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for audiophiles: Rory, dynamic range and "loudness war"

PostPosted: 28 Oct 2014, 12:31
by no_noise_reduction
just a short introduction: dynamic range in music refers to the range between the quietest and the loudest parts in a music recording. apparently there has been a tendency in music mastering for at least 20 years to master music recordings in a way that makes them as loud as possible rather than preserving the "natural" range between quiet and loud parts. this has been constantly criticized by music enthusiasts.

if you have a look at you will find a database that includes 60.000+ entries from a variety of different musical genres including detailed analysis of the dynamic range of each track. just enter "Rory Gallagher" in the search field and you get a number of the most common CD editions of Rory since the mid-eighties.

if you, for example, have a look at the various entries under "Irish Tour", you will immediately see that the dynamic range of the different CD editions of the IT'74 album has changed over the last years. take the 1988 Demon Records edition with an average dynamic range of 12 and compare it to the recent US reissue of the album which has an average dynamic range of 9 (disc one) and 11 (disc two). the people at regard any value below 8 as "bad" and only recordings with a value above 13 as "good". so in regard to dynamic range all the featured editions of IT'74 (only CDs so far) are pretty much in the "transitional area between good and bad".

I have noticed that if you look at the comment sections for Rory's live albums at amazon occasionally comments turn up with people insisting that the more recent editions of the CDs (the remasters) sound not as good (as crunchy, as whatever) as the original CD releases.

my question is: what do you think about the whole dynamic range/loudness war/mastering issue?

btw has anybody compared the old (and rare) 2CD edition of IT'74 (Intercord 1989) with the box set version? I have read that this version is the best one so far but I could not check it as yet.

Re: for audiophiles: Rory, dynamic range and "loudness war"

PostPosted: 28 Oct 2014, 20:16
by Tokeiihto
Since this is quite a complex topic and I feel especially lazy today ( ;) ), I'm just gonna post a link: ... udness.htm

Regarding the different versions of Rory's albums, it's important to distinguish between the first remasters (1998-2000) and the new re-issues (2012/13). The 1999 remasters do suffer from diminished dynamic range and artificial loudness, while the new re-issue's sound is much closer to original LPs/first CD releases (early 90s).

Re: for audiophiles: Rory, dynamic range and "loudness war"

PostPosted: 01 Nov 2014, 21:58
by Tom Jonas
Congratulations to a very interesting and almost scientific analysis of an important problem. I haven't much to add before I've bought very good sound equipment with an excellent base. That's the problem with most home-cinema-surround-sound-equipment; they never have a good sub-woofer which give you an accurate base register, which you really feel physically. Like elephants and infra-sound.
I have just obtained a DVD of Clapton live in Japan 2009. The sound is so good that I have to turn down the volume! This has never happened with a Rory-recording. I mostly use head-phones and my laptop.

By the way, time is rolling on. I've got a Clapton-DVD from a live concert 2009 in Japan and, you really can see that Clapton-was-God is almost 70 years of age soon. In his voice and guitarplaying. He has hands and fingers of a man in that age, like myself soon

Re: for audiophiles: Rory, dynamic range and "loudness war"

PostPosted: 03 Nov 2014, 16:05
by no_noise_reduction
Sorry for starting the topic and not replying in the first place. I had a look at the link you posted but I have to say that the amount of technical terminology in the article exceeded my limited knowledge of the English language and in particular of mathematics a bit. If someone is really into the topic and would like to explain in a nutshell what is being said there, that would be very interesting for me and maybe some others here.
I was aware that there must be a bit more to "loudness war" than the idea of willfully sacrificing sound quality for nothing more than louder radio airplay. The basic problem of the "flattening"of the dimensionality of music remains, although I now see there is more to it and you can't break it down into "lower dynamic range means worse audio quality" - not always, it appears to me. Generally speaking I have heard a lot of examples over the years of people saying they prefer this or that older master over this or that remastered version. If my memory serves me right the recent remasters of Rory's back catalogue have also been discussed here or on the old "Meeting Place" forums. I do by far not have all the different CD-editions of Rory's albums from over the years and I dont think I am qualified for a comparison. But what I can say is that, in case e.g. of the remastered "Live! in Europe" album (my copy is from the "Let's Go To Work" box set) - I absolutely love its sound. I will have to track down any of the older decisions to see for myself what the remastering process has done to it.

This said, I found something on youtube the other day, a video compiling two different masterings of a Dire Straits song and puttung them together to a seamless track, switching from one master to the other (one with higher and one with lower dynamic range) in order to allow for a direct comparison. I have to say that, although using my excellent Beyerdynamic headphones, I could not really make out the difference between the two of them. I noticed that something was different, yet I could not say that one was better than the other. I guess it might partly be due to the fact that my ears have suffered quite a bit over the years from too loud concerts and an acoustic shock in my youth so maybe I will never fully understand what it is all about. Nonetheless, the idea of intentionally taking something away from a "recording" and then selling it as an improvement over the older version does still make me suspicious and that's enough to continue with my interest in the topic.

Btw, have you heard about Neil Young's Pono Music project? I wonder whether Sony will at one point make Rory's music available via the ponomusic store and if so whether they will give it another (higher dynamic range?) mastering in that case.

Re: for audiophiles: Rory, dynamic range and "loudness war"

PostPosted: 03 Nov 2014, 16:22
by no_noise_reduction
okay, apparently I am not deaf yet. I found this example very illustrative:

Re: for audiophiles: Rory, dynamic range and "loudness war"

PostPosted: 03 Nov 2014, 20:13
by Tokeiihto
The "loudness war" is basically different artists competing for radio airplay based on the misconception that louder equals better. There were scientific studies conducted in the past in which music was played to a selected group of people - and, with basically no exception, everyone chose the louder piece, stating that it sounded better, more immediate, powerful. etc.
Thus labels tend to push music to the highest possible level in terms of loudness. Unfortunately, this leads to a diminished dynamic range, removing all the contrast and depth of a song.

Basically, the music is squashed up against the maximum digital ceiling (as seen towards the end of the Iron Maiden video example you linked), thus reducing the difference between the peaks (loudest moments) and lows (quiet moments) and decreasing the overall contrast between the loud and soft parts.

Now, if you listen to a highly compressed mp3 track on rather cheap headphones, the lost dynamic range is indeed negligible, but on a good sound system it can become blatantly apparent just how crushed a lot of music these days actually sounds. Same goes for many remasters of artist's older works.

For example, if you listen to, let's say, 'Bad Penny' from the '99 remaster of 'Top Priority' and compare it to the original release (or the new re-issue from 2012) your first impression probably would be that it sounds louder, more powerful and in-your-face. Arguably a desired effect for hard-driving rock music. However, if you were to adjust the volume of the original version to a perceived equally loud sound level, the remaster suddenly would seem flat, lacking the depth and range of the original.

In other words, keep your original CDs and LPs and just turn up the volume. ;)