September 21, 2023

The Loudness Wars: A Legend Speaks Out

For the uninitiated, the Loudness Wars refers to the trend of compressing recordings so that they seem to come out of the speakers or headphones with the greatest possible default volume.  The thinking is that loud recordings stand out more and garner more attention which equals (so they say) greater popularity and higher sales.

The problems is that making something loud introduces distortion, increases listner fatigue and completely perverts the recording process.  All those subtleties of the performance–the loud-soft dymanics–are squished flat. Add in MP3s, crappy earbuds and the public’s acceptance of so-so audio and we’ve seen a decline of high fidelity.

Bob Ludwig, a master engineering whose name probably appears on more albums than anyone else, has this to say about the recording process in the era of the Loudness Wars.  

there are very physical reasons why too much compression turns off our music receptors. Every playback system ever manufactured comes with a playback level control. If one is listening to an album, one should be able to turn that control anywhere you want and the absolute level on the CD should not make a difference. Another place level on a CD does not make the difference one would think is on radio broadcast.

It can be shown that in general, loud CDs sound worse and less powerful on commercial FM radio than a CD with a moderate level that lets the radio station compressors handle the loudness problem. Non-classical radio station compressors make soft things loud and loud things soft.

There’s much, more here.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 37083 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

3 thoughts on “The Loudness Wars: A Legend Speaks Out

  • One of the worse offenders of this is the newer Metallica album "Death Magnetic".

    The record is SO loud that there is digital clipping. They pushed the wav form outside the limits of the 16 bit dynamic range, generating a very unmusical distortion. This sounds very bad an it is all over the record.

    I would have thought whoever did the professional mastering for Metallica would have been more educated to this issue and understand digital clipping.

    Many old records are being remastered all the time for reissue. One has to listen to these records with an eye to have the Dynamics been destroyed? Is there digital clipping damage done to the recording?

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