'Loudness', the music industry and vinyl: a happy accident?

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by norliss, Oct 11, 2017.

  1. norliss

    norliss Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Cardiff, Wales
    Apologies up front - this post was never intended to be as long as it this...

    Anyone enthused enough about music & music reproduction to be a member of a forum like this will be aware of (and doubtless have opinions on) the accursed dynamic range compression that has plagued music since the early 1990s. For this reason, there's little point going over how/why it all started for the umpteenth time in this thread! Instead, I thought I'd throw a little theory out there...

    First off: this is a theory. I'm not saying it's right and that if you disagree ergo you're wrong. Consequently I won't argue for page after page with you or threaten to kill you either :D. Secondly, although I do love a conspiracy theory as much as the next person, I'm not the tin-foil hat-wearing type that thinks EVERYTHING is a conspiracy theory. Let's just say I have a healthy dose of cynicism. Ok, so to the point in hand...

    After the industry had survived the "Home taping is killing music" scare in the 70s/80s, it enjoyed a klondike period of selling (and re-selling) its output on CD whilst simultaneously doing its level best to get shot of vinyl records as quickly as possible. Throughout the 90s, CD sales boom, dynamic range compression seems to become a thing (the two things are unrelated) and the industry enjoys the fat of the land. Then the internet happens (in a mainstream sense) and the industry experiences another crisis courtesy of Napster, Limewire etc.

    Then, in large part due to Apple & iTunes, the industry discovers that, shock-horror, many people are actually happy to pay for digital downloads and the fact that they are lossy, low-bitrate doesn't seem to matter. Industry note to self #1 - "most people don't really care about sound quality..." The industry is doubtlessly happy to be able to partially monetise non-physical product, although this hardly offsets the continuing decline of CD sales.

    Then streaming becomes a thing. Good news for industry: we get big cheques from these cool start up companies with bundles of venture capital behind them :). Bad news for industry: CD sales still declining and now so are digital downloads :shake: Quelle surprise: if people are happy with 128Kbps/256Kbps downloads, why wouldn't they be happy with streaming?

    Remarkably, the industry receives a shot in the arm from arguably the most unexpected of sources: yep, the good old vinyl record starts to make a most unexpected comeback and shows exponential growth year-on-year. Who'd have thought it?! Whilst the majors initially are slow (compared to indies) to get back in on the action (doubtlessly believing it to be a 5-minute wonder) they quickly realise that they can once again charge a premium for physical product - something they'd probably thought was long behind them. Hurrah for the industry, doubles all round!

    A major fly in the ointment of course, is production capacity for vinyl. Most of the plants were shut down years ago in the belief that records were done for. And the problem is, vinyl pressing plants are an expensive proposition for which a considerable and long-term investment is needed. The industry really doesn't want to make this investment. For one thing, increased capacity means increased supply, meaning a lower selling price. Also, it's still not convinced this whole revival isn't a fad (albeit one that's lasted longer than anyone had thought). What if people cotton on to the fact that (unlike the records of the format's heyday) the modern-day record isn't really "analogue" in the way it once was and usually comes from exactly the same source as the CD/download? Naturally, the industry still wants to milk it as much as possible and protect this unexpected "new" revenue stream. So, enter the happy accident of vinyl's technical limitations...

    Even amongst people that are about as far removed from the audiophile community as possible (i.e. the Crossley-owning teen) there is a perception/belief that vinyl sounds better than CD/digital download/streaming and that in itself partially justifies its (often considerably) higher purchase price. This perception is not only backed up by other opinions but by Dynamic Range Database numbers (the relevance of which can be debated with respect to vinyl). However, the very fact that it isn't technically possible to lay the music on vinyl in the same way as can be done with digital means that by a bizarre quirk of fate, the 70-year old format ends up sounding best, or in many cases, the least worst. I doubt that this happy accident has escaped the attention of the industry....

    Like countless others here, I adore vinyl and am not trying to be down on it. Things have moved on from the 1980s and it's only logical that music will be recorded and mixed digitally nowadays: to expect "all analogue" contemporary music is unrealistic. However, it would be one thing to opt for a vinyl record when it has been a/ separately and expertly mastered (from a flat, non-borked final mix) and b/ well-pressed over an (also excellently mastered) digital version purely because it offers a different experience. In a 'loudness' free world, we'd be able to make this purchasing decision for the right reason(s), not because one doesn't sound as bad than the other. CDs should sound universally excellent but they don't; not because of any problem with the format per se but because they're being deliberated created that way.

    So, it is my contention that the industry has every incentive to continue with the 'loudness' status quo and ZERO incentive to properly (and separately) master its music for all formats. For this reason, this will continue indefinitely....

    ....that is, unless something strange happens where the masses suddenly care about quality and demand dynamic range in their music, at which point I'm sure the industry will happily oblige, re-releasing all the damaged goods from the last 25 years:

    "New High-Definitition SuperSound Re-Re-Remastered edition with all the dynamic range it should have had when it was first released" ;)

    Sorry again, for the length of this post: I'd not blame anyone for not wanting to read it :laugh:
  2. BryanA-HTX

    BryanA-HTX Crazy Doctor

    Houston, TX

    I don't know if Loudness was a "happy accident" but if it was it was the greatest one ever
    moofassa_ca, stay crunchy and nosliw like this.
  3. stax o' wax

    stax o' wax Forum Resident

    The West
    The "masses" don't even know what music is anymore.
    I work at events that feature mostly young people so I hear whats popular today.
    The music is so bad, and so badly mixed and recorded that it's shocking.
  4. dkmonroe

    dkmonroe A completely self-taught idiot

    The only reason vinyl tends to sound better than its all-digital counterparts is that you can't really brickwall vinyl. There's physical limitations to the format that prevent that. If they could, they would. It's the whole misguided idea that louder is better that accounts for the problem, and vinyl returning to a modest level of popularity is rather a fluke. I very much doubt that anyone intended for it to happen.
  5. savemenow

    savemenow Forum Resident

    SE Pa
    True dat...
    Northwind likes this.
  6. vinylontubes

    vinylontubes Forum Resident

    Katy, TX
    TLDR. I skimmed it, but, I didn't read everything. But what I read is over thinking things. And for the most part, so is the music business regarding formats. Portability is king, it trumps sound quality all day for the masses. When cassettes started selling more than copies than vinyl it was because most people had walkmans and car manufacturers included a tape player with almost every car as a standard feature. The same thing happened with CD players in cars, people stopped buying cassettes. It started with external jack, some even had iPod cables. Now cars have bluetooth connectivity for phones and Spotify is option on the head unit menus. As much as people want to think the masses converted to CD because they sounded better than vinyl or cassettes, it's really not the case. We've seen hi-rez formats come and go. SACD, as much as I like the format, it's niche and DVD-A was still born, the same way BluRay audio (and, for the most part thanks to Netflix, video). Now there are HD downloads, and if you haven't read an audiophile magazine in the past 5 years, you don't even know these services exist. I tend to think most people don't care about owning music. I bet most people in this forum spend hundred if not well into thousands for music. Most people I know are content with renting music and they have instant access to the latest trending music. I have a huge music collection in CDs, SACD, and Vinyl, but it's not even close to what my friends have available to them on Spotify for $10/month.

    So, the Loudness Wars is a non factor. As far as most people are concerned, the music sounds perfectly fine, dynamic range is not really a concern of theirs. And regarding the vinyl resurgence, it's the Millennials. These are kids that grew up with downloads and have decided that if you have to own a physical copy of the music, records are "cooler" than CDs. They do own Crosleys and now they are buying U-Turns which is better, but not really, considering they mostly hook them up to powered speakers which are very limited in choices. If you ask the audiophiles here about their gear, they can explain what they like about it. You can't state that about Millennials, if they all aspire to own a U-Turn with an AudioEngine A2+, because this gets them something under $500. This says something to me. They can afford a new $600+ phone every 2 years that goes along with a huge data plan, but, they can only justify spending $500 on something that will last them many more years. TBH, I think they care more about the color of their limited edition vinyl than they care about the music SQ. This is a broad generalization, and obviously doesn't apply across the board, but, at this point in time, they are buying better turntables not because they sound better, it's because they more are concerned that a Crosley will destroy or may have all ready destroyed their limited edition blood splatter "vinyls".
    Jose Jones, 16s, basie-fan and 5 others like this.
  7. ibanez_ax

    ibanez_ax Forum Resident

    Amen. I have a lot of classical CDs that sound great and a lot rock/pop CDs that sound like you-know-what.
    SteveM and basie-fan like this.
  8. norliss

    norliss Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Cardiff, Wales
    Perfect name for the band!
    nosliw likes this.
  9. Chemguy

    Chemguy Forum Resident

    Hmm...I like this, because it's a fun thought.

    I give the industry absolutely no credit for conniving intelligence, however. Zero.
    sparkmeister likes this.
  10. InStepWithTheStars

    InStepWithTheStars It's a miracle, let it alter you

    I have to disagree with the notion that CDs were unrelated to the rise of compression. CDs are the reason it started: technically a "perfect" medium for sound reproduction, you could diddle about with it as much as you wanted (compression, EQ, noise reduction, and the like) without any physical limitations. As @dkmonroe pointed out, records can't do that. CDs can. And in the prevailing belief that "louder is better" - with "even louder" an easy possibility - it picked up steam until we got here. Now we can't get any louder, but goddamn if they aren't gonna try.
  11. gregorya

    gregorya Forum Resident

    Don't get me started on DAT... :)
    RBtl, hernan-r, MusicMatt and 6 others like this.
  12. norliss

    norliss Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Cardiff, Wales
    Of course, the technical specification of the CD has has facilitated (allowed) the kind of egregious dynamic range compression with which we are now so sadly familiar. My point was just the boom in CDs was due to them catching on as a technology (and records being shunted off the shelves) and being more profitable for the music industry. They didn't boom because of "loudness" since that's something that came along a bit later.
    InStepWithTheStars likes this.
  13. mikaal

    mikaal Sociopathic Nice Guy

    I've said this before...that's for coitin' : CDs should sound universally excellent but they don't; not because of any problem with the format per se but because they're being deliberated created that way.
    Carlox, JulesRules, altaeria and 4 others like this.
  14. SebUK

    SebUK Forum Resident

    that's not strictly true though is it? A brickwalled low dtynamic digital master can be used to cut a record and the results would be the same on playback as on any other medium surely? There's nothing inherent in the cutting of a vinyl disc that 'improves' a master recording that has no dynamics., so is there actually a limit to how low a DR number can go just because it's cut to vinyl?

    In the 'old days' each new 'record' version/release of a master tape would either be made from existing stampers or re-cut onto new lacquers (and that effectively means re-mastered, even if it's a so-called 'flat' master). Recently it seems that many vinyl records have been cut using digital masters already compressed/limited whatever, but perhaps we are entering an era where one mastering will be done 'loud' for the kids/streaming/headphones whatever, and a set of mastering engineers with an eye to vinyl in the 'old way' will be used to cut records...
  15. hazard

    hazard Forum Resident

    What are you all talking about? Of course you can cut brick walled music on vinyl. What is this so-called technical limitation that stops you from putting compresssed music onto an LP (hint - it doesn't exist).

    What is the DR of a sine wave with constant amplitude? (Hint - it is zero). Do you believe that it is impossible to cut a sine wav onto a record because it is brick walled?

    I have seen this nonsense repeated in many threads on SHF.
    ispace, ted209, brianplowe and 4 others like this.
  16. Yost

    Yost Always Wondered How Other People Did This

    I'm buying vinyl again since the end of 2015. I do this to get less brickwalked versions of modern day albums. Sadly these LPs are not the most dynamic music ever. Last week I made the mistake to play Gino Vannelli's Powerful People album (I own a 1974 copy) after playing Jarre's Oxygène 3 album (from 2016). The difference in dynamics is shocking.

    Yes, I know, it's not the same kind of music. So I played the Oxygène (1) early Polydor CD and compared it to the Oxygène 3 vinyl. And also in that case the earlier album/master wins, even if comparing a run of the mill CD to a 180 gram LP.

    So basically, although current vinyl often sounds better than digital formats of the same album, they're still more dynamically compressed than needed.
    ispace likes this.
  17. Classicrock

    Classicrock Forum Resident

    South West, UK.
    I am now wondering if loud compressed CDs coincided with the expiration of original Philips patents. (Disappearance of the 'compact disc digital' logo on jewel cases). In that case they may deviate from original red book standards for manufacture? Sad thing is there is no point in this as radio and internet music services normalise all sound levels so a 'loud' CD does not stand out more but just sounds worse. Practically the only customer for CD now is someone with a proper stereo who is most offended by this. Anyone else is going to be listening to files with CD disappearing from cars. It just shows the people who produce music to be idiots. It isn't beyond human intelligence to do a less compressed mastering for CD as is often produced for vinyl. Of course in many cases the main problem is the original recording with contemporary material and extra compression is stacked on top of this. One can only conclude that people doing this may have damaged ears.
  18. Dave S

    Dave S Forum Resident

    I'm pretty sure the disappearing compact disc logo is a more recent development, driven primarily by cost than anything else. Those 'loud' Oasis discs, for example, date from the early 90s.
  19. Yost

    Yost Always Wondered How Other People Did This

    Of course it could have gone the other way: CDs have a greater theoretical dynamic range than vinyl, so why not release MORE dynamic music.

    I personally think that brickwalled music is a result of both the industry's wish to stand out from the (music) crowd, and the changing listening habits of (music) consumers who are listening more and more on tiny cheap earbuds in noisy environments.
    jonj, Shak Cohen and hazard like this.
  20. Chris Schoen

    Chris Schoen Forum Resident

    Maryland, U.S.A.
    It's no wonder folks find "vinyls" so great sounding (clicks, pops and all...) - the music is not compressed and brickwalled.
    Analog music must sound like a big sigh of relief to the ears of the "masses".
    JulesRules likes this.
  21. SebUK

    SebUK Forum Resident

    this is exactly it - changing demograhpic usage. It could be that someone like me, thinking the new Liam Gallagher album is badly mastered as it is so loud as to be 'distorted', might have been railing against the distortion on the single of 'Revolution' back in the 60s...
  22. Pastafarian

    Pastafarian Forum Resident

    I believe we'd seen this before, Tamla Mowtown and how they produced a sound for the car radio. Once the idea of owning a good HI-FI became unusual, loud seemed good.

    The one hope 2 mixes with the FULL DYNAMIC range version costing more, can't wait:cussing:.
  23. dkmonroe

    dkmonroe A completely self-taught idiot

    I'm not in a position to explain it technically but I'm quite certain that others have explained that there are certain limitations to how loud and how squashed you can master music to vinyl. If this is incorrect, I'm happy to accept that, but then I'd like to know why people have claimed that even notoriously brickwalled albums such as Death Magnetic sound listenable on vinyl. Why is Black Sabbath's 13 DR 6 on CD and DR 10 on LP? What did they do to the master to make it even more slightly dynamic on the LP?

    My understanding has always been that you have an original recording, which is then mastered for a particular medium; CD, LP, AAC, whatever. And in the process of mastering for the individual formats, choices may be made of loudness, limiting, EQ, etc, and that there is a wider variety of choices to be made when mastering to digital. Surely there must be some limitation inherent in the century-old format of vinyl? I don't think of it as some kind of inherent superiority, only a technical limitation that happens to have advantages for those who care about dynamics.
    LitHum05 likes this.
  24. dkmonroe

    dkmonroe A completely self-taught idiot

    I found this article which, if it does not actually support what I said in the way that I said it, at least seems to support the idea that a master cut to LP may not sound exactly the same as the master itself, or that same master applied to other formats. See the section called, "The Mastering Process."

    - Mastering for Vinyl : Recording Magazine -

    Now, if this article's full of crap I'd be grateful to know that too. I come here with no pretension of professional knowledge or experience.
  25. Mbe

    Mbe Forum Resident

    Even noticeable or more so (?) in recent tv adverts;

    Two albums which have recently been advertised on UK TV both sounded a total unintelligible mess, even the prolonged intrusive voiceovers
    (music being advertised here?) could not hide how dire they both sounded as advertisements for music.

    Shania Twain – Now
    Liam Gallagher – As You Were

    Not that I am a target (consumer) of the product marketing I still found it shocking.

    I offer no excuses for the practice / situation = Call it what it is *0%* :)
    JulesRules, ispace and Robert C like this.

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