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The Loudness War: Dynamic Range over the years, An analysis of the DR database
bug80
post Feb 19 2013, 00:05
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I thought it would be interesting to see how the Dynamic Range (Album DR) has developed over the years, and if this shows a clear picture about the development of the Loudness War. In order to check this, I made a dump of the DR database. I choose to focus on the period 1985-2012. The figure above shows the mean DR-value per year (the error bars represent the standard error). It is clear that, overall, the Dynamic Range of albums has decreased in this period from approximately 13 dB to the 8-9 dB range. It is also interesting to see that the minimum mean value is reached in 2008, the year that Death Magnetic was released. In 2009, we see an increase of +/- 0.5 dB (a double-sided t-test shows that this difference is statistically significant at the 0.01 level). Maybe this has to do with the awareness created by this album with respect to the Loudness War?

Furthermore, it seems that the Dynamic Range does not further decrease over the last four years. Has the Loudness War come to an end?

Finally, the figure below shows the number of albums per year that were analyzed. In total, 14,680 albums were included in the analysis.



This post has been edited by db1989: Feb 19 2013, 10:12
Reason for edit: as per request in post #11
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extrabigmehdi
post Feb 19 2013, 01:19
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Interesting graph.

QUOTE (bug80 @ Feb 18 2013, 23:05) *
Furthermore, it seems that the Dynamic Range does not further decrease over the last four years. Has the Loudness War come to an end?


More like it reached a limit.
Personally, a Dynamic Range of 6 seems the minimum I can bear, but for less there are few music genres that can still work (such like merzbow...).
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Fandango
post Feb 19 2013, 02:06
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Hm, I wonder how they managed to produce CDs in the 70s before the invention of the CD...
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extrabigmehdi
post Feb 19 2013, 02:59
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QUOTE (Fandango @ Feb 19 2013, 01:06) *
Hm, I wonder how they managed to produce CDs in the 70s before the invention of the CD...


There must be a confusion between the release date of an album, and the cd release of that album.
I guess these dates are mixed.
Also , there are different cd release of same album, with different dynamic ranges.
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DigitalMan
post Feb 19 2013, 03:58
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The increasing sample size of albums analyzed in later years would explain the narrower error bars.

Nice work compiling this data.

Just for entertainment purposes - can you tell us which albums have the highest and lowest DR in the database and what value are those DRs?


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mzil
post Feb 19 2013, 07:01
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QUOTE (bug80 @ Feb 18 2013, 19:05) *
Furthermore, it seems that the Dynamic Range does not further decrease over the last four years. Has the Loudness War come to an end?

The war is over: we lost, heavy compression won, at least with most pop music.
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bug80
post Feb 19 2013, 08:10
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QUOTE (Fandango @ Feb 19 2013, 02:06) *
Hm, I wonder how they managed to produce CDs in the 70s before the invention of the CD...

I realize those are albums that were released on CD later. I made the assumption that they were not re-mastered, which seems right given the results. But maybe this is a wrong assimption? I could leave out the data from before, say, '85

QUOTE (mzil @ Feb 19 2013, 07:01) *
QUOTE (bug80 @ Feb 18 2013, 19:05) *
Furthermore, it seems that the Dynamic Range does not further decrease over the last four years. Has the Loudness War come to an end?

The war is over: we lost, heavy compression won, at least with most pop music.

This might be the sad truth, although I have the feeling awareness is still increasing.
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Kohlrabi
post Feb 19 2013, 08:20
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QUOTE (DigitalMan @ Feb 19 2013, 03:58) *
Just for entertainment purposes - can you tell us which albums have the highest and lowest DR in the database and what value are those DRs?
Lowest and highest. The lowest DR is an electronic music album, the highest a spoken word one. DR database sadly misses info about producer, mastering engineer and label. I guess you could easily see a pattern, then.

I tried to dig up album sales numbers from 1970 to 2012, but I only found a graph from a blog entry going up until 2009 (the blog entry is also highly critical of the inference by the RIAA):

If you apply a phase of a few years, the decline in sales very much fits to the decrease in DR. The phase can be explained by the delay with which people realize that their CDs sounded worse and worse, until they stopped buying. This is hardly scientific, yet, but I think nobody has looked into correlations between dwindling sales and the DR/fidelity decrease due to the loudness war? Everyone always sprouts the conjecture that digital sales/piracy is to blame, but who can really tell? Maybe people got fed up paying and listening to tiresome recordings, and found other, cheaper, sources to obtain them. At least the knee in the graph which says "Napster begins" could also say "Loudness War in full effect".

My point is that not only the availability of cheaper alternative might explain the dwindling sales, but also a decrease in product quality. This is Business Administration 101. I also expect to see the delay I mentioned in models and real data, I just have to spend some time going through papers now...

This post has been edited by Kohlrabi: Feb 19 2013, 08:57


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cliveb
post Feb 19 2013, 09:29
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QUOTE (Kohlrabi @ Feb 19 2013, 07:20) *
If you apply a phase of a few years, the decline in sales very much fits to the decrease in DR. The phase can be explained by the delay with which people realize that their CDs sounded worse and worse, until they stopped buying. This is hardly scientific, yet, but I think nobody has looked into correlations between dwindling sales and the DR/fidelity decrease due to the loudness war? Everyone always sprouts the conjecture that digital sales/piracy is to blame, but who can really tell? Maybe people got fed up paying and listening to tiresome recordings, and found other, cheaper, sources to obtain them. At least the knee in the graph which says "Napster begins" could also say "Loudness War in full effect".

There are plnty of other possible reasons for the decrease in sales, and IMHO the primary reason is the increase in entertainment vehicles chasing the domestic buyer's dollar. A person's disposable income is simply shared out amongst a greater number of options. That knee in the graph could just as easily say "video games consoles take off", "PC sales escalate", or "home video becomes widespread".
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LithosZA
post Feb 19 2013, 09:46
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QUOTE
There are plnty of other possible reasons for the decrease in sales, and IMHO the primary reason is the increase in entertainment vehicles chasing the domestic buyer's dollar. A person's disposable income is simply shared out amongst a greater number of options. That knee in the graph could just as easily say "video games consoles take off", "PC sales escalate", or "home video becomes widespread".


To resolve the sales they probably are thinking: "Maybe because it isn't loud enough? Make it louder..." smile.gif
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bug80
post Feb 19 2013, 09:53
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QUOTE (cliveb @ Feb 19 2013, 09:29) *
QUOTE (Kohlrabi @ Feb 19 2013, 07:20) *
If you apply a phase of a few years, the decline in sales very much fits to the decrease in DR. The phase can be explained by the delay with which people realize that their CDs sounded worse and worse, until they stopped buying. This is hardly scientific, yet, but I think nobody has looked into correlations between dwindling sales and the DR/fidelity decrease due to the loudness war? Everyone always sprouts the conjecture that digital sales/piracy is to blame, but who can really tell? Maybe people got fed up paying and listening to tiresome recordings, and found other, cheaper, sources to obtain them. At least the knee in the graph which says "Napster begins" could also say "Loudness War in full effect".

There are plnty of other possible reasons for the decrease in sales, and IMHO the primary reason is the increase in entertainment vehicles chasing the domestic buyer's dollar. A person's disposable income is simply shared out amongst a greater number of options. That knee in the graph could just as easily say "video games consoles take off", "PC sales escalate", or "home video becomes widespread".

I agree. I don't think there's a correlation between decreased dynamic range and decreased sales here.

Btw, I edited the graphs so that they now represent the 1985-2012 period (I agree with Fandango that this makes more sense).

However, some things in the text need to be changed now as well, maybe a moderator can do this for me?

QUOTE
I choose to focus on the period 1970-2012, since the database does not include many albums from before that period (in fact, not all albums in the database have a year associated to them). The figure above shows the mean DR-value per year (the error bars represent the standard error). It is clear that, overall, the Dynamic Range of albums has decreased in this period from approximately 12-14 dB to the 8-9 dB range.

Should be:

QUOTE
I choose to focus on the period 1985-2012. The figure above shows the mean DR-value per year (the error bars represent the standard error). It is clear that, overall, the Dynamic Range of albums has decreased in this period from approximately 13 dB to the 8-9 dB range.
.

and:
QUOTE
In total, 15,652 albums were included in the analysis.

should be:

QUOTE
In total, 14,680 albums were included in the analysis.
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shadowking
post Feb 19 2013, 10:04
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I have to sadly agree: We lost - at least with 'energetic' music. Ten yrs ago I wished to go back to 80s-90s mix but now thing have deteriorated even more that i wish we could go back to 2002 or so. Sure we are stuck at -10 db forever but the mix has become more obnoxious to my ears - many releases sound now have the 'death magnetic' harshness.

Also no one is doing nothing about volume normalization. I realize its a tough one commercially but many albums are released in P2p. They are never replaygained and I believe Apple has soundcheck 'off' . Seems no one knows what to do or lack initiative / standards. There is still an element of fear to tamper with the original sound level.


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dhromed
post Feb 19 2013, 10:07
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QUOTE (Kohlrabi @ Feb 19 2013, 08:20) *


"Predicted sales based on history?" Really? I can draw any red-dotted line at any point and claim it was an extrapolation from that graph. How dishonest can one get?
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Porcus
post Feb 19 2013, 10:10
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QUOTE (extrabigmehdi @ Feb 19 2013, 02:59) *
Also , there are different cd release of same album, with different dynamic ranges.


Any idea how they are counted?


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db1989
post Feb 19 2013, 10:12
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QUOTE (bug80 @ Feb 19 2013, 08:53) *
However, some things in the text need to be changed now as well, maybe a moderator can do this for me?
Done. Thanks for the interesting thread!
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bug80
post Feb 19 2013, 10:22
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QUOTE (Porcus @ Feb 19 2013, 10:10) *
QUOTE (extrabigmehdi @ Feb 19 2013, 02:59) *
Also , there are different cd release of same album, with different dynamic ranges.


Any idea how they are counted?

I believe that most of the dates in the database represent the actual release date of the CD. Other than that, I think there is no way to separate re-issues/re-masters from the orginals using the data available.

QUOTE (db1989 @ Feb 19 2013, 10:12) *
QUOTE (bug80 @ Feb 19 2013, 08:53) *
However, some things in the text need to be changed now as well, maybe a moderator can do this for me?
Done. Thanks for the interesting thread!

Thanks, and you're welcome!
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Porcus
post Feb 19 2013, 10:28
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QUOTE (dhromed @ Feb 19 2013, 10:07) *
QUOTE (Kohlrabi @ Feb 19 2013, 08:20) *
[img ]http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-1GWOzMXSH48/TbQPLdiwFgI/AAAAAAAABGY/Tpjz0glJ1R8/s1600/RIAA%20-%201.gif[/img]


"Predicted sales based on history?" Really? I can draw any red-dotted line at any point and claim it was an extrapolation from that graph.


Especially if you assume that your successful format shifts, selling your customers the same music over again, is bound to not only repeat itself immediately, but also in a larger scale. Then you can "predict" pretty lucrative figures. Here's a graph from Techdirt:



QUOTE (dhromed @ Feb 19 2013, 10:07) *
How dishonest can one get?


At least as bad as ...
http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20100611/0203309776.shtml
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/16/arts/mus...ong-rights.html
... and, now they claim that these remasters are indiviual sound recordings which the record companies have the exclusive rights to (how do they think they can be allowed to make those recordings?):
http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20091117/1157566973.shtml

Regarding how crippled some of the remasters are, they should maybe be equipped with a big sticker saying "this is not the original recording though it sounds remotely similar".


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2Bdecided
post Feb 19 2013, 10:33
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QUOTE (shadowking @ Feb 19 2013, 09:04) *
Also no one is doing nothing about volume normalization.
The field has never been more active! EBU PLOUD, R128, CALM act, etc.

QUOTE
I realize its a tough one commercially but many albums are released in P2p. They are never replaygained and I believe Apple has soundcheck 'off' . Seems no one knows what to do or lack initiative / standards. There is still an element of fear to tamper with the original sound level.
Ignorance too. However, the PLOUD group are gently pushing Apple to enable Soundcheck by default, and to move to album-based rather than track-based calculation. It'll be interesting to see if they succeed on either account this year.

Cheers,
David.

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Engelsstaub
post Feb 19 2013, 10:43
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I would honestly settle for the solid DR 9 average of 1995 for louder and more aggressive forms of music.

Whenever I have a discussion with people about the so-called Loudness War I'm, more often than not, seemingly dismissed as an "audio snob." This is just an opinion and I hate to sound like the old fart chasing kids off my yard but: it seems to me that most of the people that scoff and are dismissive of legitimate complaints are younger people who didn't grow up with music sounding any better than Death Magnetic. ...but then again there's my brother who, at 41, is a few years older than me and doesn't seem to care or notice...unless we talk about later Slayer albums.

In reference to David's comment about PLOUD gently prodding Apple that would be great. Regardless of how some feel about Apple, it would really help if it started there. I believe that they can have the most influence on the rest of the industry that deals in sales of music.


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guerrillero
post Feb 19 2013, 11:17
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the problem i have with this data is the following. the submissions to dr.loudness-war.info are probably biased due to self-selection. i expect that the site is frequented primarily by very tech-savvy users (i.e., "geeks" or "nerds"). there is no reason to believe that group's musical taste to be identical to the entire population. it's also conceivable that users elect to submit albums not randomly, but are more likely to submit releases that stand out in one way or another.

not saying the stats are entirely meaningless, but they should be taken with a grain of salt, just as you should take studies in experimental psychology in which all subjects were undergrads in psychology with a grain of salt.

This post has been edited by guerrillero: Feb 19 2013, 11:18
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bug80
post Feb 19 2013, 12:41
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QUOTE (guerrillero @ Feb 19 2013, 11:17) *
the problem i have with this data is the following. the submissions to dr.loudness-war.info are probably biased due to self-selection. i expect that the site is frequented primarily by very tech-savvy users (i.e., "geeks" or "nerds"). there is no reason to believe that group's musical taste to be identical to the entire population. it's also conceivable that users elect to submit albums not randomly, but are more likely to submit releases that stand out in one way or another.

Although I had this concern as well, I don't think it is that much of a problem. Note that almost 15,000 albums were included, I have sufficient reason to believe that there is enough 'spread' in genre, dynamic range, etc.
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Kohlrabi
post Feb 19 2013, 12:58
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QUOTE (cliveb @ Feb 19 2013, 09:29) *
QUOTE (Kohlrabi @ Feb 19 2013, 07:20) *
If you apply a phase of a few years, the decline in sales very much fits to the decrease in DR. The phase can be explained by the delay with which people realize that their CDs sounded worse and worse, until they stopped buying. This is hardly scientific, yet, but I think nobody has looked into correlations between dwindling sales and the DR/fidelity decrease due to the loudness war? Everyone always sprouts the conjecture that digital sales/piracy is to blame, but who can really tell? Maybe people got fed up paying and listening to tiresome recordings, and found other, cheaper, sources to obtain them. At least the knee in the graph which says "Napster begins" could also say "Loudness War in full effect".

There are plnty of other possible reasons for the decrease in sales, and IMHO the primary reason is the increase in entertainment vehicles chasing the domestic buyer's dollar. A person's disposable income is simply shared out amongst a greater number of options. That knee in the graph could just as easily say "video games consoles take off", "PC sales escalate", or "home video becomes widespread".
And that is exactly my point, they always use the piracy argument as a strawman, without even considering other possibilities.


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Jplus
post Feb 19 2013, 13:06
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QUOTE (dhromed @ Feb 19 2013, 10:07) *
QUOTE (Kohlrabi @ Feb 19 2013, 08:20) *


"Predicted sales based on history?" Really? I can draw any red-dotted line at any point and claim it was an extrapolation from that graph. How dishonest can one get?

Heh. When I see that graph I think, "Gosh, album sales were elevated around 1994-2000, perhaps because CD players were adopted by the majority around that time, and then they slowly sank back to normal". I'm curious how the graph continues after 2009.
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Kees de Visser
post Feb 19 2013, 13:21
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QUOTE (Kohlrabi @ Feb 19 2013, 08:20) *
This is hardly scientific, ...
Indeed. It's also possible to say that the US album sales decline started with the introduction of foobar2000 smile.gif
I think one of the problems is that consumers probably don't know the exact reasons why they buy less albums, so that's for researchers to find out. Sound quality should be on the list, but I doubt that it's a main factor.
BTW, does the loudness at live (pop) concerts follow the cd-trend? If so, it doesn't seem to have a similar influence on the attendance at popular music concerts.

@bug80: Would you be able to do some similar statistics for classical productions ? I'd be very interested.
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Porcus
post Feb 19 2013, 14:15
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Re the selection issue: I am not so concerned about genre as such (that could be counted and weighted afterwards, if necessary), but rather the “that one was totally ruined, that's gotta go into the black book” selections.


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