Let me start by emphasizing that the object of the discussion I’m proposing here is the overall loudness of audio previews on AJ and not the inner dynamic loudness of a piece of audio (i.e. the level differences between loud and quite parts and/or passages within an audio track).
The overall loudness of an audio track does not constitute an artistic property of its content. Instead, it is more of an objective physical condition under which the listener (customer) is able to properly evaluate the artistic content of a given audio track.
It is a well known fact that humans have a tendency to mistake the overall loudness of an audio recoding for its qualitative superiority when it is compared to another recording that may in fact be superior in terms of quality but is less loud.
I do not wish to delve into the many whys and hows of this human tendency, fascinating and interesting though it is. Suffice it to say that this tendency, and dare I say, weakness of human appreciative powers is well research, documented, and is the main reason why the audio industry for the past decade or so has fatally entangled itself in what is known as “loudness war” or “loudness race.”
I am not to preach here what overall loudness levels authors should impose on their audio tracks, but I am here to argue for the case that not controlling the overall levels of audio previews on AJ by making them comparatively equal is misleading and possibly harmful to the customer as well as unfair to the author.
- It is misleading to the customer (listener) because the drastically varying levels (up to 10 dB!) of audio previews on AJ hinder the listener from properly concentrating on the content of audio tracks as his or her attention is likely to be overpowered by a psycho-physiological reaction to the mere fluctuations of comparative loudnesses between audio previews (mistaking louder for better). It is like trying to determine what painting to purchase in a gallery where some of the paintings are hung up in proper lighting, distance, and position and others moved away in an underlit dusky corner. The customer is misled because he or she is not provided with more or less equal conditions under which to evaluate items of potential purchase.
- It may be harmful to the customer because playing back a preview of, say, a more dynamic piece of music at a higher level (e.g., to appreciate its dynamic and spatial characteristics) and forgetting to lower the volume slider on the soft player or the knob on the amplifier before hitting a preview of a highly limited and thus very hot audio track may indeed hurt or even impair the customer’s audible sense.
- It is unfair with respect to the author because it makes harder to communicate his or her artistic intentions to the potential customer without being forced to participate in the loudness race which is actually prone to degrade the quality of end products by introducing into the audio signal all sorts of fatiguing digital distortions.
An audio preview should inform the customer of the artistic content of an audio track as a deciding factor while making sure that the loudness of the previewed item is not taken by a non-specialist listener for its quality.
We’re in the digital age. There are solution. Let me suggest this one:
1) Make it mandatory for the authors when preparing their audio previews for submission to add a replay gain tag to the preview audio file; or even better, make adding such a tag an automated process on the AJ server’s end; 2) enable AJP to read replay gain tags; 3) allow users (by adding something like a a check box in the settings window) to chose whether they want replay gain services enabled or disabled when previewing audio on AJ.
What do you think?
You speak about the loudness war, my dear friend. This war has already been around since the 1980’s! Louder music always sound better than softer ones. Of course if you’re talking about classical music, you want more dynamics in it.
So the answer really is to know your listeners.