I've been a metal-music addict since my early teens. But in the last few years I've listenend to more and more Rap/Trap and so on. And I've bought myself some really really expensive headphones to enjoy music and to pick up small details in the songs i listen to.

And lately sometimes i tryed listening to a metal song and i can't help but notice that everything sounds so incredibly muddy. Everything is centering around the mid, not particular highs nor real bass.

After a while of listening to it I just attune to it but immediatly after listening to rap where there is often really low 808's or high notes which make a sond very enjoyable to listen and diverse, i only find muddy mid-centered guitars when switching back to metal (generally speaking of course).

Why is this? Is this just bad recording, or (bad) practice/style?

PS: I've posted this on music fans SE but got no response other than a +1. I suppose too small community and hope that this is also a right site for it :)

closed as primarily opinion-based by Carl Witthoft, Todd Wilcox, Richard, Stinkfoot, MattPutnam Mar 19 '18 at 21:00

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    Hmmm. I think of the prototypical sound of metal guitar, from the 80's at least, as having scooped mids. That leads to a muddy sound since the guitar frequencies then clash with bass and drum frequencies. What guitars need to emphasize is midrange frequencies to stand out. Archtop acoustics were designed so that guitar would stand out in an acoustic band setting, and are midrangey for that reason. Also note that some overdrive effects, like the ubiquitous Tube Screamer, roll off the bass to get better projection in the midrange. – David Bowling Mar 14 '18 at 9:21
  • On the topic of high/low end extension, part of the reason for the lack of super low and high end compared to electronic genres is due to the characteristics of the instruments, as you say. Do you find other rock genres similarly muddy? – topo morto Mar 14 '18 at 9:28
  • There’s nothing bad at all about favoring mids. What’s wrong with mids? I personally prefer mids over bass and treble. Also, the word “muddy” is poorly defined. I personally only use it to refer to too much content around 250 Hz, which doesn’t sound good in any genre. Most professionally mixed music across all genres is well controlled in that range. – Todd Wilcox Mar 14 '18 at 12:30
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    @DavidBowling "metal players tend to just bash out chords. " As someone playing metal guitar for a long time and in a band, also knowing a lot of bands, i can confirm that this sadly often is the case. Not always but often. – MansNotHot Mar 14 '18 at 13:10
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    @MansNotHot-- absolutely not always the case. One of my favorite things about Eddie van Halen is the way he plays rhythm. He actually comps and sets up great grooves. – David Bowling Mar 14 '18 at 13:14

There's two parts to this question. For both, the reason largely comes down to “because the dominant instrument in metal is electric guitar“.

Why does metal have more muffled treble than some other genres?

It might not be one's first though to describe electric guitar as muffled, especially not distorted lead guitars. But actually they are, in a sense: no matter what amp / effects setting you use, the last thing this the signal passes through is the cabinet. And guitar cabinets only have one kind of speaker: a low/mid driver. Such a speaker strongly rolls of the treble above something like 6 kHz, which is why even a brutally scooped / distorted metal guitar actually has less high treble than an acoustic guitar. (This frequency response is needed to make the sound enjoyable despite the brutal clipping transients introduced by the distortion.)

The other instruments don't contribute much treble clarity either: in metal, singers focus on producing loud tone rather than breathy / consonant-rich lyrics. Metal bass tends to sit rather far back in the mix (and often really is pretty muffled). The by far strongest treble contribution comes from the cymbals, but ironically, it is because metal drummers play so loud that this doesn't add much clarity either: loudly played cymbals ring out as more of a white-noise carpet rather than crisp transients as you get from delicate play on the hi-hat or drum machines. Anyways, engineers in metal put much more emphasis on the drums than cymbals, and these don't offer as much treble as lower frequencies.

Why does metal not have as low notes as some other genres?

For one thing, metal is supposed to be in-your-face loud, but low frequencies require much more energy to be perceived as loud than mid/high frequencies do. Especially on records with a limited dynamic range (thanks, loudness wars), you simply don't have the headroom to put in the required bass-energy to compete with the loud guitar and snare drum mids. Mind, on metal concerts there is usually a pretty massive amount of bass, just your ears are then so numbed by the ridiculously loud midrange that you pretty much only feel the bass with your body anymore.

But also, bass frequencies aren't very useful for definition. The loudest bass instrument in rock is the kick drum, but most metal drummers want a rather “clicky” kick sound so that double bass assaults will come out with good rhythmic definition. Try that with a thumping hip-hop bass-drum sound, any you'll end up with pretty much just low-frequency rumble, not distinguishable 16th notes.

The actual bass is, again, either just so far back in the mix that it's hardly perceived, or it focuses on the midrange – for, again, better definition of fast passages, and in order to be properly heard against the guitars, which in metal often go pretty deep (but even an eight-string djent guitar has so much midrange that it's not perceived as so deep as synth sounds in electronic genres).

  • Thank you. Very understandable and good answer! And exactly what i was looking for – MansNotHot Mar 14 '18 at 13:14

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