Loud CDs get played more quietly

Here’s something odd. After my efforts researching the loudness wars, I’ve become more aware of which CDs are mastered for loudness at the expense of dynamic range, and sometimes sought out older masterings of favourite recordings. Yesterday I received a copy of Bowie’s Let’s Dance in its earliest CD release (made in Japan for Europe, often a sign of an early CD). It is far less compressed than the nineties issue I had before. Comparing the two I noticed an odd effect. When playing them, I used the volume control to find a comfortable level. That level was actually quieter, in an absolute sense, on the CD that was mastered louder.

I am not just saying that I turned down the louder mastering to match the volume output by the quieter mastering. Rather, I went beyond that and played it more quietly, because otherwise it did not sound good.

It’s ironic that, for me, the loudness wars have the opposite of their intended effect.

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