The Loudness Wars and Classical Music

Cover600x600I got a new recording yesterday that I’m quite enjoying: Philip Glass’s latest release, The Complete Piano Etudes, on his own label Orange Mountain Music. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) I started listening to it last night, in bed, on headphones; I was surprised at how low I needed to turn the volume on my iPhone.

This morning, I decided to look at the tracks and see how loud they were. I was quite surprised. Here’s one of them:

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There is clipping from beginning to end of the track, and that final section is brutal. This is a recording of a single piano. Pianos can be loud, and if you record too close to a piano, it will result in clipping. But this is a world where, ever classical music has to be loud.

Perhaps that’s the point, though. In trying to make this music accessible to non-classical listeners – much of Philip Glass’s audience may be genre-agnostic – the producer of this recording felt it was necessary to increase the loudness, so, when a track comes up on shuffle after a Lady Gaga or Taylor Swift track, those with hearing damage can hear the music.

It’s great music; while there’s a lot of Philip Glass’s music I don’t like, this is the kind that does work for me. But this heinous loudness makes it sound horrible.

14 thoughts on “The Loudness Wars and Classical Music

  1. I downsized my system NAD d3020, psb imagine speakers, airport express (awesome dac), alac/aac256 and. Since singing in a choir I can even enjoy the aweful recordings of Karl Jenkins (Stabat Mater /Peacemakers). Don’t listen too close, just use music like musicians do.

  2. I downsized my system NAD d3020, psb imagine speakers, airport express (awesome dac), alac/aac256 and. Since singing in a choir I can even enjoy the aweful recordings of Karl Jenkins (Stabat Mater /Peacemakers). Don’t listen too close, just use music like musicians do.

  3. Remember when classical CDs used to have warning labels about possible speaker damage because of the large dynamic range?

  4. Remember when classical CDs used to have warning labels about possible speaker damage because of the large dynamic range?

  5. Is it definitely clipping and not just limited? Most Loudness Wars audio suffers from over-compression and too much limiter. I’d be pretty shocked if they just clipped it.

    • IT’S LOUD. And clipped. I have to alter the volume as I play back the album; there’s quite a difference between the quieter tracks and the few very loud ones.

      • When you zoom into the waveform are any of the lines actually flat at the top and bottom? If so, that’s worse than just loudness… That’s terrible.

    • I recently got this recording myself and checked it out. It’s been heavily compressed (TT DRMeter score of 7 for etude 15) with a hard limit at -0.3dB, there’s no actual digital clipping. So the engineer wasn’t completely incompetent. Maybe Glass/Namekawa were looking for this sort of ugly sound, I’ve come across similarly bizarre mastering practices on other contemporary music discs.

  6. Is it definitely clipping and not just limited? Most Loudness Wars audio suffers from over-compression and too much limiter. I’d be pretty shocked if they just clipped it.

    • IT’S LOUD. And clipped. I have to alter the volume as I play back the album; there’s quite a difference between the quieter tracks and the few very loud ones.

      • When you zoom into the waveform are any of the lines actually flat at the top and bottom? If so, that’s worse than just loudness… That’s terrible.

    • I recently got this recording myself and checked it out. It’s been heavily compressed (TT DRMeter score of 7 for etude 15) with a hard limit at -0.3dB, there’s no actual digital clipping. So the engineer wasn’t completely incompetent. Maybe Glass/Namekawa were looking for this sort of ugly sound, I’ve come across similarly bizarre mastering practices on other contemporary music discs.

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