If you didn't know what it is already, read this first:
No, it has nothing to do with your MP3 player being loud and new albums damaging your ears, if you're thinking so you probably have not read the above article and/or knew nuts about dynamic range compression.
If you prefer this satirical site's straightforward explanation instead of swimming your way through wikipedia, dynamic range compressions makes the difference between loud and soft sounds less. The result is you hear music loud all the time, the downside is it does not sound as loud as it should be when it is really needed, also you lose details when that happens, apart from distortions.
In the most extreme cases, to the trained ears, you can clearly hear when the volume has been obviously reduced. Though this does not happen as often nowadays as it did ten years ago.
The loss of detail part is easy to understand - imagine sound A at 60dB, and sound B at 60dB. Together they would produce a complex superimposed waveform at >60dB, but thanks to compression, you don't get exactly that. So both sounds becomes softer.
Oh that fking sucks. I just realized this while listening to music on my way home today. I was concentrated on a particular instrument when the chorus came in and "drowned out" the instrument. To be precise the instrument got softer instead along with the rest of the song so that it stays at the same volume level.
That explains why certain songs suddenly get softer at a certain point of the song, and it's not due to my ears. When my ears suddenly become softer I lose at least 25dB of hearing. This one may be just a couple of dBs, but it can get irritating.
So, how can it be actually beneficial?
You have to view it as a double-edged sword. There must be a reason why mastering engineers chose to do this.
And being loud is precisely that reason in the first place. You want music to be loud all the time. Hence you reduce the difference between soft and loud sounds. Have you heard heavy metal that is soft?
While the loss of dynamic range is definitely destructive, it does not make you any more deaf. In fact, speakers can't make any more sound than they are allowed to. It's the fucking volume knob, you conservative know-it-all talkshow motherfuckers. So what if the volume is 85dB (the hearing limit to avoid hearing loss for prolonged periods btw), with the compression, at least we know it's 85dB ALL THE TIME. Without it, the dynamic range can be as great as 20dB. That means if you adjusted the volume to 85dB because it is just right for you, you can suddenly get 105dB at the climax. How's that for hearing damage, idiots.
The real real-life usefulness of dynamic range compression, comes from portable usage actually. Imagine a constant ambient noise of 40dB. If soft parts are really that soft, you won't be able to hear them over the din. Yet it you turn up the volume, see above paragraph. Hence, compression gives you a safe way to enjoy your music by actually hearing it.
It also allows you to listen to music at night without disturbing your neighbours, same reason. It is actually known as "Quiet Mode" in Windows Media Player, as this things really works best when your music is quiet, absolute or relative.
Another possible but unexploited usefulness is that you can store more data for the quiet scenes, then expand the dynamic range later on. The same concept is used for older analogue recording mediums for a different reason. But we can use it again, both to solve a problem and to improve the sound quality at the same time. Pity we don't know how each and every piece of music is remaster in order for this to work.
Uncompressed music would be nice, when you have the environment and conditions for it to sound as loud and clean as it's supposed to be (usually requiring a live band or freaking good speakers to reproduce a live band). Until then, lets rock to the constand-volume music.
W A R N I N G !
W A R N I N G !
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