I just wrote up a piece for my weblog about the increased loudness and dynamic range compression affecting CDs over the years. While I'm sure it doesn't reveal anything that isn't common knowledge here, I think people here might be interested in seeing it, and I included waveform samples taken from various CDs released in the last 23 years (with a little help from EAC and Audacity ): Have you ever thought that popular music today sounds worse than ever? There's truth to that...and I'm not talking about musical styles. It's not your imagination: The sound quality itself of music on CD has deteriorated over the years. The reason? Dynamic Range Compression. Dynamic range is the difference between the loudest and softest parts of a recording. Compression is used to reduce this dynamic range. Compression itself has a number of practical uses, but in record or CD mastering it usually carries the purpose of making the recording sound louder than it otherwise would be. So, why would mastering engineers make a CD sound louder than it otherwise would be? To be fair, the earliest CDs played at relatively low volume levels, and to many people, LOUDER is equated with better. Thus, new CD releases on average have been sounding louder and louder ever since then. The Compact Disc format allows for a very large dynamic range, but even so releases soon got loud enough for the use of compression to be necessary in order to maintain a higher average volume level. Some compression led to more compression, and nowadays many CDs are compressed so much that they are distorted and fatiguing to listen to, and basically constitute sonic mush. Listen to Rush's Vapor Trails if you don't believe me. Since a picture is worth a thousand words (or something like that), here are pictures of representative waveforms of songs taken from various CDs released each year from 1983 to 2005. Notice how the diagrams resemble brick walls more and more as the chronology approaches the present: 1983 Bob Dylan - "Jokerman" (Infidels) 1984 The Cars - "You Might Think" (Heartbeat City) 1985 INXS - "Listen Like Thieves" (Listen Like Thieves) 1986 Journey - "Girl Can't Help It" (Raised on Radio) 1987 Bryan Adams - "Heat of the Night" (Into the Fire) 1988 Mike + the Mechanics - "Seeing is Believing" (Living Years) 1989 The Smithereens - "A Girl Like You" (11) 1990 Alice in Chains - "Sea of Sorrow" (Facelift) 1991 Toad the Wet Sprocket - "Walk on the Ocean" (Fear) 1992 Gin Blossoms - "Found Out About You" (New Miserable Experience) 1993 Rush - "Cold Fire" (Counterparts) 1994 Weezer - "Buddy Holly" (Weezer) 1995 Collective Soul - "Smashing Young Man" (Collective Soul) 1996 Dave Matthews Band - "So Much to Say" (Crash) 1997 Savage Garden - "To the Moon and Back" (Savage Garden) 1998 Better Than Ezra - "At the Stars" (How Does Your Garden Grow) 1999 Third Eye Blind - "10 Days Late" (Blue) 2000 Green Day - "Minority" (Warning) 2001 Incubus - "Nice to Know You" (Morning View) 2002 Jason Mraz - "The Remedy" (Waiting for My Rocket to Come) 2003 Third Eye Blind - "Crystal Baller" (Out of the Vein) 2004 U2 - "Vertigo" (How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb) 2005 INXS - "Devil's Party" (Switch) The saddest part of the increasing over-compression in CD mastering over the years is how unnecessary it is: It carries no purpose whatsoever, and once the damage is done, it can't be undone, short of remastering a CD in question. Earlier CDs mastered at lower levels sound fine (and often great) with just a turn of the volume knob. While it is true that radio stations use compression in their broadcasts, this additional compression is always added at the broadcaster's end and overly-compressed CDs do not have any advantages in this context either. You don't need to be an audiophile to pay note, either: Even when I first started buying CDs six years ago, listened to them on a cheap headphone setup, and knew nothing about the issues at hand, I noticed that releases from 1999 or 2000 tended to sound needlessly louder and less dynamic than CDs from 1997 or 1998. Unfortunately, over-compression has become so accustomed to on major-label CD releases (and oftentimes insisted upon by record companies, artists, and/or producers) that it probably won't go away any time soon. That said, the popularity of vinyl and audiophile-oriented LPs and CDs with superior mastering in some circles...as well as the endurance of older music in general...speaks some about the avenues in which dissatisfaction with the sound quality of recent CDs can be vented.