I am not sure exactly where or when I first became aware of the notion of audio compression but I'm pretty sure it was somewhere around 1980 at an odd axis of Elvis Costello, John Lennon, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea.
While I had owned John Lennon's "Instant Karma" single, I'd never really paid much attention to the "Play Loud" instructions until getting a UK pressing which makes the statement much clearer than the US counterpart, in bold letters larger than even the title of the song. Then as I was getting deeper into jazz, I picked up a copy of the fine album by Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea titled simply In Concert which has a disclaimer inside the album gatefold cluing me into the challenge of time and vinyl:
"Side Four is over 35 minutes long, which resulted in a slightly higher surface noise and overall lower level than could have been achieve had the tape been edited and the side made shorter. Our decision here was that it was more important to leave the medley of "Maiden Voyage" and "La Fiesta" intact than to to be concerned with slight technical deficiencies."
Indeed the performances are great and the surface noise somewhat more apparent with the occasional little odd glitchy sound appearing now and again (I also hear some pre-echo from the magnetic tape bleeding through and imprinting itself on another part of the tape.
Details, details, details...
When Elvis Costello's Get Happy came out I really got much more keenly aware of the potential negative impact a mastering job could have on the recording as well as the importance of getting closer -- if you will -- to the source tape. I have written about this elsewhere (note: do a web search for Get Happy and my last name to locate a review of the Mobile Fidelity reissue of the album, written for another publication) but in short the US pressing of this fine album (which crams 10 songs per side of a single album) sounds like a shadow of its original UK counterpart.
I first began collecting original pressings back in the mid 70s when vinyl quality was waning (and when Capitol Records started cutting corners on their reissues, putting out Beatle records with ugly orange labels and such). So sound quality WAS in fact my original enticement for getting the good stuff on vinyl...
Later I learned of the challenges made in the making of some albums due to time constraints, such as Todd Rundgren's Initiation (in which Side Two clocks in over 35 minutes); Todd has expressed his feelings in interviews about vinyl and its physical downside for longer form artists such as himself, lamenting the sonic compromises that often need to made in creating the LP, especially as the album reaches the center of the disc (volume, dynamic range).
Still for the most part when you play those records louder they sound more or less good. Noisey at times but the music is there. Dynamic range 'n all that mostly in tact.
Which brings me to a recent acquisition that I had higher hopes for: Bruce Springsteen's Magic. This 2007 album was released to both applause and dismay from fans and audio enthusiasts alike. Claiming myself as both, I can attest to the frustration of hearing this fine record -- which contains some of Bruce's best music since his late 70s/early 80s heyday -- which also sounds (to be kind) somewhat on the harsh side. I have scoured several online forums and looked for details on the web as to the reasons for why this album sounds the way it does. Everyone is an expert and everyone has a theory but nowhere have I found any specifics as to the result of the sound.
I don't have the answers but I will off this bit of detail from listening to the vinyl version of Magic which I just purchased recently (been looking for a copy for sometime): it sounds better when you turn it up loud!
Play Loud, the mantra of rock 'n roll... maybe, just maybe, there is something to it. I'm not saying this is the answer, folks. I'm just trying to find some light at the end of this seemingly dark tunnel.