"The Death of High Fidelity"

Just received the new issue of Rolling Stone in the mail today. It has an interesting article: "The Death of High Fidelity." It deals with dynamic sound compression, reducing "the difference between the loudest and softest sounds in a song". Various sound engineers and producers weigh in on the subject. It's worth picking up a copy.
I just bought a James Blunt CD, while at the same time, a remastered Doors CD. The Doors CD was exciting, dynamic, and musical. The new James Blunt was flat, and two dimensional, products of being compressed. I doubt I will play that boring CD again. It's a pity, because I like James Blunt.

Yes it is true very little if any pop music is even mildly OK sounding today.

I occasionally dip back in the past and listen to CD's from the 80's....Simple Minds, Peter Gabriel, INXS, Tom Petty.....it is so sad because the sound back then was FANTASTIC compared to the total GARAGE that producers/engineers churn out today.

Country stuff out of Nashville is often extremely good today but "popular" music is generally being destroyed through compression techniques....
One reason why I prefer 'old school' vinyl.
Here's a link to the article "The Death of High Fidelity"


Pretty good read, but doesn't say anything most of us don't know already
It is also that Pop artists use to record in large professional studios. Now that digital equipment is cheap and does not take up a lot of space, a lot of them have their own studios at home. I wonder if the same care is taken by whoever monitors the equipment in these home studios? Evidently not a lot. I also wonder about the acoustics in some of them?

A good friend has a nephew who is a producer in Nashville with quite a few production Grammy's. While he does have his own studio in Nashville, He also does make "house calls".
Shadorne, I hear you. Most of my music is R&B jazz. There is no issue with their discs. They tend to be older CDs. Some are recent, like Lucas Niggli and Syvie Courvoisier, sound great. Their disc starts with plucked piano strings that with great systems curls your hair. The Gorillaz CD is another example of doing it right. It too has some frightful dynamics. Too bad these tend to be the exception.
Compression often gets a bad name. Having lived through cassettes and 8 tracks, few remember what an improvement digital reproduction was around the issue of mobile sound. I personally love the notion that I can travel anywhere with my entire music collection in a device that is the size of a cigarette pack. Compression makes this happen and I can live with the tradeoff.

The audiophile community has always been very small compared to the mass market of consumer electronics. The everyday person could care less about sonics; it has always been about convenience of the format. I remember fondly how everyone ditched their vinyl for the living room space enhancements of the CD jewel box--it fits in one rack!!!! I never saw people rallying around vinyl back then. MP3s are just an extention of this movement into the confines of flash memory and a hard drive--no more shelve space needed in the brave new digital world.

The real death of the high fidelity space has been on how record companies allocate funds to new and established artists and it started 30 years ago. Fleetwood Mac and Steely Dan got $1 million budgets to record Aja and Tusk in the mid-70s, the last of their kind, and this kind of money was usually spent on quality session time within the studio, or a mound of cocaine. It is no wonder why these classic rock albums sound better than today's music. Record companies were footing the bill on multiple takes. No label today would allow Bruce Springsteen to spend a year recording 100 takes of "Born to Run."

Additionally, there was more stability in the production environment suggested by Sugarbrie above. You had trained studio personnel who knew how to tweak an individual artist's sound around the dynamics of a room. Olympic Studios in London, Goldstar in LA, A & M in LA, Capitol Records Studios in Hollywood, STAX in Memphis all had very distintive sounds on how tracks eventually sounded. Just review the work of a producer like Glynn Johns.

The emergence of MTV in the early 1980's killed off the recording studio environment as we know it, as the video became the primary promotional means to reach the audience. Less time was spent in the studio and more time was spent charting the "multi-media" image of the artist.
It was no longer necessary to spend hours in the studio toiling away. Additionally, the rise of Hip-Hop and sampling allowed the next generation to flourish away from the Guitar God mentality of my generation. Any kid with a Sony Tascam could create music without the pretense to dilligently learn an instrument. Ton Loc's "Wildthing" just needed to steal from Eddie Van Halen's guitar to recreate a wonderful new world. I rarely see anything written here on Audiogon about this fundamental shift in music taste as Urban music became the desposable soundtrack of the life's of Gen X and Y. You just moved on to the next sound. Albums lost their luster and I don't think that music suffered from this. It seems as vital today in motivating a legion of bands and fans.

During this time, the record industry also did a very poor job at maintaining the intellectual inventory of tape libraries. There was a huge consolidation of labels during this period and a corporate discipline was imposed on what was largely a cottage industry of small labels. Sadly, it was not applied in intellectual inventory management. As these mergers took place, there are too many cases of master tapes disappearing in the shuffle, so that later issues were birthed from second and third grade source material. 70% of all revenue in the 1990s came from the reissue market, so there is a lot of product out there that is a pale imitation of the original sessions as they rushed to release product. This is probably the only reason why old vinyl sounds better to the average person's ears--it is closer to the master tapes.

Having been in the pro music space for 25 years, I don't expect to see any trend around high fidelity reversing in the future. Artists make very little, if any, money from their record contracts. Live touring and merchandise sales are their primary bread-earners and I think recorded music is very much an afterthought in their minds. There will be a few exceptions, Radiohead comes to mind, but I don't see the audiophile being served on a move forward basis. We have already walked in the tar pits if we think otherwise.
Chilling account of the morbid trend. Makes me rub my face, but at the same time appreciate those diamond in the rough recordings (and me gear), that much more.
The truth is more than 75% of my collection results in such an ear bleeding sound I vacillate between selling it all and going hog wild on the next upgrade path. I don't care what flavor of the month cables or "dark" equipment is in the chain...Flat sound is flat sound is flat... boring....annoying....irritating sound.
Thank you loudness war and thank you producers that cultivate this...a big compressed shout out to y'all.
I read the above with fascination and some horror. I have some modern recordings that are highly distorted (almost anything by John Mayer) or shrill and flat sounding (almost anything I own from Sony Classical made in the last ten years), and some new recordings that are much better than decent (e.g. recordings by Bill Frisell, Janine Jensen, Aaron Neville). Some people still care, unfortunately artistic and production genius do not always line up. The old days were not always golden - I have some original issue LPs from the fifties, sixties and seventies that sound like crap, although the quality and production craft was routinely higher.
There seems to be a big problem with "Remastered" CD's that get released too.
I still enjoy my Duran Duran, and was recently excited to find one of my old vinyl favorites, "Seven & the Ragged Tiger" on CD. That excitement plumeted when I played it; it sounded so dull,flat and lifeless, not only compared with my memories of the LP, but even directly compared with their older original CD's (eg Notorious, The Wedding Album etc).
Why should "Remastered" mean "stuffed up"? Either sound engineers don't know what they're doing anymore, or else this whole Volume Wars thing has gone too far.
So in other words nothing beats an old yellow & black Prestige pressing from the late 50s' Long play, Deep Groove, High Fidelity, and don't forget Unbreakable. So go listen to your iPods, itunes, or i whatever, just have a good ear cleaning first.
Bongofury I thinky you're confusing the 2 types of compression. I think the Rolling Stone article deals with how engineer's go crazy with compressors in the studio robbing dynamic music of all its dynamics. You're talking about file compression(which still robs music of some of its fidelity but in a different way).
Both go hand in hand. With downloading now the dominant format, engineers are remixing tracks louder to compensate for the technical limitations of the newer formats.

Personally, I hear it and I'm no golden ear, but I can tell the difference between a smashed record and one that isn't. Recordings from the 70s and earlier have a breadth that's missing in a lot of music (and I guess I'm principally talking about rock here) these days.