Portable audio and the loudness war.
I understand that the loudness war is as much motivated by portable music players as it is by car audio, but there is no question that the average car is not the ideal place to listen to audio.
It seems to me that a solution to the loudness war might be to include a compression feature in a car stereo head unit. Just like you have a quick adjustment of BASS TREB, you could have a COMP control. So when listening at low volumes during an average drive, a consumer could have their music compressed so that they can hear everything. Then perhaps during critical automotive listening, you could turn off compression.
With this feature widespread, recording companies could stop ruining their artists work for the sake of portability.
It seems like they have been trying to solve the wrong problem...
Sales drive everything, and something like compression (dynamic) may be too complicated for the typical iTuner to care about. I never thought iTunes would catch on because I assumed that audio quality was more important than audio fidelity... I was wrong. I still maintain that I would use services like that if they would have at least CD quality audio. But how long has it been? Years. My point is, we are too rare a bunch to be catered to by the recording industry. The vast majority of people either don't care, or equate compression with quality. I've already given it up as a lost cause. :(
That being said, I agree that real-time compression features (that are switchable) would be a much better option than the status quo. That being said, the way I understand it (which could be completely wrong), they add compression in a studio at a low level. It is done per sound (instrument, effect, voice, etc) before it is combined as a single sound wave in its final form. In order to compress a non-compressed audio file after the face would require: 1. Either separating the sounds, and applying a compression algorithm, or 2. A new file format with each sound separated, that includes time-line instructions to put it back together. And the compression algorithm can be applied in real time from that. Either way, there is a lot of computation involved, and that would drastically reduce battery life (and thermal dissipation requirements) in portable devices, which would kill the idea. So I don't think it is practical (though I hope I'm wrong)...
I propose a third way, where extra versions of the same song are released. For online stores, one license would, of course, cover both versions, as they are the same song. Perhaps the files could be doubly uncompressed- as in could be full quality as well? Flac perhaps?
There is also another way to compress, though it is a simplified version and doesn't work as 'well'. One of my old Sony HT receivers had it as a button for watching movies without bothering people in other rooms. It made all sounds about the same loudness. The catch was it took the loudest sound and adjusted based on that. So, if there was a loud boom, the boom would be normal level, and all other sounds would be very quiet. Unfortunately, this is probably the only realistic dynamic range compression option. I have yet to see it out of HT, though.
Money talks. I thought DVD Audio or Super Audio would catch on but everyone wants a billion songs on a USB the size of a thumbnail. With the advent of super storage capacity in increasingly smaller sizes why can't I have High Definition sound and only put a million songs on it. I'd rather listen to a few pops and crackles on my LP player than I tunes. My ears are getting old, they need sound quality now.
Sheffield Lab Audiophile Recordings | The reference standard for musical and sonic excellence has a lot of uncompressed recordings. You can listen to segments of some of them to determine the quality.
In my opinion, for the music that 95%+ of the buyers like, very little of it would benefit from greater dynamic range. There are a lot of audiophile recording that you can buy that have little or no compression and sound wonderful on a good system or through a good pair of headphones.
Can you list a few of the songs that you'd like to hear with greater dynamic range?
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