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Re: [ARSCLIST] fwd: Everything Louder Than Everything Else : Have the loudness wars reached their final battle?

Hi Don:

I think your comment about compression is somewhat simplistic. Dynamic range compression is a very useful tool in audio recording and production. But it's a tool like a box of hammers -- don't go pounding in a picture nail with a sledge hammer. Or, perhaps more appropriately, it's like an envelope full of different sandpapers. You don't polish your art with a coarse grit and hard strokes. That's the non-subtle wisdom that many in today's music industry do not seem to understand. But, on the other hand, a piece of fine woodwork without proper sanding will leave splinters and be unfinished and even mis-shapen.

Given the listening environments of many consumers of top-100 albums today -- cars or earbuds on loud streets or with TV or other "multi-tasking entertainment" on in the background -- a good amount of dynamics compression is appropriate, and indeed is inherent to the music. What's bad is when it's then taken to another level that mangles and clips all the transients (thus screwing up the focus and crispness of the mix) and brings the median level so loud that it's fatiguing, unpleasant or even painful.

By the way, there was over-the-top compression before: Phil Specter. Take one of his singles from the early 60's, do a good transfer where pops and ticks are zapped so they don't fool your normalizer and normalize for peak-level (not RMS, just peak-level). You'll get a pattern very similar to a modern mix but perhaps without as many clipped transients. But it will be the same, er, wall of noise.

One interesting method back in the day, which I have not seen digi-tools capable of doing very well, was to start with a recording channel with a ton of headroom, then control dynamics by driving everything pretty hard and having a pre-set compressor (broadcast grade, so it was capable of very high input level, unlike some of the whimpy gear passed off today; also, its attack and release constants were very slow compared to modern gear) as the line amp into the recording buss and also the same setup into the echo buss. What would happen is that peaks would be limited so overall level was uniformly higher but it would seem punchy because peaks would still drive the echo chamber or plate hard so there would be plenty of reverb, which clues the ear to "that was a hard drum hit." The reverb further helped "loud up" the mix by filling quiet spaces. If this is done right -- and I'm sure Bob Ohlsson can give exact instructions on it because Motown knew hot to loud up mixes without making them unpleasant -- it's a great device to make songs stand out on the radio. Oh, also, using fewer mics so it's a less complex mix to begin with helps. What seems to have happened in modern times is that certain hard rock/metal/grunge producers have taken these methods completely over the top and produced just mush, which some A&R freak decided "sounds great and really punches out of those car speakers." Then the rest of the sheep herd jumped over the fence and off to the races.

Bottom line -- some compression usually good and audio processing is the truly the art of a great engineer and/or producer in most genres (not classical, where the recording should be more a "document" of a performer and performance space). Taking a "no compression is how it should be" position is as silly as the current crop of mastering engineers blindly following tin-eared clients and then bitching about it in online forums. Bob Katz's book does indeed cover all of this very well.

-- Tom Fine

----- Original Message ----- From: "Don Cox" <doncox@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
To: <ARSCLIST@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Sent: Sunday, October 01, 2006 12:43 PM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] fwd: Everything Louder Than Everything Else : Have the loudness wars reached their final battle?

On 01/10/06, Tom Fine wrote:
Here's a link to the actual article in case you want to print for the


Thanks Dave, this is a good presentation of a vexing self-inflicted

I think we've run this issue around, but that might be the Ampex list.
For more perspective, see Bob Orban's excellent article:
which shows that these over-loud CD's sound even worse after being put
through FM processing.

It's just disgraceful how 50 years of progress in sound recording and
reproduction -- to where at least a few recordings each year were
truly life-like -- is being erased in less than a generation.

Thoroughly discussed by Bob Katz in his book "Mastering Audio".

There is one good use for compression plugins - recovering badly
recorded speech. Often there are questions and answers, with one or
other speaker off mic, or simply mumbling. A compressor with the right
settings can work wonders.

Don Cox

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