Should we be bracing for a return to the loudness wars?

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Should we be bracing for a return to the loudness wars?

Post by blinddrew »

I've been doing some listening on Spotify recently, a platform I've not used a lot in the past, and I was a bit surprised to find myself reaching for the volume control a lot.
Weird, I thought, surely we're all loudness normalised nowadays? Down at around -14 LUFS for Spotify, I thought.
So choosing a couple of tracks that I already own, and purely for the purposes of research, I have ripped a couple of things from Spotify and Youtube to put them through a loudness analyser.

Interestingly the Youtube tracks both appear as you'd expect at bang on the -14 LUFS target with their peak level at around -5 / -6dBFS.

But on the Spotify tracks, example one is 5.9 LUFS over the -14 target and example 2 is 6.2 over.
They are pretty much CD loudness.

Here's an image of the two sets of waveforms next to each other with a track I've been working on for comparison.
Image
The two spotify tracks are at the top, followed by their volume-reduced youtube equivalents.

So has Spotify abandoned loudness normalisation? If so, is this a good move on their part so that they can be louder than their competitors? Or a bad move because their listeners will constantly be on the volume control? Is that even an issue with most people listening on their phones?
But the big question is will other streaming services follow suit and abandon one of the best things to happen to music in the last decade?

Answers on a postcard please.

P.S. has anyone here recently tried a much louder recording to Spotify? Did it stay loud or was it turned down?
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Re: Should we be bracing for a return to the loudness wars?

Post by RichardT »

Hi Drew,

Could you check to ensure you have loudness normalisation turned on in your playback settings?

That second track in particular is a monstrosity!
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Re: Should we be bracing for a return to the loudness wars?

Post by blinddrew »

Oh I thought it was a default?
Did I mention I don't use it much? :D
I'll check in the morning as I've logged off that machine now.
Makes me wonder how many people have it switched on if it's not the default.
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Re: Should we be bracing for a return to the loudness wars?

Post by James Perrett »

I think that they only apply loudness normalisation to playlists. If you are listening to a whole album or single tracks they will play at the loudness supplied to Spotify.

However, I've not actually checked so I could be wrong.
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Re: Should we be bracing for a return to the loudness wars?

Post by Hugh Robjohns »

I don't use Spotify so I can't comment, but you could ask Ian Shepherd as he keeps very up to date on this stuff.

One of the big issues with loudness normalising is a chicken and egg problem with headphone output levels in portable consumer equipment -- smart phones, iPods etc.

The EU mandated a maximum output volume for equipment feeding earphones as a safety precaution to protect their citizens' ears. This was a great idea back in the days of peak normalisation.... but as usual with the EU it took so bloomin' long for them to actually enact the rule that the world had moved on several light years and introduced loudness normalisation as a much better solution.

So now we have a problem where the average volume is 14dB lower than in a peak-normalised situation, so the end users need up to 14dB more volume on their earbuds... but they can't turn it up enough because the EU says they're not allowed to. So now tracks are nicely balanced and consistent, but too quiet to hear properly.

Naturally, user complaints then come flooding back in to the streaming services saying this isn't loud enough.... That's one reason why some of the streamers are hovering around -12 and -14LUFS rather than the AES-recommended -16 and the ideal -24LUFS. We might get to a sensible place in the end, but probably not in my lifetime!
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Re: Should we be bracing for a return to the loudness wars?

Post by blinddrew »

Following Richard's question last night, I downloaded the app to my phone and that has defaulted to loudness normalisation. :thumbup:
But on the browser player, on Chrome or Edge, I can't even find that as a setting.

The loudness normalisation in their blurb suggests that it's applied at album level or at playlist level (unless the user turns it off). But both of those tracks I tested last night were from the album streams.
Here's the wording: https://artists.spotify.com/help/articl ... malization

While I was looking around last night I found some reports from earlier this year that say about 60% of listens are on mobile devices (so one would assume most are loudness normalised) but 40% are still desktop/laptop listens, where it would appear that's not default (if it's an option at all).
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Re: Should we be bracing for a return to the loudness wars?

Post by BJG145 »

The top of that link says:

Note: The web player and 3rd-party devices (e.g. speakers and TVs) don’t use loudness normalization.

Does surprise me, I thought it was all over streaming services nowadays.
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Re: Should we be bracing for a return to the loudness wars?

Post by Hugh Robjohns »

blinddrew wrote:Here's the wording: https://artists.spotify.com/help/articl ... malization

Remarkably informative, helpful, and accurate information! Good for Spotify! :clap::thumbup::D
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Re: Should we be bracing for a return to the loudness wars?

Post by RichardT »

BJG145 wrote:The top of that link says:

Note: The web player and 3rd-party devices (e.g. speakers and TVs) don’t use loudness normalization.

Does surprise me, I thought it was all over streaming services nowadays.

Me too!
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Re: Should we be bracing for a return to the loudness wars?

Post by Luke W »

RichardT wrote:
BJG145 wrote:The top of that link says:

Note: The web player and 3rd-party devices (e.g. speakers and TVs) don’t use loudness normalization.

Does surprise me, I thought it was all over streaming services nowadays.

Me too!

Yep, I'd also assumed that it was the default across all devices.
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Re: Should we be bracing for a return to the loudness wars?

Post by blinddrew »

Doh!

That explains it then. :headbang:

Still a bit of a weird decision though.
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