December 29, 2007

Why Hot Songs Are Crap

Rolling Stone has an excellent article about why compressed songs sound bad. The practice of compressing music is also referred to as mixing "hot", because all of the sounds are boosted until they all measure close to the max decibel level which is usually displayed as red and white on a spectral analysis graph. This can also result in a form of clipping when a frequency is boosted such that its amplitude hits the ceiling for too long. Imagine a sine wave that has a peak of -0dB. To the left and right of the peak, the amplitude drops. But if the entire signal is boosted, the areas to the left and right of the peak will also be at -0dB.

This is one of the most annoying aspects of music produced today because really high end gear will expose these problems. But on the other hand, it does mean that for lots of music, you won't hear much difference if you listen on high end gear or mass market gear. In other words, if that's the sort of music that you listen to, you don't need to spend time or money on good speakers or electronics. Things may actually sound better to you if you don't, because a high-frequency roll off will make it less fatiguing to listen.

Well mastered audio on good gear will sound loads better though. I've remarked before about an album from Tosca, classical music, and other well mastered CDs that let you hear the instruments and performers. Wide dynamic range adds a lot of depth and captures the meanings behind a passage that is supposed to be done with fortissimo instead of pianissimo.

Posted by josuah at December 29, 2007 12:44 AM UTC+00:00

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