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Dynamic Range Day - Loudness War Protest

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So, Justin Bieber is louder than Motorhead, AC/DC and The Sex Pistols… – wait, WHAT ?

by Ian Shepherd

(Click on the image for a larger version)


Hopefully this speaks for itself ! If not, to find out more about the Loudness War and Dynamic Range Dayclick here.

Questions to ask:

  • Which of these albums sound the loudest to you ?
  • Which of these albums sound the punchiest ?
  • Which of these albums sound incredible ?
  • What’s more helpful for great sound, high average level (so-called “loudness”) or wide dynamic range ?
  • Do sales have anything to do with “loudness” ? (That’s a trick question – more info here.)

I would love this to go viral, if you think it deserves to – please spread the word !

You can download a higher-quality PDF version here.

“DR” values measured by the offline TT Loudness Meter.

Information collected via the excellent Unofficial Dynamic Range Database. I chose the songs looking for acts that most people would recognise as “loud”, plus some top-sellers (new and old) for comparison.

If you would like to suggest ways to improve this, or can beautify it for me, please comment !

facebook comments:

28 Responses

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tom Davenport, Michael Carrasquillo, Mat Stace and others. Mat Stace said: RT @DynamicRangeDay: Loudness versus dynamic range – a myth-busting infographic http://bit.ly/loudinfo #DRD11 [...]

  2. … and the new Radiohead album is DR 5.

  3. Glen Stephan says:

    One thing that chart does not take into account is that overall sales figures are at least partially a function of how long the product has been on the market. Not only will an older recording have had more time to build up more sales, but will also have the “advantage” of having had multiple formats (e.g. vinyl, CD, remaster re-releases, etc.) to have been sold to the public.

    If one really wants to bulletproof the anti-loudness evidence (which I am in favor of, being on the side of dynamic range, just for the record), such a bias in the data should be removed or adjusted for in some way. It’s too easy to say that Thriller is #1 largely because of a combination of CD and vinyl sales over a period of 20 years (not to mention the hype caused by it’s groudbreaking use of music video or MJs untimely death), and so dismiss the relevance of the overall crest factor of the master.

  4. Kim Lajoie says:

    This has always bothered me… Isn’t this a measurement of headroom, not dynamic range?

    -Kim.

  5. Ian Shepherd says:

    @ Glen – congratulations, that’s why it’s a trick question : ) You’re absolutely right, we can’t draw any conclusions from the raw sales stats.

    BUT it does show that wide dynamic range isn’t an obstacle to monster sales – Sgt. Pepper has exactly the same DR on the recent re-masters as the original CD release…

    @ Kim – oddly enough, I had exactly the same conversation with my Dad, this evening ! I see your point, but when audio engineers talk about “headroom”, they are invariably (rightly or wrongly) referring to the peak level only. So a recording that peaks at -4dBFS is said to have “4dB headroom”. Whereas all these CDs peak at 0dBFS (or very close) so that terminology doesn’t work.

    I think the best way to look at it as a specific type of dynamic range (because in theory any CD has about 96dB of usable dynamic range, anyway.

    Roughly speaking, a “DR” measurement made by the TT meter is an estimate of the variance on average level. So, you would expect the RMS level of a DR10 recording to have about 10dB between maximum and minimum for most of the time, and a DR3 recording to have only three…

    Does that help ?

  6. Glen Stephan says:

    Ian is correct on the clarification between dynamics and headroom, but there is still a little bit of potential confusion in the use of the term “dynamic range” for the measurement being used for this purpose. Typically (i.e. in other contexts), when one refers to the dynamic range of the signal, they’re referring to the *total* dynamic range – i.e. the range in dB from the quietest part of the signal (typically the recorded noise floor) to the highest peak.

    The “DR” measurement, as I understand it, is something closer (though perhaps not mathematically identical) to what would normally be called the signal’s “crest factor”, which is usually defined as the range in dB between the RMS signal level (a type of averaging) for the song and it’s highest peak level.

    It is still a measurement of the song’s dynamic content, but not truly a measurement of it’s full “dynamic range”, at least not under the conventional definition.

    But you say tomayto and I say tomahto. The point gets made either way, I suppose.

  7. Ian Shepherd says:

    Glen is absolutely right – and in fact, the “DR” value isn’t even an accurate measure of the crest factor, strictly speaking, because it’s designed to ignore the very quietest parts of the signal. I can’t change this, because I didn’t design it – but I don’t think I would, even if could – and, I don’t think it matters, really !

    The meter gives a good, general indication of how heavily compressed something is – the measurement of DR3 for Death Magnetic “feels” right to me, as a mastering engineer, and similarly for other items on the list. There are albums that give surprising results, but on the whole I think it gives good feedback.

  8. Adamg says:

    Hi Ian,

    You have a nice post here, it’s good to see how artists stack up. I have one request however.

    It would be nice to see this sort of comparison extended to EDM, perhaps a whole new graph exclusively to the category? I’m certain you have a big readership from the dance music scene(s) and I often get frustrated by the lack of separation of targeted information between the genre’s. For example, some production techniques/considerations are irrelevant for purely synthesised music.

    Whilst I appreciate that relatively all music can benefit from what is perceived to be a “good DR”, it would be more helpful to someone like to see this graph, as well as some of your mastering/production posts specify towards EDM.

    Cheers for the great blog, see you at DR-Day!

  9. ColinG says:

    Some of the numbers on that chart are wrong.
    OK Computer is DR7, not DR10.
    Californication’s a horrific DR4!
    I get a bit obsessive about DR values…

  10. Bill Roberts Mastering says:

    LOL! The last 2 albums I mastered were DR 20 and DR 19. Both of them had peaks nearing zero dBfs but never…. never were two peaks that represented different levels during the mix subjected to the limiter. The relationship between all peak values are not molested. The artists LOVES them, so do the fans.

    The CD’s are selling nicely, no complaints and many positive comments.

  11. Ian Shepherd says:

    Hi Bill,

    That’s great to hear !

    Just to be clear, personally I use compression and limiting routinely in mastering, to achieve DR measurements in the range of DR8 – DR12, depending on the material – I’m by no means saying they aren’t valid tools for most pop & rock production.

    Dynamic Range Day 2011 is simply highlighting that if these tools are over-used or the dynamic range is restricted too much, there are inevitable compromises, and that there is no need to do this unless it’s a genuine creative desire of the artist.

    Having said that, your example is a great one, and re-enforces the point of my chart – dynamic music sounds great !

    Ian

  12. Ian Shepherd says:

    @Adamg – I’m afraid I don’t have time to do this by genre, but you might find the chart at this link interesting:

    http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2011/02/22/loudness-wars-visualized/

    - or, why not work out a similar chart yourself, using the database ? If you put up a post and mention Dynamic Range Day, I’ll gladly promote it.

    @ColinG – Oops – thanks for pointing those out, I’ll revise the chart in a day or two (I have a huge deadline to meet !)

  13. anattolia says:

    Hi, Ian, I took your image and added something to make clearer the time factor (years). It looks like this:
    https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/bZMUS71y16V6y_SY5q7I1voNwALBF-QGBkhONIxO55o?feat=directlink

  14. Bill Roberts Mastering says:

    Ian, here are some sound samples of one of the albums if you are interested. We have a fabulous system here, to the point where we are actually preferred over one of the very well known UK “legend” studios by serveral artists who have had their products mastered there. “Too Much Top End” is the usual complaint I hear…and it shows on this system.

    Link is here Ian–

    Enjoy!

    http://www.digstation.com/AlbumDetails.aspx?albumID=ALB000064594

  15. Bill Roberts Mastering says:

    PS…tk 04 is one of my faves, and 05–

  16. Ian Shepherd says:

    @ Anattolia – Thanks ! Please can you send me a PSD so I can use this in an updated version ? ian at productionadvice.co.uk

    @ Bill – Thanks, I’ll take a listen

  17. Matt Connolly says:

    I’d like to point out that “loudness” has *almost nothing* to do with “peak levels” – ever since the invention of the peak limiter, and especially with digital peak limiters, such as the Waves L2.

    The dynamic range figure of 96dB for a CD is the maximum signal to noise ratio because of the 16-bit PCM format.

    The dynamic range of the music being measured here really has to do with the relationship between the peaks and the “volume” of the track. Volume could be measured in many ways: simple RMS, weighted RMS, with VU meter ballistics, LEQ(a) etc, etc.

    I totally support that a larger dynamic range (difference between peaks and volume) results in a better sounding recording.

  18. [...] Justin Bieber is louder than Motorhead… wait, WHAT ?.  [...]

  19. Julian Silva says:

    Thank goodness we are all paying attention to this!

    You know who is coming back to making really dynamic, punchy records?

    METAL.

    The Ocean, Ihsahn, Mastodon, Intronaut, Pelican…. the list goes on. In latest years, metal came to a real harsh point with all the Pantera clones (hatebreed,, lamb of god). Those albums are DR4, and i’m being generous.

    I guess this coming back to good recordings is because metalheads are really influenced by all that old rock, and that sound is really ingrained in their heads (i know they are in my head) so, when the time came to really reflect on the impact of their recordings and what I tell my clients: “Think about the lasting power of your recording”, I can say that Metal is following the Mudcrutch route, and they are new recordings!

    On another note, I have had to turn mixes way down, pull up Transient Control from Metric Halo, and get to work on those dynamics! Clients appreciate it!

  20. Shaun says:

    Foo Fighters just recorded their new album in a garage using analogue equipment. While not a fanatic FF fan I am looking forward to hearing the music. The real music. I wonder what DR it will measure at? Assuming they left it analogue and didn’t fiddle with it. Shaun.

  21. Ian Shepherd says:

    Hi Shaun,

    I’ve heard the first single and it sounds pretty good – surprisingly polished for something recorded in a garage, in my opinion ! I think it was DR6 – so, not destroyed but still “up there” – personally a couple of extra dBs to breathe would be better, even in this genre.

    Ian

  22. Are Sørum, Norway says:

    I’m just a Norwgian end user, but I spend much time listening to music, and even more since I bought a proper sound system two years ago.

    Where can I find the database, the source of the graph above? I’d like to buy some good sounding music, and I thought I’d start with CDs/SACDs/DVD-As/BDs that have been measured.

    And could you please add publisher and catalogue number to the list/graphs, so it’s easier to purchase exactly the same product you measured?

  23. Ian Shepherd says:

    Hi Are,

    The database is here:

    http://www.dr.loudness-war.info/

    I don’t run it though, so I don’t have any control over the information it displays – but, some of the entries include barcodes etc. Don’t forget, DR is only one factor in great sound !

    Ian

  24. Pieter says:

    Hello There, being an enduser as well and got quite bothered by some weird recordings i started to use at first some wave editors to see what’s happening and noticed quite some distortions all the way and even more peak levels at 0dB fs (some exceed over 1000 for 3 minutes playing time)this is simply not possible no matter what peaople are saying, Epica The Divine Conspiracy has only 0dB peaks there almost no drops at all, and ther are a huge number of records these days suffering this problem even Ilse Delange World Of Hurt wich is easy country has quite a number distortion as well listen to the basedrum of the titelsong.
    Besides Dr measuring we need a possibility to meassure distortion overall, and not only at 0dB fs but also at lower levels.
    There are records dilberitly normalized to a level below 0dB fs but still suffer the distortion.
    Buying good music would mean taking a laptop with a cdrom inside to the recordshop analize the disc first and if Dr value is somewhere around 5 and more then 3 samples of a single track show up ditortion, tell the seller to keep his disc and leave it there.
    It would even better to make a law so the seller is obmitted to have such a analizing device available in the store for the buyer to use and check the disc if he pleases.
    Releases from the 80′s never,never suffered these extreme numbers of distortion no matter the genre.
    Exept ofcourse the dangerous rereleases wich came out, Abba is a very good example of this stupid behaviour
    Pieter

  25. diego says:

    Can someone explain how Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms DR16, sounds louder than many DR8, 6 or even lower ones.

    Considering that the point of that extremely heavy compression that records are suffering is to increase loudness, which is perceived as RMS level by the human ear, why does this DR16 album sounds louder? Am I missing something here, is my hearing perceptiveness not working of RMS levels?

  26. Sabun says:

    Wait. What? No. The graph shows *peak* recording lelevs increasing, which would result in more accurate playback (due to the full resolution of being used). This has *nothing* to do with any changes to *softer* parts of the song, which aren’t shown in the graph. This is not even to mention the obvious opportunity for bias in songs selected for analysis.And ultimately, loudness is determine by your volume knob (or button) which still work as well as they did in 1979.

  27. Ian Shepherd says:

    Hi Sabun,

    Thanks for commenting !

    No, the graph doesn’t show peak level (I know this, I made it). It shows the “DR” value, supposedly “dynamic range”, or more accurately “crest factor”. This is the difference between the peak and average (RMS) levels, averaged over a whole album.

    The DR values were sourced from this database:

    http://www.dr.loudness-war.info/

    It’s true that the albums were chosen to make a point, but they represent a general trend over the years which has been confirmed in many different pieces of research – for example see the links on this page:

    http://dynamicrangeday.co.uk/research/

    Finally, I take your point about volume controls, but since “loudness” is now commonly (misleadingly) used to describe the average level on a CD, I prefer to say that people control the replay volume with their volume knob. Which is why “loudness” is pointless – which is why I made this graph.

    Ian

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