Increasing volume of older recordings

I have a wide selection of music stored on my phone from several generations. It is painfully obvious that some of the older recordings are way lower than the newer stuff. Some are also lacking in bass. I would like to equalize them and bring the volume up a little so they blend better with everything else. The problem is they are already as high as they can go without clipping. The high spots are not entire passages, but rather very brief peaks. I have tried the C3 Multiband compressor but it doesn’t help much without making it sound compressed. Hard Limiter seems to work but causes a little distortion in some spots. I just downloaded Steve Dalton’s Limiter but haven’t had time to play with it yet. A few of the offending tracks are from Styx - The Grand Illusion and Fleetwood Mac - Rumours. I don’t want to completely change the sound of them or squash all the dynamics but can someone please help me make them a little louder?

Thanks,
Chris

can someone please help me make them a little louder?

I think that would be no.

You get the loudness by adding “distortion,” usually compression or limiting. The older recordings were using the -17dB standard as the “VU Middle” point and that was fine until the Loudness Wars where “good” is as loud as you can get.

So the fine, clear open sound of the older recordings is an artifact of the older sound standards.

The best you can do is apply the compression tools until you can hear the damage, and then back off.

Koz

Thank You. I did not know about the -17 dB standard. I don’t agree with the loudness wars and I do realize there will be some form of distortion introduced by making it louder. I want the least audible effects possible. The slight bass EQ below 100 Hz doesn’t seem to bump the spurious peaks much. I’m sure some compression was already used in mixing and mastering. Would a limiter and amplification be the way to go? They seem to be about 10 dB lower than the newer music. Maybe I could pick up about 6 dB.

Maybe I could pick up about 6 dB.

Which is barely audible.

My world tends to revolve around audiobooks, but you might find the gentle compression settings useful (Audacity 2.1.0, 2.1.1).

Audio Compressor
– Select the whole clip or show by clicking just above MUTE.
– Effect > Normalize: [X]Remove DC, [X]Normalize to 0 > OK
– Effect > Compressor: Thresh -20, Floor -40, Ratio 2:1, Attack 0.2, Release 1.0, > OK
– Effect > Normalize: [X]Remove DC, [X]Normalize to 0 > OK

The bracketing normalize steps can be handy because they let compression act in a similar fashion no matter where the original sound comes from or what its level. Naked compressor won’t do that.

The original posting version of those steps are for -3.2 normalize because that’s the audiobook standard, but you don’t have to do that if you don’t want to.

Normalizing to 0 can be dangerous because if you convert from high-quality WAV to a compressed format like MP3, the volume and peaks can actually go up slightly giving you clipping and overload damage. We generally recommend normalize to -1dB, but that shaves 1dB from your volume boost.

Isn’t this fun?

Koz

…so they blend better with everything else.

You might want to check-into [u]ReplayGain[/u].

ReplayGain scans your files in advance to find the “loudness”. Then, at playback time the volume is automatically adjusted (up or down) so that all of your songs play at (approximately) the same volume. Apple has a similar feature for iTunes, iPod, and iPhone called [u]Sound Check[/u].

This is a linear-constant adjustment like manually adjusting the volume before each song starts. There is no compression or limiting. (Sound Check may use limiting on peaks, and you can disable ReplayGain’s clipping prevention.)

If your player doesn’t support ReplayGain, there’s MP3gain and WaveGain that “permanently” adjusts the volume of your files. There is also an optional ReplayGain for Audacity if you want make “permanent” changes.

Since your dynamic quiet-sounding songs can’t be boosted without clipping, these tools will reduce the volume of your louder songs (and some people don’t like that).

Well, a little more experimenting on Fleetwood Mac tells me that a compressor doesn’t seem to do much. These peaks are so quick that any compressor I’ve tried leaves them alone. I have Smart Volume on my Samsung so maybe I’ll try it but that won’t increase the bass.

Looking at several tracks, I see that the peaks above -3 dB don’t occur much. I’m going to try hard limiting them to start. I’ll follow that with EQ. Then I’ll do another hard limit with some residue so the peaks aren’t just flat. Unlike my newer rock CD’s, there is still plenty of the waveform less than 0 dB.

For boosting bass there is a Bass and Treble effect, or you can use the Equalizer.

But, after boosting bass you may find that you need to bring down the volume to prevent clipping. (Run the Normalize or Amplify effect to check/adjust the peaks).

Looking at several tracks, I see that the peaks above -3 dB don’t occur much.

You can go ahead and Amplify until at least one peak hits 0dB. However, if you do that track-by-track you’ll change the relative levels between tracks on an album, which may be OK but the levels will vary from the original intent of the artist/producer.

Well, a little more experimenting on Fleetwood Mac tells me that a compressor doesn’t seem to do much. These peaks are so quick that any compressor I’ve tried leaves them alone.

A limiter is a faster kind of compression.

Unlike my newer rock CD’s, there is still plenty of the waveform less than 0 dB.

One thing that made those recordings sound so much better than modern rock (and better than most other recordings of the same time) is that they were more dynamic. I grew up with vinyl and Fleetwood Mac, Styx, Supertramp, and Pink Floyd were some of my best-sounding and “cleanest sounding” records. (Of course, “better” is subjective and plenty of people like the modern constantly-loud/constantly-intense sound.)