Why do mass marketed CD's sound so crappy?

I posted awhile ago here asking opinions regarding the poor sound quality of Coldplay's "A Rush of Blood to the Head" CD. Now I want to ask the same question of U2's latest (which is great, btw). I also find Sheryl Crow's CD's to sound underwhelming and dissapointing. Besides that fact that I love her music. What gives? Are the artists clueless? Don't they hear what their releases sound like? Are the record companies deliberately turning out crappy sounding CD's to please the masses that listen primarily on Ipods and walkman's? Man, it makes it real tough to enjoy music I really love to listen to when it sounds so damn bad.

The first track on U2's newest, "Vertigo" really rocks out, but it sounds boomy and muddled. I wanted to turn this up real loud, but it just sounded awful. I'm bummed.
The dynamics are compressed and the overall volume
is increased to be LOUDER on the radio. This takes a heavy toll on the finer aspects of the sound quality.
Upside is my wife has practically stopped listening to country western music as the production quality of most artists is abysmal. She's moved closer to blues, jazz and celtic.
Celtic :
Nice turn of events, surprising!!
I think they're just clueless, both the artists, producers, record companies, the recording and mastering technicians, etc. Give it to have that "loud," "punchy," "fat" sound to have it stick out on radio play (or in boom boxes). I don't think a lot of people realize what is possible with high fidelity systems. I know I didn't prior to 2001. I thought more expensive systems were just about BASS AND POWER. I think people just don't know what should be possible. they think "loud, punchy, fat" (and compressed, lifeless, and dull) is the best thing. And it isn't.
Birdwizard is right on. In our audio society we went to a recording studio where we heard a local artist do up a first shot at a song he'd just composed, and got to see the various tricks they could perform with the pro tools software in the studio. A few months later the guys from the studio came to one of our meetings at my home with a CD on which was the original cut of that song we heard, the rough cut with the full rock band in the studio and the version they were presenting to the record companies to sell the band. The rough cut sounded great--dynamic as hell, clean, ideal for an audiophile's system. The cut the record company was getting was compressed dynamically and nowhere near as good sounding as the rough cut. But it is what is needed to make the song sound good on a radio station (tough to hear the really quiet parts over the road and wind noise in a car) and to sell the record and the artist to the big labels. Don't necessarily blame the artist, it's not their call for the most part.
Listen also to the Santana disc superlingual, I think, it's non-listenable. It's a $14 coaster in my book.

I spend a lot of time archieving vinyl to CD format for car play. It's interesting to take an old vinyl disc and compare it to current CD slop. People often ask me why it sounds so good and what is my car stereo. (basic GM original) no upgrades.

They have that jaw hanging slack look when I tell them what they're listening to. So I think most people CAN HEAR the difference, they were just never educated and the music industry would prefer they stay that way. Why look at the MP3 downloads for only 0.99 each. Pure profit, no materials, not costs. Hmmm

So, what are we supposed to do about this. Stop buying the music we love and want to hear? "...Atomic Bomb" is the number 1 seller on Amazon right now. Obviously the poor recording/mix isn't hurting sales.

Rcprince, did the guys from the studio notice the difference between the two versions of the recording on your home system? Weren't they ashamed at the poor quality of the mass released version? How can they look at themselves in the mirror say they're doing a good job?
There was an article in Bass Player magazine about this. Bela Fleck and a famous bass player (I forget his name) did a recording. The article talked about how they struggled with the final mix. The bassist came from a classical background, and wanted no compression, and the microphone far away from his acoustic bass. Bela, being from a more pop/jazz background, wanted lots of compression so it would sound good on car radios.
Why don't we have DECOMPRESSORS anymore? When I was just starting out, I remember seeing in the HighEnd rooms DBX gear that was designed to restore the dynamics original to the music. Now that we're in the digital age, it should be easier to undo than ever.
Hammergjh: Yeah, they heard the difference; they could also easily hear the difference between the 24/96 master tape we got to hear in the control room and the 16/44.1 CD they mixed down from that tape. But they're really not the record producers in this case, they produced a demo CD for this artist in order to sell the artist to a major recording label, so they did what they had to do to get the attention of the major labels. No shame there. And I guess the major labels want what sells, what will sound good on a car radio, not what will sound good on a high end system because we're unfortunately not the market they're worried about. I'd love it if the companies would release two versions of a disc, a compressed one for the radio stations to play and an uncompressed one we could buy, but there I go dreaming again!
The use of compression is an extremely MAJOR problem. This not only alters the dynamics of the recording, but can also introduce major amounts of smearing with a lack of definition.

Another problem is the fact that some studios are using speakers with very poor frequency response linearity as their point of reference. When mixing down, the engineers have to factor in what they hear in terms of the sonic presentation that they are trying to achieve. The non-linear tonal balance of the speakers definitely alters their perception of the original recording, affecting the end results and presentation of what we hear in our systems. Recordings that were made and mixed down using reference speakers that lack bass end up getting too much bass to compensate for what they heard in the studio. Recordings that were made and mixed down using reference speakers that are bloated end up getting thinned out and lack impact and warmth. Same goes for speakers that are excessively bright or dull, etc...

As far as recordings sounding good on a car stereo, that is the method that Ric Ocasek of the Cars used when mixing. He would listen to the recording through various "beat to death" car speakers and adjust the sound accordingly to what he heard there. Anyone that has heard Ric's work knows that it is actually better than most of what is being reproduced today ( or even back then ), so we can't blame the bad sound on even the low quality of most car speakers. Sean
Sean's final point brings to mind the story, I believe true, of a record producer from the 60s who reputedly did the final mix of the records he produced over the telephone, because he was listening through the same speaker you would have in the then prevalent transistor radio. He figured it had to sound good over that medium to sell, and he was right.
Sean...Your rant about tonal balance of recordings is exactly the reason why you need at least tone controls and perhaps an equalizer in your playback system.

Compression is not always as bad as you say. The most benign form of compression is "gain riding" (manual gain control). This causes no distortion or "smearing". The objections you raise would apply to "fast attack" compression and/or peak limiting.

I once had a dbx expander/compressor, the main use of which was to further compress recordings when I put them on tape for use in a car. Using this device I did make an interesting discovery: compression, and at the end of a recording, the fadeout, is evidently based on the common mode (A+B) signal, and this kills natural ambience which is generally differential (A-B) in the recorded signal. By compressing based on the A-B signal quite astonishing results were obtained with a matrix multichannel system. This seemed to be a bit different from the gain control logic used by the better decoders.
They are meant for your car, not your father's listening room. Or for your portable that has no capacity for stereo despite the two speakers and the word 'stereo'. They are meant for your I-pod or computer, even if no disc is present. It is not for people who are not the audience. And the audience has been shrinking, so the labels are scared and conservative. It takes time and care to make a good sounding recording at every step of the day.
By mass marketed do you mean popular, huge sales? I buy quite a few cd's, and think the majority sound at least ok. Of course I favor the more obscure, or lower selling artists like Mark Knopfler, Richard Thompson, or old jazz like Miles or Coltrane. I also have liked most of the re-mastered stuff from the 60's/70's like "Who's Next", "Tommy", Santana, Tull, ACDC, and the Doors. The worst sounding definitely are most of the artists in the current top 40. This doesn't matter to me too much as I hate most of that music anyway. I have heard some in this forum say that "Honkin for Bobo", by Aerosmith is terrible sounding. I agree it is harsh, raw sounding but sounds like almost live R n R to me which is good. The same with Clapton's "From the Cradle", or "Mr. Johnson."

Anyway, to me it sounds good if it comes closer to the live experience, live rock is raw and harsh, not warm. I do always hope for the best sound possible but that is opinion, everyone has one. Just my two cents.
I agree with Sean 100%,,,,,well put Sean!!
I received a few emails commenting on the "great accuracy" of many "studio" type monitors. While some of these monitors "may" measure well, they do so under very specific conditions. That is, they are like ANY other speaker. As such, their placement, room acoustics, spl levels, nearfield reflections, listening distance, etc... all effect their performance and what those doing the mixing tend to hear. Once again, what they hear is what determines how the disc sounds to us. Sean

PS... even many of the engineers that are doing the recording / mixing, etc... are complaining about the demands that the record companies are putting on them in terms of sound quality. They want HIGH average listening levels, which means more smearing, less dynamic range and a loss of low level resolution. Isn't that what you're hearing with most modern recordings?
Could I have a few examples of rock music that is considered well recorded, not terribly compressed? Thanks
Sean is right with what he is saying. Eldartford I have been involved in recording as a musician for more years than I want to admit (my early days saw me study sound engineering breifly) and unfortunatley compression/limiting is what was used (or should I say even abused) I think in nearly everything I can remember being involved in. High average listening levels are what is desired/demanded.

p.s Noel Gallagher (Oasis)will listen to the mix on his old (and I mean old) portable player before approving final mixdown.
Rockethouse...My point was that there is a way to limit dynamic range without the kind of distortion caused by electronic compression..."Gain riding". For those unfamiliar with the term, this means manual gain control in real time by a recording engineer who is familiar with the music, and knows ahead of time when the loud and soft passages are coming up. He slowly "sneaks" the gain up or down a bit so as to avoid recoding problems. When I made recordings, this was how I did it because I didn't have any fancy recording equipment with compression.
Eldartford, I know where your coming from...I have the simplist of recording set-ups in my house... I still use a Yamaha MT3X 4-Track and I have used this technique for a long time(mostly)for acoustic by putting the 4-track on the floor and using my big toe on the fader (while I play). It took a while but I'm pretty good at it now. Maybe I could start hiring out my big toe as the(latest)next big thing in limiting.
Luckily I can play better than my gags.

Rockethouse...If you used a finger, instead of a toe, your system would be "digital" :-)
Thats funny...maybe if I....DOH!

Speaking of this, my girlfriend received the latest release from a band called "The Darkness". This disc sounds SO bad it is insane. I'm not just talking about the recording quality either : ) Sean
I consider "The Darkness" the modern day British equalivalent to KISS for campy rock with a touch of Spinal Tap and British humor thrown in. It is a spoof that is making those guys as rich as KISS.
I like Darkness's new album, too. But I do NOT like listening to it.
Talk about slamming the levels! The mid-range is painful.
That album should be the posterchild for not compressing the mix buss. Compression is best used lightly while tracking vocals.
Something is going on that I just don't understand. "Stereophile" just listed U2's latest as recording of the month and gave the sonics 4 stars??? WTF's up with that?
Considering a CD takes 2secs to press ( including cooling ), and the ´master-copy´ looses detail on every press ( can take 2-10K of cycles ), your lucky if you get one of the first ones off the press, as the rest will decrease in quality. Buy two of the same CD, play them, chances are good that they will differ in quality.

Serious press-companies runs with a new master in very short cycles. Getting better quality sounding CD´s.

The first one off the press sounds just astonishing!

Also, I just get scared when knowing that a lot of studios plays with a simple transistor-/household-/megaboom-stereo
for reference/mixdown-reference. Because they know that there´s were the music will be played the most. They make it sound good on those thus they know that will sell them more records. Ugly, but true.