Adam! wrote:I personally wouldn't have a problem with all these anti-loudness war rants, if the people writing them could at least keep their terms straight. They rail on and on about the evils of "compression", but the negative effect they're usually (emphasis added for clarity) describing is distortion.
To keep the terms straight, there are generally four detrimental things that mix and mastering engineers do to material with the aim of increase its apparent loudness, or at least the overall RMS. I'll summarize them, along with their side-effects:
Over Compression - loss of dynamic range, "pumping"
Over Limiting - Softening of transients, loss of "punchyness", bass distortion
Over Clipping/Saturation - pops, cracks, clicks, audible buzzing
Over Boosting High-Mids - instant headache, seriously
jb wrote:The articles that *I* have read complain about a "sameness" of the apparent volume within a song, diminishing its interest and appeal. And that's almost always a result of compression.
Yep, that's right. That often-tedious "sameness" is achieved by professionals using a very specific
type of mastering compressor (a "leveler"). And yeah, most articles I've read too seem to have the goal of explaining the evils of reduced dynamic range (which they, for better or for worse, equate with compression). But when the articles start citing examples of overly "compressed" records, they tend to go off into the weeds. Frequent examples are, as you mentioned (and kudos to the article for using the word "distortion" to describe it), Iggy's Raw Power re-issue, Californication, the recent System of a Down discs, most Flaming Lips cds, The Killers' Sam's Town, Sleater-Kinney's The Woods, etc. But, the trouble is, most of those cd's (not counting Raw Power, which, seriously, must be a joke) have a larger
dynamic range than your average charting album. Although they have all been compressed pretty damn heavily, most likely during mixing, the much more obvious problem is that they have been extremely distorted or limited to increase the apparent volume without reducing the dynamic range
. Check out Parallel Universe on Californication, or Radio/Video on Mesmerize: large dynamic range, but horrendous distortion. There are lots of Flaming Lips and The Killers tracks with decent enough dynamic range (certainly better than the pop-punk flavour of the week you'll hear the next time you turn on the radio), but I dare you to find a punchy transient in any of their songs: they've all been turned to mush by brickwall limiting.
I mean, there are some appropriate examples of over-compression being used to reduce dynamic range that get cited, like What's the Story Morning Glory, and that first Arctic Monkey's CD gets mentioned a lot (although, truthfully, that is a pretty subtle example if you ask me). But, I would wager that most of the examples given are describing converter-clipping or limiter distortion, and calling
it compression. This article in particular talks about the Waves L1/L3, which is not a compressor but a limiter. My objections may seem overly-pedantic, but I hang out in the mastering forum over on Gearslutz a fair bit, and I see a LOT of people (artists and music enthusiasts) who come in and start threads about "over compressed" albums when they really mean overly-distorted albums. I really think the use of the term "compression" as a catch-all term for the side effects of hot mastering has caused a further disconnect between mastering engineers and clients.
jb wrote:I don't think the super-hot recordings these days are being distorted are they?
I guarantee that, between the intentional distortion done during the mastering process and the unintentional distortion introduced by most mp3 decoders, >99% of recent professional albums you hear have distortion. It can be pretty subtle, but it's getting less-so.