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Loudness war

The Loudness war the increasing tendency of the music industry to produce music in gradually ever higher levels of loudness - not to be confused with volume levels - in order to produce a sound that is different from that of other artists.


Illustration of the "Loudness wars" by a comparison of the sounds of the Beatles piece "Something" on various publications over the years.
This phenomenon can be observed in many areas of the music industry and the advertising industry, in particular on radio and in music albums published on DVD and CD; in the latter case, the loudness was of an interest to produce CDs that sound either as loud as possible or louder than the CDs of solos or record labels of the competition.

The maximum volume (amplitude) of a CD is limited, and this limit is usually reached in loud passages. Therefore, it is not possible to increase the volume itself. Instead, the quieter passages are made louder, which only increases the subjectively perceived loudness and means technically a reduction of the dynamics capture, which results in a compression and possibly even distortion. Sometimes the recording volume itself is increased, which leads to clipping in loud parts of the song.

In the advertising industry, as well as in radio and television, there are similar efforts to make the public appear to be louder than the competition, to raise the advertising block by increasing the volume from the actual program, or a single commercial from others.


At first, a so-called "loudness war" broke out between FM radio stations, a means to compete for ratings of the listeners for the respective stations. Soon after, Plattenlabels began to increase the loudness of both their LP and CD productions. The main reason for this contest is the (subjective) advantages of the loudly produced variant, namely a subjectively better hearing impression, which can be attributed to the way in which perception of sound pressure can be traced back to different levels in the human ear. In humans, the ability to react to different frequencies depends not least on the sound pressure level; consequently, the more the sound pressure level is increased, the higher the number of high and low frequency sounds. Music recorded at higher levels can be more easily replicated in environments with higher noise levels, such as in the car, on the train, or on a busy shopping street.

Even with playback systems with lower sound quality, Internet audiostreams, medium wave radio, monaural television and telephones are perceived to be higher levels than subjectively better. A further reason for the loudness problem can be found among the artists, who are increasingly striving to adjust their loudness levels to the most sold current CD productions.


In addition to audiophiles and hi-fi enthusiasts, these practices have also met with some of the leading members of the music industry, including Grammy-winning Doug Sax, sound engineer Geoff Emerick (world-renowned for his collaboration with the Beatles from Revolver to Abbey Road) and many other. Although Bob Dylan strictly rejected this approach, he said: "These modern productions are terrible, they are nothing but sound, there is nothing more clearly defined, no voice - nothing at all." the CD releases of Dylan's younger albums "Love and Theft", Modern Times and Together Through Life, on the other hand, are themselves examples of strong compression.

If a radiosender plays a CD title, the latter is likely to go through the transmitter chain of signal processors (such as Optimod), which further reduces the dynamic capture and brings it close to the absolute amplitude level - regardless of the actual loudness of the original CD production. Critics of the method have already demanded immediate changes in the music production as regards the loudness level.

In August 2006, the A & R vice president of the One Haven Music label, which belongs to the Sony Music group, claimed the "loudness wars" in an open letter, claiming that sound engineers would be forced into the audio material either against their will to clean up the audio material from the outset voluntarily, in order to attract the interest of industrial workers. There are also petitions to encourage bands to re-release their productions, with these re-releases showing less distortion. This could already be a beginning, to undermine the current practice of the increase of the loudness at the moment to the dynamic of the dynamics, or to end the "loudness war".

Musical works on their supporting elements, which are the case with the bolero of Ravel, are still played, but are destroyed by extreme dynamic compression.


The method of increasing the loudness of a CD so that it becomes louder than competing productions leads to distortions when applied exaggeratedly.

In the digital environment, this is commonly referred to as "clipping". Digital recordings can not map single values ​​(samples) higher than 0 dBFS. Thus, the resulting waveform has distortions each time signal peaks exceed 0 dBFS. Since, however, some sounds and sounds such as the "kick" of a bass drum in the drums only reach their top level for a short time and are considerably louder than the rest of the signal, the sound engineer can make the recording louder by increasing the volume the top level of the "kicks" in the drums are actually "clipped". This is rarely registered by the average listener. However, if distortions occur too often in a piece of music or if certain signals are clearly distorted, the listening experience is unpleasantly influenced. Most modern productions - mainly pop music, but also many classical and jazz CDs - show these overrides.

Since the signal "bends" at analogue audio media as soon as it reaches the absolute maximum level of 0 dBFS, this can also be used in the digital environment, either by using analogue audio material from the tape (using the tape saturation) to a digital recording medium or through the use of software that emulates this effect. This is sometimes referred to as "soft clipping".

This analog distortion produces harmonics that are perceived by the listener as a small "cracking" or "hissing". The results of this effect are influenced by some factors: on the one hand the characteristics of the original sound itself, on the other hand the strength and the type of distortion used. Since the distortion caused by analog means is not "flattened" as in digital clipping, the results are less unpleasant. The more overdrive effect is applied to the signal, the more distortion is produced, with a range of "very perceptible" (very weak) to "very audible", and the same - just like digital clipping different behavior of the different musical instruments in distortion. In other cases, compression or limiting is usually used. Although the resulting distortion is minimized in the final mix ("final mix"), the expression strength of the transient transients (eg drums) is considerably reduced by this method and - as soon as the settings become too aggressive - the natural dynamic characteristics of other instruments involved in recording - in most cases with negative effects on the sound image. However, techniques for increasing the loudness do not always influence the so-called macrodynamics, ie the relative loudness differences in the various sections of the piece of music. For example, sound-based signal compressors (including the limiters) only influence the "local" signal.

On a regular basis, mastering studios make use of multi-band compression to achieve a more homogeneous, easier-to-balance mix - which also works better with low-cost playback devices - or to achieve a completely individual sound or artistic effect. On the other hand, "radio-like" compression is applied to the music in order to fine-tune the volumes in different sections of the piece of music, which makes the production more suitable for listening in the background or for louder-lit environments, but also the dynamic expressiveness of the entire medium- to very strongly.

In general, the distortions reduce the intelligibility of the language, the differentiability of the melody goes back, instruments lose their sound character, and gentle background melodies are "overdriven".

en/music_knowledge/loudness_war.txt · Last modified: 2019/03/24 16:44 (external edit)