Metallica have a new single out – you can listen to it on YouTube above.
And people are already asking me about the dynamics – in fact I’ve already seen a blog post claiming that it’s more dynamic than their infamous album Death Magnetic:
So I was excited to listen to it, and this post is just to quickly put my opinion on record since I have a feeling people may be asking me about this fairly often – since I have form on this topic.
My verdict – the sound
First, I tested two versions of this song – one on YouTube, and the one in iTunes. Both sound better than Death Magnetic, to me. They don’t have the blatant distortion, or the flat-as-a-pancake “clipped” sound.
(In fact, I noticed recently that the iTunes version of Death Magnetic is actually more dynamic than the original CD release – but that’s a whole other blog post !)
The drums in particular immediately sound better, despite a slightly odd kick sound – and overall the song has far more “life” and energy for me – more excitement and punch than Death Magnetic.
But that’s not saying much. At all.
The dynamics of this song are still pretty squashed, in both versions. And here’s where it gets really interesting, because
The YouTube version sounds better
I mentioned that I listened to two versions of the song, and I went to YouTube first. But then I went straight to iTunes, for two reasons. First, this should be better quality than YouTube, in theory – and second, I’d already seen some discussion claiming that at least some of the apparent dynamics might be because of YouTube’s encoding.
Wrong, on both counts.
The iTunes version is obviously mastered louder. The sound is thicker, duller, less lively, less engaging. Not as bad as Death Magnetic, but still more “flat” and lifeless than it feels on YouTube.
Time to break out Dynameter and analyse the dynamics !
Measuring the numbers
They say a picture speaks a thousand words, and here is what I found.
Dynameter’s analysis of the two versions of “Hardwired” is on the right, with “The Day That Never Comes” from “Death Magnetic” and their most popular song on iTunes, “Enter Sandman” from 1991’s “The Black Album” on the left for comparison.
(For an explanation of how to read Dynameter’s display, click here)
The graphs confirm what my ears had already told me. “Hardwired” is no-where near as crushed as Death Magnetic, but is still pushed pretty hard. And the YouTube version has more dynamics ! 2 dB more, in fact, based on the raw loudness measurement – you can see it at a glance from Dynameter’s graph.
(For those who prefer their dynamics analysis more old-school, the offline TT Meter lists the iTunes version as measuring DR 6, versus YouTube’s DR 8)
Which is crazy, bearing in mind Apple’s Mastered for iTunes guidelines. YouTube has technically inferior audio in terms of data-rate, but the master sounds noticeably better !
(For anyone who is unhappy about me comparing two lossy encoded audio streams, fair comment. But they’re all I have right now, and this detail doesn’t affect our perception of the dynamics. And if anything YouTube’s lower audio data-rate should count against it, in terms of sound!)
Why have they made this decision ? Presumably because they wanted the iTunes version to sound as loud as the CD (which I haven’t heard yet, but will bet is at the same level as the iTunes version) but also wanted to comply with the iTunes guidelines on inter-sample peak levels. And the only way to achieve that is to further reduce the dynamics.
Whereas on YouTube, where loudness management is mandatory, the same pressure doesn’t apply – the only shame is that they didn’t go further. There are still several dBs of unused peak “loudness space” in the YouTube version. If the 2 dB we had makes such a big difference, who knows what it could have sounded like with another 2 !
Does the new Metallica single have more dynamics ?
Yes… but not much. Or at least, no-where near as much as it could have had.
The YouTube master gives us a taste of what might have been, but the iTunes master is a sadly missed opportunity.
And even the YouTube version is louder than it needs to be, louder than it should be, in my opinion.
Yes, it’s metal, yes it’s meant to be aggressive and distorted – but you can do all that without being crushed, even in this genre. A typical short-term peak-to-loudness (PSR) of 6 or even 7 just isn’t enough for music like this to work the way it’s meant to, especially not dropping down to 5 as this song does. My suggestion is for a minimum of 8 at the loudest point – which is basically what you can see in “Enter Sandman”.
So, it’s a step in the right direction, but not far enough for me.
Fingers crossed for the HDTracks master…?