Two reasons for this:
1. More and more people are listening to music through equipment that is significantly inferior. Mobile phones, cheap Bluetooth speakers, cheap earphones - they're all subpar in their ability to render sound faithfully.
2. There is a constant "war for loudness". Once you've listened to a David Guetta song that can be ferociously loud, anything not as loud will be perceived as "soft" that "kills the vibe".
I cannot imagine that this is true. Even listening to Spotify on a cheap phone using the headphones that came with the phone offers far better sound quality than listening to the nth generation tape copies on the cheap tape players or the bad reception of the tinny radios that we used to have.
This gear usually has very poor mid-range response. Hence, producers crowd tracks in the bottom-end (bass) and treble ranges. Try listening to a track with a cheap $15 earphones and then with a set of studio headphones like ATH-M50x and you'll hear what I mean.
Forget Spotify. People are listening to music on throttled YouTube.
Compression wasn't the antagonist of music. Not even the consumer's general cheapness is the antagonist. The website that pirated it all, and then got bought by a parent company larger than the market value of the entire music industry combined, is the antagonist of music.
I've produced tracks that sound incredible to me on my 6" Yamaha monitors. Then I send them over to friends who listen to them on their tinny laptop speakers and wonder what the big deal is.
Studios deliberately use bad speakers (NS10s, Auratones) to check for this.
In the business it's called "translation" - a good mix sounds good on everything from earbuds to a car stereo to $$$$$$ hifi.
It's almost impossible to make a mix that translates without spending a lot of money on neutral monitors and acoustic treatment.
But there are tricks you can use to make a mix translate better. E.g. You can cut the lowest octave or two in the bass, because no one (outside of a club) can hear it anyway, and use bass sounds with plenty of mids, so you can hear the line even when the low bass isn't there.
Someday I hope to be experienced enough to just know what to do though, without all the extra work. I haven't found a systematic answer yet.
Link up with a producer if you don't know how to do it yourself, if you want a fighting chance.
In these settings, music with lots of dynamic range may legitimately not sound as good. Due to the quality of reproduction, the low-loudness parts are hard to perceive.
For me, there are certainly songs that I enjoy listening to on good headphones in a quiet room that don't have anywhere near the impact when played on laptop speakers.
Sell the Beats earmuffs and pick up Superlux HD668B headphones for under $50.
Drop the Apple earbuds in the garbage and get TRN V80 in-ear-monitors for under $50. Add a pack of random eartips to figure out which ones are most comfortable for you.
Your MBP's built-in speakers have no bass below 160Hz or so, and bluetooth party speakers have all the sonic charm of a box of Kleenex. Spend $300 on a pair of JBL 305P powered speakers and plug anything into them -- they're a distinct upgrade from basically everything costing less and an awful lot of speakers costing twice as much.
Buy your music on CDs and spend the ten minutes per disc copying them. Do you know you can fit 1300 full CDs in a one terabyte disk without any compression at all? Or buy FLAC or any other non-lossy compression version. Buy directly from artists whenever possible: give them the best margins.
Use wires. Use headphone jacks. Use cheap ground loop isolators when you get hum from power lines -- they used to be really expensive, now they cost $10.
We live in a time of high-quality low-cost devices that play music much better than anything your parents could have bought without spending a month's grocery money.
Is that really the case? I've got some late 70s / early 80s Fisher speakers that sound almost as good as the best bookshelf speakers you can buy today. I rather enjoy the sound more than the JBL 305P studio monitors. While the Fishers are less precise, they're more enjoyable to listen to. (The trick is to put them on a desk at an angle the same way you would for studio monitors, and turn them upside down so the treble stays at ear level.)
I can't imagine Fisher costing an arm and a leg back then, and back then Fisher speakers were sold at normal electronic stores, while today high end audio has to be bought at specialty stores like Guitar Center or online. Today if you go to a Best Buy, they'll have some thousand dollar home theater speaker setup that could sound better. The average consumer thinks that is what top of the line is and sounds like, when in fact they're being sold a lie.
High end speakers were once accessible and advertised to the masses, unlike today. Today you have to be a specialist, an "audiophile", or some other niche title.
In an ever increasing mobile world, mobile speakers have taken over. While some of the in ear headphones are amazing, and I hope this trend continues, it will be a while -- if ever -- when we get portable speakers that sound decent. One of the problems is the direction of the sound, and the other is the Bluetooth compression itself leaving manufacturers to make their speakers fuzzy to counter the compression.
Maybe they were $100 speakers in 1980? That would be about the same as a pair of powered JBLs now, except that you still need to get an amp for the Fishers.
edit: And for anyone who doesn't know what old high end supermarket speakers sound like from the early 80s: I have $400 headphones that are less enjoyable to listen to.
They're fashion statement, most people don't care about sound quality.
Unless you have a proper sound card / dac and a really nice headset I doubt investing in FLAC will transcend your listening experience.
On top of that most people listen from their phone, during commute, at the gym etc ... no need for flac in these conditions.
It's the same thing with photography, you can get a 300$ dslr that has more options than any slr. Yet the vast majority of people will be happy with their phone camera.
Sources are so good these days that unless you're very picky, you can just plug your TV / laptop / phone into an amp using a cable and you're done.
Awesome recommendation. I ordered these ($40 on Amazon) based on your comment and they are great. I have been using 5 year old $50 Sony earbuds which are good, but these TRNs are amazing.
My only complaint is that they are pretty heavy so I'm not sure I could run in them. For my use that doesn't matter since I have BT earbuds for workouts.
No, it really is not. But it's close enough for most.
An interesting thing I heard is sometimes vinyls contain a different master that doesn't have the range squashed because people listen to vinyls in a better environment.
So I think CDs are now made with the idea that the music is going to be converted to MP3 and listed to on mobile devices, not on nice stereo systems, so they mix them with that target listening environment in mind.
A video comparing both: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Nfqpr3ygSg
I tend to get physically and mentally exhausted when I have to listen to music that's maximised for loudness, took me a while to figure that out. A comparison between these two versions was the eye opener for me.
It's not the best headset in town but it should be more than enough to hear the difference.
edit: the switch at 6:10 is very noticeable to me (shure se215) but tbh they both sounds bad, and it sounds just as bad on spotify so youtube's compression isn't the culprit
This is when I suspect the differences must be minuscule even without hearing the comparison. Bose headphones are way better (and pricier) than what most people use. The sound canceling alone should make significant differences evident.
I listened on my (work issued) Jabra "whatever" headphones, and i could tell right away (without looking) when it switched from retail to GH, just by the distorted highs/lows.
I also get extremely exhausted from listening to music maximized for loudness, while listening to almost anything recorded in the 70's can go on for hours without any sign of exhaustion.
Compression can do that, but it's also possible multiband compression was used to make the bass louder so it would be more obvious ("more exciting"...) on a typical home audio system.
But this isn't a new phenomenon. Most of U2's albums, including those from before Death Magnetic, are also hideous to listen to.
I tend to assume the same, but it just occurred to me that this is kind of the opposite of Hanlon's razor...
> The incorrect way to use a microphone is to put it right in front of you like this (leaning in close) and speak into it because you pop your P’s real bad, and that could be dangerous on certain words. We broadcast professionals turn it aside and speak across it so that our P’s do not pop. We don’t have to worry about anything like that, and with the compression that is built into our system here, I can move this microphone even further — well, you’re probably hearing me not quite as loud, but the presence is still there. As I move it in closer, it gets a little bit more present, but not really louder. Now, sometimes I do what we professional broadcasters refer to as eat the microphone. That is when I really want to make a point. I am eating this microphone. My lips are touching this microphone right now. There are any number of highly trained specialist techniques that we who are professionals in this business use.
Audio compression is why talk radio sounds like garbage even when streamed compared to something with a wider dynamic range like NPR. It helps give talk radio hosts that loud, booming voice which helps them sound convincing to their audiences.
Wouldn't a pop filter stop this?
That's what most vocalists use. They're like $20. I've got one for use with my compressor mic. It works great.
Also, i've been listening to a lot of tunes mastered for vinyl lately that doesn't use high compression(modern music). The same tracks on youtube sound noticeably worse not because of the file format but because of the automatic compression and gain youtube adds.
You have to take this into account when you upload a music track there.
Clearly, the real solution is to speak a language that doesn't use aspirated stops. :D
The article notes that Spotify, but originally it was terrestrial radio, that hyper compresses their music -- it makes listening in the car far less annoying. But to see the dynamic range destroyed on the album itself, that is tough.
This quote from the article "It is a super-discouraging situation." summarizes it quite well.
In Spotify or in audio equipment, compression often makes sense. It's user-adjustable, and there are times where compression is useful, such as listening to music in a car, where the quiet moments would get washed out by road noise.
In a way, loudness compression is like a hash function: the operation itself is largely mechanical, but destroys information in the process. Shipping with good-quality audio should be the default, and let compression be applied on playback. In fact, most home theatre systems already do sound post-processing in the form of room correction anyway (Audyssey, Dirac), so why not the let player do the compression?
I suppose it helps that my stereo and speakers are circa 1980 :-)
I also seek the original masters to avoid this, and often prefer the vinyl release as they seem to have mostly escaped this game. The technical limits of vinyl are a big help here.
Disco music on vinyl also had problems, as the base beat was too much for the groove. Hence my preference for the 45 rpm 12" disco singles, where the wider spaces between the grooves and the faster speed made for much more dynamic range.
The K-TEL compilations would reduce the dynamic range so the LP would play much longer, as the grooves were smaller and closer together. That wasn't really what one wanted if one really wanted to get into the music. But I liked the K-TEL compilations if one regarded them as a "sampler".
Other problems with vinyl are the crosstalk between successive grooves, bubbles in the plastic due to poor quality control, and the usual rumble, wow, flutter, hiss, snap, crackle and pop. Though one could enjoy that like one enjoys the primitiveness of an older car :-)
Cheap pressings and compilations are always going to be an issue. Just like those old compilation tapes you used to get in motorway services that would stretch on first play. I suspect KTel would find a way to make CDs self-destruct after 5 plays.
Most of those other problems went away with a decent deck. Mainly leaves the scratches to "enjoy". :p
Makes one wonder about the notion of nostalgia. Especially in today's world where marketing is playing an ever larger role in society, there's no real reason to assume that the directionality of things is always going to be positive.
 - https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-02/nyu-wag02041...
The primary target now is streaming, and streaming services have started to balance the tracks by their "true" loudness (not getting into technical details here), which pretty mush defeats the purpose of making your track louder than competition. Now, if your track has more dynamic range, it will actually sound better, because the streaming service itself bring other tracks down, and push yours up gently. So, this trend is starting to get reversed - also most mastering engineers and musicians are used to "getting it loud", there are many who're taking advantage of the new reality.
I've heard that before. The VU meters on my stereo say otherwise.
But dynamic range has nothing to do with the decline in quality of music. Shit is shit no matter how you mix it.