Though my ears aren't tuned enough to always tell the difference, I've never been a fan of audio compression--it's technology that mashes the dynamic range of a recording down, reducing the highness of the highs and the lowness of the lows, spitting out audio that fits in the middle of the spectrum and doesn't have huge peaks. The benefit is that these tighter waveforms can be made a whole lot louder.
That brings us to the "loudness wars," where you have people who prefer the full dynamic range of a recording versus a group who just wants it to be loud as hell. I don't really understand the argument in favor of loudness, as that's why most equipment has a fat volume knob on it. But this process is something that we struggle with a bit here at Giant Bomb--if you ever wondered why our podcast used to be quieter, it's because we were still figuring out how to properly compress it.
OK, I think I got all that right. Now, here's where it ties into games. There's been a raging fire out there on the Internet concerning Metallica's recent release, Death Magnetic. As I'm not in junior high anymore, I haven't heard the new album, but apparently it's loud as hell. And it's been completely smooshed down to a tight and not-very-dynamic range in the process. Audio nerds went bananas, online petitions were started.
But the album was also released as a download for Guitar Hero III and will also be available for Guitar Hero: World Tour. And apparently the version released there doesn't "feature" any of the harsh digital clipping and problems that the CD release has.
This makes sense, as Guitar Hero and Rock Band get access to the masters and are able to manipulate the tracks in different ways. For example, you've probably noticed that the guitar parts in Guitar Hero are usually louder than the rest of the song so you can better hear the parts you're playing.
Mastering Engineer Ian Shepherd takes a look at audio from both sources on his blog, with interesting results. He's also been tracking the uproar about the quality of the released album, complete with quotes from someone involved with the mastering of the album who shifts the blame off to the band and producer, Rick Rubin.
As a result of all this, illegal copies of the Metallica album, recorded off of a game console, are now swimming around the darker portions of the Internet.
Loudness wars aside, do you feel that we're heading for a future where a game console is going to be one of the best places to listen to (and interact with) music? Or are you too busy listening to 112kbps MP3s through the crappy headphones that come with an iPod to even care about things like "sound quality" and "dynamic range?"