The loudness war (or loudness race) is a trend of increasing audio levels in recorded music, which reduces audio fidelity and — according to many critics — listener enjoyment. Increasing loudness was first reported as early as the 1940s, with respect to mastering practices for 7-inch singles.The maximum peak level of analog recordings such as these is limited by varying specifications of electronic equipment along the chain from source to listener, including vinyl and Compact Cassette players. The issue garnered renewed attention starting in the 1990s with the introduction of digital signal processing capable of producing further loudness increases.
With the advent of the compact disc (CD), music is encoded to a digital format with a clearly defined maximum peak amplitude. Once the maximum amplitude of a CD is reached, loudness can be increased still further through signal processing techniques such as dynamic range compression and equalization. Engineers can apply an increasingly high ratio of compression to a recording until it more frequently peaks at the maximum amplitude. In extreme cases, efforts to increase loudness can result in clipping and other audible distortion.Modern recordings that use extreme dynamic range compression and other measures to increase loudness therefore can sacrifice sound quality to loudness. The competitive escalation of loudness has led music fans and members of the musical press to refer to the affected albums as "victims of the loudness war."
The practice of focusing on loudness in audio mastering can be traced back to the introduction of the compact disc, but also existed to some extent when the vinyl phonograph record was the primary released recording medium and when 7-inch singles were played on jukebox machines in clubs and bars. The Wall of Sound formula preceded the loudness war, but achieved its goal using a variety of techniques, such as instrument doubling and reverberation, as well as compression.
Jukeboxes became popular in the 1940s and were often set to a predetermined level by the owner, so any record that was mastered louder than the others would stand out. Similarly, starting in the 1950s, producers would request louder 7-inch singles so that songs would stand out when auditioned by program directors for radio stations.In particular, many Motown records pushed the limits of how loud records could be made; according to one of their engineers, they were "notorious for cutting some of the hottest 45s in the industry." In the 1960s and 1970s, compilation albums of hits by multiple different artists became popular, and if artists and producers found their song was quieter than others on the compilation, they would insist that their song be remastered to be competitive.
Because of the limitations of the vinyl format, the ability to manipulate loudness was also limited. Attempts to achieve extreme loudness could render the medium unplayable. Digital media such as CDs remove these restrictions and as a result, increasing loudness levels have been a more severe issue in the CD era.Modern computer-based digital audio effects processing allows mastering engineers to have greater direct control over the loudness of a song: for example, a "brick wall" limiter can look ahead at an upcoming signal to limit its level.
The stages of CD loudness increase are often split over the decades of the medium's existence.
Since CDs were not the primary medium for popular music until the late 1980s, there was little motivation for competitive loudness practices then. The common practice of mastering music for CD involved matching the highest peak of a recording at, or close to, digital full scale, and referring to digital levels along the lines of more familiar analog VU meters. When using VU meters, a certain point (usually −14 dB below the disc's maximum amplitude) was used in the same way as the saturation point (signified as 0 dB) of analog recording, with several dB of the CD's recording level reserved for amplitude exceeding the saturation point (often referred to as the "red zone", signified by a red bar in the meter display), because digital media cannot exceed 0 decibels relative to full scale (dBFS).[ citation needed ] The average RMS level of the average rock song during most of the decade was around −16.8 dBFS. :246
By the early 1990s, mastering engineers had learned how to optimize for the CD medium and the loudness war had not yet begun in earnest. dBFS, but only occasionally reached it.[ citation needed ]However, in the early 1990s, CDs with louder music levels began to surface, and CD levels became more and more likely to bump up to the digital limit, resulting in recordings where the peaks on an average rock or beat-heavy pop CD hovered near 0
The concept of making music releases "hotter" began to appeal to people within the industry, in part because of how noticeably louder some releases had become and also in part because the industry believed that customers preferred louder-sounding CDs, even though that may not have been true. dBFS on many of its tracks—a rare occurrence, especially in the year it was released (1995). Red Hot Chili Peppers's Californication (1999) represented another milestone, with prominent clipping occurring throughout the album.Engineers, musicians, and labels each developed their own ideas of how CDs could be made louder. In 1994, the first digital brickwall limiter with look-ahead (the Waves L1) was mass-produced: this feature, since then, had been commonly incorporated in digital mastering limiters and maximizers. While the increase in CD loudness was gradual throughout the 1990s, some opted to push the format to the limit, such as on Oasis's widely popular album (What's the Story) Morning Glory? , whose RMS level averaged −8
By the early 2000s, the loudness war had become fairly widespread, especially with some remastered re-releases and greatest hits collections of older music. In 2008, loud mastering practices received mainstream media attention with the release of Metallica's Death Magnetic album. The CD version of the album has a high average loudness that pushes peaks beyond the point of digital clipping, causing distortion. This was reported by customers and music industry professionals, and covered in multiple international publications, including Rolling Stone ,The Wall Street Journal , BBC Radio, Wired , and The Guardian . Ted Jensen, a mastering engineer involved in the Death Magnetic recordings, criticized the approach employed during the production process. A version of the album without dynamic range compression was included in the downloadable content for the video game Guitar Hero III .
In late 2008, mastering engineer Bob Ludwig offered three versions of the Guns N' Roses album Chinese Democracy for approval to co-producers Axl Rose and Caram Costanzo. They selected the one with the least compression. Ludwig wrote, "I was floored when I heard they decided to go with my full dynamics version and the loudness-for-loudness-sake versions be damned." Ludwig said the "fan and press backlash against the recent heavily compressed recordings finally set the context for someone to take a stand and return to putting music and dynamics above sheer level."
In March 2010, mastering engineer Ian Shepherd organised the first Dynamic Range Day,a day of online activity intended to raise awareness of the issue and promote the idea that "Dynamic music sounds better". The day was a success and its follow-ups in the following years have built on this, gaining industry support from companies like SSL, Bowers & Wilkins, TC Electronic and Shure as well as engineers like Bob Ludwig, Guy Massey and Steve Lillywhite. Shepherd cites research showing there is no connection between sales and loudness, and that people prefer more dynamic music. He also argues that file-based loudness normalization will eventually render the war irrelevant.
One of the biggest albums of 2013 was Daft Punk's Random Access Memories , with many reviews commenting on the album's great sound.Mixing engineer Mick Guzauski deliberately chose to use less compression on the project, commenting "We never tried to make it loud and I think it sounds better for it." In January 2014, the album won five Grammy Awards, including Best Engineered Album (Non-Classical).
Analysis in the early 2010s suggests that the loudness trend may have peaked around 2005 and subsequently reduced, with a pronounced increase in dynamic range (both overall and minimum) for albums since 2005.
Mastering engineer Bob Katz had argued that "The last battle of the loudness war has been won", claiming that mandatory use of Sound Check by Apple would lead to producers and mastering engineers to turn down the level of their songs to the standard level, or Apple will do it for them. He believed this would eventually result in producers and engineers making more dynamic masters to take account of this factor.
By the late 2010s/early 2020s, all major streaming services began normalizing audio by default.Target loudness for normalization varies by platform:
|Service||Loudness (measured in LUFS)|
|Spotify||-13 to -15 LUFS|
|Apple Music||-16 LUFS|
|Amazon Music||-9 to -13 LUFS|
|YouTube||-13 to -15 LUFS|
|SoundCloud||-8 to -13 LUFS|
When music is broadcast over radio, the station applies its own signal processing, further reducing the dynamic range of the material to closely match levels of absolute amplitude, regardless of the original recording's loudness.
Competition for listeners between radio stations has contributed to a loudness war in radio broadcasting.Loudness jumps between television broadcast channels and between programmes within the same channel, and between programs and intervening adverts are a frequent source of audience complaints. The European Broadcasting Union has addressing this issue in the EBU PLOUD Group with publication of the EBU R 128 recommendation. In the U.S., legislators passed the CALM act, which led to enforcement of the formerly voluntary ATSC A/85 standard for loudness management.
In 2007, Suhas Sreedhar published an article about the loudness war in the engineering magazine IEEE Spectrum . Sreedhar said that the greater possible dynamic range of CDs was being set aside in favor of maximizing loudness using digital technology. Sreedhar said that the over-compressed modern music was fatiguing, that it did not allow the music to "breathe".
The production practices associated with the loudness war have been condemned by recording industry professionals including Alan Parsons and Geoff Emerick,along with mastering engineers Doug Sax, Stephen Marcussen, and Bob Katz. Musician Bob Dylan has also condemned the practice, saying, "You listen to these modern records, they're atrocious, they have sound all over them. There's no definition of nothing, no vocal, no nothing, just like—static." Music critics have complained about excessive compression. The Rick Rubin produced albums Californication and Death Magnetic have been criticised for loudness by The Guardian ; the latter was also criticised by Audioholics . Stylus Magazine said the former suffered from so much digital clipping that "even non-audiophile consumers complained about it".
Opponents have called for immediate changes in the music industry regarding the level of loudness. In August 2006, the vice-president of A&R for One Haven Music, a Sony Music company, in an open letter decrying the loudness war, claimed that mastering engineers are being forced against their will or are preemptively making releases louder to get the attention of industry heads.Some bands are being petitioned by the public to re-release their music with less distortion.
The nonprofit organization Turn Me Up! was created by Charles Dye, John Ralston, and Allen Wagner in 2007 with the aim of certifying albums that contain a suitable level of dynamic range As of 2019 [update] , the group has not produced an objective method for determining what will be certified.and encourage the sale of quieter records by placing a "Turn Me Up!" sticker on certified albums.
A hearing researcher at House Ear Institute is concerned that the loudness of new albums could possibly harm listeners' hearing, particularly that of children.The Journal of General Internal Medicine has published a paper suggesting increasing loudness may be a risk factor in hearing loss.
A 2-minute YouTube video addressing this issue by audio engineer Matt Mayfieldhas been referenced by The Wall Street Journal and the Chicago Tribune . Pro Sound Web quoted Mayfield, "When there is no quiet, there can be no loud."
The book Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music, by Greg Milner, presents the loudness war in radio and music production as a central theme. 241 These chapters are based on Katz's presentation at the 107th Audio Engineering Society Convention (1999) and subsequent Audio Engineering Society Journal publication (2000).The book Mastering Audio: The Art and the Science, by Bob Katz, includes chapters about the origins of the loudness war and another suggesting methods of combating the war. :
In September 2011, Emmanuel Deruty wrote in Sound on Sound , a recording industry magazine, that the loudness war has not led to a decrease in dynamic variability in modern music, possibly because the original digitally-recorded source material of modern recordings is more dynamic than analogue material. Deruty and Tardieu analyzed the loudness range (LRA) over a 45-year span of recordings, and observed that the crest factor of recorded music diminished significantly between 1985 and 2010, but the LRA remained relatively constant.Deruty and Damien Tardieu criticized Sreedhar's methods in an AES paper, saying that Sreedhar had confused crest factor (peak to RMS) with dynamics in the musical sense (pianissimo to fortissimo).
This analysis was also challenged by Ian Shepherd and Bob Katz on the basis that the LRA was designed for assessing loudness variation within a track while the EBU R128 peak to loudness ratio (PLR) is a measure of the peak level of a track relative to a reference loudness level and is a more helpful metric than LRA in assessing overall perceived dynamic range. PLR measurements show a trend of reduced dynamic range throughout the 1990s.
Debate continues regarding which measurement methods are most appropriate to evaluating the loudness war.
Albums that have been criticized for their sound quality include the following:
|Arctic Monkeys||Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not||23 January 2006|
|Black Sabbath||13||10 June 2013|
|Christina Aguilera||Back to Basics||9 August 2006|
|The Cure||4:13 Dream||27 October 2008|
|Duran Duran||Duran Duran (2010 remaster)||29 March 2010|
|Seven and the Ragged Tiger (2010 remaster)|
|The Flaming Lips||At War with the Mystics||3 April 2006|
|Led Zeppelin||Mothership||12 November 2007|
|Lily Allen||Alright, Still||13 July 2006|
|Los Lonely Boys||Sacred||18 July 2006|
|Metallica||Death Magnetic||12 September 2008|
|Miranda Lambert||Revolution||29 September 2009|
|Oasis||(What's the Story) Morning Glory?||2 October 1995|
|Paul McCartney||Memory Almost Full||4 June 2007|
|Paul Simon||Surprise||9 May 2006|
|Queens of the Stone Age||Songs for the Deaf||27 August 2002|
|Red Hot Chili Peppers||Californication||8 June 1999|
|Rush||Vapor Trails||14 May 2002|
|The Stooges||Raw Power (1997 remix/remaster)||22 April 1997|
|Taylor Swift||1989||27 October 2014|
Dynamic range is the ratio between the largest and smallest values that a certain quantity can assume. It is often used in the context of signals, like sound and light. It is measured either as a ratio or as a base-10 (decibel) or base-2 logarithmic value of the difference between the smallest and largest signal values.
An audiophile is a person who is enthusiastic about high-fidelity sound reproduction. An audiophile seeks to reproduce the sound of a live musical performance, typically in a room with good acoustics. It is widely agreed that reaching this goal is very difficult and that even the best-regarded recording and playback systems rarely, if ever, achieve it.
Sound can be recorded and stored and played using either digital or analog techniques. Both techniques introduce errors and distortions in the sound, and these methods can be systematically compared. Musicians and listeners have argued over the superiority of digital versus analog sound recordings. Arguments for analog systems include the absence of fundamental error mechanisms which are present in digital audio systems, including aliasing and quantization noise. Advocates of digital point to the high levels of performance possible with digital audio, including excellent linearity in the audible band and low levels of noise and distortion.
Mastering, a form of audio post production, is the process of preparing and transferring recorded audio from a source containing the final mix to a data storage device, the source from which all copies will be produced. In recent years digital masters have become usual, although analog masters—such as audio tapes—are still being used by the manufacturing industry, particularly by a few engineers who specialize in analog mastering.
Dynamic range compression (DRC) or simply compression is an audio signal processing operation that reduces the volume of loud sounds or amplifies quiet sounds, thus reducing or compressing an audio signal's dynamic range. Compression is commonly used in sound recording and reproduction, broadcasting, live sound reinforcement and in some instrument amplifiers.
Audio system measurements are a means of quantifying system performance. These measurements are made for several purposes. Designers take measurements so that they can specify the performance of a piece of equipment. Maintenance engineers make them to ensure equipment is still working to specification, or to ensure that the cumulative defects of an audio path are within limits considered acceptable. Audio system measurements often accommodate psychoacoustic principles to measure the system in a way that relates to human hearing.
dbx is a family of noise reduction systems developed by the company of the same name. The most common implementations are dbx Type I and dbx Type II for analog tape recording and, less commonly, vinyl LPs. A separate implementation, known as dbx-TV, is part of the MTS system used to provide stereo sound to North American and certain other TV systems. The company, dbx, Inc., was also involved with Dynamic Noise Reduction (DNR) systems.
Remaster refers to changing the quality of the sound or of the image, or both, of previously created recordings, either audiophonic, cinematic, or videographic.
ReplayGain is a proposed standard published by David Robinson in 2001 to measure and normalize the perceived loudness of audio in computer audio formats such as MP3 and Ogg Vorbis. It allows media players to normalize loudness for individual tracks or albums. This avoids the common problem of having to manually adjust volume levels between tracks when playing audio files from albums that have been mastered at different loudness levels.
Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab is a record label specializing in the production of audiophile recordings. The company is best known for its reissued vinyl LP records, compact discs, and Super Audio CDs but has also produced other formats.
Audio normalization is the application of a constant amount of gain to an audio recording to bring the amplitude to a target level. Because the same amount of gain is applied across the entire recording, the signal-to-noise ratio and relative dynamics are unchanged. Normalization is one of the functions commonly provided by a digital audio workstation.
Programme level refers to the signal level that an audio source is transmitted or recorded at, and is important in audio if listeners of Compact Discs (CDs), radio and television are to get the best experience, without excessive noise in quiet periods or distortion of loud sounds. Programme level is often measured using a peak programme meter or a VU meter.
The history of sound recording - which has progressed in waves, driven by the invention and commercial introduction of new technologies — can be roughly divided into four main periods:
The alignment level in an audio signal chain or on an audio recording is a defined anchor point that represents a reasonable or typical level. It does not represent a particular sound level or signal level or digital representation, but it can be defined as corresponding to particular levels in each of these domains.
Parallel compression, also known as New York compression, is a dynamic range compression technique used in sound recording and mixing. Parallel compression, a form of upward compression, is achieved by mixing an unprocessed 'dry', or lightly compressed signal with a heavily compressed version of the same signal. Rather than lowering the highest peaks for the purpose of dynamic range reduction, it decreases the dynamic range by raising up the softest sounds, adding audible detail. It is most often used on stereo percussion buses in recording and mixdown, on electric bass, and on vocals in recording mixes and live concert mixes.
The LP is an analog sound storage medium, a phonograph record format characterized by: a speed of 33+1⁄3 rpm; a 12- or 10-inch diameter; use of the "microgroove" groove specification; and a vinyl composition disk. Introduced by Columbia in 1948, it was soon adopted as a new standard by the entire record industry. Apart from a few relatively minor refinements and the important later addition of stereophonic sound, it remained the standard format for record albums until its gradual replacement from the 1980s to the early 2000s, first by cassettes, then by compact discs, and finally by music downloads and streaming. The LP has experienced a revival in popularity since about 2007.
Overproduction is the excessive use of audio effects, layering, or digital manipulation in music production.
A mixing engineer is responsible for combining ("mixing") different sonic elements of an auditory piece into a complete rendition, whether in music, film, or any other content of auditory nature. The finished piece, recorded or live, must achieve a good balance of properties, such as volume, pan positioning, and other effects, while resolving any arising frequency conflicts from various sound sources. These sound sources can comprise the different musical instruments or vocals in a band or orchestra, dialogue or foley in a film, and more.
EBU R 128 is a recommendation for loudness normalisation and maximum level of audio signals. It is primarily followed during audio mixing of television and radio programmes and adopted by broadcasters to measure and control programme loudness. It was first issued by the European Broadcasting Union in August 2010 and most recently revised in June 2014.
Ian Shepherd is a British mastering engineer, Blu-ray and DVD author. He runs the Production Advice website and is the founder of Dynamic Range Day, an annual event raising awareness of the Loudness War.
there is no evidence of any significant correlation between loudness (& implied compression) and commercial successCite journal requires
We started this paper with viewer complaints. At Belgian National Broadcasters VRT, located in Brussels, about 140 complaints per year were about sound. Since the implementation of the master plan there was a spectacular downfall to 3 complaints in 2003. This demonstrates again the efficiency of the master plan.