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Music Entertainment Technology

The Loudness Wars May Be Ending 294

Posted by Soulskill
from the can-you-hear-me-now dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Mike Barthel reports on a technique called brick-wall limiting, where songs are engineered to seem louder by bringing the quiet parts to the same level as the loud parts and pushing the volume level of the entire song to the highest point possible. 'Because of the need to stand out on radio and other platforms, there's a strategic advantage to having a new song sound just a little louder than every other song. As a result, for a period, each new release came out a little louder than the last, and the average level of loudness on CDs crept up (YouTube) to such a degree that albums actually sounded distorted, as if they were being played through broken speakers.' But the loudness wars may be coming to an end. Taking advantage of the trend towards listening to music online — via services like Pandora, Spotify, and Apple's forthcoming iCloud — a proposal by audio engineer Thomas Lund, already adopted as a universal standard (PDF) by the International Telecommunications Union, would institute a volume limit on any songs downloaded from the cloud, effectively removing the strategic advantage of loudness. Lund's proposal would do the same thing for any music you could buy. 'Once a piece of music is ingested into this system, there is no longer any value in trying to make a recording louder just to stand out,' says legendary engineer Bob Ludwig, who has been working with Lund. 'There will be nothing to gain from a musical point of view. Louder will no longer be better!'"
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The Loudness Wars May Be Ending

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  • bad assumption (Score:4, Insightful)

    by simoncpu was here (1601629) on Friday July 22, 2011 @03:46PM (#36850470)
    Proposed solution: following a standard that limits loudness would remove the strategic advantage of loudness.
    What will happen: the standard would be ignored.
  • by markjhood2003 (779923) on Friday July 22, 2011 @03:51PM (#36850580)

    It doesn't matter to me how loud a song sounds; I can always turn the volume down or use something like ReplayGain to lower the overall level. The real issue is the compression of the dynamic range used to achieve louder sounding music. This proposal doesn't address that: a volume limit isn't going to provide an incentive to expand the dynamic range, since producers are just going to make sure every song bumps right up to the new brick wall.

    Dynamic range simply isn't important to most producers and consumers of popular music now.

  • by Draek (916851) on Friday July 22, 2011 @03:55PM (#36850642)

    I haven't read the proposed standard (mostly because, not being a sound engineer, I suspect I wouldn't understand a thing), but wouldn't the problem be solved by limiting not the maximum, but the average instead? us Classical fans get our cannon shots just as Tchaikovsky intended, while mainstream Rock music stops sounding like someone fucking your ear with an ice pick, it's win/win. And as a bonus, anyone wanting to have their music louder would have to have more quiet parts to compensate, meaning they'd be encouraged to utilize the full dynamic range instead of pushing everything to the maximum.

  • by adolf (21054) <flodadolf@gmail.com> on Friday July 22, 2011 @04:05PM (#36850808) Journal

    Such listeners should just change the dynamics themselves, then: The correct point at which to apply dynamic range compression to compensate for a noisy listening environment is within the playback chain for that particular environment.

    It's not so hard. My first portable MP3 player had the ability to apply dynamic compression. My not-so-special Pioneer stereos have this ability as well. So does my Droid. So does even the lowly factory CD player in a 1993 Ford van. And my PC. (I'd go on, but why?)

    One can always add more compression/limiting ("loudness"), but once applied it's impossible to take away.

    Meanwhile, listening environments haven't changed substantially since the first confluence of the walkman, the portable radio ("boombox"), the home hi-fi, and the car stereo: People still listen variously on headphones, or with barely-adequate portable speakers, or in their home on a properly set-up system, or on ruddy computer speakers (not dissimilar from the discount "rack systems" of yesteryear), or in noisy car, with the same variety of background noise that has always existed when listening to recorded music.

    All that has really changed in the past 30 years that it's currently very easy to carry a vast amount of high-quality music in a very portable and readily-retrievable fashion, which was previously impossible. I submit that this improved portability has nothing to do with the dynamic content of that music.

  • Berlioz Requiem (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SarekOfVulcan (133772) on Friday July 22, 2011 @04:57PM (#36851546)

    It's the only CD I ever owned where I could hear the engineers turning the mikes down in the middle, because it had just gotten Way Too Loud. :-)

  • by Beorytis (1014777) on Friday July 22, 2011 @05:01PM (#36851588)

    ...the listener just wants to be able to hear everything without having to fiddle with the volume every few seconds.

    Portable music players have more than enough processing power to do that kind of volume leveling automatically. The artists/engineers/producers can make a product that will sound its best in a good listening environment, and leave the rest to playback.

  • by MaWeiTao (908546) on Friday July 22, 2011 @05:24PM (#36851894)

    Of course, the problem is that your average consumer has been trained to like garbage.

    Have you ever gotten into a rental car and taken a look at the audio settings? Invariably bass and treble are turned way up. And what's the first thing people in stores do when trying out a sound system? They turn the volume way up. If it's loud it's good, even if the speakers are clipping.

    And how much dynamic range does your average pop song have anyway? Not much, it's just a wall of noise. And then if you're listening to stuff like hip hop then you're also dealing with low quality samples.

    Wasn't there are article here on Slashdot several months ago about some survey about audio? Researchers found that the majority actually preferred the inferior sound of compressed audio?

    So there's no incentive to improve audio quality. The problem is when this sort of crap spills over to good music.

Premature optimization is the root of all evil. -- D.E. Knuth

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