Despite all the commotion surrounding Spotify lately — from creating “fake” artists, royalty battles with music publishers, and plans for a direct listing on the NY Stock Exchange — the Swedish music streaming giant has gone relatively quite. That is, Spotify has turned down the volume on every track in its 30 million-plus library.
The catch? None of us even heard the difference.
The event allegedly occurred as early as late May, when a group of sound engineers and studio wizards came to notice the volume had been reduced on every Spotify-hosted track. Using software called Dynameter, this collection of audiophiles took measurements of popular Spotify playlists and concluded:
Spotify has reduced the LUFS index of everything on its platform from -11 LUFS to -14 LUFS, a number in line with that of competing musical platforms like YouTube (- 13 LUFS), Tidal (-14 LUFS), and Apple Music (-16 LUFS). In practice, the volume for human ears will be more controlled, and you may not even notice the change.
LUFS, referring to Loudness Units relative to Full Scale, was created to approximate how our hearing works. What makes LUFS so unique is how it is a more sophisticated system than decibels for understanding the human perception of volume. In other words, louder does not always mean better. Essentially, LUFS ignores low frequencies, instead focusing on average/high measures above 2 kHz — the most sensitive region for our ears.
So what does this mean for us? Better hearing, of course. With The Children’s Hearing Institute reporting that one-third of hearing loss in young adults is caused by noise, and the fact that iTunes has faced countless lawsuits for listener ear drum damage, the issue of volume is a burgeoning and oft-times suppressed issue in the music industry.
Ultimately Spotify is creating a new “loudness” paradigm for listening to music, which some industry insiders have called an end to the “Loudness Wars.” All too often has talking about volume in terms of decibels lead to the common misnomer that “redlining means headlining,” where, for instance, DJs end up sacrificing sound quality altogether while trying to boost the sound. When the sound techs at Spotify began paying attention to LUFS, instead of reading decibel, Spotify in essence took the first huge leap in ending the industry’s Loudness Wars, which in turn should generate better quality music with more dynamics and cleaner audio.
When asked to comment on the LUFS reduction, Spotify said it was “always testing new features to benefit its users. Recent changes in the playback experience are part of the aspects we are evaluating.”