Jun 16, 2009

EQ is not QC

The equalizer options on most mp3 et al players these days don't necessarily mean best quality control and sound. Audio and mastering engineers are around for a reason and well-produced music is "ready to go" once on your portable music player, computer, or CD player.

I've received a few pieces of interesting feedback regarding distortion on my albums. I can assure you that there is no distortion on the master recordings. I discussed this with my engineer (Dusk Bennett) to shed some light for fans (and pondering fans) and here is the result...

From Dusk: "A lot of consumer grade playback devices (unfortunately) cannot handle samples that approach the theoretical limit of digital audio (0dBfs - that's decibels full scale) and will start to clip the samples with a resultant digital distortion that's not pretty. Buying a good CD player now is not a POS purchase. It takes some research and an understanding of the DAC's (device for converting a digital code to an analog signal) they implement in them.

One thing I have noticed with iTunes and other software playback driven systems is that the equalizer features do not work right. If you are listening to hot program material with ANY EQ engaged it can distort the audio. Essentially these programs do not account for full scale material (by appropriately reducing the program level a few dB to compensate for the EQ curves) so the curves force the audio device into distortion. I would suggest making sure you do not have this feature engaged when you use your playback software. I stopped using the EQ feature on my iPod the minute I turned it on because I realized what was happening.

As you could imagine it's a really frustrating time to be a mix engineer now. There are no QC standards implemented across the board, the FCC has thrown up their hands with controlling digital audio levels, and the consumers expect all of our hard work to get piped down to a low res mp3 file destined to be played back on a $100 playback system. I suppose until the consumers get fed up with it the status quo will continue (you go Dusk!).

Tip: I believe if you turn the master volume down (about 1/2 to 3/4) on the iPod (or iTunes) this gets around the EQ curve issue. It appears the EQ algorithm is a "post fader" EQ which is a really odd implementation to be honest. Of course the trade off is less volume. In that instance you would need a preamp to recover the signal loss. Since most preamps (stereos) have EQ's anyways, this pretty much renders the EQ feature as useless IMHO."

Buy albums you know are well produced and don't use the EQ when listening to these albums on certain devices. It works. Test it out. Try it with my albums. :) In the end it's up to you on the sound you want, but distortion should be held responsible by the FCC and makers of the electronic devices you buy.