On the other hand, older recordings with more dynamic range might sound thin at low volume, but are much richer at higher volumes (you can hear the individual instruments better and feel the space in the sound). If you try comparing older and newer masterings at a good volume the newer mastering usually sounds kinda mushy.
 https://www.folkhalsomyndigheten.se/globalassets/livsvillkor... §5.1.2 vs §5.2.3
Unfortunately SACD is dead and even on SACD the CD tracks can be a diferent mastering and very diferent from the SACD track.
With a high dynamic range, a headphones listener may feel the need to adjust the volume several times in a song to boost the clarity of softer sections or to make louder sections more comfortable to the ears, depending on the listening environment. With a "loud," low dynamic range, however, the listener need only adjust the volume once, as the whole track is roughly the same volume. In other words, the listener is in control of the volume, rather than the engineer.
This is vaguely equivalent - it is difficult to go from image->text, just as it is difficult (or impossible) to go from low dynamic range -> high dynamic range. The reverse direction is cheap (and possible).
In fact, some compression codecs even have well defined compression curves to use - so your codec isn't just "bitstream in, pcm out" it is "bitstream+listening environment in, pcm out".
You can create these effects during playback with a compressor, which are available in many players. Knowledge about compressors isn't as widely known as it should be; it's an important feature that would help a lot of people, especially anyone dealing with hearing loss.
Maybe try better headphones (or a different type, such as enclosed headphones with good room attenuation)? Many cheap headphones have terrible response to different volumes; quieter parts may be overly attenuated, for example. Cheap/bad headphones also tend to have a highly variable frequency response, which can sometimes sound like volume problems. If this is the case, spending some time with a highly configurable EQ might help (possibly in addition to a compressor).
 also available in some audio systems (e.g. jack) and as a feature in some drivers/soundcards
 and some "name brand", such as older Bose, anything Beats or other brands sold as fashion statements.
edit: re-added sentence that died during a bad copy/paste
edit2: Appendix for anybody that isn't familiar with dynamic range compression.
> need to adjust the volume several times
This is literally what a basic compressor is automating for you. It turns down the output volume when the input level is over a threshold. There are a lot of (often configurable) details like how much to reduce the volume as the input level increases past the threshold, how quickly it responds to a loud transient, and how quickly it returns to normal when the input becomes quiet again. Really nice compressors even smooth the changes near the threshold so the whole effect is less noticeable.
Like most things in that OS it's very buggy, one day it just dumped full volume noise into my headphones and that really hurt. After that I hardly trust anything in Android to handle audio and don't like plugging headphones into my phone.
Which is actually a super common problem in amateur and even some pro photography today. "High dynamic range" (HDR) lets you capture an image with a greater dynamic range than the sensor itself can detect, usually by stacking a few photos taken with different settings. It preserves details that would otherwise be lost in shadows and highlights.
In other words, it's compression for images. And it gets over-applied really often, leaving hideous painful to look at photos. They end up too flat and in your face.
No, it’s not.
There are two parts to this. First is capturing a HDR image, either by stacking photos or using a sensor with a good dynamic range (and capturing in raw). This is a good thing as you are capturing more information.
The compression you talk about is called tone-mapping and is used to make it possible to view HDR images on a non-HDR display. It can either be (over) done intentionally or it can just be an unfortunate consequence of HDR displays not being mainstream yet. Fortunately HDR is becoming a thing now for TV’s so computers are sure to follow.
Now, viewing HDR material on an actual HDR display, that is something different and can look absolutely stunning.
Yes, and it's exactly how audio compression works. You have a fixed dynamic range and in input signal that doesn't fit in that range. So you attenuate the values near the endpoints (shadows and highlights in the case of imagery) to fit within the range while still leaving values in the midrange with their original spread.
> Now, viewing HDR material on an actual HDR display, that is something different and can look absolutely stunning.
Yes, but that's not what I'm talking about.
Not exactly. Audio compression is usually used to compress to a much smaller dynamic range than the output format or playback equipment can support. Some recordings compress to within just a few dB. With HDR pictures it's usually because the display is physically incapable of reproducing the image without compression.
Softer sections are created and meant to sound softer though. Boosting the volume only in certain sections is more like making your own mix...
That's one benefit of podcasts. They often have lower quality but louder audio so I don't have to pump up the volume when I'm out and about.
There are a number of albums that were mastered quite well that have a good dynamic range, yet still sound good in my car, on headphones, or at home on the big stereo.
The heavily compressed stuff just sounds bad all around.
Here's another good article that covers this:
softer sections are actually an excellent way to make other sections bang like crazy, just because of contrast. the brickwall mastering techniques are an invitation to neglect composition techniques and overall creativity. the drumcode label comes to mind…
If you have the right source material, you can brickwall the hell out of tracks and not notice the distortion.. or perhaps the distortion will even add pleasant artifacts. One of the more prominent issues with making things stupid loud is intermodulation distortion, but that really only becomes noticeable when you have pure tones or vocals being mashed into the limiter. If the source material is already distorted (think screechy dubstep synths), then it probably don't matter.
But yeah, when you're dealing with more traditional kinds of music, which often times involves vocals or a lot more subtlety to the timbre of the instruments, brickwalling is probably not the best call. It seems that the Search and Destroy "remaster" sounding terribly distorted was intentional.. but IMO it's not very listenable nor does the distortion really bring the grungy character than I think they were going for. It just sounds bad.
Ah, music is weird because even the stuff I like is fun to criticise.
On that note, have you come across Ishkur's Guide to Electronic Music? It hasn't been updated in a long time, but still highly amusing.
It's about the dynamics (or lack thereof), not just about the distortion (if it's not clipping to just white noise 0dBFS is not the DAW limit anyways).
Recently I found out about the volume compressor, which with a single check box does exactly the right thing. I asked myself "why the heck isn't this box checked by default?" I think the answer is with audio purists wanting to stem the loudness war.
When reading about CD mastering maxing out the volume, It seems like it is the right decision. Most people do want the loudest setting, no mess with the EQ, compressors, etc. Only a tiny population wants to preserve the fidelity of the amplitude.
I love music, but I wouldn't call myself an audiophile (heck, I'm listening out of my lappy's default sound card with cheap headphones) but in this case I totally agree with the audiophile's term "fatigue". Music that is over-compressed doesn't sound bad to my untrained ear, but it's just fatiguing after a while. The silence that finally comes is a pleasure!
But having it double-compress by default is like hearing those people who want to play there car stereo louder than their system can handle and it distorts like crazy: they are obviously still enjoying it - but it's not the song the artists recorded. (Ok, maybe an exaggeration... but I still don't think we should encourage it!)
If you have a nice 5.1 setup, try boosting your center channel, too. That might help.
I have the same problem and I have not fixed it yet because I have yet to purchase a sound system with a center channel.
Any half-decent A/V receiver has this option. My Marantz receiver for example can scale the compression automatically depending on volume. The more you turn down the volume, the more it will compress, if you turn it up to max there will be no compression.
Is this not the most common scenario, though?
Super high dynamic range is great in a cinema but terrible if you're watching at home and want to hear the dialogue but also not wake the neighbourhood when it flicks to an action scene.
It sometimes end up slightly unnatural, but it beats having to constantly change the volume throughout a movie - something I didn't do too well anyway, evidently.
I still prefer the media to have better dynamics and have control over how much compression I want to apply.
Coupled with the data from this page  there is no point in going too loud anyways, that's why you have gain / volume control. I'm not sure how I feel about streaming services implementing extra processing tbh. Spotify is the worst culprit adding limiting which can significantly change the sound of a recording.
I just wish other engineers would have more pragmatism in this industry, way too much overcooked and distorted music around.
* it's a step in musical production where having experience, skills and contact with the artist matters. Not all compressor and limiter are created equal and the default value you use in your media player may not sound as good as what an audio engineer might have done..
* Not everyone have good hardware and a good environment to listen to high dynamic range music like thoses listening to classical music / jazz / Philip Glass, so theses business decision to increase volume for the market made sense at that time I think. Audio engineer simply took profit of having a technically better medium (CD) to make audio sound better (from what I've read theses techniques did not work well on vinyl)
* Loudness wars didn't have an effect on old records since as one can see in this article, we could find the old dynamic ones (and so we actually have the choice of listening to the old untouched record, or the new compressed-for-the-market record, and that is a good thing !)
* Theses music stats (mean RMS, peak RMS, max mean RMS) look at instantaneous dynamic, but a look at the overall dynamic of a song is also very important ! A good article on this topic stating that songs did not lose overall dynamic range that much : ['Dynamic Range' & The Loudness War, 2011] http://www.soundonsound.com/sound-advice/dynamic-range-loudn...
Loudness is a bastard. There is a reason, why all the pros are usually very, very careful about level matching when doing any sort of audio comparisons. Even when you know that louder can easily fool you into thinking something is better (which most listeners don't), you're still susceptible, if you don't counter act it. Wanna convince a recording artist in the studio it's great? Turn up those big speakers. Instant gratification.
When it comes to music consumption I like to think this is not really a problem: The sound of compression and distortion is the sound of current music and there is nothing inherently bad about it. Older generations will tend to oppose any new musical trend for various reasons, which all end up being subjective. The younger generations that grow up on this new sound do not care about brickwall limiting, because there is nothing to fucking care about.
Music production has been and forever will a mix of mostly people copying other people and flowing with the stylistic currents while adding a little something themselves. Sometimes something radical will happen. Mostly not. If you wanna stay relevant you go with the former and keep reaching for the later. Pretty much the same, as with coding or design.
Unfortunately, most musicians are just hoping you will notice their song when it comes up on the radio, pandora, a friends iPhone and so everyone is incentivized to crank their song to the max.
The thing that bums me out is that there were really good records released in the 2000's that are mastered terribly, and we may never hear a better version. It's one thing when a stooges album is fucked up on re-release, I can always grab the original, there may never be another version of "Is This It".
There's an excellent example of this occurring in the recent remastered re-release of Oasis's Be Here Now which had horribly thick and overdone production but has now been opened up somewhat. It's still loud, but it's Oasis after all.
I don't have an example of the before, but the 'after' is good: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jyJU2136ym4 .. interestingly, this is also an example of remastering and re-editing an old music video too.
Same goes for photography, poetry etc etc.. mass market doesn't mesh well with that.
 whether by society or by your own passion
Most people also just aren't listening through good equipment that emphasizes good dynamics. Tons of people are happy listening to compressed songs through the earbuds they got for free with their phone.
I wonder if the lower dynamic range of LPs restricts music released on them from being overly loud, and thus not as fatiguing to listen to as more modern formats.
It is technically the case that vinyls have less frequency response (basically a low pass filter) than good (really effectively perfect) reproduction formats like CD. That certainly means that the maximum loudness value is lower, but dynamic range is not required for loudness, gain and frequency response are.
If anything, having less dynamic range would encourage people to make louder records.
The only reason to sample at 96/192k is to make cheaper analog filter hardware. While technically vinyl can reproduce frequencies in excess of 50kHz, it has limits on amplitudes at high (audible) frequencies because of the physics of the needle and groove, especially on less-than-excellent cartridges. Nobody wants to listen to something with that much energy in the highest audible frequencies (16-20kHz) anyway, so it's a moot point.
There is absolutely no point in representing frequencies in excess of 22.05kHz. Truly exceptional (never documented) human ears might technically be capable of faintly hearing 23 or 24kHz tones, but that ability is likely to manifest and deteriorate over the course of (at most) a handful of contiguous years in their life and never return.
There is no difference between discrete signals sampled at 44.1kHz, and continuous signals, that has any bearing on human hearing. In addition, 14 bits is about enough to represent all discernible dynamic range in human hearing, 16 bits is more than enough. Vinyl has considerably less dynamic range than this.
Any vinyl on any record player has poor performance for reproducing audible signals when compared to an about-average CD player. LP vinyl is an excellent final form of the phonograph, but a mere intermediate to poor form in all of audio reproduction, especially considering that CD is essentially perfect.
When I was in my twenties, I could easily identify sounds in the 23-26k range (tested using professional gear more than once). When I was younger it was quite painful to hear as my ears were so sensitive to it (as a young teen, I would wince in pain when a monitor was left on without an input signal even in a room of people yelling noisily at each other). Even now in my late 30s I can still readily hear in the low 20k hz easily.
Which is a shame. Hell, their first three albums strike me as pretty poorly mastered with all of the clipping on some of the louder tracks.
The loudness war started before CD, but if we had this stuff back then it might have been possible to avoid these problems. As a consumer, I add BS.1770-based replaygain tags to all of my music, and set a constant gain offset for all applications which don't have loudness normalization.
I'm most annoyed by albums which have huge loudness gradients for completely different movements or independent tracks, it forces me to manually remove album replaygain tags in favour of the track values.
Notable also, this page makes no mention of loudness monitoring, which I think is outrageous. To complain about this problem without mentioning the existing solution is pretty bogus.
Nigel: (pause) These go to eleven.
I wish to make one main observation about the vinyl resurgence. Vinyl (which I enjoy, mostly for nostalgia because I'm old enough to remember when it was the main format) is on the rise for the wrong reasons. One reason is that it has become trendy - and I have no problem with this, but it's a real thing. Another more frustrating reason is the perception that vinyl masters cannot have the same amount of compression as digital masters, hence the perception is that vinyl version of a modern master will less compressed. Many, many audiophiles believe this. However I can tell you that the vast majority of modern vinyl releases are the same exact mastering as the digital version. The digital tracks have already been "squashed" and that mastering is fed to the cutting head after applying the RIAA curve.
However, the "dynamic range database" (results from a piece of free software that applies an algorithm to digital music and assigns a number related to the ratio between peak and RMS energy in the music) will regularly indicate vinyl versions of music (recorded and digitized by someone on their home setup) with more dynamic range. The problem is that this "extra" dynamic range arises from the inability to reproduce square waves (those flat-topped 0 dBFS regions in the article) in the analogue domain... there are overshoots that "add" peak energy that didn't exist on the squashed digital master. So you have people who think squashed music that has gone through all of the processing that is required to make a vinyl record magically comes out on the other end with more dynamic range, sounding better, when it's added a bunch of additional distortion. It's part of what makes the audio hobby so much.... fun.
Looking at you, Death Magnetic.....