Excuse the Pun, Have the Loudness Wars Peaked?
Thanks to the efforts of professionals such as Ian Shepherd, Bob Katz, as well as manufacturers such as Bowers & Wilkins, NAD, TC Electronic, Solid State Logic and Harrison Consoles, the music industry is looking to restore dynamics back to today's music.
Over the past decade a growing number of music industry professionals, as well as audiophiles and even mainstream consumers have increasingly complained about the deteriorating sound quality of new music releases.
Ask anyone from the recording industry and they will tell you the industry’s “loudness wars” that conceptually make recordings “louder” by reducing their dynamic range are why these recordings sound poor when compared to recordings from yesteryear. Taking the blame to the next level, mastering engineers have been unfairly blamed in some cases, but most realize that these professionals are simply following the instructions of those paying for their services.
The real culprits responsible for modern recordings sounding so bad have been the record labels and their attempts to pander to mobile/earbud users, and in a minority of cases, the artists themselves (see Metallica and The Red Hot Chili Peppers).
Recently the professional audio community has stated the days of crushed, dynamically void recordings are waning. Through the efforts of individuals such as the British mastering engineer Ian Shepherd and his Dynamic Range Day movement, as well as bold statements from high-profile mastering engineers such as Bob Katz, the recording industry claims it is moving to put the “loudness wars” in the rearview mirror.
Maybe there is some truth to this claim. With new resources and the guidance of the newly passed Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act the music industry will take a new approach to music production.
More conclusively however, Shepherd’s diligence appears to be paying off. His Dynamic Range Day is growing. With sponsors as diverse as TC Electronic, Bowers & Wilkins (B&W), Solid State Logic (SSL), NAD, Harrison Consoles and Fluid Mastering, an increasing cross section of consumer electronics and pro audio companies are getting behind this initiative.
Ultimately Shepherd’s goal is to have recorded music achieve dynamic range ratings of DR10 on the TT Dynamic Range Meter.
The important thing about Dynamic Range day and ending the “loudness wars” is that you don’t need to be a “golden-eared” Eddie Van Halen or Bob Ludwig (famous mastering engineer) to tell whether a recording is squashed or not. Studies have shown that consumers of all experience levels react more favorably to well-recorded music. Having a wealth of quality recordings is the best tool installers will ever have in selling music and home theater systems and no magic bullet software program, fancy speaker or Holy Grail cable will never trump that simple fact.
Bob Lugwig of Gateway Mastering remembers the other end of the dynamic spectrum when recordings may have had a bit too much dynamics:
Bob is an audio enthusiast who has written about consumer electronics for various publications within Massachusetts before joining the staff of CE Pro in 2000. Bob is THX Level I certified, and he's also taken classes from the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) and Home Acoustics Alliance (HAA). Bob also serves as the technology editor for CE Pro's sister publication Commercial Integrator. In addition, he's studied guitar and music theory at Sarrin Music Studios in Wakefield, Mass., and he also studies Kyokushin karate at 5 Dragons in Haverhill, Mass. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Robert at [email protected]
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