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We judge music's loudness by its dynamic contrasts. Which is why a piece like Aaron Copeland's Fanfare for the Common Man sounds so very loud despite the fact the majority of its content is softly played. As the distant, softly recorded trumpet offers its opening line, your ear relaxes its loudness defenses to gather all that is there, only to be startled by the 100 times louder drum whack. Even if the system volume isn't turned high, that drum whack sounds louder than it actually is. It's the contrast that makes us gauge ultimate level. What's interesting about this observation is that those seeking to win the loudness wars might actually succeed if they offered up some dynamic relief. Reducing the overall volume will increase the perceived loudness. It's ironic that we judge the loudest by its opposite, the softest.
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Paul McGowan

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