The Unofficial Dynamic Range Database
At the 2012 NYC hi-fi show, I was chastised by a random showgoer for using a “dynamic-less” recording as a reference in the Legacy room. Now with the help of the Unofficial Dynamic Range Database, I can find the dynamic range measurements of many of my favorite recordings, including the record ridiculed by one spiteful audiophile. Was he right about its dynamics?
The “Unofficial” Dynamic Range Database uses a sliding scale from 1 to 20 (1 being the worst, 20 being the best) to rank the dynamic quality of each of the recordings they list. This number represents the difference between the peak decibel level on a recording and the recording’s average loudness. DRD applies the following descriptors to these ranges: 1-7=bad; 8-13=transition; and 14-20=good. Evaluation for each album on the website includes the album’s average dynamic range, the track with the weakest dynamic range, and the track with the greatest. The Unofficial DRD also provides individual dynamic range measurements for each track on the album.
For example, Phish’s Lawn Boy, the record which drew so much resentment out of a fellow audiophile, scored an average of 12 in terms of overall album dynamics, which is considered close to “good” or “in transition” by DRD’s sliding scale. So still a little compressed, but certainly not as bad as that guy made it out to be: my CD made him storm out of the room! The weakest track clocks in at 9 (“Split Open and Melt”) and the most dynamic song on the record, “Bouncing Round the Room”, scores a 14. Interestingly, “Bouncing” is the only song on this record that received a medium level of radio airplay, and it was the most dynamic! Just goes to show that not all radio singles have to be LOUD.
Participants on the Dynamic Range Database use the Dynamic Range Meter, a foobar2000 component, to take their measurements. The Dynamic Range Meter is designed to give the same information as the popular Pleasurize Dynamic Range Meter. Any user can submit their test results to the site.
On the site, users can search by artist or album. The mainpage allows you to sort alphabetically by Artist or Album or rank their dynamic rankings in ascending or descending order.
After sorting the albums by worst dynamic range, I was not surprised to see some of my favorite bands and records at the top of the list, including My Morning Jacket, The Mars Volta, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. What I found in the ultra-dynamic recordings was also refreshing: Van Halen, Talking Heads, and Rush.
Kudos to Stereophile.com user lastgoodbye for the tip. Sites like these give consumers the power of information, and with that comes the power of smarter decision making, which will ultimately lead to better quality by demanding more in what we choose to buy.