Audio compression: sound and lack of vision

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]

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