Nov 132013


iTunes Radio has taken it upon themselves to put an end to the Loudness Wars.

iTunes Radio now includes a new Sound Check algorithm, which limits the volume level of all tracks. In other words, it lifts the level of the quiet tracks and lowers the level of louder ones so they’re all the same. What makes this a threat to hypercompression is the fact that Sound Check can’t be defeated by the listener, the mastering engineer, the producer or the record label. What’s more, if a song is dynamically crushed, Sound Check might turn in down in a not exactly pleasing way, causing all parties involved to possibly rethink about going for so much level in the first place.

Read more:
Under Creative Commons License: Attribution

Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

My gut feeling is that it’s not iTunes’ business to determine how loud or quiet anyone’s music is mastered. Screw iTunes! I like loud records. Sometimes I like quiet records. I bet Lou Reed’s turning over in his grave, because this doesn’t respect the way artists are meant to sound.


  10 Responses to “iTunes, the Ultimate Mastering Engineer”

  1. Bad Idea mostly

    Sound Check already exists for iTunes for playing your own music collection on headphones. I’ts been around since the iPod started. It was created so you don’t blow your eardrums out going from The Smithereens “Only A Memory” (quiet) to Tom Petty’s “Last Dance With Mary Jane” (loud as hell). Mostly, pre 1989 is one level and most things after that, especially from 1995 on and remasters are super “hot”.

    You can turn it on and off – useful on some playlists but worthless for a single album.

    I am glad it exists for these situations above.

    Regular radio stations have used heavy compression for decades to (1.)keep records sounding good in relation to each other (2.) keep everything loud (and commercials even louder) and (3) to keep you from blowing up your radio.

    No one will claim that the radio sounds better than an LP or CD (or most mp3s) but hey, it’s free right?

    Take MP3s (or actually Apple aac files), stream them, compress them and then “even out” the levels and you will have a mess. Use bluTooth to send this to your speakers and you may as well go back to your AM transistor radio with one 4″ speaker.

    Of course they (apple) don’t care, there are few things left in this world that can make a paid for MP3 appear “better” than anything, but it looks like they found a new (low) standard to judge sonic quality.

    Going from a 1985 track where Sound Check will make it sounds louder to a 1996 track where there is no sonic soundscape (just heavy compression) but then the track is not even louder, just uglier, would in my opinion just be a train wreck.

    As I sit in my office with my 80’s Kenwood tuner, early 90’s DCM speakers, late 70’s Phillips Turntable and enjoy Aerosmith’s “Get Your Wings” on the turntable, I say “SUCKERS!” to all y’all on iTunes radio.

    I paid nothing for any of this gear, got most of my records for free or maybe 2 for $1 and it sounds amazing.

  2. I keep forgetting there even is an iTunes Radio now, so there you go.

  3. hrrundivbakshi

    I AM just SICK enough OF hearing HUGE differences BETWEEN tracks ON my ITUNES shuffle FUNCTION that THIS seems LIKE a GOOD — or AT least A less BAD — idea.

  4. cliff sovinsanity

    When I plunk down a rich piece of vinyl on my turntable or hell even some CD’s, I’m listening to the music.
    When I listen to anything that has compressed into a file or a stream on my iPod, iTunes, Roku, or whatever, I’m just listening to a song.
    So let them screw around with the levels if they provide the sound. Just don’t come into my house and fuck with my knobs.

  5. Good points! This option is useful for moderating the levels while playing tracks off an iPod, and it’s no different that what terrestrial radio has been doing for decades. Maybe I’m reacting to the author’s attitude that iTunes Radio is providing a great service by negating efforts to make records louder, that is, this notion that the software will put an end to the Loudness Wars. Why shouldn’t records be as loud as the artist wants them to be? Why shouldn’t other records be quiet? Why should we be looking at waveforms and tsk-tsk-ing when we could be listening to music?

  6. The “SoundCheck” thing is essentially of the same technology that has given us the loudness wars. It looks at a soundwave and tries to smooth out all of the peaks and valleys so that it looks more like a brick. Or if you were watching a VU meter needle react as it represents the signal level of the sound, it makes the VU needle stop moving. What this technology does is scan samples of the entire track looking for the peak and then tries to match every other sample to that peak, If the track is then placed within a playlist, there is little difference in mastering volume.

  7. hrrundivbakshi

    If that is an accurate summary of what it does, then I rescind my endorsement. The world doesn’t need any more “brick wall”-limited music. There are peaks and valleys in everything: speech, music, the turning of the tides, the wind in the trees, moods, love affairs, stories, and, of course, actual peaks and valleys. The world is not a wall.

  8. You’re right.

    PS — I hate myself for the way I listen to music 90 percent of the time — through computer speakers or my Jawbone Jambox — I rarely use my real audio gear. With winter coming, I hope to be able to crank up the real music more often.

  9. I tried sound check on my ipod and I don’t like what it does. I can’t put my finger on what bugs me about it but it grates on me big time. I’d rather just turn the volume up or down as needed.

  10. 2000 Man

    I don’t use Apple anything, so I don’t really care either way, but I like a free program called MP3 Gain to get the volume comfortable across the songs I put on my mp3 player. It doesn’t just do peak normalization, and I don’t find whatever it does offensive. I’d rather listen to some records any day, but I love being on vacation and having a lot of music with me and being able to listen to something besides awful radio stations while I’m driving around.

Lost Password?

twitter facebook youtube