type of recording? I would say for the most part, yes. The days are long gone by when people had a dedicated two-channel system and while maybe they couldn't afford SOTA equipment, certainly were aware of the sonic benefits that such such systems could deliver, and certainly wanted the recording they were purchasing to be able to deliver everything their systems could deliver. Nowadays it seems it's more about "quantity over quality". People don't care how good a recording sounds as long as they can download as many recordings as they can. The Ipod and MP3 generation only cares about "how much" and not about "how good" the music recordings that they get. Unfortunately to many artists and producers are more than willing to cater to that mindset and give them their super-compressed mixes. Support "Turn It Up".
The trend toward compressed recordings must be only in certain genre's. I have found considerabel dynamic range in recently recorded classical music CD's. A number of months ago I was talking to folks in the mixing / recording end of the business, albeit working primarily in hip-hop - they claimed that there was simply less compression in classical recordings. However, from my subjective perspective, I don't find it. Indeed, Vanska's recent recording of Beethoven's Eroica for example could not be listened to without having the peaks at 90 dB or better, you simply would not hear the softer sections. I don't think this is my hearing as my last hearing test - a couple years ago, had me within 5 dB of reference from 250 to 8k, the test range. I have listened to some remasters of rock music and was rather surprised to see the needle on the power meter of my amp pretty much sit in one spot.

More disturbing is some of the transfers to CD seem to have changed the music in other ways. For eg. the White Album on CD does not sound like the old vinyl. Even G. Harrison said that he heard sounds on the CD that he did not know were there. Would be curios to hear if anyone else can point to specific transfers of other 60's 70's rock with the similar changes - (that is, other than compression).
Yes,Started when the CD format came out.JD
Compression is the future. It's potential, unlimited. This is unavoidable and, ultimately, not incompatible with musicality. Early CDs sucked. But, technology improves. . .
It is no different with compression. Engineers look forwards, not backwards. It is up to us "audiophiles" to provide them with direction.
It is useless to attempt to thwart them, or bemoan what was.
For instance, when John Atkinson says MP3 files cannot be of "audiophile quality" that just means he hasn't heard them played on a system optimized for them. Like mine. Btw, I listen to old mono vinyl Lps and MP3s off my hard drive--exclusively. The compact disc with its uncompressed files is a dead format. It's time to adjust.
Recording quality has been in a very steady decline for a very long time now. But speaking as a performing classical musician, most of us absolutely detest compression and over-amplification and fake digital reverb and all the other favorite tricks of so-called "sound engineers." I would place the blame on them and the record producers that employ them - very often the musicians themselves have absolutely nothing to do with such choices. Perhaps very famous pop artists sometimes get some control over it, but this is quite rare. Most musicians have absolutely no control over what they will sound like on a recording, or even live if the performance is miked in any way, as it often is even in a wonderful concert hall where it is absolutely not needed, simply because that is what everyone is used to and expects nowadays. On the other hand, you wouldn't want to hear most pop singers until they have gone through the mixing board first....even many audiophiles have absolutely no clue what their favorite artists really sound like unamplified and without their mixing boards.

Sorry for that rant, but I just had to put up with some really atrocious live sound tonight in a pops concert. To get back to the original posters topic, yes it is especially true that these things happen in hard rock recordings, and that they are indeed happening more and more as more people listen exclusively on iPods. Technology and sales figures have always come before musical considerations for the vast majority of engineers, and if iPods and computer downloads are selling even more music, then I fully expect the situation to get worse yet before it gets better again. This negative assessment has much to do with the fact that most young people interested in sound engineering nowadays have no clue about how things used to be done - they simply don't know any better. Any idiot with a computer and a mike can make a recording now and put it on the web, and many do. OK, I'm scaring myself. Time to stop this - I just wish alot more people cared about quality sound.
Yes. Sound engineers are quite adept at "gumming up" the sound with "compression and over-amplification and fake digital reverb and all the other favorite tricks".
Still, while compression certainly does degrade the sonic quality of what is put down on vinyl, and of the music we listen to live in the analog world in which we actually live, compression of digital files can be compensated for during the decoding of them. The technology/software just has not fully arrived there, yet. The current software isn't "smart" enough.
On another note, many young people, today, DO care about sound quality. Teens, like my daughter, are seeking out turntables and vinyl pressings more and more because "they just sound better". While record companies' CD sales are declining, their LP sales are increasing. Just look at the increase in bands coming out with their latest recordings on the LP format.
I went into a Compusa a couple years back inquiring about the best way to get the music off my LPs on to my hard drive. The young man behind the counter said, "Why would you want to do that when records sound so much better?"
And, the other day, my daughter said to me, "Dad, I am getting your Bob Dylan collection when you're dead, right?"
Here come the posts confusing data "compression" as a means to shrink a file size with audio "compression" which makes the audio louder yet less dynamic.
Here's a link to an excellent site, and organization "Turn It Up" that talks about what many recording artist and record producers are trying to do to improve the dynamics on recordings and get away from the wholesale "compression" of recordings.
Are you surprised that the total gestalt of the culture is turning to crap?
Chashmal - my thoughts exactly. oh well!

Chasmal - not surprised at all. But these things run in cycles. At one time people painted over perfectly good interior wood, a generation later we stripped the paint off. PC's, Ipod's etc have wowwed the general population in a similar fashion, the onthego culture hasn't helped. But at some point there will be a shift back in the other direction.
First, I am not a fan of audio compression, but a big fan of data compression. Our electronics and music industries has always been marked by convenience over quality. Since the introduction of the car stereo and portable listening devices, we have sought to exploit the mobile listener.

With that said, it is now a numbers game. Music distribution will continue to favor the digital formats, where the bulk of the buying activity is taking place. There is estimated penetration of MP3 devices into all US households at 140 million players, which is approaching 70% of US Households. All audiophile content(including vinyl)is 1.5 million copies pressed in 2008. 140 vs 1.5--it is easy math to see where the bread is buttered. Metalica like most bands are going to reshape their music to where market will be. The next wave devices will move to cell phones.

With that said, a few "cult" bands realize there is an alternative universe in vinyl and are shaping their music accordingly. I can point you to recent vinyl releases by Calexico (Carried to Dust), Shelby Lynne (Just a Little Lovin') and Jenny Lewis (Acid Tongue)that were recorded using old school techniques and sound comparable to anything recorded before the days of compression. I don't see that going away anytime soon, but it will never be but a blip on the revenue side.

I myself have been in the pro touring space for 30 years. I spend a great deal of time on the road with my bands, which is where most of them make their money. I probably listen to music 90% of the time on my iPod and like the next wave of devices that are supporting the Apple data compression formats. The Wadia 170 docking station at home (hooked up to bryston and ATC) does a pretty good job at working around the sonic limitations of Apple (Huge WAF--my wife loves this) and when on the road, I use Ray Samuels minature headphone amp, which are incredible at boosting the output from the iPod. I use inexpensive Sony Pro MDR 7506 headphones which offer some of the best and neutral dynamic playback I know.

I really am not bothered so much--don't feel it is that "crappy" knowing I have access to 8,000 songs at my finger tips. I certainly dont miss carting vinyl and CDs around.
10-04-08: Nietzschelover writes:
Early CDs sucked. But, technology improves. . .
Not in my opinion. I buy mainly "first pressings" made in Japan and West Germany prior to about 1990.

Per Synthfreek, just to clarify, I was referring to data compression.
Also, I'm in complete agreement with Bongofury.
And, maybe, Metralla is right about CDs. I dunno. I've never expected much from them to begin with and have always listened mainly to vinyl.
Still, the very first CDs really did suck! They were not even listenable. I mean, c'mon!
It's down to the artists at the end of the day.

Springsteen and Metallica should be shot for their productions on their last albums. But I guess it is a small % who have the type of systems to show up how poor these records sound. They probably sound OK to the vast majority of the people who bought the record. Lets face it as well these are two artists who will be well up on market research, they will not do their careers any damage with this.

Whilst things have changed, downloading , a turn to mini-systems with iPods etc. In another way they haven't-some bands took care in this aspect and others were more concerned with what sounded good in the arenas thay would mean commercial return.

In another sense there is the question Have Audiophiles Moved Away From Current Music?
And the answer of course is yes, it is a generalisation but Audiophiles musical tastes (outwith a handful who remain open to music)are quite narrow and specific. There is nothing wrong with that but there is plenty of good new music that has decent to great recording quality.
The bottom line is a large % of Audiophiles ain't gonna search it out..........

I agree with your last statement. I am always finding new and amazing bands. I have a daughter that is 27 and a son who is 23. We love making mix tapes to share and I find I listen to what is "new" more than the classics that audiophile's rave about. The Beatles are great, but I am totally bored with them, in a good way. I like what is fresh and modern.

Both my children live with Apple laptops and iPods and really don't share my love for high end audio. I however always respect their music tastes and I really don't think they know what they are missing sonically--they are still "getting" music, it is a soundtrack to their lifes, and their ongoing support of new bands is great for music and its artists.

I was turned on to this forum about two years ago and I like being part of this community. Most of the bands offered up in the "Music" chat are no longer active, and from time to time, you rediscover an album that is like a good classic book. But I totally agree with your statement that very few elders are searching out new music.
10-04-08: Nietzschelover writes:
Still, the very first CDs really did suck! They were not even listenable. I mean, c'mon!
CD players - completely agree. But not the discs.

There should be a distinction with the word compression here. There is dynamic compression and data compression.

Dynamic compression means that the signal being processed has an amount of automatic volume control applied. Depending on the settings (ratio/attack/threshold) this can be a wonderful thing bringing out detail and texture in the sound. Many of the recordings we know and love sound great because of this effect.

This should not be confused with limiting which again is an automatic volume control which stops peaks beyond a set threshold at set speed, hold and release. Again a great sound which can sound exciting and detailed when used correctly.

Data compression is another question and done after the recording process. Removing parts of the recording that a computer model decides is less crucial to human hearing.

Most people think of MP3s as terrible sounding, but if used at high band width is not too bad. Best not to use it on orchestral recordings or acoustic music though. It is just that most people want 100s of CDs on their Ipod, so they use low sample rates to fit all the data on the small hard drives. It is a shame. Quantity not quality.

There is no money in the music industry anymore for the people who make it. A lot of records are recorded at home or done cheaply as the music revenues are slipping into the wrong hands. Try getting your royalty from itunes. It is a joke. Record companies sold out their artists in the panic to sell downloads. The credit card companies get more % than the people that made the music, unless you are pink floyd or U2.

The high end studio equipment is better than it has ever been. The budget gear can be very good too. There is a huge choice in approaches to recording now. Unfortunately the market is swamped and music is becoming worthless to kids. Kids expect it for free on their cellphone.
I agree with Ben and Bongofury for the most part. I also enjoy searching out new music and it's a bonus when it is well recorded. The only problem I find is that I have been a long time Springsteen and Metallica fan and as such I want to hear their music and I know that it doesn't sound as good as it can or should and I wish they would fix it. It seems like almost all rock is recorded with very little dynamic range and that is the problem because there are no longer any musical nuances, it's just loud!!! This new recording mentality is really destroying the emotional impact of the music. It's as if the audio industry has decided to add steroid's to every musical note and beat.
they were never even room mates

You should check out Lahaina Grown. Great Maui based Reggae band as well. Very similar to your band.
If you are going to listen to that modern ska reggae style I would suggest a superior band are Vampire Weekend.
I wouldnt judge the state of recordings on the current Metallica offering...they are what they are...a huge metal naturally they are going to gear their product to their base(mainstream) audience....this is no slam on the is what is folks...

Thanks that was interesting and refreshing - very catchy stuff. Makes me think of Razorlight - another modern band that brings back that period in the late 70's early 80's but with a new variation on the sound (rather than covers)

Vampire Weekend is definitely a great new band which mixes it up like the Talking Heads from 1979.

You will probably like Santogold as well--fuses ska to hip hop--a little like M.I.A. I also like the new TV on the Radio album "Dear Science."
I personally think maybe its the other way around in that hi-fi equipment mainly loudspeakers most of which are are very expensive and quite a lot are more than the price of a house (not a present but when the housing market is at a decent level) do not do the 'lesser engineered' cd justice in playback. If any cd sounds awful through ones multi dollar speakers, then I think its the fault of the equipment rather than the cd.
If one has a cd that is unbearable to play because it sounds bad, but sounds acceptable through a ghetto blaster for instance, then surely something is amiss when the big boys have their turn and you grab the remote quickly turn it down or off? IMHO, naturally.
I am not a huge fan of Metallica, but I will try and purloin
a copy of their latest cd to have a listen to see if the quality is that bad on playback through hi-fi grade speakers, maybe the RMAF will be the place to take it?
I was browsing HMV during lunch when I felt a chill and a shadow passed by the window. Suddenly a Vampire Weekend CD appeared wedged between The Undertakers "Unearthed" and The Wraiths. Currently Vampire Weekend is in my pocket and I looking forward to listening tonight and hoping strange things will happen! Is it like a mandrake - do you put it under the bed?

The current issue of Rolling Stone has an article in it about the sound quality of "Death Magnetic". Fans are complaining that Metallica has cranked the sound levels so high on Death Magnetic, that the music is distorted and compromised. It goes on to state that 11,000 fans have signed a petition asking for a remix and remaster of Death Magnetic. Get this, other fans are trading a version of the album made from the less loud mixes intended for use in Guitar Hero III!!
Quote from David Chesky in the latest Downbeat said something to the effect that technology's reaching new heights regarding sound quality and yet, the masses are overwhelmingly supporting LOW-FI sources! In retrospect, I would argue that that's ALWAYS been the case. must be that bad i take it...looks like im just gonna have to live with Kill em all on vinyl! oh well...that being said...are the tunes on Death Magnetic any good?

It is an improvement over St. Anger but as a fan since 84 it is honestly is not that great. Sad to say...
It's more than a small % of Springsteen fans that are very unhappy with the compression (and distortion) on Springsteen's "Magic". For an example of a recent excellent sounding rock/pop release, try Jackson Browne's Time the Conqueror. He even uses tubes; and is selling LPs at his concerts.

Wear a lei of garlic. :)
I bought the new Metallica album Death magnetic on Warners US 2LP set.

Expecting to hear this terrible compressed, overloading sound I was pleasantly surprised. It sounds pretty good. Not that dynamic in the bass, but it is reasonably uncompressed and has no overload or distortion whatsoever.

Sounds like this issue is about the CD mastering. No suprprise to us LP lovers.

BTW, St Anger is a very good recording - huge drum so0und and hiuge dynamic range - it must be heard on a full range system thou to be appreciated.
I do not think any magor record company ever intended or will ever intend to make an audiophile recording. Its always been LUCK.