I wrote earlier this year about the controversy over the level of compression in contemporary recordings — how it flattens out sound, fatigues the ears and makes music all sound the same. In Rolling Stone Rob Levine has now produced the definitive piece on the subject. It’s worth a read.
The most depressing part is the discussion of the remastering of old recordings to fit this new norm (apparently the new Led Zeppelin collection is a case of that).
My gold standard for rock recordings are the records (my older brother’s) that I first heard through my father’s KLH, lying on the living room floor, in the late ’60s: the White Album and “Abbey Road,” “Tommy,” the Kinks’ “Arthur.” Normally I’d be delighted to hear of new remasterings of such albums — but now I’ll think twice before buying them. Make the Arctic Monkeys sound monotonous if that’s what they want — but don’t ransack music history!
At the end of Levine’s piece, this passage struck an ironic note:
Bendeth and other producers worry that young listeners have grown so used to dynamically compressed music and the thin sound of MP3s that the battle has already been lost. “CDs sound better, but no one’s buying them,” he says. “The age of the audiophile is over.”
What’s funny is that the people who consider themselves real audiophiles — who read The Absolute Sound and invest in tube amplifiers — sneer at CDs as limited and thin (they rely on sampling, unlike analog recordings). Of course, these are typically classical listeners; for popular music, even CD-quality is now endangered.
[tags]compression, audio, sound quality, music, recording[/tags]
There are no revisions for this post.
I certainly won’t argue in favor of a loudness race, but we should remember that there are downsides to a wide dynamic range, too.
No one wants to put music on at a dinner party and have to suddenly lunge for the volume knob when the loud bit comes on. It’s also annoying to listen to music in the car (where there is a lot of background noise) and have to constantly adjust to keep the music above the noise floor without it being too loud.
In situations like these, music with excessive dynamic range makes the listening experience more high-maintenance.
A couple caveats:
1) Let’s remember that the high-fidelity era is the historical exception. Rock and roll was dominated by AM radio and often-abused records played through low-fidelity speakers. Then there were the acoustics of the live shows … Rich baby boomers are entitled to their nostalgia, but the lost musical era they mourn is their youth.
2) The current compression is driven in part by the cost of storage, bandwidth, and output devices. These will fall (especially the first 2), making quality cheap enough to popularize.
Now that I am about to reinvest in CDs I was wondering what genres, labels, … heck … what years were good for CD-quality audio?
How would I know if a recording was compressed before buying it?
It’s a nightmare