no longer available there (really I wonder why? Guess what! :) is re-presented intact from
the most simplified and revealing article with proofing images
for nowadays nasty “trendy” techniques? :( For mastering CD’s which they call it
“Hyper Compressed” or "Radio Like" or whatever else, U may call it
Master minds of music industry think to apply that way of “hyper compressed”
processing for all of they CD’s releases with their “new talents?” making it more
louder or “radio like” just to impress the music customers especially young peoples
with only one traget, just to“sell” as much as possible copies, or maybe they think
“Bring back on life” an already “dead” music market. They have wrong, the only
they do is to “kill the music” if there is any remains :)
Of course the trick of "louder is better" is not new on music media, all radio
stations apply “hyper compressed & clipping” techniques on his broadcasting
sound with dedicated expensive processing units, but on analogue radio which is an medium
with limited and narrow dynamics max of 40db that “hyper compressed & clipping”
way is a must to keep radio stations under the legally of 75khz max, the CD don’t have
such limitations, so why they continuous to apply that damn “hyper compressed &
Personally only one reasonable answer I can find “they try to adapt younger peoples to a
feckless “deaf and blind” customers” :( Isn’t a sad ascertainment? Yes it is, so
do something. Stop now that awfully situation.
Before years they pass on youth people mp3 as the most High Quality source of today make
in it a trendy a must to have, I pod etc, now they strikes again with the domination of
that loud & distorted sound as a status of High Quality abuses the well known unique
benefits of Compact Disc medium :(
That horribly distorted processing method is not applying it only on current CD releases
but and older CD’s as well, u must be very suspicious on every old CD which notice it as
“Remastered”, an bad example is the “Rumors” by Fleetwood Mac, Is full hyper
compressed plus severe clipped, the voice of Steve Nicks on “Dreams” sounds like
“donkey's bray :(”.
Fortunately there are some honest audio engineers which refuse on that trend and apply
processing with much respect on classic albums without any clipping. Two excellent
examples which is real “remastered” and is a reference for audiophile passionate best
for sound check of home Hi End sets and for fine tune of any Radio processing unit. That
two excellent “remastered” CD’s are “Aja” released at 1999 and “Gaucho”
released at 2000 by Steely Dan both are produced by MCA.
People must be aware/inform for that major catastrophic situation, from artists to CD
customers or music lovers, to radio program directors, people must learn how music
company’s abuses the product just to “sell” more, customers must stop buying any of today CD releases all are
mastered with “hyper compressed” way is no matter the format from Jazz to rNb all
sounds “distorted” NOT loud, Radio Stations must refuse to play at his on air any “hyper
compressed” CD, valuable expensive high tech radio sound processing units sounds
“scrap” when play that damn horribly “hyper compressed” CD’s.
The original article has presented at
Michael Richter main Website Here, my best greetings to Mr. Richter
WebPages and forums with lots of information about.
masters of mastering, Bob Ludwig, Steve Hall, Stephen Marcussen,
What people say about “hyper compressed” CD’s. Here
Detailed more scientific point of view. Here and Here
Talking about Dynamic Range and
how they destroying it. Here
and I hope some day people stop that silly trend and trough away that “scrap”
Bryan Adams - Cuts Like a Knife (A&M CD-3288)
This represents the earliest stage of CD
audio mastering techniques. One of the big attractions of the CD format was its very wide
dynamic range and absence of surface noise, so the first generation of CDs that were
released made full use of this.
The CD's digital audio format is
inherently limited to a peak audio amplitude that is referenced as "0 dB" or
"100%". Unlike the variability of analog recording techniques, this limit cannot
be exceeded. If you try to, you end up with a waveform that is horribly distorted, due to
the top and/or bottom of the wave being harshly limited to the maximum level -- or
"clipped." Early CDs were mastered with full respect to this loudness limit and
did not use any clipping.
In this case, Bryan Adams' breakthrough
album -- although full of stereotypically "loud" rock & roll music -- was
mastered with a great amount of "headroom"; the highest peak level on the entire
disc is only 74.8%, or -2.52 dB. This peak level only occurs a single time on the
disc, in Track 9, whose waveform graph is shown here (with the stereo Left channel on top,
and Right channel on bottom):
Obviously this peak (which occurs at around
2:16 in the song) is not even close to being clipped, and in fact the loudness of the
whole CD could be increased by 2.5 dB without sacrificing any quality or harming the
content of the recordings in any way. That single peak would simply be raised up to just
below the 100% limit. You can think of this as a short person raising up the
height-adjustable driver's seat in their car. They would sit at a higher level, with their
head just below the ceiling, but not touching it -- in this case, literal
Willie Nelson - What a Wonderful World (Columbia CK 44331)
This is an example of what I was just
talking about. With this CD, there is a single peak on the entire disc which does
reach the 100% limit, but yet is still not "clipped", and every other track on
the album has a lower peak level. Here is the waveform of Track 6, showing the single 100%
(0 dB) peak near the beginning:
And here is a highly "zoomed in"
view of this peak, to prove that it is not clipped:
This represents the extreme of the most
conservative form of CD mastering; where only a single peak, occuring only in a single
track, reaches the maximum level, and everything else on the disc is below it. However, as
we shall see, as the years went by and CDs became more and more popular, this pristine
form of CD audio production became more and more rare!
George Michael - Faith (Columbia CK
Yes, we are stepping back a year, in this
case to show a more contemporary pop music CD. On this particular CD, most of the tracks
contain multiple peaks which reach the 100% limit, but are still not clipped. Here
is the waveform of the title track "Faith":
So, there are multiple instances in the song
where the 100% / 0 dB peak level is reached. But are these peaks clipped? I looked at all
of them to check, and none of them were. Here is an example of a few of these 100% peaks
in the song, and as you can see, the shape of the waveform is still fully preserved:
For the average public's listening tastes,
this is probably the ideal compromise between pristine, unharmed audio quality, and the
goal of having CDs sound a bit "louder" when played -- and most CDs from the
late 1980s continued to respect this compromise. But by the early 1990s, things had begun
to change -- for the worse.
Amy Grant - Heart In Motion (A&M 75021 5321 2)
Alas, in the highly competitive pop music
world, something had to give; who was first to do it may be lost to history, but by this
time, the trend towards the reduction of the CD's quality and dynamic range had already
begun. In this particular case, not only do many songs on the CD reach maximum peak level,
a number of these peaks in each song are also "clipped" -- an instance where the
top and/or bottom of the waveform has been "flat-topped" or "hacked
off" because it ran into the brick wall known as the 100% / 0 dB limit. This is
already evident by looking at the waveform graph of Track 3:
By zooming in on one of these peaks, I can illustrate just what I have been talking about:
In this instance, seven samples (or "digital snapshots" of the sound) in a row
are shoved up against the limit, and they have nowhere to go, so they just form a flat
line -- hence, our old friend known as "clipping". A perfectly flat line like
this never occurs in audio recording unless the audio is purposely clipped.
What it is doing is generating a very unnatural "square wave", and when you play
back this square wave, you get a burst of distorted sound. CD digital audio runs at 44,100
samples per second. In this case, seven of these samples formed a square wave. That's
7/44100th of a second -- far too quick to be directly heard. But when you add many of
these clipped samples in each second of the song, the effect becomes more and more
noticeable as "clipping distortion" -- a harsh, crackly sound that is very
unpleasant to the ear -- as we shall see below.
The Rembrandts - L.P. (EastWest/Atlantic 61752-2)
Everybody loves "I'll Be There For
You", the theme song from the TV show "Friends", right? Well, have you ever
looked at its waveform graph? Yikes!
Although this particular track only reaches a peak level of 96.2% -- which is below the
100% limit and theoretically should be free from "clipping" -- when you zoom in,
you'll see that many of the MANY peaks that are strictly limited to this level
(causing the "solid block of sound" effect) are clipped, like this one:
The sad part is that when these peaks are
clipped, or "hacked off" as I like to call it, the original content and
quality of the sound is lost forever. Although there are techniques to
"guess" at the missing part of the waveform and "re-draw" a curved
wave out of the part that was formerly a flat line, this is not accurate to the original
sound; it is merely an "artist's reconstruction", so to speak. Thus, when
aggressive peak clipping is used, the record company is DESTROYINGpart of the
music. And if you thought this song was bad enough, hold on and be prepared for a very
sickening sight below...
Ricky Martin (C2/Columbia CK 69891)
By now I don't think I have to explain
what you see below. And in this case, it probably will help explain why your ears start to
hurt after listening to "Livin' La Vida Loca" even for just a short time!
And as we zoom in, the audio carnage is apparent:
The Radio Loudness Fallacy
Okay, so the end result of all this stuff
shown above is that CDs have gotten louder and louder over the years. But that also makes
them sound louder when played on the radio, right?
WRONG! Every radio station uses
"audio processing" to accomodate a wide variety of audio programming and deliver
a consistent volume level, so that you're not always reaching for the volume control to
turn up quiet songs and turn down loud songs. The goal of this is to make every song come
out of your radio at a fairly equal volume level. The station's audio processing does this
by carefully compressing, limiting, and yes, even clipping the audio. It also equalizes
the bass and treble levels so one song doesn't sound bassy and muffled and the next
doesn't sound tinny and shrill.
When properly adjusted, this audio
processing can work wonders, and gives radio stations just the type of sound they're
looking to provide their listeners with, be it a soft and relaxing Classical music
station, or a loud and brash Heavy Metal rock station. But... this audio processing relies
on the peaks and valleys of the incoming audio; it raises up the quiet spots and limits
down the loud spots.
BUT WHEN EVERYTHING IS CONSISTENTLY LOUD ALL THE TIME, LIKE THIS SENTENCE, the radio
station's audio processor has nothing to do but to limit down the volume level, and since
the incoming music contains virtually no variations in loudness, then it stays
consistently quiet when played on the air. It's like walking along a street and passing a
construction zone where they have a jack-hammer going. Due to the consistently loud noise,
you have no choice but to cover your ears until it stops.
Compare that example to a fireworks
display. You may cover you ears during the explosions, but otherwise, things are much
quieter and you could actually amplify the sounds around you and not damage your hearing.
This is like the CDs of the 1980s shown above. The high peaks get limited down so that the
radio station doesn't exceed the signal level which it can transmit, but otherwise the
rest of the audio actually gets raised in level, so that it comes out louder on the air.
And you can get this same effect at home
by simply TURNING UP YOUR STEREO'S VOLUME CONTROL. You want your music to be loud?
You can make it loud yourself -- and the full quality and dynamic range of the
music is preserved. Yes, even the Bryan Adams CD from 1983 can be played louder
than Ricky Martin's horribly produced CD -- the choice is up to you. But when all of your
CDs are recoreded to be loud right on the discs themselves, you don't have this choice
anymore; you no longer have a variety of "loud" music and "quiet"
music to choose from and to play at a volume level that suits your musical taste. The
record companies are not only filling your CDs with distorted, corrupted audio, they are forcing
you to listen to your music in a certain manner -- do you really want that?
Meanwhile, in Europe...
At least for some record companies
"across the pond", it took a lot longer for the "loudness wars" to
catch up with them than it did in the USA. Take, for example, the original April 1999
CD single release "Swear It Again" by Westlife (RCA/BMG 74321 66206 2) -- which
was the first of a record-breaking string of #1 U.K. hits for this Irish pop group:
This is just like the 1988 Willie Nelson CD shown far above on this page. Only a single
peak during the entire song reaches maximum level -- in this case, 97.1%, and it is not
But a funny thing happened to this very same song when it ended up on Westlife's first
full album (RCA/BMG 74321 713212) later in the year:
That may look like a drastic increase in
loudness, and it is, but notice that as compared to American pop music of the 1990s, it
still has a decent amount of "wiggle room" for the peaks and valleys of the
sound to occur. And if we zoom in, only five peaks during the entire song occur at
the maximum level, and NONE OF THEM ARE CLIPPED, as you can see from these two:
This is pretty much what I would consider to be the limit of RESPONSIBLE CD PRODUCTION.
It allows the music to sound "loud" without DESTROYING the audio through
the use of peak clipping.
But, alas, the influence of American pop
music became too great, and the U.K. record companies felt they had to respond by also
resorting to the same tricks for their music. Here is an example from 2000, the
first track from Westlife's second album "Coast To Coast" (RCA/BMG 74321
What I don't get is that this song has its peak level set unnaturally low, to only 88.1%
out of the 100% possible -- and yet, even with over 1 dB of "headroom" to work
with, the audio is still clipped in numerous places during the song:
You might just write this off as somebody setting the recording level a bit low, but it is
interesting to compare it to the same song on the Asian release of this album
(RCA/BMG 74321 803772):
The peak level is now much closer to the CD's maximum limit -- in this case 99.3% -- and
at least some of the peaks and valleys can still be seen amongst the highly
compressed audio. But, unfortunately, when zoomed in, even this dynamically superior Asian
release also used clipping on some of the peaks:
Note that in each case above, when clipping is present, I have picked the most clipped
example out of the entire song; that is, the instance which has the highest number of
"flat-topped" samples. So, while this Asian version still contains clipping, it
is less drastically clipped than the U.K. release, while it actually has a higher
peak level. Are Asian ears more sensitive to clipping distortion than British ears? Maybe
the record company knows something we don't....
Questions? Comments? Criticisms?
Present them in the rec.audio.pro
newsgroup, or e-mail me at:
k e v t r o n i c s (at) y a h o o . c o m
I'm not a professional audio engineer, I
only play one on TV.