Loudness wars & new regulations


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Loudness wars is the name of an ongoing quarrel between producers, marketing-professionals and audiophiles. The quarrel goes about the psychoacoustic compression of sound productions to evoke the subjective impression of enhanced loudness (which does obviously not correspond to an actual physical operation: you can still pump the volume up or down). (cf. a recent article in the German magazine ZEIT WISSEN) So, what does the loudness compression do to an audio track? The following video makes it perfectly clear:

 

But, as cultural sensitivity is not static, the social discomfort with compressed loudness is growing and such is also the public discourse. A first sign of this changing public opinion and an institutional awareness of this is at hand: the EBU (European Broadcasting Union) has issued a new standard by which furthermore the loudness shall not anymore be normalised at the maximum peak level of an audio production (currently measured by a so-called Quasi-Peak Programme Meter); but the loudness of an audio production shall be oriented towards a mix of Programme Loudness, Loudness Range and Maximum True Peak Level. The result shall be that for instance radio or tv commercials will not anymore pop out in a psychoacoustically compressed way; but the programme shall provide a consistent loudness with a rich amount of dynamic and true (not clipped) peak levels. This EBU–Recommendation R 128 with the title Loudness normalisation and permitted maximum level of audio signals is being implemented in Switzerland since February 29th this year – and it shall be implemented in all German public radio and television programmes by August 31st 2012. The EBU has 56 member states (also in Northern Africa and in the Middle East) and 74 member stations; and it is associated to 21 nations overseas.

It will be interesting to see if this new regulation will also influence professional music production – and if the clients of branding and communication agencies will not be disappointed by the lower and subjectively less loud impression of their commercials? Will we experience then a more dynamic and consistent audio signal in tv and radio programmes?