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Thread: Why does it sound different on the Radio...

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    Mentor Marcel's Avatar
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    Why does it sound different on the Radio...

    A post by a broadcasting tech friend on FB, along with recent paid work I've been doing at a local radio station has prompted me to write this slightly informative piece................ and maybe start a discussion...

    Something which baffles many yet is standard practice for the professional broadcast industry is the use of specialised audio processing on EVERYTHING that is broadcast.

    In the early days of broadcasting (back when AM radio was King) it was found that over driving transmitters was a very bad thing which apart from adding unwanted distortion to the voice of the DJ also had the problem of making it very difficult for the listener to tune in their often quite basic radio. Other problems included 'splatter' where one radio station could be heard on multiple places on the old school dial. So to alleviate this it was decided and internationally legislated way back in great grandads day that hard audio limiters in the audio chain would be mandatory and ALC (Automatic Leveling Control) would be an recommended option that each station could implement at their discretion.

    Fast forward to the '70's and the whole broadcast audio limiting/ALC changed into a race into who could sound the best/loudest. A plethora of new solid state devices that optimised the audio for transmission were devised and implemented. This all came under the thinking that a smaller and cheaper to operate transmitter if modulated correctly could sound as loud as a transmitter 10 times the size and cover as many miles or kilometres as one twice the size, so it was a cheap way of boosting presence on the dial, to sound bigger, better, more awesome all for less money....

    FM radio and TV didn't escape the madness. They too have their own versions driven by the desire to sound the best/loudest while staying within the national Federal broadcasting regulations.

    So what do they do?. Well essentially the hard limiter by legislation must be there, often in the form of a fast attack and fast release 20:1 compressor with the threshold set at 95% modulation as the last element just before being sent to the transmitter, purely to prevent over modulation. But the ALC part is where it gets interesting. The automatic levelling part is for the most part again is a 20:1 compressor that has a fast attack and very very slow release and a threshold set quite low in the 10 to 30dB below 0VU range used with the intention of averaging all the audio to a predetermined volume. As part of the averaging the audio is broken down into frequency ranges that are also averaged. The number of frequency groups is determined by the type/style of typical program material, but typical breakdowns are usually between 4 and 8 frequency groups. If you think of a 2way or 3way crossover in your typical loud speaker it's a similar type breakup of frequencies being done, one or two bass frequency groups and one or two mid frequencies and one or two treble frequency groups. All the individual frequency groups are ALC'd individually before being recombined into the one signal that is sent to the hard limiter and then the transmitter....

    Setting up one of these 'audio processors' is a black art reserved for the station technical engineer under the verbal direction of the station management team. Nobody 'plays' or fiddles with the station audio processor as it does invariably affect how the station sounds to all its listeners.

    So if you were ever wondering why your CD or MP3 sounds so vastly different on the radio than from your home stereo, that is why.... The processor does change the 'sound' of the audio passing through it...

    If you're interested in seeing a very popular model of these 'audio processors' in operation then follow the link which will take you to a YouTube list of demonstrations.... https://www.youtube.com/results?sear...=orban+optimod

    The photos are of the one I had the joy of adjusting just the other day...
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    Member blinddrew's Avatar
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    So basically it's got a heavy multiband compressor on the end that squashing the snot out of everything?

  3. Liked by: dave.king1

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    Overlord of Music dave.king1's Avatar
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    The Orban loudness meter is one of the mixing tools I use from time to time, not a huge fan of it for my needs though.

    Multiband compression and master limiting are the major magic ingredients in the loudness war from a recording perspective
    Last edited by dave.king1; 05-07-2018 at 08:03 PM.
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    GAStronomist wazkelly's Avatar
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    Good read Marcel.

    Can you also enlighten us on the reasons why Vinyl compared to CD compared to MP3 sound so different?

    From an uneducated perspective MP3's all sound tinny with lots of tops and minimal bottom end, probably done that way to prevent blowing your brains out through those tiny earbuds. CD's compared to vinyl sound bright but lack the analogue warmth. For me vinyl is the valve amps equivalent if that makes sense?

    Interested to hear your thoughts.
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    Overlord of Music dave.king1's Avatar
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    MP3 algorhythms are massively compromised compared to most other containers Waz.

    If you have something of your own in various formats put it up on Soundcloud or YouTube and have a listen to how each is treated by that platform, I have put stuff on SC in both MP3 and 16bit wave format and it's hard to tell them apart, cut them both to Redbook and you'll hear the difference.

    The difference between CD and vinyl is the brutal lack of dynamics zeros and ones compared to analogue, simplistic I know but not sure how to better describe it
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    GAStronomist wazkelly's Avatar
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    It's a bit like the old analogue delay vs digital I suppose where the latter sounds more metallic and the former a lot wetter/mushier?

    Got stacks of old vinyl and a record player but never seem to find the time to just sit back, relax, and listen to how that music was intended to be heard. Main reason is because I don't have any decent speakers but still sounds better.
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  8. #7
    Mentor Marcel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by wazkelly View Post
    Good read Marcel.

    Can you also enlighten us on the reasons why Vinyl compared to CD compared to MP3 sound so different?

    From an uneducated perspective MP3's all sound tinny with lots of tops and minimal bottom end, probably done that way to prevent blowing your brains out through those tiny earbuds. CD's compared to vinyl sound bright but lack the analogue warmth. For me vinyl is the valve amps equivalent if that makes sense?

    Interested to hear your thoughts.
    Vinyl & CD & MP3.... That to me is an unfair battle...

    The absolute beauty of vinyl is in that it is entirely analogue. That minuscule little Diamond shaking back and forth as it tracks down the groove of your favourite 33rpm LP being mechanically coupled to a magnet surrounded by two just as tiny coils to generate a pair of electrical signals that are then amplified before going to another set of much bigger coils in much much bigger magnetic fields that ultimately generate those magical sounds we love.... Nothing is missed, All of it is there, including the dust and static that vinyl is known for...

    CD is clean. 44100 times a second the incoming analogue audio is measured and allocated a value. A value that will never change for the rest of eternity. No matter how many people jump on that wooden dance floor if you put enough of those values into a big enough buffer the D to A conversion at the loud speaker will always be representative of the original recorded value. But some question the process, some 'Golden Ears' consider the process flawed, and possibly for good reason.... In my mind I see it this way. On a 440Hz note and with 44100 per second sample rate there will be close to 100 individual samples available to rebuild a single cycle of the original "sound" at the loud speaker, but on the 88th note of a piano at 4186.1Hz there will only be about 10 individual samples to rebuild all the complexities of that specific piano note. Ten samples is still quite a lot and will be fairly representative but it will not be 100% accurate. Thankfully though we don't have dust and static to contend with.

    Then there is MP3.... the WIN ZIP of the music world. As CD is simply a series of numeric values, and if we jam those numbers into a computer and ZIP them then we can cram more and more music into less and less hard drive space. We can shrink the files more if we re-sample to a lower bit rate, which is the same as changing our original CD sample rate of 44100Hz to something less like 32000 or 24000 or 16000 or 9600Hz. We can even go to in between sample rates by using a bit of maths and predicting what a sample might be if it were taken somewhere between two 44100Hz samples and then using that newly mathematically created sample as a way of creating an entirely new sample rate... It's just numbers, and we have the calculator... But as we know everyone has a different ear for these things and to some people these fictitious sample rates are just wrong.... They sound bad. They might be okay for recording a telephone conversation or a Uni lecture on a 2GB SD card but in no way should they be used for quality music. Unfortunately many do, yet thankfully there are many more who don't.

    Most radio stations these days do not have a vinyl or a CD collection... Nearly all have only MP3's. Most of those MP3's are at a reasonable bit rate. There will be a CD player somewhere in the studio used to add to the collection of MP3's, and usually one of the managers will have access to a vinyl to CD recorder, so if there is a 'Golden track' brought in they can find a way to add it to the master library all in the name of posterity ....
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    Overlord of Music DrNomis_44's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by wazkelly View Post
    Good read Marcel.

    Can you also enlighten us on the reasons why Vinyl compared to CD compared to MP3 sound so different?

    From an uneducated perspective MP3's all sound tinny with lots of tops and minimal bottom end, probably done that way to prevent blowing your brains out through those tiny earbuds. CD's compared to vinyl sound bright but lack the analogue warmth. For me vinyl is the valve amps equivalent if that makes sense?

    Interested to hear your thoughts.

    The compression algorithm used in mp3 files is a lossy one, essentially what is being done is that a lot of the subtle parts of the music which we don't notice much, is stripped-off in order to reduce the amount of digital data, Marcel could probably explain it more clearly.

    A typical audio CD (compact disc) has a dynamic range of about 105dB or so, that is, from the softest sound that can be heard to the loudest sound, there's a range of about 105dB, on the other hand, a vinyl disc has about a 30dB dynamic range, which is a lot less than a CD, reason being is that the fine grooves cut into the surface of the vinyl disc can only accommodate so much before the stylus starts jumping out of the groove (this is called skipping), the vinyl disc system also tends to produce a characteristic type of distortion which is similar to what the human ear naturally produces by itself, so as a result, a vinyl disc will tend to sound warmer than a CD even though the CD system is technically superior (supposedly).


    In digital audio, there is something called the "Nyquist Theorem" which basically states that to accurately reproduce the highest frequency in the frequency response of a digital audio system, the sampling frequency has to be at least twice the highest frequency that is likely to be reproduced.

    https://blog.telegeography.com/what-...does-it-matter


    The thing to note is that there is no "perfect" audio media system, each one has it's good points and flaws, when CDs first became available to the paying public, they were regarded as perfect and indestructible, it wasn't too long after that when we started seeing the flaws that proved that CDs were far from indestructible, they were prone to skipping due to circumferential scratches on the surface of the CD, the digital encoding of the information on the CD also included an error-correction system that could cope with loss of data due to a 4mm hole drilled through the CD, or a radial scratch going from the centre of the CD outwards.
    Last edited by DrNomis_44; 05-07-2018 at 10:16 PM.

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    GAStronomist wazkelly's Avatar
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    Interesting stuff and really appreciate your responses, both Marcel & Doc.
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    Mentor Marcel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by blinddrew View Post
    So basically it's got a heavy multiband compressor on the end that squashing the snot out of everything?
    Yeah, some see it that way. Most see it as a way of optimising the limited capabilities of the 'transmission medium'... an effort to stay as close to 95% as is reasonably possible.

    Back in the '70's and early '80's there were some stations that 'squashed the snot' out of everything. While popular for a while it did bring about the condition known as 'listener fatigue', and due to the loss of listeners that the condition brings with it most stations eased back on the 'squash everything' aspect in favour of a 'consistent easy listening all day' approach. If you were to A/B the two settings the difference (to your ears) is obvious...
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