Loudness Wars reaching dangerous levels

There is a new threat to our audiophile ways; the volunatry compression of dynamic range in the pursuit of 'louder' sound. This practice has become so widespread as to affect/infect jazz and classical recordings as well, not just the pop recordings which have been so obviously flattened for several decades now. The Loudness Wars have escalated to such levels of distortion that most notable mastering engineers are seriously concerned about the future of recorded music in regards to listenability.

We've seen many issues of this nature come and go in the past, resulting in various levels of sound quality degradation. Find out why this particular issue poses a more serious danger to our hi-end audio hobby:

Dangerous deficit of Dynamics

The audiophile market segment was not large enough to save SACD or DVD-A, but the music industry's future business models (based on the internet) will allow individual artists to pay more attention to their fans. Audiophiles will be able to vote with their pocket book and thus be heard.

Through this thread we hope to generate discussion and ideas that would help reverse the effects of this alarming trend. We invite you to post your thoughts below but ask that you stay on topic.

I've posted the link to Rolling Stone's 2007 Yearbook article: The Death of High Fidelity on a couple threads for this very reason. It's bad enough that the CD format is dying, but dynamic compression in modern day engineering practices will be the final nail in the coffin.

I own a copy of the Red Hot Chilli Pepper's "Californication" on 200g vinyl and the sound is fried beyond belief. It is so much louder than any other record I own and buzzes so bad that I'm afraid that it's doing damage to my system.
As the post statement says, this crap has been going on for decades. I remember buying Columbia recordings in the late 60s and early 70s (Bob Dylan, etc.) that sounded awful. And this on box type stereos. Bought my first component system in 1972 and the Columbias still sounded bad.

Flash forward and we have youngsters not even wanting to buy a stereo. I remember my nephew, a few years ago, standing in my hi-fi room looking confused. He said to me, "So you just sit here and listen to music?" When I said yes, he looked at me like I was from another planet.

We music and audio lovers need to get real vocal real fast. The younger generation not only doesn't know there can be realistic sounding recordings, they don't care at this point. If someone is 20 years old, they most likely have never heard anything but crap recordings.

I e-mailed Apple to inform that I will not be buying any more "pop/rock" tunes as long as they are recorded like garbage. Honestly, though, I don't expect Apple to give a rip one way or the other. iTunes exists to sell product, not create exposure to good music. Steve Jobs may be a liberal in his public political facade, but love of money is his religion.
I am ready to go to war again.What can I do to help?Thanks for posting,Bob
Nothing new about it - it has been going on a while. I guess it is worse now than ever before though.

The sad part is a whole generation of music is lost. Great band are producing material that is totally crunched into rubbish, material that would otherwise have been great.

Really sad.
perhaps we start with the musicians...the people responsible for the artform we love...not the bean counters, although that is where the largest resistance will be met in this war...instead of letters, petitions, and pleas to the capitalist based music industry, we go direct to the source. We tell THEM that their art is being manipulated and destroyed. Unless they don't care and just want you to buy tickets to the show...who knows....it is a very sad thing to watch, and listen to the ruination of this simple universal artform. I can't think of a good analogy and I love analogies. It is just very troubling on many levels. Cherish your top recordings. Like good music these recordings are poetry in motion...They are special. They capture the feel of life and vitality and are the prime reason we are audiogon members.
I started a thread on this very subject some years ago on the gon, I recall getting something like eighteen responses, and some of those didn't even know what I was talking about. If audiophiles don't care or understand the importance of this we are really in trouble.
Secondly, I think we can write off the vast majority of listeners to be responsive to this issue. I have many nieces and nephews, and they and their friends (all twenty somethings), without exception play their music loud with the bass pumped up to maximum volume. You can't even hear the mids and highs due to the bass boom, who cares about compression when you can't hear most of the music.
I also find it amazing when they see my system and cd collection, I have perhaps 5,000 cds and they are only able to find 3 or 4 they want to listen to. They are completely unfamiliar with most artists I listen to, if it isn't contemporary country, r&b, hip/hop or techno they don't want to know. With such a narrow vision of music is it any surprise they don't care about the sonic aspects of music.
I suspect I could also make a strong argument the music they like is no longer even art, rather it is spectacle. The visual and personality aspects of the 'artist' are more important than the music, this is the commoditization of music. If the youth I know are representative of the whole we can expect no help from these folks ever.
My generation is not left off the hook either, these folks come over and nine times out of ten pick classic rock cds, going on thirty years and listening to the same old stuff for the millienth time, no help here.
Today, for the vast majority of all age groups, visual presentation and artist personna aspects take precedence over the music, the ubiquitous uber expensive tvs and cheap subwoofers bring the spectacle home, the media blitz about Brittney or Courtney or Justin or whoever keep us enthralled with the personality. Music will never again be just music, pure listening is simply too boring for the multi-task mind.
So, we're left with a few audiophiles, perhaps some artists, and a few engineers and producers who care about the sonics of music. This small minority will never greatly influence what the majority want to hear. Perhaps I'm cynical, but I don't think music matters enough to most individuals so that sonics become a listening priority.
I believe the future holds little regard for us, our marginalization will ensure few quality choices. On the other hand, to end this on an upbeat plane, we can never know what innovation might bring, perhaps total immersion in three dimensional sound and vision will become available to us.
I hear you you Sns,I feel the same way,thinking the easy way out is score some 70's equipment like we had and forget trying to capture that last beautiful note out there.Hard to go back though,especially chemically speaking which was a a large part of the trip.Get a new record,call your friends,they come over, share some mojo,rejoice at the experience.So what if the record was a little scratchy after playing it 36 times that weekend....No,we better move forward and explore whats ahead,we know whats behind.....nice talking to you guys,Bob
One way to fight back is quit listening to mainstream artists, labels and start listening to independent artists and labels, they have more control over the sound reproduction.
I totally agree,
I have noticed this alarming trend get even worse over the last couple of years.You can easliy hear the difference.
Case in point: The latest Dixie Chicks CD ( "Taking the Long Way Home"). Even my 10 year old daughter can hear the difference between this and their previous CD ( "Home"). I have picked this CD as an example becuse it is fairly mainstream and easy to hear the difference.
I have a fairly modest system ( Marantz, Mccormack, Dynaudio, kimber) but I am getting pissed off with this trend...It only shows that the Recording Engineers are pawns, controlled by the paranoid marketing team who think that noone will buy or listen to a CD unless it is at Vol 10 on there car radio, which by the way, was the cause of this to start with...listening levels in the car to attract listeners which in turn drives ratings for ads.
The music has become so compressed that it is now only background to many people. I have friends come around and their jaws drop when they here some familiar music played on my very modest system.
Yes it is concerning. Tower of Power have produced outstanding sound over the years. Soul Vaccination live is an awesome live album and Oakland Zone is extremely good too. However, there is a hint of harshness starting to creep in - especially at elevated levels. Vlado Meller did the mastering on both these ToP albums. Thankfully he has not gone to the extreme levels of awful compression that he did to Oasis Morning Glory and Red Hot Chilli Peppers Californication....however the trend is what worries me. Both these ToP releases are much much louder sounding than the older stuff...

What can we do about it?

I don't know but I want everyone to know what Vlado Meller is doing to good music....that he is ruining it!
Sns...What's funny is that Brittney & Justin (who is Courtney??) have no discernible personality. I've seen them both interviewed and Brittney is truly vacant and shallow, and Justin is trying so hard to be KOOL that he comes off as an empty vessel. He even looks half asleep in his videos, at least the few seconds I've seen of a few.

What's funny is that good singers like Christina A. and Kelly Clarkson produce records with no range whatsoever. Not a one of them will probably ever reach even a fraction of their potential.

Oh, and one reason I listen to so much old music (mostly jazz from the 50s & 60s, and quite a bit of rock from the 60s & 70s) is that there are great remasters available on CD. The first James Gang record, Yer Album, sounds superb - natural with wide, open dynamics, good tone, deep well defined bass. Lots of old music is available that way. Unfortunately, the same shallowness that infests pop, hip-hop/rap has spoiled most new rock. Still some good jazz being done.

During Christmas I got to watch my brother's 20 year old nephew "listen" to music his way - scrolling through an iPod and "listening" to 60-70 songs in an hour. When one song was playing this kid (sad to say but 20 is the new 14) was playing with his gadget like a video game until some other meaningless piece of compressed noise would pop up.

Oh, and by the way, I am taking One To One courses at the local Apple Store and just today my "trainer" didn't know that Apple Lossless was available. I've had maybe 7-8 different people over the months and only one of 'em knew the difference between the different encoding systems. All the rest said the only difference between MP3 and Apple Lossless was "Lossless just takes of more storage space, just a waste."
The object in marketing is to give the people what they want.

Are there enough of us to make a difference with the audio industry? We are a very small segment of the population.

Our best approach would be start with educating the next generation of music buyers - those under age 10. As they learn about fidelity in music they will not accept less when they become buyers and marketing will give them what they want.

Unhappily, the best we may be able to attain with the current "ipod" generation coming into the buying market is to attempt to maintain a stalemate while clinging to our older recordings.
The object of marketing is NOT to give people what they want. Henry Ford said it best, "Necessity is not the mother of invention, invention is the mother of necessity."

Young people don't have wants per se, they are told (starting with Sesame Street and then going right into MTV) what they want and then the kiddies have to have it. We all went through the same thing. As long as Madison Ave can keep things fast paced, loud, explosive, and continuous they can easily convince kids of exactly "what they want".

TV, video games, magazines, and movies for kids are just like "pop" music - fast paced, loud, explosive, and continuous. It's a marketing ploy developed over the past few decades after the marketing guys realized kids are easily swayed by shiny, loud, tinkly things. They need to create a "wall of noise", whether music, TV, movies, websites, magazines, etc. in order to keep kids minds dull but agitated. This is the mind that will buy anything - because it doesn't have anything in it to begin with except a kind of itchy irritation.

Kids today are, in general, dull witted and cynical at the same time. We can't expect them to desire real music with it's deep passions, dynamics, light & shade, and even meaningful lyrics. The smartest kid I know thinks Green Day is one of the most profound musical forces today. He had me listening to an iPod stored song of theirs - nothing but a wall of noise.

Steve Jobs of Apple didn't create iTunes to spread the love of good music, he created it to move product. He knew kids could easily become addicted to the constant shallow, physical activity of scrolling through an iPod.

And it's not just kids who fall for this. My wife and I met a 42 year old woman on vacation in Mexico a couple of years ago. She had an iPod which stayed in her ear constantly. She told us, with wide eyes, that the iPod "has totally changed my life. It's one of the best things that's ever happened to me". By the way (don't ask how the conversation ended up here), this woman had never heard of quantum mechanics, unified field theory, or theoretical physics.

The crappy music situation is just one expression of our crappy "pop" culture. Compressed music just goes along with compressed TV, movies, etc. When one cannot concentrate longer than 15-20 seconds, of course music has to be a wall of noise. Only the irritation of the mind will keep one "listening".

When was the last time any of us was able to hold the average person on a subject of conversation for longer than 1 minute? To quote a woman I work with (when the conversation topic continues longer than a minute), "BOOOORIIIINNNGGG!"
We need a way to allow the corporations to make money off of non-compressed recordings. How about the player manufacturers start incorporating switchable compression into all the various plqayers, calling it volume enhancement MAKES LOW PASSAGES LOUDER!!! Then music companies can sell uncompressed cds and downloads as enhanced dynamic range recording WITH LOUDER PEAKS!!!!!! WooHoo, EVERYTHING will be louder then! wouldn't that be great, and everyone could charge more money! Even the audiophiles would be happy. Since radio stations get special releases anyway, they could be sent recordings with compression specific for radio. Or maybe as DOWNLOADING becomes more common, they could sell different VERSIONS, COMpRESSEd and UNcOMpREsSEd and it WOULDN"T COST the distributors ANYTHING.
In defense of young people, I have been impressed with the musical knowledge of many young people. They know muich of the music from the 50s and 60s on. Much more so than I (or my peers) knew my parent's music.
Once upon a time it became impossible to buy a decent cup of coffee in America. Years an years of a marketing trend towards the cheapest possible "sawdust" from a diner drip coffee machine lead to a situation where nobody even new what good coffee tasted like.

I suspect that the loudness wars will produce the same effect....after several years of it becoming absolutely impossible to find any decent sounding pop music...some label somewhere will make the change and identify the opportunity to sell something that is actually good quality.

=> We need a Starbucks for pop music!!!

It can be done. The industry has reinvented itself in the past - remember Ahmet Ertegun and Atlantic: a whole generation of music started in the hands of an outsider...it took a Turk to recognize what the "incumbents of industry" could not see under their very noses - amazing artists with amazing sound!
i blame mostly the musicians. i don't care how much 'pressure' is being applied by record companies, it is
a matter of integrity. i find it hard to believe that a record company would not issue a cd if a band put enough 'pressure' back on them to let it be recorded properly or refuse to release it.
01-14-08: Entrope
The object in marketing is to give the people what they want.

I have to disagree here, giving the people what they want is more the object of engineering. I have to say the object of marketing is to convince people to want what you have.

I think we are too small to fight back with the industry. Our efforts to support hi-rez digital formats failed. We can complain all we want about quality, but the major labels will not listen. I would hope that the smaller labels might thrive and grow in this type of environment.
The Mapleshade, Audioquest, Chesky type of labels. Granted this may limit some of our musical choices, but if small labels start having more success that is the only thing that will capture the major labels attention, IMHO.

I have been involved in audio/hifi for 35 years, for the fun of reproducing recorded music. This has been already said. Compression has been going on for years. The majority of the record companies did this thinking the average listener would be using a walkman or boom box, not a home system of excellent make up. Of course, the music must be good, but, we audiophiles want it all. There are many recording labels that do a great job of capturing dynamics. Most of us are aware of who they are. These other companies. What to do?
JMCGrogan & TomRyan-

Perhaps I more succinctly should have said "marketing is to tell people what they want".

As a group, how can we influence the marketers and/or engineers to give us what we want?

At this point I hold to my original thought that audiophiles can influence the next generation about what they want. Strength in numbers.

Is digital recording/playback to blame in some degree? Does it allow compression to a degree that analog recording did not?

i think too much energy is devoted to this problem and not enought to the problem of inaccuracy of timbre. many recordings suffer from gross inaccuracy of timbre. as an example, when a tenor sax sounds like an alto there is something wrong. when frequency response is out of balance, something is wrong.

i think truth in timbre is much more important than truth in dynamics.

not all recordings are of large orchestras. there are many recordings of ensembles or single instruments where the problem of compression is not an issue, but instruments do not sound real.
i think truth in timbre is much more important than truth in dynamics.

Agreed. The pursuit of enormous bass response in small thin elegant modest sized two way speakers has short changed timbre big time (at the same time that it masks lower midrange details). Added warm harmonics from certain types of electronics is also short changing timbre in exchange for a nicer lush sound.

I suspect your utter dislike of all box speakers is somewhat linked to the kind of box speakers that are prevalent and marketed today (designed to suit customer desires mentioned above rather than produce straightforward timbral accuracy)
I know what you are saying. However, I think music is contained equally in timbre and dynamics - you know, beats and notes. Without proper reproduction of both things, music will either be boring or fatiguing. In the case of pop/rock recordings of the last 10-35 years much of it has been quite fatiguing. I remember buying LPs 25 years ago from King Crimson, Dave Edmonds, etc. and various orchestral performances, all of them unlistenable. All of them way over on the etched, hard, restricted dynamics side of things.

Too bad about this whole thing because a whole lot of hi-fi manufacturers make excellent equipment nowadays.
I disagree with you on this one. I have a pair of speakers that fit your generalized description of "small thin elegant modest sized two way speakers": it's a pair of Dynaudio Contour S3.4. They are only 7.5 inches wide, about 48 high and something like 14 deep. They have two 6.5 mid/bass drivers that are driven in tandem, such that the acoustic surface area is the equivalent to about 9.5 inch driver. With the tweeter they are a true two way design. I chose these speakers based on what I perceived to be truth of timbre, beautfiul organic midrange, sweet and integrated top end, and really great bass punch and extension...all of this with no sense of compression or dynamic power limiting. They just sound real to me. That they are tall and elegant is icing on the cake!! If I am fortunate enough to upgrade speakers in the future my dollars vote for something in the upper Dyn range. I do not think it is valid to cast aspersions based on cabinet size and physical driver implementations. Dynaudio designers obviously know what they are doing and make gorgeous sounding speakers that are also easy to integrate into any decor. Maybe you have tower envy? -lol cmon i'm joking dude...
One of my components, Denon DVD player or Rotel MS Processor (I forget which) has selectable capability to compress volume. They suggest it is for watching movies late at night, so as not to disturb those sleeping. Quite reasonable I think, although I have never had occasion to use it.

Truth is that most listeners benefit from compression, and that's why they do it. Dynamic range expander/peak unlimiter hardware was common several decades ago. I don't know what is available today.

Compression and peak limiting came long before the IPod age. For vinyl it is necessary to avoid untrackable grooves.

I buy mostly classical discs from a few (rather expensive) European labels, and I don't have the overcompression problem.
While I was in the business back in the dark ages. The digital medium was not initally mean't to replace the LP, it was meant as a replacement to the tape Cassette. In fact many of the early CDs which were mainly Classical were recorded in real time - no compression or limiting of any kind was employed. But with real time recordings came another problem. For when the passages are really quiet many users cranked the volume to hear the low passages and when the dynamics came in the amp clipped, blew fuses and sometimes speakers. In the early days of the medium we did not have a lot of mega power amps that could handle the digital domain in real time. So manufacturers such as Threshold, Krell, Levinson and some others produced amps that could handle real time digital recordings.

Of course that all changed quite rapidly from real time to compressed and limited CDs to fit a far wider application and audience. Most all the labels realize that the purist among us (audiophiles)would be turned off by that, nonetheless the labels moved forward to reach that larger audience. Let's face it we as audiophiles represent little more than one percent of their buying audience.

If one should think we have visionaries guiding these labels today, think again. We do not have the likes of Norman Granz or Alfred Lion who gave a damn over the sound of their product. No today we have the bean counters in charge that has no idea, that we as audiophiles demand. We as audiophiles make up so little of their consumer base, that our departure will go un-noticed.

Our only refuge is the specialty labels that turn out quality product and we need to embrace and support them, or they will vanish.

I have said this many times and it is as true now as it was some 20 years ago. High end for all its prowess in the final analysis has failed its market objective and this continues to today. We can all share in this failure of high end to break out of its cloak of mystery. What we hold in high esteem is not shared by the mainstream consumers and that is clearly evident. I for one see no change in the near term. The mass market labels have clearly targeted their audience and will cater to that demand until that well runs dry.

I have been in this hobby/business for some 50 years now and it is true now as ever "The More Things Change,The More They Remain Same"

In closing when was the last time you met a major recording executive at a CES show, the answer is obvious.

I qualified tall elegant thin with "enormous bass response" (copious bass and deep extension) but your disagreement is a fair one as indeed your Dynaudios are using excellent quality woofers and the port tuning at 28 Hz and large cabinet probably means they are well behaved to 30 Hz. Do they have copious bass - I suspect not - probably accurate bass?

Certainly two drivers will increase the sensitivity and therefore efficiency of the speaker - it is an often used technique on thinner an Appolito designs - as you say to help move more air. However have you considered the compromise from two drivers producing the same frequencies (in terms of reverberant sound field and correct overall timbre as you go through the crosover region from two drivers to the point source of the tweeter)?

Not to say these are not absolutely awesome speakers - they are - but "thin" with high efficieny inevitably comes with some compromise (however slight).
hi dpac966:

i visited the ces and the show several weeks ago. i visited more than 300 rooms. i auditioned, briefly, cones, horns and panel designs.

i heard colorations in the horn and cone designs i heard. there were some "big" names, such as magico, dali, eggleston and others.

cones present a challenge to a designer. first, drivers are different. then there is the crossover. finally, there is the cabinet. panel speakers, such as ribbon designs and electrostatics, have their own problems. however, to my ears they are closer to linearity, revealing natural timbre than other designs. yes, there are issues of bass response and dynamics. however, within their range, they seem to have less flaws than other designs.
Hi Mr T,
My friend has Carver AL's and they sound awesome. These are totally different than dynamic drivers and i really like each for their strengths. The Carver's sound HUGE, something about a 4 foot long transducer... For me I am used to dynamic driver "sound" and I really like that. I also do not have the space for gigantic panels and the like, plus the wifey really likes our current speakers.
To my ears the dyns sound the least "boxy" out of this type of approach. In my wildest dreams I would have a few dedicated rooms with all these different transducer/ front end implementations..when i'm bored with one sound walk to the next room and so on...
i remember years ago listening to the proac response 3 speakers, driven by a nelson pass amp and i also recall a nelson pass preamp and a krell digital source in the stereo system.

i found that the proac speaker very un boxy. not having heard your speaker, i cannot comment.

i'm confident that there are other relatively uncolored cone designs. however, these designs require a lot of care to overcome the obvious challenges.
How did this thread turn into a discussion of speaker preferences? Stick to the topic!
I thought I was going nuts.... This is the first I have heard of this misuse of compression. I have heard it and frankly just thought my hearing was going to the dogs. This is a bad situation... we need to inform everyone of this before its to late.
I think the people who turn the bass and volume way up are instinctively looking to restore the lost dynamics in the recordings. One of the purposes of much popular music is to inspire people to dance. Drums do this, I think, by startling the listener with a sudden sharp (dynamic) sound. If you startle someone enough to make them jump at regular closely spaced intervals, they are dancing. If the drum beats aren't startling enough, they won't be so inspiring. Listeners know the rhythm is carried in the lower frequency instruments, so they turn the bass up, and that the drumbeat is supposed to be loud, so they turn the volume up.
People, especially young people, use music as a soundtrack to their lives - always playing, as if they were starring in their own movie or video game. For this, compressed music might be valuable, especially on cheap earbuds that can't handle dynamic peaks. But when they want to build excitement, at a party or driving in their car, they would be better served with music with it's full dynamic range intact.
compression is only a problem for stereo systems that are capable of reproducing dynamic range. many speakers are restricted in that department.

in addition, as i have said, compression is not an issue in many instances of small ensemble music which features unamplified instruments.

finally for those of us who listen at volume levels not exceeding 83 db, this is not an issue.
Mrtennis: Huh? I think you're missing the point. Compression is used in the mastering process to make quieter passages louder while reducing louder passages, thus limiting dynamic range in the recording. The result is a cluttered, static sounding recording when compression is abused by the recording engineer. This has nothing to do with end user volume levels.

Watch the video clip on the following site:
Mr T said, "finally for those of us who listen at volume levels not exceeding 83 db, this is not an issue."

Yes, I guess that you are the guy they are doing this for! Stop right now, turn up the volume, and join the audiophile world.
Mr T, the end SPL you listen to is simply a scale factor to the signal. If the signal is compressed it's still going to sound that way no matter the end volume level. Easily verified: take a pop cd or say the red hot chili pepper's californication cd and try at any SPL.

You can identify that hideous sound as soon as any trace of signal makes it to the speakers... and it's all the same regardless of genre: flat, tinny, wimpy, screechy, cymbals that sound like static bursts, "drums" that you can hear but not feel, basically it sounds like someone put a layer of concrete (from the other forum) 1 inch thick on your woofers. They hardly move.

When used in the right doses compression can be a welcome tool to acheive a certain balance of sound, but this latest trend (loudness wars) is killing the sound as it was laid down.

I think we all know how to identify it, but now the problem is what can we do about it?
Yes, I guess that you are the guy they are doing this for! Stop right now, turn up the volume, and join the audiophile world.


...more seriously Bob ...unfortunately you are only too correct. The lack of dynamic range of most car, PC speakers, radio and home hi fi is what is behind a lot of this compression. By squashing the music you can still hear the soft parts even on a system that is maxed out at 83 db SPL.

It is the lack of good systems that makes a compelling argument for squashing music. To me, the minimum requirement for a good system should be to reproduce the full dyanmic range of human hearing with good linearity...i.e. 120 db spl produced accurately at the listening position without compression...even if it only momentary and may occur only once in a blue moon on a transient. Since when did "squashed" and "limited range" become high fidelity?
BTW - if you wonder why the dialogue is hard to hear on DVD's on your friend's cheap HT system there is a simple explantion => the system and speakers are sorely lacking in their ability to produce the clean dynamics of what is achieved in the local big screen THX Cinema...your friend needs to crank it but can't because the loud sounds become harsh, ugly and awful at the required or intended playback SPL levels (due to the system limitations and the deliberately large dynamic range on most movies).
Dpac996...I think that what you describe is "Peak Limiting" rather than "Compression". They are quite different.

The ear (at least mine) is not linearly sensitive to SPL. The sense of hearing has some element of expansion, which is the oposite of compression. When music is played at full concert volume, even the quiet passages are still audible. But when it is played at reduced volume, which is often necessary in the real world (when the wife is home) the quiet passages are lost. Throw in a bit of environmental noise and things get even worse. This is where compression helps. So what I am saying is that the SPL you use does relate to compression.
(what is that a cross breed El Camino, Dodge Dart, and Ford)?
I am trying to relate my experience with the way compressed recordings sound. I can hear "that sound" at any volume level. Compression is on the recording, regardless of what you noise floor is at home. yes some low level detials may be better heard but the cost is a bland sound; there is no snap, decreased "slew rate" of the signal, smeared transients and on and on... this is independent of playback average SPL. God forbid one of these bleeder POS recordings is played back loud...

who knows maybe it's the industry's way of getting us to protect our hearing...it does not need to be loud to hear it all, but in the end you don't want to listen to it anyhow...
I think we need to make our voices known to where it will have the most impact and that is with "The Academy of the Recording Arts aka Grammy. The link to the site that will give us the most exposure is listed below. Also would not hurt to become a member for additional impact.


I think this is where the impetus needs to be started and carried on from there. One or two of us lodging a complaint will not do the trick. We need each and every Audiogon member to make their presence know to the Recording academy. Perhaps Audiogon can post a petition, which we can all sign and then forwarded to the Academy.

Just a thought.
How about Stereophile, TAS, and other big audio rags combine forces with Audigon...we have the publishing horsepower of these bigtime mags and worldwide membership of AudiogoN. Stereophile at least mentions AudiogoN from time to time...how to take this bull by the horns...that is going to be a challenge. Does anyone know any lobbyists???!!
The high-end segment was not enough to support SACD or DVD-A because the technologies weren't that fabulous of an improvement. I owned Sony's flagship SCD-1 SACD/CD player and the distinction between the two formats were minimal and sometime negligible. By today's standards that player may not be considered middle-of-the-road. Even in some cases where SACD was truly superior many recordings were simply re-issues from the standard masters.

I don't really know much about this latest compression with most recent recordings except that I read an article about these loudest sound competitions for audio systems inside cars. The sound is somewhere around 150 decibels, maybe higher, and nobody can even sit in the car or stand close to the car during the competition.

But I'm kind of surprised at our concern here for several reasons:

1. Certain labels and associated types of music that interest many of us hopefully will never incorporate this technology into their recordings. Nor would many in this industry knowingly purchase such recordings.

2. There is a certain segment that is willing to embrace this technology but I can't imagine Agon, Stereophile, TAS, or anybody else having any influence over that population. They haven't yet.

3. Even if every major player in the high end industry joined forces, they would still most likely have little to no impact because because the industry is so small to begin with and never did or never will influence an industry such as loudest sound competitions. Simply because there is little or nothing in common between the two.

In the end I have to ask, does it affect me or even us? Probably not now and probably not for a while since I'm not likely to buy too many modern pop/whatever type recordings that might be used for any type of loudest sound competition.

What I find interesting is our responses and supposed concern here because I would think the high-end audio community has much bigger fish to fry.

For example, many of us are aware that perhaps the most popular quotation in high end audio is, "We are lucky if the very best of our playback systems can capture 10 or 15% at most of the magic of a live performance."

And though many may spend an entire lifetime striving to achieve this 10 to 15% glass ceiling (most will fall short of that 15% cap) isn't this quotation really an indictment of sorts against the entire industry? Last time I checked 15% (MAX) is a whole lot closer to zero than it is to the holy grail we call live music.

It would seem to me that if we were get our shorts in a bind over an issue this is an issue the entire industry should be focusing on because until a new technology develops to obliterate that 15% glass ceiling, I can't help but think some some of these other topics are the equivalent to swallowing a camel yet choking on a gnat.

What's really funny is we have some enthusiasts claiming to be satisfied or even achieving sonic nirvana when getting close to 10 to 15% and then we have some to many who mock or ridicule anybody who might ever think one day we can get beyond this 15% glass ceiling. Shoot, there are some that regurgitate this quote in an almost smug-like fashion. So we've become complacent with 10 - 15% and decided to call it State-of-the-Art.

If the high-end industry were to eliminate the associated bottleneck(s) that keep our systems at less than 15% maybe other more mainstream segments of the industry would be better and more properly influenced by the high-end segment rather than they influencing us.

Like I said, this quotation really is an indictment against the entire high-end industry. Why should any of us be satisfied with capturing just 15% of the magic of a live performance? From what I've heard many musicians won't even bother purchasing a high-end system because they know what live music sounds like and they know they can never get close to it so why spend the money? How many musicians are there around the world?

Is it any wonder this industry cannot grow and in fact has been on the decline for the past few years?

1. Certain labels and associated types of music that interest many of us hopefully will never incorporate this technology into their recordings. Nor would many in this industry knowingly purchase such recordings.
This is not a technology but a studio mastering technique and it is becoming increasingly widespread across all genres and record labels. Check out my post on "Worst Mastered Recordings" to see some examples.

The motivation behind dynamic compression has to do with convenience listening (ie.ipod's, car stereo's, mid-fi's, etc.) and has nothing to do with car-stereo "loudness" competitions.

I was surprisingly informed of this topic, not from your typical hi-fi rag or Agon, but from Rolling Stone so there's definitely an influence factor that extends beyond the <1% of the music listening population. In essence, THERE'S CAUSE FOR CONCERN!
I was surprisingly informed of this topic, not from your typical hi-fi rag or Agon, but from Rolling Stone so there's definitely an influence factor that extends beyond the <1% of the music listening population. In essence, THERE'S CAUSE FOR CONCERN!

Good for Rolling Stone!

I have been aware of this issue for about four years....in the past I just found that so music I did not like on my stereo. For example I loved Oasis (What;s the story) Morning Glory? in my car on the way to work on the radio but I never enjoyed it at home on a high end system.

Bob Katz Digidomain website is one of the places that taught me =>
"Why I no longer enjoy most modern Pop music" except in my car (previously I thought I was losing touch with music as typically I like every genre)
I think a good high-end system with a good recording gets a lot closer than 15%. I would say at least 80%. One of the biggest shortcomings has always been the recordings. Many recordings just don't sound any better once you get past a mid-fi system. Playing them on a high-end system just doesn't yield much improvement in sound quality because the sound jsut isn't on the recording. There was a manufacturer at THE 3 years ago that played a record of a symphony that was as close to sitting in a real concert hall as I've ever heard any reproduction sound. But the rest of his records and discs merely sounded like very good recordings. On the other hand, I've heard PA systems costing a fraction of what we spend on a high end system that sound astonishingly good when fed with a live microphone feed - most noticeably a Bose system. There's nothing terribly fancy about an electric guitar combo amp, but why can't our best sound systems reproduce the sound of a cheap speaker and solid state amplifier? I say it's because the recordings are not well made. Some compression or peak limiting is necessary to prevent our systems from self destructing (try plugging a 5 string bass into your system and thumb-slapping the B string a la Victor Wooten and see how your speakers hold up). The people behind this are not stupid. They do it so their songs will sound loud on a radio, so they will sound good on systems with very limited dynamic range (earbuds)and so they won't be distracting as background music.
I still say the easiest solution would be to have different versions to download - background compressed versions, and full range versions. This would cost the recording companies nothing, yet they could sell each song twice (hopefully they would offer a discount for each additional version people bought)
Back in the 70's I bought a record from K-TEL that had 27 songs on a single pressing. I thought that when I bought it it was a great deal until I listened to it. It was very flat sounding and became to only record that I never listened to. Sadly it had some of my favorite songs.

They had compressed or "Peak Limited" all of the songs to fit more on the album and the end result was unlistenable. Needless to say, I never bought a K-Tel record again.

Does anyone remember Quad receivers? One of the problems and I think one of the reasons it failed was because they were putting instruments all over the room instead of using the back speakers for ambiance. Today the recording engineers are doing the same thing with surround sound music (SACD & DVD-A). Why do they keep repeating the same mistakes?

As for me, If I buy a CD/DVD that sucks, I don't buy from that recording studio again.

I do understand that for the recording industry, music is all about money and in a world where most people I meet think Bose is high end, it just stands to reason that that the powers that be cater to that segment of the population.

I think the only real solution is to expose the masses to the joys of high end sound and make the entry price affordable. Easier said than done!
hi honest1:

what recording sounded so realistic 3 hears ago at the show, and could you recall the stereo system, or at least the speakers ?

it is my optinion that when it comes to reproducing a symphony orchestra in a living room, one achieves about 10 % of the experience of the original performance.
Before the advent of the CD medium we had Digital to LP records. The first to be offered to the public was Telarc Frederick Fennell - Holst Suites - Cleveland Symphonic Winds. Also on this was Handels - Music For The Royal Fireworks and Bach - Fantasia in G.

Recorded in 1978, this was done in real time no compression or limiting if anykind was used. No editing was done, the Cleveland Symphonic Winds had to be spot on, no room for errors.

Technical Notes from the Recording:

The recording was made using three Schoepps/Studer transformerless omni microphones, Model SKM-52U. Their signal was fed through a Studer Model 169 Mixing Console directly to the Soundstream Digital Recorder. Mastering was accomplished by sending the digital playback signal into the electronics of a Neumann VMS-70,SAL-74 cutting system equipped with an SX-74 cutter head. This Neumann system which belongs to the JVC Cutting Center in Los Angeles, is completely transformerless and is especially designed for half-speed mastering. Mastering was done at half-speed using Pyral lacquers and Adamant cutting styli. Absolutely no limiting,compression, equalization or low frequency crossover was used at any point in either the recording or mastering process. Montitoring was done using ADS BC-8 Broadcast Monitor Loudspeakers.

Specifications For The Soundstream Digital Recording System:

Frequency Response: Flat from 0 to 21kHz (-3dB at 22kHz)
Total Harmonic Dsitortion: At 0 VU, less than .004%
At Peak Levels:, less than .03%
Signal To Noise: 90dB RMS Unweighted
Dynamic Range: 90dB RMS Unweighted
Sampling Rate: 50,000 samples per second
Digital Format: 16 bits linear encoding/decoding
Wow and Flutter; Unmeasurable

Although done at the dawn of the digital age, this recording on vinyl has very few if any peers. It takes an extraordinary system to play this back at real time levels.

I was 35 at the time and with CBS and I have only heard this LP played back at real time levels only twice and I am 65 now. CBS Labs had the finest playback equipment to be had at the time. Nonetheless to hear this recording played at those levels is breathtaking to say the least and I conservatively estimate it replicates the real event by an easy 90 percent or better. I dare say on lesser systems this Lp has proably wrecked more amps and speakers than most are likely to admit to. It takes extraordinary power to realize this in real time and preamp and speakers capable of handling the signal in real time. And that cost dearly in terms on dollars. While this is and remains a mighty tour de force, few have ever heard this LP played at real time levels and that is a pity.

This recording prompted CBS Columbia to enter the digital domain as well as many other major labels, but in hindsight, nobody did digital to Lp better than Telarc.

Herein lies the fault with true real time recordings, it takes far better than average gear to hear a recording such as this and many of the subsequent Telarc recordings.

To have recordings such as this appeal to the masses, a certain amount of compression and limiting must be used in order to fully hear the performance. However in recent years the use of compression and limiting have gotton completely out of hand, due to the ever present use of MP3 and other substandard playback system of the masses.

We all vote woth our wallets each and everyday. When we come across an album that has been poorly recorded, the post it here on Audiogon and pull no punches and report on it with all available information, and let the label know of your findings. Thats the only way we may get back to decent recordings.
Stevensurprenant...I agree that AN INSTRUMENT should not be spread "all over the room". This seems to be the conventional audiophile rant about multichannel sound. In many cases the surround channels should be devoted to ambience. But, there are types of music (notably classical chamber, and Jazz) where different instruments can be isolated in different multichannel speakers, with good effect. Also, there is a whole genre of music called "antiphonal" which was composed for multiple groups of performers located all around the audience. This music cannot be reproduced properly without a multichannel system. Finally, some people who are used to hearing music from within an orchestra or chior find it realistic to be surrounded by other musicians even when the music was not composed with antiphonal performance in mind. Some DVDA give you the option of two acoustic perspectives, "audience" or "stage".