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Topic: Amplitude and music quality

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  1. #1
    Senior Member fastlane's Avatar
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    Amplitude and music quality

    This video explains why some people say current pop music sonically sounds bad.

    Is this something one has to be aware of when rendering an audio file?




  2. #2

    Re: Amplitude and music quality

    Quote Originally Posted by fastlane View Post
    This video explains why some people say current pop music sonically sounds bad.

    Is this something one has to be aware of when rendering an audio file?
    Ah now that's quite a can of worms you've opened there, Phil.

    The video is a very good, succinct introduction to what's going on with modern music mastering. Using whatever program he has open there, this guy's providing a perfectly clear visual demonstration of what's going on when the volume of a recording is so overly-Normalized and Maximized. The results are a track which plays at a loud volume from the start - and then doesn't change very much dynamically over time, compared to the original version where the snare popped out the way McCartney originally wanted it. Excellent explanation.

    When I'm producing pop songs rather than orchestral pieces, I know I've gotten sucked into The Loudness War to some degree, like a lot of people. It's appealing to make tracks which the user doesn't have to turn up in volume just to have it match the professionally produced tracks he's used to hearing. It's the desire to have "that radio sound" that makes home studio guys reaching for tools that can make their recordings match that kind of volume level - so it's a vicious cycle - If one wants to compete sonically, one starts using the kinds of tools the pros do. But what the pros are doing now is so exaggerated, that it's not a very nuanced kind of recording we end up emulating.

    Answering your question - this isn't actually something to be concerned about when just rendering audio files. The processes being demonstrated in the video are being done in the Mastering stage - a final production stage that many home recordists often skip. If someone's using Finale to generate music files, for instance, no such over-compression is happening to the sound because no "maximizing" plug-ins are being used to squash the sound that way.

    True mastering is done on the 2-track mix-down of a song. After doing the mix, that stereo audio file is taken into a Mastering program such as Sound Forge, and there all sorts of things are done to the audio, including squashing the dynamic range as shown in the video, using special Mastering plug-ins or hardware.

    None of us want to produce music which is anemic sounding - beginners often produce tracks which remain at a low volume throughout, and that's a problem. But we can get carried away, over-compressing, over Normalizing, over Maximizing - with the results as seen in the video you posted.

    This is a topic which can generated pretty heated debate - I think it's an area which generally isn't a large concern with Garritan Forum members, since most of the music produced by Garritan members is instrumental, and mostly orchestral. But even people writing modern classical music can damage their recordings when they start getting over-concerned with making their tracks as loud as possible.

    To fill out the complete audio dynamic range from nothing, "INF" to maximum, "0" is something we should do, we don't want to waste possible head room by leaving our highest peaks way down below the ideal "0" mark - but we need to keep soft passages soft so they can still contrast with the forte passages.

    Thanks, Phil.

    Randy

  3. #3

    Re: Amplitude and music quality

    Excellent video example and an amazing difference in sound. Randy has made some great points. But, Phil thanks for letting us hear this presentation on dynamics.
    [Music is the Rhythm, Harmony and Breath of Life]
    "Music is music, and a note's a note" - Louis 'Satchmo' Armstrong

    Rich

  4. #4

    Re: Amplitude and music quality

    I think the loudness war is the result of a more general decline in actual appreciation of music. Few people, if any, actually listen to music as an activity. More often than not music is simply turned on as background, a kind of 'wallpaper,' to other acitivites, and a constant dynamic is needed so that it doesn't suddenly intrude.

    For myself, car drving is the worst culprit. To me the music is not wallpaper - I actually look forward to driving, because it's one of the few times I'll get to put on some music, and listen with an analytical ear, and no interruptions. But if the dynamic dips too low I simply can't hear it over the noise of the car, and any overly-loud surprises could cause me to have an accident. So I have to confess choosing highly compressed music, thus doing my bit in driving the war.

    The worst result of this is when I listen to the radio. We have two classical channels in the UK. One plays a massive, and eclectic range of music, accompanied by intelligent discussion of its context. The other has a playlist of about 5 pieces a month, all of them Classic-mulch, and celebrity presenters who don't care if they're presenting Sorabji or selling potatoes. But the latter compresses their output to within an inch of its life, whilst the former maintain a wide dynamic range. So I'm forced (when I've forgotten my CD wallet) to add to the mindless masses tuning into Classic-FM, which then persuades them they must be doing something right, and perpetuates the abomination.

    See where compression leads to...
    David

  5. #5

    Re: Amplitude and music quality

    Quote Originally Posted by Pingu View Post
    I think the loudness war is the result of a more general decline in actual appreciation of music. Few people, if any, actually listen to music as an activity. More often than not music is simply turned on as background, a kind of 'wallpaper,' to other acitivites, and a constant dynamic is needed so that it doesn't suddenly intrude.

    For myself, car drving is the worst culprit....But if the dynamic dips too low I simply can't hear it over the noise of the car... So I have to confess choosing highly compressed music, thus doing my bit in driving the war....
    Good post, Pingu--And from your own experience, which we've all had, of trying to hear music in a car - you've explained the reason the Loudness War began. Even those of us who actually love music want to hear it in less than ideal circumstances i.e. while driving, and if something isn't done to the recording, we'd never hear it.

    And we also all have music on in the background and enjoy it at a constant level so we don't have to keep playing with a volume control.

    You've outlined the very reasons that we're now in this era of very compressed music, and from our own experience, we know that even though we may have a distaste for the process in theory, in practicality, we ourselves depend on it.

    Radio stations have always highly compressed their signals, even classical stations, and precisely so their programming can be heard well in cars and other intrusive environments.

    And--so there we are.

    Randy

  6. #6

    Re: Amplitude and music quality

    I'm pretty sure I've permanently damaged my hearing courtesy of working in plants with heavy machinery and being forced to listen to hip hop/rap. Consequently there are so many frequencies I can't even hear. I produce numerous genres of music and I regret to say that I've sacrificed a fair share of dynamics in order to participate in the volume war.

    -Dane

  7. #7

    Re: Amplitude and music quality

    Quote Originally Posted by rbowser- View Post
    .......
    Radio stations have always highly compressed their signals, even classical stations, and precisely so their programming can be heard well in cars and other intrusive environments.

    And--so there we are.Randy
    The cure: go to live concerts WITHOUT electronic equipment. Because when there are speakers on the stage, a mixing panel and other stuff, they compress everything "on the go" and the result is that ugly "booming" we often hear at pop-/dance festivals.

    The best cure: no music at all for at least a couple of days. Have a stroll in Alaska, The Alps, The Sahara, that nice green meadow somewhere in Main..... as long as there isn't any noise from automobiles, airplanes, industrial plants. Total silence isn't possible. Nature itself is noisy enough.

    And when you hear that little bird singing from a far distance, you are cured and never go back to that loudness war.

    Granddad Raymond

  8. #8
    Senior Member rwayland's Avatar
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    Re: Amplitude and music quality

    Quote Originally Posted by Raymond62 View Post
    The cure: go to live concerts WITHOUT electronic equipment. Because when there are speakers on the stage, a mixing panel and other stuff, they compress everything "on the go" and the result is that ugly "booming" we often hear at pop-/dance festivals.

    The best cure: no music at all for at least a couple of days. Have a stroll in Alaska, The Alps, The Sahara, that nice green meadow somewhere in Main..... as long as there isn't any noise from automobiles, airplanes, industrial plants. Total silence isn't possible. Nature itself is noisy enough.

    And when you hear that little bird singing from a far distance, you are cured and never go back to that loudness war.

    Granddad Raymond
    There is no chance that I will ever again attend a pop "concert"! I can't listen to music on car radios because if it is there, I must! listen and that is distracting. Home radio music is usually too bland, and at my location, radio reception is not good. However, the quiet of nature, I have in abundance most of the time. Most of the regular noise is provided by blue jays, vultures, crows and quail. There is a multitude of other wild life, but deer, mountain lions, and lizards are generally quiet. The evening breeze in the redwoods is very pleasant. For music, I frequently enjoy my own compositions (Ego at work?)and an occasional piano or organ recital by my friends. I have always disliked the mucking over the recorded and transmitted music. It was a shock when I found out that it was done on purpose. Reminds me of my first coffee experience in New Orleans. It really revolting after a few years in southern states to realize that the got that flavor on purpose. I had thought they just did not learn how to make coffee!

    No more walks in Africa or Alaska. I can walk quite a long time here without seeing a car or a person! That is, if my hips allow pedestrian activity.

    Great-Granddad Richard

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