I think this guy is on to something. CD's are getting louder, and some recent releases really sound compressed, or even distorted. Maybe I'm just a die-hard vinyl junkie, or maybe I'm crazy, but read for yourself....
Rip Rowan: Over the Limit:
Record labels have never really understood what makes a record sound good and frankly, few even care. Many of the people who sign artists don't understand their music at all. Instead, they are able to pick up on musical trends, and replicate those trends across the ranks of their artists. Artists that fit into the trend are fed, the rest are starved.
Over the past few years, record labels have increasingly attempted to dictate to the artist and producer the target volume level of the CD. For some reason, record labels have it in their head that LOUD equals good, and therefore, LOUDER equals better. Not caring to understand even the basics of audio, these morons simply demand more volume (typically from the mastering engineer) and really don't understand or care about the consequences of their demands.
Mastering engineers are caught in a Catch-22. If they do not deliver a product that is appropriately LOUD, then they are consdered inept by the labels and are shunned. If they refuse to destroy the artist's music, then they aren't being team players and quickly fall out of favor. But if they provide what the customer demands (and remember, the label, not the band, is the customer) then they ruin a perfectly good piece of music, and they know that sooner or later, people are going to figure out why the sound is so horrible, and then the mastering engineer will be blacklisted for having followed orders.
Having said all that I really don't know what I would do in their shoes. If someone offered YOU the opportunity to master a Rush CD, and then told you that you would have to destroy the sound quality in order to get the job, how would you respond? It isn't a clear or easy choice.
However what is clear as day is that this CD sounds like dogshit. I cannot say this enough. My God, this thing sounds terrible. It is hands-down the worst sounding CD I own.
...Everyone has heard the CD That Is Too Quiet. This is usually your (or your buddy's) first demo. You pop it in and you can barely hear the music. There are many reasons for the CD That Is Too Quiet, and it isn't my intention here to go into them all. But we've all heard (or made) the CD That Is Too Quiet and regretted it.
Professional engineers, particularly the ones working with digital in the early days of that medium, made some CDs That Were Too Quiet. Usually, these guys had lots of skill and great intent. You get the whole CD laid out in the DAW, and you've been careful with your gain structure, and there's lots of headroom. In one or two places, there's a freak transient that comes close to 0 dB, but overall the peaks are hitting near 9 or lower, and there's tons of dynamic range. In general these professional CDs sound pretty good - sometimes excellent - but the average level of the audio is relatively low.
Most older recordings tracked and mixed to analog didn't suffer these problems. The reason was that traditionally engineers would saturate the analog tape by running it hot, essentally using the tape as a peak limiter at every stage of the process. As a result there are usually no errant peaks in an analog rock recording, and for this reason most rock records are still recorded to analog tape.
The problem with the CD That Is Too Quiet is this: when you put the CD into the CD changer, it's YOUR music that nobody hears. Well, folks, if you're a record label exec, that's the ONE problem that you know just cannot be allowed to stand. Quiet CDs became synonymous with Amateur Recordings, and Loud CDs became synonymous with Professional Recordings.
Understandably, nobody wants to have the quietest CD in the CD changer. Nobody wants to have the one CD that doesn't get heard. The problem with the LOUDER IS BETTER approach is simply that with any medium - digital or analog - there is only so much signal that will fit in the space provided. Beyond a point, you cannot gain anything without losing something.
more details and discussion here
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