Headphones Off

Records and music

Vinyl’s starting to sound more appealing to me.

It’s not because I like that warm fuzzy sound so many people claim is the heart and soul of good music. It’s not because I want to go back to the good old days when everything was better. It’s because it doesn’t give me a headache.

A couple of days ago, I accidentally came across a video parodying Skrillex. It gave me a headache unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. Like someone was taking a drill to my skull. The noise was digging into my head. Deeply. Even a long time after it stopped, I could still feel it digging deeper. It wasn’t so much a throbbing headache. It was just a very slow, and yet somehow and sharp one.

Several hours later, when I felt like I finally was recovering, it happened again. This time the enemy was dubstep. The drill came back. I felt like collapsing. I just couldn’t handle sound anymore.

Mentioning this to a friend of mine, he told me to google Dynamic Range Compression. So I did. Reading up about it I learned how noise has increased in music, especially since the release of the CD. I found out how this can cause fatigue in people, especially when exposed to the overly loud music enough. I saw graphs of the same music’s older and newer releases next to each other, showing which is louder. Listened to soundclips comparing the two.

Now when I say noise, I literally mean noise. Normally, range in music is dynamic. Some instruments sound softer than others. Others sound louder. Together the louder and softer noises play into each other, creating harmony. Basics of music, yes, I know. What Dynamic Range Compression does is raise the sound for all the instruments. So they’re all louder without you turning the volume up. You know how the drums were louder than the bass, which really made it stand out? Everything is that loud now.

Better example, you know how advertisements on TV are louder than the actual TV show without you touching the volume? Same tactic. It creates the loudest possible sound it can make out of the current volume setting to immediately grab your attention. Because louder = better.

Except it isn’t better. In fact, after a long time of listening to this, it can actually tire you out. Ear fatigue.

Having read up on all of that, a lot of things just clicked.

First of all, it wasn’t the fault of either Skrillex, or dubstep, or even just electronic music. Or at least, not just those kinds of music. The compression of this modern electronic music is just as faulty as most pop songs, and just about everything on the radio. However, it is exactly the kind of music that would intentionally clip the everloving shit out of the entire sound.

But it’s not just one or two songs that really set this off. In all probability, its something that’s been building up. And it’s been doing that for a long, long time. Music had all the chance to build up this fatigue. MP3 players love to up the dynamic range to be more noticable over the noises of everyday life outside. It’s what people buy them for. Most of the music I listen to? All that rock? Pop? Metal? Hard-rock? All of it notorious for clipping badly.

Red Hot Chili Peppers – Californication? Clipped to hell. Songs for the Dead? With a name like that, obviously clipped to hell. Collection CDs of famous artists? Tend to be clipped too.

There goes pretty much all the music I’ve been listening to in the last few years already.

And looking back, the times in my life where I was the most tired, the most depressed, I always went back to putting my headphones on and blocking out the world. The times when I was at my most vulnerable, I’d open myself up to what might have just helped make my fatigue peak.

On the other side, the times I felt better about myself? No headphones. Less music.

CD isn’t the evil here either. It’s the people using the technology wrongly to try to gain attention. Vinyl can be badly compressed too. Online releases? Sure. In fact, the worse online rips tend to suffer from compression issues worse than any other. Which to most people tend to not really be a problem. Not everyone is sensitive to it. Not everyone listens to music as intensively.

Old vinyl records just predate the trend. I can see why some people go for vinyl over other releases now, for reasons a lot more practical and less romantic. Of course, that doesn’t mean everyone preferring vinyl over other formats is aware of it. There’s plenty of people who go for it just because they hope it makes them seem classy. There’s also enough people who do it just for the nostalgia. I’m okay with the latter.

Also, writing a post about how this new-fangled musics is giving me a headache makes me feel old.

Further reading:

Wikipedia artice

CNet: Is dynamic range compression destroying music?

Everything Louder Than Everything Else

TVTropes page about Loudness Wars

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