Dynamics contrasts are important in music, but it is not always good to have too much contrast when, for example, you are listening to music and reading a book at the same time. Is there any software that can reduce the volume contrast, making music louder when it is too quiet, and quieter when it is too loud?

I know there is a special word to describe that, but I am not very familiar with sound processing software.

I have a hard time enjoying Mahler's or even Beethoven's symphonies because the volume contrast is sometimes too extravagant that my bad stereo cannot handle it. It also hurt my ears a lot. It also distracts me quite a bit when I am doing something else while listening to music.

  • 2
    Have a look at the compressor in Audacity. – user48353 Apr 13 '19 at 11:11

'Normalising' shifts the entire dynamic range to put the loudest point at a defined level. This can result in either increasing or decreasing the overall level. But it doesn't change the dynamic contrast. It's like simply setting the volume knob in a different position.

'Compressing' is rather different. It's 'Normalising with ears'. Rather than setting the volume and leaving it, compression turns down just the loud bits. It DOES do what you're asking for, it evens out the dynamics.

In real life, compressers are more complicated than that. There can be settings for attack and release, amount of compression, 'make-up gain' and more. Plenty of information available online if you're interested.

Yes, there's lots of compression software available. There may be a simple version provided by your soundcard control panel or operating system. This seems to be part of Windows 10, and will affect anything you play through your computer.

If you want to apply compression to your non-computer based stereo, you might have to look for a hardware box. And, on a simple system, it may not be easy to find a way to connect it. Sorry.

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There is a device that is used in recording studios that is called a compressor. Radio stations also use compressors to reduce the dynamic range of music so they push the loudest most stable single over the air.

You may be able to find a software version, though I am not sure how you will use that with your stereo. If you are listening on an iPod or iPhone for example they sometimes have a setting that is designed to save you ears called Volume Limit. That may help. Other phones or MP3 players may have something similar.

  • 1
    Spotify has "volume normalisation", too – Aric Apr 13 '19 at 12:17

As others have said this process is called "compression" but that term is also now ambiguous as, with digital sources, it can mean using an algorithm to reduce the size of the data. You may have heard of "lossless" and "lossy" compression. This is an interesting and useful process but not what you want here.

The sense of compression you want is "compressing the dynamic range" and it predates digital music. Prior to the digital era, you would need some hardware device. Today, you can use software.

As replete says in a comment look at the Compressor in Audacity. Here is the help page for it.

Audacity is an audio editing program and it is great value for the price (£0).

How, you might use it depends on how you listen to music. If you use an iPod or some other device to play digital files then it might be as simple as opening the file in Audacity, running the Compressor tool, and saving it again. If you use CDs then you might need to rip the CD, process the file in Audacity, save it, and burn it back to a CD.

I have used Audacity but not yet this tool. Generally, I would avoid compression (in this sense) like the plague and I would certainly never use it at home but that's just my preferences: I prefer to either to music properly or not at all; not background music while I do something else. However, I have been tempted to create compressed versions for the car. I drive a convertible and even with the roof up, the noise level is quite high: either the quiet bits are drowned or the loud bits are deafening. (Okay, sometimes I listen to music while doing something else.)

  • It's commendable that you want to avoid compression; it has in fact been overused in particular in the 2000s. However, compression does have musically legitimate uses. In particular, it actually allows musicians to play/sing more dynamically than would be possible without compressor, without either the loud notes drowning out other parts or the soft notes getting lost in the mix. (Unfortunately, the Audacity compressor plugin was completely abysmal though, the last time I checked.) – leftaroundabout Apr 14 '19 at 21:37
  • If it is used in the production of the track then it could be considered as part of the work and I might accept it (or not even know that it was there). However, I still would not consider adding more at home. However, the genre that I listen to most and care about most is classical. My ideal is that I can close my eyes and imagine that I am in front of a live performance. Maybe a utopian one with comfy seats and no one coughing or whispering. I still might consider it for the car but it's a shame that the Audacity compressor is poor. – badjohn Apr 14 '19 at 22:05
  • Anyway, if the OP wants to try this then I am not telling him not to. In fact, I am attempting to tell him how he might try. – badjohn Apr 14 '19 at 22:06

with Wave Lab of Steinberg you can "normalize" - that's the word you are looking for - the amplitude (volume) of the selection or the whole song.

Loudness Normalizer:

You can use the Loudness Normalizer to achieve a specific loudness.

Increasing the loudness to a specific value can provoke clipping. To remedy this, a peak limiter (Peak Master plug-in) can be part of the process. The Loudness Normalizer raises the loudness and limits peaks in the signal at the same time if needed, to achieve the wanted loudness.

This process happens in several stages, first an analysis and then the final rendering.

Mind: normalizing can have a range of meanings. My approach comes of statistic science and not of music technology.


*norms are considered as norms concerning

a) ethical values, (ideal norm),

b) functional norms and

c) statistical norms.*

So level normalisation could be a functional norm: this would hinder a damage of your ear (most brass band and pop concerts are playing much too loud. normalisation would be helpful for the people preventing to become deaf!

Loudness noramlisation would mean a statistical sence to normalise extrem values of piano and forte: lower the forte tones and raise the piano tones to the average. But why then write or play music with various loudness?

The ethical norm in this context is concerning my comment to the OP's question:

I don't know why I tried to help to give answer to this question!

1. Why listen to music when reading a book? (unless you want to practice superlearning and in this case you should listen to quiet and not exciting music, as e.g. the Air of the Suite in G of Bach or the Adagio of Albinoni.)

2. If someone want's to listen at music for paying attention to a composition he should stop talking, stop reading. He would be paying some respect to the composer and the performers to concentrate to this work. To this aspect I can tell you how annoying it is to me when people are asking me to turn the music "a little bit louder" or a little bit lower" because there is just a short piano or forte passage. (If we think how many "takes" it needed and the conductor wanted until he was satisfied by the level of loudness: "the trumpets have to play softer at bar 299", "the trombones were too loud", the string section has to be stronger in section B" ... etc. and you want to "normalize" or "compress" this recording!!!???

3. If you really want/need to listen to music while reading a book or the newspaper or also if you have friends coming to see you - you just have to decide right in advance what song or CD you want to listen at - before you start reading. So you don't have to programm your equalizer or buy a software for 500$ or more. And if you find the music is too loud or too soft, you can change the CD or turn off the radio!

This is what I would understand of "normalization" - in an ethical or cultural way.

  • 1
    Indeed you can. But normalising is not compression. – Laurence Payne Apr 13 '19 at 13:28
  • @ Laurence: Wavelab makes a difference between level noramlizer and loudness normalizer. What you mean is the level normalizer. OP asks for a loudness normalizer, so that's exactly what here is done. But if you can have the same effect by the loudness equalizer it's ok. I know the equalizer only in respect of treble and bass tones. So the equalizer in the 2nd line in your picture must be this one concerning the frequency. – Albrecht Hügli Apr 13 '19 at 17:31
  • Normalization has become somewhat of a problematic term, because it can mean different things and it's often used incorrectly. If you enable "normalization" in mainstream media playback software you're never really sure what you're getting. – Your Uncle Bob Apr 13 '19 at 18:51
  • The Wavelab function is interesting, and doubtless useful. But it stretches the definition of 'normalise' too far. We should condemn it for that, not cite it. – Laurence Payne Apr 13 '19 at 18:59

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