I have in my hands a digital copy of the studio album number 9 of Metallica, Death Magnetic. Back in 2008, I remember being very happy with it. It was the successor of St. Anger. To me was very simple to pick one of the two as my favorite. Death Magnetic has very good tracks like “The Day That Never Comes”, “All Nightmare Long”, “Suicide And Redemption”, after so many years Metallica released an instrumental song, wow! In conclusion, I was very satisfied with the album.
There were lots of people arguing that the sound of this album was awful, terrible. I think I was too naive to see it back then. There is something known as the “Loudness War”, which basically is the act of turning up the volume of the music in the mastering process. There is obviously a top where the volume of the music can go to. There are some parts of the music, the ones with the higher volume, that will be lost by doing this. And that is not the worst part, If the volume is the same through all the playback you’ll lose dynamic range in the final result. Dynamic range is the difference of volume between the quiet part of a piece of music and its highest. There are few elements in music, just like melody and rhythm, dynamic range is a crucial element of it. It makes the experience to be more pleasant and less exhausting.
The reason why record companies turned up the volume of their releases in recent years is obvious in you to think about it. People will notice more something that is louder. If something has the volume cranked all the way up, that music will tend to catch the attention of more people. The more people listen to their music, the more people will buy their albums, end of the story.
In 2014 I bought a turntable and one of the firsts LP I’ve bought was Death Magnetic. I remember the first time I dropped the needle on it. It was mind-blowing. The audio from the analog source was so different that to me it was a different album. The music was so much pleasure, it is hard to explain really, it was easier to listen to it for sure. Again, I was still, and I still am at some point, naive. The first thing that came into my mind was: Vinyl sound way better than the CD. Easy to say right?
Again, I was wrong back then. Yes, the vinyl sounds way better than the CD. But it wasn’t because of the format of the record, it was because of the mastering of it. You see, it is not possible to turn up the volume of music and stamp it into a vinyl record. Depending on the volume of the music, the higher it is the wider the grooves of vinyl will be. That means that if you turn up the volume you could only place a few laps of grooves, and the record will last less. In a CD you can adjust the volume of the music as much as you want because the information is stored digitally on it, it is not physical, as it happens with the vinyl.
There is a video on VinylTv that says “Why Vinyl could Save Music”, Craig explains there that because of this reason vinyl could save music, the loudness war does not affect the analog format, and for people that are into music from a lot of time, like Craig, won’t hear new releases without dynamic range, if they buy the vinyl copy of course. Nowadays in the mastering process of the CD’s, this is a thing they pay attention to it. And fewer and fewer albums are released with the volume all the way up.
Even though I like audio in digital format if it’s mastered properly. Death Magnetic is not an album I will listen to it anymore if it not on vinyl.