Some thoughts on MP3 and mastering
There’s been a small discussion on Twitter lately about the loudness wars, dynamic range and distortion in mastering. Because Twitter limits your thoughts to a few characters, I figured I’d do a short post here instead.
Rather than get into the loudness war debate which has raged on for a decade, I’d like to touch on a subject that you don’t hear about much…MP3s.
It’s safe to assume that music is being listened to on MP3 more than WAV or even vinyl these days. They save hard drive space, quicker download times and let’s face it, most people can’t hear the difference between 320kbps MP3 and WAV anyway.
The thing is however, most people aren’t listening at 320, they’re listening at lower bit rates. Soundcloud has become somewhat of the standard for searching out new music and they are converting to 128kbps.
If you take a master WAV that’s been mastered to peak at 0dbfs and convert it to 128kbps MP3, it’s now peaking at least 2db’s over zero! That’s audible distortion and people are now accustomed to hearing it daily.
This is from Soundcloud’s own help section:
Sometimes our transcoding system can create audio artifacts, as we transcode all tracks to 128 kbps mp3 for streaming playback. Uploading a lossless or high-quality lossy file will usually reduce these to a minimum, but unfortunately there’s not much we can do for the handful of individual tracks that are…