Ever wonder why a modern Christina Aguilera or Red Hot Chili Peppers CD can hurt to listen to–even if you dig the music? Check out this marvelous contribution by Joe Gross at the Austin-American Statesman to one of my favorite tho alas rare genres of popular journalism, audiophile-philia (and phobia), for explanations of why, as Bob Dylan insisted, all modern recorded music sounds annoying and awful.
The key–read the whole article if you want the deep stuff, if anyone still does in these days when MP3s seem to satisfy most of our music listening needs and the days of even semi-mass popularity for multi-thousand dollar turntables, speakers, and special plastic discuses stuck on your walls for 1000 percent fantasy audiophile ultramegaperfection seem like a weird dream of a very wealthy world's amusingly mad indulgences–is here, starting with a quote from a:
letter…written by Angelo Montrone, a vice president for A&R (the folks who scout and sign music acts) for One Haven Music, a Sony Music company.
"There's something . . . sinister in audio that is causing our listeners fatigue and even pain while trying to enjoy their favorite music. It has been propagated by A&R departments for the last eight years: The complete abuse of compression in mastering (forced on the mastering engineers against their will and better judgment)."
This compression thing has been a topic of discussion among audiophiles and music fans for nearly a decade. But hearing a music industry executive cop to it was pretty unusual.
"The mistaken belief that a 'super loud' record will sound better and magically turn a song into a hit has caused most major label releases in the past eight years to be an aural assault on the listener," Montrone's letter continued. "Have you ever heard one of those test tones on TV when the station is off the air? Notice how it becomes painfully annoying in a very short time? That's essentially what you do to a song when you super compress it. You eliminate all dynamics."
For those already confused, Montrone was essentially saying that there are millions of copies of CDs being released that are physically exhausting listeners, most of whom probably don't know why their ears and brains are feeling worn out.
I will note that as an inveterate and irredeemable CD shuffler, that Dylan's own latest-not-greatest, Modern Times, sounds waaaay too loud at the same volume as any pre-2000 CD I shuffle it with. (This phenomenon discussed deep in the article.)
I stole this post title straight from Gross' article, as it was too perfect.