A video from 2006, during some of the darkest years of the Loudness War. This is a nice explanation of what the cost is for a little extra volume.
I have done a bit of research myself, comparing unadulterated FLAC files from Bon Jovi’s 1986 release, Living on a Prayer, and the 2013 hit, Because We Can. (I believe the use of the audio constitutes Fair Use, as only a short sample is used, and this is an example for educational purposes.)
Here is a screen shot of the two tracks combined into one file after volume matching:
As you can see, the 1986 clip has spikes and valleys indicating its wide dynamic range. The 2013 version looks like a sausage. Normally, the 2013 would be crammed all the way to the very top and bottom of the window, but I have reduced it so the two songs would seem to be the same volume. It is important to compare songs at the same volume, because as little as half of a db can influence someone into thinking it is “better.” Ultimately, however, we all own a volume knob and can listen to music at whatever volume we wish, so a volume-matched comparison is most fair.
How do we measure perceived loudness? Not with the value of the peaks, but with something called its RMS value. Simplified, the RMS reading is the average volume of the selection. Here is the two sections isolated and measured:
It may be hard to read, but trust me, both read -18.4db.
This link will take you to the clip and you can hear the difference for yourself. It is short, about 34 seconds long.
I wanted my 3rd release, Almost Alive, to sound more like the 1986 way of doing things, and less like the 2013 way, no matter what the current industry standard is. I think time will be kind to this decision, and to the numerous producers who are fighting back against the urge to go louder.
Here is a screenshot of a short passage from the first single of my new album.
As you can see, each snare hit is clearly visible. It makes for a less-fatiguing listening experience – which means you can listen to it OVER and OVER again! Win, win!
Things have improved, many audio players are automatically volume-matching songs now, which helps take away the incentive from mastering engineers to squash their work. But, we lost a couple decades of good music to this ridiculous industry-wide practice and we are just now recovering from it. Hopefully, the trend continues in the direction for the good guys.
If you haven’t signed up yet for a free, advance copy of Almost Alive, do so RIGHT NOW on my homepage and hear the beauty of increased dynamic range for yourself!