Astonishing amount of distortion in music?

Discussion in 'Monitoring' started by jm2, Feb 11, 2009.

  1. jm2

    jm2 Active Member

    Oct 13, 2008
    First, a clarification: It is only the last few months that I have accumulated much better listening equipment. Since then, I have been listening very closely to music of all kinds, and I cannot believe the amount of distortion I hear.

    Now a casual observer would say, well, your gear might not be as free of distortion as you might think, however, I have some reference music that plays extremely clean and distortion free. It seems to me that if the problem was in the equipment, it would always be present. Instead, it is only in some music.

    What I often hear is a grungy grit around the mid to treble range, that sounds something like gentle clipping or over level recording (is that the right term?). It is often present in a whole song, and then not in the next song on the same CD. Now it is subtle. If I am preoccupied and well away from my speakers, I will not notice, but if I am tuned in, it's there.

    Am I hearing things? Is this something observed by others? Am I missing something? I realize that my previous gear was incapable of revealing such things (not to mention I might be much more intune with such things now) but I remain preplexed.
  2. music293

    music293 Active Member

    Dec 24, 2008
    Well, I'm no expert, but here are my thoughts.

    Since what we hear is so very subjective, it is really hard to comment on whether or not you are right or wrong. However, I've always thought the mid freq's had a little bit of bite to them any how, so perhaps your system is letting you hear that for the first time?

    By the way, are you listening with cans or a pair of monitors, old am/fm you've rigged up somehow? :)

    Also, perhaps, whatever your newly acquired listening device may be, it is over accentuating these freq's so as to give the tracks some crunch?

    I don't know, I really don't...just thought I'd test the waters.

    Let us know
  3. hueseph

    hueseph Well-Known Member

    Oct 31, 2005
    Vancouver, BC, Canada
    Distorted and loud. There is some distortion I don't mind though. If it's tape saturation, I quite enjoy that. What I don't like is the overuse of saturation emulators like magneto.
  4. GeckoMusic

    GeckoMusic Guest

    Some CD recording have clear over levels. It's part of the loudness wars. If you rip the CD to a WAV file and look at the peaks, you can see the digitally flat tops.

    Generally, loud bass heavy pop has a lot of clipping. Normalizing to 3dB above full scale is common. Maybe the hope is that most people will listen to it on low end systems that will round the tops due to the systems lack of high frequency clarity?
  5. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Jun 22, 2004
    Philadelphia, PA/ Greenville, DE
    Home Page:
    Congrats on upping your listening environment. You're probably finding it's a blessing and a curse.

    I remember when I first added a cheap sub (boomy, muddy, and lots of crud), then went to a professional unit (from Bag End). What a revelation! I have heard - and continue to hear - so many mistakes and missed problems on professional recordings, it's amazing. I've heard buses, footsteps, chairs rumbling, you name it. It's amazing what gets missed on "Professional" releases sometimes. (On the other hand, it's wonderful to hear a truly well done recording; esp when the bass shows up when it's supposed to be there, and it's absent when it's SUPPOSED to be absent.)

    As for what you're describing, I hear it too on some recordings; esp the "bad' ones. However, if you want to REALLY drive yourself nuts, go listen to what passes for commercial analog FM radio these days. Aside from NPR and some classical/jazz stations, the amnount of compression and over-levels and distortion on most FM radio statioins is just insane and unlistenable. I call it the "Zipper" my ears, it's a constant zzzzzz sound that seems to envelope-follow every lead vocal and solo instrument. It's one of those things that keep the unknowing masses hypnotized; it's so common and ever-present, few can step back from it and pick it out. I can't stand listening to it even in my car. (for me, it's traffic, news or my ipod in the car.)

    It's there alright, as you seem to have discovered on some of your own listening tests.
  6. Link555

    Link555 Well-Known Member

    Mar 31, 2007
    North Vancouver
    Yes its very much there. Welcome to the loudness war.

    The general public seems no longer to listen to music, instead music is meant to cover up background noise.

    Oh well... This is an easy problem for me, I just don't over limit or compress. I make sure nothing that comes from my studio contributes to the loudness war.

    Yes I have lost biz over my view. But I do this to support my audio habbit not really for profit. So I typically can work with artists that see the problems as well.

    Anyway rant over...... for now.
  7. jm2

    jm2 Active Member

    Oct 13, 2008
    Thanks for the replies.

    Well, if I was still running an old am/fm rig or cans, I would not be making the observations, as I never heard this stuff before. :wink:

    I feel pretty good about my aural acuity these days. I am certainly listening with a much more critical ear with my new stuff. The rig consists of Pioneer S-T500 speakers, being driven by a Carver TFM 35 amplifier, a Carver C-3 preamp, or an older Philips Preamp (which sounds nearly as good as the C-3). The CD player is an Arcam Alpha 6. Arguably, the rig is mid fi, and certainly can be exceded by plenty of gear, as audio equipment can be very pricy as we all know. Still, the speakers were one of the best ever offered by Pioneer (at $1800 a pair in 1990), and appear to have been designed by a hand or two from TAD, Pioneer's professional division. The Alpha 6 is a highly regarded player.

    The Carver stuff is a hundred fold better than anything I have ever used, but I happened to pick up a Bryston 2B for a song just a short time ago. It is being serviced by Bryston at this very moment, and I will be able to judge the Carver with it soon. Of course bryston amps are very highly regarded. In fact, although my unit is older and needed some TLC, even the preliminary diagnostics indicated THD of about .01% at full rated power, which I understand is extremely good.

    It is all new to me, the better gear, and the revelation of noise in commercial audio.
  8. hueseph

    hueseph Well-Known Member

    Oct 31, 2005
    Vancouver, BC, Canada
    That's because there are fewer and fewer musicians out there, just computer geeks and "spinners". I remember the days when all a disc jockey did was play records. Now somehow they've become "musicians".
  9. StephenMC

    StephenMC Member

    Dec 10, 2007
    I'm a musician.

    Hell yes.
  10. Codemonkey

    Codemonkey Well-Known Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Scotland, UK
    Sound engineers aren't musicians ofc.

    I'm not a musician! Hell yes. Cba having the status.
  11. Space

    Space Well-Known Member

    Jun 26, 2007
    "I have some reference music that plays extremely clean and distortion free."

    What is the reference music, may I ask?

    Of course, I just did.

    The real question is, will you tell me?
  12. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Member

    Sep 26, 2005
    Unfortunately many people record on stuff these days that has been marketed very well. Unfortunately, the marketing has little to do with the actual integrity of the recorded sound. There is a reason why many of us continue to use equipment designed in the 1960s. Buzzwords such as clean, transparent, neutral seem to cause me more ear fatigue than my nasty old sounding API & Neve equipment. I really dislike most transformer less microphone preamps & consoles because they were designed with economics in mind, not sound. Nobody seems to complain about audio passing through 8 to 16 transformers on a Neve desk from the 1970s even today. So what you're probably listening to it is "State of thuf ART" equipment.

    Old-fashioned girl
    Ms. Remy Ann David
  13. jm2

    jm2 Active Member

    Oct 13, 2008
    My best reference at present is Jazz fiddle Revolution by Christian Howes and Billy Contreras. There are several things that set it apart. The playing is stellar and alive with character, as it is just two fiddle players, and the occasional cello and trombone (yes, that is trombone), off the floor with no editing as far as I can determine. In fact, much of it is improvisation. It is arguably jazz, but heavy on the blues at times.

    The recording itself is very clean and sonically interesting, even given its limited range with such a small selection of instruments, and because of the range of the violin, it will give the tweeters a serious workout, when they move way into the high positions.

    The CD was recommended to me one time years ago when I inquired if there were any good blues fiddle CD's out there. I have to say it is my favorite violin recording by no small margin. I have never heard anything like it.
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