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View Full Version : TOO LOUD CD'S, TOO SQUASHED SOUND?


[Benjamin]
10-26-1999, 02:41 PM
I find that the chase to make super-loud records is causing a lot of people to destroy their sound. I tend to find, on a regular pop-type track for instance, if I compress and limit the track so hard my RMS is louder than, say -4dB, I've wasted it. I tend to settle for an RMS at -5 or -6 dB. Sure, I don't get the absolute maximum number of bits, but any louder that, the track just gets too squashed. What do you think?

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[HYPERSONIC]

blairl
10-26-1999, 04:53 PM
Bob Ludwig, Glen Meadows and several other mastering engineers started a crusade about 4 years ago to get the overall levels on final CD masters lowered. They were extremely discouraged because the dynamics of music were being lost and dynamics are one of the most important emotional factors of recorded music. I think the idea was to give their opinion on the subject and let the client decide what they wanted to do.

Well a few years later nothing has really changed. After all is said and done the people paying the bills (major labels, independent musicians) are the ones that want their CD's louder than the next guys; and it keeps getting worse. At a workshop in Los Angeles where several mastering engineers were on the panel, Bob Katz (a mastering engineer from Florida) suggested to the panel that all mastering engineers everywhere take a stand and not allow any projects to leave their studios that are louder than a certain level. Denny Purcell shot back and said, "It will never happen." He cited the people paying the bills as the reason. Aparantly Bob Ludwig hasn't had much success in his crusade because I just heard a CD he mastered recently (Marc Anthony) and I think it's the loudest one I've heard yet. I cringe when I hear CD's that are sooo loud. You can hear the limiter kicking in and it sounds unnatural. It has gotten worse too as so many people are using things like the "Finalizer" and L1 and Maxim. These are dangerous tools. People are looking for that great "punch" and smoothness that these tools give, but too much is too much. Don't get me wrong, these are great tools and I too use them, they just need to be used with care. I'd like to hear more dynamics in the music. What about everyone else?

ppine
10-26-1999, 10:12 PM
It has turned into quite a "pissing match". My clients say "We don't want it to sound like a local release"...they just want it to sound LIKE EVERYONE ELSE!!! (but it IS a local release usually)!!

when will it stop..

BTW, the loudest CD, I believe, known to man, is an Iggy Pop release, as well it should be.
I cannot recall it's title, but my ears are still bleeding from listening to it....

http://www.digidesign.com/ubb/images/icons/smile.gif

Eric Lambert
10-26-1999, 11:20 PM
Thank you for bringing this subject to this forum. I can't tell you how many times I've had to crunch a mix that was adequately dynamic in volume because someone said "it doesn't seem punchy enough, can we squash it some more?" But it's not easy to plead your case to those people especially since they're the ones paying the bills, even though they aren't the engineers. When I do try to explain my reasons for maintaining audio integrity I'm often forced to compare the current mix with CD's that have been mastered and squashed for radio-play. It's not a fair or appropriate comparison but, again, it's their money on the line.
I whole-heartedly agree that something needs to be done to get back to the quality, not the quantity, of audio. If I never have to facilitate comments like this again I may truly be happy in life.

Tom Pollock
10-27-1999, 10:50 AM
Yet another classic case: the new Live CD titled "The Distance To Here." Squish city. Too bad, as the music is really good, but it sounds pretty nasty. Almost no dynamic range.

dBHEAD
10-27-1999, 11:26 AM
The crazy thing about CDs is that everyone RAVED about how they had such incredible dynamic range when they were introduced in the early 1980s, and now it's like the big rage is to use NONE of that dynamic range.

Isn't it ironic? I have looked at hundreds of contemporary CDs on VU meters and, excluding fade-outs, I would say 90 percent have a working dynamic range of less than 15 dB; about half have an working dynamic range of less than 10 dB.

I try to keep compression ratios at 4:1 or less (except on vocals), and do NO compression on the mixdown except peak limiting to prevent clipping. We have a TC Electronics Finalizer here. I wish I'd had one eight years ago when I was starting out, but frankly, these days, I think it's for amateurs who don't really know how to master (which, as many of you know, takes YEARS to learn to do well).

I'm proud to say that my latest project, which is almost done, will have a working dynamic range of about 30 dB, and I consider it to be the clearest, most musical CD I've ever done -- it sounds like the band is playing right there in front of you.

These days, the philosophy seems to be "in-your-face" mastering. But eventually, especially with 5.1 on the horizon, I think there will be a realization that DYNAMIC RANGE SOUNDS GOOD!

Some day, people will laugh at this "squished" style of mastering records, just as they laugh at some of the overproduced records of the 1970s.

pyro
10-27-1999, 02:43 PM
I don't think I ever had a client that did't put another cd in the deck right off the bat to see if there cd was as loud as the one they brought with them to compare to there cd. they usually seem more concerned about that than the anything else ...what a magor JOKE.

smurphworld
10-27-1999, 04:27 PM
>>Some day, people will laugh at this "squished" style of mastering records, just as they laugh at some of the overproduced records of the 1970s.<<

Can't remember who, but some famous prod/eng type said that "overcompression is going to be the gated reverb of the 90's!" If only it would go away that soon (two more months!).

>>Isn't it ironic? I have looked at hundreds of contemporary CDs on VU meters and, excluding fade-outs, I would say 90 percent have a working dynamic range of less than 15 dB; about half have an working dynamic range of less than 10 dB. <<

What's ironic is that one client of mine had me compare their mix to "Ironic" by Alanis Morrisette. I have never seen/heard a more squashed, flat-lined recording...arrrrgh.

10-27-1999, 09:04 PM
Run DMC Vs Jason Nevens remix 99 "Its Like That" - a monument to TDM!!! one GIANT SOLID BLOCK and a huge hit, sounded great on radio and in clubs, insanely loud (and wierd)at home.
Don't forget in "the good old days" mastering used to have filters that cut off (totaly) some high and low frequencys to make 45's "cut" well on the lathes.
Producer George Draculias makes his productions sound like an old BelAmi valve juke box on the verge of blowing up! I take my hat off to both him and the DMC producer.
Whatever it takes, "hot" mastering lead to all sorts of distortion way back when, I find all the pious sqwalking about it now funny!
However I would like to put my name down for banning Shania Twain, Jesus! Pass me the cianide quick!

Jules

Disco_Doctor
10-27-1999, 09:36 PM
Some day, people will laugh at this "squished" style of mastering records, just as they laugh at some of the overproduced records of the 1970s.

Hey now! Don't be dissin' the 70's! I think a lot of stuff made in the 70's sounds a lot better than todays records. Listen to the Bee Gee's "How Deep is Your Love", The Beatles "Abbey Road", Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" - preferably on a pair of Magnepans 3.6's. If you aren't shocked and stunned, then you're hearing impaired. Sure, there was plenty of crap in the 70's, but there's hardly anything comin' out these days that has that silky quality and the intense dynamic range that some of those records from the 70's had. The only record I can think of that comes close in the 90's is Natalie Merchant's most recent album. That record sound fantastic!

Sure, I don't get the absolute maximum number of bits, but any louder that, the track just gets too squashed. What do you think?

What do you mean you don't get the absolute maximum number of bits? About the only way you're going to use more bits is if you print a brick wall limited burst of pink noise through an L1. The solution is to apply proper (and musical sounding) amounts of limiting and compression to the individual tracks in the mix during mixing - not to squish the whole two-mix until it sounds like a big ball of distortion. Of course, if you're just the mastering engineer, there's just not much you can do...

Bob Ludwig, Glen Meadows and several other mastering engineers started a crusade about 4 years ago...

If those guys really want to stop this trend, they should start mixing records instead of mastering them. A good mastering session is one where they don't do anything to the mix at all. The sound of the mix is created when you are mixing the tracks - not when you are mastering them.

What's ironic is that one client of mine had me compare their mix to "Ironic" by Alanis Morrisette. I have never seen/heard a more squashed, flat-lined recording...arrrrgh

Check out Green Day's Nimrod album. The meters do not move. Whats his name Lord-Algae has set the standard by which overcompressed mixes are defined.

http://www.digidesign.com/ubb/images/icons/smile.gif

delphypop
10-27-1999, 10:34 PM
my latest client was doing some music for soundtrack andinsisted on testing the tracks on his car stereo. Kept coming back to me and telling me he couldn't hear this intor bit and that middle quiet bit while he was driving. Making me squish the dynamics out of this full orchestra arangement. They're a lot flatter than I would want but he's happy. they sound clear on a car stereo now, they won't be that good in a surround sound cinema but these thank god are just the demos.

Audio is an art form and you can't get upset if there are a whole bunch of people who simple don't have the education to appreciate the subtlies of a well mixed and mastered recording.

Some of these records are the equivilant to a chocolate box illustration or a levi's billboard. Sure they're pretty but they're not fine art.

so the bulk of the population can't understand the intracacies of afinely constructed mixed and mastered work, hey, there loss
cheers etc

rob

Kris
10-28-1999, 06:23 AM
Hey now... lets keep Shania out of this!

dBHEAD
10-28-1999, 07:41 AM
Hey, Disco_Doctor, believe me, I'm not dissing the 70s. There were some absolutely BRILLIANT records in the 70s, mainly because they had learned how to use stereo effectively.

When I say "overproduced," I'm talking about some of the records that came out between about 1976 and 1984 where the producer tried to give the band a distinct sound for marketing purposes by putting in extra stuff. Stuff like horns or string sections that really didn't enhance the music at all and in some cases ruined a perfectly good song.

I'm not saying nobody had ever done that before or that nobody has done it since, but it was quite a noticeable trend during that period.

Julian, I think hip hop is okay to record loud and squashed, because it sounds that way live. But it seems like they record EVERYTHING that way these days and I personally don't think it's the right approach for many projects. Just because something sells well doesn't mean the recording technique used is beyond criticism. You get a great song and musicians who can pour tons of feeling into their studio performances, you'll end up with a great disc even if the recording was mediocre. Or innappropriately loud.

To be sure, some stuff is very intense recorded loud and squished. But with some stuff, when you lose the dramatic increase in volume (whether sudden or gradual) that you would hear in a live performance, the music loses its edge.

Anyway, that's my opinion, for what it's worth.

coaster
10-28-1999, 08:28 AM
test

delphypop
10-28-1999, 02:28 PM
I think you can keep the effect of dynamic change in your music while still having it running really hot.
Take forexample thesoundof a hushed human voice,up close and intimate, but loud.
It gives youthe feeling of quiet, regardless of volume.
a guitar played softly turned up real loud. The same feeling of dynamic intamacy.

in the real world context these sounds would be lost below the noise floor of road noise and background murmour, but in the compressed world of recorded audio they are artificially squished up to be audiable at all times.

I've got my CDs to equaland beat many out there in volume, but I still manage to keep it dynamic, or more to the point, if I get the time to work on it I can do both. I reckon a lot of the CDs you mention as sounding bad actually do sound bad. They were done by big name peoplewho may just be getting paid a lot of money for knowing no more than you or I. But ain't that the case in a lot of the music industry. Ever gotto work with a name producer/ engineers and found out they don't know S h i t. I worked with a few and they can't even mic up drums properly.

I fuind that maxim usedwell can really help my mixes by removing the inaudiable transient spikes that suck away my head room.

It's only theextreme useage that bugs me and those cases are bad usage.

A bad engineer makes a bad track.

My reply to a client that wants me to mess up a track is,it can't be done,

feed em a bull**** line bout how it's introducing distortion, or it will cause dropouts or and other DFA line you can come up with.

then do it your way http://www.digidesign.com/ubb/images/icons/smile.gif

cheers

Rob

[Benjamin]
10-28-1999, 03:34 PM
"What do you mean you don't get the absolute maximum number of bits? About the only way you're going to use more bits is if you print a brick wall limited burst of pink noise through an L1."

-Hey, man, I agree. Not the other way around..

It's nice to see that so many of you seems to agree that CD's are getting too squashed. Thanx.

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[HYPERSONIC]

Danny Caccavo
10-29-1999, 07:38 PM
This is what destroyed 45's way back when. You ever hear any of them from Bell Sound? It got completely out of control. Producers wanted their records to be the hottest on radio and jukeboxes.

Nowadays, with the occasional mastering job I still do, I get "it's gotta be as loud as the others on the radio and clubs". Well, of course, most radio stations compress the hell out of the signal anyway, so it doesn't matter. And club DJ's just set the level so it's right. The levels vary so drastically anyway between CDs....it makes having a carousel changer a living hell...<g>.

It's amazing to me. No one learned from history, and now they are repeating it...

DC

10-30-1999, 12:27 AM
I challenge you list a few "distroyed" 45's!

How bout..

Dancing in the streets (distorted)
Honky tonk woman (bitchin!)
Good vibrations (overloaded)

Err?

All these came blasting out the radio and juke boxes. You can't argue with a producer wanting to do the same thing with new productions!

There will always be a place for audiofile pristine productions like Ry Cooder, Donald Fagin and now it apears Natalie Merchant (yawn, ZZZzzzzzz).

Others will continue to scream "look at me!" "dance you f**ker!"and "tap your foot to this"

People are making a big effort to re create the sound of an overloaded juke box, it was exciting, have you forgotten?

Jules

[This message has been edited by Julian Standen (edited 10-30-99).]

Danny Caccavo
10-30-1999, 04:47 PM
People are making a big effort to re create the sound of an overloaded juke box, it was exciting, have you forgotten?

Jules

Well, no, I haven't forgotten. You want to create that? Go back to analog tape and vinyl. And some compression that pumps, not this multiband "just make it loud" sound.

Remember the Raspberries? <g>

The thing is, back in the '60s, 45's were played on jukeboxes, radio, and lo-fi changers. Sounded fine on those. The problem is, play one of those on a good hi-fi, and...OY!

And I've heard plenty of rockin' 45's that were NOT cut at outrageous volumes.

Are you defending the loud volumes and massive peak limiting going on? Just curious.

dc

[This message has been edited by Danny Caccavo (edited 10-30-99).]

Stratman
10-31-1999, 09:31 PM
This whole concept of mastering your record so it is louder than everyone elses has become absurd. If you are a NIN fan and also love Led Zep 1, guess what you do when Zep comes on....you turn it up, and start doing air GT and drumming, and that's what common folk do at home if they love the music.....they do not say, "NIN sounds 8.7 db louder that this old Zep record so I guess I'll only listen to NIN".

The latest Black Crowes record (By Your Side) is not the loudest record you ever heard, but when you put it on the apperent level combined with the dynamics is incredible> check it out!

[This message has been edited by Stratman (edited 10-31-99).]

scottgreiner
11-01-1999, 10:28 AM
>>The latest Black Crowes record (By Your Side) is not the loudest record you ever heard, but when you put it on the apperent level combined with the dynamics is incredible> check it out!<<

Amen! The aparent "rowdy-ness" of the tracks is amazing, regardless of the mastering job. The mix is perfect for this type of music as is the mastering. I'm not sure who is responsible for over compression on certain CDs - sometimes it sounds like the mix engineer, sometimes the mastering. In some styles of music it sounds great, and in others it's annoying. I think it's unneccessary though, as I've heard old/unsquashed recordings come blasting out of the radio as loud as a "modern/squashed" recording.

bluemt
11-02-1999, 12:28 AM
Why don't labels issue "radio-only" mastered releases of CD's that are digitally-limited to death (if they desire) and create "record-buying-public" mastered releases that keep the dynamic range of the mix somewhat intact. Maybe producers and engineers should start making this suggestion to the labels... who knows it might catch on.

Disco_Doctor
11-02-1999, 02:04 AM
Why don't labels issue "radio-only" mastered releases of CD's that are digitally-limited to death (if they desire) and create "record-buying-public" mastered releases that keep the dynamic range of the mix somewhat intact.

They do. It's very common to remix and/or remaster a song specifically for the radio/single.

http://www.digidesign.com/ubb/images/icons/smile.gif

Bob Olhsson
11-04-1999, 10:49 AM
A couple comments.

1. Motown used little or no mix-buss or mastering compression in the '60s because we found it made things sound WORSE on the air. We cut really hot so we wouldn't get lost when somebody went through a stack of singles but once it was on the air, excess compression clearly HURT the results.

2. The percentage of new releases by major labels selling in excess of ONE thousand units is at an all time low. I won't say overcompression is the reason for this but there is no way that you can argue that it has ANY positive effect on sales. In fact succesful new artists are having big trouble selling SECOND releases. It's time the whole industry faced up to the fact that CDs may just need to get a lot better in all aspects unless they are going to become little more than cheap promotional give-aways.

GPD
11-04-1999, 01:45 PM
Does anyone have any statistics on the average and peak RMS found in releases in various genres? Anyone care to share their personal guidelines?

bluemt
11-05-1999, 12:59 AM
Bob,
Are you saying that high standards for the overall sonic quality of a release will help sell records? Are you suggesting that the fashion of lousy sounding drum loop samples and mediocore composition is being threatened by a more finicky market place? I'd love to believe that market forces will push record-makers toward higher fidelity and more natural sounds and away from the lo-fi, lo-res samples and extreme compression that the public has heard en mass over the past decade. But, based on what HAS sold, I wonder if that is a factor or not. How does one suppose that a public that is now used to hearing records with totally artificial dynamics (and purchasing that record in many cases) will have an appreciation for a more true-to-the-physics-of-acoustics type sound? To what other factors do you attribute the overall lack of quality in cds that you refered to? Thanks

RobRaden
11-06-1999, 10:03 AM
<<<The crazy thing about CDs is that everyone RAVED about how they had such incredible dynamic range when they were introduced in the early 1980s, and now it's like the big rage is to use NONE of that dynamic range.>>>

The real problem is that the newbies to the recording world (myself included I guess) want both LOUD and DYNAMIC. Most fail to see the relationship between the two. It gets worse in different aplications. I do radio promos for a living... If I produce a ten second ID, I want it to sound louder than the songs it airs between... quite the trick considerring radio on air compression etc that'll further SQUIIIISH everything.

The second problem is a different feel to the music itself. I listen to different producers work and I can hear a difference in where the sound feels like it is. Does it fill the far corners of the room, or does it jump right out of the speakers and lunge forward? There is a time and place for each.

It sure does suck though, when a band like LIVE has its CD produced and mastered like a Rage Against The Machine record. (Mental Jewelry was a work of art)

[Benjamin]
11-06-1999, 10:45 AM
Well, something happened to me recently, I made a soundtrack to a TV-commercial a week ago, and now it's playing. THE VERY SAD THING IS: I delivered a CD with the track (44.1/16/25fr/s - yes, I know, I still can't figure out why they want 44.1 instead of 48), my RMS was about -4dB in the first 15 secs and about -2dB in the last 15 secs. Peaks at -0.01 dB. Now, I know that they were going to put the track on a BETA SP and deliver it subsequently. Now it's on TV, and the RMS is about 6-8 dB's lower than the other commercials, plus, most of the treble is gone from the track. It seems to me as if they recorded it onto BETA SP at a far to low level, possibly without dolby, but are playing it back with dolby. Does anyone of you have experience with BETA SP and modern broadcast standards? -on monday morning I'm going to contact the people who did the final transfer, coz I'm not happy at all about it, still, something is nagging me, could I have done something wrong? Besides, I'd like to be able to tell them how it should be done, so that we can remedy this sad story.

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[HYPERSONIC]

11-07-1999, 09:22 AM
Bob Olhsson
posted 11-04-99 10:49 AM


1. Motown used little or no mix-buss or mastering compression in the '60s because we found it made things sound WORSE on the air.
We cut really hot so we wouldn't get lost when somebody went through a stack of singles but once it was on the air, excess compression clearly HURT the results.

"We"?
With respect, can you explaine who "we"/you were in relation to Mowtown mastering operations & policy? It would add weight to your statments.

Thanks a lot

Jules

P.S. The 90's Finalizer could be the equivelent of the 60's "Cutting hot" (which lead to distortion, siblance problems and lack of dynamic range)!!! Anything to get an edge!

dsong
01-17-2000, 06:59 AM
First Post.

1. I enjoy, when I can find the time, reading the varied views of the folks who post here. It definitely gives me different perspectives to consider. Thank you Digi for hosting this conf.

2. I am a new owner of a Pro Tools 24 Mix Plus system and so far I am quite happy. My past (which isn't very long) was spent using 2" and vintage gear that people seem to adore and a Trident console as well as, an older SSL G Series. Wonderful stuff. Having said that, I will never go back. Pro Tools has much room for improvement, but in terms of creativity and efficiency it blows away traditional recording mediums (my humble opinion http://www.digidesign.com/ubb/images/icons/smile.gif)

3. Now about mastering. One thing that I haven't noticed is a discussion about mastering within the given context of the music. Some types of music I want to hear pretty squashed others I wouldn't want to hear 1 db of compression. I think it comes down to "is the music worthy (for lack of a better word) of preserving the dynamic range?". If the performance was indeed dynamic, I think it is a travesty to ruin it with too much of anything after the fact. If the track is electronically produce (ie. sequenced) I believe the dynamics are essentially false to begin with, however there are some amazing examples of world class sequencing that is in the end great dynamic music. So for sequenced music that has this "false" dynamic contrast, I am more likely to compromise some of the musicality if the end result of a hotter track sounds better.

Also, music that is by nature LOUD, should stay LOUD. Music that is dynamic should stay dynamic.

I know that when I listen to a CD I want to enjoy it from begining to end without adjusting the tone or volume controls - that is the most important element of mastering. Creating a consistent program from beginning to end. This can be challenging if you get a project that was recorded in different places, using different engineers, tracked on different days etc... I don't think changing the mixes and the performance is the duty of the mastering engineer.

Lastly, I have a CD player in my car that has a built-in compression circuit. I love it. When driving down a noisy road or at high speeds I can still enjoy my classical or jazz CDs. Granted, at that point I am not listening to it for the perfect sound I am just digging the tunes. This may be something for Bob Ludwig and the rest to consider proposing in order to get the over compressed records out of the "standard practice". Deliver a well mixed and mastered record to the population and let the end user ruin it if they want. At least those that appreciate dynamics will have that luxury and we will also separate the men from the boys in the engineering world.

I would enjoy and welcome feedback or criticism to my opinions.

dsong

CStern
01-17-2000, 08:49 AM
For a botch mastering job (probably trying to make it the loudest) listen to the last CD the Red Hot Chili Peppers put out called "Californication". There is distortion all over it... it's ruined for me! Yuk!

batman
01-17-2000, 02:20 PM
Welcome dsong
What prompted you to choose this 2 month old thread for your first post??
All the best

http://www.digidesign.com/ubb/images/icons/smile.gif

Bob Olhsson
01-17-2000, 06:52 PM
I was a mastering and recording engineer at Motown in Detroit from 1965 until I moved to San Francisco in 1972. I switched from mastering into recording and mixing around 1969. All in all, I worked on more than 80 top ten singles at Motown. While many were indeed distorted, they were never intentionally distorted as some kind of an effect. I only tried doing that once!

Bryan
01-18-2000, 05:45 AM
That, my friends, is the real deal!

Thanks for your comments and perspective, Bob.

Damn, I love the internet.

dsong
01-18-2000, 06:53 AM
Q. What prompted you to choose this 2 month old thread for your first post??

A. I decided to try using PT for mastering. I came here looking for some logistics tips. As I mentioned previously I was using analog methods in the past. I then started using Sound Forge and CD Architect on my PC. I love the ability to have multiple files open at the same time to instantly compare program material. And, of course, CD Architect gives you a graphic representation of your material and I think we all appreciate the advantages of that. I do not desire to use a 16 bit program for mastering but, I was researching possibilities before I made another large investment. Sound Forge got me through that short time. And aside from the "true" real time advantage of PT and sound quality, I prefer the 2 Track user environment with multiple file access.

Anyway, I have not yet found any "help" here. That is, regarding my specific concern - The only way I can think of to have instant access to all the program material is to create a stereo pair for each selection along with a stereo bus/return and then muting the "non-current" tracks. This seems somewhat cumbersome and if you will, doesn't feel right. I am in no way slamming PT, I love it http://www.digidesign.com/ubb/images/icons/smile.gif, but for mastering I need to discover I more streamlined approach if it exsists. Please illuminate if you have suggestions. Thank you much.

Masterlist on the other hand, leaves me somewhat disappointed. With so many PC versions of Graphic PQ software, I sincerely hope that Digi will put a competitive product into the market.

Again, my humble opinion and I appreciate the ability to share professional ideas, criticisms, and debate. Always the student, regardless of success...

Take care
dsong