Circling back to the topic of music loudness and the use of compression to make music louder, I want to wrap up with an observation I had last week. I recently purchased an audiophile CD player — called a “transport” because it doesn’t convert the music to analog — and it had me thumbing through my meager collection of CDs to enjoy more out of their music than I had been previously able.
The voodoo is real if you can get your hands on good audio technology. Creating a better digital signal from the original CD can be done and has been proven over and over. What this new player has allowed me to hear is a bigger difference between good recordings and tragic ones. Most of the tragedy I witnessed was from the heavy-handed use of compression.
Most music is recorded digitally these days, and there are more “tracks” possible than ever before. Instead of a limit on the number of possible simultaneous instruments, like what used to exist when recording to tape, there are virtually no limits when you record onto a computer. Software programs now offer hundreds of possible virtual tracks to the artist.
And each track in the computer domain has the opportunity to be compressed or have any number of other effects applied in real time. This is where too many options becomes dangerous. Instead of adjustments to the volume of a track, compression could be used to normalize it. Sometimes a mixing engineer will apply two or even three types of compression to one track to rein in swings in volume.
Add up a good number of these tracks, and you end up with a lot of compressed sounds that weren’t compressed in exactly the same way. To fix this, the engineer might then compress the whole mix to make it more uniform.
By the time the song gets to the mastering engineer, it could have a complex tapestry of compressed music within it. And the mastering engineer, with pressure from the outside to make the song louder, likely would apply another layer of compression.
This new CD player of mine makes me very aware of compression in music I play through it. And because of that, I was able to find a real gem of an album from Nederland locals Gipsy Moon this past week. Gipsy Moon visited Colorado Daily’s live music studio in 2015 and delivered a memorable session for us. After the recording, they threw me and the crew copies of their album at the time, “Eventide.”
Holy gosh, you guys. “Eventide” is one album that has not been compressed much at all, and when compared to their next release, “Sticks and Stones,” it is even a touch quieter.
Take a listen to it if you’re curious — visit cdbaby.com/cd/gipsymoon to hear samples or order a copy. If it’s too quiet, turn up the volume on your system! Without heavy compression, turning up the volume gives you more punchiness from the music and makes the instruments sound more real. It’s a different experience, and oh so enjoyable.
Read more Taylor: coloradodaily.com/columnists. Stalk him: instagram.com/duncanxmusic.