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Binaural 21st December 2009 08:20 AM

Interesting Observation: DMB Listener Supported
Hello all, this will be my first post in this section of the forum, as I usually keep my eyes in the tubes/analog sections of this site. Before I go on, I should probably state a little about myself (ya know, for credibility?) I am a graduate of Full Sail's music program and have been playing, recording, and mixing music for most of my life. Yes, I'm one of those gear obsessed music types, as I'm always trying to get closer to the way music sounds naturally without electronic assistance on playback. Recently I've had an experience that did just that.

I've been a fan of DMB since their beginning. I was actually born right outside of Charlottesville, VA where they are from. My parents frequented Millers where Dave worked as a bartender before there was such thing as the DMB. I remember the first time my mom realized this man on the TV was the same one who used to serve her vodka tonics, she said..."oh, he's such a nice man, I'm glad he's doing what he loves." And do it well he does.

Anyways, the very first DVD I purchased was a copy of their Listener Supported disc. I wanted to change the camera angles to watch Carter as much as possible, plus I was looking forward to hearing the 5.1 mix, and how it compared to the CD mix.

Well, I was in the mood to watch this disc the other day, but could not find it to save my life, and I remembered I had the same concert on a VHS tape that was given to me pre-DVD as a Christmas present. I felt industrious and hooked up my Panasonic AG-DS850 to my Aja capture card and Digi 002 to record it in and burn a DVD.

As I was playing it back, I couldn't help but hear how good the audio sounded. Now, I know VHS Hi-Fi is capable of some pretty impressive specs, hell, I've always thought of it as the analog equivalent of CD's, but what I was hearing in the monitors was magic. I had the 2-CD release of the concert, so I imported it into PT to do a direct comparison. Um.....yeah.

Now I'm not trying to spark up an analog vs. digital debate about this, as to each one their own, I have my preference and I'm sure you have yours, so let's keep this conversation elsewhere, please? Thank you.

Now what this is a good example is the horrible horrible HORRIBLE thing that has been coined as the "Loudness War." I have included some screen captures of my findings here, to demonstrate my points.

First off, the difference here is not as simple as being mastered for 2 different mediums, (though, it is part of it) but these are 2 completely different MIXES. The VHS version obviously has a higher overall crowd noise and ambiance volume level, which is very normal, but there are other difference here that seem a bit strange. The VHS's drum sound is much punchier, some of this comes from the fact that it hasn't been peak limited, but the panning presentation is also very different. The VHS version has it's Toms panned from extreme R to L (audience perspective), whereas the CD has very little to no tom panning. The lower toms are a bit L, but all others are collapsed center.
In this concert Carter plays his normal hi-hat, but adds a remote hi-hat to the right. This can be heard on "Two Step" in the introduction, where he plays paradiddles, alternating which one opens to the down beat. The CD's presentation of both hats are center R, while the VHS has them panned out mid L and mid R, giving the impression of 2 distinct cymbals, as the way he plays them, and the closeness of their sounds, could be interpreted as all being played on one hi-hat.
Both CD and VHS off the typical DMB presentation of instruments, Boyd fiddle L, LeRoy R, Stefan's bass, Dave's guitar and lead Vox down the middle. Back up vox are more or less panned to the extremes, though for this particular concert only contains Carter and for various songs, "The Lovely Ladies." Instruments have more body and more of their true timbre on the VHS mix, and dominate during solo's for better separation. The CD's mix seems very monotone, not only in the tone and texture, but also in the dynamics. This can be attributed to the mastering engineer, in his choice in final EQ and amount of peak limiting, but could also be attributed to the use of EQ in the mix.

Here are some screen shots with some specific examples.

First and foremost, an overview of the VHS vs. CD recording. I imported the CD into PT, then synced them up visually as best as possible, then consolidated all the CD files together to match the continuous VHS recorded audio.

Sick isn't it? But i guess it's what sells, right?

Here is an overview of the song "Crash." It's very easy to see which one is which isn't it?

It's really amazing to hear what has been thrown away during the mastering process. All of the emotion, the dynamics, and the heart of the music has been discarded, all to be "loud." It's amazing how loud music can really be when instead of making music look like 2x4's, the volume knob is cranked. Our amps have gotten lazy, make'em work people!

Next up is a shot of "Rhyme & Reason." This song has very quiet versus and explosive choruses. You'd never know that by the looks of the CD version.

Finally, here's a look at one of my all time favorite songs "The Stone." The song usually ends with Boyd and LeRoy melodically trading each other, with the rhythmic pluck of Dave's guitar. Here, they added an explosive outro with HUGE thudding snares, fierce China crashes with fortissimo band fill and staccato ending. It's great to hear it as it's meant to be heard.

I guess the point of this thread is there are surprising alternative sources for music other than CD's that don't suffer from the dreaded effects of the peak limiter. I wish i could find the DVD to compare it's 2 channel mix to the VHS to see if they're identical. If anyone is willing to take the time, I'd be curious to know your findings. As for me, illegal or not, there will be a CD created of this tape's audio and it will replace the original CD version in my Itunes. Hope everyone's Christmas is jolly and all that jazz.


P.S. I've recently discovered that this disc was mixed by Jeff Juliano and John Alagia, 2 people that have my utmost respect and who's work is usually top notch. I'm wondering what the huge discrepancy in the final products is here. Plus it was mastered at Sterling Sound by Ted Jensen, another individual who is at the top of his game.

I've always wondered what it would take to win this loudness war. Even a gradual decrease over time would be more than welcome, but until then, I hope I'm still able to find my favorite music on alternative formats to really hear what the songs are supposed say to me. It's hard to express yourself when your volume is the same whether you whisper or scream.

Pano 21st December 2009 01:43 PM

Hey Joe - interesting findings! Who would have thunk it?
I used to do a good bit of recording on VHS Hi-Fi, it's a pretty good medium.

But I know your point is that the mix and mastering are very different. I've heard the same track on LP, 80s CD and 2005 CD and the difference can be striking. But sometimes it's only subtle.

I looked at your waveforms. There are a lot of maxed out waveforms that that posted on this forum - I never run across them. Maybe I buy a different type of music.
To be fair to the CD, you need to maximize the level of your VHS recording. From you screen shots, it just looks like it could come up about 6dB. When it's brought up, it will look more like the CD waveform.

No doubt, most CD mastering these days is awful. The mastering engineers will even tell you so! It nice that you found an alternate source - and surprising that it's a whole different mix.


Binaural 21st December 2009 05:43 PM


Hey, great handle. I've done a couple of mixes to VHS HiFi and had very good results. I remember one event where were were mixing down a song to DAT, CD burner and VHS, and the band as well as I chose the VHS by a large margin, especially in the area of high frequency resolution.

There is actually only about 1.3dB of unused headroom on the VHS track. Normalizing the audio at the resolution of the posted screen captures wouldn't be able to be noticed. The only way to noticeably boost the volume would be to whip out the dreaded L2, but I understand your point. It wouldn't, however, make it look like the CD's waveforms. The only way to do that would be to apply a good dose of L2. Looking back, I realize this might not be the best loudness war example given that the mixes are dissimilar, but they are close enough to compare on the broad scopes as viewed here.

I don't know if it would be bad (or illegal) to post some quick audio examples of some of my points, to really demonstrate the night and day difference in sound quality here. I know that up to 30 seconds can be used in some circumstances, but I don't want to ruffle any feathers. But considering the DMB is one of the only groups that allow amateur recording of the concerts (well, they used to, not sure about now) I don't think it would be a big deal.

Lately, with the resurgence of vinyl, it's been easy to find an alternative music medium for purchase. I really wish SACD's had taken hold, or even DVD audios for that matter. To be honest, I do hear a difference between them, but it's so minuscule that it becomes irrelevant. I just wish there were mobile SACD and DVDa players, that might have helped push their acceptance.

I guess when it comes to the way music (mainly CD's) is mastered nowadays, it seems in complete contradiction as to why the CD was considered superior. The CD's superior dynamic range and S/N ratio is essentially moot when the whole program material's final dynamic range can be represented on one hand.

HA, I guess this turned into a personal rant! Oh well, it feels good to get it out. Feel free to add yours here!

Pano 22nd December 2009 04:56 PM

Hey Joe, sorry. I should have guessed that you know what you're doing! =) I just couldn't see the VHS peaks in your screen shots. What I find interesting is that you found a completely different mix on the VHS. Will be interesting to know if the DVD has that same mix.

I hear ya on the VHS Hi-Fi. With the right deck, it was superb. Don't know how it measured, but it sounded nice. First time I saw it was at a concert in Paris. Guy from Radio France came and used that as his recording medium. I was surprised! That was over 20 years ago.

Yep, what's the point of having a medium with 90dB of dynamic range, if you only ever use the top 12dB? :-/

To change the subject slightly - Last night I watched "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" on the Cartoon Network. The 1960s cartoon version with Boris Karloff doing the Grinch. It looked great, but sounded awful! Very surprising. When Karloff was doing the voice-over he sounded like he was in a cardboard box. When he did the Grinch voice he sounded like he was inside a tin can inside a cardboard box. The singing of the Whos sounded pretty good.

I don't remember it sounding that awful. Did it? Might have to buy it on DVD to have a listen. Strange.....

Glowbug 22nd December 2009 05:19 PM


I've always wondered what it would take to win this loudness war.
They've already won :(

Binaural 23rd December 2009 12:45 AM


Let's not give up hope that easily! As long as there audiophiles, or just people who love music, especially a preference for music that has been recorded well, I'd like to think we have some kind of a fighting chance to reverse this trend and take back our beloved music!


Don't worry about it, I try not to sound like an intellectual snob, because there is SO much that I do not know, and I never know when I'll be proved wrong!

I've been cleaning around the house here for Christmas and the like and was really hoping I'd run across the DVD version. Doesn't look like that's going to be the case. I haven't had much work in the line of mixing or mastering lately, but I'd like to use this AG-DS850 as more than a VHS capture deck for DVD transfers. If I remember correctly it was Panasonic's highest end S-VHS deck, with manual level controls and a built in TBC. I just don't think of using it because it's part of my video setup and not my audio setup. I got it for next to nothing off of eBay. Shipping was more than the final bid!

As far as the Grinch is concerned, I'm a big big BIG Looney Tunes fan, and I've noticed that Cartoon Network lately has been airing them from 11am to noon which brought a HUGE smile to my face. Except that I noticed the audio seemed worse that I remembered. There was always something about the way Mel Blanc's voice sounded. It had a very distinct, clear, sharp sound. Not a lot of high end, but something very discernible that isn't attributed to his natural sound but something that seems natural to the microphones and recording equipment of the day that is added upon recording that wasn't there anymore.

Come to find out, if you look carefully at the bottom 1/3 of the screen during the "That's All Folks" part of the cartoon, there's some new titles there. It reads something like DUBBED VERSION copyright 19XX, I can't remember what year it was, but I think that's to blame for what I am hearing. Not sure why they'd have to do that, perhaps the masters weren't playable (God forbid) or they thought they could make it sound "better."

I'd hate to think that this is the same reason for your observation about the Grinch. People need to learn, if it's not broken, DON'T TRY TO FIX IT!!!

Just my $.02


Binaural 23rd December 2009 12:48 AM

Wow, something I just noticed, everyone in this thread is from or living in NC. Weird, huh?

Pano 23rd December 2009 01:21 AM

We gotta stick together, you know - here in Carolina.

Another funny co-inky-dink. Was coming back from the store today. Got in the car and what was playing on the radio? The Grinch! The full version. Made me wish my car had better sound. Only one speaker working out of the whole bunch.

But what I could hear, Karloff still sounded like he was in a box. Hmmmmm......
Maybe he recorded it from Frankenstein's crypt?

Binaural 27th December 2009 04:50 PM

I've got the same problem in my car, although all my speakers work. I just haven't been able to justify spending what would be necessary to make it sound "good" by my standards. This SET crap has spoiled me and so far I haven't seen a way to install these in a car.

Speaking of recording in strange places, I can't think of the name of the song, but Led Zeppelin recorded Bonham's drums in a large castle room to get that crazy nice ambiance. Makes me wish we had access to local castles here in NC. Where I grew up in the Shenandoah Valley, we had the Swannanoah Castle near my old house. Too bad it fell into disrepair for a long time. Last time I heard, I think someone had purchased it or it's owner did some long needed renovations. It just tears me apart to see magnificent old architecture fall apart like that.

Hope everyone's Christmas was a great one! I know mine was... or will be, when my 5 new Edcor transformers come in the mail!! (4 weeks lead time!!!)

boris81 14th January 2010 08:35 PM

people are so used to hearing their equipment distort that they don't realize how much of it comes from compression on the source. the way to win the loudness war is by developing the technology to make hifi sound affordable and accessible to everyone. when technology evolves to provide a clean reproduction there will be a demand for good recordings. i see a lot of people here fighting on the good side.
until then what we can do is educate people on the problem.

since you guys have experience in the recording industry you could probably know the answer to a question that's been bothering me. are musicians generally aware that their music is being butchered in the mastering process?

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