When I was asked to DJ Exotica music on a boat recently I had to burn some vinyl of mine to CD. So I could see the sound waves and made two screenshots of the perfectly mastered Arthur Lyman album Bahia.
The reason I chose this one was that the loudest and first track I ripped peaked at 0dB without the limiter catching it. I just left the dials to their own devices and hoped I can capture the entire album with this “magic” setting. It was just plain luck. So I ripped this particular vinyl record without any additional limiting or compression, peaking at 0dB and all the music of that album perfectly relative to that peak.
When you see the soundwaves you will recogn that each one has got its own shape. This means that the creativity of the musicians is reflected in the volume at any given point in time, allowing for drama, surprises and expression. Sure there was some kind of processing going on even in those days, but it was to get a good, hi-fi sound at the end-consumer, with the goal being a natural room impression – heavy compression doesn’t allow that. See that one very quiet track – it’s meant to be that way. How they made it? They played their instruments softer. You have to be quiet yourself to clearly hear it, you start interacting with the music.
It all made me realize on a new level, what beautiful works of art music masters can be.
Here are two Heavy Metal soundfiles for comparison. It’s the same track, the upper, more dynamic one was given to a game company, the lower one is from the CD album. Wether this was a mistake or the less dynamic sound was considered more desireable I don’t know.