I had to do a follow up post based on a couple of comments and some discussions I’ve had about the whole dynamic range component of music listening. I listened to the most dramatic section of the “Mosaic” tune. It’s near the end when Laurence and the ensemble start leaning in on their instruments. From about 30 – 40 seconds into the final section, he starts playing louder and puts more energy into his playing. This is what music is all about. It’s what makes music sound human and alive. If the ideal is to capture/deliver real world dynamic range AND we finally have equipment that is capable of accomplishing that feat, don’t we want to be able to hear it without any additional dynamics processing by mastering engineers? I certainly do and that’s why I do not master my recordings at all. At the very least, I want the option of being able to choose how much dynamic compression I want for my music.
I’ve mentioned before that The Absolute Sound magazine faulted my recording of the Ravel “Bolero” because it had too much dynamic range…imagine that. We finally have technology that allows us to meet the real world dynamics of one of the most dynamic orchestral selections ever composed and their reviewer believes I should have mastered that natural loudness progression out of the piece.
For today’s discussion, I have modified the mastering that was done on the Mosaic piece. Rather than the entire piece, I chose to include only the final 1:30 of the piece. This is where the dynamics are most apparent…very obvious, in fact. There are individual files that have a range of mastering applied to them…from the original non-mastered file to an “extreme” version that sadly is representative of what we get with most CD and iTunes releases. Remember louder is always better (just kidding).
Each of the files has had its amplitude adjusted so that the RMS (think of this as the mean or middle level) values are identical. That means that I have tried to make them sound the same with regards to loudness. Of course, this is impossible because of the progressive nature of the each mastered file. The “extreme” mastered section, which is the last in the sequence, is dynamically very flat. I had to reduce the overall level about 12.5 dB to make is match the RMS value of the uncompressed version, which was not altered at all. However, some sections of the uncompressed version are quieter and some sections louder than the one that is extremely compressed.
I have placed these files on the FTP site in the same Mosaic file folder as yesterday (Mosaic Mastering Comparison 140630). You will find the final section of the tune in 5 different mastering versions AND you will find a file that contains all of them strung together from no compression to extreme. If you open this file and jump between the sections, you should hear a huge difference between. Remember, this comparison has nothing to do with ultrasonics or frequency range. It’s all about the mastering of a track for sound and dynamics. Which do you prefer?
Here’s the spectrogram for the assembled file (Mosaic_44-16_5_Mastering_Comparison.wav):
Figure 1 – The spectra and amplitude waveform of five progressively more compressed versions. [Click to enlarge]
Here’s what you should be looking for in this graphic. Notice in the light green area at the upper left hand corner, the amount of vertical variation in each section. In the version that has not been mastered there is tremendous variation in the vertical or loudness contour. Then compare that to the extreme compressed version at the right…this is a “brick”. There is not variation in the loudness from the beginning to the end. Listen to each example. There is virtually no musical sensitivity in the “extreme” mastered version…but sadly this is how most newly released music sounds.
It’s easy to master the dynamics out of a selection of music, but it’s not easy to put it back in.