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.


Microbunny said...

A fantastic super clear example of how over-compression can kill musical dynamics.

What a horrid job they did here.

I will be sure and wait to hear how this new box set was remastered before forking out that kind of money.

Thanks for the wonderful blog.

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