Monday, July 14, 2008

Volume level and compression in recordings

I was listening to CDs the other day as I spent most of the day building a solar oven (more on the solar oven later).

I probably listened to 8 CDs or so, and I happened to notice the difference in volume levels and compression present in recent recordings vs. older recording. In particular I was rocking out to Abba - yes it can be done - and the dynamics in the music were considerably wider than that present in today's music.

Even the "quiet" parts of today's tunes have an overall loudness far in excess of even the loudest choruses in music from 20-30 years ago. The net result is that most of today's music starts out almost clipping (in the red) and stays there for almost the entire album. I actually like the big loud compressed sound of today's music in doses, but over the course of an album it's fatiguing on the ears. The choruses can't get louder than the verses - everything starts of as loud as it can possibly be.

It reminded me a little bit of what Stevie Ray Vaughan meant in a comment about how he tried too hard to have a big show - wanted to blow everybody's socks off.... He couldn't do it. To make the music work he had to just let it come to him nice and easy. He couldn't rush the blues for it to work. In a similar way it's like today's music is trying too hard to impress me from the get go - hitting me in the face from the first measure and keep hitting until the album's over 45 minutes later.

When you get a chance put in some old CDs - stuff like Steve Miller, Abba, Fleetwood Mac, Van Morrison - and mix in with some newer stuff. You'll probably easily hear what I'm talking about. The older mixes have more room to breath. The newer mixes just come at you hard the entire time - even when they're trying to be quiet they're still amazingly loud.

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