Here’s a list I love from Steve Guttenberg, the audio reporter over on the CNET blog.
It’s the top 10 reasons why music is compressed today.
As you’ll see, there are a lot of things in the list that make sense.
With all the talk about hypercompression (over-compression), we tend to forget that people really do like the sound of compression.
It’s just when it’s used to excess that engineers and listeners alike take offense.
That said, take a look at the top 10 list.
10: Compression is part of the sound of contemporary music. Completely uncompressed music would sound lifeless and boring to most listeners. They crave more energy than unprocessed sound offers.
9: Louder music, even if it’s just slightly louder, almost always sounds better than quieter music.
8: Most music is listened to in the background to accompany some other activity like working, reading exercising, driving, or cooking. When you’re doing something else, uncompressed music’s constantly shifting volume level would be an annoyance.
7: When listening in shuffle mode, there’s a good chance you’ll skip over the quieter songs to get to the next tune. Record producers live in fear of a mix that’s too quiet.
6: In the days before CD mastering, engineers needed to boost the quietest sounds to keep them above the LP’s noise floor, and reduce the loudest sounds volume level to keep the “needle” in the groove. Digital didn’t have those problems, but we still wound up with CDs that have less soft-to-loud dynamic range than LPs.
5: Engineers like using different types of compression to create new sounds to catch the ear. There’s nothing wrong with that.
4: People so rarely listen to music in quiet surroundings, they need compression to keep music loud enough to be heard over the noise.
3: If people really didn’t like compression, they would stop buying/listening to compressed music (see No. 1).
2: People mistake compression for dynamics; when all the sounds are loud and “punchy,” it’s called “dynamic.” Naturally dynamic music lacks the kick of a compressed mix.
1: Audiophiles like to complain about compressed music, but they actually prefer it.
Bobby Owsinski is an author, producer, music industry veteran and technical consultant who has written numerous books covering all aspects of audio recording. For more information be sure to check out his website and blog.