MP3 Compression or Bad Mastering?

When I heard Jay-Z and Kanye’s “Murder to Excellence” on the radio and internet, the song sounded muffled.  The cymbals aren’t crisp.  The entire song, including the vocals, sounds like it’s coming out of bad speakers.  I figured maybe the spectral range of the song was too broad for mp3 compression and it was losing the high frequency detail.  I wanted to hear the real thing, so I bought the CD to get a good copy of the song.  Here’s what I got.  It’s the WAV file of Murder to Excellence from the Watch the Throne CD.

poorly mastered song

Murder to Excellence WAV file

You can see that all the levels are too high.  The CD sounds just as bad as the mp3 version.  I guess that’s a good thing, because it means I can feel comfortable ripping all my CD’s to mp3’s for convenience.  There’s definitely no need for SACD, DVD-Audio, or a $6,000 CD player to get good sound.  The problem with Kanye’s recording is that there’s no 3 dB – 6 dB of headroom, as there should be.:

Optimum-mix-levels-for-mastEric Clapton demonstrates proper audio mastering here in the first track of Journeyman.

properly mastered song

Eric Clapton’s Pretending, an example of good audio mastering

Digging deeper into Murder to Excellence reveals that the beginning of the song exhibits normal clipping, shown in red.  But the rest of the song must have been passed through a dynamic range compressor since the peaks get sliced off before they reach the maximum value.  See the flat spots after 1:22.630.

Murder to Excellence clipping 2

normal clipping in the intro to Murder to Excellence

Murder to Excellence clipping 3

flat spots (e.g. after 1:22.630) in the body of Murder to Excellence, but not quite at maximum levels, imply dynamic range compression


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