Stefano Tommesani

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Castle on the hill of crappy audio quality

As the yearly dynamic range day is close (March 31st), let's have a look at one of the biggest audio massacres of the year, Ed Sheeran's "Castle on the hill". First time I heard the song, I thought my headphones just got broken, it's really that bad. So let's measure the Dynamic Range (DR) of the track:

CastleHillDR

Here is how the DR value is computed:

In order to determine the official DR value, a song or entire album (16 bit, 44.1 kHz wave format) is scanned. A histogram (loudness distribution diagram) is created with a resolution of 0.01 dB. The RMS – an established loudness measurement standard – is determined by gathering approximately 10,000 pieces of loudness information within a time span of 3 seconds (dB/RMS). From this result, only the loudest 20% is used for determining the average loudness of the loud passages. At the same time, the loudest peak is determined. The DR Value is the difference between the peak and the top 20 average RMS measurements (top 20 RMS minus Peak = DR). (from TT Dynamic Range Meter documentation)

Using DRC-Meter on the same song, we get an awful value too: +4.9. To put this value in context, here is the list of intervals:

  • -1.5 - 1.0: likely not compressed, or only slightly compressed
  • 1.0 - 2.5: weak compression
  • 2.5 - 4.0: medium compression
  • 4.0 - 5.5: strong compression
  • 5.5 - 7.5: aggressive compression

Still, more than any measure, it's just looking at the waveform that explains why this song sounds so bad:

CastleHillWave

If the song starts right from the beginning at clipping levels, how can it grow in the chorus? Indeed it can't, and it's a mess of over-compression that forces you to turn down the volume, instead of being lifted by the remarkable music. Is it too early for a remastered edition?

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