The screech of the guitar. Vocals belting during the song’s climax. Noisy instruments joining in unison to create a beautiful, headbang-worthy cacophony.
Sound familiar? We all love these things. It’s what rock ‘n’ roll is all about.
Only it’s getting worse, to the point of actually making us ill. According to Britain's Times newspaper, record companies are using a digital technology to raise the sound levels on CDs. It’s called “peak limiting” and it adjusts the sound range to one level, removing the ebbs and flows that would differentiate a quiet verse from a beckoning chorus. Instead, it’s all loud, cutting through any hint of background noise.
Leading studio engineers in Britain have hit back at this ear-destroying practice, which has been used by Oasis and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, insisting that a lot of damage can be done. "Record companies are competing in an arms race to make their album sound the loudest," says Peter Mew, senior mastering engineer at Abbey Road studios. "The quieter parts are becoming louder and the loudest parts are just becoming a buzz."
This buzz is caused by CD players, which add a distorted noise in response to the change in frequency. The problem is that “the brain is not geared to accept buzzing. The CDs induce a sense of fatigue in the listeners,” Mew says. "It becomes psychologically tiring and almost impossible to listen to."
Record companies have already developed a bad rap of late, from ripping off consumers with overpriced CDs to lowering the quality of music to make it more “mainstream accessible.”
They’re already killing our wallets--now they have to kill what’s left of our hearing, too? For shame.