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Dynamic range: should the consumer have a choice?

Dynamic range: should the consumer have a choice?

You may well already have heard of ‘the loudness war’. If you haven’t, we have a handy post about it on our favourite informative, educational and occasionally irreverent blog on music, audio gear and technology. What it comes down to, is that the average levels of records are getting louder, which means that there is less ‘dynamic range’ in the tracks, something that is often blamed for tracks sounding lifeless and less emotionally engaging compared to the good ol’ days. The impact of that huge, final chorus can be lost if the soft and gently verse that precedes it is just as loud!

The loudness war is perhaps one reason why the charts seem to be so full of final chorus key changes. it’s the only production option left to give that big finale.

In contrast, listen to a lot of classical recordings, or go to the cinema, and the dynamic range can be huge, from barely being able to hear anything, to huge brass, string and timpani crescendos that throw you back in your seat.

Dynamic range choices?

Why should we reduce dynamic range even further?

Now, most people will probably say that a bigger dynamic range is better and that the loudness war is making it harder to really connect emotionally with modern music. However, have you tried to listen to some politely mixed and sympathetically mastered classical music on your mp3 player on the train? Found a volume setting that lets you hear the pianissimo sections over the background noise without the fortissimo parts causing your head to implode or causing the person sitting next to you to become exceedingly irritated?

Even if you’ve upgraded the included earbuds to something that was actually designed to reproduce music -as opposed to using harsh hi-hat sounds to grate a slab of mature cheddar located in a nearby cheesemonger- it can be difficult to find a good balance.

What about late night watching of  film on DVD? Everyone else has gone to bed so you’re trying to be quiet, but you can’t hear that whispered dialogue so you reach for the volume knob. Oh no! It’s a moment of high drama and the tremolo strings have come in at an incredible level! Very effective in the cinema, but not great when it wakes the dog up, which puts into motion an entire chain of events that, basically, result in people waking up and you not being very popular.

Even if you don’t actually have a dog, you can see what I’m getting at…

Loudness in the hands of the listener?

What about if your DVD or mp3 player had a wee button on it, labelled something like ‘auto leveller’ for example, that gave you control over the dynamic range by compressing the signal? It would surely be quite straightforward to implement and would let you listen to the full dynamic range of the track when reclined on your chaise longue with a brandy and your very nice pair of headphones, but allow you to hear the track perfectly well when listening on your ear buds at rush hour on the number 26?

Obviously, this switch would only be effective for commercial pop recordings of yesteryear: I’m not sure the songs of today’s charts can be compressed much more…

About The Author

Red Dog Music

Dawsons Music is delighted to announce that the Red Dog Music brand is now part of the Dawsons family. This is an exciting opportunity to bring both communities together and create a stronger, wider network of people passionate about music gear. We both share a common heritage to support musicians throughout the UK and Dawsons want to support Red Dog Music customers in their continued musical journey.

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