Why are the digital downloads we purchase not as good as they could be.

NEW MUSIC

Standard Member
I am only referring to ones we purchase not ones you can download for free, these you cannot complain about in my opinion.

What do I mean by this well first of all the volume on many are so high its clipping well over 0db rather a lot (and I do mean a lot) and its compressed so much it’s all most one level so loses its dynamic rage somewhat. Plus I am sure they are boosting the base on many tracks even more now.

I am going to explain how I came to this conclusion and why it matters to myself shortly but I am hoping someone reading this can enlighten me why our downloads are inferior to what they could be. I mean let’s face it technology is fantastic compared to when CDs where launched then processing speeds and computer storage was an issue then, not so now.

Could you imagen if the download was at a much higher sample / bit rate not compressed and taken from the finished studio recording, now that would be Hi-Fi. But in my experience the record companies never want you to have the perfect sound that does not degrade in some way, I.E. records and cassettes so you never have to replace them.

I can’t believe that these tracks are actually recorded at such high levels that are just touching distortion, I mean all the experts in recording say don’t go over 0db so who is doing this. Now I know very little about the download process over the internet and have heard that if the tracks are not compressed the download would take too long. For me better quality over rides the time it takes to download or have I got this wrong, let’s face it you can download films.

People seem to favour quantity or quality these days, about 2 or 3 years ago I read an article in a well-known Hi-Fi magazine that said for those who had a reasonable Hi-fi in the 80s where listing to their music at around 30 times better quality than today’s younger generation. My first impression was to laugh, I mean technology has come such a long way. Then it went on to explain (in lots of detail) that comparing a half decent Hi-Fi from then to MP3 there was this massive loss in quality for the younger generation, yes things have progressed since MP3 but it’s still well short of what it could be or Hi-Fi standard.

I purchases my new downloads (Hi-Res Wav) from various professional sites as records are more often not available regarding the tracks I want so downloads are my only option, yet this process of just touching distortion level, (and some) extra base seem to be the same regardless of where I purchase them, so who is doing this to the tracks.

Let me explain how I came to this conclusion.

Until about 3 years ago I used to just purchase downloads and excepted they were nowhere near as good as records and thought nothing of it, then as I have a rather large record collection thought it would be good to make digital copies of my own tracks to play on my streamer.

Anyway as I had never made digital copies before spent some time on the internet learning, anyway long story short I purchased a DAC and professional program the only items that I did not have and got started. To begin with I did weeks of testing to get it right and now I make digital copies at 192,000 kHz / 24 bit. I know there will be many of you saying the sample rate is too high and an over kill but I can honestly say that on my Hi-Fi the digital copy is the same as the record.

Now because all the experts say never go above 0db when recording as digital is unlike analogue I did what they said to the letter but as time went on I found that if you only went over 0db a very small amount and only for a millisecond it was fine and with some tracks you may get a few peaks like this over the course of the track but the main body of the sound is within the 0db, but as I say it’s only a millisecond and only just over and not more than one sound at a time as that can distort.

Now as I could hear that the sound on purchased downloads was close to distortion I thought I would take a look on this professional program I was using and see what the facts where. I looked at a number of tracks I had purchased from 3 different sites, and around two thirds where going into the distortion level quite a bit and almost as soon as the track started. Also I know these tracks are compressed but they looked like a steam roller had gone over the sound wave, they seemed more compressed than CDs are.

So my point is I am new to this and this is what I have learned (in my opinion) a very slight sound above 0db and for a millisecond is fine so why are professional sites selling tracks that clearly exceed this . I mean a lot of DJs get their music this way are they not concerned about quality or just how loud it goes.

As I said near the beginning of this if the technology was used to give us the best sound that they could by using a higher sample / bit rate, not compressed and from the masters we would have true Hi-Fi sound, or am I missing something. But either way we should expect the best when you are paying for it.

Keith
 

Khazul

Well-known Member
What do I mean by this well first of all the volume on many are so high its clipping well over 0db rather a lot (and I do mean a lot) and its compressed so much it’s all most one level so loses its dynamic rage somewhat. Plus I am sure they are boosting the base on many tracks even more now.

Do you have some specific track examples that I might be able to look up (including format)?

Production has changed a lot of the years and can vary a lot in general terms across genres as well. As for your bass comment - well maybe you might re-think your music is music comment in response to my initial comments about tone controls in the other thread (but not here please) as maybe you are starting to get it.
 
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NEW MUSIC

Standard Member
Do you have some specific track examples that I might be able to look up (including format)?

Production has changed a lot of the years and can vary a lot in general terms across genres as well. As for your bass comment - well maybe you might re-think your music is music comment in response to my initial comments about tone controls in the other thread (but not here please) as maybe you are starting to get it.
Hi Khazul

Thanks for responding, yes I do but all the tracks I had checked I have sine removed from my laptop as recording lots of my own tracks up until a week ago. I don't want to give you incomplete info but not able to re-load and check these until about Monday, Tuesday at the latest as in the process of decorating a room just now. So if that alright with you I will send you all what you need in a few days.

Keith
 

NEW MUSIC

Standard Member
Do you have some specific track examples that I might be able to look up (including format)?
Hi Khazul

Thank you for offering to take a look at what I am saying , yes I fully appreciate production has changed a vast amount and would be more concerned if it had not, and I don’t believe for one minute it’s recorded as some I have heard. My belief is it’s something to do with the compression process that takes place after and that the masters are as you would expect, I mean CDs differ from downloads yet vinyl seams fine. My knowledge regarding digital recording is rather limited as up until about 3 years go my only involvement was setting the volume on my recordable Tascam, but even in the instructions then it said never go above 0db and now after spending a fair amount of time learning how to make my own digital copies everything you read still says do not go above 0db. I now know that you can and there is a tolerance regarding this but confused the fact that professional downloads are rather close to distortion considering all what is said about not doing this. Also regarding what you said that production has changed and the bass, are you saying it’s added as would that not be against what everyone says about as intended or am I misunderstanding something vital please enlighten me.

Anyway back to the point.
With reference to how I have reached my conclusion, I use Sound Forge Audio Studio 13 to make my own digital copies and although this may not be in the same league to what they use in professional recording studios I consider it a very good program and have no reason to doubt it’s readings based on other factors. My own digital copies all just peak at 0db at various points with many just going over a small amount for a millisecond. Then as another reference there are CDs and how they are compressed and there volumes, now I have a Tascam CD-RW901SL now I find the a vast majority of commercial CDs are peaking at 0db all the way through the track, yes I also have other CDs that do not reach 0db and a few that peak over 0db but the point is if I load these CDs into the Sound Forge program the readings match so creating some form of consistency to these values.

And of course acutely playing them back on my system too, as all my digital copies are on one external hard drive that connects to my streamer. So if I select one of my own followed by one from a CD then a digital download purchased to play in that order and set the volume on the first one IE my own. So to start with the volume is as I like it then the CD copy comes on and yes due to the way it’s compressed the volume is more equal it is a little louder but then followed by the purchased download and in most cases (but not all) I have to turn the volume down.
I know there was this thing about the volume wars with downloads some years ago (read about it on another forum) but thought that was in the past.

Anyway as requested below I have listed 9 digital downloads and 8 of these all peak above 0db and from 3 different sites. Now the first two are interesting as both the same track purchased from different sites the first Night crawler I purchased was from Beatport and if I remember correctly it was not available from Qobuz at the time. However at a later date Qobuz had it but at a higher sample rate so purchased that to. But the interesting point is they may be the same track /mix but how often it peaks and by how much is different that is one of the reasons I feel it’s not as the master but what takes place after.


Night Crawler (Ext-Tensnake Remix) – Duke Dumont, Say LouLou
44,100 Hz / 24 Bit Wav
From Qobuz
Peaks most of the time max peak +1.5 db

Night Crawler (Ext-Tensnake Remix) – Duke Dumont, Say LouLou
44,100 Hz / 16 Bit Wav
From Beatport
Peaks a bit less than the one above and max peak +1.0 db

Bad Habits (commercial version) – Ed Sheeran
44,100 Hz / 24 bit Wav
From Qobuz
Only peaks a few times max peak + 0.1 db

Kiss Me More (commercial version) – DoJa Cat, Ft SZA
44,100 Hz / 24 bit Wav
From Qobuz
Peaks most of the time max peak +1.4 db

Memories (ext-2021 remix) – David Guetta Ft Kid Cudi
44,100 Hz / 16 bit Wav
From Beatport
Peaks most of the time max peak +1.3 db

Friday (Dopamie re-edit ext mix) – Rlton, Night crawlers Ft Mu Mufasa & Hypeman
44,100 Hz / 16 bit Wav
From Beatport
Peaks most of the time max peak +1.2 db

Off The Grid (ext-club mix) – EDX, AMBA, Shepheard
44,100 Hz / 16 bit Wav
From Beatport
Peaks most of the time max peak +2.9 db

Go Deep (commercial version) – Janet Jackson
44,100 Hz / 16 bit Wav
From Juno
Peaks most of the time max peak +1.7 db

Purely for comparison only.
Now That We Found Love – Heavy D And The Boyz
44,100 Hz / 16 bit Wav
From Juno
Does not peak at all in fact the loudest part is – 0.6 db

Thanks for all your help and advice on this it’s very much appreciated.

Keith
 

nomorelandings

Active Member
FWIIW, I gave up downloading years ago. My iMac and MacBook Pro output digital noise and mush - a usb is also a power cable. Agree that dac technology has largely mitigated cd/ red book short comings. As an early adopter, I have made many errors along the way in the battle against brittle sound. A saviour was SACD which has larger bandwidth and no cliff edge 20khz filtering. I’m now enjoying hi res from tidal/ Qobuz and radio paradise MQA streams. Not a hint of digital nasties and the albums I bought in 1971, eg Joni Mitchell’s Blue & PF Meddle @ 24/192 sound superb - my dad had a very posh hifi back then.
 

Khazul

Well-known Member
I had a quick look at the tracks from Qobuz as I have a studio sub with Qobuz and confirm your findings, however I do not have any problem from the perspective of current mastering practice with them as on a correctly implemented modern playback system they will playback without issue.

A little bit of background for you. There are several measurement system in modern music production and streaming which confusingly are all dB related. Understanding these may help put into context what you see.

Digital sample values (which is not what you are seeing in the figures you quote). I actually looked at the first track and see a peak sample value of around -0.3dB which is a common value and a default in many limiters. These are digital domain values.
True peak values - this is what you appear to be actually seeing and indeed that can legitimately exceed digital sample full scale of 0dBFS. To understand this, google 'True Peak' and 'Analog Reconstruction'. They are analog domain values.
Loudness Units - what streaming services care about in order to provide a consistent playback level between tracks and albums. This is a decent enough summary - Loudness Units 101, but I suggest googling 'Loudness Units' anyway. It may be worth regarding these units as being the Human domain as they have a more direct impact in how our hearing works and particularly how it react to SPL (Maybe also google 'Tensor Tympani and the Stapedius' if you want to know anything about the compressors in our ears).

This is not a complete list, but should be enough to give you some context across the 3 domains.

As for limiting, well there are pros and cons to it. Its has been in use for a very long time. We went through a period commonly called the 'loudness wars' where limiters IMHO were applied far more aggressively than the quality of the technology at the time could handle resulting in some really horrible sounding tracks. These days, limiters like the fabfilter Pro-L2 that I use are really excellent, but still need to be used with care. Also we have much better understanding of perceived loudness and thus much better metering systems (that reflect all of the above measurement as well as other too).

Having worked a lot with sound that has hard transients when initially recorded that never make it through production due to limiters and other processing, I can say limiters are on balance a good thing when applied with care.

Re recording - yes you are correct, never exceed 0dbFS. In fact I tend to keep it well below -6dBFS. In playback however things are different. Do read up on Analog Reconstruction and True Peak to make sense of this.
 
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Ascotbilly

Active Member
@NEW MUSIC - Interesting post ! Read an article a while back that certain tracks EDM, mainstream is produced on the basis the majority of listeners are listening through phones. I’d say all the tracks you lost above (except the older Heavy D which actually sounds ok) would fall into this bracket….
 

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