At the end of last year I was interviewed by the makers of a new BBC radio documentary called Compression Versus Art, talking about the Loudness War, mp3 compression and their effects on audio quality.
We talked for well over an hour, and I really enjoyed the discussion – but couldn’t help wondering how the final show would turn out ! Presenter Trevor Cox and producer Nick Holmes were determined that it should be detailed, nuanced and accurate – but they only had half an hour to do it in.
Also featuring contributions from Dynamic Range Day award-winner Steven Wilson, legendary producer Steve Levine, members of the BBC Philharmonic and Dr Bruno Fazenda, I was left wondering how they would manage to fit everything in, including an introduction to some quite complicated issues for a general Radio 4 audience.
As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. The show was accessible, clear and comprehensive – really excellent. They packed in an amazing amount of detail – but not at the expense of accuracy. And it was entertaining to boot!
It covered both types of compression (dynamic and data) without confusing the two; it explored both the benefits and the problems of both; it even covered the impact that loudness normalisation on YouTube and elsewhere is having – without needing to dumb the subject down, and including useful demonstrations along the way.
I did have a couple of minor reservations – I disagree about the idea that we only like compression because we’ve been conditioned to it by listening to so many recordings over the years. I think the reason is more subtle and interesting – but I think that might have to be a new blog post in it’s own right ! And, I was a little concerned that people might miss-interpret the comments about the benefits of high-quality audio being “masked” by our listening situation. It’s true you won’t hear the differences the show was discussing on small, cheap speakers or in noisy environments, for example – but that doesn’t mean they don’t matter, as I discussed in this post.
These are very small quibbles, though – overall the show was excellent. Congrats to Trevor and Nick – this was Hi-Def Journalism at it’s finest. For a limited time only you can listen to the whole show on the BBC website, here. I’m genuinely proud to have been part of it.