“The loudest CD wins.”
—traditional (mastering engineer mantra)
Since the mid-1990s or so, there has been an ongoing arms race to see who can make the loudest CD. Loud is great for getting people’s attention — this is why commercials on TV are always much louder than the TV shows they interrupt. But making a CD “loud” is really a matter of first reducing the volume of the loud parts of an audio signal, and then increasing the volume of everything. The loud is quieter, the quiet is loud. Dynamic range gets lost, distortion is introduced, and recording flaws become more obvious. The Loudness War is one of the reasons many people prefer the sound of vinyl — vinyl is an unsuitable medium for highly compressed sound waves.
“When there’s no quiet, there can be no loud”
—LoudnessWar (YouTube user)
“Squashed dynamics date the recordings of the noughts just as tinny production dated the 80s.”
Radio Khartoum releases are mastered for listening, not the subway. Since the early noughts we have been instructing our engineers to just ignore the loudness wars and go for the best possible sound.
That said, with the latest releases we’re giving listeners a choice: we’ve produced alternate, “loud” masters of the Mares’ Tails and How the Fallen Are Mighty albums. We’re calling them the “loudness war editions” and making them available via download only. Although we don’t like them as much as the masters used for the CD and vinyl editions, we have endeavored to make the LWE versions sound as good as possible for what they are. And the loud versions are not all bad; we expect that they will be superior in many situations. Better for subways, noisy restaurants, cars, and iTunes party shuffle mode (going head-to-head with the rest of the world’s overly compressed masters).
Oh, right — add top-40 radio to the foregoing list. Better for basically everything ... except listening.