Dad was right
all along - rock music really is getting louder and now recording
experts have warned that the sound of chart-topping albums is
making listeners feel sick.
effect running through your Oasis album is not entirely the Gallagher
brothers' invention. Record companies are using digital technology
to turn the volume on CDs up to "11".
record bosses believe that the best album is the loudest one.
Sound levels are being artificially enhanced so that the music
punches through when it competes against background noise in pubs
leading studio engineers are starting a campaign against a widespread
technique that removes the dynamic range of a recording, making
everything sound "loud".
squeezes the sound range to one level, removing the peaks and
troughs that would normally separate a quieter verse from a pumping
takes place at mastering, the final stage before a track is prepared
for release. In the days of vinyl, the needle would jump out of
the groove if a track was too loud.
musical details, including vocals and snare drums, are lost in
the blare and many CD players respond to the frequency challenge
by adding a buzzing, distorted sound to tracks.
the loudness war and recent albums by Arctic Monkeys and Lily
Allen have pushed the loudness needle further into the red.
The Red Hot
Chili Peppers' Californication, branded "unlistenable" by studio
experts, is the subject of an online petition calling for it to
be "remastered" without its harsh, compressed sound.
senior mastering engineer at Abbey Road studios, said: "Record
companies are competing in an arms race to make their album sound
the 'loudest'. The quieter parts are becoming louder and the loudest
parts are just becoming a buzz."
Red Hot Chili Peppers'
Californication, branded "unlistenable"
by studio experts, is the subject
of an online petition calling for it
to be "remastered" without its
harsh, compressed sound.
Mr Mew, who
joined Abbey Road in 1965 and mastered David Bowie's classic 1970s
albums, warned that modern albums now induced nausea.
"The brain is not geared to accept buzzing. The CDs induce a sense
of fatigue in the listeners. It becomes psychologically tiring
and almost impossible to listen to. This could be the reason why
CD sales are in a slump."
engineer on the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper album, said: "A lot of what
is released today is basically a scrunched-up mess. Whole layers
of sound are missing. It is because record companies don't trust
the listener to decide themselves if they want to turn the volume
has exacerbated the effect. Songs are compressed once again into
digital files before being sold on iTunes and similar sites. The
reduction in quality is so marked that EMI has introduced higher-quality
digital tracks, albeit at a premium price, in response to consumer
Monkeys' record company, defended its band's use of compression
on their chart-topping albums, as a way of making their music
an executive at One Haven, a Sony Music company, said the technique
was "causing our listeners fatigue and even pain while trying
to enjoy their favourite music".
In an open
letter to the music industry, he asked: "Have you ever heard one
of those test tones on TV when the station is off the air? Notice
how it becomes painfully annoying in a very short time? That's
essentially what you do to a song when you super-compress it.
You eliminate all dynamics."
released a compression-free album by Texan roots rock group Los
Lonely Boys which sold 2.5 million copies.
of the UK Noise Association, called for a ceasefire in the "loudness
war". She said: "Bass-heavy music is already one of the biggest
concerns for suffering neighbours. It is one thing for music to
be loud but to make it deliberately noisy seems pointless."
who has rerecorded Sgt. Pepper on the original studio equipment
with contemporary artists, admitted that bands have always had
to fight to get their artistic vision across.
"The Beatles didn't want any nuance altered on Sgt. Pepper. I
had a stand-up row with the mastering engineer because I insisted
on sitting in on the final transfer."
lobbied Parlophone, their record company, to get their records
pressed on thicker vinyl so they could achieve a bigger bass sound.
has joined the campaign for a return to musical dynamics. He told
Rolling Stone magazine: "You listen to these modern records, they're
atrocious, they have sound all over them. There's no definition
of nothing, no vocal, no nothing, just like - static."
The human ear responds to the average sound across a piece
of music rather than peaks and crescendos. Quiet and loud
sounds are squashed together, decreasing the dynamic range,
raising the average loudness
The saturation level for a sound signal is digital full
scale, or 0dB. In the 1980s, the average sound level of
a track was -18dB. The arrival of digital technology allowed
engineers to push finished tracks closer to the loudest
The curves of a sound wave, which represent a wide dynamic
range, become clipped and flattened to create "square waves"
which generate a buzzing effect and digital distortion on