Have you heard of the Loudness War?

Yes it is a kind of a war, indeed. And the outcome of that is a disease for music and for music listeners.

The "Loudness War" is a phenomenon in music production, where producers (maybe also some artists) want to make their record sound louder than others. Human perception will pick up a louder record more easily than a quieter one. At first, a loud production might seem somehow 'better' than a quieter version. This was exploited by the record industry to make records, that "stand out" when played e.g. in jukeboxes.

When the first impression fades, however, music listeners will have to face with the drawbacks of the Loudness War! The 'overloud' recordings tend to loose all their life, appeal and impact. The two main technical problems/aspects of such recordings are clipping (distortion as a result of digital overdrive) and huge amounts of dynamic compression.

Why not have a look at some of your albums?

Analysing Audio

The Ber-SD ClippingAnalyzer (Excel-Sheet) will perform a detailed analysis of clipping and loudness content of your tracks/album.
The Clipping & Loudness Database shows some albums as examples (original CD versions). Old, as well as newer, records were analysed using the ClippingAnalyzer

You don't want to wait for a more dynamic re-release of your favourite artist's album (or have doubts, something like that will ever come)?
Then you might be interested in these free tools, to 're-dynamic' some overloud and clipped albums...

"De-Mastering" / "Un-Mastering"

1. Declipping
You can try the DeClip GNU Version (command line based) written by Graham Wilkinson at CuteStudio or test the Pro version (www.cutestudio.net).

You may also have a try with other declippers, like Terry West's Re-Life VST plugin.

A declipper uses mathematic algorithms to 'guess back' the missing data in the clip.

2. Expanding / "De-Compressing" / "Un-Compressing"

This has to be done by ear in most cases, unless you have information on the compressor settings used during production. To do a 'reverse compression' (of a classic compressor), you will need a software/device called upward expander.

You may have a look at Jeroen Breebaarts site: RPP VST plug
Here you can download the JB VST plugin bundle for free! Included you will find the RedPhattPro dynamics processor. This tool can be used as an upward expander. For that purpose, you will have to use ratios smaller than 1 in the 'Ratio1' setting.
VST plugins can be hosted in many audio editors and audio players. In the picture you can see the RedPhattPro plugin hosted by Winamp via the Winamp VST Bridge by Christian Budde.

Be sure to first declip, then afterwards expand, as this will be the reverse order as used in production (1st compressor, 2nd limiter).

(This is only how I am doing this, using free software, so anyone can repeat the procedure for free. You may also try other tools, of course)

Un-Mastering Example
  (*new: now also as YouTube video, hell that video-editing was, LOL... :-))

contact me

Further read:

The Loudness War at sharoma.com (Robin Sharrock's Loudness War article)
DeClip website at cutestudio.net (Information on clipping and the DeClip routines, including the CD Hall of Fame & Hall of Shame)
Earl Vickers' Loudness War paper (PDF)

The (future) cure for the music disease