Friday, 21 December 2007

The Loudness War

Since about 1992, CDs have sounded fucking terrible.

This isn't because I'm an old fogey who only likes old music (although I'll admit that's a small factor...) but because modern CDs have no dynamic range.

Dynamic range, in layman's terms, is the potential a medium or player has to resolve changes in volume. To explain, imagine an orchestra playing. There's silence, there's the sound of a triangle, and there's the sound of the entire orchestra playing at full volume. A CD is almost capable of recording that entire gamut of volume. Very soft to very loud. This makes music move. A quiet piece can swell to vast, overpowering crescendo and shake the rafters and raise your neck hairs.

Not anymore.

The recording industry (which is a marketing department, not a group of musicians or engineers) is competing to make every CD sound as loud as possible, which means that all the soft sounds are now as loud as the loud sounds.

This is immensely stupid.


The top track is a song by Cranes called Adrift. It is by no means a quiet song. Those whiskery bits are drum hits. Notice how loud they are in comparison to all the other instruments. They jump out of the track. The drums stop, and then an absolutely vast howl of distorted guitar and fortissimo bass starts to roar, which you can see as two big chunks of sound. Even though it's very loud (listen to the track: it's LOUD), the drums still have room to thwack out a pounding

The bottom track is Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels) by The Arcade Fire. Not a very loud song if you go by instrumentation. By modern standards, this is relatively restrained, but notice how there is never any variation in volume once the song starts. The drums are as loud as everything else. No matter what part of the song you're in, it's the same fucking volume. The net effect? I turn the volume down to escape the constant fucking shouting despite the fact that I really like the song.

You know how ads on TV are so loud that you have to quickly turn down the volume? Same thing. It's called dynamic range compression.

This is a fuckwitted practice. It makes music lifeless, static, unlistenable, fatiguing and in the worst cases (quite a few recordings lately), actually causes a phenomenon called "clipping" where the tops of the waveforms are sliced off, resulting in a shitty crackling sound where there should be music. This not only sounds abominable, it can damage your amplifier and speakers.

The worst part is that the cunts in the recording industry are now going back and "remastering" older works. Imagine Stairway to Heaven with an intro as loud as the climax. That would be idiotic, right? Notice how very reissue of every album seems louder. Except it isn't: they've simply chopped off the loud bits to make the soft bits louder. It doesn't even matter what the artists or engineers recorded, the CD gets "fixed" before it reaches the shops.

The recording industry has decided that since you like a bit of salt, they're going to screw off the cap and tip the entire fucking cruet on your meal.

The recording industry has decided that since you enjoy driving fast, they're going to bolt your accelerator pedal all the way fucking down for you.

Thank you, recording industry, for further removing any incentive to pay for music.