June 18, 2008

What Does the Loudness Button on My Stereo Do?

By Rhodri Marsden


If you want to induce tears of frustration in any music studio engineer, just show them a piece of consumer audio equipment. These people spend long hours creating beautifully balanced soundscapes with just the right amount of bagpipe and didgeridoo, and painstakingly equalise the mix for our listening pleasure.

Then we get the CD home, stick it on a cheap stereo and decimate their work by pressing the button marked Loudness, Bass Boost or Megabass. Or setting the spindly controllers of the abominable graphic equaliser into a pleasing pattern. Or arbitrarily deciding to press preset buttons marked Jazz, Rock, Choral or Military Two- Step.

The loudness button boosts certain bass and treble frequencies, and is supposed to be used when listening to music at very low volumes, to compensate for the frequency response of human hearing. Many people have it constantly engaged because they think it makes things sound better. Because however much bass musicians might think is enough during the recording process, it's never enough for the person who's just loaded a 400-Watt Rumble Enhancement System in their car.

As Marcus said on our blog this week, an amplifier should really be nothing more than a wire with a volume control - and it's no coincidence that the most expensive ones stick firmly with this idea. But listeners are set to grasp an extra stake in the creative process with the emergence of a new music-file format called MT9.

Players will come with a six-channel mixer, letting you adjust the individual volumes of voice, bass, drums, backing vocals, keyboards and guitars to your liking. So, if you want to sing along to Motorhead, but you're sick of competing with Lemmy's primal growl, turn him down.

Having said that, with history continuing to demonstrate our inability to treat music with any respect, it would require a band with virtually no ego to take the bold step of releasing their work in MT9 format. U2 fans, don't hold your breath.

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