Reader's question - Learning to shout less
What are your views on achieving maximum loudness in CD mastering? There seems to be a lot of press (both for the home user and the pro), that we need to get away from making CDs as loud as possible with the resultant loss of dynamics.
I did read one article recently which said that losing the dynamic and increasing the overall level is equivalent to trying to read email if all the letters are in CAPITALS. FROM THE MOMENT YOU STOP GIVING THE DYNAMIC, THEN LISTENING OR READING, AS IN THIS EXAMPLE, YOU TIRE VERY QUICKLY AND SO, EITHER LOSE INTEREST ( THIS IS UNCHANGING, SO IT IS BORING) OR FIND THAT YOUR READING (OR LISTENING) ABILITY IS GREATLY COMPROMISED AND THE WHOLE PROCESS FEELS LIKE IT'S HALTING. APOLOGIES FOR THE CAPITALS BUT I'M NOT SHOUTING - JUST DEMONSTRATING THE EFFECT OF TURNING UP THE LEVEL AND REDUCING THE DYNAMIC. What are the views of the various industries - do they still want us to deliver squashed loud music?
PS I'm normally of a quiet nature...
David Mellor replies...
My view is that a recording should be comfortable to listen to. I have some classical music CDs that are so quiet in the quiet parts and so loud in the loud parts that it is impossible to listen to them without adjusting the volume control.
Ideally, dynamic control should be encoded into the recording so that a listener in ideal circumstances could experience the full dynamic range, and someone else listening in the car could hear a reduced dynamic range - but done properly and not just through a compressor. Dolby have made some developments in this respect, but there's nothing that really looks like catching on for music recordings.
Competing for loudness is crass. But when one record label starts to play that game, then the others have to follow suit. Of course there is no such level that is anything above 0 dBFS, so any attempt to increase subjective loudness inevitably results in compromising the sound quality. And of course dynamic range goes completely out of the window.
If you are recording music for television, or any application where it will pass through the hands of another sound engineer, then make your best mix, with a little EQ if you must, but leave the dynamics in. They can be taken out later if necessary.
But once a recording is mastered, it cannot be 'un-mastered'. For commercially released recordings right now it seems necessary to play the loudness game because that is what listeners expect. Of course, it is always best done by a specialist mastering engineer.