Dynamic Range Compression, Part II

WSJ: Even Heavy-Metal Fans Complain That Today’s Music Is Too Loud!!!

Can a Metallica album be too loud?

The very thought might seem heretical to fans of the legendary metal band, which has been splitting eardrums with unrivaled power since the early 1980s.

But even though Metallica’s ninth studio release, “Death Magnetic,” is No. 1 on the album chart, with 827,000 copies sold in two weeks, some fans are bitterly disappointed: not by the songs or the performance, but the volume. It’s so loud, they say, you can’t hear the details of the music.

“Death Magnetic” is a flashpoint in a long-running music-industry fight. Over the years, rock and pop artists have increasingly sought to make their recordings sound louder to stand out on the radio, jukeboxes and, especially, iPods.

But audiophiles, recording professionals and some ordinary fans say the extra sonic wallop comes at a steep price. To make recorded music seem louder, engineers must reduce the “dynamic range,” minimizing the difference between the soft and loud parts and creating a tidal wave of aural blandness.

“When there’s no quiet, there can be no loud,” said Matt Mayfield, a Minnesota electronic-music teacher, in a YouTube video that sketched out the battle lines of the loudness war. A recording’s dynamic range can be measured by calculating the variation between its average sound level and its maximum, and can be visually expressed through wave forms. Louder recordings, with higher average sound levels, leave less room for such variation than quieter ones.

Some fans are complaining that “Death Magnetic” has a thin, brittle sound that’s the result of the band’s attempts in the studio to make it as loud as possible. “Sonically it is barely listenable,” reads one fan’s online critique. Thousands have signed an online petition urging the band to re-mix the album and release it again.

My interest in this album has just taken a serious hit.

Seriously, music industry, cut it out!  Or at least have the decency to release a second, respectable-sounding edition like Tom Petty and Mudcrutch.

Read the whole thing, and definitely click on the interactive demonstration.

Update: Wired says get the Guitar Hero version.  Can someone tell me how to do that?  Don’t worry, Metallica, I’ll go buy a CD (that I’ll leave shrink-wrapped) so you can get your royalties.  (Wired also has cool graphs so you can see for yourself.)

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3 Responses to Dynamic Range Compression, Part II

  1. Alex LaPointe says:

    Me gusto.

  2. Alex LaPointe says:

    Oh, they should have recorded it in the Marianas Trench in an old Soviet nuclear submarine like Dethklok did.

  3. Jill says:

    Dethwater.
    “…Go into the water
    Live there; Die there.
    We reject our Earthly fires…”

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