(We welcome guest writer Alex, the co-founder and chief editor of Metal-Fi and an audiophile who has been listening to metal for more than 20 years. The following piece provides a detailed introduction to “The Loudness War” for metal lovers who don’t know about it, but should prove to be an eye-opener even for people who do.)
Metal is supposed to be loud. Extreme metal is supposed to be even louder.
Suffice it to say, for many years I was a religious zealot when it came to the above doctrine, especially when I was in the company of people who I knew despised the genre. Many of these “civilians” treated it as simply noise, and my volume habits would only help underscore that belief. But it was through my volume fervor that over the years I started to notice something, namely, it seemed that my metal collection was gradually sounding worse, i.e., each successive new release I bought would sound worse than the prior one. What the hell was going on?
The fact is most headbangers never heard of the Loudness War until the release of Death Magnetic.
I had friends who were literally counting down the hours ’til it was released. And despite the fact that I had jumped the Metallica ship years ago, they insisted that as soon as they got their grubby little hands on it, they were going to soil my stereo system with it (my presence was entirely optional). As the only audiophile in the group, I was the only one who had a system that would actually do it some aural justice. Well, like clockwork, day of, they came over with the CD and immediately had me play it. The record of course sounded like shit. “Dog shit” I believe was the term bounced around the most. It wasn’t the music per se, it was how Death Magnetic actually sounded on my system. They thought my setup was broken. I assured them it wasn’t. My friends looked very confused.
So I made the most of it, and proceeded to hold my own little audiophile group therapy session. I explained the reason why this record sounds so awful is because of the copious amount of dynamic range compression applied during the mastering process, and that this is a direct result of the Loudness War. Most of my friends were very skeptical to say the least. To better illustrate the point, I quickly played my original Master of Puppets CD. Sounded good. I then re-spun Death Magnetic. Dog shit. I then applied this un-so-scientific method to other popular metal artists, switching back and forth between older, less compressed releases and newer, more compressed ones. Same exact results.
NCS’ own Andy Synn wrote a piece a few months ago about the Loudness War, mainly treating it as an issue of aesthetics. At the end of the piece, he eventually comes to the conclusion “that it’s not necessarily the fault of the production techniques, it’s the misuse and misapplication of them that’s the problem.” I couldn’t agree more. However, the article skirts around some of the more fundamental aspects of the Loudness War, i.e., it’s not just about the loss of crescendos and volume homogeneity. The Loudness War also breeds a certain ideology that has been single-handedly destroying popular music, including metal, for the past few decades. But before I get into that, as the great French philosopher Voltaire would say, “If you want to converse with me, you must define your terms.”
Since Andy references Wikipedia, so will I: The Loudness War is “a pejorative term that describes the reduction of dynamic range of music in an effort to make it louder.” But what exactly is dynamic range anyway and how do you reduce dynamic range in order to increase volume?
Dynamic range (DR) is defined as the ratio of the softest sound to the loudest. To get even more technical, it is the ratio of the peak to the average level, commonly known as the crest factor (my friends, like you, are rolling their eyes right about now). In order to maximize loudness, an engineer will use a technique called dynamic range compression that applies gain to the softer, quieter signals within a track, while keeping the louder ones slightly reduced or intact. The idea is to create an artificial sense of sustained volume across a whole song or album.
But if an engineer pushes these levels too hard, odd-order harmonic distortion is produced (read: unpleasant noise, trust me). So in order to maximize loudness but prevent unwanted distortion from occurring, a technique called brickwall limiting is used in conjunction with dynamic range compression. Brickwall limiting provides a stop-gap measure to prevent the signal from being pushed past the point of no return, or a level in which digital audio can no longer represent it (past 0dbFS for all you nerds out there). The net result is a track or album that is loud all the time, non-stop, whether the material warrants it or not.
But the process I just described has some grave side effects. In essence, as all the levels are pushed higher and higher, the music’s fidelity starts to degrade. Bass guitars become barely audible, if at all. Cymbals don’t reverb naturally. Kick drums lack slam. Imaging and transients are thrown right out the window. The “wall of sound” is more of an artifact of piss-poor mastering than it is a product of brilliant composition.
So given all of the above, who in their right mind would ever master a record that results in a terrible sounding product? Enter the Loudness War.
In 1933, researchers Harvey Fletcher and Wilden A. Mudson decided to try to model how our ears perceive the audible spectrum (20hz – 20kHz) at different loudness levels. By 1937 they had come up with the first Equal-Loudness Curves. Then in 1956, it was slightly revised and became the basis for a formal industry wide standard. It turns out that the frequency response of our hearing changes with loudness. In other words, depending on how loud I play your favorite Bolt Thrower track, you will perceive its spectral content differently as I turn the volume knob up and down.
So where is the sweet spot on these curves? Generally speaking, around 85-90db is considered the range in which your ears demonstrate the most linear frequency response, i.e., you are able to perceive a wider range of frequencies more evenly with respect to volume. That’s why mix engineers, whose primary purpose in life is to wrangle an assortment of frequency data into one cohesive unit, will tend to hover around 85dB when they perform their magic.
But high volumes also serve another purpose — it gets you noticed. At some point, record companies and artists started to use volume as a way to promote the artists. The idea was that given a random assortment of artists in a playlist, you, the listener, were more likely to notice the loud tracks over the softer ones, regardless of fidelity (or more tragically, in spite of). Thus, the volume arms race known as the Loudness War was born, and records have been getting louder ever since.
Now, the primary currency in which producers and engineers deal is volume, not fidelity, and as result, newer releases sound worse than older ones. Bear in mind that there is no statistical evidence whatsoever that louder records actually sell more. None. But due to ignorance and inertia the metal industry has “unofficially” standardized on a particularly low level of dynamics, specifically DR6. DR what?
Ian Shepherd, a well-respected mastering engineer and outspoken critic of the Loudness War, started to campaign against the heavy-handed use of compression and brickwall limiting back in 2010 when he founded Dynamic Range Day. But he also marketed a free tool that enables you to measure your own record collection and actually get a sense of the Loudness War’s impact. The tool is call the TT Meter, and it is a freely available, stand-alone client application that measures the crest factor, or dynamic range, of most digital formats.
The recommended level for music by most industry experts is DR8 or higher. As I said above, metal these days averages about DR6, but many records easily dip down into the DR4 or lower territory. Abigail William’s Becoming: DR6 (two tracks actually measure DR5, so the liner note comment that “This album has been purposefully mastered quietly. You have a volume knob. Use it.” is comical at best). Death Magnetic: DR3. Fleshgod Apocalypse’s Labyrinth: DR4. Again, more dog shit.
Bare in mind, the DR score is by no means the be-all, end-all authority on whether a record sounds good. But it is a valuable indicator none the less, and when an album measures in sub-DR6 territory, you can be sure, other than in the most extreme circumstances, fidelity took a back seat to volume. As Andy smartly concluded, dynamic range compression in itself is not evil, but the over-zealous use of it is, and the DR score allows you to quantify that fact. If you ever wondered why a remaster of your favorite record doesn’t quite rip your face off like it used too, it’s almost always due to the fact that the DR score was cut in half in an attempt to “modernize” the recording. See for yourself using the unofficial DR database, the Metal-Archives of DR scores. As you dig deeper and deeper, the numbers, especially for metal, don’t paint a pretty picture. Caveat emptor.
Most of the artists I talk to privately tell me the real reason why they want their record to be at these insane volume levels is not because of some aesthetic choice, but rather out of necessity. There is still this pervasive attitude among most artists that listeners will condemn them if they release a record that sounds glorious but isn’t loud enough. So not only has the Loudness War, and more specifically, the production practices that support it, ruined countless numbers of albums, but it has also fostered a culture of fear. Fear that a record won’t be successful or even commercially viable if it’s not loud. Apparently the popular music industry as a whole believes that we are too stupid to use our volume knobs judiciously. Believe it.
The Loudness War ruins music, hurts artists, and prevents engineers from doing their job properly. I wholeheartedly encourage you to measure DR of your own records and talk about the Loudness War within the NCS community at large. But even more importantly, if what I said above resonates with you, be vocal, and use the various social media outlets to express your displeasure over Loudness-War-produced products to the labels and artists that release them. It is the first step in taking back our volume knobs so we can really enjoy our metal loud. Don’t take my word for it, hearing is believing.
This is why I’m now taking mastering into my own hands. Been through 4 mastering engineers in the last 3 years, all of whom bricked our recordings despite me pointing out clipping, distortion, and overall loudness. I take blame for early mixes being poor, but things have changed dramatically over the last year. We had 2 tracks for 2 splits mastered last year and they will be the last tracks done from an outside source. I don’t even want to know their DR level, will probably just make me cry.
As a complete layman, I feel some of this partially due to most people listening to music on lower-range or portable equipment where the ability to amplify is compromised. But when you actually have a setup with a volume knob that does something, loud recordings become a nuisance. I’d rather have something recorded low with quality and turn my amp up than recorded high with shit quality.
Ben, remember this though, mastering is not about making music sound good on high priced stereo systems. In fact, it’s just the opposite, engineers are tasked to make the source material sound good on ALL SYSTEMS, whether it be your car stereo or your Sennheiser Orpheus system, doesn’t matter. When engineers and artists don’t use tools like DRC judiciously, it hurts everyone (though truth be told, probably a bit more with the guy and his Orpheus given his level of investment!!!).
To make a very long story short, high fidelity benefits everyone.
Yes completely, I somewhat butchered my desired point. The core of what I was going for was to say that the higher compression and compromise is partially being used in order to make things sound better (read – punchier) on either portable or lower-end devices. So while the goal is to make it sound good on the largest variety of systems, the largest variety of systems is ones that would benefit (er, not sound as crap) with the higher compromises.
If that made any sense.
Honestly Ben, I still don’t buy it. I think a well crafted master will sound great, no matter the setup.
Fair enough. Again, since my technical knowledge is essentially null, it was more of a musing than anything. Still enjoyed your article and I think it had one of the clearest and most understandable descriptions of the problem yet.
Unfortunately I really don’t have enough expertise to add anything to the discussion but that was a really interesting read. I really appreciate the examples to boot.
Now I’m digging through the DR Database to see how remasters of old death metal albums stack up. I feel like there’s a sweet spot somewhere in there where modern mastering processes were able to punch up older releases without the All Loud All The Time mentality negating those improvements. I really don’t have anything to substantiate this beyond the fact that I subconsciously gravitate towards death metal albums with late 90s/early 2000s re-releases.
You may have a point there. I do as well.
You guys should DEFINITELY check out Earache’s FDR remasters. We are talking Bolt Thrower, Morbid Angel, Napalm Death – all the golden oldies. They, for the most part, sound spectacular. Some of them are available on Earache’s Bandcamp page too for chump change.
And if you happen to have some of the mid-2000 remasters of these records where the DR was reduced in favor of volume, I think you will be AMAZED on good the FDR releases compare.
Great article! It’s always good to read something like this from someone who can explain the details, and I’ve learned a few things.
People often point to Fleshgod Apocalypse as an example of poor dynamic range so I thought I’d look up Septic Flesh’s “The Great Mass”, another symphonic metal offering which to me is not only a phenomenal album, but is also (or perhaps, is phenomenal in my eyes because of) a great production where you can hear the intricacies of the orchestra. They had no entry so I’ve gone through the process you describe in the linked article of measuring via foobar (thanks heaps for this too, I’ll be using it more in the future). Anyway, it comes out as a solid DR6 (I’ve added it here: http://dr.loudness-war.info/album/view/62187).
Which makes me wonder – maybe I’m just so used to hearing DR6 that to me it sounds good? or maybe just this one measure has it’s limitations too and oversimplifies things to some extent?
So I gave another album a go – Chaostar’s “The Scarlett Queen”; another orchestral work from Christos Antoniou (also of Septic Flesh), as this album’s one that first came to mind as having a large range from quiet interludes to louder segments. Overall DR10, track minimum DR7 through to DR10 maximum (http://dr.loudness-war.info/album/view/62192). A higher score, but I was surprised it’s not even more.
So surely the DR score will reflect to some extent the composition and style of music rather than just production techniques? i.e. your driving music with a solid beat will almost always have a low DR – think something like Static-X (ha haa, yes I have Static in my music collection, sue me!) while music with quieter passages, be they acoustic guitar interludes etc. on a metal track, will come out higher simply due to the varied volume throughout the track? Which would largely be due to songwriting rather than production. Or have I misunderstood something here?
Hey, kudos for using the TT Meter and adding a record to the DR Database. Gold star!
You bring up several good points. I don’t think I can tackle all of them here but here is some food for thought:
– The source material can definitely have a profound effect on the score. HOWEVER, that’s typically in the most extreme circumstances – think not Static-X, but rather an artist like Sunn O))), where you are literally dealing with a few notes and very little range. I personally believe “The Great Mass” (I own it) doesn’t really fall into that category.
– TGM was PUSHED to -0.10dB peak on EVERY SINGLE track. Was that because ever track just happened to sound the same or was the motivation to make the whole album have a homogenous level of loudness? You be the judge.
– The DR meter absolutely reflects the extent of the composition and style of the music. But I contend that metal is MUCH more dynamic than many folks would you have believe. Check out the Dynamic Range 2014 video where Ian Shephard talks about metal specifically and dynamics (I think you will really dig it).
I listened a little to the TGM while writing this post. Truth be told, it’s by no means near the travesty of mastering justice the last Fleshgod record was. But I want you to go and download (completely legal) the full dynamic range of the last Torture Division record mastered by Dan Swano (Google “Torture Division in HD”). Level match that with the TGB (see post below on a quick way to do that) and compare.
Do you still think TGM couldn’t use a few more points of dynamics? 🙂
Hey Alex thanks for the reply.
I went through the exercise you suggest, or at least I think that’s what I did 🙂 Opened the whole The Great Mass album in foobar as well as the 3 tracks from The Sacrifice, then with all selected did a right-click ‘ReplayGain’ – ‘Scan selection as a single album’ then hit ‘Update file tags’ to match the levels.
I then flicked through various tracks, and the funny thing is the tracks from The Sacrifice sound louder! So either I’m just useless or this exercise highlights exactly what you’re talking about – I feel like I need to turn The Great Mass tracks up to get the same punch. Mind you, they are quite different compositions, where Torture Division has a more stripped down classic metal sound as opposed to all the instruments involved in Septic Flesh (and I imagine would be easier from a sound engineers point of view to get the ‘right’ sound). But if I’ve done this right, I would concur that The Great Mass could have more punch.
Also, I don’t necessarily have a problem with all the tracks being at the same level (the 2nd point you’ve listed) – I think that’s not a downside but what you’d want when listening to an album, no? Unless there’s tracks that by virtue of songwriting are just quieter, more mellow songs – and therefore should be quieter – I think most tracks on an album actually should all have the same peak volume, so that when a bands going hard it sounds the same loudness across the whole album. And if they go hard on each track then the peak volume should be the same on each track. (But maybe I’ve misunderstood what these stats mean.)
I’ve also watched over some of the Dynamic Range Day 2014 video on youtube, interesting stuff indeed – although I do think Death Magnetic was a bit of an easy target 😉
Thank you for going through this exercise!
Believe it or not you experienced the Equal Loudness Curves (ELC) first hand!
Let me explain:
The TD tracks had gain applied to them while the TGM tracks had their levels reduced in order to equalize their volume. Now they are on the same level (literally) playing field. Why is that important? Again, both are on the same ELC, so your ears will perceive the material with the same frequency response.
That’s why level matching s so crucial when you are comparing different material in order to determine which one ACTUALLY sounds better (that’s a bit subjective, how about, which one your ears can perceive more spectral content).
It seems in this case, there was no contest – at the same volume level, TD sounds punchy, vibrant, and alive while the TGM sounded a bit flat! That’s DRC in combination of brickwall limiting rearing its ugly heads.
Did you know that “louder sounds initially better” to our ears which is why when you turned up the volume of the TGM it started to sound better? That’s the ELC kicking in again. But actually, if you listen to it over longer periods of time, I think you might find its an illusion and that again, when you level match TD at the same higher volume, it will sound even better. That’s why I also claim that if the industry backed off all this DRC non-sense, we could REALLY ENJOY our metal loud.
About the peak consistently, let me ask you this: Does every song REALLY warrant the same volume profile on TGM? I don’t think so. I think the band has enough variation in their music that some tracks should probably be more dynamic than others or minimally, the peak and crest should not be a function of achieving aural homogeneity. Even when they “play hard” as you put it, I don’t believe it should sound EQUALLY loud. It should be based on what the material warrants. If what you said is true, then that means to me the album truly lacks enough compositional variation (think Ramones). That’s my 2 cents.
Again, TGM is not a horribly sounding record like Labyrinth. It’s pretty much par for the course Loudness War style production. Definitely now try this exercise with Labyrinth. I assure you, once you level match it with other records in your collection, you’ll understand why that record sounds like, well, dog shit. YMMV.
Sweet, thanks for taking the time to spell it out for me, much appreciated. I’m really only an armchair audiophile – I like music that sounds intricate and nuanced, but have no idea what goes into making it sound that way 😉
Anytime, if you have any other questions or comments, feel free to send them my way!
I’m just glad you listened to that Torture Division EP. That’s a sweet record.
‘Tis indeed. Actually just running the same process for the 3 Tortures Division EP tracks I get a DR5.
Booker, just out of curiosity, did you compare the DR5 version vs the high dynamic one level matched? Which one sounds better? 🙂
So I originally Googled around and got this mp3 version from here: http://www.torturedivision.net/downloadgraphy, which is the version I was using to compare with Septic Flesh, then I realized it was DR5 and thought ‘hang on, so all this time I’ve been comparing it to a lower DR? Something’s not right…’
After your comment I did a bit more searching & found FLAC versions in DR13…. and you’re going to hate me for this but after level matching the two versions I actually like the DR5 mp3 version better! ha ha… Don’t get me wrong, I can hear that the FLAC DR13 version has a certain clarity, but it just sounds so… quiet. And particularly for the style of music, the DR5 version seems to me to have a certain intensity that the DR13 lacks… so in others words, I can hear the depth of the DR13, but I think the DR5 captures the emotion of the music better. (even if I turn up the volume on the DR13)
So after this revelation I’m not sure about all this anymore! or the comparison I made with TGM – granted the Torture Division EP has a higher punch at the same volume (DR5 comparison), but it must be more to do with production than just the DR value, since after all I was actually comparing a lower DR mix with TGM.
Hmmm, I don’t understand. If you level matched them why does one sound louder than the other? That doesn’t make sense.
How are you level matching? Are you using SoundCheck or ReplayGain?
Btw, it’s fine if you prefer the DR5 version, but I want to make sure you are comparing apples to apples?
Yeah that’s what I couldn’t figure. I used the same method I’d used above to compare TGM and Torture Division – so I put the 3 tracks off the EP in mp3 format in foobar, added the 3 FLAC tracks, then selected them all and did right click ‘ReplayGain’ , scan as one album, and then update file tags with the ReplayGain info, then listened to them in foobar.
Booker, try scan-as-file and email me direct if you want to continue the discussion (use our contact page). We ran out of room here!
really, really interesting post. i have a question. i record my songs on my pc. i don’t master my tracks, i wouldn’t even begin to know how. but the raw wav files are quiet compared to professionally recorded albums, so i’ve always used to a wav editor to increase the volume. not dramatically, just enough that i don’t feel like i have to crank the volume between listening to a normal album and listening to my own songs.
i downloaded the TT DR Offline Meter and loaded some of my songs on it and it said they were D6. you said D8 is preferable. is there anyway for a dum-dum like me to get my own songs to the D8 level? is D6 really that bad?
Great question. Will first off, you said you recorded your songs on the PC. Did you use buss compression during the mix process? Here is a tip, don’t compress up front, but leave it toward the end during the mastering process. You can always make things louder at the end (and as appropriate).
The DR score is just a guideline. Is DR6 too compressed? Probably, but it really depends on the source material. How does the bass sound? What about treble? Does your music have a sense of image and depth to it? Does it sound punchy? Listen to some higher dynamic material like Woe, Gorguts, and Witherscape, contrast and compare.
You say you use a WAV editor to crank up the volume between listening to a normal album and listening to your own songs. What you should do is just level match everything up front without touching the source material to begin with. A quick way (and free) of doing that is enabling SoundCheck on iTunes or using ReplayGain on foobar2k. By level matching, you can get your ears to compare apples to apples given what you now know about the Equal-Loudness curves.
Last thing, I wholeheartedly suggest you check out some of the articles over at Production Advice, which give more specifics on how to preserve dynamics during the recording and mastering process.
thanks for the reply! i don’t use any kind of compression up front. everything is recorded directly through the line-in and i don’t do any post-effects. i export the mix as a raw wav. i think the final product is pretty decent quality, very bass and decent treble without being too much. i’m not sure how much depth it has. i’m kind of wondering if i should skip raising the volume with the wav editor and just let the tracks be as they are.
i’ll definitely take a look at foobar2k and the articles over at Production Advice, thanks!
if you have some time to kill feel free to take a listen to my stuff and see what you think since you have trained ears!
Hey, just downloaded it. Gave it a listen, and immediately noticed distortion on my system.
Opened up Audacity (it’s a free audio tool, definitely check it out if you don’t know about it already!).
Loaded your tracks, ran the Analyze->Find Clipping (that looks for 3 successive samples at 0dbFS which is typically not present in natural occurring music, i.e. you are not analyzing square waves).
You are clipping A LOT. This is considered very bad and indication of levels being pushed without the use of limiter.
Please, please, I am not trying to insult you or the music or anything like that. Consider these observations from a impassioned metal head. I would definitely talk to your engineer (or just ask or Google around) and see if it jibes with what I wrote above.
no offense taken! 🙂 my recording process is very, very simplistic. i record my vocals with a $10 mic, i probably got it from Walmart or somewhere similar 10-15 years ago. i haven’t ever used a limiter. i greatly appreciate your advice but i might be getting in over my head considering my limited budget and the fact that i’m just doing this by myself in my basement 🙂 but i’ll definitely research limiters and see what i can learn!
“everything is recorded directly through the line-in and i don’t do any post-effects.”
Big red flag for me right there. Sounds like your music isn’t even being truly mixed, aside from maybe some basic levels. While levels are a key baseline to any good mix, there’s so much more involved in making your music not just “louder” but sounding pleasing as well. Compression, EQ, Reverb, bussing FX, limiting… there’s so many things that go into a mix. If you’re just recording direct and than just raising the overall level of the stereo wav file… that’s not going to sound very good.
That being said, for what you describe as your process I was expecting a lot worse. For the limitations you have, the recordings you have don’t sound half bad. Get your hands on some good DAW software (Avid Pro Tools and Apple Logic are the major players out there) and don’t be intimidated by them. There are tons of tutorials and folks out there who can help you learn.
Well put Sean!
thanks for the reply! i do use a bit of reverb/delay here and there, but i’ve been doing all my EQ on my Zoom pedal prior to recording. i’m sure my recording process would probably inspire gasps of horror from recording studio professionals, but i just work with what i have 🙂
i have looked at Pro Tools, but it’s not in my budget at the moment. but i’m making notes on all the replies i’m getting here so i can do more research and see what i’m able to do to improve the quality of my final products.
Kinda late, but only found out about the article now since I’m not a regular here. Maybe it’ll reach you.
Anyway, feel free to check Reaper (http://reaper.fm). It’s cheap – $60 for personal and commercial under $20,000 of yearly revenue and has a 60-day trial version – and some people swear by it. The downside is that it’s not exactly well-featured in terms of default plugins, but it has basic effects like EQ, compressor, reverb etc. and they should be enough until you get hang of them and perhaps want things that have their own character rather than trying to sound neutral, for example analog-like effects. It’s the synths that are really lacking, and if you just want to produce your recordings it’s not a bad package – it’s the electronic music folks that need to look for VSTs from the beginning (unless they use hardware, of course).
Thank you for this article! Interesting to read and very informative. Added the plugin to foobar2000 and right off the bat decided to measure the DR of my band’s album. I got DR7 for the WAV and… DR8 for the MP3s! How is this possible? I’m a layman, but I would assume, if anything, lossy encoding should cut dynamic range?
No worries! The process of MP3 compression tends to push the DR score a point higher when tracks are pushed to the edge. From a dynamics standpoint, they are basically the same.
That’s why normally, it is recommended you leave more headroom to compensate for MP3 compression.
One last note, MP3 compression and DRC are two very different things and are completely unrelated. It’s just that when the MP3 compression algorithm is applied, the peaks tend to be pushed slightly which can cause the DR score to average a point higher (its on the threshold). Again, they sound the same. For example, when I reviewed Behemoth’s latest epic, the promo was DR6 but the record was really DR5. Both sound the same.
Got it. Thanks for the explanation!
Interestingly the “Heritage” 5.1 mix and vinyl versions, the album everyone loves to hate, has the highest DR of any Opeth album.
Not that interesting, just a good example of how a good mix/master doesn’t instantly make an album any better.
I did a similar comparison with Mechina’s Empyrean – there was a lot of criticism of the mix when it was released so the band re-mixed and re-released as Empyrean 2.0. Turns out the original mix actually has the higher DR (DR8 as opposed to DR6, excluding the orchestration tracks).
Homework assignment: Compare the recent YOB remaster out on Profound Lore to the original.
I wrote a piece about it here: http://www.metal-fi.com/cathartic-compression/
That remaster had WAY better art though.
This is true. 🙂
“Bare in mind, the DR score is by no means the be-all, end-all authority on whether a record sounds good. But it is a valuable indicator none the less, and when an album measures in sub-DR6 territory, you can be sure, other than in the most extreme circumstances, fidelity took a back seat to volume.”
So, basically if volume and/or lo-fi recording aren’t part of the concept (e.g. Gnaw Their Tongues), higher DR scores will mean a better sounding record, right? Are these the “extreme circumstances” you are talking about?
Most of the time, yes – higher DR scores will generally indicate better sound. That’s not a steadfast rule though. The case I always point to is Metallica’s …And Justice For All. It’s a VERY dynamic recording, DR12 I believe, but it sounds awful. Moreover, ALL of the various versions of it sound awful, including the original vinyl and the MFSL “audiophile” vinyl. AJFA is simply a bad recording, dynamics and even re-mastering haven’t been able to do anything about it. The “And Justice For Jason” fan mixes go some way to at least partially compensate for the total lack of bass on the original master, but the tin can drums and ultra thin guitars are still there, there’s just nothing that can be done about that short of a total re-record.
Contrast that with something like Enslaved’s RIITIIR, which is an excellent recording that was pushed far too loud on the CD. The vinyl version doesn’t have all that compression, and so it sounds fantastic.
“Extreme circumstances” refers to spectral extremities not content – think Sunn O))) where high dynamics by design will most likely be low, since the engineer is riding a note or two for the next 10 minutes (you get the picture).
Dave’s comments though are well taken, higher dynamics typically results in better sounding records. Again though, I want to reiterate, the DR score is JUST AN INDICATOR, nothing more, nothing less. You have to really listen to records and make up your own mind on what sort of volume profile you prefer.
But I will say this, once a metal head hears dynamic metal, they usually don’t want to go back… 🙂
One of the thing I do, in order to restore a little bit of the depth of compressed tracks, is to use the BBE SonicMax Pro music player on my iPhone. I know it’ll never be as good as a decent sound system equipped with proper speakers or playing less compressed files on any device. But it helps. It helps because with that little application, you’re allowed to tweak lows, mids, highs, depths, and gain. It’s like an EQ, but with more options. Also, you can adjust and save presets depending on which device you intend to play you music, i.e. earbuds, headphones, monitor speakers, etc.
But don’t get me wrong, you can’t fix sound from a Fleshgod Apocalyspe’s DR4. It can even be more terrible, as the brick-wall is too high to climb.
Until we get descent files on CD, MP3, or any other media, that’s an alternative to fix a little too compressed recordings.
You can check this review: http://www.tuaw.com/2012/06/29/review-bbes-sonicmax-pro-music-player-app-for-ios/
There’s an iOS 7 version currently available.
P.S.: I’m not a sales rep trying to push a product. I’m just a metalhead who wants to play good loud sounding metal in order to get my daily fix.
I use a Cowon media player, and all of theirs run BBE equalization. Completely agree the sound you can get from those is amazing. Obviously you can’t remix the source files 😉 but you can do pretty much everything short of it.
Reign In Blood alerted me to the loudness war. I had heard this album a few times, on what i assume was a Vinyl rip. This was the glory days of DC++.
I was of course blown away by this legendary album. I knew i had to own it, and the next time i whent into town, it was first on my to do list.(lived 3 hrs away from the closest record store.)
At this so called record store i found the album in two formats, and was informed by the clerc that i should buy the remaster one, cos its louder and better. in fact it was remastered specifically cos the vinyl master was so freakin low. Now, in my young metal brain this sounded awesome. More louder = more better!
I kept the CD in the car, where the sound is shit no matter what you play.
How do the most recent albums by Hail of Bullets, Immilation and Autopsy rank?
Also, would you say that Dan Swano is not a sucker for this war and does things the right way?
Finally, what other producers eschew this new ideal ?
Please check the DR database and see for yourself!
For Hail of Bullets though, please read my review (just because it’s easier than retyping a summary here): http://www.metal-fi.com/hail-bullets-iii-rommel-chronicles/
Dan is not a sucker for this war at all, but in the end, he must do what his clients ask him too. HOWEVER, if you look at his OWN material like Witherscape, it’s some of the most dynamic metal in the biz!
It ain’t Dan “The Man” for nothin’!
I don’t have a list per se of other artists and engineers who also go dynamic, but Colin Marston’s work is generally DR8+ territory – think Gorguts, Woe, Vaura, East of the Wall, to name but a few. Chris Grigg of Woe also masters and is also a big proponent of dynamics in metal too (cool guy too).
Honestly, MUST of the engineers I’ve interviewed are for dynamics in metal. Unfortunately, a lot of artists are just naive or ignorant of the mastering process and equate aggression with volume (there is *some* truth to that but that’s why we all have VOLUME KNOBS).
Hope that helps!
DR values are not a reliable or worthy standard for measuring dynamic range, nor loudness. I encourage readers interested in this subject to research EBU R128 and BS1770.
No, that’s wrong. Those specs you site are just so the industry can standardize. They don’t negate the DR meter or how it measures crest factor.
Ian Shepherd on PA has an excellent article about it here: