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. Joseph LeVie

    Joseph LeVie Forum Resident

    South Florida
    Oops! Don’t know why I thought he was no longer with us. Glad to hear it.
  2. Tim Lookingbill

    Tim Lookingbill Alfalfa Male

    New Braunfels, TX
    The same way I and 100's of others were able to tell from A/B'ing the original CTA album to the 50th Anniversary reissue of Chicago Transit Authority album, remixed by Tim Jessup and remastered by Bob Ludwig.

    You must've missed the long SHF thread on the subject. The entire album is on YouTube. And I'm not going to get into this YouTube compression BS because I have CD's of a lot of the music posted on YouTube and most of them are very accurate to what I hear on my headphones.

    Thanks for helping.
    Pentior likes this.
  3. Chooke

    Chooke Forum Resident

    Perth, Australia
    I agree, it is easy to hear mastering differences on You Tube, even with computer speakers.
  4. nytechy

    nytechy Forum Resident

    Slade did exactly the same for the same reason.
  5. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your host Your Host Thread Starter

  6. InStepWithTheStars

    InStepWithTheStars It's a miracle, let it alter you

    North Carolina
    This may be a bit of a plug for my buddy Robert whose new album came out today, but I think it's quite apropos to the thread. I've spoken at length with him about mastering, since many of his albums have been absolutely crushed in mastering. When he had his new album mastered, he decided (for the first time) to use a unique, more dynamic mastering for the vinyl release, and crush the CD mastering as usual.

    The vinyl release is going to be delayed due to the pressing plant backup, but he's making the digital files for that mastering available on his Patreon later tonight. There's about 7-8 dB more dynamic range compared to the CD, and it just sounds beautiful. It's a laid-back album, but when the instruments get thicker, the CD master sounds like your ears are being squeezed into a tight space, while the vinyl master is just glorious and wide-open. (It helps that Dave McNair nailed the midrange on this mastering, beautifully natural and inviting.) The EQ is the same on the CD, but there's still a world of difference. (And I almost made him miss the deadline for getting the files submitted for CD production because one of the songs didn't sound right!)

    Oh wait, I need a Beatles connection to make it relevant - Robert's voice is a lot like John Lennon's! And his last name is Harrison... and he writes melodies like McCartney. (Ringo's in there somewhere, I promise.)

    EDIT: I think this should prove our host's point. Here's a short excerpt from the album, first the compressed CD master, then the non-compressed vinyl master. Pay close attention to the drums - notice how they aren't relegated to the background in the second sample. Compression.wav
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2021
    lemonade kid, Seabass and webmatador like this.
  7. The Pinhead

    The Pinhead SUDACA ROÑOSO

    Just today I read a review of Slayer's ¨World Painted Blood¨ on which the reviewer stated he could swore his vinyl release of that album had been ¨secretely remastered¨, because fo ¨how much better it sounded ¨ Little did he know that album is Slayer's brickwalled-to-death, Rick Rubin's-produced equivalent to Metallica's ¨Death Magnetic¨

    Now look at these numbers. Evidently they had to master it differently for vinyl because the stylus wouldn't have been able to stay in the groove otherwise, and what the guy was hearing as an improvement (and could not out his finger on what it was ) was............dynamics !

    Slayer World Painted Blood (The Vinyl Conflict) 2010 09 09 10 lossless Vinyl
    Slayer World Painted Blood (Limited Edition) 2009 04 03 05 lossless CD
  8. el supernautico

    el supernautico A traveller of both, time and space

    Hi Steve,
    does that mean you're no convinced follower of mastering?

    I mean, as far as I understand, mastering is applied to a mix in order to err... enhance/optimize the existing mix to the physical/digital medium of choice because of their respective limitations/possibilities.
    In consequence, a vinyl mastering would sound different than a CD mastering, a Cassette mastering or a mastering for download purposes. In the same consequence, 8track or reel-to-reel releases would not need mastering moves (speak: flat transfer from mixdown tapes) because that medium is in no need to be compromised.

    Am I wrong with that understanding? Or is mastering ("good" mastering) still an essential and needed step in releasing music? And if yes, why - or what is it good for if not for the reasons I mentioned above?

    Thanks in advance for your highly appreciated answer!:righton:

    Edit: Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't have a problem in case you're really not too fond of mastering - indeed, I ask myself why a mastering is needed nowadays anyway...
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2021
  9. Pentior

    Pentior Forum Resident

    This. Exactly this. Thank you both for giving productive examples instead of following this thread's general "digital sucks"-line.

    In this thread digital compression as a general technique and hard brick-walling as a goal and "aesthetic" choice are not that clearly separated. Even our humble host, who made this distinction at some points, mixes it up and declares that digital compression in itself is bad or at least pointless.

    Then proufo gave an example of aesthetic walling, following our host's own analogy:

    And then our host threw into it that these pictures (even if he meant other pictures than proufo) only look nice because the photographer used film. Although the special effect in question is possible IRL with no photographs inbetween whatsoever! Another case of: "Of course it looks/sounds good, he used analog with good skills".

    So please, Steve, follow your own clarifications... How can you make a generalizing statement about digital compression being bad and not adding anything useful, when you said in your first post that compression as such has an important place? Or do you want to feed the anti-digital warriors?

    Digital compression can not only be used in mixing; for some styles of music the crushing of DR might even be appropriate. Things like some Metal subgenres or EDM come to mind. Also it sounds better on low-level playback systems because details are suddenly nearly the same loudness as the main sounds, as stated in the quotes above.

    I greatly surprised my parent when I told them that their Supertramp or Thriller CDs sound bad because of remastering instead of general CD quality. Then I demonstrated it to them. For this kind of music, all this brickwalled remastery is quite stupid. Still I wouldn't call it distortion... The music loses subtlety, character, depth, even clarity sometimes, but it's not distorted per se. It sounds bad, but distortion is a very different thing. I lived happily for years listening to the Supertramp Remasters; it was kind of a big bonus after discovering that older versions sound better.
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2021
  10. Tim Lookingbill

    Tim Lookingbill Alfalfa Male

    New Braunfels, TX
    Both sound identical including the drums. I'm listening on Sony studio monitor headphones.
  11. lemonade kid

    lemonade kid Forever Changing

    Cotton Mather? Robert Harrison? Just wondering...

    This...Girl With The Blue Guitar

  12. MGSeveral

    MGSeveral Augm

    I remember playing Flaming Lips "Soft Bulletin" cd at reasonable volume, and had to turn it down to quiet to take a phone call, and was amazed to hear that it sounded too loud and quiet at the same time.

    I do have the lp version, will have to try that at some point.
  13. mBen989

    mBen989 Forum Resident

    Scranton, PA
    I saw this got bumped. Did I miss any talk about how salvageable a brickwalked digital master is?
  14. Joy-of-radio

    Joy-of-radio Forum Resident

    Central ME
    Steve, Have you heard the recently issued MFSL SACD of Nilsson Schmilsson? In my comparison of it and the ULTRADISC, I observed the SACD as being somewhat brighter. Also, I observed audio level differences between the two. I mentioned this in a thread about the SACD and stated my preference for the ULTRADISC edition. Another member commented, “
    The SACD has a much deeper soundstage & more transparency around the instruments and vocals”. Other than the differences I observed, I perceived no other significant differences. Is this a matter of the limitations of my equipment and hearing?
  15. Sordel

    Sordel Forum Resident

    Steve, come win this argument for me! :whistle:
    Joy-of-radio likes this.
  16. Deuce66

    Deuce66 Senior Member

    The sad part is this thread is 18 years old and brick wall mastering is still an issue.
    Grant, Steve356, George P and 2 others like this.
  17. Joy-of-radio

    Joy-of-radio Forum Resident

    Central ME
    Unfortunately those who care about clean dynamic balanced audio, constitute a tiny percent of the music consuming population. Everyone else happily consunew heavily compressed music as they would cheap highly processed fast food without a thought for quality. Lately I have become brazen and will send back new compact discs that exhibit less than stellar audio quality.
    Grant likes this.
  18. InStepWithTheStars

    InStepWithTheStars It's a miracle, let it alter you

    North Carolina
    Hmm, not sure what to say - I'm also listening on Somy monitor headphones (MDR-7506) and I hear a big difference. There's about 7.5 dB compressed out of the first sample. I hear the drums recessed way in the background on the first, especially during the vocals. Seems really odd to me, as I usually agree with you when it comes to compression - shall I pass your compliments along to Mr. McNair? :p
    That's the one! :righton:
    Tim Lookingbill and lemonade kid like this.
  19. Marty T

    Marty T Stereo Fan

    Thank you for posting this comparison. The immediate A/B juxtaposition is the best, and only IMHO, way to really hear if a difference in corresponding samples exists. I'm afraid I hear no difference what so ever between the first and 2nd samples given in this example - even when focusing my attention to the drums, and then to the bass, and then to other elements. It's a great tune though!! (maybe I should add that my ears were born in the '50's)
  20. InStepWithTheStars

    InStepWithTheStars It's a miracle, let it alter you

    North Carolina
    I'm beginning to wonder if, after thirteen hours of being awake, I unintentionally set the compressed sample a little bit louder than the dynamic one, and that's what people are hearing (or not hearing). The difference is night and day to my ears, but that could also be because I've listened to the dynamic master in full several dozen times and this is as much as I've played of the compressed master.

    Now I almost derailed production because the title track was originally going to have mastering done by someone else and I made sure that didn't happen... I should post THAT, because hearing the music suddenly dropping 3 dB in the middle of the chorus due to an over-zealous compressor should be plainly obvious to everyone with ears!
    Tim Lookingbill likes this.
  21. Denaz

    Denaz Forum Resident

    Asheville NC
    Thanks for the explanation
  22. lemonade kid

    lemonade kid Forever Changing

    Yes....1950's ears (especially for those who were in garage bands in their teens:magoo:) may be a bit compromised...but thankfully my classic vinyl still rocks my stereo system and sounds better than ever to my ol' ears. (my system has seen marked improvements in the last decade)...that may explain it in part.
    Marty T likes this.
  23. Tim Lookingbill

    Tim Lookingbill Alfalfa Male

    New Braunfels, TX
    This is what I consider a night and day A/B comparison...

    Dropbox - 2 Kilmanjaro CookoutEdit-AudacityAB-SndFlowerRecording.wav - Simplify your life

    Note it randomly goes in and out back and forth to rule out confirmation bias and the adaptive effect so you have to just pay attention to the changes which I've been told by other SHF folks they can hear.

    It was recorded on my MacMini using Quicktime app and Soundflower clicking SOLO in Audacity between the two versions from setting up a DAC to ADC closed loop within Mac OS sound preferences. What you hear is what I hear.

    And Mr McNair is a very talented musician. He's nailed the John Lennon vibe.
  24. Tim Lookingbill

    Tim Lookingbill Alfalfa Male

    New Braunfels, TX
    Here's an example of what I'm not sure is compression vs. mic recording distance vs bad EQ. It's the brass jazz/rock second part starting at 2:40 in Chicago's "Brand New Love Affair".

    I have the Group Portrait album comp. version which sounds identical to the YouTube video. This brass section sounds muffled and not what I remember hearing on the radio.
    I can bring out the trumpet/trombone harmony textures that provide more clarity that if it is not EQ'ed with a somewhat flat line curve all the way to 12kHz will bring out a noisy/raspy texture in the high mosquito sounding trumpet registers. So maybe it's a decision made by the mastering engineer to tap this down or the record label did a quicky, one size fits all compression application. Hard to tell but I suspect the muffled sound may have been done in a way so that song can be cranked up loud which usually brings out the brass harmony textures.
  25. InStepWithTheStars

    InStepWithTheStars It's a miracle, let it alter you

    North Carolina
    Mr. McNair is the mastering engineer, the artist is Robert Harrison. Although were it not for Dave McNair's advice that Robert learn how to produce his own music back in 1996, there's a chance his career might have stalled before it even started.

    There is definitely a night and day difference between your two samples, but they have different EQ and also appear to have different stereo fields as well. The only difference between my two samples (confirmed by Robert and Dave) is approximately 7.5 dB of compression. The mastering with full dynamic range and that nice EQ was simply compressed for the digital version. I also applied some dither to the dynamic one, because it was hi-res, but that won't be audible.

    I'm going to have to listen to that sample again and see if I accidentally had the CD master a little bit louder. I didn't A/B properly, just matched the RMS - which a compressor would throw off.
    Tim Lookingbill likes this.

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