SH Spotlight People always ask me: What does brickwalled digital compression sound like?

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Steve Hoffman, May 23, 2003.

  1. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Mastering Engineer Your Host Thread Starter

    People ask me this all the time. I usually tell them it sounds "loud" and they ask why that is so bad. So, I worked out this silly analogy for them and I thought I'd share it with you here:
    ------------------------------------------------

    I want you to go stand in front of a glass door or window. Are you there? Now, move closer to the window, concentrating on your face. When your nose just hits the glass, stop moving. On a CD master, this is the "peak" point; the loudest point on the master that you can go without running into gross distortion. The glass prevents you from going any further. It is like a "wall".

    So, your face (at this point) is still basically your face (if I looked at you from the OTHER SIDE OF THE GLASS I would recognize you). Now, let's pretend that the back of your head is the "quietest" area, and the tip of your nose is the loudest. This is your dynamic range. Just like the dynamics of music in the real world, even the loudest rock & roll. Got it?

    OK. Now, push closer to the window and smush your face against the glass. Owww. Hurt? Well, your face is distorting and still it is not breaking the glass (or getting any louder) just distorting. If I were to look at you from the other side of the glass I might not recognize you any more.

    This is what happens to music when it is digitally compressed. It's a sound I hate with a passion. If you think your nose and face hurts, this is what is happening to our favorite music when it is "remastered" for shear volume.

    Got it?
    :)
     
  2. Tyler

    Tyler Forum Resident

    Location:
    Hawaii
    Clever analogy for the lay-person. I'll have to remember this when talking music with some of my un-enlightened friends.
     
    WMTC likes this.
  3. Thanks Steve. The next time someone asks me about digital compression I will now be able to tell them in plain English, using your analogy.
     
  4. Jefhart

    Jefhart Forum Resident

    Great analogy!! Thanks Steve.:)

    Jeff
     
  5. Dave

    Dave Esoteric Audio Research Specialistâ„¢

    Location:
    Greater Vancouver
    Excellent Steve!:righton:
     
  6. GuyDon

    GuyDon Senior Member

    Thanks Steve! :thumbsup:
     
  7. Cliff

    Cliff Magic Carpet Man

    Location:
    Northern CA
    Very helpful, since I have often wondered what compression sounds like myself. Thank you very much Steve!
     
  8. Mike Dow

    Mike Dow I kind of like the music

    Location:
    Bangor, Maine
    Great analogy! People who love the latest, loudest discs forget that there is a reason why they have volume control...all they have to do is Turn It Up! In no time at all, those overly loud digitally compressed discs actually hurt. By that, I mean they actually cause me physical pain. It started happening a few years ago and now I realize what it is. Anyone else?
     
    Incamera likes this.
  9. BradOlson

    BradOlson Country/Christian Music Maven

    The Buddy Holly Collection mastering of That'll Be The Day did cause me a headache, and I was even listening to it on JBL computer speakers using Stanton headphones and that proved to me that the mastering was not done very well. An average PD transfer of a movie on DVD can actually be better sounding than these loud, heavily EQ'd remasters. FWIW, Mike Callahan reviewed "FTOMT" a "B" and "The Buddy Holly Collection" an "A."
     
  10. Gary

    Gary Nauga Gort! Staff

    I have a remaster that I am SURE will blow my speakers if I play it through. However I can't bear to get through the second song without cringing. Dave knows which one I mean.

    The lack of dynamic range really, really bothers me. Mastering a new disc with compression does not bother me as much - that's the way they chose to do it. Sad. But a remaster screws around with HISTORY! Buddy Holly was NOT that LOUD! GRRRRRRRRRRRRR..................
     
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  11. Dave

    Dave Esoteric Audio Research Specialistâ„¢

    Location:
    Greater Vancouver
    Oh yeah SD.:agree: As soon as I bought my first "fancy-boy" system the dreaded over use of compression became grossly noticeable and very painfull indeed.:cool:
     
  12. BeatleFred

    BeatleFred Forum Resident

    Location:
    Queens, New York
    Steve:

    Thats a good analogy you used to explain compression. I was wondering, is your dislike of it mostly as it applies to its overuse on recordings (and in digital form as opposed to analog) or do you pretty much not like compression in any form if its not really necessary to use?

    I find that the lil' device below is somewhat useful when I'm relaxing & practicing on the electric guitar, playing along with records, as it makes the guitar- sound- output nice and smooth with added sustain, no big jumps in volume depending on how hard or soft youre strummin on the strings which can grate on the ears:
     
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  13. Monsieur Gadbois

    Monsieur Gadbois Senior Member

    Location:
    West Coast
    Great, now I can do my own mastering with a glass door:laugh: .

    All jokes aside Steve, what particular mastering work most exemplify this?
     
  14. stever

    stever Forum Resident

    Location:
    Omaha, Nebr.
    Excellent analogy -- thanx, Steve!
     
  15. Mike Dow

    Mike Dow I kind of like the music

    Location:
    Bangor, Maine
    I just read these quotes from Malcolm and Angus Young in the new issue of Guitar Player. They are responding to a question about the new AC/DC remasters.

    Malcolm..."I must say, the new CDs sound a lot better, and the fans seem to agree. But, to be honest, I prefer vinyl because it has that warmth. They're also bringing out all our albums on vinyl, which is great because that's our era."

    Angus:..."Plus, we like the big covers! And I like the hiss when you first put the needle on a record. You can always tell just how loud it's going to be. You don't get that with CDs. They just suddenly go "Wahhh!"
     
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  16. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Mastering Engineer Your Host Thread Starter

    I've answered this many times in print but I don't mind typing it out again (I'm off today).

    COMPRESSION has been used in recording music, broadcasting radio and movie making since the 1920's. THIS ISN'T THE COMPRESSION I AM TALKING ABOUT.

    Let's not corn-fuse the issue. I am speaking of DIGITAL COMPRESSION; it has no pleasing sound of its own, it adds nothing to a mix except bad sound.

    Analog compression has a variety of uses (and over uses--Just ask Jeff Lynne). It's almost impossible to mix a record without using a limiter/compressor. That is what helps the instruments and voices "ride" in the mix. Nothing to do with the issue of this thread.

    A mix is DONE when it is DONE, it doesn't matter if it was mixed live in 1940 or mixed in 2003. It is DONE.

    NOW, a mastering engineer comes along and has orders toTAMPER with this finished mix. A digital compressor adds no character to a finished mix. It shows no mercy and is just brutal in the way it kills music. If I was an artist who just spent 50 grand on mixing my album I would have a clause in my contract saying that my mix could not be tampered with by the record company after the tape left my hands.

    'Nuff said.
     
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  17. Pinknik

    Pinknik Senior Member

    Well, I'm not Steve, however, there are some bands who's work appears to suffer as time and technology progress. Stone Temple Pilots is one example. Their first three albums, like all rock albums, have compression, but the music has plenty of room to breath. Their fourth and fifth albums, however, have been heavily limited compared to the others. The general consensus seems to be that fans liked the first three albums, not so much the last two, and I'm not so sure it's entirely the musics' fault. The sound of these loud albums is just irritating after a while and you can't listen into them for pleasure. Another band that have suffered the digital limiting wall is RUSH. I found their move to digital to be bad enough, with thin, bassless flat sound, but apparently their latest Vapor Trails, is all loud, all the time. I'm sure there are others. A couple of examples that keep coming up in the press as extremely limited are CALIFORNICATION by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and SUPERNATURAL by Santana.
     
  18. Angel

    Angel New Member

    Location:
    Hollywood, Ca.
    Steven, sometimes it is the artist who requests that the music be brutalized. They like the sound. :(
     
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  19. Gary

    Gary Nauga Gort! Staff

    I'm not Steve, but.... are you asking for the worse example of remastering?

    My vote: Any one of the Klaatu remasters (3:47 EST, Hope or Peaks).

    Angel, I can see that point (brutalizing) for an artist. But it's a new recording, right? Heavy metal? I'd hope.... :sigh:

    So what can ya do? It's an artists right to do whatever with his creation.... or am I wrong?
     
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  20. jeendicott

    jeendicott Forum Resident

    Thanks for the "lesson," Steve! :thumbsup:

    What is digital compression exactly, and how does it differ from regular compression? The "window" analogy seems closer to over-compression than to digital compression.

    Are you saying that today's digital compression tools push my face into the window more forcefully than their analog counterparts did?

    *5 minutes later*

    Oops! While I was typing this question, it was asked and answered. Sorry.
     
  21. BeatleFred

    BeatleFred Forum Resident

    Location:
    Queens, New York
    Gary:

    Someone had recently sent me some Klaatu music and though I like the song that goes "Calling occupants of interplanetary craft..." I found it near impossible to listen to w/o having to constantly adjust the volume on the stereo amp- it keeps changing from too soft to too loud throughout the whole song. Annoying.
     
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  22. ferric

    ferric Iron Dino In Memoriam

    Location:
    NC
    Re: People always ask me: What does digital compression sound like?

    Steve,

    My mother told me that if I were to press my face against glass my face would freeze with the distortion. I loved to make a pig nose on the car window. :laugh:

    Anyway. Great analogy. Easy to understand. Even for a T-Rex.

    Ferric
     
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  23. BradOlson

    BradOlson Country/Christian Music Maven

    Yes and I agree.
     
  24. Gardo

    Gardo Forum Resident

    Location:
    Virginia
    Great analogy, Steve, and a good way to explain why digital compression doesn't get you any closer to the music (rather the opposite).

    I love Stunt by the Barenaked Ladies, but I can hardly stand to listen to it on my home rig anymore, for just the reason you describe. Very sad.
     
  25. Gary

    Gary Nauga Gort! Staff

    What CD label is that, BeatleFred? Hope it's not the remaster...
     

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