Blog » Pitch Inflation – The Analogue Loudness War?

Reading Time: 3 minutesJune 20, 2018


If you know a little about “pitch inflation” and about the “loudness war”, then you might see similarities in the effect they have on music.

The “pitch inflation” (the rise of the pitch levels used in music) is said to have started by instrumentalists competing with each other, each attempting to produce a brighter, more “brilliant” sound, and/or appear to sound ‘louder’ than that of their “rivals”.

The “Loudness War” is said to have started when music producers and sound engineers wanted to make their music sound more powerful then that of their competitors when played on the radio and in clubs and bars.

In both cases attempts were/are made to ‘outshout’, to ‘stand out’ sonically in comparison with the other musicians and/or music productions. In the case of ‘Pitch Inflation’ this is done at the source (instrument), in the case of the “Loudness War” this is done during “post production”. Both with the ‘Pitch Inflation’ and Equalizing (Loudness War signal processing technique) and the ‘Pitch Inflation’ the pitch of the sound and the timbre of the instruments could change. A Pitch change by inflation is wanted, unlike with Equalizing where in general not the pitch but a change timbre is the goal. The usage of a compressor does not change the pitch, but could have a slight effect on the timbre of the to compress sound(s).

Due to the various similarities between ‘Pitch Inflation’ and the ‘Loudness War’, you could say that the Pitch Inflation is like an Analogue Pre-Production Loudness Tool.

For those visitors of this blog who haven’t heard of those terms yet, a short explanation:


“Pitch inflation” is the rise of the pitch levels used in music. In string instruments, when tuned up, they actually sound objectively brighter because the higher string tension results in larger amplitudes for the harmonics. But also with other acoustic instruments a change of pitch might effect the “timbre” of the instrument. The change of pitch causes a shift in tone frequency relatively to the formant range(s) – a range or a set of harmonics frequencies with an absolute or relative maximum in the sound spectrum – characteristic for the instrument’s design and build. This consequently may effect the resonance and sympathetic resonance of the instrument. A change of pitch generates a shift in the loudness of the exact frequencies generated.

The Concert pitch or pitch reference has varied throughout music history, from A4=400Hz (according to various sources even lower) and A4=457Hz.

Read more information about Harmonics, Overtones, Formants, Timbre and Sympathetic Resonance.

THE LOUDNESS WAR (the “Electrical Era“, “Magnetic Era” and “Digital Era“)

The loudness war refers to the trend of increasing audio levels in recorded music. Increasing loudness (the characteristic of a sound that is primarily a psycho-physiological correlate of amplitude) is generally seen as used as early as the 1940s, with respect to mastering practices for 7″ singles. 

Once the maximum amplitude of a sound medium is reached, loudness can be increased more with signal processing techniques such as dynamic range compression and equalization. In 1915 George Ashley Campbell, working at AT&T, persuaded electrical reactance to be repurposed as audio resonance, inventing the essential building block of EQ:  the L-C circuit (inductor and capacitor). Variable equalization in audio reproduction was first used by John Volkman working at RCA in the 1920s. The world’s first dynamic compressor was the Telefunken U3, designed in the early 1930s. Engineers can apply an increasingly high ratio of compression to a recording until it more frequently peaks at the maximum amplitude. The recorded material thus sounds overall “louder”.

For those of you who are relatively new to Equalization it might be nice to read the article “Use Parametric EQ settings (like a boss!)” by Scott Wiggins.

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