<edit>This is a long post; if you're looking at the wall of text and ready to say, "TL;DR" then I've been trying to make my thoughts more concise and this post
may be an easier read to see what I'm trying to accomplish in this thread.... </edit>
Original post follows:
I have been pretty frustrated lately because, for a long time, I had bought into the "modern recordings are crap" dogma. However, after (finally) getting all my gear set up in my new home's basement and tweaking for a while (mostly sub position / levels / delay, but speaker toe and position, too, and adding a few 4" deep absorption panels to my ceiling tile's grid), I am starting to realize this may not be the case.
For a long time, even with the same gear in my old living room, I had issues with modern recordings; especially in comprehending the vocals. Oddly, a lot of this would clear up when I listened on "frequency starved" devices (e.g., laptops and many car stereos). But, while maybe I could understand the vocals on those setups, so many tracks lost their impact; it was like I could not win. Like many, I fell to popular credo -- "these recordings must just be crap, they sound like it on my best gear."
Mind you, it's not like I have a sub-par home system (though, some will degrade me for my choices, lol). Alas, despite reading, time and time again, how much difference the room makes, I had no way to change my previous WAF-controlled living room (and, honestly, wouldn't have "uglified" it myself, anyway). Regardless, this thread isn't about my gear, it's about recordings and, now that I have, what I believe to be, a room and setup that is sufficient to make qualitative judgements of my own, I want to address this elephant on the forum -- is dynamic range compression "really the devil" and are low scores on, say, the DR database
making modern music low quality as I have been led to believe for so long? My current opinion is, "maybe not."
However, if the low scores on DR database don't mean the recording quality stinks, what do they mean, beyond that the overall sound-power (is that a good term?) does not change much during the album/track? More, is it possible the recordings, when played back "properly", still have perceived dynamics? Is it possible that in modern, spectrally complex, music, the dynamic range we measure is not representative of the overall quality? Is it possible that by stuffing "lots of sound" into a "small box" we see what appears to be "crap dynamic range" when really it is just spectrally complex music with lots of time intensity trading going on to create, e.g., sound-stage effects? All this sounds random, I suppose, but allow me to explain why I pose these questions....
Most modern recordings I have been listening to have A LOT of content. I hear so many different electronic samples and instruments being played all over my sound-stage. I hear them clearly, and often find at least half-a-dozen "point-sources" in my sound-stage. I would easily say that if you don't like "overproduced" music, then you can complain. However, all of this content has to be stuffed into the track and that would, I suppose, increase its average levels. Worse, if you're going to hear all these sounds I presume they must be "separated out". Besides panning to position them, what other choices do you have as a mixer? I have often, for example, perceived sounds that seemingly revolve around a 3D area in my room (from simple 2-channel). Now, I'm not naive enough to think that this isn't at least partly a product of my room, but something
must exist in the recording to provoke it because it's not like it always happens. Does that "something" require additional (possibly phase-shifted) spectral content? Does it have a byproduct of producing a louder measuring track with less dynamic range despite my perceptions during playback? I don't know, but...a thought experiment....
Can one encode a file having two signals, left and right channel, obviously, out of phase such that at playback they sound substantially quieter at the listening position than they are recorded (recognizing that to hear it this way, you may need to have the system set up like Goldilocks)? If so, then can the phasing be adjusted such that the combined sound is perceived as louder and softer and, ultimately, being perceived as having a higher dynamic range than measured?
I will stop there...because I honestly don't know
the answers to these questions; I don't mix music. However, my little brother does, and he has all sorts of Pro Tools filters that he uses artistically, despite not really knowing what they do mathematically. But, I think one can infer where I'm going with my line of questioning. Because, if the above is true, one can use mixing techniques that make for bad measuring but good sounding tracks.
If it is untrue, then I still seek answers, because I have listened to so many "poor" recordings that measure horribly on the DR database, but sound incredible on my system. Sure, maybe I have to adjust the volume downwards if they seem loud, but the details, clarity of vocals, and so much more makes these modern mixes very enjoyable to me...often making older recordings boring and sterile in comparison. All this despite the measured higher dynamic range of older recordings.... The worst offenses I hear are when I perceive what I believe are artifacts, either in the track or somewhere along the recording chain, that make it to post and annoy (e.g., something that sounds like clipping)! However, this, IME, is not the norm.
Of course, it's also very possible I am 100% off-base. But, I'd prefer folks not just dismiss me -- I really want to talk about this. I get it, large dynamics make for "fun" tracks, often having loud parts that come out of nowhere. All I want to get across is, IMO, dynamic range is not
the sole arbitrator of track quality; maybe there's something more to it than just dynamic range? But, some other things to discuss:
1) What is the dynamic range of real musical instruments? For drums, is it limited to how hard you can smash them before they break, lol? For wind instruments, is it how hard one can blow?
2) Is the instruments' dynamic range even of importance? Do the microphone or recording techniques (or even 16-bit digital if you want to go there) set the limit?
3) If we don't compress, but we want spectrally complex content, can we "fit" it all in -- are modern mixing engineers really messing up or must their creations lack measured dynamics to include all the effects and tracks modern artists seemingly want?
4) If we used the entire dynamic range available, what are the issues? One I can figure is that folks lacking sufficiently low noise floors would miss a lot because if they turned it up loud enough for the min / avg track levels to overcome their noise floor, their signal paths may clip during the dynamic passages.
Anyway, I hope folks enjoy this thread. Plus, as the thread title says, I'd also welcome people to "give me your worst" -- I'd love to keep testing my hypothesis, putting to test on my gear some of the "worst" recordings y'all have for me and discussing them here,
. A few albums I've listened to just recently (last night, actually) which score poorly on DR database (despite my enjoyment of them) whose listening sessions led me to post this thread:
- Adele's 25 -- because I recall people whining a lot about that album
- The Weeknd's Starboy -- because I know the singles off that sounded excellent (and it turns out "Starboy" is one of the poorest ranked songs on the album with a DR score of "4"; it sounded amazing, despite that ranking!).
My impressions of these two were posted here, in another thread
where-in it was decided I should start this thread to extract the off-topic.
Here's another album that I have heard recently: Sunn O))) Life Metal
. My gosh this is "terrible", it gets a straight "2" across the board. I can tell you, though, this album has so much "texture". It is literally overwhelming how many things are going on at one time in this album. You can hate it because it drones, but that's the genre. I have a hard time listening to it just because I can't figure out what to tune in to, there's just too much! The droning is certainly representative of its definite lack of dynamics, lol!
Anyway, let the "fun" begin....but, hopefully, we all learn something about mixing, dynamic range, and the science of modern music that, IMO, sounds great, is spectrally complex, but measures poorly!