We Won The Loudness Wars?
Guest article by Erik Magrini (Tarekith)
For the last few months, more and more industry experts have been proclaiming that the loudness wars have been won. No longer do we have to fight each other to get the loudness master on the planet, we can all go back to just enjoying nice dynamic music.
Except nothing has really changed, has it? How has this been won, when everything is just like it was before?
As a professional mastering engineer, I’ve noticed an increase in clients asking about this potentially confusing situation. There’s a lot of misinformation out there on the topic at the moment, and not much real understanding of why this may come to pass. To help people get better understanding of what’s going on, I thought I would try and briefly summarize the main causes of why someone might claim the loudness wars are over.
It all starts with ITUR BS.1770. Yes, that’s what it’s really called, and you can read it yourself if you really want:
Originally introduced in 2006, this standard was written to help TV broadcasters transmit audio at a uniform volume. That way one show is not louder than the next, and TV ads don’t playback louder than programs. It not only defined what that uniform volume should be, but also described the way audio must be measured to comply with that standard.
It gave us the means to measure music in a way that accurately reflects how humans perceive loudness.
By now, almost all TV broadcast stations around the world follow this standard, and slowly radio broadcasters have been following suit. Currently radio broadcasts are also volume controlled, but often with dynamic compression and other audio processing; this is not only expensive, it’s time consuming. The new 1770 standard only allows for raising and lowering of the overall song volume, the audio content itself is not being altered at all. Much cheaper and easier for radio stations to implement, and it sounds better too!
So far, this has nothing to do with us, I know. But recently internet radio has become much more popular, and it too is starting to follow this standard. Spotify has had a variation of it from day one, and Apple just adopted it for their iTunes Radio as well. iTunes has a similar function called Sound Check that does this for your music library as well.