Monday, April 12, 2010

Dynamic Range Compression

Taken at face value, Maaya Sakamoto's Everywhere is a pretty good value: 30 pretty famous songs spanning her career for just 700 yen more than a regular CD, and it includes a DVD with some promotional videos on it.

Here's the problem. At some point in the past, I stumbled across Richard's website, which really is just an index to his vast collection. (You should be aware that searching for "Animephile" now returns some rather sketchy results in Google -- this wasn't always the case...) Anyway, as Richard points out, dynamic range compression has now infected our beloved Jpop imports!

Compare, for instance, the waveform from the Nikopachi* version of Hemisphere looks like this:

The version on Everywhere, whioh I believe to be a remaster of the Nikopachi version (based on length and waveform) looks like this:

On first playing the two, the most noticeable difference is the increased volume in the "Everywhere" version. The obvious reason for this is simple psychology: people generally prefer louder music, hence increasing the volume on a song makes people like it more. With a hard limitation on the maximum amplitude in a given format, this naturally results in a reduction in dynamic range. In essence, the softer sounds become louder while the louder sounds get clipped. For a song like Hemisphere with both loud sections and soft sections, this makes a pretty big difference.

A good analogy is going to a rock concert vs. going to a classical music concert. In a rock concert, the music is blared at near pain-inducing levels to a point where it can be hard to make out subtleties in music. Contrast this with classical music concerts, where the venues are (usually) designed for acoustics, everyone tries to be super-silent (you'll notice a distinct increase in the number of coughs in-between movements). There's a ton more dynamic range between the softest solo portions and the bits where the orchestra is going full blast. Because of these differences, I avoid rock concerts even for artists I really like, but will go to any classical music concert if it's in my budget or if I really like the pieces.

* For those of you who are curious, the Nikopachi version looks noticeably different from the single version beyond the addition of some silence at the end. It looks like at least some parts may have been rerecorded or remastered. Here's the waveform for the single version:

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