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Loudness Wars get New York Times coverage

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If it was only for new albums in the 20xx years, i wouldn’t mind. They should have demonstrate that even good dynamics on albums in the older days are crushed now with remasters and new boxset and even now with hires downloads, like all talking heads CDs were like at 12, 13, 14 and with their 24-96 Brick remastered box now like at 5, 6, 7 !! So sad. SHM-CD from Japan are pretty good at that too, bad DR.

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What can a poor boy do?  (Rolling Stones)


Maybe we need an audio reproduction council, which could issue warning labels for media listing DR, etc.  Tax record companies to pay for it.  

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Unless I've missed it in there somewhere, Milner (along with those who have commented on his piece here and elsewhere) completely ignore both the original reason for this practice and the fascinating fact that it's now also done for different reasons.  Compression for increased loudness started as a way to maximize audible presence and perceived enjoyment of pop music on AM radio.  The FCC tightly controlled and monitored broadcast parameters, so stations couldn't increase their peak signal.  Compression by raising the bottom of the DR was the industry's solution.  


The practice later spread to commercials to make them grab your attention, and this spilled over from radio to TV.  In 2009, analog TV was officially dead and 5.1 became the audio format for all TV - the main audio track was front and center, but the engineers had 4 more to fill with energy, and fill they did.  This article by Michael Coyle explains what happened next. The stand-out sound bite is "Generally, we kept the center audio channel, which contained the announcer, hovering around 0VU. That left four additional channels we could load up with sound – and load ‘em up we did!   On one particular commercial for Porsche, the center channel announcer was so stomped on by an L3 mastering compressor, you could have shaved with the sharp edge of the waveform! I considered it my job to make the commercial mixes as loud as possible.  But as a viewer at home, sitting on the couch watching my big screen TV in surround sound, I had to lunge for the remote during commercial breaks because the loudness of the spots varied so greatly. And I wasn’t the only one to notice this".


This segment of NPR's All Things Considered is a great précis on the subject.  Robert Siegel interviews Bob Ludwig, who explains it very well.  Here's another interesting and informative piece that includes the thread connecting broadcast radio with streaming. This piece (seemingly unintentionally) puts the ends of the temporal spectrum together elegantly by connecting the origins in analog radio with the digital present and future:

  • "[N]o discussion about audio loudness would be complete without a mention of the loudness wars, where music is “hyper-compressed” to make a track as loud as possible in order to make it stand out, or at least compete with other tracks in a playlist. With many music streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music Radio now also employing loudness normalization protocols, radio is perhaps the final link in the chain to give the average consumer a consistent, loudness-normalized listening environment."

John Schorah ends this piece with the observation that "...perhaps the removal of the so-called 'loudness advantage' in radio [by which I assume he means internet radio] could finally see audio compression becoming a universal matter of taste rather than driving the commercial imperative to be 'louder than the previous song' ".  We live in hope! 

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