The sound quality thread

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  • beastmaster 31 Dec 2012 19:04:58 11,188 posts
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    Hi all,

    General thread on sound quality but I've raised this because of the following.

    http://techland.time.com/2012/10/03/who-cares-about-neil-youngs-ultra-high-quality-music-standard/

    Okay this is fairly old news. However, I've been getting into a few debates with a few mates over Xmas about this. Has CD quality actually been reduced that much over the last few years as everything goes digital? Studios know that with the likes of iTunes that they are probably going to make the most money from there. Therefore why bother in making the CD sound quality any good?

    Have you got any CDs which stand out as great remasters? Or don't you give a shit? Or is it down to the quality of the speakers (which will obviously have an obvious impact. Obviously).

    I've got no idea about this but when studios put things onto iTunes, do they have a digital master which goes onto a CD and then also gets 'downgraded' for iTunes?

    The Resident Evil films. I'm one of the reasons they keep making them.

  • mal 31 Dec 2012 19:13:57 22,339 posts
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    There's a stronger tendency these days to over-compress music and reduce the dynamic range, which sometimes finds its way into remasters in such a way as to piss off long term fans, although it's fair to say quite a lot of old rock music has rather too much dynamic range in it, arranged in such a way to scare the bejeezus out of you just as you've sat down from putting on the record player. I guess it's true that stuff with less dynamic range in it does tend to survive compression with less audible artifacts, though I've no idea if that's why this trend has come about (personally I suspect it has more to do with not blasting your eardrums at unfortunate moments while shopping while using your walkman or driving with your car CD player on).

    Cubby didn't know how to turn off sigs!

  • buggrit 31 Dec 2012 19:14:34 5,178 posts
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    Re iTunes - there's this excellent article on the matter: http://arstechnica.com/apple/2012/02/mastered-for-itunes-how-audio-engineers-tweak-tunes-for-the-ipod-age/

    CDs have been crap for years, by and large - due to most people listening on shitty systems and not understanding the concept of dynamic range, for the most part. Hence me moving most of my recreational listening to vinyl these days.
  • Maturin 31 Dec 2012 19:28:29 2,890 posts
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    Hot masters are ruining music these days. It's particularly annoying when a really good old album with decent dynamic range gets a crushing new remaster where everything is loud.

    I know it's because people want to listen to music on the tube or in the car, but it shouldn't mean records have the life crushed out of them.

    I wouldn't listen to Marillion's Brave in the car, I wouldn't be able to hear half of it. But I certainly don't want a remaster where everything is banging away. Iron Maiden released A Matter of Life and Death without mastering it. It went straight from mix to CD. And it sounds fabulous for it.
  • Blaizefm 31 Dec 2012 19:32:38 232 posts
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    Brave - what a fab album.

    Sorry, carry on.
  • Khanivor 31 Dec 2012 19:33:16 40,400 posts
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    The crushing loudness gets on my nerves. The fidelity of a recording, not so much now my hearing is going to shit.
  • mal 31 Dec 2012 19:45:35 22,339 posts
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    buggrit wrote:
    Re iTunes - there's this excellent article on the matter: http://arstechnica.com/apple/2012/02/mastered-for-itunes-how-audio-engineers-tweak-tunes-for-the-ipod-age/

    CDs have been crap for years, by and large - due to most people listening on shitty systems and not understanding the concept of dynamic range, for the most part. Hence me moving most of my recreational listening to vinyl these days.
    Hmm, good point about audio engineers mastering separately for separate target mediums. I'd always assumed beat-heavy music sounded better on vinyl due to the physicality of the medium (the head itself can bounce around slightly in sympathetic rhythm) but the fact everything from old rock to drum and bass sounds better on vinyl probably points to engineers using the dyniamic range you can get out of heavyweight vinyl rather than my magic dancing head.

    Cubby didn't know how to turn off sigs!

  • GuiltySpark 31 Dec 2012 19:52:07 6,322 posts
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    The quiet parts on Brave do my fucking tree in.

    Get bent.

  • oakie007 31 Dec 2012 20:35:04 218 posts
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    Post deleted
  • oakie007 31 Dec 2012 20:38:16 218 posts
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    Now this is a well produced album...... http://www.amazon.co.uk/Totally-Enormous-Extinct-Dinosaurs/e/B002ALCICU/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1356986037&sr=1-1
  • FuzzyDuck 1 Jan 2013 05:13:31 3,905 posts
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    I think listening to music as a passtime is dying out a bit. By that i mean really listening to the music. I'll pick out a few CDs for the hifi, pull the curtains, turn off the phone and just listen. Dynamic range and subtly just doesn't matter to most people.

    One album from my collection that immediately springs to mind as being a victim of the loudness war is Rush's 'Vapour Trails'. It really pisses me off as I think it's probably the most underrated album in their catalogue, but listening to it at home (especially with headphones) is just a no go, as it's so horribly fatiguing and it's just a mess of compressed noise. I think Rush were so displeased with it themselves that there's a remix of it in the works.

    Off the top of my head, most of Steven Wilson's of Porcupine Tree fame production jobs that I've heard have great dynamic range (although 'Deadwing' isn't his crowning glory).
  • Deleted user 1 January 2013 05:19:40
    The birth of digital music heralded a new age of terrible sound quality, itunes move for DRM free 256kps mp4 arguably put transparency and quality back with buyers, heck they say piracy dipped massive amounts after that.

    That's not the issue with sound quality for music we have now though, it's the fucking loudness war and it's massive effect on dynamics.
  • buggrit 1 Jan 2013 05:32:17 5,178 posts
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    mal wrote:
    buggrit wrote:
    Re iTunes - there's this excellent article on the matter: http://arstechnica.com/apple/2012/02/mastered-for-itunes-how-audio-engineers-tweak-tunes-for-the-ipod-age/

    CDs have been crap for years, by and large - due to most people listening on shitty systems and not understanding the concept of dynamic range, for the most part. Hence me moving most of my recreational listening to vinyl these days.
    Hmm, good point about audio engineers mastering separately for separate target mediums. I'd always assumed beat-heavy music sounded better on vinyl due to the physicality of the medium (the head itself can bounce around slightly in sympathetic rhythm) but the fact everything from old rock to drum and bass sounds better on vinyl probably points to engineers using the dyniamic range you can get out of heavyweight vinyl rather than my magic dancing head.
    I think it's as much to do with sympathetic, skilled people doing the mastering as anything else - cutting vinyl masters is a genuine art. There's actually LESS headroom on vinyl than on CD (mostly due to the noise floor), but it's how it's dealt with that counts. There's no escaping that well-mastered music on good quality vinyl played through decent kit sounds bloody wonderful though - there's a really different sense of weight and realness to the sound that just isn't there on CD :)
    Heavyweight vinyl is used more for rigidity than any sonic benefit, unless you start cutting 12" records at 45rpm (I have a few albums like this and they're excellent).
  • Deleted user 1 January 2013 05:33:41
    I have SD ears.
  • Dirtbox 1 Jan 2013 05:45:26 77,475 posts
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    Interesting thread, I've got a lot to say about this, but currently lack enough lucid brain matter to poke some sort of conversant thought forth.

    In general though, I think the ipod and MP3s as a whole have created a subdivision of music that are less about fidelity and range than explicit immediacy and accessibility. Music has never been about snobs rasping on about how you can hear which fingernails Yngwie Malmsteen has clipped that day but rather the mood, tone and message of the music that is played. For an example just look at early recordings that have shaped and molded the music we hear now that sound like cack compared to a modern recording.

    That isn't to say that it's a good thing, but it definitely isn't such a bad thing either.

    +1 / Like / Tweet this post

  • gammonbanter 1 Jan 2013 17:55:14 1,486 posts
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    Nirvana unplugged is supposed to sound great on CD!

    My main problem is despite having decent kit, I'm scared to turn it up loud - headphones ftw!

    We tried drinking a beer from every world cup nation http://worldcup2014beers.wordpress.com/

  • Maturin 1 Jan 2013 19:12:36 2,890 posts
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    It's ironic that in making music so consistently loud for folks to listen to in noisy environments via headphones they've made it so fatiguing.

    Listening to a full hot-mastered album on earphones is a real test of endurance.
  • Blaizefm 1 Jan 2013 21:07:05 232 posts
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    One good (bad?) example is the latest Stone Sour Album, House of Gold and Bones part 1. There is an absolute ton of sibilance (when he sings the esses) which means I end up having to stop listening to it. It's annoying as the album is brilliant.

    Another album I can't listen to despite its brilliance is Progress Reform by iLikeTrains.

    And let's not talk about Metallica's Death Magnetic. Shocking. You can tell how bad it is when people are ripping the stems from the Guitar Hero versions and remastering the album.

    All of the above I've noticed because of high-end earphones.
  • Maturin 1 Jan 2013 22:37:16 2,890 posts
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    Death Magnetic's problems go beyond the terrible hot master. Lots of it was recorded with clipping, so it's fucked whatever you do at mixing or later.

    Typical Rick Rubin bullshit. Takes the money and leaves bands to cock it up on their own.

    Another terrible mastering job is Iron Maiden's Dance of Death. Which is why the band probably didn't master the next album at all. Though it still suffers because producer Kevin Shirley has cloth ears. All his recent albums - such as those with Joe Bonamassa sound like he's turned the treble off and didn't notice.

    Edited by Maturin at 22:38:33 01-01-2013
  • Mr_Sleep 1 Jan 2013 22:47:51 16,851 posts
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    Dirtbox wrote:
    For an example just look at early recordings that have shaped and molded the music we hear now that sound like cack compared to a modern recording.
    That very much depends on what era you're talking about, no? Do you mean early blues, big band etc?

    I had both the mono and stereo version of Highway 61 on CD and the mono absolutely kicks the stereo versions' arse. Remasters are almost always a mess and indeed the loudness wars have ruined contemporary production.

    Similar to Dirtbox, I have loads of stuff to say on this subject but not much capacity at the moment, so it'll be one for tomorrow.

    You are a factory of sadness.

  • UncleLou Moderator 1 Jan 2013 22:59:59 35,427 posts
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    To be fair though, the Dylan mono CDs have been remastered heavily as well, while the (dcades old) stereo recordings were never quite that. :) But Sony are wizards are remastering, anyhow. What they did to the Columbia records back catalogue is just astounding.
  • FuzzyDuck 1 Jan 2013 23:02:21 3,905 posts
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    Maturin wrote:

    Though it still suffers because producer Kevin Shirley has cloth ears. All his recent albums...
    Couldn't agree more. This has bugged the shit out of me for years.

    He's up there with Billy Anderson as one of those producers that just leave the music sounding utterly lifeless.
  • mal 1 Jan 2013 23:27:31 22,339 posts
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    buggrit wrote:
    Heavyweight vinyl is used more for rigidity than any sonic benefit, unless you start cutting 12" records at 45rpm (I have a few albums like this and they're excellent).
    Most of the times I've noticed it it's been on old dance 12"es running at 45rpm. Seems to me the thicker vinyl lets them cut deeper grooves giving them the option to run the bottom end at decent amplitudes before the head jumps out of the groove by itself - though how much of it is due to that, and how much is due to keeping the record playing on poorly isolated decks in a noisy club I dunno.

    Cubby didn't know how to turn off sigs!

  • skuzzbag 1 Jan 2013 23:44:14 5,636 posts
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    When you load up FL Studio or Cubase (or whatever) it's pretty standard these days to listen back to the mix with and without a mastering limiter on the main outs - at least for bedroom producers it is.

    Skip back 15 years and you'd never mix through a limiter - that stuff was strictly for the mastering engineer. On a normal analog / digital desk you'd be working with huge headroom and the mix would not sound ACE until the mastering engineer did their bit.
  • Deleted user 1 January 2013 23:54:52
    UncleLou wrote:
    To be fair though, the Dylan mono CDs have been remastered heavily as well, while the (dcades old) stereo recordings were never quite that. :) But Sony are wizards are remastering, anyhow. What they did to the Columbia records back catalogue is just astounding.
    That will be the result of the millions Sony sensibly invested in the world's first all digital Pro mixing desk (Sony OXF-R3).

    The team still work in Pro Audio

    http://www.sonnoxplugins.com/pub/plugins/About-History.htm

    http://createdigitalmusic.com/2010/01/interview-sound-legend-paul-frindle-and-a-story-behind-the-digital-audio-revolution/

    So looking for music from studios that used the OXF-R3 or plugins from these people will most likely be better than others.
  • buggrit 2 Jan 2013 02:09:24 5,178 posts
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    @mal That's all certainly some of it, but you have to bear in mind that DJ decks allow (even demand) you run a much higher tracking weight than a home turntable - this is to help ensure the needle stays in the grooves under, as you say, more challenging conditions. Lighter tracking weight, differently-shaped styli and a more 'relaxed' listening environment make for a different set of criteria for home decks - I wouldn't recommend using a Technics 1210 at home unless you know what you're doing and have a 'hifi' cartridge rather than a 'DJ' one :) Likewise, don't put your precious first-press Black Sabbath vinyl on a 1210 unless you want it to be potentially ruined...
  • buggrit 2 Jan 2013 02:11:41 5,178 posts
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    Maturin wrote:
    Another terrible mastering job is Iron Maiden's Dance of Death. Which is why the band probably didn't master the next album at all. Though it still suffers because producer Kevin Shirley has cloth ears. All his recent albums - such as those with Joe Bonamassa sound like he's turned the treble off and didn't notice.
    AAAAAAAAAAAGH KEVIN FUCKING SHIRLEY THAT CUNTY DEAF SHITBAG!

    Sorry, I really really hate his work :D He's the very worst thing about any album he gets his useless fat fingers near, I can't understand why anyone uses him at all!
  • buggrit 2 Jan 2013 02:18:09 5,178 posts
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    FuzzyDuck wrote:
    He's up there with Billy Anderson as one of those producers that just leave the music sounding utterly lifeless.
    Billy Anderson has produced a lot of very decent-sounding records - his work with Neurosis, Sleep, Orange Goblin, Jawbreaker, Buzzov-En, Om etc all sounds really good to me. Always better on vinyl though, most likely due to superior mastering.
  • mrharvest 2 Jan 2013 06:11:49 5,184 posts
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    This is an interesting thread. My opinion is that sound quality has been getting better, rather than worse, outside of major releases. But I'd also say that the loudness wars are an aesthetic rather than a sound quality issue. However I don't listen to mainstream music so this opinion is purely academic on my part.

    Also I'm of the opinion that vinyl releases sound better because the medium has more distortion, less headroom and weaker stereo separation than CDs. If you are getting more bass from your LPs then there's probably something wrong with your RIAA.
  • UncleLou Moderator 2 Jan 2013 06:13:28 35,427 posts
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    On-topic rant from Greg Calbi of Sterling Sound:

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