Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Bob Dylan - Together Through Life

If you're trying to decide if it's worth shelling out for the new Dylan double LP versus the cheaper CD, these pictures might help you decide.

"Beyond Here Lies Nothing" CD Version

"Beyond Here Lies Nothing" LP Version

I've kind of burned out on talking about what these differences mean (see previous posts tagged "loudness wars" for my thoughts on this subject). On average the LP version of this track has about 4 dB more dynamic range than the CD. This despite the fact that technically (as I've mentioned before) CD is capable of around 30 dB more dynamic range than the LP.

The difference between the two versions isn't as dramatic as I remember it being with Modern Times, so perhaps we're seeing some progress. But at around -11 dB average RMS the CD, while not the worst offender in the loudness wars, is still (in my opinion) too loud to sound really good. By comparison, with the peaks normalized to 0 dB, the LP version is around -15 dB average RMS, which allows for a more exciting, dynamic presentation.

The pressing quality of my LP was pretty good with only a few stray clicks and pops. I could quibble with the packaging: shoving two 180 gram LPs into a single, flimsy cover will quickly lead to seam splits. For $26, a gatefold cover would have been nice, but at least the CD is included as a bonus (if you can call it that).

BTW, I'm really loving the music. Dylan just keeps reaching further and further back in time for musical inspiration. But you don't need me to tell you Uncle Bobby is great and that he's on a serious late-career roll.


Anonymous said...

they stuffed two LP's into a single record sleeve? that's a disgrace!

bloody corporate record companies doing things by half measures... it's always the one's with the most money that skimp on quality.

i've never heard of this happening before?! surely a gatefold sleeve could have been accommodated - especially for an artist like dylan (it's not like sales were going to be an issue) - anyway, that's beside the point, it's the carelessness that irks.

dylan should release his music independently, i bet he was disappointed when he saw the shoddy LP cover.

Anonymous said...

interesting observation. Although I don't have the LP, I had a similar impression after listening to the CD. Beyond Here Lies Nothing had been released as a free dowonload before and this version had more dynamics than the CD versiob

Pete Bilderback said...

Wow, that is interesting about the "Beyond Here Lies Nothing" MP3. It was probably converted from a pre-mastering version.

The CD doesn't sound horrible, but the LP has more life to it. I just listened again last night, and in fact it sounds pretty darn good.

I wish the packaging had been up to the standards of Modern Times, which was in a nice thick gatefold.

Pete Bilderback said...

You are right about corporate record companies and half measures. One of the bad side effects of recent vinyl resurgence is that Sony, Universal and EMI have decided to reissue their own catalog on vinyl rather than licensing things to boutique labels. Unfortunately, they take a lot of short-cuts on quality, including generally starting with digital masters (often only CD resolution).

Warner Bros on the other hand deserves kudos for releasing some very high quality vinyl releases.

Anonymous said...

Your analysis is wrong. Dynamic Range is literally the ratio between the loudest and quietest possible signal. A CD has a dynamic range of 96 dB (6dB per bit x 16 bits). The dynamic range of a record is around 70 dB.

Therefore, the PCM audio on a CD can be recorded and replayed louder than an analog signal on a vinyl record.

What your meters are showing is the difference between the overall loudness of the two mediums.
This is headroom, not dynamic range. When you recorded the music into your DAW the CD version was louder and always will be.

Pete Bilderback said...

My analysis may well be wrong, but not for the reasons you indicate. I note in the post that CD is capable of around 30 dB greater dynamic range than LP. But what the medium is capable of, and what it exhibits in terms of what the listener actually hears are two different things.

It doesn't much matter if there is a 96 dB difference between the silence between tracks and the loudest points within a track, if the track itself has been compressed to the point where the difference between peaks and the average RMS is less than 10 dB. What you are going to end up hearing is something that sounds consistently "loud," but lacking in dynamism.

You can quibble my use of terminology if you like (although technically your definition of dynamic range is correct, in typical usage even among audio engineers, it is also used to refer the difference between average RMS and peak levels). The fact is that in real world terms, this CD exhibits on average around 4 dB less dynamic range (or headroom if you prefer) because the signal has been compressed.

5-Track said...

thanks for this post! I just obtained the double vinyl (with "bonus" cd) and this is all good to see

Ice Cream For Quo said...

Interesting piece. I was very disappointed with the album, but maybe I should give the vinyl a go.

K.N Hatton said...

Thanks for this. I found the CD unlistenable - as I did with 'Modern Times' I was trying to save some cash as I always buy vinyl where possible. However I've never experienced such a marked difference between formats as this. Now you have explained why - and of course it makes perfect sense - especially in these times.

fraddict said...

"A CD has a dynamic range of 96 dB (6dB per bit x 16 bits"

Bit0=0dB (silence must be defined too)
Now we have used 16 bits. So, the range is 90dB at most. Correct?