Loudness War

Having spent much time attempting to moderate my audio system to accommodate excessively loud remasters and new release albums, I have given up. Inline attenuators, tube rolling, etc etc, no method seems to stop effect of ridiculous mastering levels these days.

Does anyone have a suggestion as to some software or other means by which albums can have their dynamic range altered to a standard suitable for a good audio system?
Buy older LPs. I assume you are complaining about the CD remastering and just new mastering of ROCK music. Nothing will be done until no-one buys the crap anymore. THEN maybe, they will realize thier 'vision' of perfection is wrong.
In the meantime.. consider getting into music streaming, high resolution feeds, and buying OLD CDs. Or, buy old LPs.
I have been buying lots of used CDs.. and have noticed the rise in compression as they get newer. Current rock Cds have one level: LOUD, with no dynamic range to speak of.
Get used to it, or stop buying new stuff.
Write the music business companies..
I tried a software called SeeDeeClip

It works but it cannot create sweet sound of uncompressed music from much of the crap put out today. IMHO the improvement is around 5 to 10% - so some of your worst clipped stuff may just become bearable.
Not a perfect solution but if it really bothers you a vintage dbx 3BX, 4BX, or 5BX might be able to medicate the issue to some extent.

I have a 3BX but have not been using it since I added the ARC sp16 pre-amp. Not that it makes dynamic range where there is none to start, but it does seem to present everything, old, new good, bad in a most digestible manner.
Hi Vaughan,

Sony Sound Forge Pro, at U.S. $337, is a Windows-based professional audio editing program that includes what they call a Graphic Dynamics function. It can perform dynamic range expansion with essentially every parameter adjustable by the user in a very flexible manner. For instance, you can set it so that 0 to -12db input (or any other input range) results in 0 to -24db output (or any other output range); and you can set the same or different proportions for any other parts of the dynamic range, down to -72db, with any number of break points in the overall curve. You can also set attack and release times, overall gain, etc.

I have used Sound Forge extensively, but not for that kind of purpose. Once you get through a fairly straightforward familiarization process, it is fast, stable, and easy to use. You may want to give the trial version a whirl, and see what it can accomplish for you.

My instinct, though, is that although the program is really excellent, you would have to put a lot of effort into finding the optimal settings for each recording, and in the end it will not be able to make a sow's ear into a silk purse.

They also offer a much cheaper consumer version of the program, Sound Forge Audio Studio at $55, but I don't know whether or not it includes a comparable function.

Be aware that the trial version puts intermittent beeps into anything that is saved with it, so if you open a file with the trial version you should save it under a different file name before doing anything else, to prevent the possibility of inadvertently putting beeps into your original file.

Best regards,
-- Al
Elizabeth...i don't think a few audiophiles not buying newly released music or writing the studios will do much. Music is compressed or mastered hot because the bulk of the music buying public is playing that music on midfi systems or more importantly iPods. So I don't know that we can do anything about it to be honest. It's interesting though that there are some music producers/mastering engineers/etc...who are beginning to question current mastering wisdom. Check out this discussion moderated by Greg Calbi, mastering engineer at Sterling Sound, and including Steve Berkowitz (Sony SVP), Michael Fremer, Kevin Killen (mastering engineer), and Craig Street (Producer). While the whole discussion was not solely focused on the "Loudness Wars" it did figure prominently in the discussion. Hope this is interesting to folks.
T Bone Burnett is another strong proponent and advocate of quality and bemoans the loudness wars too.
I'm curious. One recent CD I've heard that to me sounded like it had phenomenal dynamics, some of the best I have ever heard on CD, is John Fogerty's "Revival" CD.

I need to listen again, but am I missing something? How did it sound so good (drums sounded as real as most anything I have heard on some tracks)? Maybe modern production techniques are not so bad with some kinds of music?

A lot of modern popular music (rap, etc.) is heavy on electronic drums and other electronic instruments. Isn't it true that there is no such thing as "natural" sounding electronic instruments? The sound is eletronically, not acoustically generated, and reality is whatever the artist and or producers wants it to be. Kind of like CGI special effects in many modern movies as well. BTW, CGI keeps getting better and better but personally I do not care for CGI as a replacement for real cinematography. I do not mind it as much if the scene calls for something that is imagined and not real, like a scene on an alien planet as opposed to a scene that supposedly takes place in a landmark city, like London UK say.

Also, most recent remastered CDs I hear surpass the original CD masters in sound quality. How does that happen if all is so astray?

Maybe I'm whacked when it comes to this or something. I know there are a lot of crappy recordings these days but there always have been in the past as well and there have always also been some pretty good ones.

Maybe we audio nuts just need to be more willing to accept things that are new or different better rather than being continuously disappointed when something does not meet our particular high expectations. I know I enjoy music a lot more in general when I think this way and try to be open minded.

By the way, a lot of newer "loud" recorded CDs will cream lesser audio systems not capable of delivering the goods to an audiophile's ears. In some cases, I believe the shortcoming is in the audio systems ability to deliver the "loud" dynamics present without distortion, not an inherent shortcoming with the recording itself.
sorry folks...i forgot to include the link to the discussion i cited above. It's entitled: "Deep Listening: Why Audio Quality Matters"

Here it is: http://philoctetes.org/Past_Programs/Deep_Listening_Why_Audio_Quality_Matters
T Bone Burnett is another strong proponent and advocate of quality and bemoans the loudness wars too.

No surprise there - he is rather a sound quality fanatic and likes to play music loud on his ATC 150ASL...

Pro Software or some media players that allow you to analyze or normalize the sound seems the least expensive route.

Of course you could proceed the old fashioned route and simply start out each new disc at a lower volume setting and raise it to suit yourself.

I find such recordings are pop & rock, urban & hip hop CDs mostly. The audience they're shooting for could care less about dynamic range, and most will be deaf well before their mid life crisis rolls around.
Back in the day when LP's ruled the media world, these same complaints were constantly being heard. Especially on hard rock recordings. I agree with the poster above, that the reason being is that the vast majority of the music buying public tended to own lo-fi, low rez audio gear. I sure do miss rotary loudness controls, and DBX black boxes.
Back in the day when LP's ruled the media world, these same complaints were constantly being heard

Yup, in those days you had to buy Japanese pressings and 12" 45 rpm (for clubs) of all the vinyl pop music if you cared about quality (enormous differences compared to regular vinyl). Both LP's and the small 45's were often made 'hot'. The CD Loudness wars has, however, taken this to a whole new extreme level of compression.
enjoying music we love isn't as complicated as we sometimes make it.
Jaybo, I agree it is often a narrow perception of what is good or perfect that is the villain in regards to enjoying music. Music is an art not a science. Audio is more science/enjineering. Audiophiles that engage both sides of their brains more often are the happiest ones IMHO.

No doubt when it (compression) is done, it is due to focused target market + playback equipment not capable of delivering the goods with full dynamic range. Some music relies on just being able to be played loud all the time in order to deliver.

The flip side is that some of the best dynamic range I've heard in recordings comes from certain newer CDs that are in fact mastered very well and sound like a newly polished shiny red Porsche compared to older titles by the same artists.

Has anyone heard the new Essential Michael jackson CD package? Tell me the dynamics are compressed on that!
Essential Michael jackson CD package?

Yes the Quincy Jones (Thriller) productions were already fantastic to start with. Ndugu is an amazing drummer. Quincy Jones is a superb producer.

Why can't the recording industry learn from the most succesful album of all time - Thriller - recording & production quality counts!!
"Why can't the recording industry learn from the most succesful album of all time - Thriller - recording & production quality counts!!"

Good question.

I suspect some in the industry do and some do not and many execs have not been able to put two + two together yet that most people do value quality, albeit to different levels. Audiophiles are the extreme fringe unfortunately, so I doubt the music industry will ever systematically cater to the audio kooks standards.

Unfortunately, cost management is a big thing for businesses today. Guys with a track record who do things well, like Quincy and Michael, tend to be expensive (excessively so often) compared to the average Joe and profits have to be assured. Education and new talent in an industry is the best hope for both quality and cost containment.
Shadorne, is Thriller (original lp) regarded as a model of excellent production and mastering? my lp copy of Thriller has much more sibilance than the majority of my other records, irritating to listen to, not that it couldn't be caused by other things.
I would say Thriller is up there with the very best of recordings - absolutely. I have never found the sibilance and issue but there is plenty of attack so the midrange is not recessed as it is on many rock/pop albums (this will add to sibilance as attack is in the 3 to 5 Khz rangew hich overlaps sibilance from 3 to 7 Khz).

Frankly the balance is extremely good IMHO - after all Thriller cost nearly a million dollars to produce at Westlake Studios (one of the top notch studios in LA)

BTW - Michael Jackson used Westlake speakers most of his career - absolutely awesome speakers - you rarely see them outside of studios though.
Not just the Thriller stuff, but the latter post Quincy Jones stuff on the Essential MJ collection is also of similar quality with excellent dynamics, perhaps even better in some cases. The attack of the percussion on much of this collection could induce heart attacks in some on my system!

Even the early Jackson 5 stuff sounds very good for the most part.

When I listen to random tracks off my music server including the cuts from this collection mixed in, these cuts always distinguish themselves as being in the top echelon in regards to dynamics, along with a few other discs, some new and some old.

Listening to music produced differently off a music server randomly really lets you take notice in the production and sound quality differences from title to title. It also works well to identify differences between two or more different versions of the same tune off different CDs played back to back.
Shadorne, is Thriller (original lp) generally regarded as a model of excellent production and mastering? my lp copy of Thriller has much more sibilance than the majority of my other records, irritating to listen to, not that it couldn't be caused by other things.
Obviously, New artists and older artists are allowing their work to be produced in this manner. Maybe they are the ones that need to put their foot down. There was a post on Audiogon right after Springsteen's "Magic" and Metallica's "Death Magnetic" CD's were released. Most posters described Death Magnetic as distorted and unlistenable and "Magic" wasn't rated much better. These are just two examples of recording artists that have been in the business for over 20 years, so they should know better than to allow their work to be produced like this.
A good example of a recent popular tune that is compressed to the nth degree is "Right Round" by Flo Rida.

They use this tune in a workout class I do and I like it, so I downloaded an mp3 from amazon for .99 cents. It would be so much better if every last bit of dynamic range possible had not been sucked out of it. Still a fun tune though!

I have downloaded some other inexpensive mp3s that do sound better, so I think it is not the mp3 format that is responsible, more the designs of the producers.
The Dead or Alive original version is much better - less compressed. The extended mix has good dynamics.
Sorry was away for a few days and did not imagine this thread would have produced such a large response.

Firstly - Elizabeth - "I assume you are complaining about the CD remastering and just new mastering of ROCK music."
Don't think so - Naxos are just as guilty of this errant production as Warner Bros.

Secondly - I see many threads around suggesting 2 vrms output for cd players/DACs is too much for preamps & poweramps, but surely we must look at the volume of the source of the source!

Mapman - I will purchase Revival to do some testing! More thoughts on this soon....will look forward to more opinions on what is surely a part of the larger problem of audio component matching!
The SACD of Thriller is just that....thrilling. If you've got a SACD player it's a must have.

RE Thriller
Given the time frame of it's release and the popularity of it's artist then, recording quality could have been way off the mark and pretty poor actually, and album sales would still have sky rocketed.

I don't recall hearing one person then say, "I bought the record or disc because of the quality of the production."

Just like Elvis and the Beatles before MJ, record sales simply weren't based on the quality of the sound... but merely the 'sound' or style if you will, of the recording artist.

Still today I'll buy the stuff I like the sound of on the radio or that I've heard online in a disc, only to find out it is lacking when played back on my main system. So it gets played less or played on a lesser system.

the motivation for the purchase remains the same... by and large I've deemed it popular enough or found it appealing enough to purchase. Seldom if ever am I able to preview a prospective disc on my main rig.

Quality quite often is merely an afterthought or anomoly in pop & rock. The overwhelming majority of that audience simply wants loud... not quality. 95% of the time, when at those folks homes they'll show off their new CD by turning on & up the system just that fast... to paint peeling levels and then say, "How do you like that? Sounds great doesn't it?" .

Normally it doesn't. When they come to my home the first time, everyone of them will say turn it up even if I'm already in the low to mid 90 dbs. I'll tell 'em I can't, it trips the breakers.

I'm pretty sure now, most of my pop and rock oriented friends are almost deaf. In fact some very nearly are.

I think what you say is valid, but whose to say that overall quality had nothing to do with the products unique success? Quality is almost always a part of any success story. Jackson seemed like a stickler for what he thought important, and did those things better than anyone else perhaps in his prime.

Actually excessive compulsive might be a more accurate term. For better or for worse. The "over the top" sound quality of his recordings (compared to the norm) seem to be in line with his lifestyle in general.
I'm with Mapman on this. To me Thriller would have been successful without the high quality production, the question is would it have been the most successful album in the history of music if it sounded like most of the crap we get to day in pop/rock?

I feel back then quality played such a small part as to be inconsequential. billy Joel came out with his Innocent Man LP about the same time. A few others as I recall did well then too. most were well recorded.

Add in a promotional budget of 3/4 million bucks which was unheard of then... MJ launching the video on MTV which ran the promos for weeks in advance... that got a lot of eyes and ears on it that it would not normally have had.

A great recording studio and Quincy Jones did not play a big part in the sales initially..

We sold out that day and had ordered more than we ever had previously of any album. that kept up for weeks. trust me people hadn't even heard the whole album and it flew off the shelves. neither, by and large, did the crowd buying them have the wherewithall to own a great outfit on which to play them, save for Daddy's, perhaps.

It was THE latest big deal, given the press that was paid for it, it darn well should have been too..

but the kids/people coming into my store then to buy them weren't applauding the quality... just that it was the latest MJ album that even had Vincent Price on it. Most were hearing it at the clubs not at friends houses. It did sell well outside itÂ’s normal cultural arena, as the cuts were diverse and the appeal was very broad.

in retrospection, one can attribute quality as a factor to the bulk of the sales for that record, yet still I feel it would have had a very marginal effect on the total sales receipts.

I heard it several times on various outfits and formats. the quality was good but not astonishing. I'd say very good for pop music at the time. I never bought the recording myself... and gave away the SACD version of it someone had given to me.

Why disparage the most successful album of all time?

Why not give credit where credit is due!

I feel back then quality played such a small part as to be inconsequential.

Hang on. Thriller was part of the 8O's - an era where, as far as I am concerned, music recording quality peaked. So many extended mixes from that period. Works by Trevor Horn and Alan Parson for example - these 80's productions were the pinnacle of what the recording industry has ever achieved. IMHO

I've no issue with the recording industry's upswing of quality being infused into their products begining back then in the 80s. None. I thought I said as much, though not as clearly as yourself.

My point is simple... the bulk of the MJ Thriller album sales was not based on it's quality, but it's hype.

Truth be told, I liked the thing back then and did not and do not care one wit about the artist. In fact I don't care for him then or now. he had severe issues and never addressed them sufficiently enough to prevent hurting others and worst of all, he hurt innocent children.

I'm unable to excuse such actions because of sheer notiriety or talent.

MJ's acclaim may have surpassed that of Elvis economically, but there's no fair comparison... that's like saying the vlockbuster flick of 2000 was out sold by the blockbuster flick of 2010... Tickets were cheaper in 2000... albums were cheaper and there were less people to buy them.

Elvis & The Beatles bodies of work will always out run MJ in my book... despite the $$$ signs.

had either of those promoted any album they produced in a likewise manner as was Thriller... a likewise result would have occured.

the notion of the presumed quality of the recording came purely as an aside in later years.. or now. Not back then.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
OK well it seems this thread has ended up more an argument of aesthetics than anything else. We'll see whether The Beatles or MJ are played in 200 years like Beethoven and Mozart. My pick would be The Beatles, heads and shoulders above MJ.

Anyway, not wanting to buy into this because it is a completely separate argument.

Anyone seen this site?

Fantastic database for the protagonists of the loudness war, but what software would give readings like this??
The software I mentioned above can tell you the dynamic range and peak for each track.

It appear that you can send your files to the website and presumably the software checks the dynamic range and then adds the file to the list.

Here is the upload form


I have perused the database and based on my experience and specific albums that I have - it appears to be quit accurate.
Just scroll down and look at Metallica

No wonder their fans are upset about the recent crap quality.

Also note that the new release of MJ Thriller is a much worse than the original 1982 CD (which I have as I bought it in 1982, although I am not much of an MJ fan and do not want to prolong the discussion but lack of "dynamic range" on some verions might explain why there are different views on the quality of this particular album)
Interesting that the Sheffield Lab Drum Track comes out the in the top 5.

And, for those who don't trust their ears, clear proof that the Beatles Mono 2009 remasters have more dynamic range than the stereo versions...

And the top 20 is all music from the 80 - I rest my case - this was when teh recording industry production quality peaked...

Very useful site! Thanks for sharing!
While I know this is a audiophile site, I do want to speak out that you, as a consumer segment, have very little economic pull left in the market place. With the record labels in a death spin, and consumer electronics flat to declining, many content providers are faced with the prospect that the only end device that matters is the cell phone and iPod-like player. In China alone, there are over 780 million phones that could be music enabled, with another 100 million each in Japan and Korea. Music is now the number one feature set in India (WSJ did an extensive article on this two weeks ago). Compression allows music to sound good in this environment at the expense of your environment. As much as I am in favor of uncompressed music, the fact remains that you have little "pull" or "say" in the next frontier of music. In total, only 2 million "new" vinyl records were shipped last year. Digital downloading represents the only true channel remaining. Sorry ladies and gents, but the loudness war is over and you are on the losing side.
"but the loudness war is over and you are on the losing side"

PRobably true in the overall big picture.

However high end audio has always been a niche market and there will always be people who enjoy good sound and are willing to focus time and energy achieving it.

The glass will hope remain part full for a long time, so look at the bright side and just enjoy all the good music and decent recordings out there.

Still, a bit is a terrible thing to waste!!!!

Interesting that more recent remasters of most Genesis score lower than earlier versions from the 1990s.

I have both versions of Foxtrot and have never compared. I need to rip those to the music server and see whats going on there......
Mapman says;
'By the way, a lot of newer "loud" recorded CDs will cream lesser audio systems not capable of delivering the goods to an audiophile's ears. In some cases, I believe the shortcoming is in the audio systems ability to deliver the "loud" dynamics present without distortion, not an inherent shortcoming with the recording itself.'

The only correction/alteration I would give is to substitute 'In some cases' to 'In ALL cases'.

If your speakers are up to scratch then everything will sound at a minimum musical and enjoyable.
I was of the opinion many years ago that the cd was the issue, now I have seen the light and view the opposite to be true, after I visited a well respected hi-fi reviewer in the UK and heard his gear. Hearing WAS believing, nothing played sounded bad.
Gawdbless and Mapman,

It is not the dynamics on the "loud" CD that is the problem. It is the complete lack of dynamics. In order to remove the dynamics of natural sounds it requires heavy manipulation to flatten the waveforms. As you flatten a waveform it eventually loses the sinusoidal shape and becomes square. A square waveform representation of an original smooth sinusoid is made up of many odd harmonics - all of which is distortion.

If you have a system that is forgiving (unable to handle transients and reproduce the square waveform accurately) then it will indeed improve the sound as this will reduce some of the higher odd harmonics. Another trick is to have a recessed midrange as the midrange is where our hearing is very sensitive - a laid back midrange will also improve the sound of distorted "loud" CD's.

On the flip side - if you play the Sheffield Labs Drum track CD (oodles of dynamic range) or any of the higher quality jazz, classical and much of the 80's pop/rock recordings then it will sound most realistic on an accurate system that is not forgiving.

The points you make are quite valid though and pose a dilemma. Do you need two systems - one for the loudness war CD's and one for the audiophile (jazz and classical) CD's or do you try to find something in between (a compromise). Another solution is to go to Vinyl - as the physical analog medium of Vinyl (or analog tape) simply cannot produce a square wave as ruthlessly as digital can - so "loudness wars" are inherently less of a problem on Vinyl.
I own "revival" by Fogerty. It is a good album, very clear,detailed sounding. However, compression was defintely used as it is recorded pretty loud. Not as loud as some though. Compression is raising the volume of softer parts of songs to the same or close to the same volume as the loudest parts. The lack of "dynamic" change in volume between the soft and loud parts is what is termed lack of dynamics. Music heard live has these dynamic changes and it's absence is unnatural. The fact that a recording sounds loud usually means a lack of natural dynamic change. Reading this thread there seemed to be some confusion, if not, sorry.

I agree with what you say about Revival. IT is recorded relatively "loud" as a whole.

However, the percussion and drums as I recall are not just loud, but have the sound of real drums more so than many other recordings I hear also recorded loud overall.

I think what is happening is that modern day digital recording and mastering techniques and tools provide a lot of flexibility in how dynamics are represented. The tendency is for the recording to be louder overall on the average, yet dynamic range is still targeted or applied selectively, for example to make a drum sound more real.

A similar process I am familiar with from digital image processing, an enhancement called contrast stretching, where contrast (or visual dynamic range) is adjusted based upon the actual image content, so that the contrast available overall delivers information in that particular image better than might be possible otherwise naturally.

There are many kinds of targeted linear and non-linear range stretches possible. They can be applied objectively or subjectively. The result is generally a rendering that transmits the more interesting parts better at the expense of the less interesting parts. The result is not natural looking (or sounding) but can convery more information to the end consumer in the end if done well, for example, making those drms sound real with out one having to crank up the volume as far.

PUrists hate anything artificial or not real sounding but hey, most studio recordings are that way anyhow. Modern digital technology just provides a greater set of tools for producers to apply, for better or for worse.

In the end, I think the good producers will produce a product that can get it right for the largest possible target audience, which nowadays is, unfortunately for audiophiles, ipods and mp3 players, etc. Some may be audiophiles/purists and produce things more accordingly.

Take a modern amplified live rock concert also. You hear what the guys running the sound and mixing board think you should hear. there is not much sound until amplified and mixed.

Live acoustic or classical concerts are more often different. You are more likely still to just hear the "real" sound of those acoustic instruments, amplifiers and mixers are not as commonly applied (I think).

"Oh the times, they are a changing' indeed!
You are serious about your music Mapman. Thats great. My point though is dynamics. Of course, some parts sound correct, drums etc. The point is the soft and loud parts are squashed together rendering the DIFFERENCE in volume non existent. Not like real music