Loudness War

Top: Dynamic range. Bottom: Dynamic pain.note 

"I like my music like I like my life — everything louder than everything else."

Before we begin, this article isn't about cranking up your stereo; it's about the music itself and the media it's etched or printed onto.

Ever since the dawn of humanity, it's been a known fact that people respond more easily to louder audio stimuli. Thus the illusion that "LOUDER = BETTER". With the advent of music recording technology, the music industry sought to capitalize on this; if our album is louder than their album, and the listeners don't adjust their volume dials to compensate (or can't, if they're hearing it in a bar, a gramophone with no volume dial etc.), our album will sound better! But, they hit one tiny obstacle along the way: Vinyl records have an absolute limit on how loud they can be. The search for loudness became easier with the introduction of the compact disc in 1982, which besides a larger storage space also boasted an improved dynamic range (about 90 dB.)

Any recording medium has an absolute limit when it comes to amplitude, and compact discs are no exception. Once audio engineers managed to max out, the only solution to go even more Up to Eleven and out-loud those other CDs was to break out the dynamic range compression, which squashes every bit up to the same volume level, causing listener fatigue. The often-used analogy here is that of attempting to read a text written entirely in capitals with a huge font. In movies, Orange/Blue Contrast has a similar effect; since the contrast is pleasing to the eye, producers will push at as far as possible, often over-saturating the film in these colours and squashing out more subtle colours entirely.

Compression is not inherently bad. Used with a light touch, it "smooths out" recordings to remove unintentional volume spikes, caused by random fluctuations during recording or by layering the "loud moments" of two instrument tracks on top of each other (not unlike using sandpaper to minimize jagged edges on a wood carving). This can give an album a fuller sound and more consistent volume across tracks. But when taken too far, it can result in severe clipping, unpleasant and harsh-sounding distortion that happens when the signal is pushed to the saturation point. An important thing to note, compressing music from a lossless format such as CD or WAV to a format like MP3 or AAC (especially MP3) makes clipping even worse (hence Mastered for iTunes being meant to reduce clipping) due to the peak ranges of the signal being reduced and cut off. This is common with music that is not necessarily clipping in lossless formats but is still brickwalled. Despite this, AAC masks the artifacts of clipping almost perfectly while MP3 does not, even at the highest bit rate.

The absolute peak of loudness started slowly creeping up in 1995, when Owen Morris mastered Oasis' (What's the Story) Morning Glory? to -8 dB RMS. Since then the tendency has been to make records louder. The resulting loudness war is due to a variety of factors, such as commercial concerns, stupid executives, following the leader or listeners / musicians who are unaware of this phenomenon, can't tell the difference and don't care, actually LIKE how it sounds, or are taking advantage of it for artistic purposes.

One of the most egregious aspects of the industry's reliance on increasing loudness is that hundreds of albums that originally had good dynamic range are now being "digitally remastered" with almost completely brickwalled peak levels.

By contrast, one of the sadder aspects that Nick Southall highlighted was the belief that if you master the songs loud, they'll be played more on the radio. It doesn't work like that: Radio stations (as well as TV stations) have their own compressors and equalisers to squash everything up to the same volume, with the result that any CD will get loudness war'd for broadcast and an already hyper-compressed CD will just sound like shit squared.

This is the main reason why people say vinyl records are "higher quality" (besides personal taste reasons such as the crackle and hum of records). The inherent quality of CDs is far better than records, but since "records are for audiophiles", there is far less incentive for audio engineers to trade-off quality for loudness on records. Additionally, vinyls have a smaller dynamic range, and any attempt to pull loudness war stunts on them will usually just throw off the needle or make them unplayable. The Irony in all this is that digital formats like the CD finally made it possible to make audio as quiet as you wanted without any analog hiss obscuring it, but with a lot of equipment out there accommodating the audio levels of the War, exploiting this quality will often make things simply too quiet to hear.

For further information, Imperfect Sound Forever is required reading. More information is available online, including these two videos that do a great job of providing abbreviated explanations. There's also a 20-page forum thread dedicated to poorly mastered albums for examples. See also this, to show things are more complicated than they seem. A website allows you to use offline software to measure the dynamic range of a CD, express it as a number and add it to its ever-growing database.

There are algorithms that can be used to repair clipped audio to a certain extent; none of them are perfect, but they will generally produce end results that sound better than the commercially released versions with clipping. More info on one of them is available here. (Note that the next page of the forum thread in this link contains rather disorganised information on Adobe Audition's declipper, which is much more sophisticated and produces much better-sounding results but does not have the benefit of being free software.)

(Alternatively, a quick, cheap partial solution, using a program like Nero Wave Editor, is to simply reduce the bass using the graphic equalizer, since bass-boosting is usually part of the loudness enhancement process. If done properly the bass-reduced version will sound only marginally 'thinner' than the original, while having more peak fluctuations; the "Normalize" function can also be used to adjust the volume of sections of the song, although care must be taken to avoid sudden jumps in volume between sections.)

One potential way to find non-loud versions of songs is that video clips posted to video services like YouTube often avoid the loudness issue as they are mastered separately. In many cases, versions of albums that are specially mastered for iTunes (which are often advertised as being such) also have more dynamic range (although frequently you can only buy these in lossy versions, which carry their own problems; fortunately, the compression algorithm used to sell iTunes music in .aac format is very, very good, to the point where many people will not be able to tell the difference from a lossless source). Failing that, people will Keep Circulating the Tapes of whichever version is the least clipped, or even look for places to rip masters from (full-band Rhythm Games are one source) so they can try their hand at mixing themselves.

When loud music is used as a weapon, that's Loud of War. Not to be confused with Lodoss War.

Examples

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     Compression for stylistic reasons 
  • One of the first examples is The Rolling Stones' single "Have You Seen Your Mother Baby, Standing In The Shadow". Although it's never been explained why, contemporary recording standards suggest that it must have been deliberate.
  • One of the most infamous examples is Iggy Pop's 1997 remaster of Raw Power by The Stooges, being constantly in the red and occasionally averaging -4 dBFS. The album was intended to sound loud, blunt, and unsubtle, but there's a difference between "exhilaratingly loud" and "headache-inducing, unlistenable sonic mess". Even his bandmates James Williamson and Ron Asheton think he fucked up horribly here. This is often cited as an example of an artistic use of the phenomenon, as Iggy Pop has been cited as saying he wanted to "recreate the feel of an old, worn-out vinyl". Given the overwhelming amount of crackling, distorted midrange on the disc, it's easy to say this goal was at least somewhat accomplished. However, given that the results often cause listener fatigue, most people wish he had used some other method of creating this feel.
    • There is hope, however: Sony released the "Master Edition" in April 2010 with the original David Bowie mix reinstated and slightly beefed-up to fix some of the valid criticisms of his original mix (inaudible bass and the like). It just might be the first step towards reversing the trend in general. Even better was a 2012 vinyl remaster, which is discussed further under "Aversions".
  • Strapping Young Lad invokes this for the sole purpose of creating a gigantic and unrelenting wall of sound. It's unpleasant, but that's the point. (Note that while all SYL CDs are horribly brickwalled, only Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing and The New Black are clipped). Averted somewhat on the vinyl editions, which are significantly quieter.
    • Devin Townsend's solo album Terria is notable for having a very compressed bass drum which gives the album a unique feel. Ironically, this is one of his quietest masters.
  • Many acts on Ed Banger Records, like Justice, SebastiAn and Vicarious Bliss, who use absurd amounts of compression to create a signature sound, and in Justice's case, using digital noise and clipping as an instrument.
  • Virtually any recent act that psych-rock producer David Fridmann has worked with, like The Flaming Lips, MGMT and Tame Impala. It can be traced back to MGMT's Oracular Spectacular: They asked Fridmann to turn up the gain to make it sound "dirty", turning "Kids" in particular from this to this.
    • In defense of Dave Fridmann, Kliph Scurlock, The Flaming Lips' drummer has this to say, implying that it's the bands who push for brickwalling instead of Fridmann himself (taken from this post):
    "I've seen things written here and there that it's all Dave and that he a 'habitual ruiner' of recordings, but I'll go on record right now as saying that Dave never tries to 'pull a fast one' over on bands and we know exactly how things sound when we leave his studio. In fact, he's fought for this song or that song to be quieter overall on more than one occasion."
  • The alternative rock band Sleigh Bells went for an intentionally compressed sound, although their guitarist Derek Miller later admitted that his own music's loudness was annoying to him.
  • Queens of the Stone Age's Songs For The Deaf. The entire album is supposed to sound like it's being listened to on a car stereo.
    • For the curious: album gain -10.88 dB. And Rated R two years earlier has an album gain of -9.92, which casts doubt on the "car stereo" theory.
      • This is likely due to the fact that Songs for the Deaf has an extremely dark, bass-heavy mix, and ReplayGain uses loudness contour analysis to determine how loud an album actually sounds vs. how loud it actually is. Lower-end frequencies don't trigger higher values nearly as much as upper-midrange signals—Songs for the Deaf is notably abundant in the former and lacking in the latter. Recent updates to the ReplayGain system have leveled out in this area, becoming closer to the absolute-volume RMS standard.
  • Intentionally invoked by a number of Noise and early Industrial artists, most notably by Whitehouse on Birthdeath Experience (1979) and Right To Kill (1984), on which everything is "in the red". Hell Is That Noise, indeed. Averted by legendary harsh-noise artist Merzbow, whose production tends to be frighteningly clear.
  • Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, inexplicably, is really badly clipped, especially considering it's a folk album. May be a side effect of the lo-fi aesthetic Jeff Mangum was going for (the band actually lists "white noise" as a musical instrument), but it's still really, really weird. Despite the fact that a rather substantial portion of the album is just acoustic guitar and voice, if you look at the zoomed-out waveform of the album there are almost no dynamics to be found.
  • Experimental hip-hop group Death Grips. Exmilitary, their debut album/mixtape has an album gain of -13.04dB. One song, "Spread Eagle Cross the Block", has an insane ReplayGain value of -14.64dB. No Love Deep Web, their third album also uses very heavy distortion but not quite to the extent of their debut (album gain of -11.62dB, the loudest song at -13.13dB). Their other album, The Money Store is still loud but not as loud as the other two.
    • They've also released the stems for Exmilitary on their website (as Black Google) to encourage remixing (with the side effect that people can make their own de-loudness war'd mixes) and released an "unmastered" version of The Money Store which is nowhere near as loud.
  • Japanese noise rock band Guitar Wolf intentionally try to be as loud as possible. You have been warned.
    • Incidentally, they apparently aren't too fond of the loudness war, because back when they started out, their music being as loud as it was made it pretty much unique, whereas now their music sounds almost normal. It's also worth noting that Jet Generation came with a sticker saying, "Warning: this is the loudest album ever recorded. Playing at normal volume may cause irreparable damage to stereo equipment. Use at your own risk."
  • Ulver's Black Metal album Nattens Madrigal has a ReplayGain value of -16.22 dB, which indicates a gigantic amount of volume compression (especially considering that there are probably five minutes' worth of ambient passages between the tracks dragging the values down somewhat). This was likely a deliberate aesthetic choice to make the album's production even colder. It's also worth noting that, while Nattens Madrigal is notorious for having horrible production (there is an Urban Legend that it was recorded in a forest, which the band has dismissed as impossible), the band took care to avoid any clipping when mastering it. Unfortunately, they were not as careful with the band's later album Blood Inside (recorded in a completely different style, as Ulver are wont to do), which is significantly less compressed but still has clipping. Most of the rest of Ulver's discography averts this trope, being mastered at more reasonable levels.
    • The remaster of Nattens on Trolsk Sortmetall averts this. Unfortunately, the version of Bergtatt on the same release is louder than the original.
  • Folk Metal band Moonsorrow consistently use compression and distortion to give a larger than life sound to their albums. This is most noticeable on their debut Suden Uni, their 2007 album V:Havititty and their 2008 EP Tulimyrsky.
  • Frequently intentionally invoked by Hellektro bands such as Suicide Commando, whose Implements of Hell album is almost solidly brickwalled as well as having horrendous clipping on par with Death Magnetic.
  • Subverted with Rachael Please, whose tracks are ridiculously clipped in order to get the effect he wants.
  • Intentionally used by most dubstep artists, including Skrillex(except for the vinyls) and Bassnectar.
    Amusing casualties 
  • Because the dynamic range of most digital music is squeezed right near the top of the format's capacity, the available volume settings in many modern mobile devices such as the iPod are literally incapable of playing correctly recorded digital audio at the proper volume. This means that even with the internal amplifier at maximum volume through the included headset, what should be normal passages are quiet, and intended quiet passages are inaudibly soft.
    • It seems half the comments on the YouTube showing of Star Trek: The Original Series (only available to Americans) are about the advertisements being way, way, WAY louder than the low-levelled audio. Video advertisements being infamously louder than TV programs (with much of the same brickwalled audio quality that even the uninitiated can recognize as 'sounding like a commercial'), and the TV program being leveled at about what you might get in the 1960s (or maybe a DVD), suddenly the advertisements get perfectly normal people screaming to all-out boycott the products advertised.
      • This comes up in Australia every few months.
  • Recent NHL Hockey games have touted being able to import custom audio for use as in-game music or sound effects. Unfortunately, the pre-existing audio is amplified so much that the feature is nearly useless. While you can increase the game's music volume in order to hear the imported songs, not all of the pre-existing sounds can be replaced, meaning you run the risk of blowing out your eardrums.
    Aversions 
  • In the early days of the CD format in the '80s there was, if anything, a softness war, since one of the selling points of CDs was actually how quiet they were in comparison with the surface noise of vinyl, the hiss of tape, etc. This was exacerbated by the popularity of noise-reduction processes like Sonic Solutions and Cedar when mastering older titles.
  • For the most part, this phenomenon is not present in the less commercial genres, such as classical, opera, jazz, orchestral movie soundtracks, and most musicals, due to the loudness of the sound (and lack thereof) being, in itself, a crucial element of the music. Ditto for the more "rootsy" genres such as folk and bluegrass, which put an emphasis on having a natural organic sound versus a slickly-produced one.
    • Only holds true for Old Europe classical/opera. Some of the Russian masters appear to have been 'remastered' by Rubins. The Black Dog remaster of Prokofiev's Alexandr Nevsky flings itself from silent to blistering with barely any padding in between. Generally speaking, the more 'nationalistic' the tone of the piece, the more likely it gets brickwalled. Insert snarky puns about Berlin here.
  • Guns N' Roses, of all bands, managed to mostly avert this trope. Other than "The Spaghetti Incident?",note  their studio albums were always a healthy DR9 or higher. It helps that Axl began working on Chinese Democracy before the loudness war reached full steam, and only finished when there was a strong backlash against it.
  • We all know that the 1997 remaster of The Stooges' Raw Power is atrocious, but the 2010 Legacy Edition is a hell of a lot better. It's a remaster of the original David Bowie mix. The remix Iggy Pop made for the 1997 remaster turned everything up to match the lead guitar, after which everything was turned up even louder. The original mix has the lead guitar standing out in the mix in order to be intentionally unpleasant, but with a merciful master it's audio ambrosia compared to the 1997 version. There are times when it sounds like you're listening to a skilled cover band. An ideal version would turn the lead guitar down and use the 2010 master.
    • The 2012 vinyl remaster of Iggy's mix removes all the clipping while keeping its improvements (better levels for the instruments, more punch to the guitars, better midrange and bass presence, etc.). This is now the definitive version.
  • The new stereo Beatles remasters received a minimal amount of peak limiting: not to make the songs louder, but to keep a consistent overall volume across the albums while maintaining the original dynamics. The mono remasters did not have any peak limiting used on them.
  • Rivers Cuomo of Weezer once made the observation that Weezer's first record (The Blue Album) was mixed low, so as to sound better when turned up through a stereo, and said that it "Our album sounds like crap if you have it low". This was most likely due to the influence of audiophile producer Ric Ocasek, as most of their records since have various degrees of clipping - even Pinkerton, which has a good dynamic range, still has some clipped peaks. The Green Album is infamous for having a completely flat, claustrophobic mix except for "Island in the Sun" (the only song on the album with some sense of space!), Maladroit is similarly brickwalled, Make Believe, The Red Album and Raditude suffer from Rick Rubin being involved, and it seems that their move to an indie label with Hurley hasn't weaned them off loudness warring their albums.
  • The Cure's Disintegration mentions in its liner notes how it was mixed to be played loud and that one should start turning up the volume. The remastered version was much louder than the original, which was criticized on its release.
  • Porcupine Tree. Singer-Songwriter-Guitarist Steven Wilson is a self-producer and is adamantly opposed to this. He considered putting "Please note that this record may not be mastered as loudly as some of the other records in your collection. This is in order to retain the dynamic range and subtlety of the music. Please, use your volume knob" on the sleeves of the Deadwing album. Unfortunately, the CD version of the album got fucked in mastering, and only the DVD-Audio version is properly mastered (this also affected the CD of In Absentia). All other PT albums since have been mastered at lower levels.
    • It is worth noting that even the DVD-Audio version of In Absentia is horribly clipped. Seriously, who the hell thinks clipping a 5.1 DVD-A mix is a good idea?
  • Hot Hot Heat have songs such as "Jingle Jangle" with impressive dynamic range, going from a quiet acoustic feel to a loud, jangly, catchy-as-hell song and back again. They've said in the past that they try to take control of making their albums to avoid having any label induced sourness.
  • 65daysofstatic were inspired by this article on dynamic range compression to produce their album The Destruction Of Small Ideas much more quietly than their previous two, as mentioned in this interview with the band by the author of the aforementioned article. As a result, while the production on The Destruction Of Small Ideas is harder to get a grip of, the overall sound quality is much better.
  • All but the last 2 remastered Depeche Mode albums avoid this...partially. Like the Beatles remasters, they're louder, but still have their dynamic range. The clipping is minimal...for the most part. This is presumably thanks to Alan Wilder supervising the remastering of the albums from when he was in the band.
  • Spinal Tap. Their speakers may go to eleven, but their albums? Less so.
  • With Devin Townsend's new(er) album Ki (which he also produced), he announced "I officially pull my hat out of the loudness wars."
    • He's still making good on that promise with the follow-up, Addicted!, despite it being a ton heavier than Ki.
    • I find these claims kind of strange, because Addicted and Deconstruction in particular are brickwalled, and in fact audibly clipped. They're less clipped than a lot of his earlier recordings, but Deconstruction has a ReplayGain value of -10.14 dB, which indicates quite a bit of compression. Addicted is -9.86. Ki is -7.57, which is better, but there is still clipping on a few parts. Even the "ambient" album Ghost (ReplayGain -6.23) has clipping on a few tracks, although it's nowhere near as prevalent. Ki and Ghost at least actually have dynamics. Most songs on Deconstruction and Addicted, by contrast, do not.
    • While Ki is at times dynamic, as its worst, it is far worse than even Deconstruction. The ReplayGain on the last 45 seconds of the title track comes in at -13.47 dB!
    • Sadly, Epicloud his newest album also, like the name suggests, is loud. Just listen to the first few seconds of the remake of Kingdom
    • He finally actually averted the Loudness War with Casualties of Cool which is a DR 10 master and sounds great.
  • Soundgarden's career (before their reunion) ran its course before this trope really came into its own, but it was beginning to creep up. Superunknown, the band's first major mainstream hit, has a higher overall volume than any previous Soundgarden albums — which is to be expected — but also higher than that of the follow-up, Down on the Upside. This makes sense when you find out that DOTU was largely self-produced and that the band members generally favored minimalistic production (they frequently mentioned their annoyance with Superunknown's producer Michael Beinhorn, calling him "anal" about sounds and being frustrated at taking days to record a single song).
    • Superunknown is actually a rather notable aversion to this trope in that it was a few decibels below the surrounding rock albums of the time. Whereas most had been amplified to the point where they would consistently peak, Superunknown stayed true to the standards of the past several years with noticeable headroom and minimal clipping.
  • Averted by Los Lonely Boys on their debut album. Producer John Porter intentionally tried not to make it too loud, and it worked. Their later albums, on the other hand...
  • Cult pomp-rock band The Enid generally avoid brickwalling, although some of their more recent remasters have used a bit of it on peaks. The CD reissues of their first two albums from 1976-7 (long-delayed for legal reasons) avoid it altogether.
  • The Doors' 40th Anniversary remasters generally avoid it, although there are one or two odd exceptions like "The Wasp".
  • Swans. Loud enough to get banned from Switzerland, yet always recorded with perfectionistic clarity, thanks to front-man/producer Michael Gira. Some of their albums have brickwalling issues, but knowing Gira, it was almost certainly an intentional attempt to create a harsher, more abrasive sound.
  • Skinny Puppy's The Greater Wrong of the Right is fairly loud, but retains decent dynamic range, in contrast with most contemporary industrial albums, which are brickwalled to hell, as mentioned above. Mythmaker, while not totally brickwalled, is somewhat more compressed. Also averted with the remasters of their 80's albums, including Rabies, whose original was accidentally mastered with Dolby Noise Reduction (not so much the "re-remaster" from the early 2000's). Likewise for OhGr's solo albums.
    • Even better are Handover and Weapon.
  • The Seldom Seen Kid, along with most of Elbow's discography, has managed to roughly keep volume at a reasonable level. This may have something to do with the fact they've self-produced all their albums since 2005.
    • In fact, it has a message on the back saying to play it loudly.
  • Nine Inch Nails, for the most part. Trent Reznor has always walked a fine line between audiophilic auteur and pop musician, so most of his 1990–2010 output is compressed enough to maintain consistent loudness and maximize the potential of the CD format without brickwalling or distorting anything (that wasn't supposed to be distorted). There was, however, some controversy over the 2010 re-master of 1989's Pretty Hate Machine, supervised by Reznor and Tom Baker (no, not that Tom Baker). First impressions of some of the preview clips suggested that it may have been brickwalled. But it turned out that while it was undeniably louder on average, and a select handful of moments were made less dynamic (like the twice-as-loud-as-everything-else synth burst in "Sanctified"), Reznor & Baker were still careful to ensure that it didn't become an indistinct, brickwalled mess.
    • To be fair, while Trent does like to keep the overall dynamics of his songs intact, he also likes boost them to clip-happy levels. Broken and The Downward Spiral averted this somewhat due to the more modest standards of their time, but once time for The Fragile came around, boy did he let loose.
    • The European vinyl edition of Hesitation Marks (2013), which was cut from an alternate version of the "audiophile version", comes out to DR10. The downloadable audiophile version is DR6.
  • Frontline Assembly's Improvised Electronic Device, like the previously mentioned Skinny Puppy albums, is loud, but avoids clipping for the most part, unlike Artificial Soldier. Ditto Echogenetic.
  • One weird early example: the 1973 album Wizzard Brew by Roy Wood’s Wizzard was deliberately subjected to heavy amounts of compression and distortion, with VU meters pushed heavily into the red. Early consumers thought this was some sort of audio defect, not an artistic choice. It actually sounds less distorted than many commercially produced CDs these days!
  • Sunn O))), in order to retain fidelity at their substantial low end, defy their live reputation by mixing their albums quiet. Their mantra, "Maximum Volume Yields Maximum Results", is basically an instruction to the listener to turn the CDs up themselves.
  • The Cult's Beyond Good and Evil may appear to have only the vocals mixed high in the mix, but listeners who turn up the volume even more to really feel the bass will have their ears ringing the next day.
  • Iced Earth, a heavy metal band, has thankfully bucked this trend. Their album remasters do not have any compression applied (but minimal normalization to make the sound even) and have improved sound quality due to being recompiled from the original multitracks, with previously subdued being made louder in the mix, but the overall tracks not being that much louder than the original recordings.
    • Horror Show and The Glorious Burden have it, but the rest of their albums, including remasters, are ok.
  • The 2011 Legacy Editions of the Peter Tosh albums Legalize It and Equal Rights avert this with by retaining all their dynamics and having waveforms that look like they come from 80s CDs.
  • Overclocked Remix demands a reasonable level, regardless of whether the song was produced by instruments or computers, to the point that high-demand piano mixes have been delayed\rejected due to distortion problems.
  • The 2008 expanded remaster of The Prodigy's Music for the Jilted Generation.
  • Binary Finary averted this with their Lost Tracks digital compilation and their recent collaboration singles.
  • The 2011 remasters of The Smashing Pumpkins' Gish and Siamese Dream averted this. They're plenty loud while preserving the dynamics and original mixes while being brighter.
    • Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness also averted this trope upon their respective releases by being mastered with the intent of having a good amount of headroom left while the band's contemporaries were content to hammer the 0 line with each snare hit.
  • While Vlado Meller is reviled by many audiophiles nowadays due to his excessive brickwalling, it's interesting (and almost hard to believe) to note that he was responsible for mastering 1994's The Sweetest Illusion by Basia. Pretty much no clipping to be found. Example here.
  • For the most part, the 2011 Queen remasters try to avoid this, trying to remaster the albums in a similar manner to The Beatles, and they are mainly bought for the newly discovered demos on the second discs on each album. Most reviews are favorable because of the way the sound clarity in the older albums are now
  • The 2011 Pink Floyd remasters avert this trope almost as adeptly as the 2009 Beatles remasters.
    • So, putting the obvious joke out of the way: The Wall isn't brickwalled.
      • They're still compressed, though. "When the Tigers Broke Free" on CD has much less dynamic range than the version used on the DVD of Pink Floyd: The Wall.
    • They've continued averting the loudness war with their latest album, The Endless River, which comes in at a glorious DR11.
  • Jerrod Niemann and producer Dave Brainard mixed Judge Jerrod & the Hung Jury analog. Between the lower mixing and heavier reliance on acoustic instruments, the album is noticeably quieter and less processed than most other country music.
  • Squarepusher CDs are always mastered at a sensible level. Many electronic artists (or their mastering engineer or label) simply assume their "real" fans wouldn't buy a CD.
  • Yuki Kajiura's music is usually relatively loud, but it does employ dynamic range and its loudness is a conscious artistic choice that's accounted for by other elements of the production.
  • A large many video games will actually have the default audio settings set up to where the player can barely hear the background music, unless they turn up the volume on the TV so loud that the sound effects are deafening. The intent of this is roughly the exact opposite of the trope; music that distracts from gameplay is usually a Bad Thing, and lowering the volume is a quick-and-easy way to make it less distracting.
    • EA's Frostbite Engine has audio mixing features that drown out sound effects the game deems are unimportant, like the radio from a car, when something like an explosion occurs.
  • Video games in general actually avert this for some strange reason. At least, PC games do. Fire up any modern music you have and adjust the volume to taste. Then play a game. Chances are, the game's rather quiet.
  • There are several engineers who outright refuse to brickwall anything they touch. Steve Hoffman, Doug Sax, Vic Anesini, recent Bob Ludwig, and Kevin Gray are some of the best known. Any remaster by one of these, you're probably good.
    • George Marino's work was, for the most part, anything but brickwalled. Sadly, Marino died in 2012.
    • Colin Marston's mastering is almost always incredibly dynamic by modern metal standards, usually being around DR8-DR10.
  • All of Kraftwerk's remasters avert this.
  • The 2009 Procol Harum remasters pretty much go the Pink Floyd route, compressed but not brickwalled, although their later albums appear to have less dynamic range.
  • Given the substantial role played by dynamics in Post-Rock, it's not surprising that many releases in the genre avert this. Crescendocore doesn't exactly work if there's no room for a crescendo.
  • The Can remasters. Compressed? Definitely. Brickwalled? Definitely not. Lacking in dynamics? Hardly. The SACD layer is quieter without being much more dynamic.
  • Mark Kozelek of Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon works really hard to make sure that the albums he records are only mixed/mastered by him as to avoid this. Seeing as how he owns his own record company now, it doesn't even seem to be an issue. Caldo Verde records has been acclaimed for holding a very high standard towards its mixing and mastering process and Kozelek has been considered as a godsend towards record producers in the 21st Century. For reference, listen to Sun Kil Moon's April and notice the great use of dynamic range.
  • Necrophagist bucked the trend of modern death metal by mastering Epitaph at a reasonable level. At DR8, it's not the most dynamic album ever, but by modern metal standards that is astounding. Almost no clipping to be found.
    • Origin has done much the same thing with their last two albums; while Antithesis still had issues with the production (it had dynamics but was quite muddy), Entity increased the clarity without sacrificing space. (Antithesis comes out to DR9 but, amongst its other problems, still clips constantly. Entity was given a bit more compression, coming out to DR8, but care was taken to avoid clipping on this album, and it sounds pristine).
    • Timeghoul is another case of a death metal band's material being released with enough space for the instruments to breathe. The band's material was mostly recorded from 1992 to 1994, but it was recently remastered for its first official CD release. People were afraid that the remaster would be a typical modern brickwalled shitfest, but when it came out, it had a staggering DR10. If only all modern metal releases were so lovingly mastered.
      • Unfortunately, this trend did not continue on the bonus disc of the reissue. The songs were all clipped and the disc came in at a DR5. Even worse, they also appear to have been sourced from mp3s, which is particularly vexing since the material is all sourced from analogue sources which could easily have been recorded to full FLAC.
    • Technical Death Metal band Gorguts' 2013 album Colored Sands is mastered at DR9. Good luck finding a more dynamic album in that genre, particularly in recent times. For comparison, their 1998 album Obscura was mastered at DR5, which makes this a huge improvement. (Note that War on Music's vinyl editions of Obscura and From Wisdom to Hate are both a much more sensible DR10). Since Colin Marston is a member of the band and presumably did the mastering for Colored Sands, though, the increased dynamic range probably isn't terribly surprising to anyone already familiar with his other work.
      • To be fair, Obscura very well might have been intentionally loud to have an even more abrasive, confrontational sound.
    • Most releases of material by Finland's Demilich have been free from loudness war shenanigans. Their 20th anniversary compilation 20th Adversary of Emptiness, released in 2014, comes out to DR11 on CD, which is staggering for a death metal release these days. (The LP version comes out to DR12).
    • Artificial Brain's debut full-length, Labyrinth Constellation, is another modern death metal album with a very agreeable mastering job. With an average of DR8, it manages to be loud and clear without sacrificing dynamics or coming anywhere close to clipping. Once again, it was a Colin Marston job, so it's up to his usual standard of quality.
    • Morbus Chron's 2014 effort Sweven is another example of a modern DR8 death metal album that doesn't have much/any clipping.
    • Swiss blackened death metal band Bölzer have been pretty good about this, too. Their demo Roman Acupuncture is questionable at DR6, but their first EP Aura is a much nicer DR11 and their second EP Soma is a still respectable DR8.
  • Wintersun's Time is another example of a modern metal album that was mastered at a decent level (again being DR8).
  • My Bloody Valentine. Their concerts may be ear-splittingly loud, but their albums not so much. It probably came as a relief to millions of fans when MBV came in with actual dynamics (DR11, to be exact, which is almost unheard of for an album in 2013). The LP was mastered separately but still comes in with similar dynamics.
  • Laura Marling's "A Creature I Don't Know" averted it narrowly, getting a DR10. That's pretty awesome, considering that her former boyfriend (and fellow folk singer) Marcus Mumford got a DR7 a year later for Babel.
    • According to youtube, her record store single "To Be a Woman" got a DR13. Now THAT'S unheard of for a modern song. Kudos to Ethan Johns for mastering it really well, (whose own song Whip Poor Will has an DR11.)
  • Progressive Metal band Orphaned Land. Their metal passages have a moderate amount of dynamic range compression applied to them, but by today's standards they're pretty light, and it's nowhere near enough to clip. The acoustic passages have pristine mastering with apparently no dynamic range compression whatsoever. Mabool comes out at DR9, although that's mostly due to a mix of metal songs coming at DR7 and DR8 and acoustic songs coming in at levels like DR10 and DR16. ORwarriOR appears to be a bit less dynamic on CD (DR6), although it also got a vinyl release that was incredibly dynamic. ORwarriOR was mastered separately for vinyl; Mabool was not.
  • Neil Young has never released an album that measures below DR 8, which is interesting considering he doesn't even like CDs. For the last decade or so his albums have been released in HDCD format and in special versions that include an accompanying DVD, and these tend to be slightly more dynamic.
  • Jeff Buckley's recordings, for the most part, are nicely dynamic, although there was a 2004 remaster of Grace that dialed down the dynamics somewhat and featured some clipping. There have also been vinyl editions that avert this nicely. Most notable, however, is the compilation So Real, which on many tracks has more dynamic range than the original releases (more info here).
    • Then we have the problem of his live albums, all of which are too quiet. Students who study record producing have been able to find very simple ways to fix this problem, which has left them asking questions as to why Sony doesn't try to boost the volume of Buckley's performances.
  • Daft Punk's 2013 release Random Access Memories has an album gain of -6.11dB and a DR of 9. Insanely good sounding for a (somewhat) mainstream release, and a definite improvement over Human After All.
    • The vinyl is even better, with a DR of 13.
    • Discovery had a comparatively reasonable DR of 10, while its vinyl version boasts an even better 14.
  • Stevie Wonder's recordings have excellent DR's, usually ranging from 10 DB or higher.
  • Jamiroquai's first two albums have really good DR's.
  • Diary of Dreams' 2007 album Nekrolog 43 has a DR of 12, which is almost unheard of in contemporary music, much less darkwave or industrial.
  • British Black Metal band A Forest of Stars's first two albums have amazing dynamic range. The Corpse of Rebirth is DR10 and Opportunistic Thieves of Spring is DR11. The band's third album, A Shadowplay for Yesterdays, was a bit louder, coming in at DR7, although the vinyl was a much more reasonable DR11.
  • Fellow British Black Metal band Fen are notorious for having all their CDs horribly clipped, but the frontman of the band personally remastered the band's first full-length album, The Malediction Fields, for its vinyl release. It is a tremendous improvement, being (almost) completely shorn of clipping and coming in at DR11.
  • Mark Morgan's soundtracks to Video Game/Fallout1 and Video Game/Fallout2 were remastered in 2010 as the compilation soundtrack Vault Archives. The volumes were boosted, but the dynamics remain intact.
  • Scott Walker's last three albums (as of Bish Bosch in 2012), despite being released over a period of twelve years, are all reasonably dynamic. Bish Bosch measures DR10, and that includes a song that measures DR5 (it's not especially compressed, but rather just not inherently dynamic on account of its repetitive nature).
  • American Black Metal band Panopticon has always had good dynamics. Colin Marston has done the mastering for the recent releases, so this probably isn't surprising, but even before he was involved there were lots of dynamics (the band's self-titled début is DR10).
  • Orbital, despite an increase in volume starting with The Middle of Nowhere, has mostly retained their dynamic range.
  • Beach House were wide recognized for escaping clipping with their albums, creating amazing dynamic range with their music, and refusing to work with producers that brickwall production... that is, until 2012 when Bloom was released with some of the worst clipping ever heard on an indie-pop album.
  • In one of the more surprising aversions of the the loudness war, metal band Avenged Sevenfold's Hail to the King (2013) is mastered at DR11 (or at least the leaked version is). All their other albums are at the DR6-DR7 range. Seriously though, this is one of the best sounding commercial metal releases in years.
  • Norwegian Metal band Kvelertak, though they're plenty loud and don't have a lot of dynamic range, mix and master their albums clearly and free of clipping or brickwalling.
  • American Black Metal band Vattnet Viskar have been pretty good about mastering. Their demo was pretty clipped and came out to a rather questionable DR6, but after that they wised up to audio quality and started mastering their albums with care. Their self-titled EP is DR8 on CD and either DR10 (12") or DR11 (10") on vinyl, while their album Sky Swallower is (reportedly) DR8 on CD and DR12 on vinyl. (Then again, the high dynamics on the vinyl of the latter shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, since their record label from Sky Swallower onward is Century Media, which is well known for putting out high-quality vinyl releases).
  • Canadian Technical Death Metal band Quo Vadis has albums "Forever..." (1997) averaging at DR10 and "Defiant Imagination" (2004) averaging at DR9, a highly impressive feat in the world of brickwalled death metal tracks.
  • Against expectations, the 20th anniversary reissue of Nirvana's In Utero is actually slightly more dynamic than the original. That goes for the 2013 mix, too.
  • Deee-lite's World Clique has an amazing DR of 14.
  • Covenant's Leaving Babylon appears to mark the end of their participation in the loudness war. Although there is clipping on a few tracks, the album is definitely clearer and more dynamic than their previous three albums.
  • John '00' Fleming's 110 WKO does a good job at maintaining dynamics and avoiding clipping, although minor compression is used.
  • Another very surprising aversion: Jessie J's album Alive has a DR of 9, which is quite impressive for a pop album released in 2013, and almost twice the DR of her debut Who You Are. Some of the songs, like "It's My Party," have some slight clipping, but the album sounds quite clear compared to other pop music these days—which may be why it never was released in the States.
  • Convulse's 2013 effort Evil Prevails comes in with a DR of 11 and looks like this. This is absolutely AMAZING. Finally, a modern "Old School Death Metal" record done the right way.
  • Faderhead's The World of Faderhead is also surprisingly dynamic for a contemporary industrial album.
  • Thyx's Below the City is almost completely free of clipping and has excellent dynamics.
  • Pride and Fall's Of Lust and Desire.
  • U.S./Colombian Black Metal band Inquisition has mostly been good about avoiding loudness war shenanigans. Their latest album, 2013's Obscure Verses for the Multiverse, comes in at DR9. 2011's Ominous Doctrines of the Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm isn't bad either at DR8. Some of their material from the mid-Noughties plays this trope straight, however.
  • King Crimson and associated projects, probably not a surprise as Robert Fripp hates modern recording industry practices. Fripp & Eno's latest record is actually quieter than their previous two.
  • All of Front 242's discography avoids brickwalling for the most part; the loudest they have reached is DR 8 on Headhunter 2000.
  • Most productions by Travis Stebbins, AKA Odyssey AKA Mortimer AKA Eurobeat Brony, have decent to crystal-clear dynamic range.
  • Despite the Alfa Matrix label's recent track record of brickwalling, such as the aformentioned Ayria and Helalyn Flowers examples, Krystal System's Rage has amazing dynamic range by modern Industrial Metal standards. Although the peak sections are intentionally mixed loud, they maintain clarity for the most part.
  • Information Society's 2014 album Hello World has incredibly smooth dynamics, with little to no clipping and minimal limiting.

Alternative Title(s):

Record Of Loudness War, Deaf Metal