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Aug 23, 2007

The IEEE Spectrum gives its take on the ongoing loudness war in popular music, complete with visual aides.

While this article is similar to many past discussions on the topic, the Spectrum article goes over the history of dynamic range compression in consumer audio formats and talks about the trade-offs involved in setting the proper dynamic range for a song vs. the listening environment.

Here’s an insightful quote from the article:

Some audiophiles find relief by going back to the past. A few musicians still continue to release their albums on vinyl records (in addition to CDs and online formats). Because vinyl cannot support the loudness that CDs can, these modern vinyl releases are much quieter than their CD counterparts. But they are often less compressed as well, and, in some instances, remastered in a way that is as dynamic as albums released in the 1960s and 1970s.

To this day people are still arguing about the sound quality of the vinyl album vs. the compact disc. What a lot of people fail to realize that is the differences you hear between a song presented in both formats (and there are differences) are not necessarily caused by the limitations of that particular format - songs are often mastered differently for release on vinyl or CD, and the listener is at the mercy of the recording engineer. Just to make things, even more muddled, albums may be mastered differently from CD release to CD release, so your CD of Paul Simon’s Graceland purchased in the 1980’s may actually sound different that a late 1990’s reissue. See this Wikipedia article for an example of this type of “remastering.”

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