iPod Ruined our Sound, Says Metallica

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Too loud, too tinny, not any good. Our fault? No, way. Rusted rockers Metallica are blaming the iPod for ruining their sound, specifically the rattle and hum on latest effort ‘Death Magnetic.’ Fortunately, the WSJ is on the case (love the stipple portrait of Rick Rubin):

“The battle has roots in the era before compact discs. With vinyl records, “it was impossible to make loud past a certain point,” says Bob Ludwig, a veteran mastering engineer. But digital technology made it possible to squeeze all of the sound into a narrow, high-volume range. In addition, music now is often optimized for play on the relatively low-fidelity earbuds for iPods, reducing incentives to offer a broad dynamic range.”

Making Metallica’s clatter barely listenable on an iPod.
For better or worse, iPods have changed the way we listen.  The first time I really heard Mick Jagger singing backup on “You’re So Vain” it was on a secondhand first-generation iPod.

Anybody else?

66 responses to “iPod Ruined our Sound, Says Metallica”

  1. csbmonkey says:

    They didn’t need Apple of the iPod’s help to “ruin” their sound. Sound engineers and record labels ruined it with over-engineered loudness. It is significantly more complicated an issue than “The iPod ruined our sound!” Of course, though, it is Metallica, and they do so love whining about things.

  2. ballpein says:

    Blaming poor engineering on the iPod is a load of bull. Well engineered music sounds good across a variety of devices, regardless of their fidelity. No one has ever listened to The White Album, or Dark Side of the Moon, or Thriller, or Ride the Lightning on an iPod and said, “oh man, this sounds okay, but I wish they would re-master it for these earbuds”.

    The “loudness wars,” as they’re referred to, have more to do with fm radio and club playback then they do ipods. Prior generations of music lovers have enjoyed music on 8-tracks, AM radio, and cassette tape. To suggest that the iPod is more lo-fi than any of these media is ridiculous.

  3. John Wright says:

    Absolute garbage. First, if there is a fidelity issue, it’s with the earphones, not the iPod. I use high fidelity earbuds from Shure with my iPod and they don’t sound any worse than my AKG studio phones. Second, iPods play whatever you give them to play; a low quality mp3 or a high quality Apple Lossless and everything in between. Metallica should be campaigning against mp3s or recordings of less than a certain bitrate, not the iPod in general.

  4. phaty says:

    Metallica should not be heart at all in the first place!
    Ruined the sound? If I had a high-end-hi-fi machine at home I would buy Vinyl oder CDs but I listen to music I buy on iTunes on an iPod in my iOpel (that is a car) and I couldn’t care less … !
    iTunes changed the way music is consumed – periode.

  5. Paul Vaughn says:

    That doesn’t explain the poor sound quality on “…And Justice For All” which came out well before the iPod. Metallica has not been very fastidious in turning their sound into recordings.

  6. Adam says:

    Encode at higher bit rates and buy better earphones.

  7. Captain Snicklefret says:

    Maybe they could pony up some money and buy quality headphones. You know… the big ones that go over the ear so you can hear all the bass you want? I always throw those in-ear things in a drawer somewhere. They are simply useless.

  8. Scott says:

    Metallica have been whining about digital music since day one. Maybe they should focus on earning a living the old fashioned way instead of demanding it be handed to them on a golden, well… platter.

  9. Guntis says:

    How do you “optimize” sound to be played “on the relatively low-fidelity earbuds for iPods”? By making it as loud as possible? But who’s “optimizing” it for such playback? Sound engineers at those big recording studios? So why can’t Metallica guys ask those engineers to “optimize” their recordings for good headphones and enjoy their music?

  10. g says:

    Yep, low-fidelity iPod earbuds are absolutely at fault, since they replaced cassette tapes, car radios, and Walkmans, all of which provided high-quality audio experiences.

  11. Martijn says:

    The funny thing is that most of the recordings made in the 70s (Pink Floyd, Keith Jarrets’ “Köln Concert” are the best sounding cd’s. However, there is a point. If you ever listened to an uncut recording from a desk, before it is mastered to cd, it sounds as good and fresh as, well, a 70s Pink Floyd recording.

    I blame mastering for the loss of detail and the evil of marketeers who thought that 16 bits is enough for sound reproduction so 74 minutes could be crammed onto a small disc.

    Ow, and I even heard Mick Jagger sing those vocals on my crappy mono clock radio, so I think you just never payed attention ;-)

  12. WC says:

    Eh, it’s just Metallica, since when haven’t they blamed their problems on somebody else?

  13. Slagheap says:

    “…Says Metallica”? Metallica said nothing about iTunes or iPod in that article. In fact Metallica appears to have said nothing except their producer Rick Rubin defending the sound, and fan response.

  14. Steve says:

    Metallica’s latest work is awesome. I love my iPod too, errr the sounds are great if you don’t use Apple’s rather naff earbuds. So i went to Wallmart last year and bought these cool plug-in-yer-ear ones. Sounds are now fantastic. Obvious really.. :-)

    “Rusted rockers” ? lol
    Love Metallica – Love Apple. Not taking sides!! ;p

  15. pettifog says:

    I listen to classical and went though the transition between analog and digital. Analog is heavily massaged before production, because of the equalization required for LP’s and tape. Recording engineers. first went by their instinct formed under analog and the resulting sound was poor on digital. Maybe their live in the past and wont give up embedded bad habits. Or if your business is going down because of the garbage you produce, you blame the other guy instead.

  16. Stevew says:

    The problem is in poor mastering. The vast majority of modern music is just too loud on the CD.

    Metallica have always had poor quality sound on their records. They only have two records that I consider to have good sound (Ride the Lightning and the Black album). The rest sound awful with the worst being And Justice for All. Master of Puppets sounds flat. Their debut album was not given the time or the financial backing to get a great sound but as with many ‘under produced’ records, retains a lot of fire. For all its poor production it’s nice to listen to.

  17. Stevew says:

    In the above post I should have said the problem is ‘probably’ in poor mastering.

    Anyway if anyone is interested this article may shed some light on the problem:

    http://www.austin360.com/arts/

  18. Justin says:

    That’s a pretty sensationalist headline there, considering Metallica have said nothing about the iPod or the sound of their album. It even says in the article that they did not comment. You’re just trying to get traffic here by falsely stating that Metallica are angry at yet another bit of technology. And people that don’t bother to RTFA are more than happy to jump on that bandwagon.

    I agree that the album is mastered poorly and that the loudness war that’s going on is getting out of hand, but don’t go making things up to lure the Metallica hating internet folk over and throwing them a piece of meat to ravenously tear up. That’s very poor ‘journalism’.

  19. General-Reader says:

    Metallica needs to stop. If they don’t want there music published. sign the do not publish agreement. On a side note: I’m surprised that they have any fan-base after the Napster incident. I for one have not listened or purchased anything crap-tallica has produced, Endorsed or promoted from that date.
    Just my rant. take it however you want.

  20. Sky says:

    8 bit, 22 kHz, mono, WAV. This was the standard for emerging CDROM-based multimedia in back 1990. Is was all that early PCs could handle without breaking up. Yes it sounded sounded horrible, until a small company called Waves invented a software limiter called L1 that could mash the audio to fit into those 8 bits. It was a huge improvement in the early 90s, but unfortunately this technique defined standards that never went away as computer technology evolved. Waves is up to L3 today, along with several competitors offering similar products for digital recording studios.

    So Metallica’s rant against Apple is misplaced. I’ll guess they know better, them being in the industry and all. But it’s good politics for them to go after a visible target like Apple in hopes that Apple can be pressured into evangelizing changes across the industry.

    For what it’s worth, tools like Waves L3 are getting better all the time, so maybe in the next few years we can have our music loud AND clear.

  21. CG says:

    Wow, talk about a misleading response to that article. If you would have bothered to read the article you would have found the line that says,

    “Metallica and the album’s producer, Rick Rubin, declined to comment.”

    It’s the “fans” that are bitching and moaning. The fact is there are plenty of places to listen to any album before you buy it. If you don’t like the way it sounds, DON’T BUY IT! I know, what a novel concept, but in today’s society you can’t draw attention to yourself by using common sense. You have to do it by stepping out and bitching about something. It’s like buying a Kia and bitching because it doesn’t ride like a Bentley. Gimme a break!

    Besides if you’re an audiophile, WTF are you complaining about the sound from an iPod???

  22. themark says:

    I don’t recall any legislation forcing them to release their music on CD. If they’re so purist, they should stick to vinyl. Oh… no money there? Hard cheese then. Suck it up.

  23. Tom says:

    Who the heck cares what they think about anything.

  24. TerryL says:

    Buy something that will replicate the sound properly – not a sodding iPod, it is crap. Bling to the idiots.

  25. Ilgaz says:

    I bet Depeche Mode fans will have lot to say about this matter :)

    It is mastering engineers choice and CDs and AAC (especially AAC having roots at Dolby/Movies) has a very good dynamic range. The process they apply is called “compression” (not related to mp3 or aac) meaning maximising the volume to entire track. It is what TV stations do while ads air, it is not “louder” it is “equally loud”.

    Rubin loves playing with master and even after drum sound disaster of previous album (toying with protools) he insists keeping it. Radiohead fans can handle such tricks, Metallica is a “old school” band.

    Slayer doesn’t let him though :)

  26. Dougg says:

    This issue was actually taken apart by the national aussie radio station Triple J a couple of nights ago. Apparently the story was that people bought the cd, thought it sounded flat (but passable), then heard the same music on the latest Guitar Hero and were amazed at how rich and clear the audio was, and how much more detail there was to the sound. As the DJs put it, “it’s like the whole band has been put through a distortion pedal”.

    They blamed it on he original sound recordists trying to create too much volume artificially by simply turning up the levels. Then the mixer, who received the recordings as is with this massive soundwave, was forced to clip it so extremely in order to fit it on a cd (80s tech, hellooo!) that it affected the sound. Meanwhile the band apparently commented that it sounded alright to them…

    iPods aren’t to blame for this, or any other digital music medium. In part it’s our fault as consumers for being slow to relinquish our fondness for outdated tech…cds were surpassed as music carriers long ago, yet they’re still by far the most popular way of distributing music commercially. The marketing for media players shares some of the blame too…yes a 120gb iPod will hold a hojillion songs at 3mb each, but if you can sacrifice having fewer than a hojillion, your music device will handle pretty much whatever the highest fidelity digital recording is. We’re not strangled by miniscule capacities anymore, so why not embrace digital distribution for the better sound quality it offers?

    Bikers and bogans are the only ones who listen to Metallica anyway.

  27. AttK says:

    While I think that “Death Magnetic” contains the best material these guys have churned out since the Black album, the CD itself sounds like total crap! WAY over-compressed! I mean, when the kick and snare hit, all the guitars and bass get pulled back due to the severe ammount of limiting on this CD. And this is all before the thing gets turned into a data-compressed file, so of course it’s gonna sound worse on an iPod! It’s sad that the mastering engineers are letting the clients base sound quality on sheer loudness instead of enjoyable listening…

  28. Torley says:

    Learn more about the “loudness war” referred to above:

    » http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L

    Blaming the iPod without corroborative evidence is wrong. Ludwig is a mastering genius, but his words are being taken the wrong way by people who don’t understand the audio signal chain process.

  29. Henrik says:

    Video of Guitar Hero vs. CD version of Metallica’s latest album, which shows the problem clearly on my cheap speakers:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v

    Nice, eh?

  30. DPM says:

    THAT’S THE WORST HEADLINE I HAVE SEEN, VERY SENSATIONALIST!
    Come on guys, READ THE STUPID ARTICLE!! As some have pointed out (very few), Metallica has not said anything, it’s just the fans complaining. Rush’s Vapor Trails had the same issues and was highly criticized. The loudness war has been going for years and this will not be the last of the loud albums that is produced. Everyone is responsible for the loudness of current music, as a musician and audio guy I have a little insight on the problem, A&R people don’t want to listen to a DEMO that doesn’t sound as loud or even as professional as a commercially produced track, on the other hand compressors and limiters used during sessions trick musicians in a studio with great monitors (speakers) to think they are going to sound massive and then they get disappointed when they don’t hear the same result on their CD that’s what makes mastering engineers, pressured by producers and the band, to raise the volume of the song so they can compete in the radio which has its own compressors for broadcast.
    The iPod can play a bunch of different files compressed or uncompressed. If you are using an iPod you want portability and capacity. With current capacities you can use the best quality of compression in MP3 or AAC and still have a lot of space for many albums. The iPod is a great invention and contributes to the music industry, the same as Apple, it’s just bad business and narrow minds that gets in the way of creating and listening to music.

  31. chuckyck says:

    It’s very sad to see a writer of Cult Of Mac saying that Metallica said something about iPod.

    First of all, Mr. Bob Ludwig has nothing to do with Metallica.

    Second, Metallica didn’t said anything about the quality of the record sound or even iPods or things like that.

    I hope you rectify this article, beacuse you have done one thing with it: YOU LIED

    You invented and put words in other’s mouth. If you’re are going to continue writing FALSE and SENSATIONALIST articles here you better do it in your personal blog (if you got one), not in CULT OF MAC, because you are damaging the image and the reputation of this awesome blog.

    Apart from that you invent something about Metallica and use it against them to defend your iPod. I got 7 iPods, and IMO they are not the best quality sounding devices, not the worst, not the best. I totally agree with you it changed the way we listen to music.

    Summarizing, you invented something to demostrate how much love you got for you iPod and it’s sound quality.

    One thing is CULT and another one is FUNDAMENTALISM.

    Sorry of my english, it’s not my mother tongue.

  32. MacBore says:

    It has nothing to do with the iPod but all to do with radio play. The more compressed the sound, the more you can hear on a radio. Blame the record companies for telling the mastering companies to push it to the max. The sound distorts on any equipment, even iPods.
    Anyway didn’t Wired report this in 2004?
    http://www.wired.com/wired/arc

  33. serviathan says:

    Metallica’s sound was already ruined back in ’86 when Cliff was killed in the bus crash. How could technology make them sound any worse.