Compressed to Hell: The Death of High Fidelity

Robert Levine's Dec. 26 piece in Rolling Stone has been making (sine) waves in audiophile circles and the blogosphere (I will never get sick of typing that word) for its damning indictment of modern recording techniques used by many major-label artists. It's worth the substantial time investment required to read it, if you care anything at all about sound quality in the music you let into your head space.

In a nutshell, Levine observes, many records now (and, really, since the mid-'90s) are being mastered excessively loud to make more of an impact on radio and in the lousy, tiny computer speakers and earbuds through which more and more people listen to music. The dominant MP3 format is compressed and, consequently, details—mainly extreme low and high frequencies—are lost in the process of sound being transferred into digital bytes. Ergo, you get a monotonous sound that lacks spaciousness and dynamics. You get songs that slam you hard for their entire duration, resulting in listeners suffering hearing fatigue. Subtlety vanishes and is viewed as wimpy, to people who champion what's become known as the Loudness War.

The video below illustrates this concept.

Young people who have never experienced music in the analog format probably won't even realize that they're getting sonically short-changed. It's downright tragic.

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