So on Conan yesterday, the musical guests were The New Pornographers performing their fantastic (new?) track Use It. I googled for a video or something and found out that both the video (alternate link) and the audio were available for streaming and download respectively. Fantastic. Well, not quite.
I streamed the video which sounded alright. I decided I was going to the buy this CD. Then I downloaded the mp3 and it sounded like shit! Wait a second. That makes no sense, it's the same music, why does it sound alright on the video and why does the mp3 sound like garbage? Especially in light of the fact that the video probably contained a 64kbps audio stream which should sound worse than the mp3. A second listen confirmed that for some reason the mp3 was sounding really really bad, vocals were distorted, guitar sounded too loud, and drums were just one loud beat.
Maybe they didn't want to give a high quality mp3 for download. But a quick peek at the bitrate revealed that it was a 320kbps mp3, the highest possible bitrate, ergo the best quality mp3 (well not quite since they had used iTunes and not Lame, still it should have been decent quality). So obviously that wasn't the reason the mp3 was sounding so bad. Mysteries, mysteries.
Then I ReplayGained the mp3. The track registered at -9.40 dB! What does that mean? It means that if we take 89dB as normal loudness, this track was designed to be 9.40 dB louder. That almost 8 times as loud as a normal track. No wonder it was sounding distorted. Essentially, whoever mastered it just wanted it to sound loud. As loud as can be. With no concern for quality. (You want a better explanation about this and why a lot of modern CDs sound really bad, read this article about the loudness race.)
Ah well, I'm not going to buy the CD. Maybe I'll go listen to them live, if they play nearby. If any members of The New Pornographers happen to read this, I like your music, but until you can rein in whoever masters your music from going loud and distorted, I'm not buying your CDs.
On a happier note, Best of luck to Conan O'Brien for the Emmys! Hope you win both your nominations!