Thursday, March 24, 2011
The Loudness War And The Death of HiFi
Hifi is dead. MP3s killed it, and the Loudness War has raped its corpse. For those of you who are really interested, I suggest reading the entire Wikipedia link on the history of compression and loudness in music. Suffice to say, the difference between a pop recording made in the 1980s or 1990s and today is so stark, that you can hear it with youtube audio quality on computer speakers. In the clip above, the levels of the tracks have been adjusted so that they have the same volume. Suffice to say without this adjustment, the 2004 version would sound much, much louder. But as you can hear, a hotter track doesnt sound better. Retaining the dynamics of the recording, and turning up the volume control on your stereo is better.
The irony is that this race towards increased perceived loudness was all in the name of allowing people to hear the music better: if they just added a bit more compression, you could hear the song better on your clock radio or while driving 70mph on the highway. Eventually a bit more compression became a shitload, to the point that now an entire generation of albums is being ruined by overcompression and distortion. If you listen to a recording made from the 1940s-1990s on a hifi system, it sounds incredible with a huge dynamic range. If you listen to a modern pop single on the same system, its sounds very flat and distorted in comparison, and you will be reaching for the volume control to turn it down.
The music industry is in dire straights. The last thing they need at this point in time is a radical drop in audio quality - but thats what we have gotten for roughly the last 10 years. People arent critical about what they listen to, as long as they can download it for free who cares if its distorted to shit and encoded at a low bit rate. People need to start buying music again, even if its only one song per week or one album per month, and consistently buy albums from artists and producers who have decided not to overcompress their album and leave the dynamics intact. This might mean forgoing the latest pop album for some jazz or an indie rock album, but your dollars talk much more loudly than words, so make sure they are heard.