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When hi-res audio stops making sense: a follow-up

  • 32,847. That’s the number of people who (so far) have read last week’s op-ed on “When hi-res audio stops making sense…”. That’s an impressive number for a written post and a nice reward for the amount of work that went into trying to lasso the myriad issues that feed into such a complex topic. I hope it’s clear from the article that I think we as audiophiles make too much noise about file formats and data compression and not enough noise about the dynamic range compression applied by the mastering engineer in the studio.

    Anecdotally speaking, many of the remastered CDs purchased by yours truly in the past year – of albums by The Cure, ABC, Thomas Dolby, Duran Duran, Echo & The Bunnymen and Supergrass – offer more kick in the low end and unearth more detail from the mix but their dynamic ranges are far lower than the original releases.

    Moreover, you only have to browse the Dynamic Range Database to see that mastering engineers now make liberal use of dynamic range compression as a way to make a remaster sound louder because the brain perceives louder as better. However, it’s important to note that many of these mastering engineers are forced to work with one hand tied behind their back when the record label (or artist) contracting their services is demanding a louder cut.

    In turning the “When hi-res audio stops making sense” op-ed into a YouTube video, I created a graphic that shows the waveforms of three digital versions of “Take Me To The River”, each taken from the three digital versions of Stop Making Sense released in 1984, 1999 and 2023. You can see the dynamic range compression in play:

    Lastly, we should note that the application of dynamic range compression is an artistic decision (like any other) and my take on this artistic decision is an opinion (like any other).

    🎥 Camera: John Darko
    🎬 Editor: John Darko
    🌈 Colour: Olaf von Voss
    🕺🏻 Motion GFX: John Darko
    💰 Ad segment: Jana Dagdagan

    🎵 Song IDs? Playlists of all music heard in this video – and other videos – can be found on PATREON:

    Further information: Talking Heads

    👉 As mentioned in this video…

    Talking Heads – Stop Making Sense

    Stop Making Sense 2023 movie trailer

    DR Loudness database

    The Loudness Wars: Why Music Sounds Worse

    Sony PCM-3324 (as used to digitally record SMS’s sound)

    Darko.Audio may earn a small commission from items purchased via affiliate links, which are indicated with a ‘🛒’.

    Written by John

    John currently lives in Berlin where he creates videos and podcasts for Darko.Audio. He has previously contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram

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