Sentences to ponder

Loveless has a very wide dynamic range– there’s no compression over the overall mixes. Because of that, it’s a very quiet record; most of it is about four or five dB below zero while most modern records are about six or seven above zero. That’s a huge difference in volume because every three dB is perceived as being twice as loud. But that’s not too important because people should just turn it up if they want to hear Loveless loud.

That is from Kevin Shields, much more here, all interesting to a fan or to an audiophile.  The reissues are coming out, there is not much better in all of music than Loveless.  By the way, don’t call it “popular music,” it isn’t popular!

For the pointer I thank James Murray.


He's confused. Modern records aren't loud because the dynamic range is compressed out of them - they're loud because they're brickwall limited, which squashes transients like nobody's business but will have the effect of raising the volume of both loud and quiet parts equally. This tends to sound kinda lousy since all of those transients are going to wind up as nasty sounding square waves - a real harsh and grating sound. This trend has been destroying recorded music 15+ years now. (Rick Rubin is a particularly bad offender.)

Compression, on the other hand, will squash dynamic range but it won't necessarily make the record louder - that is, you can compress the hell out of a record and still have it be quieter than an uncompressed but limited record. It also won't end up causing all sorts of ugly square waves; worst case scenario, it'll suck all of the impact of out of the record since it'll all be at more-or-less the same volume, both intimate and epic moments. It kills contrast between soft and loud dynamics, in other words.

That being said, modern records unfortunately do both.

The last part of your comment is most accurate. Both tools are used to make modern records louder and both have what most audiophiles consider to be adverse impacts on the sound.

good taste. is tyler about other shoegaze and nineties alt, or is this a beautiful anomaly?
If you listen to sonic youth, medicine, or bob mold I will agree with everything you say. If you know black tambourine, then you are the godmouth of economists, and other, lesser economists should bow down to your superior discernment.

Depends what you are listening to an album for. If you are sitting in a room with just you and the music, an uncompressed recording that takes advantage of the huge dynamic range of the CD format can be awesome.

The compressed version, on the other hand, makes the soft parts nearly as loud as the loud parts, which I agree sucks some of the emotion out of a song. But if you've got it on while you're trying to get work done, the compressed version is a hell of a lot better. You basically just pick a volume and it stays there, through soft and loud. For people like me, who listen to music pretty much 10 hrs/day at work, this can be nice.

I agree. I have some classical pieces in both compressed and uncompressed formats. When I really want to listen to it and succumb to the music, the dynamics of the uncompressed version is key to my emotional response. On the other hand, when I just have it playing in the background while I do work, part of my goal is to simply drown out other distracting sounds in my environment. The quiet parts are too quiet to do that, but, if I turn the volume up, I'll undoubtedly be jolted and disturbed when the loud part suddenly happens.

I also prefer compression on movies. I hate watching a movie where the only way to hear the dialog clearly is to turn it up so loud that anytime there is an explosion in the film, you think you're house is going to crumble and the neighbors are going to call the cops. I don't really need the explosions to be as earth-shatteringly loud as they are in real life. I can still get into a movie where cars blow up without it sounding like they're actually blowing up in my living room.

A reputable mastering engineer with whom I am acquainted posted the following on Facebook, in response to a mutual friend who posted this interview there:

"In this interview, Shield's understanding of audio is comically artistic. It's textbook "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing." His concepts about digital audio are... let's just say they are incorrect. But he's a great artist and thats the important thing."

Worth having the context.

The remasters are remarkably good; a substantial improvement over the originals and worth the wait. From 1991 to 2012, there really hasn't been a better album than Loveless.

You didn't think anything was as good as Loveless over the past 20 years? What about:

In Utero
A Thousand Leaves
Vespertine (if you like Bjork)
any Pavement albums?

or even Kid A, Funeral or the Soft Bulletin?

What about Yo La Tengo, or Emperor Tomato Ketchup?

I also really like The Moon and Antarctica and Fever to Tell, though I guess not in the same league.

This is all assuming you like "alt/indie" stuff. Seriously, you don't think anythiong matches Loveless over the past 20 years?

Ahhh... I now notice you said a better album than Loveless. Still, nothing beats Loveless?

Obviously Zach has listened to every album released since 1992 and came to this decision on purely objective grounds. (:)

I love most of the albums you list but don't find any of them to be better than Loveless. The closest contender, for me, would be OK Computer.

Really! OK Computer over Kid A and Amnesiac! Don't tell me you like Muse, as well!(Guilty pleasure - I quite like Absolution.)

I see where you're getting this. Pitchfork puts OK Computer ahead of Loveless on its best of 90's list. But plenty of albums ought to be higher up on that list: Odelay, Homogenic, In Utero (much better than Nevermind), 69 Love songs, Super ae, Pinkerton, Trompe Le Monde, and of course all the Sonic Youth albums. OTOH, Neutral Milk Hotel - it's just embarrassing how much that band is hyped - they're just not worth it.

I am interrupting a bit here, but honestly alt/indie has been considerably downhill for a good while now. I think it's absolutely reasonable to put Loveless at the zenith of alt/indie rock, and I support that statement.

Some of the albums on your list are on-par, but I don't know about *better*.

Less alt, more indie? ;)

Huh, this is the part that confuses me:
most modern records are about six or seven above zero
Having done a bit of production & DSP, 0db is usually meant to be the max amplitude for that signal. Depending on the noisefloor, your lower bound may be different (ie -100db or -110 db), but when you hit 0db, doesn't that mean you get clipping and all the over-shoot is cut off?

Anyway, there should be at least one point on the record where the 0db point is reached, otherwise the potential dynamic range is wasted.

On pro-audio equipment 0 dB VU is equal to a voltage output at the analog output of +4 dBu, and typically relates to (depending upon how conservative the setup engineers were -12 to -15 dB FS for digital signals.

dB VU was useful for analog tape because tape-compression and distortion would come in and increase gradually. Below "0" was safe, but above "0" wasn't the end of the world, and might give more punch, better signal-to-noise ratio, and help a mix "cut through" because the extra HF added by the distortion increased the energy in the mix and was pleasing in moderation.

dBu relates us to the world of physical measurements with RMS voltmeters and oscilloscopes.

dB FS relates to how far below the digital point-of-no-return we are. If you go above 0dB FS on a digital system, it sounds awful.

dB always refers to a ratio of something to something else -- "x is 3dB louder than y" Often the "something else" is as standard reference level, and in that case a technical or academic publisher would insist on the inclusion of some abbreviation to make the reference explicit.

You are speaking of 0dB FS, the reference being the maximum level the digital representation of the signal can represent.
Kevin Shields is speaking of 0dB VU, "volume units", and 0dB is more of an average signal level than a maximum.

"0dB" means that the signal is exactly the same level as the "other signal"
In the case of converting from analog audio signals to digital signals, the assumed "other signal" is the loudest signal we can have before digital clipping. The distortion of digital clipping sounds awful, so that is an important reference point.

On an analog audio compressor or limiter, the VU or peak-reading meter is generally be setup so that "0dB VU" corresponded to "+4 dBu" at the output, or a voltage of 0.7746 V RMS. Broadcasters often set 0dB VU to +6 dBu. Most gear will have headroom of at least 15 dB above this before the gear distorts.

In the '90s, the mastering would most likely have had the limiting, compression, and eq done by really sweet analog gear followed by a really high-quality analog-to-digital converter. Making sure that the signal was not more than a few consecutive samples "over" digital 0 was critical both for avoiding digital distortion and for having your disc master accepted by the CD plant. People were conservative. So CD's issued in the 90's often do have their absolute peak level several dB less than it theoretically could be.

Now, that stuff is much more often done fully in the digital domain, and it is now trivial to let your computer search for the highest samples and tell you exactly how far below 0dbFS the signal is. You can then add exactly that much gain, and Bob's your uncle. Hence your CD is that much louder on playback than it would have been then.

Aside from the bit about "processors in CD players and most digital playback systems operate at their best in the top three dB", It all makes sense to me.

Listen to Louis Armstrong singing: his ability to turn his volume up and down puts most popular singers to shame.
And his voice wasn't even his principal instrument.

Nice to see that Tyler has good taste in music. Loveless is one of favorites. Economics and music are my two favorite topics of discussion!

The ex ante odds of my most preferred blogger very much preferring my most preferred CD never occurred to me. Because I had no ex ante odds, I don't know if I should be surprised.

"By the way, don’t call it “popular music,” it isn’t popular!"

Actually, there are at least 4 definitions of "popular" music:

1. Music that is popular.
2. Music that follows a stereotypically "pop" style of arrangement, composition and/or production. Also simply "pop" music.
3. Music that is published by one of the major labels: Sony, Universal, Warner; a.k.a. "mainstream" music.
4. The division of all of music into "academic" and "popular": music "from the people", as opposed to "from the academy"; academic music being a much better term than "classical" or "art" music. It's this last definition that Loveless satisfies.

Btw, pity the poor n00b who listens to Loveless for the first time on Tyler's recommendation alone. He's in for a rude shock ;)

I may be that guy! Looking forward to being surprised.

Yep, me too. Reading through their "similar artists" page on (which is automatically built from the real-world listening habits of their users), I haven't listened to any of the artists on the first three pages. So it'll be novel, at least!

Wikipedia: "I always promised myself I'd never do that, put out a worse record."" "In 2007 Shields announced that the band had reunited and that a new album they had started recording in 1996 was "3/4th finished."[66]"

Almost finished then?

"...there is not much better in all of music than Loveless." Also Sophocles was a better writer than Philip Roth, cacti are better than madrones, and red is better than orange. Perhaps if a thought is utterly baseless and inane, it shouldn't be stated.

You've got a mighty strong opinion about opinions.

I like oranga :(

I like orange :(

I am absolutely impressed to find out that Tyler enjoys Loveless as much as I do.

OK, I just listened to it again, and I take back what I said the other day. Nothing beats Loveless.

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