Tom Petty fixes the compression problem
When CDs came out promising perfect sound I, too, thought those people clinging to vinyl were just being snobs or purists. But they're right — compression, especially in recent years, has become ridiculous on CD releases. For a great demonstration of what that is and how it ruins the sound, watch this short video called The Loudness War.
The problem is, that compression is needed to make music sound OK on today's devices such as earbuds. But fans of better sound have been going back to the vinyl and making "needle-drop" recordings of those and converting them to CD to get the original mix.
Tom Petty's side band, Mudcrutch, releases a live EP today and they've gone two routes to solve the problem. The regular release has the usual compression applied to music these days. But the vinyl release doesn't have that treatment – it's the music, no fooling around. And they've finally done the obvious: Release a CD version of the untreated music so that those of us who listen to music on high-end sound systems can hear it without the hassle of vinyl.
Below is Petty's engineer's explanation of compression and this new release, put in terms that even I can understand. Time for other artists to get on board:
A NOTE ON "FULL DYNAMIC RANGE" AUDIOPHILE SOUND
Mudcrutch's Extended Play Live is being released digitally and on CD but is also simultaneously being released on deluxe 180 Gram vinyl with an accompanying audiophile 'full dynamic range' CD. This audiophile CD is made made from the same uncompressed stereo masters as the vinyl pressing.
We often receive emails from people asking the following questions:
'Why do you need to release two versions of the same album?
'If the uncompressed mix that appears on the vinyl and audiophile CD is supposedly higher quality, why not just release that one version and forget the mix that is delivered digitally and on CD?'
Here is the reason for the two mixes as explained by Extended Play Live co-producer and audio engineer Ryan Ulyate:
"Standard CDs are designed to play back well on the many different systems which exist today such as iPod, car, radio, computer and home. To make it sound as good as possible on all these different systems, compression is added. What compression does is to make the CD sound louder. Too much compression can make the music sound harsh and distorted. Producers and artists today compete to make their recording sound louder and some have pushed the limit with as much compression as possible. Some have gone too far. On the other hand, without any compression, a CD would not sound as loud as other albums. This would be especially noticeable on iPods and other mp3 players and when played back to back with compressed music, uncompressed music would sound less impactful and not 'jump out of the speakers' which is the effect most producers are going for when they add compression. Since so many people listen to music in "shuffle" mode, we needed to make sure that Mudcrutch tracks did not sound too quiet in relation to other songs before and after. Also, Apple and other portable mp3 player manufacturers limit the power of the amplifiers, so unless the tracks are mastered louder, there is not enough power available on portable systems to reproduce full dynamic range music at a decent volume. For Mudcrutch, we added a bit of compression, but not too much. We think it sounds great, or we wouldn't have put it out!
When we did the Vinyl version (which is now an audiophile format) we also decided to include an "Audiophile" CD. Here's how we described the difference on the package:
Technical note: The Audiophile CD is made from the same uncompressed stereo masters as the vinyl pressing. It reproduces the music's full dynamic range, so the quiet parts are quieter and the loud parts are louder– just as they were performed. To achieve full dynamic range it's necessary to master with less overall level, so the Audiophile CD may not sound as "loud" as the standard CD or download. To compensate for this, put it on a high quality system and turn it up!
The uncompressed full dynamic range mix that appears on the vinyl and accompanying CD is offered for people who want to listen to the album carefully at home, on a higher quality stereo system. The different elements of the mix are clearer and the ebb and flow of the sound is more true to how the music was originally performed. It's a subtle difference.
If you only bought the Standard CD, you've got something that's great that will play back well on every type of system. We could have just left it at that, but for those willing to go the extra mile for that last 2%, we put out the Vinyl and Audiophile CD package as well.
Our mission is to give the people the best possible sound, tailored for whatever system they have. That's what this is all about."