Loudness Race Discussed

Bob Katz Leave a Comment


Here’s the problem that i’ve been running from for a long time…. a lot of the bands (and customers) are complaining that the levels of the CDs are much too low. this is particularly a problem with the metal bands. i understand the detrimental effects of pushing the levels but i’m fighting a losing battle here. there has to be some tradeoff between what you and i know is right and what makes the artist happy. this was actually a thread in a newsgroup when a bunch of people complained about the low level of my releases! we’ll have to find some kind of compromise on the levels that everyone can live with.

Everyone? You? You won’t be able to sleep at night. You’ll be asking me, “Bob, what happened to your sound?” Remember the Swedish mastering of that prog-metal group and the alternative I gave you? Do you want your CD to sound like the Swedish version? I’ll do it if you ask…

Send this message into the newsgroups…. The people complaining, do they have any problems with the sound of your CDs if they turn up their volume controls? Please send any person who is complaining about “low level CDs” or the opposite to http://webbd.nls.net/~mastering for a frank discussion with current mastering engineers. Log in, post, and read.

We have to fight this problem head on. Is there a compromise? Can anyone be half-pregnant? For every dB that I turn it up, you will lose the dynamics, the punch, the clarity… should I go on?

So, you want a compromise? If I turn it up 2 dB, 3 dB… next year you will have to have another dB and another? That’s what will happen, do you realize that?

The war for loudness has only casualties and losers. Some CDs made in the year 2001 are 10 dB hotter than those made in 1990! But the system can’t take it…this is only obtained with horrendous amounts of compression and limiting. Can you take one of these CDs for more than 5 minutes? They sound fatiguing, overmodulated…..

That’s what has happened to nearly all the major commercial CDs out of a false pressure by insecure (and sometimes ignorant) A&R people. The great artist Santana’s current CD sounds worse than the releases he made on analog 20 years ago! What does that say about the state of the sound of the Compact Disc? That we can’t make CDs today that sound as good as the analog or CD releases of yesterday? That’s not true… I can (and do) produce better-sounding CDs today than ever before. But only if you draw the line at the level that I am currently giving you.

The sound that I give to you is unique. You will lose that unique sound if I turn up the level. Do you want an “ordinary” mastering that sounds like crap? If so, then I will, I’ll give you whatever you want.

Fact: Your CDs are hotter than anything made in 1990. They have reached the maximum level that they can and still maintain the sound quality. CDs cannot escalate because there is a limit. The waveforms of the top of the charts “hits” are shaped like 2 x 4s, sound fatiguing and unrelenting and have no relationship with the sound of a good album. No one is happy—-not the artists, not the producers… And on the radio? Still sound like crap, only worse.

The famous radio processor designer, Bob Orban, has gone on record saying that the radio processors cannot take these hot levels, all they add is more distortion.

It’s all an artificial race anyway… all you have to do is turn up your volume controls. That’s what they are for.

The compact disc is being ruined by the fact that there are no standards for levels in digital and it is possible to turn it up all the way and have absolutely no dynamic range at all.

Tell them about the story of the Yellow Submarine reissue, simultaneously on DVD and on CD. The DVD is dynamic and clean, the CD sucks. You put the CD in the DVD player after the DVD and you have to turn down your volume about 6-8 dB! This does not have to be.
It is the brave person who knows he’s right in the face of adversity.


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