The curse of compression!

A classic example of compression is the 2011 Pink Floyd remasters. Compared to the original releases, it’s like you’ve closed the door to your listening room and are trying to listen from out in the hall! A friend of mine has the original release of “The Wall” and I have the 2011 version. Night and Day.

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As @Innocent_Bystander flags, if you haven’t already, have a look at the Wiki page on ‘Loudness war’ which includes graphic examples of how re-issues of Super Trouper have been ‘enhanced’ over the years - read more as ‘boosted’ in my simple language. Some Dire Straits ‘re-mastered’ re-issues many years back met the same fate, with the ‘gain’ turned up, such that tape noise was very apparent but they were very ‘bright’ when compared to the originals.

The ‘boosting’ makes the music sound flat and very much small transistor radio quality, which may be OK for the car and MP3’s but sounds horrible through a quality hi-fi, all this probably made worse as the digital top-end goes higher than ye olde analogue vinyl. This often stands out with female vocal, where high notes are heard by many to be ‘screaming’ rather than singing (not just due to the lower quality replay).

I use this youtube channel to hunt down good vinyl records

Hi Jonathon, a few mis understandings perhaps… compression has been evident ever since the very first recordings.
Now with electronic/electrical instrumentation such as vocal microphones, recorded drums, keyboards, guitars etc as well as orchestral recordings recording / mixing compression becomes essential for the result not to sound vague, less intense/clear , lacking emotion, groove and musical legibility. These days many vocals would be almost unrecognisable and lack nearly all emotion if recorded with no compression.

The way mixed and recorded audio is compressed is a hugely involved and advanced subject… and there are many types compression techniques used for different tasks… and also is typically highly tuned to the task in head, ie to maintain a transient of a recorded acoustic guitar or snare, or compress some frequencies more than others to help emotional feel in a busy mix (multi band compression)

However often the area that gets confused with recording compression, is mastering compression or mastering. Again this goes back to at least the 60s where some of the first famous mastering compressors were used, and of renown from the early 70s is the EMI TG12410 transfer console mastering and compression chain as used by Abbey Road. This compression device was key to making so many vinyl records of the day sound good such as Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon… and still is for digitally produced and mastered media… such as Radiohead’s OK Computer.

There then used to be so the called radio loudness wars in the late 70s through 90s where some masters were highly optimised for FM radio to stand out in a car radio system. However when MP3/AAC playback became prevalent from the late 90s, that started to stop, as that sort of crude compression is not usually compatible with those distribution formats. These days the loudness wars are luckily a distant memory.

Mastering compression has now evolved to be more transparent to the feel of the music than ever… some of the spectral and DSP processing used is incredible effective, and there are choices to be made within the LUFS (average dynamic range and headroom) budget of the intensity of transients, rhythmic drive, clarity, shine, low end punch etc. Typically a good master engineer will work with the artist and the master customer to capture the sound / feel from the recording that the artist / producer wanted for that release.

Now unfortunately what can also happen is that some Hi-Fi replay chains accentuate or distort part of the intended audio response, which can work well with some masters but poorly for others… in my experience this is often down to room reflections adding resonances and smear to what might have been a very good master… it’s just the replay environment excites them …. and yes you could even master for these sort of Hi-Fi compromised environments…but at the expense for good Hi-Fi replay environments and lesser systems.

And of course… yes occasionally there are simply poor masters, but… in my experience not often, especially with a major artist.

But this is why there can be different masters, to optimise the mix for different environments… such as radio/YouTube, club mixes, home audio replay masters and different markets… however for many recordings, the master has to become the common denominator for these environments.

At the end of the day recorded music and replay is a highly processed chain… which is why I have a wry smile when I hear people twittering on about being bit perfect etc…. :grinning:


Just to add… looking at some of the posts comparing decades… and yes there have been different mastering profiles to suit current fads…
Like in the 70s many masters had a slightly noisy feel and sloped off highs and constrained deep bass. The 80s had a fad for tight fast bright sound with quite often attenuated lower mids. The 90s had a punchier bass and extended clean treble… (some 80s and 90s masters can sound a little bright by current tastes). Then there 00’s through to 10s where sound started to be more naturally eq’d from the upper bass, through the mids to lower treble in my opinion as playback systems improved and lossy codecs were prevalent with increased dynamic range in lower and upper bass frequencies with vocals becoming more processed to be prominent, legible and emotive in more layered and busy mixes.

(In my opinion of course)


I’d always assumed that it was a combination of pride and dedication of all the engineers/pros involved with recording, mixing and preparing a master for vinyl cutting initially, then the pride and skills of those experts who worked at record pressing plants, from cutting the masters to quality control of the pressed vinyl and packaging.

I think there was a golden age before bean counters and marketing departments just pushing for high sales on low-quality products.

You could argue however that disseminating music to the majority rather than to a small group of enthusiasts is better, just a shame if compromises are made based on cost or gearing the output to low-end audio products.

I actually find it pretty hard these days to figure out in advance if a new vinyl release will better the streamed copy in a significant way. Maybe it’s partially the music I listen to, but I’m frequently surprised one way or another.

It’s a conundrum alright.

I am not a fan of either classical or jazz, yet it seems from many forum contributors that sound quality of releases pertaining to these genres is good, yet more “popular” music suffers by comparison.

Perhaps there is some quality vs quantity inversion here?

The relatively poor-selling is produced to a higher standard than the more mass-market.

I really don’t buy much contemporary music so I am flying the old metaphorical kite here…

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Surely can’t be any suggestion of snobbery or moral superiority if you indulge in certain genres vs mainstream ones?
:wink: :rofl: :scream_cat:

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