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RE: Noise levels and dynamic range

I think an exchange we had a year ago about the BIS "The Sounds of Sibelius" over at SA-CD.net is especially on point in this thread:

Post by Oakland March 29, 2011 (303 of 460)
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After a bad stumble out of the starting blocks I now most thoroughly enjoy this disc. For the first work, "Karelia Suite", which I am very familiar, a substantial underpinning of rhythmic bass is an absolute requisite. But upon first listen I was completely under whelmed by the presentation. I was thinking "where's the beef", more specifically where's the bass?!

I initially thought that this was a 5.1 mix and that perhaps the bass was being redirected to a subwoofer that I don't have in my 5.0 system. I switched to two channel but the bass was still anemic. And the program notes confirmed that this was, indeed, a 5.0 mix.

As it turns out the fix was utterly simple. Boost the volume!, which I figured out by the second composition, "The Wood-Nymph"; not by much mind you, but just enough for the music to fill in. I had lazily retained the volume level of the previous disc from a previous listening session and had not bothered to make adjustments. The initial volume level "seemed" adequate but wasn't. I don't want to give the impression that I had to play "Sound of Sibelius" excessively loud for optimal play back. *Not at all*; the volume required was just moderately loud as with most any Romantic type orchestral composition. It's only that this disc was probably recorded at a slightly lower level than the previous disc I had listened to. Turning the volume up 3-6 db (my guess) really snapped the music into focus

The frequency range of this disc, top to bottom, is as well balanced as can be asked and the bass is magnificent, neither understated nor overstated. The dynamic range, too, really hits the bulls eye.

The performances are well done. In addition to "Karelia Suite", I am quite familiar with the "Swan of Tuonela", " Valse Trist", and, of course, "Finlandia". I enjoyed them all and the "Wood-Nymph" was an eye opener.

Robert C. Lang



Response post by Fitzcaraldo215 March 30, 2011 (307 of 460)

Robert you are entirely correct, and this should have been underscored before. There are no level standards in music recording, though it usually seems labels have a standard house level they use fairly consistently. My limited experience with BIS is that they require at least 3-4 dB higher playback level than, say, Telarcs, Polyhymnias, etc. Other labels go the other way. Pragas seem to require 6 dB of cut relative to those same labels or about 10 dB less than the BIS's I am familiar with. I do not know of other labels that are cut at as low a level as this recording. It's also true of the superb Neschling, Sao Paolo Respighi disk and other BIS's.

It's not a problem, of course, unless you do not make the proper adjustment on playback. And, the most notable impact of this if the level is not set properly is likely to be "anemic" bass, because of the way we hear - Fletcher-Munson, et al. Having a digital volume readout is quite useful in this regard. I now usually know at least where to start searching for the right volume setting before even pushing play as a function of the label.




Robert C. Lang


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