Thursday, 4 December 2014

E-Mail: "Full Dynamic Range" - Now there's a marketing phrase to get behind!

 The other day, I got this E-mail from an audiophile friend:
Hi Arch, 
I think this is funny. A contradiction in every way imaginable which is why I wanted to share it with you. I know it’s not your type of music and although I still listen to it sometimes, it’s mostly youth sentiment for me. One of the loudest and fastest bands back in the days was Terrorizer. Their drummer (Pete Sandoval) is one of the fastest drummers I have heard, he's amazing. But unfortunately production for this kind of music wasn't always very good. It's often compressed to hell and equalized with typical "rock" settings; increased lows and highs and suppressed mids. It's often overdone in my opinion. I do think production of hard rock and metal albums have improved over the years but back then, some were just downright bad. This particular album wasn't that bad though, it was actually pretty decent from what I remember. 
Terrorizer was a so-called super band. Some of the best musicians from different bands came together to produce one album. The band split up that same year but after 2005 they came together a few more times to release other albums. This album was their debut from 1989, titled World Downfall. It is considered one of the most influential albums in the genre and now a classic that every fan of the genre should own. I ordered this album on vinyl recently, limited to 100 copies, in "Downfall Orange". What struck me was that it is marketed as a "Full Dynamic Range" version. I would never have ordered it if that wasn't mentioned! Could this be the new marketing phrase? The end of the loudness wars? How much dynamic range can be in music like this? And how good can it really sound? I was curious and I could not resist the urge so I bought it ... :). Fitting label too, Earache! Haha!
 

Here's a screenshot of the waveform. The entire album looks similar:
The average album DR is 12. I think that's amazing! 
The album sounds spatial, black background, there's air around the instruments and the drums sound natural. Basically, the album just sounds very good. Obviously the entire album is one massive wall of noise so I can't say it’s not tiring to listen to but at least now it’s a good sounding wall of noise haha! :D. 
I am surprised that the end of the loudness wars (if that ever happens) would see a start with albums like this. But if this is it, it definitely looks promising!
Funny story about the drummer, the band once played a prank on him by making him listen to a band that used a pre-programmed drum machine, and pretended it was a real drummer who could play faster than he could. He was gutted, and went on to practice until he managed to play faster than the machine.
PS. I don't advise you listen to the album. If you decide to do so you it's at your own risk. I'm not liable for any damage this might cause, physically or mentally! Haha! Just kidding! You’ll live J.

Well. That would be amazing wouldn't it?! To start advertising music as "Full Dynamic Range" (with a nice logo maybe?) to grab the interest of those who actually understand the importance of mastering quality. Slowly this could build into a "movement" of sorts that might even capture the interest of the mainstream music industry - imagine seeing CDs being advertised like this...

As I noted in this previous article, I actually think that the next round of remastering will actually swing the pendulum towards "full dynamic range" to differentiate the sound from current loud dynamically overcompressed releases. A movement of this sort would be a true advancement of sound quality that would make the push towards "High-Resolution Audio" and format wars like PCM vs. DSD (yawn...) audibly irrelevant in relative significance.

Remember, we should be cautious about reading too much into DR values of vinyl rips and comparing directly to a CD version, of course. However, also remember that vinyl is limited in how much compression can be applied in order to prevent tracking issues. I wonder in fact if this limitation may be an important reason why LPs have survived - they can sound better than the corresponding CD because the masters used to cut the vinyl have always needed to be of a decent dynamic range. Although the track is loud; visibly so zoomed out like this, I'm sure zooming into the waveform would reveal zero clipping / peak limiting which is what kills the DR value.

In other news: we just saw the release of Bruce Springsteen's Born In The U.S.A. available on HDTracks at 24/96 with a DR of 9. Original first CD release in the 80's - DR13. Born To Run is even worse with DR8 (I think even the 30th Anniversary CD release may be better). Hey Columbia Records, you do realize a little bit more audio realism can be squeezed out from 24-bits, right (which I hope is what audiophiles are looking for in these "better than CD" releases)? As usual, I highly recommend checking out the Dynamic Range Database to get a sense of the mastering quality before jumping into these so-called "high-resolution" albums.

BTW, I jEst liStenEd to dA TerRoRiZER AlbuM... i'M pReety ShuRe Im OhhKaAaY! EErAchE inDeeD. :-)

------------------

Thanks to everyone for trying out the "LP Needle Drop Blind Test", especially those who took the time to submit survey results. The survey site is closed although the FTP remains open for now. I'll likely close that off this weekend.

Work has been crazy-busy this last 2 weeks so I'll try to get results up in the next week. Stay tuned...

Enjoy the music everyone! (I'm trying to find the time as we head towards a busy holiday season...)

6 comments:

  1. I found this article that goes into the dynamic range and the difference between vinyl and cd/digital. What is very interesting is that this guy is showing that the noise floor of vinyl is actually lower than CD (quite a lot with new high quality vinyl) and that the effective dynamic range is also often larger than CD also.

    http://www.audioholics.com/audio-technologies/dynamic-comparison-of-lps-vs-cds-part-4

    What I have yet to see explained though is why dynamic range values of digitized vinyl can't be trusted. I've read the forum threads with people claiming it's apples and oranges and I've seen youtube movies of a sound engineer who compares his own mastered and produced album on cd and vinyl where the latter comes out 4dB higher. But he doesn't explain why this happens, he just shows something is off. I would love to know why though ...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This a much more reliable source of information about digital media.

      http://xiph.org/video/vid2.shtml

      Delete
    2. Interesting Audioholics link, Goe Gol. Pretty old article however from 2004. The fact that he captured and measured the higher "usable dynamics" on the LP also suggests that whatever the dynamics for a piece of music might be, it can be digitally captured (and compared). If one wanted to exaggerate dynamics, then I'm sure the music producer could do this with the sound data... The problem is of course that modern mastering goes the opposite direction and gives us audio as if it's always got that old "Loudness" button permanently pressed as if we're always listening in a car!

      I believe digitized vinyl DR is "not to be trusted" because there's an inherent exaggeration of the DR value. Vinyl isn't accurate and will add a bit of dynamic variation IMO. In digital, when we calculate the DR, a clipped sample might have 5 samples at 0dBFS for example, and the DR would be 0 for those samples. When a vinyl master is made, the clipped sample would likely be remastered lower, significant amount of RIAA EQ applied, and then the digital master would be converted to analogue to create the vinyl master. When we then play the music back, the stylus pickup would likely not be capable of reconstituting a flat 0dB signal through that time period which the original digital source contained.

      So, my sense is that we can "trust" that the DR algorithm will calculate a digitized LP needle drop and the number is correct. BUT, I believe that DR value calculated from the needle drop would be higher than the original digital signal that was used to cut the LP. For example, a DR10 original digital "studio master" could end up being a DR12 LP when ripped back.

      This is my suspicion in any case :-).

      Delete
    3. The reasons why the DR meter is fooled was shown by the guy in the video, he even mentioned the (possible) reasons and IMHO he is right as well. He even zooms in and shows the actual differences in waveforms.
      He didn't go into it further though.

      The 'correction' that is used for cutting vinyl is one of a FEW reasons vinyl is different. You can't simply put the same dynamic range and risetimes that CAN occur in a CD master 1 to 1 into vinyl.
      The needle could lieterally jump out of the groove (launched actually) or distortion could set in so the signal is more or less processed BEFORE it is send to the lathe.
      Fast transients are lowered in speed and sometimes 'corrected' in the frequency domain to give the impression of a fast signal resulting in a lower sideways needle speed on playback that 'overshoots' to compensate for the lack of speed.

      The cutting head also has resonances of it's own which aren't in the original signal but should be compensated in the cutting head's drive amplifier.
      Also when grooves are close together (lots of music on one side) trickery is used such variable groove distance depending on contents which results in very low freq variations (below rumble freq) that can causes a peak to 'appear' to be higher in the signal.
      When that low freq content isn't removed (the ear removes it anyway as do your speakers) the electrical signal is measurably higher at certain points yet that 'added' electrical signal is below the audible range and thus not heard but it IS present in the vinyl rip resulting in seemingly higher peak levels.
      Other mentioned facts are possible differences in RIAA correction and cartridges that can have a peak in the treble depending on capacitive load etc.
      If the frequency range isn't the same (a few dB more bass for instance) the DR meter is giving a too high value because the FR of the playback isn't as flat as that of the CD.

      All these aspects can result in peaks being higher in electrical signal yet having a similar amplitude when split into frequency bands (as our hearing does)

      So take all the DR readings with a grain of salt, especially for vinyl as too many factors can change the outcome of that program.
      Sometimes(not mostly) lower DR remasters may actually SOUND better, especially at lower listening levels when the louder signals aren't clipping.

      Those that have actually heard a mastertape and the CD played back on the same equipment know the differences are small or even negligible.
      Those that heard a mastertape and the vinyl 'version' know that the audible differences are bigger than those between master and CD .... BUT the vinyl release MAY sound more pleasant to some because of the small yet audibly present changes that are made to the original waveform.

      Delete
    4. @Goe Gol check out the much more recent videos by Ian Shepherd. Also this thread attempts to explain (ignore all the arguing): http://www.stereo.net.au/forums/index.php?/topic/54861-dynamic-range-scores-a-cautionary-note/. It includes links to the Shepherd videos.

      Delete
  2. Don't lose your opportunity to spent more time with your family. Just give your writing tasks for freelance writers, they'll do theirs best. I know, because I use it regulary.

    ReplyDelete