Pleasure level

August 1, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

Sometimes I find myself wondering whether or not what I am listening to is any good. If it only sounds marginally acceptable it might be the way the artist and recording engineer hoped it would sound. Or not.

I am not going to like everything.

One of my main indicators of whether a track is sonically working or not is pretty simple. Do I want to turn it up or down in volume?

If I grimace at the dynamics and scrunch my face at the sometimes blare of an instrument, I want to turn down the level.

That’s not a great recording.

But those toe-tapping times when I itch to turn up the level and go, go, go! That to me is the mark of a great recording.

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11 comments on “Pleasure level”

  1. And some audio recordings can be a combination of Jekyll & Hyde,
    ie.’euphoric chills’ in some sections & ‘painful grimace’ in others
    …go figure.
    If your favourite canned music is mostly from the last millennia then these
    ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ recordings are something that can occur occasionally,
    although not always.
    After all canned music is, in a lot of ways, a compromise.

    However, if your canned musical interests start around the time that
    ‘Octave Records’ made their first commercial release…well, no hay problema 🙂

    **OFF TOPIC**
    A 27yo Australian father has won Olympic gold in the inaugural men’s BMX freestyle event.
    His name is ‘Logan Martin’…I kid you not.
    He made all of his winning points on his first run.
    He was not required to perform a 2nd run to win the gold medal,
    but he did anyway; he treated it as his ‘victory lap’.

  2. Unfortunately most or too many audio “pro’s” seem just to be pro’s in sense of being capable of following a given work procedure professionally, but they can’t handle and choose the many variables to produce a media that’s sounding good. Too bad that nearly all manufacturers build products which rely on the opposite. Their products more or less just sound really good with a perfectly produced media. What a discrepancy.

    Regarding the rest of the post, too much is mixed up for me. Dynamics, blare, toe tap…and all usually in very different connection with the wish of turning up the volume. Would need an own abstract to get all this in a meaningful combination 😉

  3. I have many instances where I know I have to use specifically tuned equipment to enjoy certain types of recordings at a reasonable volume level, which is why I own 4 different headphones including a pair of IEMS.
    I engage in a more visceral listening experience when it comes to headphones, so I am indeed sensitive to bad recordings. I find a lot of my original cd recordings from the 1980’s sound the best to me. I have great modern recordings as well, but overall from a specific era the 1980’s win throughput my massive cd collection.

    I’m at that point when I listen to music, especially through headphones I can immediately tell when waveforms are stretched unnaturally or when the music is dynamically compressed. The vocals and the bass are usually the dead giveaway of this.

    Happy Sunday Everyone. 🙂

    Also Paul. We should have and celebrate really good recordings with in our community here like a “Dynamic Range Day” or something. I think it would be really fun, especially given the various tastes in music we all have on here. 🙂

  4. In the the past several months, I have been purchasing vinyl records and CDs after reading reviews of recordings that I hope will make my juices flow. Too many times, the recording sounded so horrid that I’ve asked for and received a full or partial refund. What’s the point of keeping a poor recording? I know that I’ll never listen to it again because it just sounded that bad.

    On the other hand, I’ve been purchasing recordings that are more than worthy of bringing the volume up.

    Several posts ago I made mention of a stellar recording on Chesky Records and spoke about the fact that as much as I loved the music and sonics it had two downsides. Since then I have changed my opinion of this recording from ‘stellar’ to ‘beyond belief’. At 2 AM I listened to this binaural recording for the third time but on headphones through my headphone amp and much to my amazement the same recording brought up my pleasure level exponentially. It should’ve been obvious that binaural recordings will sound better through headphones.

    My search continues for high pleasure level recordings. The Zuill Bailey recording should arrive this coming Tuesday and I’m pretty sure it will not disappoint.

  5. The biggest problems I have with some of my vinyl is sibilance due to the record being pressed too hot or in some of my older ( 1950’s and 1940’s ) Blues recordings they over drove the microphones and there is breakup distortion. Obviously, I do not turn it up when I have either of these.

  6. Yes, it’s strange with sibilance. Always depending on the original mix, mic placement, stylus shape but also mastering. There are different masterings of the same title with and without sibilance, independent of how hot it was cut in my experience.

    Other than that the main cause for how loud we finally are comfortable to play a recording imo is its tonal balance (includes the mentioned occasional blare as a negative). Good or bad dynamics or toe tap factor on the other hand imo is nothing that keeps us from playing it loud, it may just be an initial trigger. But if the tonality is right for being played loud, even a recording with less toe tap factor or dynamics can be played lout without a real problem.

  7. Hi All,
    Reproduced music quality has always intrigued me. From the early days of listening to a AM transistor radio through a single ear “bud” to a mega Hi-Fi with many loudspeakers and amplifiers I am always amazed at what we CAN hear.

    I think vehicles have made me the most intolerant to POOR recordings. This could be because of the outlandish locations manufactures choose to putting the speakers and the phase distortions resulting. Could it be because of the lousy DA convertors in modern vehicle playback systems? Or the belief that more bass is the answer?

    Having always compared the sound I hear to original sources (i.e. voice or specific instrument) my conclusion is somewhere in the recording chain there were crappy loudspeakers (room too). This resulted in a recording that was as good as it could be. Maybe it has no highs (monitors real bright), too much bass (monitor speakers w/no low end).
    Think about channel separation, timing, room echo, artificial echo the list goes on. If the monitor speakers are not accurate we get something less than realistic.

    I’m not plugging a brand but think B&W. Abby Road Studios uses B&W speakers in most of their Process. Give me an example of a lousy recording from Abby Road Studios?


  8. “One of my main indicators of whether a track is sonically working or not is pretty simple. Do I want to turn it up or down in volume?” That follows a universal law of life. Unless we are masochistic, we want to minimize, diminish or eliminate anything that causes us discomfort. On the other hand, we like to increase the intensity of those things that bring us pleasure, up to an optimal level of full enjoyment. We typically then after a while tire of the intensity and decrease it, or end it altogether. The law applies to any activity: eating, sex, sports, hobbies, music.

  9. “But those toe-tapping times when I itch to turn up the level and go, go, go! That to me is the mark of a great recording.”

    But that is also the mark of a great system in a well-set-up room. So you must know either the recording or the system/room very well to differentiate between them. This is one of the challenges when hopping from one room to the next at an audio show.

  10. If it sounds terrible at low levels it’s not going to get any better as you raise the volume. I can tell at low levels if its worth playing any louder. The louder you play it you need to figure out if its sounding worse because you are hearing the bad on the recording at a higher level or maybe due to limitations somewhere in your system or maybe due to poor placement of your speakers and room acoustics. There are some older Beatles and Stones recordings that are terrible but a few years later you can tell there was a major improvement in their recordings. Seems to have been a breakthrough somewhere in the late 60’s.

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