The value of music 

You will hear it everywhere, from all sorts of sources: people don’t buy music nowadays! And truth is, why would they? When you can stream music for free everywhere, right?

Still there are indications that there are some people still buying music, which gives some hope for its future.

First was a report from Bandcamp (an indie music store) that boast 73% revenues increased for 2017 - so surely some people have bought some music…

Another trend (and something I would myself call a fad, but one that is significant of a slight change in listeners’ habits), is the unlikely rise of vinyl records sales. Personally, I don’t believe at all that vinyl sounds better, because it’s a proven myth that has no scientific justification, but the fact that people are buying them again is significant to a certain attachment to an object, and what it represents… Albums in particular were once seen as a treasures and something we enjoyed discovering, something we placed value in. 

Anyway, again this proves that some people are buying music and are finding value in it and in the artists who have made it.

So I believe that if artists stopped devaluating their own music by giving it for free and for streaming altogether, this would further incite people to buy their music. If artists started seeing value in their own music, others too would see it again as something of value. 

Now that’s a thought!

Inward - early feedback 

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As you might know, I’m going to release a new album soon, called “Inward”, the date is set for May 4th with a pre-order date as soon as March 2nd

I believe this is my best album to date. It contains what I consider some of my best songs and defines my own sound and style, which is a blend of many influences from many genres and the result of years of practicing and learning my craft. I believe it is also my best sounding album, where I’ve been able to truly find the sound I was looking for along the years...

I have sent a preview to a few close friends to get some early feedback on the last mastering, and have been blessed by some truly humbling comments. Here are a few (excuse their French!).

 

Al Yardy (KB Radio)

“This is fantastic.   blown away.. I am hearing so much in here.   You should be very proud.   I truly am very impressed.  Friends or not, I wouldn’t blow smoke up your ass. I might be diplomatic, but I won’t give you glowing accolades if I don’t mean it.”

Lee Pugh (The Puss Puss Band)

“Production is absolutely fucking beautiful man….really exquisite job it must be said and sooo many sweet progressions, and groovy soulful changes man.  . For me though personally Let Go is my favourite. It’s so hip it almost hurts :D”

Lakisha (KiKi) Skinner (Klef Notes):

“Ghost??  Ghost??  Just drop the mic.  You have done it again bruh!  I too really love the overall quality of the production and direction of this new stuff.“

Clare Shorthouse Fowler (Dandelion Charm):

“The production is delightful, really clear and wide, this is a fantastic sounding record. Love the lyrics and vibe and the guitar sounds and playing are just stunning!! I love how good music reveals its gifts with repeated listening.”

Virginie Lacour-Puiboube (Laughing at the Raindrops):

"As usual, superb production (some choices are surprising) , and I hear cohesion, accessibility and similarities with previous work with is a good thing (a sign of strong musical identity). The great thing about Ghostly Beard is there is always one tune you WILL really really like!”

Veronica Philips (Photograph):

“It’s spectacular!! Absolutely in love with your guitar playing. Well done sweetheart! You’ve got every reason to be proud of yourself.  The guitar is masterful throughout – I hear hints of Pink Floyd and even a little ELO.  It’s a beautifully constructed album.”

Chris Leon (Your Music Radio):

“I can understand why you are proud of this album, because it’s really great! Somehow it’s exactly what I expected of what you told me before. Really getting some cool unplugged Eric Clapton vibes. The songs are great and they give me a warm feeling actually. I really can feel the love you’ve put into this album.”

Elizabeth O.S. Chute (Passion and Meaning):

"It's absolutely awesome on an emotional, musical, lyrical, instrumental level. What I like so much about your work is the different layers that you are able to create which blend on a 3 dimensional level - from foreground to background and the overall enveloping intimacy. And what can I say about your lyrics? - they are so poignant. Together all of this is an experience which flows so well from each song to the next, and leaves your ear wanting for more...  Also because your instrumentals are rich, complex and subtle at the same time - on each listening to get a new experience.  For me that is so important, that there is always something new to experience to take away from a song."

 

So there you go. I asked permission to reproduce these quotes because I’m proud to have touched these people, all good friends, with this album and to know they have been loving it, and of course to make you, the reader, want to hear it!

So be prepared and watch that space! The album will be available for sale on my website (as downloads and CD), and on Amazon, iTunes, Bandcamp and CD Baby. Best place is here of course because no one is taking a cut.

And remember that all net proceeds from sales of the album (whether download or CDs) are going to benefit MusiCounts, so not only will you get great music, but you will do good as well by helping children get a musical education!

Giving back / MusiCounts 

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As I’m preparing to release my third album “Inward”, which I believe is my best work to date, I was wondering how I could give back in a significant way…

If you’ve heard about me, you’ve probably guessed that the album itself will NOT be available for streaming, for reasons I’ve already outlined in a few blog posts: I believe streaming platforms are hurting indie artists by not redistributing their wealth to the rightful copyright owners. Actually, let me rephrase that: streaming platforms are ripping off artists to make a profit!

So, the album will be available for sale only, as download and physical CD, on my website as well as iTunes, Amazon, Bandcamp and CD Baby. The release date is set to May 4th but it will be available for pre-order as soon as March 2nd.

Now, I’ve always said that I was not doing it for the money, so why not giving it for free, would you ask? The reason is that I strongly believe that music shouldn’t be given for free… In the mind of too many people, music has become a disposable item, which has no value, and I believe it’s wrong! It’s hurting artists, especially indie artists, who put their own money and time and efforts in producing it to give you the best musical experience possible.
Getting it for free is basically stealing it, and depriving artists of their way of life.

If I don’t care about the money, but don’t want to give my music for free, what’s the best option? I figured that the way to go was to give all the Net proceeds from sales of the album (whether download or CDs) to benefit a charity here in Canada. For this I have chosen MusiCounts, because their mission is dear to my heart.

But who is MusiCounts? 

MusiCounts is a Canadian music education charity associated with The JUNO Awards that aims to keep music alive in schools and communities across Canada.

MusiCounts’ mission is to ensure that all children and youth in Canada have access to music education.

What they do is to put instruments into the hands of children who need them the most.

MusiCounts achieves its mission through the Band Aid Program, the MusiCounts TD Community Music Program, the MusiCounts Teacher of the Year Award, Scholarships, The Fred Sherratt Awards, the MusiCounts Inspired Minds Ambassador Award, and other music education initiatives.

I believe it’s a charity worth supporting!

You can find out more about MusiCounts on their website: https://www.musicounts.ca/

And follow them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MusiCounts/ and Twitter: @MusiCounts

Compression #7 - wrapping up 

I hope you’ve learned a little bit about compression, what it’s used for and how it’s misused as well.

As a listener you should be able to hear over compression and ask your favorite radio hosts to ease off on it if you ear them overdoing it. You can point them here on this blog if that helps. There’s also tons of reference literature on compressors and compression all over the internet.

Here’s a little audio example that should make you clearly hear the destructive aspects of over-compression:

One way I’ve read compression described was that it was similar to a boxer kicking a boxing bag as opposed to a concrete wall (with no compression). The sound is splattered and rounded the same way. The problem is that music needs concrete walls too!

Radio concerns

Don’t mistake over-compression (which sounds like there’s little difference between the low levels and the high levels of a song and everything seems to have been smashed against a rubber wall) with file compression or streaming compression (as we said earlier, most radios air at 128 or 192 kbps), the effects of file compression is often that the sound is a bit phase-y, like the left and right side of the stereo image are a bit off and you get that impression that the sound source location is hard to pick up, the sound kind of swirl in your ears. Bad but unless the bandwidth gets higher (to 256 or 320 kbps) there’s nothing much to be done. But audio over-compression can and should be avoided.

For radio hosts, compression has its use when it comes to your own mic levels, because you want to be heard loud and clear and this will help evening out your voice and put it on top of any background. However, when it comes to music you should be very wary of your compressor/limiter settings. If in doubt, avoid compression and especially limiting.

Since most music sent to radios is already mastered, no compression should be needed.

If limiting is applied, it should only be used as a brick-wall to avoid digital distortion from peaks that would go over 0 dB, depending on how hot the masters you receive are and how you push your faders. But it should never be reducing more than 1 or 2 dB and it shouldn’t be working all the time… if it does, you’re doing it wrong!

In short, please give a chance to the dynamics of songs you are playing. If the songs you get have already been over compressed that’s not your problem, but some songs are mastered to their best level and they shouldn’t be penalized by over compression after the fact.

Remember how tricky it is to assess the quality of a sound when louder always sound better, so you will be fooled by your own ears thinking you’re making it sound bigger and better. More than anything remember that the ultimate level control is up to the listener, so trying to make things artificially louder is going to be futile in the end, and will only be detrimental to the sound quality. When your radio is played quietly, the effect of over compression will make it sound bad, and there’s no reason for it.

The new loudness standards

There is now a general standard in audio land, and indeed most streaming platforms have adopted it as well as most TV and FM radio broadcasters. The consensus nowadays is to use loudness compensation to bring down everything around -14 LUFS (Loudness Unit Full Scale – I will not go over the details of this norm but there is plenty of literature on the subject all over the internet and I invite you to research a little bit about it).

The fact is that a lot of internet radios and podcasts shows I hear nowadays are playing around -8 LUFS, sometimes even less, sometimes a lot less! Which means that on average they are 6 LUFS (roughly 6 dB) under the generally accepted level of dynamic range. Their sound is over-compressed way more than necessary, and if you remember that a difference of 3 dB is perceived as doubling the level, you will understand that 6 dB of lost dynamics is huge.

Finally, my advice to all radios and podcasts is: have a look at your compression and limiting settings, and when in doubt, avoid it entirely. Your listeners will thank you in the long run. I sure will!

Compression #6 - over-compression 

With audio technology becoming more and more sophisticated, and the advent of digital audio in particular, some limitations of the analog world stopped being an issue and compressors and compression techniques started to be more and more used to try and grab the listeners’ attention.

We said before that given two identical sounds, if one is played louder it will sound better to our ears. There’s probably some anthropological explanation but the fact is that play something quiet, then follow it by something else louder and most listeners will prefer the louder part…

This is why compression was used more and more during airplay on TV and radio to try and bring out the commercials at a louder level than the movie or songs played before and after, as an attempt to capture the attention of the listeners.

The loudness war

Audio engineers and studios caught up with that idea and started to apply more and more compression to songs during the mastering phase. This is why most of the digital remasters done during the 90s for CD re-release were more compressed than the original. This went so far that it’s been coined “the loudness war” (more compression = more overall loudness).

For example, let’s have a look at a graph comparing an original with 2 remastered re-issues:

You can clearly see that the amount of compression applied went totally crazy. Now the problem with that is that a lot of details of the original were lost in the process. A lot of the transients were leveled, and everything is basically at the same level… There is a huge loss of dynamics (the difference between the loud parts and the quiet parts), when dynamics is what makes music. It’s hard to appreciate something loud all the time, it’s better if the music is flowing and there are ups and downs, quiets and louds…

Another thing to realize is that over-compression is fatiguing to the ears.

Remember that sound is basically air waves that are expanding and contracting and finally trapped by our ears. So, increasing the compression increases the air pressure sent into our ears. This can sound more immediately pleasing but in the long run it creates an ear fatigue that is pretty damaging and just plain boring.

In the next episode we’ll wrap up with some final thoughts about compression and why you should care. See you then!

Compression #5 - parameters 


We’ve seen that a compressor is acting based on a threshold (of Amplitude) to know when it should start compressing. We’ve also seen that with a gain control we can rise the output level of the whole signal after compression.

Let’s have a look at 3 other parameters that are going to change the way compression works: attack time, release time, and ratio.

Attack time

The first one, attack time allows to dial how fast a compressor is going to react to signal that is over the threshold. It can be very long (up to 500 milliseconds for some) or extremely short (down to 1 nanosecond). Changing the attack time will mostly change the way the attack of a sound will be treated. This is where we can say to a compressor: as soon as you hear a transient over the threshold you need to reduce it, or we can say, take your time to let the transient play over the threshold before you reduce the sound. So, in effect we can reduce the transients or emphasizes them relative to the sustain of the sound using that parameter.

For example, let’s look at a typical snare sound again, this whole sound will take 480 ms to ring, now if we setup an attack time to 220 ms we allow the attack/transient of the snare to pass through, but we reduce it’s sustain, so we make the snare sound ‘thinner’ which is the opposite of our example of last week, where we’ve reduced the attack/transient (with a fast attack), then added some gain to the whole signal to make it sound “fatter”.

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Release time

The next parameter of a compressor is the release time, and it will tell the compressor how much time it will take before getting back to normal (letting the signal untouched). Dialing the release time is often used in EDM (Electronic Dance Music) to make the whole sound ‘pump’ (go up and down) in rhythm with the tempo, because it can be used to reduce the sound for a certain time between each new beat.

In general, if you want a compressor to act more naturally, you will want to dial a shorter release time, but it’s often dialed according to the tempo for the reason above. The longer the release time, the more compressed the overall sound will be, but if the release time is too short comparatively to the sustain and the beat, it will give the effect of sound levels pumping up and down, also too short release (not leaving time to the compressor to stop compressing) can create audio artifacts and too much pressure.

Ratio

The next parameter that is important to define how a compressor is going to process sound is the ratio.
The ratio is expressed as 2 numbers like 2:1 or 5:1 or more. The second number is always one, but the first number defines of how much decibels the compressor will reduce the sound for each decibel over the threshold. It is a divider.

A radio of 1:1 there’s no compression. For 1 dB of input there will be 1 dB of output. With a ratio of 2:1 when a sound is 2 dB over the threshold, it will be reduced to 1 dB, if it is 8 dB over the threshold, it will be reduced to 4 dB , if a sound is 1 dB above the threshold, it will be reduced to 0.5 dB . With a ratio of 5:1, a signal at 10 dB over the threshold will be reduced to 2 dB.

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When the ratio is over 20:1 up to infinity:1 we’re talking about limiting. At infinity:1 this is also called brick-wall limiting, because no signal over the threshold will be able to pass (depending on the attack time some transients might be able to pass through briefly, but they will be reduced to the threshold level as soon as the attack – wait – time is over).

The ratio is an essential parameter, it defines how hard a compressor will compress the sound.

(Some advanced compressors also have a knee parameter, that defines how much of the compression is to happen around the threshold, allowing the compression to bleed bleed under it to avoid any sharp difference between compressed and uncompressed sound. But this is really advanced and its effect is subtle enough that it shouldn’t be a concern in radio land anyway)

As we’ve seen before it can be beneficial to compress a sound, so high compression is not necessarily a bad thing, it does change the sound though, and this is where the issue can arise, especially when it happens in radio land where the sound is supposed to have been dialed as best as possible in the mixing and mastering stages already…

More about that in our next episode where we’ll look at the disastrous effects of compression and limiting.

Compression #4 - usage 

We talked about the main components of a sound when it comes to Time and Amplitude: Attack (or Transients) and Sustain. Then we examined how the sound is stored in digital land and how we cannot go over 0 dB.

So, a compressor will be essential to store (and reproduce) more significant sounds without distorting. Making sure nothing goes over it, and making sure every sound that we want to hear is pushed forward enough within the absolute limit.

A compressor’s main purpose is to reduce the Amplitude (level) of a sound during its lifetime.

You can think of it as a fader or volume control, but one that is automatic and can act extremely quickly, reducing the level of the sound at various phases, depending on a few parameters…

Evening out levels

This can be very useful for sounds that vary a lot, like a vocal for example… It’s not unusual for a vocal to have a lot of variation in amplitude, even during of one single vocal line. For example, look at this vocal take:

Compression here is going to help evening out the performance by lowering the highest parts (the peaks) … Once everything is at a similar level we can then make the whole thing louder and upfront as it should be in a song.

If we tried to raise the level of this sequence as a whole, to bring out the lowest parts, the highest parts would go over the limit of 0 dB, so they would be clipped and distort (the nasty sort of distortion). By first lowering the highest part (evening out the whole sequence) with a compressor, we can then raise the level of the sequence without going over the limit and without distortion!

This is the typical and simplest way to use a compressor. And it’s used A LOT during the mixing phase.

Fattening a sound

Now, another way to use a compressor will be to even out the difference between the attack and the sustain inside a single sound/a single note (not a whole performance like above), making it appear “fatter”. How so?

Remember that a compressor can act very very fast (some modern compressors can see the peaks before they even appear and play – it’s called look-ahead -, and they can react in mere nanoseconds), so it can act during the lifetime of a single note at a time, and this is where it will be used to alter the sound and make it fatter.

Let’s see how this goes. First, you need to understand one of the main parameters of a compressor which is its threshold. The threshold is the volume level over which a compressor will start acting. The picture below should tell you what a threshold is:

Everything that is over the threshold will be processed by the compressor. Everything under it will stay untouched. So, with the threshold parameter, we can tell the compressor which parts it should work (reduce) on and which ones it should leave alone.

Let’s have look at a typical snare hit before compression:

If we were trying to make this snare hit louder as it is, it could go over 0 dB which is not desirable.

But if we apply a fast compression, we can reduce the attack peaks, like this:

You can see that the threshold was set so that the Attack of the snare was reduced relative to its sustain (which was left untouched). Now, because the attack has been reduced, we can actually make the whole sound louder and it will not distort. If we do so now (using another parameter of the compressor, called gain which is applied AFTER the reduction and will raise the overall output level), it will look like this:

The initial attack is back roughly to where it was, but notice that the sustain has been made louder, thus making the snare sound “fatter”!

Next time we’ll look at some other usage of a compressor and a few other parameters that are used to alter a sound, mainly attack time, release time and ratio. Then we’ll talk about limiting. And finally, we’ll talk about loudness, the loudness war and why it’s important to know about it. See you then!

Compression #3 - digital sound 

To understand one crucial role of compression, which is to avoid digital clipping, you also need to understand a little bit(!) how sound is stored and processed in digital land.

Then and now

In analog land, when music was stored on tape and vinyl, the sound waves were truly waves, and they were captured and played by components that could reproduce the air pressure that is truly the nature of sound. Waves were at the start, they were stored as waves and reproduced as waves…

The digital revolution has changed that. We are now storing sounds (and images and anything on a computer) as bits: 0s and 1s. There’s no real in between (at least until quantum computers are mainstream but that’s another story!)

Storing sound

The way a wave is stored on a computer is by cutting it into discrete pieces of information usually by grouping 8, 16, 24 or 32 (and even 64) bits together. These are called bytes and they can store a maximum range of information, no more, no less. For 8 bits, we can store 28 values, so between 0 and 255. For 16 bits, 216 so 0 to 65535, etc.

A sound is stored by analyzing a wave in time and determining its amplitude, from 0 to x (depending on the number of bits used). The sample rate will determine how fast that analysis happens, it’s called “sampling” (taking a sample of the amplitude of a sound at a given time and storing it in a byte).

Sampling

Typically, a sound from a CD is sampled with 16 bits at 44.1khz, meaning there will be 44100 values (ranging from 0 to 65535) per second. There are all sorts of other sample rates and bit rates, but let’s keep it at that as our reference. Just know that the higher the sample rate and the closer the bits of discrete information are, thus more capable of a smoother reproduction of the initial sound wave. The higher the bit rate and the more discrete differences in amplitude (dynamics) we can store*.
But know that the 44100 range values between 0 and 65535 per second are more than capable of reproducing the waves that our ears are able to discern (that is unless you truly have golden ears, which might be the case of a truly gifted 0.000001% of the world population).

* The 16-bit compact disc has a theoretical un-dithered dynamic range of about 96 dB, however, the perceived dynamic range of 16-bit audio can be 120 dB or more with noise-shaped dither, an advance technique taking advantage of the frequency response of the human ear.

As you can see from the picture above, the values of the waves are transformed into discrete little samples, and these sample will only be able to store up to a maximum amplitude value. This maximum value is called 0 dB. dB is short for decibel and it’s the measure of amplitude of a sound (to note that it is not a linear scale, but a logarithmic one: A difference of 3 dB in a sound is generally perceived by the human ear as twice louder).
Every measure of sound level is always minus something… 0 dB being the absolute a sound can be stored, in 16 bits, it is going to be the value 65535. We go from 0 (which is -infinity) to 65535 (which is 0 dB).

Clipping

In digital land, there’s no way we can store more than 0 dB, because a byte of 16 bit will not be able to store more than that value of 65535. If a sound goes over this limit, it will be “clipped” meaning its value will still be stored as 65535.

This was not the case in analog land, when we were pushing an amplifier, it was distorting the sound but in a way that we’ve become accustomed to, what some people call the “warmth” of analog sound, this is especially true of tube amplifiers which were overheating and distorting the sound in very pleasing way. Of course, if you were truly going over a certain level you could also blow your amplifier and get a nasty sort of distortion. But in general, you could achieve a great sound with distortion, and indeed this has been used to great effect by every guitarist in the rock world, as Jimi Hendrix could have told you!

Now the problem is that in digital land, you cannot really push a sound over the limit, it will just be “clipped” and the result of it is a nasty sort of distortion that is not at all pleasing to the ears. Think high pitch noise that could come from a robot in a bad sci-fi movie, or something that is more like white noise and hissing dirt in your ears, not at all pleasing.

All of this to say that one crucial role of compression will be to avoid clipping and digital distortion. We will see in a next part how this is achieved with some audio example as well… stay tuned!

Compression #2 - properties of sound 

To understand compression, what it is, how it works, why it’s used and its effect on sound, one must first understand a little bit about the properties of sound. Bear with me there as it can be a bit technical, but I will do my best to explain things a simply as possible.

It’s actually easier than it looks on the schema above and we’re going to simplify it in even further in our explanation, because unless you aim to be a sound engineer or someone who is designing sounds on a synthesizer, you really don’t need to go too far into the details…

Each sound we hear can be described by many factors, but 2 of the most important ones (and the ones affected by compression) are Time and Amplitude. Time being how long the sound plays, and Amplitude being its volume/level.

Now during the “life” of a sound there are many phases. In synthesizer parlance this is called ADSR, or Attack/Decay/Sustain/Release. For our purpose we can forget about Decay and Release and simplify it into two main phases of the life of a sound by talking about Attack and Sustain only, the red and green parts below:

Think of a single snare drum hit. The main hit will be the Attack and the ringing of the snare will be its Sustain.
The Attack of a snare will be very fast and short, it will peak very fast to its highest level, but it will not stay long at this high level, instead it will very shortly decay and what we’ll hear is the Sustain or the “tone” of the snare, which can be long or not (and can be enhanced by the natural reverberation of the room it’s been recorded in).

For other sounds it might be different, for example a flute will have a rather long attack, and its sustain will be short or long depending on how much breath the musician has. In any case these two main phases will differ greatly depending on whether a sound is percussive or not.

The attack part of a sound is often referred to as Transients. As it turns out, one of the compressor’s purpose will be to work on Transients vs Sustain, affecting the relative levels of these two in various ways, thus changing the sound.

A compressor will affect the Amplitude of a sound in time, at its core it’s nothing but a volume control! But one that can act extremely fast and affect different phases of the sound independently.

We will see that it also changes the perceived loudness (and dynamic range) of a sound, because it can affect the Transient differently than the Sustain, making it sound bigger (but not necessarily better!).

To note finally, that when it comes to bigger/better, our ears are such that when we hear the same sound at different volume levels, we’re always going to prefer the louder sound, even if they are perfectly identical. In a lot of cases, given a sound A and B, even if A is sounding better than B, when B is played louder there is a good chance we will prefer B. That’s how our brain works and how the effect of compression is going to get really tricky…

Tune in to learn more about that as we go along!

Compression - part 1 

Compression is a great tool! When used during mixing and mastering especially, it has many uses. But during airplay it’s very rarely beneficial, especially when you have no idea what you’re doing…

A land of confusion

But when talking about compression, the first thing we need to define is what type of compression we’re going to look at. Because when it comes to audio, there are 2 types of compression that people might talk about. Welcome to the land of confusion! Hopefully, I’ll be able to help clear things up a little bit…

The first type of compression is the one we’re going to look at in details. It is the one used during mixing, mastering and also during airplay. It affects the audio directly, and you might see it referred to as dynamic range compression. Another term that we’re going to see used for compression is limiting (or even brick-wall limiting), which is nothing else but audio compression with extreme settings.

File compression

The second type of compression that you might hear about is file compression. This is the difference between a .wav (or .aif) file and a mp3 for example.

There are various types of file compression, some are lossless (because they will not affect the sound in the end, no information will be lost because these formats will be de-compressed when played) others are lossy (some information is lost during the compression process).

Think of lossless as a zip file. It is a compressed file, but you can always decompress it and get the contained files intact after the process. Lossy compression though will remove some information based on clever algorithms that analyze the sound to get rid of whatever is deemed non-essential to reproduce it. It’s based on the physics of how we perceive sound and what frequencies are more important than others, and on various other factors. How much the sound is compressed with lossy compression depends on the bitrate per second, measured in kbps (Kilo Bits Per Second), the maximum for mp3 being 320kbps, which is almost (but not quite) lossless.

So, in audio land you can have:

  1. raw files (not compressed at all), like .wav or .aif 
  2. lossless files like .flac or .ogg 
  3. lossy files like .mp3 or .aac

Although lossy compression affects the sound (and the lower the bitrate the more it will), this is not what we’re going to look at. The reason being that most radios will play at a rate of 128 kbps or 192 kbps (some use 64 kbps which is hardly listenable), and although of course this means a loss in quality compared to raw files (for 128 kbps it can mean as much as 90% of the initial information lost), it is bound to the bandwidth they have, that bandwidth itself being based on how much they pay and how many listeners the stream provider can support at that rate. So, in short, there’s not much they can do about it…

What online radios can work on to improve the quality of their sound is the first type of compression, which is audio compression (and limiting). So, this is mainly what we’re going to examine in detail, in the hope that it will give everyone a clue as to what they hear and whether too much compression is damaging it… 

Tune in next week to start diving into the wonderful world of audio compression!

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