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The end of too-loud adverts?

Here’s one for Squander Two: the Advertising Standards Authority is running a consultation on how best to get rid of too-loud TV adverts.

As S2 points out from time to time, adverts aren’t actually any louder than the programmes in terms of peak levels; however, they *are* louder overall, because they’re compressed. The same thing happens with some CDs, which is why the Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ Californication was described as “almost unlistenable” in the papers over the weekend.

As the linked item explains, the problem is one of peaks. Ads can’t exceed certain peak levels, so advertisers simply compress the utter crap out of their soundtracks so that every single sound is approaching the peak levels.

In the real world, a whisper is quieter than a scream. With enough compression, you can make the whisper and the scream sound equally loud. Essentially that’s what the most invasive adverts do.

So what’s happening now? The ASA says:

broadcasters should be better able to match the sound levels of ads with the sound output of the whole channel. That means there should be less of a perceived imbalance between ad and programme sound levels, leading to less viewer irritation and fewer complaints to the ASA.

The consultation ends in August, but don’t get in touch if you just want to say that ads are too loud:

The purpose of the consultation is not simply to ask if TV ads are too loud: BCAP [the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice] already acknowledges that some viewers perceive that they are. Instead, the purpose of the consultation is to encourage technically informed responses as to whether the proposed rule will give broadcasters enough guidance to ensure that there will be less of a perceived disparity between the sound levels of TV ads and programmes.

9 replies on “The end of too-loud adverts?”

“perceived” — there’s a word crying out for a big argument.

I believe there are already sound meters that can measure perceived volume as opposed to volume, but I doubt the principles behind their design have been standardised. That’s what this consultation needs to do: establish an objective definition of “perceived volume”. Good luck with that.

Isn’t there a fairly easy way to measure average db in a piece of sound? Any audio editor does that pre-normalisation, or am I thinking of something completely different?

Yeah, but is average the same as perceived? I doubt it: the human brain’s rarely that simple.

Besides, that just cues an argument between sound technicians, physicists, and mathematicians about which type of average to use. I’d love to hear that argument, but I’m washing my hair that day.

I’ve read the explanation twice now (and had heard of it before), but I’m still not sure I get it. Does this compression stuff mean they can make the same sound appear louder?

Say someone records the sentence “Buy a new car at XYZ cars”. It sounds normal and some of the words/characters (?) are spoken softer/quieter than others. Then they run this compression stuff over it and to the human ear it sounds louder because now all the words are spoken at the same volume?

Something like that? Excuse my ignorance, I’m just not sure I’m getting it. But I’d like to understand this.

That’s basically it, yes. In the case of adverts, though, you’ve also got background music and sound effects and other stuff, so even the slight pauses inbetween words and sentences are filled with maximum-volume sound.

Armin, if you imagine music as a wave shape so you’ve got peaks and troughs. The peaks are the loud bits, the troughs the quiet bits. With compression, the distance between the peaks and the troughs is reduced, so the overall volume appears louder. You can compress specific frequencies rather than the whole track, so for example you can make the low end sound much quieter and the high end much louder or vice versa.

Here’s an example. The first track is a bunch of garageband loops and blabbing thrown together; the second is exactly the same track with some major compression on it.

Uncompressed

Compressed

One thing that confuses people about compression, I think, is the name. So, just to make it clear: compression actually makes things quieter; it compresses the sound, as you’d expect. What sound engineers actually do is first compress the sound and then crank the volume up. The compression alters the sound in such a way that, when you bring its volume back to its original level, it sounds louder.

I hope that helped and didn’t just cause more confusion.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a device on your TV set which automatically ‘mutes’ the sound when the adverts are on.

I’d definitely buy one.

Does anything like that exist now ?

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