Monday, May 08, 2006

Too loud? Hmmm...

This article argues that today's CDs are mixed too loudly and compressed too much (he explains what compression is in the article, so I'll not bother here): Imperfect Sound Forever.

He may have a point, but I suspect it's really more about preference.

It seems he likes music that can whisper and shout at realistic levels, and he even presents the dynamic range typically found at live concerts as the ideal.

I had the distinct pleasure to see Lyle Lovett at Red Rocks last summer. One of the best concerts ever, mang. Twice during the concert, he played a song where the band plays nothing, and he just whispers a couple lines. For the first time ever in all the concerts I've attended, the entire audience was completely silent, and let the moment just be. It was transcendent. Then the band struck up again, and that grabbed ya, too. I gotta admit, it was cool live, but I'm not sure I'd want to have to have my stereo up that loud to recreate the exact sonic conditions of the show.

Personally, I find things too dynamic annoying. Further, if you have to have it way up to hear the soft stuff, when a big noisy part hits, it scares the holy hell out of the baby, and that's just not cool.

Further, the louder you go, the more component noise you get. I don't care how good your stereo is, the closer you get to 11, the more hum and hiss you're gonna hear just from the electronics doing what they do. When the artists whispers, I don't want it to sound like they recorded themselves in the middle of a transfer station (those sci-fi looking places where electricity goes to get spiffed up before it comes to your house).

Also, this guy complains that new albums that are mixed so consistently loudly tend to cause clipping when you turn them up. From my experience and understanding, that's mostly a function of YOUR equipment and not the mix. Frinstance, I can really crank the very album he uses as the "bad mix" example, the Flaming Lips' new "At War with the Mystics" (review coming), without clipping. When alone (in deference to the baby, the MPC1, and the lovely wife), I've cranked it up to painful levels (you should've seen the dirty look the dog shot at me on the way to the door) and I experienced no clipping. In my car, with its 7 year old speakers, yeah, I get clipping.

So, I disagree with this guy pretty much. However, it is an interesting read. Great info on how things are recorded and mixed.


JW said...

Actually, the clipping problem is worse than that. It's not that your stereo clips when you turn it loud. It's that the waveforms are actually clipped on the CD. If you look at them on a computer, you can actually see the tops are lopped off.

For an example, check out this article (and pardon my dorky musical interests):

Yahmdallah said...


Thanks for the link; that was a good article.

The one song I could think of that might be that way that I have is the Foo Fighter's "Overdrive". And sure enough, once in a while the waveform goes out of the range. However, I think that's the point on that song; I think it's an in-joke.

But, point taken, it's obvious some CDs are being mastered with clipping built in.

Makes me wonder how many more ways can the music industry find to fuck up?

Anonymous said...

The fact that you use the phrase "painful levels" when referring to cranking volume shows that it probably IS clipping - a good amplifier, good speakers, and not over-compressed recording shouldn't BE painful to listen to at all, no matter how loud. I had the entire room shaking to Fugazi the other weekend, no pain at all.

Nick Southall

Yahmdallah said...

Nick, two (well, three) things:

1) I'm middle-aged, so really loud stuff is now accompanied with pain, no matter how good sounding it is.

2) I worked around jet planes for a while, and even worse, I saw Husker Du live, so I can attest that for even young ears, there's such a thing as "painful levels."

Btw, what system do you have?