Whatever Happened to Dynamics?
A Note on the Loudness Race
Ivar Løkken, 2006
"The average level of popular music CD's continues to rise. Popular CD's with this problem are becoming increasingly prevalent, coexisting with discs that have a beautifuldynamic range and impact, but whose loudness (and distortion level) are far lower. What good is a 24 bit 96-kHz digital audio system if the programs we create only have a 1 bit dynamic range?"
Bob Katz, Digital Domain Studio 
Dynamics, the very soul and nerve of music, is something that in the modern age of digitalaudio seems to be disappearing more and more. This is somewhat of a paradox; both digitalformats and equipment have higher dynamic range than ever before. The technology is thereto create music with pitch silent background, virtually no distortion and a dynamic range justas high as the one we enjoy in the concert hall. Still, what we get from CDs, especiallymodern pop recordings, is music that is massively compressed and also clipped, leading todistortion and loss of detail.This trend has been dubbed “The Loudness-Race” and an internet search will show that manycritical voices are raised, both from consumers and professionals. Still, this seems to be anongoing trend that is not going to turn anytime soon.
The Loudness Race – Reasons
“We aim very much towards radio reproduction when producing and especially when mixingmusic, because ultimately it is through such media that music is mostly played today.”
Hallgeir Rustan, Stargate Studios .
Music, especially popular music, is sold through mass media. This means that it is exposed tothe public through radios, car stereos and music videos on TV. It also means that these mediaserve as sales channels. TVs and radios are low-quality playback systems with high distortionand low dynamic range. Thus, low level detail is very hard to notice. Since the units serve assales channels, the record companies want their product to be noticed first. As stated by Dr.David Robinson 
“Quite simply, when a listener is flicking through radio stations, a louder station is more likely to catch their attention. Also, it is well known that if two different presentations of the same audio signal are compared sequentially, then the louder one issubjectively preferred.
” However, he also writes: “
The advantage is transitory: once alistener has chosen a station, they adjust the volume control on their audio equipment todeliver a comfortable listening level.
”In the current world of information and mass media overload, it is all about being noticed.When exposed to music through TV or radio, the majority of the audience is not in a positionto make any critical assessment of sound quality. Consequently the producers are targeting themost basic of all psychoacoustic mechanisms; if it’s loud, we’ll hear it. However, hearing andlistening are two very different things; for a listener the loudness-race will mean distortionand loss of natural dynamics, it simply won’t sound like real music.