Friday, November 7, 2008

Bargaining with a ghost

Had a bit of an odd dream last night.

There was this ghost. And apparently he was a salesman of sorts. He wanted to sell me a T-shirt. But what was peculiar about this T-shirt was that it was invisible.

The price?


He told me if I buy this invisible T-shirt, he will not be a bother for the next year. I couldn't remember buying his T-shirts in previous years, and we've had no problems with paranormal activity, even though our house is 119 years old.

Anyway, I didn't buy it.

We'll see what happens..

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Ugly scars from the Loudness War

Genesis' Wind & Wuthering, originally released late in 1976, is a good example of a dynamic rock album. There are loud bits, there are very quiet bits, and everything in between.

Let's have a look at the zoomed-out waveform for "Eleventh Earl Of Mar", the first track off the album.

1990 version
This is from the 1990 version of the CD. Note the diamond-shaped crescendo and decrescendo (volume swell) at the beginning of the tune, and two more at the very end. There is also a quiet section about two thirds of the way through.

Now here's the same track from the 1994 remaster of Wind & Wuthering:

1994 versionYou can see that the basic shape of the waveform is about the same, but amplified a bit.
Now, take a look at the 2007 version of the same track:
2007 version
Hmmm.. hardly looks like the same track!
The louder parts are squashed with lots of compression and limiting. This is done to maximize the overall level of the tracks in an attempt by the record companies to sell more albums (the Loudness War).
The volume swells at the end are almost completely gone, and the one at the beginning.. well, have a listen to the clips and judge for yourself how it was affected:
1990 version
1994 version
2007 version
I've adjusted the volumes so they are more or less equal. You'll note that, while the 1990 and 1994 versions have dynamics and punchy drums, these features are lacking on the newest (2007) version, and that volume swell? Almost completely gone!

There are a few redeeming factors for this set of remasters, however. Compressed and limited as they are, they do include surround sound mixes. It's almost guaranteed that you will hear some details you couldn't hear before. It's really a bit of a tradeoff then, isn't it?

A new Genesis box set of the older albums with Peter Gabriel, 1970-1975, will be released in the U.S. on November 11, 2008. Will these discs have received the same highly compressed and limited treatment as the 2007 discs? We'll find out soon, but I won't be at all surprised if they do.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Clipping? What the %$#@ is clipping?

I've created eight ugly zoomed-in samples of clipping from Metallica's "The Day That Never Comes" from the much-talked-about album Death Magnetic today.

Let this serve as a lesson on what not to do (normally) when mixing a recording.

Example 1 - major clipping

Example 2 - more major clipping

Example 3 - major clipping

Example 4 - major clipping

Example 5 - leftmost part severely clipped

Example 6 - righmost part severely clipped

Example 7

Example 8 - major clipping

Note in all of these examples there are large (lower frequency) waves with the tops or bottoms cut off.

They don't make CDs like they used to, do they?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Why the new Metallica CD sounds bad

Apparently the major labels have been making CDs as loud as possible in recent years, at the cost of sound quality and dynamics. Rick Rubin, who produced Death Magnetic, has a history of producing overly compressed CDs.

Here's a rather odd situation:

Metallica's new album sounds better in the Guitar Hero III version than the CD!

This is a zoomed-out view of the entire waveform for "The Day That Never Comes" taken from the Guitar Hero 3 version of Death Magnetic. This is very typical of a waveform from a well-produced CD, but note that waveform alone will only paint part of the picture, and you must listen to really know the sound quality as there are many factors. You can see differences in volume, and it appears to get loudest at the very end.

Now here (above) is the CD version of the same song from Death Magnetic. See how the differences in volume are almost non-existant? So much compression was used that it makes for a very loud, but uninteresting and painful listen.

This is a zoomed-in section near the end of the GH3 version of the track. Again, this is pretty typical-looking.

And this is the same section (more or less) from the CD. Note the funky-looking sawed-off tops and bottoms of the wav? This is clipping, which is a nasty-sounding kind of distortion. It sounds like you've blown your speakers, even if you haven't.
Now, maybe Metallica intended for the CD to sound distorted and one-dimensional, but if not, I'd say the whole run of CDs is defective.
There's an online petition to get this album re-issued with proper sound. If you want to help end the "Loudness War", I urge you to sign it:
Also, here's a group that is determined to end the Loudness War: