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The Loudness War - a different opinion Effects Pedals, Units & Accessories
Old 18th September 2008
Gear Nut

Has anyone got the story on what's the deal with the Matador CD by a group called Times New Viking? There's quite a number of their tracks which sound like someone either fed the line outputs of a mixer into the mike inputs of a master recorder, or, simply tried to push a digital mastering machine to +9! By far, worse than ANYTHING else around AFAIK.
Old 22nd October 2008
Gear Maniac
TheNoize's Avatar

Originally Posted by masteringhouse View Post
This would probably make more sense if done through digital distribution. I can't see labels going through additional costs for two versions of the same CD for this purpose without raising the price to the consumer.
Yes, that would be nice
Old 31st January 2013
Originally Posted by studiorathq View Post
From the thread Some thoughts on Compression and Loudness by Richard Kaplan of Indigo Ranch on 10th Jan 2013

Some thoughts on Compression and Loudness by Richard Kaplan

This article reproduced from my website STUDIORATHQ.COM

It's one louder Nigel Tufnel of Spinal Tap

I recently came across the above cartoon posted by a friend on Facebook and it humorously makes a good point. How do you make your recordings louder than others? But also how much is too much? The main process to get your recordings 'louder,' other than recording the incoming instruments as close to peaking the input meters is to use compression and limiting. It also matters how it is mastered, but let's focus on compression in the recording and mixing process. Compression has become an essential component in today's recordings. I've been in the music business for over 30 years and I've watched this fight for louder recordings continue again and again. I've worked in all genres of music, but I see it happening mostly in Metal and Rap.

In the early days of recording there were really only a couple of effects that the engineer could use. One was tone control - which later became EQ - and by tone control I mean a turn pot, like on an old car radio, that boosted the bass when turned to the left and boosted the treble when turned to the right. The other effect was volume control which was done in a number of ways - starting in the beginning with the engineer placing the ONE microphone at a distance from the various instruments, in order to get a balance, to then go to the ONE mono track on which everything would be recorded. Then came multi track recording and the engineer could move faders up or down!!

Finally came the compressor and limiter. When you think about it, a compressor or limiter is really just a box full of electronic parts with a job similar to that of an engineer. Visualize this imaginary engineer manipulating a fader to avoid letting a signal that was too loud to go to tape, that is the primary function of a compressor/limiter.

A limiter - just as the name suggests is a device that absolutely limits the signal from going above an established level (voltage or VU). When the signal reaches a certain point the 'hand in the box' limits the level so that it NEVER goes above that agreed upon level.
The limiter was really born from the need to smash anything above a certain level, with the fastest hand possible (the imaginary engineer in this electronic box) to avoid over-modulating a radio signal. There were (and still are) severe monetary penalties if an audio signal goes over a stations allowed wattage when transmitting. This process of limiting also became handy for recording when the engineer needed to keep the signal from distorting as it is recorded to tape.

The compressor is similar but it gave the engineer more control. Often times what is called a limiter is, in reality, a compressor and vice versa. The compressor (and some limiters) allowed the engineer to select a level or VU above which the device started to take control of the imaginary fader in the box. This is known as the “threshold” control. It also gave the engineer a ratio at which the imaginary hand in the box brought down the fader. This is the compression “ratio.” Often there are other controls that dictate how quickly the imaginary hand in the box responds to sudden increases in level; this became known as “attack.” Another control variable that dictates how quickly the imaginary hand it the box brings back the level is known as “release.”

These were originally meant to keep the engineer out of trouble with over-modulating and distortion. Later it was found that these devices could be used as an effect! . . Effect?! Yes, especially if the trigger to the threshold was something that pulsed up and down with the beat in a certain section of a song (verse, chorus, bridge etc.) or throughout the entire song. That would make the compressed item appear to suck & blow rhythmically with the music. It could be used to rhythmically pulse one or many instruments or even the entire song. This was really the first of many effects put in the arsenal of the recording engineer.

But then what happened?

Radio stations realized that by using an almost unnoticeable amount of limiting they could sound louder than competing stations using the same legally allowed wattage! Mastering engineers found that a little bit of limiting could make their vinyl records sound louder than other similar-sounding records; and even multiply that apparent loudness when put on a radio station with that aforementioned limiting. Soon it was realized that the music signal could be split into bandwidths (filtered by frequency) that could then be individually limited, creating an effect of added bass or “presence” to their programs.

The RACE to LOUDNESS was on!

This has come to the inevitable conclusion that we can hear, and are now commenting on, in many modern recordings. You will notice that it is hard to unravel exactly when in the recording process this desire for greater loudness took place. It could be in the original recording of the song. It could be in the mixdown of the song. It could be in the mastering. Now with most recordings being completed in the digital domain it is even easier to get locked into wanting to win this loudness contest.

There are so many digital plug-ins that approximate nearly every limiter and compressor ever made, in addition to a whole host of never before heard of devices, some of them even offering zillions of micro controls to this loudness game.

We are posting a few waveforms that show clearly what can happen to a song if this goes to the extreme. Most of these examples seem to indicate that the recordings received the worst blow in the mastering process. The problem is that the life and natural pulse has been removed from the music; making it sound sterile without the essential dynamics that give music and songs their life. Most listeners agree that, before compression, mixes actually sounded more pleasing; although ultimately not as loud.

Seeing and hearing the difference!

Where can you hear this process in action? One example is Metallica's last album: Death Magnetic. This record was a major release, recorded on an unlimited budget, with the greatest equipment in the industry. Death Magnetic was produced by Rick Rubin. . . a man I've worked with at Indigo Ranch.

You may or may not like this band or album, but upon the release of Death Magnetic the Internet was littered with fans excited about Metallica's return to classic form, but the net also had an equal number of complaints about the quality of the sound and production. Rubin and Metallica's intention was to push the boundaries of recording; to make a record that was at the forefront of the loudness curve. They probably succeeded, but they also paid the price for pushing the curve.

Sean Michaels of The Guardian explains that on Death Magnetic: the sound issues are a result of the 'loudness war' – an ongoing industry effort to make recordings as loud as possible. The album's sound issues are as Wikipedia points out the result of: overly compressed dynamic range with a process called peak limiting leading to audible distortion.

Here are a few examples of waveforms showing the increase in loudness. Included is a Death Magnetic track.

A comparison between a track produced in the 90s and one produced more recently, note the vast difference in waveform size Note the difference in the waveform images between the guns and roses track and green day by looking at the attached image named better American Idiot

A track from Death Magnetic CD, compared with the same song produced from video game Guitar Hero as shown in Nate Lanxon's article for CNET look at the attached image titled death Magnetic for further reference:

As you can see in the above waveform graphics, loudness has increased. The cd version of a Death Magnetic track allows no room for dynamics and this mix is ‘brickwalled by limiting. After listening to Death Magnetic many times, it left me wondering: Do the instruments mix well among themselves? Would I want to listen to these mixes many times? Will this kind of production be part of a trend or will it stand the test of time? Listen to Death Magnetic and answer these questions for yourself.

So what are my recommendations about loudness and compression? Well for all of you that are musicians and sound engineers, it starts with the equipment. I am a vintage gear user and a large number of my clients wanted to record at my studio because of my vintage gear collection. I had numerous vintage compressors and limiters (both tube and solid state.) These products are still available but at a hefty price. The reason I prefer the vintage gear, and particularly tube compressors, is for what I call the “warmth” of the compression. Another pivotal asset for tube compressors and limiters too is how each deals with a peak in the signal.

Tube distortion is, as you may recognize, that smooth and warm dirtying of the signal most frequently heard in guitar or bass amps. It is not too different in tube compressors and limiters. When the signal peaks it basically distorts, but with tube gear, the distortion can be an asset. It adds “dirt” to the signal, but it does so with a smooth and warm result. Digital distortion, which is the result of a signal peaking in the digital realm, is harsh, brittle and hard on the ears. So, if you are going to use compression to get your recordings louder, I recommend spending as much as you can on high quality tube compressors and limiters. I know it is expensive but the results are all the difference. If this is not possible, and you work solely in the digital realm, do not sacrifice quality for loudness.

Metallica took a chance to win the loudness war, and they should be commended for trying to push the boundaries, but unless you have a budget like theirs, you will not be able to convince your listeners that the questionable sound in your mixes is worth it, even though it is so loud.
Old 1st February 2013
Gear Nut
**** article.

Old 12th February 2013
Originally Posted by Ninja_Edit View Post
**** article.

Thanks for your input - Even with my experience I come here to learn
Old 19th February 2013
Lives for gear
Susceptor's Avatar

While this thread was obviously dead, I'm glad someone resurrected it. It's funny to see how I heard stuff 5 years ago and how I feel now about the whole loudness thing, since I've learned a lot since back then.
Old 31st May 2013
Lives for gear
ISedlacek's Avatar
Old 3rd June 2013
Lives for gear
echoRausch's Avatar

Only a limiter protects you then... so the picture is funny but if you really think about it it is just misleading...
Old 3rd June 2013
Lives for gear

Originally Posted by echoRausch View Post
Only a limiter protects you then... so the picture is funny but if you really think about it it is just misleading...
That string should be attached to a hammer positioned above the head of an ARTIST or label PRODUCER - not the engineer! lol
Old 4th June 2013
Lives for gear

Originally Posted by The_K_Man View Post
That string should be attached to a hammer positioned above the head of an ARTIST or label PRODUCER - not the engineer! lol
smh! I get booed for placing loudness war blame where it's due?
Old 4th June 2013
Lives for gear
you get booed because the only things you ever contribute here are
1. records are too loud, and
2. why are people thumbs downing my posts?

that is all you ever post. on any thread. regardless of topic. it was tiresome the first time, and it's seriously grating 528 times later.
Old 5th June 2013
Lives for gear
Hermetech Mastering's Avatar

Verified Member
agreed, polite troll, but still a troll. ignore...
Old 6th June 2013
Lives for gear

This is my fave reference as to loudness and the modern music experience:

The Loudness War Analyzed | Music Machinery

New Alliance East Mastering | Professional Audio Mastering
Old 6th June 2013
Lives for gear

Originally Posted by Babaluma View Post
agreed, polite troll, but still a troll. ignore...
Uhh, look at the title of this thread. It contains the L-word.

(troll THIS..)
Old 6th June 2013
Lives for gear
you are seriously the most tiresome poster in gearslutz history. i didn't think anyone could top edward vinetea, but even he occasionally posted something useful.
Old 6th June 2013
Audio X
Originally Posted by scraggs View Post
you are seriously the most tiresome poster in gearslutz history. i didn't think anyone could top edward vinetea, but even he occasionally posted something useful.
Did you forget about Megatron...and all his aliases? He was special.. although slightly entertaining.
Old 6th June 2013
Lives for gear
editron, oki doki...those clowns were at least amusing from time to time. k man just bleats his one-note symphony over and over.
Old 9th August 2013
Gear Nut

The loudness war: i say "right on!" Because who really cares. If. Client wants a loud record let them know the sound quality drawbacks and how it will affect the sound. If they still want it great! My job is to make my clients happy without harming my reputation and hopefully have enough energy to throw in some moral beliefs.

Now keep in mind i work on 2" analog tape still mixed with DSD (direct stream digital) so most of my clients do not care or participate it the war.

That being said, DSD is and will be the future of the loudness war because scientifically it can be +6db Louder than PCM due to the 1bit technology and how the bit uses more voltage. And an added bonus it sounds amazing!! (Much better than protools)

Unique perspective

Have fun all and good luck!
Old 9th August 2013
Here for the gear
Tact Boogie's Avatar
Depends on the client to me. I think the information age created the loudness war's. To some of us its technical and personal but at least for now, to the listener, its still music.
Old 9th August 2013
Lives for gear
gyraf's Avatar

Originally Posted by DestinationSound View Post
That being said, DSD is and will be the future of the loudness war because scientifically it can be +6db Louder than PCM due to the 1bit technology and how the bit uses more voltage.
Does not matter really, as loudness war is primarily about how loud on broadcast compared to the others. And broadcast will have to correct this gain anyway. For local/private playback, the winner of the loudness war is whoever persuades the listener to turn up even more.. :-)

Jakob E.
Old 10th August 2013
The last time I reaches for the volume knob....was because it was a great song and I wanted to turn it up. Good music makes me grab my knob
Old 10th August 2013
Originally Posted by DominicWyeth View Post
Good music makes me grab my knob
there's a time and place for that
Old 10th August 2013
Lives for gear
GearAndGuitars's Avatar

Originally Posted by PoorGlory View Post
It's a terrible "article" full of non-information and unsubstantiated opinions. No offense. What purpose are you trying to serve with this article? Who is your audience? Why is it written using words like "sucks" and "duh"? People might actually think you have a valid point if you wrote like you actually went to school. Again nothing personal, I'm just surprised that no one proof read this masterpiece of journalism.

Here's what you should talk about if you want something different: The future of loudness. How loud can we get? At this point, we're getting to almost a square wave with some of these masters. Essentially, the wave form of highly limited audio starts to look like DC voltage. So we can't get any louder than we are now without doing even more damage and literally turning the recording into noise.

So it's either going to stay the way it is (unlikely.... music technology, delivery, and formats never stays the same) or we'll start to see more dynamic range coming back. I don't see a 3rd option.

Plus, I would like to be able to listen to an album all the way through without feeling like my ear drums were just beaten with a lead pipe for 45 minutes. And you wonder why album sales are in the ****ter. Because no one can stand a square wave at a constant volume for that long. Even at low volumes it's fatiguing!

By the way, I'm a metal fan and I record metal bands frequently. They all want their masters loud. And I give it to them loud. But within reason. If they want it louder I tell them to have it mastered somewhere else because I refuse to destroy the mix I worked hard to get right. And I've never had anyone go anywhere else after they heard a rational explanation, with audio examples. (I always have examples ready to go in the studio for this argument. It's very effective.)

dfegad loud
Old 10th August 2013
Lives for gear

Originally Posted by DestinationSound View Post
That being said, DSD is and will be the future of the loudness war because scientifically it can be +6db Louder than PCM due to the 1bit technology and how the bit uses more voltage. And an added bonus it sounds amazing!! (Much better than protools)
Not sure what you mean here. A converter is as loud as it's calibrated. Whether it's DSD or PCM, the power rails determine the upper threshold of a DAC's output, not the type of bits.

And more on topic, where do we end up when band X wants their SACD to pop out in volume compared to band Y's SACD?
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