Loudness Wars Redux

NPR covered the sins of modern musical over-compression, a topic we’ve discussed a few times before.

LaSalle Owers

Robert Siegel talked to Bob Ludwig, a record mastering engineer. For more than 40 years, he’s been the final ear in the audio chain for albums running from Jimi Hendrix to Radiohead, from Tony Bennett to Kronos Quartet.

“The ‘Loudness Wars’ have gone back to the days of 45s,” Ludwig says. “When I first got into the business and was doing a lot of vinyl disc cutting, one producer after another just wanted to have his 45 sound louder than the next guy’s so that when the program director at the Top 40 radio station was going through his stack of 45s to decide which two or three he was going to add that week, that the record would kind of jump out to the program director, aurally at least.”

That’s still a motivation for some producers. If their record jumps out of your iPod compared with the song that preceded it, then they’ve accomplished their goal.

Bob Ludwig thinks that’s an unfortunate development.

“People talk about downloads hurting record sales,” Ludwig says. “I and some other people would submit that another thing that is hurting record sales these days is the fact that they are so compressed that the ear just gets tired of it. When you’re through listening to a whole album of this highly compressed music, your ear is fatigued. You may have enjoyed the music but you don’t really feel like going back and listening to it again.”

[Click to continue reading The Loudness Wars: Why Music Sounds Worse : NPR]

Dead 4G iPod

Don’t get me wrong, I love the convenience of digital music, but something has been sacrificed, namely nuance. For CDs I rip myself, I use higher settings1 than the default 128 kbps – which to my ears sounds like a shitty little AM transistor radio.

Matt Mayfield created a little YouTube explanation, check it out…

Big-name CD manufacturers are distorting sounds to make them seem louder. Sound quality suffers.

This video was made with image editing software and a screen capture program for the visuals, and a DAW (Digital Performer 4.5) to process the audio


  1. 256 kbps Variable Bit Recording setting if you really want to know []

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