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Current CD mastering practices, And why I now buy so few new CD's.
RockFan
post Aug 9 2005, 03:50
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Although I've been aware of the ever more destructive levels of compression/limiting used over the last 5-10 years (and taken part in discussions here and other places), it only dawned on me recently that I had unconciously practically stopped buying CD's the last year or two..

By that I'm referring to largely rock, indie, jazz etc, incuding so-called 'remasters'.

There are recent releases out there which I would like to own, but with what I've come to expect from modern CD's, I know that an album which I might have 'played to death' over weeks or months in years gone by will simply get boring after a few plays. So I don't buy them. Dynamics, soft/loud contrasts, drama - squashed out of existence.

New Queens Of The Stone Age? Probably a great album - but once bitten .....

I'm increasingly going to exchanges to try and find older releases of albums I want, or even buying vinyl versions of new albums where they're released, as they tend not to be afflicted as badly.

Obviously there are a proportion of buyers who only lsiten to CD's in the car or on personals in noisy environments who couldn't care less and will keep buying, but there must be a lot of others who, like me, are completely disillusioned with this 'loudness fetish' crap and have simply lost interest.

In fact I wonder how much this has contributed to the stagnancy in sales over the last few years that the 'industry' whines about so frequently?

R.
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Shade[ST]
post Aug 9 2005, 04:26
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I have a few King Crimson, Jascha Heifetz, and Horowitz remasters, and I can't say that they suffer from bad quality, or overcompression -- I believe the "bad" mastering practices must be specific to certain studios, but definitly not all albums fall in this category.
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irishcrazy2005
post Aug 9 2005, 06:43
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I am by no means an audiophile, and I guess that I mostly listen to music while doing other things, so I don't notice stuff as much. However, what is it that you are hearing from this "compression" and bad mastering? How does it sound different?

-Phil
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WmAx
post Aug 9 2005, 06:47
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QUOTE (RockFan @ Aug 8 2005, 10:50 PM)
...


RockFan, you know what? What you said is almost identical to my situation.

-Chris
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matth6546
post Aug 9 2005, 20:31
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QUOTE (irishcrazy2005 @ Aug 9 2005, 12:43 AM)
I am by no means an audiophile, and I guess that I mostly listen to music while doing other things, so I don't notice stuff as much.  However, what is it that you are hearing from this "compression" and bad mastering?  How does it sound different?

-Phil
*

i'm going to attempt to answer based on what i've read and understood from this board.

today's 'bad' mastering involves taking the song and compressing the dynamics. that is, to take the high parts and the low parts and make them near the same level, which results in a flat sound. this squashing of the dynamics opens up more 'room' which they use to turn up the volume. this turned up volume results in clipping.


those who know what they're talking about - feel free to correct me or add to my answer.
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wodney
post Aug 9 2005, 20:56
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I concur with the thread poster. I rarely buy cd's these days for the same reason. I'm no audiophile but, for me a quick check of my ears is to rip the cd to wav and then look at the waveform using Audition. It often reveals high volumes and a very flat waveform....or that's how I see it. Very little transition between the "quieter parts" and the "louder parts".
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Vanishing
post Aug 10 2005, 09:05
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QUOTE (matth6546 @ Aug 9 2005, 09:31 PM)
today's 'bad' mastering involves taking the song and compressing the dynamics. that is, to take the high parts and the low parts and make them near the same level, which results in a flat sound. this squashing of the dynamics opens up more 'room' which they use to turn up the volume. this turned up volume results in clipping.
*

Squashed dynamics don't necessarily result in clipping. If the mastering engineer is any good, he can get the album really loud without constant clipping, for example "Awake" by Godsmack (album gain -9.21dB) or "Exposure" by Thumb (album gain -9.23dB). These albums of course sound rather flat and have no dynamics left, but they are listenable because they don't clip. Other albums, like the new one from Slipknot, are totally unbearable to listen to because they clip all the time.
So, squashing is not the same as clipping, but clipping can be a byproduct of excessive dynamics-compression when done wrong.
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Lyx
post Aug 10 2005, 12:02
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Guess it depends on music-taste...... with most of the music to which i listen, the amount of non-overcompressed albums is unusually high.

However, the loudness-race, together with fundamental changes in music-evaluation-behaviour....... have changed the way how i buy CDs: I now almost never ever buy a CD "blindly". Usually, i would listen to various albums for multiple weeks - and those albums, which after that timespan still do sound nice to me, will then be bought.

So, my expectations about what is a really good album, have risen. The pool from which to choose music has also increased. Thus, i now evaluate more thoroughly before buying.


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esa372
post Aug 10 2005, 14:32
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A case in point: Rush


:edit: link

This post has been edited by esa372: Aug 12 2005, 14:57


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chri5
post Aug 10 2005, 15:29
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I agree. An album which has been mastered without extreme compression and crazy maximization for example is De La Soul's 3 Feet High & Rising. When you listen to best of albums featuring a track from this album you can really hear the difference.


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snookerdoodle
post Aug 10 2005, 16:08
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I have to add that I just think that we have Yet Another Reason to buy with our ears.

The recent Sony/BMG payola settlement should, I believe, "settle" (ahem) once and for all any doubts that, in this industry anyway, the tin-hat folks are on to something.

Perhaps someone will start independantly rating things like the dynamic range on recordings. It gets a little dicey here - the very folks who have done this in the past end up being the same publishers who also foist off audio snake oil ($6000 speaker wires).

I do have a Personal Theory: the music is being engineered to be played in cars. Or iPods on noisy subways. In a Just World, music would be mixed for a listening room and the electronics (in personal devices and car stereos) would have a "noisy background" setting that was nothing more than a compressor, IMHO. But the truth is, those of us who are neurotic (I said "us" and include myself before anyone gets all defensive here) enough to have a listening room and/or decent-cans-and-amps are a tiny minority. The "Market" seems to love what is being put out. sad.gif

Me? When I wanna show a friend "what I'm talkin' about" regarding dynamic range, I set 'em down in my living room, turn off the lights, and roll the "Firebird Suite" from Fantasia 2000. That sucker always wakes 'em up, heh heh... smile.gif

Mark
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legg
post Aug 10 2005, 16:20
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QUOTE (snookerdoodle @ Aug 10 2005, 10:08 AM)
I do have a Personal Theory: the music is being engineered to be played in cars. Or iPods on noisy subways. In a Just World, music would be mixed for a listening room and the electronics (in personal devices and car stereos) would have a "noisy background" setting that was nothing more than a compressor, IMHO. But the truth is, those of us who are neurotic (I said "us" and include myself before anyone gets all defensive here) enough to have a listening room and/or decent-cans-and-amps are a tiny minority. The "Market" seems to love what is being put out. sad.gif


I never thought of that theory and it would seem like a good one. But IMO it would be better if the players were the ones incorporating the option to have dynamic range compression for noisy enviroments. But clipping is just unforgivable (sp??), on a few CDs I can even hear it while I'm driving , it gets annoying.

PS. I do have my limits with dynamic range, an excessive range like that of AC3 in The Two Towers EE just gets annoying, the sound effects are just TOO loud when compared to the voice volume, but I guess that's the whole point in the realism of sound in movies.

PPS, The PS seems longer than the actual post blink.gif


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PoisonDan
post Aug 10 2005, 16:29
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QUOTE (snookerdoodle @ Aug 10 2005, 05:08 PM)
I do have a Personal Theory: the music is being engineered to be played in cars. Or iPods on noisy subways. In a Just World, music would be mixed for a listening room and the electronics (in personal devices and car stereos) would have a "noisy background" setting that was nothing more than a compressor, IMHO. But the truth is, those of us who are neurotic (I said "us" and include myself before anyone gets all defensive here) enough to have a listening room and/or decent-cans-and-amps are a tiny minority. The "Market" seems to love what is being put out. sad.gif
*

I agree 100%. I also belong to that "tiny minority" that you mention, and the current state of affairs also makes me sad.

Having said that, I haven't really stopped buying CDs because of this. Or to put it another way: if I really like an album, I don't let the sound quality interfere with my buying decision. Still, I really hate it how some really good albums sound so bad, but I try to live with it.

Also, maybe it's because I don't buy that much "popular" (chart) music, but the amount of CDs I buy that sound really awful are a minority. And every now and then, a CD is released which still has an exceptional dynamic range (e.g.: "With Teeth" from Nine Inch Nails).


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snookerdoodle
post Aug 10 2005, 17:17
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QUOTE (PoisonDan @ Aug 10 2005, 09:29 AM)
Having said that, I haven't really stopped buying CDs because of this. Or to put it another way: if I really like an album, I don't let the sound quality interfere with my buying decision.

Me either. I still appreciate and enjoy creativity as much as anyone. No sense "cutting off our nose to spite our face," to quote our mothers...

Mark
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irishcrazy2005
post Aug 10 2005, 18:13
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OK, this is going to sound very stupid, but remember that I am new here. I understand that clipping is when the volume tops 0 dB, but what does that sound like? I really have no clue what you guys are talking about.

-Phil
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RockFan
post Aug 10 2005, 23:04
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QUOTE (snookerdoodle @ Aug 10 2005, 07:08 AM)
I do have a Personal Theory: the music is being engineered to be played in cars. Or iPods on noisy subways. In a Just World, music would be mixed for a listening room and the electronics (in personal devices and car stereos) would have a "noisy background" setting that was nothing more than a compressor, IMHO.

......

Mark
*


Exactly, and this what Foobar's 'Replaygain' is all about!

"A proposed srandard"

The radio stations have had the circuitry 'downstream' of their turntables and CD players for decades, why the f*ck is has it not been built in to car and personal players as a matter of course, and alowed the discs themsleve to be left unmolested?

(shakes head).

ciao,
R.
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Lyx
post Aug 10 2005, 23:11
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QUOTE (irishcrazy2005 @ Aug 10 2005, 07:13 PM)
OK, this is going to sound very stupid, but remember that I am new here.  I understand that clipping is when the volume tops 0 dB, but what does that sound like?  I really have no clue what you guys are talking about.

-Phil
*


There are at least 3 possible effects which can happen:
- the music looses dynamic width. Basically, all instruments become equally loud instead of the drums and other instruments "kicking" louder than the others.
- some instruments - upon closer listening - sound smeared and harsh... as if the sound was thrown against a wall and got partially "squashed"
- mix of the above two: the album may just sound "hot" and "loaded". What this means is that the music is constantly at maximum volume - as if white noise comes screaming into your face. The result is that listening to the music becomes annoying, because it is just "too much". Similiar to an oversaturated image.

For more info, try searching the forums for keywords like "overcompression".

For an extreme example, you could also pick a classical song(lots of dynamic width)....... make a copy of it..... run an aggressive compressor-DSP on it...... then replaygain both files and compare.

- Lyx

This post has been edited by Lyx: Aug 10 2005, 23:12


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Funkstar De Luxe
post Aug 10 2005, 23:25
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Norman people don't give a fuck about how a CD sounds. Infact, I done a few silly test wich seemed to show they prefered fucked up music.


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RockFan
post Aug 10 2005, 23:26
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I forgot to include one of the most important casualties of compression;

Ambience, timbre, acoustics .... space.

Whether produced electronically with reverb/echo, or by genuine venue or studio acoustics, they are often vital for the 'atmosphere' created by a group/ensemble, or even simply to hear the timbre of a paticular voice or instrument.

They vanish almost into the noise-floor where left intact - very difficult to 'listen for', almost subliminal.

Heavy compression crams them up into into the rest of the signal, and as good as destroys them.

Of course, to be aware of these 'cues' you have to be at ease, and in an environment that allows you to hear them, using replay equipment (player, amp, speakers) of sufficient resolution.

The industry seems hell bent on denying us these pleasures. Is it stupidity? Malice? I don't really care anymore - they make me ANGRY either way.

R.
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Lyx
post Aug 11 2005, 00:42
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QUOTE (Funkstar De Luxe @ Aug 11 2005, 12:25 AM)
Norman people don't give a fuck about how a CD sounds.  Infact, I done a few silly test wich seemed to show they prefered fucked up music.
*

Or maybe they just like what they are used to.


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WmAx
post Aug 11 2005, 01:14
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QUOTE (Lyx @ Aug 10 2005, 07:42 PM)
QUOTE (Funkstar De Luxe @ Aug 11 2005, 12:25 AM)
Norman people don't give a fuck about how a CD sounds.  Infact, I done a few silly test wich seemed to show they prefered fucked up music.
*

Or maybe they just like what they are used to.
*



I have, as an anecdotal test, given some songs to a friend[non audio enthusiast, just music lover who listens to a lot of modern material] to compare. One version of each is the original[with good dynamic range] and the second versioin is modified with Adobe Audition software, tweaking/compressing/limiting to approximate a modern top 40 release. The only instructions/info I gave beforehand was to adjust the volume for each song individually to taste. Well, I was suprised, but the person actually preferred the compressed/limited versions. Eek! This is just anecdotal, and a single subject, and hardly a carefully organized test; but I think it would be interesting to conduct a study and see if this is a typical preference of the general listener.

-Chris
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bug80
post Aug 11 2005, 11:12
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QUOTE (Lyx @ Aug 11 2005, 12:11 AM)
QUOTE (irishcrazy2005 @ Aug 10 2005, 07:13 PM)
OK, this is going to sound very stupid, but remember that I am new here.  I understand that clipping is when the volume tops 0 dB, but what does that sound like?  I really have no clue what you guys are talking about.

-Phil
*


There are at least 3 possible effects which can happen:
- the music looses dynamic width. Basically, all instruments become equally loud instead of the drums and other instruments "kicking" louder than the others.
- some instruments - upon closer listening - sound smeared and harsh... as if the sound was thrown against a wall and got partially "squashed"
- mix of the above two: the album may just sound "hot" and "loaded". What this means is that the music is constantly at maximum volume - as if white noise comes screaming into your face. The result is that listening to the music becomes annoying, because it is just "too much". Similiar to an oversaturated image.

For more info, try searching the forums for keywords like "overcompression".

For an extreme example, you could also pick a classical song(lots of dynamic width)....... make a copy of it..... run an aggressive compressor-DSP on it...... then replaygain both files and compare.

- Lyx
*



irishcrazy2005 was also asking how clipping sounds like wink.gif

As you know, the maximum sound level on a CD is 0 dB. When you try to record, for example, a sine wave with an amplitude that's too high (say 3 dB), everything that's above 0 dB will be "chopped", and that's what's called clipping. This effect will introduce extra harmonics in the signal, which we will generally hear as distortion.

To show this graphically, I made an example using a sine wave of 4 Hz. In the following picture you see the original signal (blue) and the one that will be recorded onto the CD (red). You can clearly see the "chopped" peaks and dips.



In the following picture you see the Fourier transforms of the original signal (blue) and the clipped one (red). The blue one has a nice smooth peak in the spectrum, whereas the red one is heavily distorted. This is, of course, an unwanted effect.



I hope this answers your question. smile.gif
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Cartoon
post Aug 11 2005, 11:18
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QUOTE (snookerdoodle @ Aug 10 2005, 05:08 PM)
I do have a Personal Theory: the music is being engineered to be played in cars. Or iPods on noisy subways.
*


In principle I agree with you, but some of these new recordings are compressed so hard that they sounds like crap even in a car while doing 100 mph down the freeway.
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snookerdoodle
post Aug 11 2005, 15:30
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QUOTE (Cartoon @ Aug 11 2005, 04:18 AM)
In principle I agree with you, but some of these new recordings are compressed so hard that they sounds like crap even in a car while doing 100 mph down the freeway.

But they might sound GREAT in a Jeep Wrangler doing that same 100 mph with the top and doors removed. Well, assuming you hear anything at all and that you can get the thing up to 100 mph and don't flip it over... Heh heh...

Mark
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irishcrazy2005
post Aug 11 2005, 17:01
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QUOTE (bug80 @ Aug 11 2005, 04:12 AM)
I hope this answers your question. smile.gif
*


Yeah, this does. Thanks a lot!

-Phil
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