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Think twice before buying digital downloads of anything distributed by Universal

Thu Apr 06, 2017 5:54 pm

This is a few years old, but I just ran across it today.

https://www.mattmontag.com/music/univer ... -watermark

I wonder if they are still using the same watermarking scheme on new releases?
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Re: Think twice before buying digital downloads of anything distributed by Universal

Thu Apr 06, 2017 5:58 pm

And people think me an old coot for sticking to physical media.

Music-wise, this is my hill.
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Re: Think twice before buying digital downloads of anything distributed by Universal

Thu Apr 06, 2017 6:10 pm

What, are they too cheap to use cinavia?
 
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Re: Think twice before buying digital downloads of anything distributed by Universal

Thu Apr 06, 2017 6:19 pm

Glorious wrote:
What, are they too cheap to use cinavia?

They may very well be using something like that on current releases, I have no idea; the linked article is a few years old. From the description of Cinavia it still seems like it could be audible under certain conditions though. At least they appear to have taken more care to make it less obtrusive.

Even if they did switch, anything encoded prior to the cutover will have the old watermarking scheme.

Wikipedia article about Cinavia wrote:
Each phase discontinuity introduced by the encoder will result in a corresponding pulse of wideband white noise, so a further range of additional distortions are introduced as a noise mitigation strategy to compensate.
...
The watermark is only embedded when certain signal-to-noise ratio thresholds are met and is not available as a continuous signal—the signal must be monitored for a period of time before the embedded data can be detected and recovered.
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Re: Think twice before buying digital downloads of anything distributed by Universal

Thu Apr 06, 2017 7:11 pm

Captain Ned wrote:
And people think me an old coot for sticking to physical media.

Music-wise, this is my hill.

I still prefer physical CDs (or at least lossless FLAC downloads) too. However, I caved around the turn of the current decade and started making exceptions for things which were not readily available or significantly more expensive on physical media.

The proliferation of reasonably priced used CDs from third party sellers on Amazon has got me swinging back towards purchasing more physical media though, even for the out-of-print stuff. I have yet to get a used CD this way that wouldn't play, and the odds of getting one with a cracked/crushed jewel case seem to be about the same (and way too high...) whether you buy used or new. :roll:

The vinyl hill is all yours though. :wink: While I still own a significant amount of it, and the turntable was still functional the last time I checked, it does not play a part in my day-to-day music listening habits. Anything on vinyl that I cared about (and hadn't bought a CD reissue of as of the early 2000s) got ripped to WAV, and the physical media stashed in the far corner of the crawlspace to get it out of the way.
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Re: Think twice before buying digital downloads of anything distributed by Universal

Thu Apr 06, 2017 8:16 pm

Well that sucks. There are plenty of more important things to fix in my music's playback quality, but that sound is more familiar than I'd like.

There's a lot of stuff I want on vinyl, not because it's vinyl (it'll just end up ripped to my digital collection anyway), but because it's guaranteed to not be (too much of) a victim of the loudness wars. Too many good albums have been ruined by that. Unfortunately, I don't have any of the kit for it.
 
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Re: Think twice before buying digital downloads of anything distributed by Universal

Thu Apr 06, 2017 8:34 pm

synthtel2 wrote:
There's a lot of stuff I want on vinyl, not because it's vinyl (it'll just end up ripped to my digital collection anyway), but because it's guaranteed to not be (too much of) a victim of the loudness wars. Too many good albums have been ruined by that. Unfortunately, I don't have any of the kit for it.

Indeed. When I embarked on my vinyl ripping project a decade and a half ago, I was quite surprised (and more than a little puzzled) to discover that stuff I had on vinyl purchased back in the '70s and '80s generally seemed to have 6 to 10dB more dynamic range than my CDs. Even if normalized to 100% peak, they *sounded* about 6-10dB quieter on average than stuff ripped from CD, and just seemed more dynamic. Then I learned about the loudness wars.

Unfortunately, in order to be assured of getting something with minimal DR compression you probably need to find an old (original) vinyl pressing that has been very gently treated over the years. I imagine that newer stuff that gets issued on vinyl likely has the same sort of DR compression as contemporary CDs. I also don't know whether current vinyl reissues of older stuff are using the original "positive mother" discs to make the stampers (do they keep those around forever or did they pitch 'em when vinyl went out of style?), or whether they've cut new ones (in which case you're probably SOL as far as avoiding loudness wars goes).
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Re: Think twice before buying digital downloads of anything distributed by Universal

Thu Apr 06, 2017 9:40 pm

The trick is that if they try to master it too hot on vinyl, things physically break, so anything on vinyl is guaranteed to at least not be ridiculously bad. I'm sure I saw a site somewhere that had comparisons of DR between variants of albums, and IIRC really bad vinyl was merely average by CD standards. This means that vinyl is a valid workaround for modern releases, too.
 
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Re: Think twice before buying digital downloads of anything distributed by Universal

Thu Apr 06, 2017 9:49 pm

It isn't so much a matter of how "hot" it is mastered, it is the ratio of the peaks to the valleys. Either way you've got an externally imposed ceiling on your peaks -- with digital, if you exceed the range of the digital representation you get hard clipping; with vinyl you get mis-tracking or skipping because the stylus literally bounces out of the groove if the acceleration is too great. DR compression is all about raising the average level so that it is as close as possible to the maximum level the medium can safely handle.
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Re: Think twice before buying digital downloads of anything distributed by Universal

Thu Apr 06, 2017 10:55 pm

That site was definitely looking at DR, not just levels. Clipping results in a bunch of extra HF content, and vinyl stores higher frequencies at a much higher on-disk amplitude (RIAA EQ and all that), right? It seems like putting something like Death Magnetic's normal version on vinyl would cause a great deal of unnecessary acceleration per a given volume level. That means if the CD version is too hot, they're going to have to remaster for vinyl anyway, and the techniques that'll get them maximum volume on a CD aren't the same ones that'll do that for vinyl. They can still compress DR a ton, but at least they (mostly) can't clip, which is already a massive improvement for something like Death Magnetic. I also suspect that they know their audiences a bit better than that and just don't bother pushing things to the limits when creating a vinyl master, which doesn't carry much downside for them if they have to remaster anyway.

If that EQ works as I think it does, clipping in the digital realm and then writing a disk should result in ridiculously spiky / high-acceleration waveforms on disk, but clipping after the write EQ (clamping cutter position for high volume with low track width) should still be doable. That clipping goes through a very bottom-heavy EQ before getting to your ears, though, so I can't imagine it sounding so objectionable.
 
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Re: Think twice before buying digital downloads of anything distributed by Universal

Thu Apr 06, 2017 11:13 pm

Good point about the EQ curve and the harmonics generated by clipping. I can definitely see how tracing the corners of a digitally squared off waveform (with the corners "sharpened" by the RIAA EQ curve) could be rather problematic!

There's a lot of hopelessly DR-compressed content that doesn't get driven into clipping though. TBH if it hard clips, whoever applied the DR compression (strike 1) did it wrong (strike 2). And two wrongs doesn't make a right here. Not to say it doesn't happen in commercial releases, I've definitely seen it. I've even posted Audacity screen grabs in these forums of some egregiously clipped waveforms from some really badly mastered recordings...
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Re: Think twice before buying digital downloads of anything distributed by Universal

Fri Apr 07, 2017 12:39 am

Like this? This one is 192 kbit (I didn't do the encode), hence not on the rails - the original must look truly fearsome. This is the worst part of this song (Unforgiven III), but that's one of the least troubled songs on the album. :o :o :o

Maybe my problem is just that I like metal, and everyone thinks that in particular needs to be as loud as possible (even when the composition and performance really deserve better). One way or another, not running into garbage like this would be a massive improvement, compressed DR or no.

Image
 
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Re: Think twice before buying digital downloads of anything distributed by Universal

Fri Apr 07, 2017 2:54 am

synthtel2 wrote:
Like this? This one is 192 kbit (I didn't do the encode), hence not on the rails - the original must look truly fearsome. This is the worst part of this song (Unforgiven III), but that's one of the least troubled songs on the album. :o :o :o

Maybe my problem is just that I like metal, and everyone thinks that in particular needs to be as loud as possible (even when the composition and performance really deserve better). One way or another, not running into garbage like this would be a massive improvement, compressed DR or no.

*picture removed due to size*


Now see, there's your problem, friend.

You should instead be listening to this, or this, or this! :wink:

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Re: Think twice before buying digital downloads of anything distributed by Universal

Fri Apr 07, 2017 6:23 am

synthtel2 wrote:
Like this? This one is 192 kbit (I didn't do the encode), hence not on the rails - the original must look truly fearsome. This is the worst part of this song (Unforgiven III), but that's one of the least troubled songs on the album. :o :o :o

Maybe my problem is just that I like metal, and everyone thinks that in particular needs to be as loud as possible (even when the composition and performance really deserve better). One way or another, not running into garbage like this would be a massive improvement, compressed DR or no.

Image

I'll see your Metallica, and raise you some Flying Colors:
Image
(Originally from this post.)
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Re: Think twice before buying digital downloads of anything distributed by Universal

Fri Apr 07, 2017 10:30 am

I could have sworn that is what the volume knob is for. At least with Steven Wilson, it is not an issue, and probably why his music is so appealing to my ears.
 
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Re: Think twice before buying digital downloads of anything distributed by Universal

Fri Apr 07, 2017 10:44 am

JBI wrote:
From the description of Cinavia it still seems like it could be audible under certain conditions though. At least they appear to have taken more care to make it less obtrusive.


Of course, like you, I wish they wouldn't do any of this nonsense, but if they must, I'd prefer they not do something that obviously sucks.

Especially if there is something else that is less obtrusive.

I honestly didn't realize they did this for audio recordings, I'm just familiar with Cinavia because they baked it into blu-ray players.

Since this isn't even an attempt at a technological impediment, oh, and it really sucks too, Geez. Yeah, avoid.
 
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Re: Think twice before buying digital downloads of anything distributed by Universal

Fri Apr 07, 2017 1:58 pm

I do like old-school Metallica better (the 70s and 80s just had better music, I'd say, but I don't discriminate on the basis of that). Ride The Lightning is probably my favorite of the pre-Black Album stuff, and Load and Re-Load are pretty great. They're not AC/DC though - they've been through a great variety of sounds, and I can't say that owning just one of them is enough. Also, Death Magnetic's guitar work (at least) sounds very very different (and massively better) live than the stuff that's on the album. I didn't even recognize it at first. :wink:

JBI, I'm guessing your example is FLAC? That's about what I'd expect my example to look like if it weren't 192 kbit (lossy compression cuts a lot of HF and draws things off the rails). Most of my collection is 320 kbit, but I threw out most of the stuff with serious clipping problems, hence I don't have so much to draw examples from.

Now I kind of want to create a test case for what clipping -> lossy compression does to a waveform.
 
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Re: Think twice before buying digital downloads of anything distributed by Universal

Fri Apr 07, 2017 2:14 pm

synthtel2 wrote:
JBI, I'm guessing your example is FLAC? That's about what I'd expect my example to look like if it weren't 192 kbit (lossy compression cuts a lot of HF and draws things off the rails). Most of my collection is 320 kbit, but I threw out most of the stuff with serious clipping problems, hence I don't have so much to draw examples from.

Amazon MP3 download, actually.
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Re: Think twice before buying digital downloads of anything distributed by Universal

Fri Apr 07, 2017 3:53 pm

synthtel2 wrote:
I do like old-school Metallica better (the 70s and 80s just had better music, I'd say, but I don't discriminate on the basis of that). Ride The Lightning is probably my favorite of the pre-Black Album stuff, and Load and Re-Load are pretty great. They're not AC/DC though - they've been through a great variety of sounds, and I can't say that owning just one of them is enough. Also, Death Magnetic's guitar work (at least) sounds very very different (and massively better) live than the stuff that's on the album. I didn't even recognize it at first. :wink:


I was being slightly trolly as a joke, lol.
 
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Re: Think twice before buying digital downloads of anything distributed by Universal

Fri Apr 07, 2017 5:05 pm

Now I really do want to try purposefully running clipping through lossy compression. I'll have more on that at some point.

I.S.T. wrote:
I was being slightly trolly as a joke, lol.

Doesn't mean you weren't right. :wink:
 
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Re: Think twice before buying digital downloads of anything distributed by Universal

Fri Apr 07, 2017 7:39 pm

synthtel2 wrote:
Now I really do want to try purposefully running clipping through lossy compression. I'll have more on that at some point.

Well you piqued my curiosity too, so I just did the experiment. Top to bottom - 1) original source; 2) amplified to the point of severe clipping (no lossy compression); 3) clipped audio after MP3 compression (250 kbit VBR); 4) clipped audio after OGG compression (160 kbit VBR). The MP3 compression appears to introduce a fair amount of additional high-frequency noise in the clipped areas, but aside from that more or less preserves the shape of the waveform. OGG does a pretty decent job of accurately preserving the clipped areas, in all their squared-off glory.
Image
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Re: Think twice before buying digital downloads of anything distributed by Universal

Fri Apr 07, 2017 9:07 pm

Heh, I got the testing done but not the write-up, went to dinner, and you beat me to it. :lol:

Mine goes (top-to-bottom) clipped, 160 MP3, 160 OGG, 128 MP3. It looks like it just takes a whole lot of compression to get that sort of artifact, and it doesn't usually go to the same degree I was thinking. It could be dependent on the source material, though - if I do get a better version of Unforgiven III, I'll definitely see what I have to do to it to make it look identical.

The stuff that looks like extra HF within the clipped area should actually be reducing the HF content slightly, I'd think (as far as the encoder and most output chains are concerned, at least). My interpretation of it was that the compression discarding HF and slowing transients allowed more of the shape of the surrounding waveform to creep in.

The version of Unforgiven III I have is actually WMA (got it from a friend who ran a bunch of stuff through that). I didn't put WMA in the image because it looks barely distinguishable from MP3 (but regret it, having made the image before listening to the results), but all the different formats pick up very distinct sounds (except FFmpeg's AAC, which for some reason I can't coax into giving me a file smaller than ~400 kbps). OGG sounds like it has relatively little overall error, but it somehow manages to make the clipping sound even more brittle. MP3 mellows out the clipping a whole lot, but smears the high and low frequencies by amounts that actually made me LOL. WMA sounds like it's saying "infinite accel here? Eh, just assign it a frequency, any frequency".... and the result is surprisingly familiar from that Metallica. Coincidence? I think not.

If that's what's going on with the waveform I posted earlier, it would be because something is coaxing the encoder into quantizing clips to much lower frequencies. Could post-clip EQ do that? Maybe a guitar speaker with an earlier HF roll-off point? I know this is the sort of problem that's going to bug me for a while, so I'll probably figure something more out.

On the plus side, at least Metallica didn't screw up quite as badly as I thought (at least as far as the subjective sound of the result) - WMA is definitely sharing in the blame.

Image
 
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Re: Think twice before buying digital downloads of anything distributed by Universal

Fri Apr 07, 2017 9:31 pm

synthtel2 wrote:
The stuff that looks like extra HF within the clipped area should actually be reducing the HF content slightly,

Ahh, yes... you're probably right. Remove the upper harmonics from a square wave, and you get ripples on the flat parts. So this is probably an indication that MP3 is rolling off the upper harmonics more aggressively than OGG.

Related to this, the fact that the square-ish parts still look roughly square-ish also implies that lossy compression (well, OGG and MP3 at least) does a reasonably good job of preserving the phase relationship between the various harmonics (I'd always wondered whether that was the case).
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Re: Think twice before buying digital downloads of anything distributed by Universal

Sat Apr 08, 2017 3:34 am

synthtel, is your copy of Unforgiven 3 from that Guitar Hero game that had way, way better mixing or from a CD or what
 
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Re: Think twice before buying digital downloads of anything distributed by Universal

Sat Apr 08, 2017 12:28 pm

A game had better mixing? That sounds.... odd. I have no idea about the original source, but if any aspect of it were significantly better than whatever Pandora serves up, I would have noticed.

Here's another theory: what if it somehow got double-compressed? What source / software even puts stuff in WMA by default?
 
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Re: Think twice before buying digital downloads of anything distributed by Universal

Sat Apr 08, 2017 1:42 pm

synthtel2 wrote:
A game had better mixing? That sounds.... odd. I have no idea about the original source, but if any aspect of it were significantly better than whatever Pandora serves up, I would have noticed.

Here's another theory: what if it somehow got double-compressed? What source / software even puts stuff in WMA by default?


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Re: Think twice before buying digital downloads of anything distributed by Universal

Thu Apr 13, 2017 12:01 pm

In just to thumbs-up the unofficial Guitar Hero mix of Death Magnetic.
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Re: Think twice before buying digital downloads of anything distributed by Universal

Thu Apr 13, 2017 12:53 pm

DafuQ?!
http://mattmontag.com/audio-listening-test/

Just listened to Beethoven's moonlight sonata (No I won't click the other stuff to preserve my sanity).
One of the two sounds like there a toilet flush in the backgrounds.

They really SELL that mutilated stuff?!
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Re: Think twice before buying digital downloads of anything distributed by Universal

Thu Apr 13, 2017 1:47 pm

The problem is that these are very difficult to detect (unlike compression) and are usually most noticeable in quieter passages. I'll admit that while I pass "every" listening test with flying colors, I had real trouble with this one because of the subtlety of the changes in most examples. I had particular trouble with pieces with electronic elements.

That, and I'm actually using a couple of recently-acquired KRK RP8s fed by an Audient id22 interface. My room is not tuned yet, but this is still a better setup than 99.99% of people out there.

Maybe the differences are more obvious when using headphones. Probably have to try that some other time.
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Re: Think twice before buying digital downloads of anything distributed by Universal

Thu Apr 13, 2017 1:50 pm

Ifalna wrote:

Interesting. I went through the entire test (in a less than ideal listening environment) and got the correct answer on pretty much all the softer/classical pieces. Anything with fast beats or electronica, nope. Couldn't pick the difference better than a guess.
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