New Music Clipping & Dynamic Range

As professional entertainers, we care about the quality of our work. We spend countless hours preparing for events, & invest thousands of dollars, on lighting, equipment & music. It’s important to have the right equipment, so our clients & their guests, enjoy great music, & want to dance at their celebration. Great care is taken, to select the right players, mixers, amps & speakers, but what if the original music is not a good as you expect?

Many seasoned DJs, know that music was produced differently years ago. Today, it seems that every song is “at maximum volume” with little or no dynamic range. Dynamic range in music, is the difference between loud & quieter passages of the song. This article is about dynamic range & the poor quality of much of the music that we buy. But there is a partial solution to this problem & I have even been able to make the MP3’s that are added to GoodMusicDJ.com’s library, sound even better than the original CDs! That may sound impossible, but I have evidence. So sit down, have a cup of joe, & see if you want to spend a little more time & effort to make your DJ business sound better.

I’m using several examples from different sources to demonstrate what I’ve learned & I’ll explain the process to make your music sound better.

The first example is “Nice to Meet Me” by Tino Cochin a VBR MP3, recently purchased from Amazon at 6,908 kb. I opened the file with Sony Sound Forge 8. Here’s what the song looks like: (Click on any screenshot below to enlarge)
Nice to Meet Me (Original VBR) copy
Ugly, isn’t it? Look at how the levels are slammed. There is constant clipping!

The next step, is to reduce the volume of the entire song by 5.25 db! This involves trial & error & the amount of volume reduction depends on whether or not the final MP3 contains any clipping. Here’s what reducing the volume by 5.25db, looks like:
Nice to Meet Me (down 525) copy

The final process in Sound Forge is to save this file at 128kbit/44kHz. Here’s what the final MP3 looks like, that is added to the library; after proper tagging, of course:

Nice to Meet Me (Final) copy
The final MP3 is less than 1/2 the size of the original VBR file & sounds so much better! Clipping has been eliminated & there is improved dynamic range! Clipping is a type of distortion that is often mistaken for just too high volume. This improved dynamic range makes the sound much more pleasing to the ear. The music is not constantly at the maximum volume. When music is constantly at the maximum volume, over time, this is grating on the nerves & people begin to complain that the music is “too loud” and you’ll be asked to turn down the volume. GoodMusicDJ has never experienced blown tweeters or other speaker components, but sometimes other DJ companies have this problem. Perhaps the cause can be traced to these clipped waves or square waves. When square waves are pumped into a speaker, the result can be blown tweeters.

Now let’s take a look at a song we play nearly every night, Billie Jean from Michael Jackson’s History double CD. I used an older version of iTunes to rip the CD to a wav file. A wav file, is not a compressed file, but allows for lossless saving. The original wav file is huge at 50,589 kb & you would think this is the best quality you can have, right? I’ll show you that my MP3, that is 1/10 the size actually sounds better because is does not have the clipping present, in the original CD. Here’s the a zoomed in view of the clipping present in the first drum beat of the original wav (raw file from disc) of Billie Jean:

Billie Jean 1st Drum Beat copy
I placed my cursor (vertical line) on the part of the wave where you can actually see the top of the wave is squared off. This is clipping. That’s horrible distortion, although in this case, just a little bit. But I don’t want any distortion in my music!

Next, Sound Forge is used to reduce the volume of the original wav file, this time only -2.25db (trial & error). Here’s what that looks like (zoomed out)

Billie Jean -225 copy

Now just save it to 128/44 file size & this is what is added to GoodMusicDJ.com’s library:

Billie Jean Final 0db copy

The result is zero clipping! The MP3 sounds better than the original CD because clipping has been eliminated. Many of us don’t realize that making an MP3 file can increase the volume of our music in the process of encoding; so a song already at 0db on the CD will be clipped when converted to MP3. This produces distorted music that we play over our expensive gear & hope it sounds good. I’ve actually found a source for my music that has taken this into account & doesn’t record the CD’s with a 0db level.

┬áSo far, I’ve given 2 examples; a purchased VBR MP3 via the internet & store bought CD directly from the artist, both are examples of how this process can improve fidelity.

The final example I’ll use is from a source that supplies music to many of us. This song is from a disc from (name withheld) from December 2004, “Mr Brightside by the Killers. Here’s the original wav file in Sound Forge before editing:

Mr Brightside (Original)

Once again, Sound Forge is used to reduce this uncompressed wav file by -2.5db (trial & error), the result looks like this:

Volume down 250
Saving this edited wav file to MP3 at 128/44 format, the result looks like this:

Mr Brightside (Final)
It’s not much, but there is a little more dynamic range & no clipping!

I don’t know why this works, but it does! I can actually improve the fidelity of some of the poorly produced music that is in our libraries. It’s almost like changing lead into gold.

Another reason to revisit some of the music in our library is that some of the songs are not loud enough. “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees, from the Saturday Night Fever CD, needed to have the volume turned up by +1.6db. Now it sounds better.

In conclusion, I’m not suggesting that you scrap your entire music library & start all over, but you may want to see if this is something you might implement over time. Perhaps taking the Top 100 fast songs list & editing 10 of the songs in a week. Remember to rip to a wav file, make the edits, then save to your MP3 format. Over time you’ll have a more musical sounding system with less irritation & fewer people complaining that the music is just “too loud”.

Keep on Rockin’!

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