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Loudness War in Sound Engineering


One of the most controversial trends in sound engineering is the so-called “loudness war.” This name describes the practice of parallel compression that makes the record louder, but at the expense of the dynamic range. This practice results in the loss of sound detail and does not utilize the full potential of the allowed bitrate. This paper will cover the reasons behind the loudness war, whether these records would have to be remastered in the future, and how streaming media has affected this phenomenon.

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One of the primary reasons behind this practice is the desire of the music labels to cater to the radio market. This “loudness” is the result of compression done to normalize the sound, making quiet moments of the record as loud as all the other ones. This normalization has a perceived benefit for the radio stations because, in theory, it would prevent listeners from having to adjust the volume on their radios. This is especially important in the case of people who listen to the radio while driving. No distraction should be permitted, so the radio stations tend to prefer records that have gone through this procedure (Seagull par. 5). Another reason lies in the environment that the music is often listened to today. High dynamic range had a clear benefit when people could only listen to music at home and on a high-quality machine. It is much harder to hear the benefit of it while driving a loud car. The noise in the cabin drowns out the quiet parts of the record, removing the benefit of the high dynamic range for the driver (Jones par. 12).

Many engineers point out that this is not a new trend, it has existed since the beginning of music mastering. However, in the recent years, it has become a clear problem. The records are much louder than before and are getting louder at a much faster pace (Jones par. 5). The start of this dramatic increase is often placed at the 1990s. With the popularity of Compact Disks, high-quality digital recordings became available for people to listen in their cars and on the go. This availability led to a desire to make certain records stand out by increasing their volume. In turn, this move created a perception that loud records are more attractive to the modern listener, and with the popularity of noisy styles of music like Grunge, it seemed like not a lot would be lost by applying this practice. Unfortunately, this led to the further increase in compression among other records too. Loudness became competitive. However, all evidence points to the fact that loudness does not affect the purchasing decisions of the customers, so the benefit of this is very questionable.

Modern portable sound systems are much more capable of playing high-quality music, than those from the 1990s. This fact slowly brings attention to the issues of the loudness war. Concerned listeners are organizing petitions and movements to inform the music industry about their preferences, and some artists support them. Some albums, however, would have to be completely remastered in the future. Even if loudness stops being a trend, albums released during this period would have to be remastered to gain the full dynamic range, intended by the musician. A similar issue is seen in the popularity of music streaming services. They often use an improper sound normalization. It prevents the albums from sounding like they were intended, and many users have already expressed concern about this issue (“Dynamic Range Day”).


High dynamic range is important for the complete music experience. The loudness war is making it difficult to gain this complete experience, even in the home environment. Hopefully, in the future, it will become less of a concern.

Works Cited

Dynamic Range Day. Mastering Media Ltd, 2017, Web.

Jones, Sarah. “The Big Squeeze.” Mix Online, 2005, Web.

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Seagull, Robert. “The Loudness Wars: Why Music Sounds Worse.” NPR, 2009, Web.

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StudyCorgi. "Loudness War in Sound Engineering." December 12, 2020.


StudyCorgi. 2020. "Loudness War in Sound Engineering." December 12, 2020.


StudyCorgi. (2020) 'Loudness War in Sound Engineering'. 12 December.

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