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bobb
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Over-compression of Music

Continuing the talk of the problems with over-compression of recorded music, I came across this article:

http://spectrum.ieee.org/aug07/5429

I just purchased Suzanne Vega's Beauty & Crime. I almost lost my hearing when it started up with my amp at its normal volume level! I can't even listen to it all the way through in one siting without getting fatigued. Same with Carly Simon's Moonlight Serenade. Good music, but ruined by the engineer. Geeez, when will this stop?

Bob

Elk
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Re: Over-compression of Music

Slashdot apparently has many fans. This article is linked in many forums today as a result of Slashdot's reference to it.

She actively and deliberately uses compression and other techniques for affect. For example, each track of "Nine Objects of Desire" has a different voice treatment. Thus I would not instantly assume that she is a loudness war casualty, especially as she was married to a record producer and fully knows how sound can be manipulated.

Trivia: Suzanne Vega's song, "Tom's Diner", was used to fine tune the MP3 compression algorithm. Once I learned this I converted the song to MP3 and was disappointed to discover I could hear a number of artifacts. <bleh>

tom collins
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Re: Over-compression of Music

I agree about 9 objects. I love Suzanne and find her music fantastic. On many of her songs, her voice is almost freekishly there at least on my system. Different songs seem to emphasise different instruments on her tracks. Tom's diner is amazing. I guess manipulation isn't always a bad thing, would you like it as much if it were "pure", I guess there is no way to know. I would love to see her perform live.

Tom

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Re: Over-compression of Music

Yeah, lately this compression of range has been seriously annoying me. My decidedly uncritical wife even commented about a CD we were playing last night- very loud at level 4 (of 125 levels on the dial!). Man- one more reason to buy the vinyl version- they almost always get a better mix these days...

I was all set to buy the new Suzanne Vega album, but I think I'll wait and see for a few months for a vinyl release (althouigh Blue Note is not great about getting their albums out on record anymore).

bobb
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Re: Over-compression of Music


Quote:

She actively and deliberately uses compression and other techniques for affect. For example, each track of "Nine Objects of Desire" has a different voice treatment. Thus I would not instantly assume that she is a loudness war casualty, especially as she was married to a record producer and fully knows how sound can be manipulated.

Nevertheless, the album, to me and my 'normal' amp setting, is LOUD and compressy sounding. But, that's just me

I'd like to see someone with the capability do an analysis of the waveform.

Bob

Elk
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Re: Over-compression of Music


Quote:
Nevertheless, the album, to me and my 'normal' amp setting, is LOUD and compressy sounding. But, that's just me .


It may very well be very compressed. I don't know, I haven't heard it.

Not to argue, but I am curious as to what you mean by "compressy sounding". What are you hearing?


Quote:
I'd like to see someone with the capability do an analysis of the waveform.


Send me the CD and I will take a look.

Ergonaut
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Re: Over-compression of Music

What many forget is how a compressor is designed and how the companders work. Companders are not very polyphonic and you need loads of them designed into the system to prevent bass pumping or HF mis-track.

Compression used too generously and over the entire performance is wrong. I have seen engineers using them as "noise gates" and that's bad too.

I think this is a brilliant topic you've started.

Compressors are like the back end of Synthesisers which has circuitry for Attack - Sustain - Dwell and Decay rates - and as this may be very well and good for engineers, it isnt particularly musical.

I do feel that engineers go for compression when they think they have a problem and over compensate using too many mistracking companders with very slow recovery rates.

It just sounds like its clamping all the time... Some DVD's in Dolby Pro 7.1 are like this and it stinks.

Yeeeeuch

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Re: Over-compression of Music


Quote:
I think this is a brilliant topic you've started.

I agree. I write about the problem in my essay in the September issue on the making of my new jazz CD: see www.stereophile.com/musicrecordings/907att/index2.html . "When you examine a modern rock recording on a spectrum analyzer, every frequency band is at the maximum possible level all the time. This is an extraordinarily efficient use of the recording medium, but it hardly serves the music." I link in this piece to 3 earlier essays I wrote on the subject.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

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Re: Over-compression of Music

But guys, compression makes the music LOUDER!

I talked to Nigel Tufnel about this, and he said that without compression, he couldn't rock out at "11."

He said, "Wi'out compression, I'd be lucky to rock steadily at "7," or even "8!" Wi'out compression, you wouldn't know whether or not, at any moment, the music might need to rock so hard, that even an amp that goes to "11" might not be able to get there. It's not like I can get a bloody amp that goes to something ridiculous like "13" or somethin'."

He added, "Compression was essentially perfected when Grand Funk Railroad released "We're an American band." Ever since then, compression has allowed us to open new frontiers in loudness. God bless Todd Rundgren for producing that record, he foresaw the future, which is now our present, making it no longer the future. If we are going to be able to continue to push the loudness enevelope, we're going to need even mightier compression power in the future, which will then also become the present, making the future that became the present become the past. I say, in the name of rock, get me a compressor that compresses to "11" or even "12!"

__

All goofing off aside, this is an insidious thing this evolution to more and more compression, but it kind of fits with society's evolution away from things subtle. Consumers not only don't know what's happened, they wouldn't care if they did. How ironic that as recording technology gets better and better, its proper use falls farther and farther back in time.

I don't think, as audiophiles, that we can sway the market on this. On this issue, we will forever be a boutique industry.

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Re: Over-compression of Music

I can't recall if I posted this on this forum before. I first learned of this track from Bob Katz. It is an excellent demonstration of excess compression does and why it sounds bad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Gmex_4hreQ

John, I love this quote: "When you examine a modern rock recording on a spectrum analyzer, every frequency band is at the maximum possible level all the time. This is an extraordinarily efficient use of the recording medium, but it hardly serves the music."

I am glad that you thought of bringing the issue of this type of EQ'ing forward as well. I imagine most people do not know of this and didn't realize why the instruments do not sound right at all on some recordings.

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Re: Over-compression of Music


Quote:

I am glad that you thought of bringing the issue of this type of EQ'ing forward as well. I imagine most people do not know of this and didn't realize why the instruments do not sound right at all on some recordings.

ON the EQ side - most goofs do the Smiley face thing --- which results in knocking out most mid-register.... you might as well kick your midranges in with yer foot

Elk
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Re: Over-compression of Music

I just bought a copy of "Beauty and Crimes", Suzanne Vega's latest. I don't have a complete setup where I am now, but I do have some mastering software here to play with. I loaded the CD and took a look.

It is a somewhat loud recording. The overall RMS level of the entire CD is -10.8 dBFS. The valleys go down to ~ -25.0 dBFS with peaks at 0dBFS.

These are pretty typical values for decently mixed/processed music. 11 dB of headroom between peak and RMS is not too bad (equivalent to a crest factor of about 4). I would like to hear/see more than this, but it is still within what I think of as a reasonable for a pop studio recording. I don't hear any obvious distortions nor timbre shifts.

My guess is that the original tracks/mix before any compression had 15-20 dB of headroom. I suspect all of us would have preferred if they had stopped there.

(Just for reference, the recordings I find sound the absolute best tend to have close to 25dB of headroom. I wish I had a copy of Mr. Atkinson's recording of the Merkin Hall Attention Screen concert here so that I could provide reference values. I expect that the numbers would fall in this range.

By the way, if you have not bought a copy, please do so. If you want good sounding music, by the good stuff that is out there. This recording is more than good, it is excellent. The music is also interesting and challenging.)

Most of the recording of "Beauty and Crimes" was done at Sears Sound in NY. The mastering was done by Bob Ludwig at Gateway Mastering in Maine. These guys are as good as it gets.

The producer is Jimmy Hogarth, a producer/songwriter. I don't know that much about him. As producer he would typically have a lot to say about the resulting sound. All I can remember about him is that he wrote and produced one song on Amy Winehouse's "Back to Black" (an album I can't stomach on any level).

Elk
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Re: Over-compression of Music

There are at least two equalization issues.

First, many books on mastering advise that the highs should be slowly boosted, beginning at 110KHz or so. This is supposed to give the recording "air". It doesn't, it just gives it excess highs. <bleh>

These same books suggest rolling off the low end, starting at 200Hz. Engineers hate tubby bass.

The second issue is that which Mr. Atkinson so clearly describes in his article about recording Attention Screen. Many mixing engineers remove some of the frequencies of each instrument track to "leave room" for the other instruments; rolling off the low end of a piano to "make room" for the acoustic upright bass is a classic example. This, however, damages the sound of the piano.

A similar mistake is made when the mixing engineer tweaks the EQ for each instrument on its own so that it is perfect, and then puts all the tracks together. This is not how instruments sound when played together.

Again, buy the Attention Screen CD to heat a well recorded, thoughtfully mixed CD with wonderful timbres and dynamic range. Music can be recorded well.

absolutepitch
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Re: Over-compression of Music

"I don't think, as audiophiles, that we can sway the market on this. On this issue, we will forever be a boutique industry."

Perhaps not if enough of the public is informed of it through other media, such as other audio/video mags, news stories on TV to cause a backlash. I heard that most people are not aware that a large portion of cable TV programming is (lossy?) bit-compressed and no longer true HD, even if presented in 1080p at your set. Many programs originate in standard def and are upconverted to show up on your set in hi-def format, with standard def resolution. This is a crime in my opinion, when people are thinking they are getting HD as implied in the sales ads, when they are not. Heard any backlash yet? Neither have I.

We are all subjected to misleading advertising and sales, due to deliberate omission of relevant facts. Personally, I look at the ads, offers, commercials, claims of improved sound/picture, and say it's nice, but what did they NOT tell me that could kill the deal?

My cable company has tried for years to get me to subscribe, with low monthly rates for the first 6 months. they never say in the ad what the cost will be after 6 months. I can find out on-line, but why should I have to go there? They should tell me up-front! What else are they not telling me that they hope I won't find out even with some digging? Nobody makes a big deal of this, but people are being misled, and I suppose many still don't know it, (or know it and don't care - you can't help these guys).

As for compression of music, I have not bought CDs for a while, and do not have an MP3 player. I have heard dynamic range-compressed music on the air, and some are not so compressed. Yes, you lose the music when compressed.

I would like to download music, but don't agree with the DRM methods or the RIAA strongarm tactics. If I download music I want to be able to do whatever I want with it. If I take an electrical signal from the radio/tuner, I can record it to tape and not raise any issues. If I record it in 24 bit 96 KHz, and make a CD, it's not a problem. So what's wrong with downloading digital music in hi-res and doing what I want with it?

How to sway the market: there has to be mass public dissatisfaction, and lobbying $$$ to change course. The high-end customers are not numerous enough for the rest to care, in my humble opinion.

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Re: Over-compression of Music


Quote:
There are at least two equalization issues.

First, many books on mastering advise that the highs should be slowly boosted, beginning at 110KHz or so. This is supposed to give the recording "air". It doesn't, it just gives it excess highs. <bleh>

These same books suggest rolling off the low end, starting at 200Hz. Engineers hate tubby bass.

The second issue is that which Mr. Atkinson so clearly describes in his article about recording Attention Screen. Many mixing engineers remove some of the frequencies of each instrument track to "leave room" for the other instruments; rolling off the low end of a piano to "make room" for the acoustic upright bass is a classic example. This, however, damages the sound of the piano.

A similar mistake is made when the mixing engineer tweaks the EQ for each instrument on its own so that it is perfect, and then puts all the tracks together. This is not how instruments sound when played together.

Again, buy the Attention Screen CD to heat a well recorded, thoughtfully mixed CD with wonderful timbres and dynamic range. Music can be recorded well.

In any of them -- check out the amount of phase distortion

Elk
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Re: Over-compression of Music

Digital EQ and compression has become very sophisticated. There won't be much, if any, phase issues.

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Re: Over-compression of Music

Hi Bob,

Interesting to find this link in a number of places and nice that the loudness wars are being spoken of in more quarters.

As one who has been railing against dynamic range compression for years, I've got an article on the subject that may be of interest.
See Declaring an end to the loudness wars

While I can see its use as an effect on individual channels of a multitrack project, with my own work, I have made it official policy for many years to not allow compression in the building. The first release on my own label, Soundkeeper Recordings demonstrates this - no compression (or overdubbing or mixing) used anywhere in the recording or mastering.

Best regards,
Barry
www.soundkeeperrecordings.com
www.barrydiamentaudio.com

Elk
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Re: Over-compression of Music

Barry, I previously read your article - nice job.

Your recording, Lift has spectacular sound. Absolutely wonderful!

When you get a chance, please post your 16/44 versus 24/96 comparison links if you are willing to do so. It is a great demonstration of the improvements high resolution sampling can make.

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Re: Over-compression of Music

Hi Elk,

Thank you for your kind feedback.

If you like the eMPty3 samples from "Lift", remember that these contain only 10% of the information that is on the CD... And the 24/96 DVD-R sounds even better.

Per your request, I've put up a post about the format comparison you mentioned. Here's the link:
http://forum.stereophile.com/forum/showflat.php?Cat=0&Number=26603&page=0&vc=#Post26603

Best regards,
Barry
www.soundkeeperrecordings.com
www.barrydiamentaudio.com

Elk
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Re: Over-compression of Music

Thanks, Barry!

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Re: Over-compression of Music

Like the clever "eMPty3" reference.

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Re: Over-compression of Music

As I predicted, a vinyl version is coming out of Vega's new album. No guarantee that it will avoid the over compression issue, but often it does in that LPs are assumed to be for audiophiles and remixed as such. It's 180 gram so that bodes well for the release.

See www.TheMusic.com for details. I'll be pre-ordering mine!

Suzanne Vega
Beauty & Crime
09463 68270 1 8-200G (Blue Note) Beauty and Crime is possibly Suzanne Vega?s best effort since her debut album and likely even better ...
Classic Records 200 Gram Vinyl Rock/Rock
$33.00

bobb
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Re: Over-compression of Music

For $33, I would sure hope it sounds better than the CD!

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Re: Over-compression of Music

Yeah- $33 isn't cheap, but for a limited edition release with high quality spec.s and care, it's worth it for a long time fan. Personally I'd rather see it around $20. When I get it, I'll post a review of sound quality, particularly regarding it's dynamic range since this is how this thread got started.

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Re: Over-compression of Music


Quote:
I can't even listen to it all the way through in one siting without getting fatigued. Same with Carly Simon's Moonlight Serenade. Good music, but ruined by the engineer. Geeez, when will this stop?

Bob

When the engineers become more experienced and begin reading University papers on the subject instead of articles on the latest gizmo-gadget in Sound on Sound magazine.

I'm with you all the way Bob - It's happening everywhere

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Re: Over-compression of Music


Quote:

Quote:
Geeez, when will this stop?

When the engineers become more experienced and begin reading University papers on the subject instead of articles on the latest gizmo-gadget in Sound on Sound magazine.

In my experience, it's not that mastering engineers lack experience, but rather that they like to keep working. Record companies know that "louder = better" to most people and it seems like it's going to be pretty hard to change that perception (in listeners as well as in A&R people). To be fair to record companies, the new Radiohead record suffers from the same lack of dynamics as most new releases, and I don't believe a record company was involved.

Also, compression isn't evil in itself. Ever listen to Pet Sounds? The only way to really listen to uncompressed music is to sit in front of an unamplified instrument (which I recommend!)

Good discussion.

Elk
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Re: Over-compression of Music

Exactly.

Mastering and mixing engineers all know what is going on. In fact, many object to it and try to get their clients to accept a less squashed final product. But you need to produce the product that your customer wants.

It's sobering to see what happens when you present people with a less compressed recording. It is common for people to complain that my recordings are "not loud enough" and that "you have to turn the volume up and down to keep the level the same."

Both of these "problems" are easy to remedy with compression. But I hate what it does to the timbres of the instruments and to musical expression.

The good news is that many people appreciate why the recording is different if I explain what I did (or didn't do) and why. They often find it pretty neat.

An additional irony is that most of us (including audiophiles) are listening to all recordings with speakers that compress. Very few speakers truly play back without compression. Thus, there is already some basic compression "built-in" to most systems.

This is one reason why mastering studios have good high end speakers and serious high-end amplification. It is astounding to learn what you can hear - resolution, tiny changes in EQ, compression settings, etc, - on a truly great system in a truly well-treated room.


Quote:
The only way to really listen to uncompressed music is to sit in front of an unamplified instrument


Amen!!!

Do you have access to the new Radiohead album? I have the MP3 160kps download only. I look forward to hearing it in a lossless format.

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Re: Over-compression of Music

Still waiting for my hard copy, but if the previous few Radiohead releases and the MP3 of Rainbows are any indication...

Radiohead does a little better than some with smashed mastering because they tend towards spare arrangment, but it's still pretty "loud".

Slayer, on the other hand...

: D

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Re: Over-compression of Music

Fully agreed!

But the "In Rainbows MP3" sounded better than I expected. We'll just have to wait and see.

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Re: Over-compression of Music

Bruce Springsteen's latest, "Magic", is incredibly squashed; limited, clipped and compressed to the point of distortion.

Absolutely dreadful.

Brendan O'Brien (producer) is into compression and Bruce may want to seem hip.

I feel bad the Bob Ludwig is the mastering engineer and has his name attached to this debacle. However, I am certain that the sound was not his suggestion and that he is simply doing what the client wanted. Moreover, the overall compression is likely already in the mix.

Listen to this album as a great example of what not to do.

Ergonaut
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Re: Over-compression of Music

Here is a text example trying to visually recreate what I tend to hear when I know compression has not been properly controlled

Mainly on Film DVD's these days in THX - D7.1 or D5.1

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Re: Over-compression of Music

So.. this is a follow up to this subject. Specifically Suzanne Vega's new album Beauty and Crime was discussed as an unfortunate example of musical compression (or dynamic range compression). I speculated that perhaps the LP version would not have this same problem and I'm happy to report I was correct in this assumption. I just got my 180 gram Acoustic Sounds version and it sounds very good indeed! Not uniformly stellar I'm sorry to say, which I think is because it seems that a number of different sessions were used to record the various songs. Where are the days when a group would come to the studio and just jam out the whole album in few days (or even one day)?

Well anyway- the LP sounds very natural overall; good sonic range, excellent spacial definition and the mixing generally providing an enjoyable experience. One or two tracks push her voice a little deep into the mix for my taste- not sure if it was intentional or what. Overall I have It agree with most fans and critics that this is a really strong album by Vega- I enjoyed it from start to finish both lyrically and musically.

So the bottom line is: if you have a turntable and are thinking of getting this album (or have the CD and hate the sound) get the LP- it's worth the extra money to have such a strong set of songs sound good too!

tom collins
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Re: Over-compression of Music

thanks for the follow up, i am a big fan of hers.

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