According to mastering engineer Ian Sheperd, Metallica's new Death Magnetic album has a serious sonic problem: it has been compressed (in the audio sense of the word, not the file size sense) just about as much as it's possible to compress audio.
Part of the "loudness war," this type of compression is designed to make music sound as loud as possible at the expense of dynamic range (the difference between loud and softer sounds). Television advertisers use similar technology to get the most bang for their buck volume-wise, which is why ads often sound so much louder than television programs.
However, according to Sheperd
, the problem goes beyond compression. He says some parts are actually distorted from digital clipping. "As you can easily see," he writes, "the CD version on the bottom has been heavily compressed, limited and/or clipped, and sounds massively distorted as a result." Later analysis showed that the CD is 10 dB louder than the Guitar Hero version, which sounds about twice as loud to the ear. That's some wicked compression. Sheperd's audio analysis
(pictured to the above right courtesy of MusicRadar
using the free open-source audio editor Audacity
), demonstrates graphically the severe nature of the audio compression applied by Metallica's engineers to the CD version of the album, by comparing it to a recording from the Guitar Hero videogame. This version of Death Magnetic, featuring extended solos from James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett, became available within the game on Friday as an $18 download.