Streaming service that doesn't use so much dynamic compression?

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Mostess
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Streaming service that doesn't use so much dynamic compression?

Post by Mostess » Wed Jul 31, 2019 10:09 am

I've become quite addicted to Spotify recently, but it's killing me that all the tracks are so compressed. I don't mean file-size lossy compressed (my ears aren't sharp enough to care about that) but good old dynamic range compressed.

I'm not sure why I've developed a distaste for compression. Maybe it's my aging ears. Maybe it's something about tech. Maybe I listened to too much Vulfpeck and now I'm hypersensitive to their audio trickery. Maybe it's just a phase.

But can anyone recommend a streaming service that leaves well enough alone and doesn't process your tracks so you can hear them while rolling coal in your Corvette?
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Re: Streaming service that doesn't use so much dynamic compression?

Post by Lunkhead » Wed Jul 31, 2019 3:32 pm

I can't speak for Spotify but I know of one music streaming service that does not apply any compression. It only adjusts the playback gain for each song, and only when playing songs that aren't all from the same album (e.g. on a "radio station" or a playlist). It's just a fixed volume increase/decrease for the whole duration of the track, it's not compression or limiting or anything fancy.

At this late stage in the loudness wars I would be surprised if there was much need for a streaming service to compress/maximize/destructively modify the audio they get. Anything mixed/mastered in the last 15-20 years is going to have very little dynamic range to begin with. Plus my understanding of the industry was that there is generally a different attitude than there was with terrestrial radio about respecting the audio as it comes in. In fact there are even contractual limitations between the labels and streamers about modifying the audio provided by the labels outside certain limited parameters.

Is there any other software or hardware between you and the audio streaming from Spotify, like, another app, or, smart speakers, wireless earbuds, etc.? If so you may want to investigate if something between you and the Spotify audio stream is the cause of what you're experiencing.
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Re: Streaming service that doesn't use so much dynamic compression?

Post by Mostess » Wed Jul 31, 2019 4:31 pm

Yeah the loudness wars and all. It could just be that new masters of everything are bit-crushed to death. And here's naive old-man me who hasn't seriously upgraded his music collection since the great Napster Binge of 1998 just realizing that you can't get a digital file with any dynamic range anymore. And I really don't know if there's any software "between" the stream and my headphones (green Beats By Dre plugged into the 1/8" audio jack) because who the hell knows what crazy codec Windows 10 and HP use to bring your music collection to life or whatever. Hell those headphones might have some sort of built-in hardware multi-band compressor for all I know.

That said, I'm always amazed when I'm listening to my free Spotify account at how hard things are compressed, with a fast attack and a slow release so a drum hit really sounds like a long plateau and the rest of the mix ducks suddenly down and ramps up again at the same time. A lot of songs have this "feature" from a lot of different genres. Maybe it goes away if you pay money to Spotify. But if not, it's not worth it. I've googled around and not found any info that seems trustworthy. I came here because you guys know what I'm talking about.

Pandora doesn't have this problem as far as I can tell. Maybe I'll try them out. What's the one you know?
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Re: Streaming service that doesn't use so much dynamic compression?

Post by Lunkhead » Wed Jul 31, 2019 5:21 pm

I don't know if it's still the case, but Beats headphones had a reputation for "sounding good" solely by virtue of the internally applying some EQ to boost "pleasing" frequencies. I can't find a good reference doc about it so maybe that was either never true or isn't true anymore. You might see if any studio monitoring/mixing headphones sound less squashed to you.
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Re: Streaming service that doesn't use so much dynamic compression?

Post by fluffy » Wed Jul 31, 2019 9:15 pm

As far as I know, Spotify doesn't add any additional DRC on top of what the record labels are submitting their music with, or at least they haven't with any of my stuff. Do you have any examples of tracks which are compressed on Spotify but not on other sources?

I assume that the intense amount of DRC happening on Spotify tracks is the endgame of what's been happening for broadcast-oriented mastering over the last 40 years.
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Re: Streaming service that doesn't use so much dynamic compression?

Post by jb » Thu Aug 01, 2019 7:25 am

The streaming services all alter the loudness to varying degrees, but they supposedly don't apply any other processing to a track.

https://www.masteringthemix.com/blogs/l ... nd-youtube
Mastering_for_Soundcloud__Spotify__iTunes_and_Youtube____Mastering_The_Mix.png
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Re: Streaming service that doesn't use so much dynamic compression?

Post by vowlvom » Thu Aug 01, 2019 7:46 am

Spotify has an option to turn off the volume normalisation (I leave it on because I do a lot of in-car listening, so I can't say how much difference it makes), and allows various higher-quality playback formats if you're a paying subscriber (which I reluctantly am) which may help.

But I have to admit that I never really notice this stuff. I've turned up the quality level now that I'm aware of the setting and I can't really tell the difference. I'm a bad audiophile.
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Re: Streaming service that doesn't use so much dynamic compression?

Post by fluffy » Thu Aug 01, 2019 8:15 am

I'd say that actually admitting that you can't hear a difference makes you a good audiophile, personally.
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Re: Streaming service that doesn't use so much dynamic compression?

Post by vowlvom » Thu Aug 01, 2019 12:56 pm

I'll take it!
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Re: Streaming service that doesn't use so much dynamic compression?

Post by Mostess » Tue Aug 06, 2019 1:58 pm

Okay I did some testing and it's not Spotify. You guys are right.

It's Windows 10 and/or the Dell hardware of my office desktop. There's some sort of EQ and compression happening in the audio settings. I've turned off every setting I can find on the "Realtek Audio" device settings and it still does this odd audio processing. Using the same headphones, same song, same streaming service I can directly compare the Windows desktop to my laptop and my phone: no question that the Win10 system is doing something: boosting the bass and applying some dynamic compression.

There are other settings I can turn on and off: "Windows Sonic for Headphones" seems to boost some high frequencies and apply some panning separation but the boomy and the compression are still there. It irks me that these sorts of things are buried in the settings. I get that non-audio folk don't know this stuff and that loud is impressive so the salesman can make the sale. And I get that it's a computer, not a high end stereo component.

Good thing I posted. Thanks for answering. I only listen to Spotify on headphones in my office and I was too quick to suspect Spotify. I'm too old and too grumpy. Get off my lawn.
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Re: Streaming service that doesn't use so much dynamic compression?

Post by Mostess » Tue Aug 06, 2019 2:05 pm

Lunkhead wrote:
Wed Jul 31, 2019 5:21 pm
I don't know if it's still the case, but Beats headphones had a reputation for "sounding good" solely by virtue of the internally applying some EQ to boost "pleasing" frequencies. I can't find a good reference doc about it so maybe that was either never true or isn't true anymore. You might see if any studio monitoring/mixing headphones sound less squashed to you.
Oh and this is definitely true. The headphones set boosts that 200-250ish range that makes a drum kit sound solid and it cuts out hiss and sibilance without losing a lot of treble. It's a really pleasant sound for background music but I can't use them for mixing or else I make wimpy, hissy mixes. They were a gift and I keep them at the office because they are really comfortable and they do sound good. But yes it's just another layer of processing applied bluntly on top of the sound engineer's hard work.
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Re: Streaming service that doesn't use so much dynamic compression?

Post by fluffy » Wed Aug 07, 2019 8:41 am

Glad you figured out what the problem is!

Yeah consumer audio gear is horrible for actually making audio on.
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