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  1. #1
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    Angry Kelly Clarkson: Can CD mastering get any worse?

    My significant other loves K.C's 'Breakaway' CD. I guess I woulndn't mind it as much, except for the fact to my ears this is the worst mastering job I've heard in awhile. Does somebody else who owns this CD (and knows the differenece between good and bad recordings) could please pop it in their player a second and convince me it doesn't sound like the recording engineers had tin cans strapped to their ears? You'd think Clice Davis could afford a real recording studio.

    Which brings me to the question with the recording industry so competitive today and digital technology so good, why do we still get mainstream recordings that sound like they were mastered via Bose Wave radios used as studio monitors?

  2. #2
    M.P.S.E /AES/SMPTE member Sir Terrence the Terrible's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by abstracta
    My significant other loves K.C's 'Breakaway' CD. I guess I woulndn't mind it as much, except for the fact to my ears this is the worst mastering job I've heard in awhile. Does somebody else who owns this CD (and knows the differenece between good and bad recordings) could please pop it in their player a second and convince me it doesn't sound like the recording engineers had tin cans strapped to their ears? You'd think Clice Davis could afford a real recording studio.

    Which brings me to the question with the recording industry so competitive today and digital technology so good, why do we still get mainstream recordings that sound like they were mastered via Bose Wave radios used as studio monitors?
    Easy question to answer, the push toward louder CD's with lower dynamic range, lower budgets, and over production.
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  3. #3
    all around good guy Jim Clark's Avatar
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    "Ahh, cartoons! America's only native art form. I don't count jazz 'cuz it sucks"- Bartholomew J. Simpson

  4. #4
    Suspended 3-LockBox's Avatar
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    That's not too hard to see

    Quote Originally Posted by abstracta
    Which brings me to the question with the recording industry so competitive today and digital technology so good, why do we still get mainstream recordings that sound like they were mastered via Bose Wave radios used as studio monitors?
    The target audience here is teenagers who download MP3s. The new trend in mastering pop CeeDees is so that they sound familiar to the teens and college aged kids who download. Lets face it, anyone content with the sound of an MP3 doesn't care one wit if a CeeDee sounds over processed and over compressed, cuz that's what they're used to listening to most of the time. Hell, they prolly used a boombox somewhere in the mixing process. It's a shame too, since KC's latest is actually a good foot forward for her.

  5. #5
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    To Mr. Clark,

    I guess I don't understand the humour. Are you mocking me, KC, or my GF?

    I wouldn't buy the CD personally because it doesn't fit my listening taste, but there are a couple of more 'bluesy' tracks that I consider pretty good, and if Miss Clarkson would follow this trend she'll do better in her career. The mastering on this CD is however so lousy it's not worth the time in any respect.

    ------Lets face it, anyone content with the sound of an MP3 doesn't care one wit if a CeeDee sounds over processed and over compressed

    What does MP3 compression have to do with bad studio mastering, or do you prefer the audio quality of VHS over a concert video on DVD?


    Easy question to answer, the push toward louder CD's with lower dynamic range, lower budgets, and over production

    Ah, that makes sense. I guess my question was really was if the poor mastering on this CD was intentional, or just negligent.I guess it's the former, which would make it more applicable to be played at clubs on on uber loud but poor quality car sound systems. That would answer the mystery.

    What confuses me though is that a good percentage of both country and R&B tends to show very good studio mastering, but for some reason a huge percentile of pop music sounds like it's still being produced by the Van Halen Bros in their basement. Too bad for the artists.


  6. #6
    all around good guy Jim Clark's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by abstracta
    To Mr. Clark,

    I guess I don't understand the humour. Are you mocking me, KC, or my GF?
    Naturally the majority of the mocking is towards the band with amazement that someone could find it so appealing. The first thing to understand is that I don't listen to anything that would merit mocking-my taste is impeccable and above reproach.

    I have disdain for all things American Idol. Why? Glad you asked. At some point the pop/rock music industry may become more bastardized than it is now, until that time American Idol is about as low as we can go. People get all worked up Beatle's songs being used in commercials. Bands both new and established get branded as sellouts if their work is used in commericals. While I don't necessarily agree with the notion, I get the point. Now we have an entire show created to sell the commercials. Is there a more commercial show on the air outside of the Home Shopping Network? Doesn't this pretty much have to be the pinnacle of formulaic corp. control of music? Is it possible to pander anymore than the public is being pandered to already. How can this be a good thing? Even the name - American Idol - rubs me the wrong way. This is a marketing juggernaut the likes of which the world has never seen before, at least in the music industry and that's saying something. I dunno, looks and sounds like a train wreck to me.

    At this point, Simon has already created and marketed this product to the American public. Does it really come as a shock to you that little effort went into mastering. The product is already sold - he just needs to collect the money. To his credit, it must be a really big chunk of money since it seems he's done his part to refrain from using his casting couch, as far as we know (Clay Aiken anyone?). Paula obviously doesn't make as much.

    Hey, these folks have legions of fans and I can't blame them for taking the money. If your GF digs it, well she certainly ain't alone but I don't get it. Other than that, I'm sure she's a keeper. So in the end I'd have to say that I'm mocking the whole American Idol gig and that is going to be a long list of folks. FWIW my wife likes Vondra Shepard of Aly McBeal and more recently this James Taylor wanna be Jack Johnson (at least they've done it on their own and for that they have my respect). Gawd awful crap but that's why I have control of the stereo.

    jc
    Last edited by Jim Clark; 09-11-2005 at 06:25 AM.
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  7. #7
    Musicaholic Forums Moderator ForeverAutumn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 3-LockBox
    The target audience here is teenagers who download MP3s. The new trend in mastering pop CeeDees is so that they sound familiar to the teens and college aged kids who download. Lets face it, anyone content with the sound of an MP3 doesn't care one wit if a CeeDee sounds over processed and over compressed, cuz that's what they're used to listening to most of the time. Hell, they prolly used a boombox somewhere in the mixing process. It's a shame too, since KC's latest is actually a good foot forward for her.
    I recently went into Future Shop (like Best Buy) to pick up a new set of headphones for my iPod, 'cause the ones it came with bruise my little ears. The kid who was helping me started talking to me about these $700 headphones that were supposed to be god's gift to the world of music. And, maybe they were...I don't know. My comment to this kid was, "if I were to spend $700 on great sounding headphones, I wouldn't waste them listening to MP3s". I swear that the look on this kid's face was utter and total confusion as to why not.

    I think that the generation just getting into music and growing up in the MP3 world, are being taught to have lower standards when it comes to quality of the sound. If all you ever hear are MP3s and mainstream CDs, how would you ever learn that there is better quality out there?

  8. #8
    Suspended 3-LockBox's Avatar
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    I'll be more specific

    [QUOTE=abstracta]Lets face it, anyone content with the sound of an MP3 doesn't care one wit if a CeeDee sounds over processed and over compressed

    What does MP3 compression have to do with bad studio mastering, or do you prefer the audio quality of VHS over a concert video on DVD? [QUOTE]


    I was referring to the compression ratio used by MP3's programing, which is 12 to 1, if memory serves me correctly. That is, for every 1 bit of music program kept, 12 bits are extracted. MP3's programming decides which bits are necessary for musical presentation, and the bits that determined to to be non-essential are deleted. It has to delete these non-essentials in order to make it easier/faster to upload and download, and the MP3 songs will take up way less space. This is based on the assumption that many of the bits are non-essential, since the music program includes everything on the master, including all kinds of noise, whether its induced during recording or mixing. This kinda makes sense, except that computers don't listen to music, we do. Sony's ATRAC scheme for the MiniDisc uses a 5 to 1 ratio. But even the first 3 version of that format was dreadful. Not until ATRAC v5 did MiniDisc start to sound 'normal', i.e. closer to that of a CeeDee. I believe MP3's scheme takes out too much of the music program. This results in a program that is devoid of any dynamics.

    When I listen to MP3s, the first thing I notice about some types of music is that the attack and decay of certain musical instruments are too abrupt. The 'natural' timbre of the instruments is changed, at least to my ears. It bugs me that such a compression scheme changes the representation of the music program from what I'm used to hearing, so I personally have no use for MP3s. I'm sure that some people consider such things a mere nuance and not important. For some genres of music, like dance and hip-hop, MP3 probably does an adequate job of representing the music. I'm not in favor of a medium that is more concerned with saving space than it is with accuracy.

    My original point was that, IMHO, the recording industry suits are pushing engineers into putting out CeeDees that mimick the sound of MP3s by making them as loud as possible by reducing dynamics, even at the expense of sound quality. This will surely make the CeeDee version seem superior to most MP3 playback devices that don't boost their output volumes to extremes. There has been a train of thought in the home entertainment over the last 15 years or so that louder is better. They (the rec execs) want to make sure that a person who uses the same playback device (or similar playback devices) for both MP3s and regular red-book CeeDees will find the CeeDee to be superior to the MP3, by being louder, and thereby assuring the customer will still prefer to buy retail music mediums over downloading.

  9. #9
    very clever with maracas Davey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 3-LockBox
    My original point was that, IMHO, the recording industry suits are pushing engineers into putting out CeeDees that mimick the sound of MP3s by making them as loud as possible by reducing dynamics, even at the expense of sound quality. This will surely make the CeeDee version seem superior to most MP3 playback devices that don't boost their output volumes to extremes. There has been a train of thought in the home entertainment over the last 15 years or so that louder is better. They (the rec execs) want to make sure that a person who uses the same playback device (or similar playback devices) for both MP3s and regular red-book CeeDees will find the CeeDee to be superior to the MP3, by being louder, and thereby assuring the customer will still prefer to buy retail music mediums over downloading.
    This doesn't really make sense to me since the MP3 is usually made from the CD so has the same basic audio compression and hence the same "loudness". The problem is the one you stuck in the middle of your paragraph, and that is the loudness wars the overtook the industry in the mid 90s. It started kind of innocently with one producer wanting his CDs to play louder on the radio than some of the competition, and then just got worse and worse. And I know everybody knows all this by now but just in case there's still someone left who doesn't, the only way to make a CD play louder with its fixed maximum level is to add a lot of compression to the music to bring down the peak level and make room so that the whole thing can then be boosted back up to get the average level to sound louder, since there is that hard ceiling in digital after which the signal is just chopped off. And nowadays with the average level already pumped up to be the same as the peak level on most pop releases (meaning that there is nearly zero dynamic range), they also often let it exceed that ceiling to squeeze the last bit of loudness out of it, which makes it even harsher sounding and more irritating with all the flat tops on the music waveform.

    But I don't really think it has much to do with MP3 and I'm not sure you can blame it all on the record execs either, since many artists and recording engineers and producers are also responsible. And the public also shoulders some of the responsibilty these days as well for buying and not complaining enough. After producer Dave Fridmann started receiving so much flak for the sound on the latest Sleater-Kinney album, he apparently felt compelled to go on some of the message boards and try to explain why he made it so loud and distorted, and it had nothing to do with any instructions from the men in suits since he was trying to give the artists what they envisioned. In fact, I doubt there are any men in suits at a little label like Sub Pop. But the producers need to be called out on this more often like that, and made aware that there is a sizeable group of people who spend a sizeable amount of money on music and don't like the crappy sound on the product they're putting out, whether that's the artist's "vision" or not.

    But it seems more likely that at sunrise the monkeys will fly, and leave me with pennies in my eyes

    NP: No, not Sparklehorse and the monkey song, but Eleventh Dream Day Beet from 1989, so ya gotta really crank the volume knob up there a ways, even though it was a major label release on WEA, love those guitars, lots of noisy guitars

  10. #10
    Toon Robber tentoze's Avatar
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    Monkeys fly where you want them to- don't listen to music that offends you.

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  11. #11
    Suspended 3-LockBox's Avatar
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    MP3s suck no matter how you 'spin' it

    When you take the music program, extract 12 bits of data for every one bit you retain, then the end results just have to be inferior.

    I happen to have Goldwave, and it has a volume boost feature. When looking at 'spectral' representation of the music program, its easy to see how the average volume is raised, and the peaks are lobbed off to prevent clipping. Of course, I try to avoid making radical volume boost like that. But when I look at a new release like Fleetwood Mac's Say You Will, it looks like a solid bar with little to no differential, no peaks or valleys, and it sounds like crap.

  12. #12
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    Terrence nailed it.

  13. #13
    Forum Regular BinFrog's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ForeverAutumn
    I recently went into Future Shop (like Best Buy) to pick up a new set of headphones for my iPod, 'cause the ones it came with bruise my little ears. The kid who was helping me started talking to me about these $700 headphones that were supposed to be god's gift to the world of music. And, maybe they were...I don't know. My comment to this kid was, "if I were to spend $700 on great sounding headphones, I wouldn't waste them listening to MP3s". I swear that the look on this kid's face was utter and total confusion as to why not.

    I think that the generation just getting into music and growing up in the MP3 world, are being taught to have lower standards when it comes to quality of the sound. If all you ever hear are MP3s and mainstream CDs, how would you ever learn that there is better quality out there?

    There is a trend right now in the 'audio world' to lash back against those of us who prefer lossless formats. Now, I'm not saying CDs or wav files are lossless in every sense of course, but compared to even 320kbps mp3s they are leagues better. I have had the same thing happen w/ people I've talked to. I tell them I still have all my CDs and am really into SACD/DVD-A now, and they look at me like I have 2 heads when I tell them I only listen to mp3s on my computers. They can't believe I don't have an Ipod. If I want to hear music I won, I'd much rather listen to a disc than an mp3. I know someone at work who sold all of her CDs after her and her husband ripped them to a hard drive. I must have cringed for a week.

    I am a huge Pearl Jam fan, and right now they are releasing their shows within hours of completion on mp3 via their fan club site for $10. They said they wanted to provide good quality recordings without huge files, so they decided to use 192kbps. 192 for the most part is tolerable on computer speakers (especially here at work), but man...if I want to crank one of these shows on my nice system at home or in my car, not a chance in hell! They said they will probably release either lossless downloads or CDs when the tour is over. I want to hear the shows SO bad, but I am going to wait. Plus, seeing them tomorrow night and Friday doesn't hurt

  14. #14
    very clever with maracas Davey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 3-LockBox
    MP3s suck no matter how you 'spin' it
    I'm not sure who this was meant for since I don't think many of us at this board like MP3 encoding for our music. But that's not really what this thread is about. There was crappy, highly compressed CD mastering long before MP3 encoders were being widely used. It's just much more prevalent now. I was just questioning your conspiracy theory

  15. #15
    all around good guy Jim Clark's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Davey
    But that's not really what this thread is about.
    Dang, I thought it was about bagging on AI and making fun of Kelly Clarkson fans .

    Thinking about changing my signature to "Usually rude, seldom on topic"

    For the official record I did send the guy a PM with an apology.
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  16. #16
    very clever with maracas Davey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Clark
    Dang, I thought it was about bagging on AI and making fun of Kelly Clarkson fans .
    Yeah, I know, hard to have a little fun anymore with people so serious. Guess that's part of the reason there's only 5 of us left?

  17. #17
    Forum Regular Woochifer's Avatar
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    I think a lot of pop music now boils down to optimizing the sound for how an audience is likeliest to actually listen to that music. For a very mainstream artist like Clarkson, it's likely that her main audience will listen to her music through headphones on the go, on car audio systems, thru computer desktop speakers, or thru a mini-system, rather than thru a high resolution home audio setup.

    During the 1990s, the Yamaha NS-10 became very widely used as a near-field studio monitor, not because it sounded great or accurate, but because it effectively emulated how a CD mix would sound when played through a car audio or portable music system. If a pop album mixed thru that kind of setup sounds good on a high end audio system, it's more by accident than by intent.

    It's the same reason why so many rock albums from the 70s sound great when played through vintage JBL floorstanders (which are not known for their tonal accuracy or neutrality) -- because so many of the studio monitoring setups back then were using JBLs.

    Quote Originally Posted by Forever Autumn
    I think that the generation just getting into music and growing up in the MP3 world, are being taught to have lower standards when it comes to quality of the sound. If all you ever hear are MP3s and mainstream CDs, how would you ever learn that there is better quality out there?
    Actually, I don't think that previous generations had higher standards to begin with. Even before the advent of the CD, prerecorded cassettes had overtaken LPs in unit sales. And given a choice between those atrocious sounding prerecorded cassettes and a MP3 file, I'll take the MP3 anytime. And IMO, if you bump up the MP3 bitrate higher than the commonly used 128k resolution, that's all the resolution you'll need for all but the more pristine listening conditions. If anything, today's listeners with their portable MP3 players are hearing much better sound quality than previous generations with their cassette and 8-track players.

    Right now, the name of the game is portability, and today's MP3 player audience is the successor to the audience that built the market for the Walkman and its many imitators. And before the Walkman, you had those boomboxes, and before that you had those portable suitcase-like record changers. None of them were particularly high fidelity, but they all allowed for music on the go and the MP3 is just the latest variation on that theme.

  18. #18
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    Newwwwwwww

    Quote Originally Posted by Davey
    but Eleventh Dream Day Beet from 1989, so ya gotta really crank the volume knob up there a ways, even though it was a major label release on WEA, love those guitars, lots of noisy guitars
    Is this widely available at all? I found a streaming preview, and it seems like something I could try out..

    As for Breakaway, I think it's pretty obvious why it doesn't sound mastered well. It wasn't mastered as a band's album, it was mastered as a pop vocalists' album. Think about it, it was manufactured for kids to hear her voice and sing along(iffy) so the vocals stand out above the music. If you heard a car passing by playing it, you'd pick out her voice like a monkey in a fish lineup.

    This thread prompted me to A) finally listen to the album and B) register here.

  19. #19
    very clever with maracas Davey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Walterrrr
    Newwwwwwww
    Quote Originally Posted by Davey
    but Eleventh Dream Day Beet from 1989, so ya gotta really crank the volume knob up there a ways, even though it was a major label release on WEA, love those guitars, lots of noisy guitars
    Is this widely available at all? I found a streaming preview, and it seems like something I could try out..
    I don't know what the 2001 reissue sounds like since mine is the original, but the reissue is certainly available from amazon if you click on the pic below (and cheapo used ones too) ...



    I got mine not too long ago from Djangos since I had it on my notify list for the original version and they came through with a mint copy. Great stuff for fans of that Crazy Velvet Horse Underground sound. The lack of response is kind of embarrassing (although not unusual for one of my posts), but here's a link to some comments I made about it over at the Head-Fi place.

    So Walterrrr, are you a newbie or someone from our murky past? Tell us soemthing about yourself. I'm intrigued. You've caught us at a severely uneventful time, as I'm sure you've noticed, but the traffic does get heavier at times.

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