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Tag Archives: dynamic range compression

The Loudness War

Once in a while, my brother drives the car. And when he’s alone, he turns the music up. Really, really, really loud. So when I got in a few days ago and turned the car on, I was greeted by an almost palpable blast of sound. Needless to say, I jumped out of my skin. It’s depressing that some music is so… bad… that the volume has to be cranked up in order for the experience to be even marginally enjoyable. Maybe they’re drowning themselves out.

With the growing popularity of CDs in the 1990s, albums increased their loudness. Believing, mistakenly, that consumers preferred songs that were louder, they digitally mastered them to increase the volume. When they reached the maximum peak level of analog recordings, they turned to signal processing techniques such as dynamic range compression and equalization. As a result of these techniques, the loudness of music has been steadily increasing over the years.

Dynamic range compression, however, can cause clipping and distortion, which is entirely undesirable in music. These modern recordings sacrifice sound quality to loudness. Really, when I buy music, I want to actually hear it as it was meant to be, not distorted. If you have some good quality speakers, then you don’t need to turn the volume up to hear the song, and the sound quality will be much better.

The increasing loudness has happened somewhat gradually, which allows for consumers to adjust to it. They get used to the loud music, and so even when the recording itself is normal, without extreme loudness, the consumers do it themselves. Like my brother. Unfortunately, many people, especially children, have damaged their hearing due to the loudness war. We expect our ears to be ringing after a concert. But after a car ride? That’s not right.

Now, with digital downloads predominant in music sales, the loudness is controlled by normalization technology such as ReplayGain and Apple’s Sound Check. But those who have already had their hearing damaged, or at least become used to the sheer volume level of modern recordings, will continue to crank the volume up.

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