Saturday, October 25, 2014

Who really needs to hear about our dissatisfaction with sound quality in contemporary pop/country/hip-hop/rock recordings?



-The Labels

All three groups of people need to realize that the people who buy CDs, records, and digital downloads have the final word on playback volume.  Secondly, modern digital media players, on computers and in our pockets, have software or apps available to automatically level the volume between, say, a comparatively dynamic 1970s pop or country classic and, a modern top-40 song which is mastered super loud & compressed from the get-go.  And finally, the radio:  Broadcasting stations, since at least the 1980s, have possessed processing chains capable of making a soft clarinet solo sound as loud as the loudest electric guitar in existence.  Everything, from the music played, to the person reading the news or weather, to the sound of commercials, is all conveniently squashed and boosted up to the same average level.  Nothing, not even the most dynamic album ever produced, not even the DJ pounding the console with a sledge hammer, is getting through that sucker, LOL, let alone some super loud cluster f*** like the latest Imagine Dragons album or, lest we forget, Metallica’s 2008 “Death Magnetic”.

So the very race to release the loudest record ever is fundamentally POINTLESS, mister big artist, miss producer, mister big label exec, et al et al…

This does not mean that I am totally against compression or limiting as a means of enhancing the mixing and mastering stages of production,  but I do draw the line where those processes are used solely to make something LOUDER.

Certainly, and in the short-term, louder does sound ‘better’ – for physiological reasons I’m not going to hash out in depth on this blog, but suffice it to say human hearing favors the upper-mid-range(the ‘intelligibility region’) of our audible band(20Hz-20kHz).  We are especially insensitive to mid- and lower-bass sounds, and slightly less sensitive to the airy treble range.  That is just how we are made.

So if louder is better, where should that loudness come from?  My contention is that it should come from the last link in the recording – production – mastering – delivery – playback chain: the amplifier and volume control!  So if whatever you are listening on isn’t loud enough for your tastes, go out and buy more power!  Not easy if your primary listening platform is a smartphone, mp3 player, or the speakers in a laptop computer.  But if you have a 25watt per speaker stereo at home, go out and upgrade to a 50-100 watt per side amp or receiver.  Even the most dynamic material won’t tax something that powerful, so you’ll have plenty of reserve wattage to cleanly and accurately reproduce everything from the pianist turning the page of their sheet music,  to the actual cannons recorded for Telarc’s edition of the 1812 Overture.

So finally, if you buy a CD or download an album and are disappointed with the sound, do a little research.  It’s all somewhere, on the net!  Find out who the artist’s manager  or producer is.  Find out what label they are on.  Start writing letters or e-mails.  Make phone calls, but above all, be tactical and polite with expressing your concerns.

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