Loud CD’s: What’s Your Feeling, Bob? (and references to sites about the issue)

Bob Katz Leave a Comment

From: Andrew Lamont


I enjoy the many informative articles.
My question is… what are your current feelings on loud CD’S now as they seem to me to be all uniformly LOUD now? ( At least the new ones I listen too anyway)
At least they seem to be very bright and clear.

Hi, Andrew. Thanks for your comments. Here’s my take….
Uniform loudness = boring = fatiguing. Only the first 10 seconds may sound exciting, but only because you have your volume control set to a position where it sounds loud, but you will soon turn it down. This trend will not sell CDs. It may be helpful in the context of a single, it’s a bit like advertising. But I prefer being like Taj Mahal, “I’m built for comfort, not for speed.”

Do I not make “loud CDs”? I do, when my client asks for them and has already been educated on the issues. We usually agree after we smash a CD that the sound has been compromised, but if he’s happy, then I have to accept it! The issue of “competitive volume” or loudness is a difficult one because the sound quality goes down as the loudness goes up (above a certain limiter or compressor threshold). I promise you that when you get your mastered CD it will be at the hottest level I think I can make without deteriorating the sound quality. But if you still would like me to try to make it louder, then I will try, but I cannot promise that the sound quality will not go downhill. I work for you, you will make the decision!

Two recent releases by Bruce Springsteen and by Paul McCartney which were mastered overly loud have been smashed by critics and critical listeners for losing their sound quality for the sake of loudness.Here is an interesting notice of a concert by Rush from the Orlando Weekly:

For years, Rush was one of a handful of bands whose records were excellent source material for testing stereo equipment. Go into any hi-fi store, and propped up next to the latest high-end player or turntable was a 24K gold CD of “2112” or a Mobile Fidelity pressing of “Moving Pictures.” It’s ironic, then, that Rush’s 2002 album, “Vapor Trails”, has become a standard-bearer for how abysmal the art of album mastering has become. Smothered by the compression techniques prevalent in today’s landscape, the album lacked any of the crystalline dynamics that once defined Rush. Even the band’s guitarist acknowledged the problems and promised a remaster (which has yet to materialize). The band’s new disc, “Snakes and Arrows”, doesn’t sound as bad; and at least they can hit the road, where lasers, synths and double kick drums are all that really matter.”

Another client of mine, Marten Thielges, an excellent engineer/mixer/band member of a “hard-core” band called Monochromewrote this:

Bob, I like it like that, great work! We had a little discussion with the band, initially the other guitar player thought the record was not quite “loud” enough, but everybody loves the sound, so after explaining that these two things are directly connect to one another everybody agrees to this master reference!!

Another excellent band, the Martin Harley Blues Band, for whom I had raised their mastered level to a bit of a compromise, was still “worried” that it sounded “low” (in front of their volume control) compared to some other records. Then they discovered that one of their favorite records of all time that they love, is actually lower in level than their current master so they began to realize how much variance there is out there and they stopped worrying or complaining.

Here are some references on the issue of “loud” CDs:

Entertainment Times On Line

Christopher Null, columnist at Yahoo Tech

Rolling Stone News, The Death_of_High_Fidelity

This “little loudness war explained” video by Matt Mayfield which we host at our site

Live Journal

Dave Moulton’s tips on Mastering

Mixing Tip for/from Hip Hop’s Beatheads

The discovery (at Wired Magazine) that the Guitar Hero version of Metallica’s latest album sounds better than the album! In a related story, even the Wall Street Journal has become hip to the Metallica issue.

And have you visited Turn Me Up?

Regardless, your CD master is unique and of course I will go with whatever decision you make, as I am here to serve you. I just want you to be aware of all the issues. And no matter where I set the “volume” on your master, there will always be plenty of records which are “higher” or “lower” than yours, until some kind of a standard is legislated. Plus, I feel that the “loud CD” that I will make for you will contain much excitement, impact and dynamics because I’ll put all my skill and experience into making it.

Hope this letter helps!Sincerely,

Bob Katz

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