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Why did the loudness war start?, Split from Topic 96077 (ToS #5)
ChronoSphere
post Jun 1 2013, 12:10
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What I never understood about the whole loudness war thing was the motivation why it started. Why would you record/master music louder and risk clipping/overcompression in the first place? That's what the volume control on the playback device is for. *shrug* Humans are weird creatures.
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skamp
post Jun 1 2013, 12:14
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Because "louder sounds better", more "punchy", and because people listen to music in high noise environments (cars, but also busses / trains / subways with earbuds that offer zero isolation).


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ChronoSphere
post Jun 1 2013, 12:21
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Sure, but you can achieve the same effect by simply turning the volume up.
I have a couple of albums I didn't bother getting after listening to the samples on the net (in a relatively good quality) even though I liked the music itself, but I guess the masses are not bothered by it at all. It's silly.
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skamp
post Jun 1 2013, 12:27
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QUOTE (ChronoSphere @ Jun 1 2013, 13:21) *
Sure, but you can achieve the same effect by simply turning the volume up.


Not in a loud environment, no. Loud parts will be way too loud, and you will barely hear the quiet parts. The sane solution to that problem is to integrate a DRC DSP in your playback device, that you can enable and disable whenever needed. Rockbox has that.

Edit: and that too, requires educating people about stuff that they don't really care about.

This post has been edited by skamp: Jun 1 2013, 12:37


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skamp
post Jun 1 2013, 13:01
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People might better understand a "noise environment" setting, with simple presets like quiet, normal, noisy and very noisy, with no DRC applied when set to "quiet", and moderate to high DRC for the other presets. Just a thought.


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Makaki
post Jun 1 2013, 14:02
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There are likely many contributing factors, and different albums may have done it for different reasons.

But I think one factor may have been a "bad" response to features like AVLS, and the overall volume reduction of portable devices that came in the 90s. Although some of those volume controls may be a form of dynamic limiter, in most devices it was just a plain reduction of volume or a combination of both.

See, I remember when portable devices would have built-in "amps" capable of blowing your ears up. It was up to you to decide the volume, and the devices were developed with no concern for your safety. It had the advantage that you could use a broader range of headphones, without finding headphones that simply sounded too weak.

In comparison, after some point in the 90s. Device manufacturers started being more concerned with hearing loss. Don't know if this was voluntary or promoted by regulations. But devices start adding features like AVLS, and an overall reduction in total capable volume. I remember having to skip use of specific headphones because the volume would be too low. That was even with "AVLS" turned off, and even at 100%.

So when you had a waveform where you had just a few peaks at near 100% and the average of the recording below 50%, the overall volume when using such portable devices may have been too low, and thus they would use compression to compensate for them. After all, portable devices have always been a big chunk of the consumers. No matter if the music was yours or over the air, it was still the same built-in volume control.

Some form of compression, may allow for better use of the bits available for those lower volume parts of the recording. And also saves the user from raising the volume themselves on the lower parts and then finding it too loud when it suddenly peaks at another point. It is thus very popular for movies. You can go from a scene where there is a shootout to a scene where they are whispering, and neither will be too low or too high. I know sony home theater amps allow you to set the dynamic range compression of dolby digital recording. I'm not sure if this is a feature of dolby digital. eg: You can opt to use no compression at all, but that is not the default option.

But the ideal digital recording is trying to represent live audio. And live audio doesn't have the same constraints as a digital recording. Nor has the same profile as a movie. If the artist is whispering live, then he means to whisper. They will not temporarily change the volume of the amps for that part of the song, it is what it is. And when they are loud, they actually are. The volume during the whole act, usually doesn't change, that's what the sound checks are for. And it's up to the sound guys to find the right balance between enjoyable and painfully loud.

That said, we are back to digital recording, and compression does allow to take better advantage of digital, considering the constraints. But it should NOT be done at a point where EVERYTHING sounds at the same volume. If you take a master recording, there will usually be a few peaks that will push the rest of the audio down to a low level. If they amplify more they risk cutting those peaks. But you can compress (those peaks) and get a little more from the rest. It's up to the engineer to draw the line, of how much compression is too much. And the loudness war is pretty much a case of bad judgement.

They could have decided to not use compression at all, and the waveform would be as close as possible to the live audio. But remember the constraints. It's a matter of taste. Personally I think some advantages can be obtained from dynamic range when done right.
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ManekiNeko
post Jun 1 2013, 14:29
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It's my understanding that it was never about it sounding 'better', but more a business decision by the record companies believing their music would stand out while being played/promoted by radio stations if it were simply louder than the competition.
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Nick.C
post Jun 1 2013, 15:06
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"Louder is more noticable" is used a lot in advertising - I get annoyed by the jump in volume on TV and the radio when adverts come on.


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julf
post Jun 1 2013, 15:15
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QUOTE (Makaki @ Jun 1 2013, 15:02) *
Some form of compression, may allow for better use of the bits available for those lower volume parts of the recording.


I think you might have to explain that part.
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ChronoSphere
post Jun 1 2013, 18:22
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QUOTE (skamp @ Jun 1 2013, 13:27) *
QUOTE (ChronoSphere @ Jun 1 2013, 13:21) *
Sure, but you can achieve the same effect by simply turning the volume up.


Not in a loud environment, no. Loud parts will be way too loud, and you will barely hear the quiet parts. The sane solution to that problem is to integrate a DRC DSP in your playback device, that you can enable and disable whenever needed. Rockbox has that.

Edit: and that too, requires educating people about stuff that they don't really care about.
The problem didn't get solved with that though, with open headphones you still have to increase the volume a lot (and risk annoying the other passengers) in a train for example. And that's with contemporary compressed music. Only thing that helped me was switching to earbuds - and in this scenario, the quiet parts of older/not overly compressed music are perfectly audible. So I'm not really sure this was the reason. Well, maybe initially.

QUOTE (Makaki @ Jun 1 2013, 15:02) *
But I think one factor may have been a "bad" response to features like AVLS, and the overall volume reduction of portable devices that came in the 90s.
To be honest, AVLS was badly implemented on the few devices I used (sony's walkman cassette player for example). It sounded as if the player turned the volume down once it hit a certain value which happened a lot during playback, so the music sounded "wobbly".

QUOTE (ManekiNeko @ Jun 1 2013, 15:29) *
It's my understanding that it was never about it sounding 'better', but more a business decision by the record companies believing their music would stand out while being played/promoted by radio stations if it were simply louder than the competition.
Sounds feasible to me. So in the end people who enjoy(ed) music got screwed over by marketing strategists. And since the majority doesn't really care about quality, being perfectly fine blasting their music through their phone speakers, not much will be done about it I fear.

Though I think someone mentioned a bit of betterment somewhere here on HA?

This post has been edited by ChronoSphere: Jun 1 2013, 18:24
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TomasPin
post Jun 10 2013, 04:16
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QUOTE (skamp @ Jun 1 2013, 08:27) *
Not in a loud environment, no. Loud parts will be way too loud, and you will barely hear the quiet parts. The sane solution to that problem is to integrate a DRC DSP in your playback device, that you can enable and disable whenever needed. Rockbox has that.


And is the only portable music player app I've found that incorporates that. Should be a way more diffused feature. But I guess with today's overly compressed music you don't really need it, so it comes down to what sort of music (and how old) you listen to.

QUOTE (skamp @ Jun 1 2013, 09:01) *
People might better understand a "noise environment" setting, with simple presets like quiet, normal, noisy and very noisy, with no DRC applied when set to "quiet", and moderate to high DRC for the other presets. Just a thought.


That's a pretty neat idea, skamp. Were I a developer looking for a project, I'd get working on that ASAP.


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skamp
post Jun 10 2013, 09:26
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I'm sorry to say, I was unsuccessful in pitching the idea in #rockbox. Apparently, changing settings and / or adding presets seems to be a "highly controversial" subject, as I was told. They'd rather alter the manual to explain how to use the Compressor effect.


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TomasPin
post Jun 10 2013, 20:28
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Well, so be it. The manual is pretty clear in what it does and how to set it though, but I donīt see the problem in making it easier for the less (educated?) in the matter...

Edit: Added link.

This post has been edited by TomasPin: Jun 10 2013, 20:37


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skamp
post Jun 10 2013, 21:24
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Well I was also told that Rockbox isn't a user-oriented project, but rather a developer-oriented project. Understand what you will!


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