Thursday, 9 July 2009

Dinosaur Jr mastering fault - recalled for being too loud

This is NOT what you want your album to look like when assessed using the TT Dynamic Range Meter. This is what a dynamic range of 2dB looks like, and it sounds like shit. In my opinion. And almost everyone else's, too.

And with the new Dinsoaur Jr CD, "Farm", we now have another example - but this time, there's an interesting twist.

Mastering engineers are unanimous in their verdict that music sounds best with a dynamic range (DR) value of at least 1o dB

Both and argue for DR14 or higher, for example.

In stark contrast, the song "Plans" from the European release of "Farm" by Dinosaur Jr measures... DR2. (2.1, to be exact)

"The Day That Never Comes" from "Death Magnetic" by Metallica is also DR2, (2.6) and to be honest, they sound quite similar in one way - both are massively distorted.

What makes the Dinosaur Jr CD different is that the record company have recalled it, saying the European release has been made too loud by mistake:

Dear Dinosaur Jr. Fans,
Please note that on the European CD version of the Farm album there is an audio problem. This occurred while duplicating the original master in a duplication studio. The problem occurred when the duplicate was produced, as the software program used for this duplication ‘doubled’ the sound layers. This resulted in a 3dB increase in the overall sound volume.
If you have bought a CD of Dinosaur Jr.’s Farm album in a European shop with the bar code number 5414939004926, and you would like to exchange it with a good version, please go to this site

So first of all - hats off to the label for coming clean and admitting the mistake, and offering clear and simple advice for swapping faulty discs ! 

Second, a collective European sigh of relief that the way this CD sounds wasn't deliberate. Don't get me wrong, it's still very loud, and would benefit from some more room to breathe dynamically - but it's not DR2 bad. (The US release measures DR6 - 6.3, to be exact)

But finally, some observations and questions. The statement above says that there is a level difference of 3dB between the European release and the intended level, but this didn't sound right to me, so I did some experimenting.

I had to clip the US CD version by a massive 6dB to get the levels (and distortion) to match those on the European release.

This makes perfect sense - a 6dB boost in level is exactly what you would expect if the "software program used for this duplication ‘doubled’ the sound layers" as the website says.

The number on the website is probably just a misunderstanding, since the label are being very upfront about everything else - or possibly a "rounding down" of the difference in DR values (6 vs. 2). But unfortunately the statement is already being misinterpreted - for example, in his Guardian piece, Sean Michaels says

though three decibels will make a noticeable difference, it is far from the realm of road drills or jet engines. Instead, the difference between good and "faulty" copies of Farm will likely be a matter of "loud" versus "a little too loud"

Personally I would disagree that even 3dB of hard clipping would only be "a little too loud", but the actual 6dB difference has resulted in a massive amount of distortion which is clearly audible and very unpleasant. The waveforms tell the story as usual:

(For those who are interested, clipping an already mastered track sounds far worse than clipping un-mastered mixes. Everything is already maximised and pushed to the limit, so 6dB of clipping is pretty much a sonic disaster.)

I just hope no-one chooses not to get their CD changed, based on comments like the Guardian one ! 

In conclusion, this can hardly be called a victory in the Loudness War, but at least it's not a backward step, as some European Dinosaur Jr fans must have originally feared.

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