TC Electronic Clarity M stereo volume meter
The music industry's 'sound wars', with everyone wanting the HIGHEST RECORDING POSSIBLE, has resulted in a lot of collateral damage including distortion, listener fatigue and lack of dynamic range. But volume wars aren't just a part of our industry, as you'll know if you've been watching TV late at night and out of nowhere, Honest Bob's Mainly Run Used Cars commercial is ten times louder than the show that preceded it. 🇧🇷 Panicking, he grabs the remote to turn down the volume before the neighbors file a noise complaint, but then has to turn up the volume when the show resumes.
Well, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) hated it as much as we did, so they decided to do something about it. But in doing so, they also made it easy to master a collection of songs or an album. That's how they did it.
On average, a maximum experience
There are two ways to measure audio levels: peak and RMS (root mean square). Peak measures the highest level produced by the audio (even incredibly short-duration peaks), while RMS quantizes the average level. RMS correlates most closely with our hearing. For example, a snare hit has a high peak, but a sustained power chord with its high average sounds higher subjectively, even if its peak isn't as high as the snare. When both have the same RMS level, they sound more similar in terms of loudness.
To match levels on an album, some people normalize all tracks to their maximum maximum. This is rarely effective, however, as a song will sound louder at a higher average level than the others. Others normalize to an RMS value, but they can have spikes above 0, so watch the overall levels as well. Ultimately, the best way to match levels is often subjective. One technique is to normalize all tracks to their maximum peak to take advantage of the available headroom, decide which one sounds the quietest, and then lower the levels of the loudest to match the quietest as closely as possible. This isn't a particularly scientific option, but with a lot of trial and error you can find a satisfying balance.
There is a lot of reference material on the web about the EBU R128 standard, how it was derived, the many variations and the nuts and bolts behind them, so let's focus on practical applications. Basically we now have volume meters that extend the capabilities of traditional VU or peak meters and are based on a specification called volume units. LUFS stands for Loudness Unit Full Scale, which refers to full loudness units (i.e. the maximum level a system can support).Steinberg Cubase,PreSonus Studio One Professional,Magix Samplitud,iZotope-Perspective, and other programs now include this type of measurement.
Simply put, loudness units are the unit of measurement used in quantifying the perceived loudness of a piece of music by looking at the average level over time. In theory, two pieces of music with identical LUFS values should sound like they are on the same level, and in practice they sound like they are on the same level, regardless of what the peak or RMS numbers say . So we have an immediate, practical benefit: if you're dominating and want consistent levels across tracks, check your LUFS readings.
The readings are negative numbers, such as B. -5 LUFS, -10 LUFS, -13 LUFS etc. as they refer to full scale. The less negative the value, the higher the average value. But here's the beauty of the system: a broadcaster like YouTube can opt for a standard LUFS level, so people don't have to constantly fiddle with the volume and just adjust the overall audio to achieve that LUFS level. (Although some companies use proprietary methods to check levels, the results are more or less the same.) Of course you can still remove daylight from your audio and produce something that is -5 LUFS, but YouTube reduces it to -13 LUFS , to bring it to the same apparent level as everything else. Or if you have a jazz track with a wide dynamic range that registers -18 LUFS, your level will be increased to -13 LUFS. So this Belgian hardcore techno track from 1990 will at least have almost the same thingRoger thatsound like a recording of a string quartet.
For streaming, the recommended default is -23 LUFS, but that's different than mastering music for playback. We often make subjective statements about how much dynamic range we want, and we can dominate any LUFS we want. In fact, I don't think the idea of starting with a goal of hitting a specific LUFS number is ideal; I prefer to master what sounds good to me without worrying about LUFS first. Sometimes it's a larger number, sometimes a smaller number; depends on the material. But once you have something that "sounds good," analyzing where you are on the LUFS scale makes it easy to fine-tune the levels of other tracks so they're consistent.
Also keep in mind that playback via a streaming service is different than a CD or download. With CDs you can master as loud as you want, but I think after -9 LUFS you've lost most of the dynamic range. For club tracks you might want to master at an even higher average level like -6 LUFS as there is no standard level for clubs like there is for broadcasters or music distribution systems like YouTube. But then again, when your track is aired, it will theoretically have the same perceived level as other music.
For what it's worth, I master my "rock meets EDM" music at around -11.4 LUFS, which seems like the sweet spot between dynamics and the ability to cut through background noise. Compared to a song cut at -6 LUFS (Fig. 1), mine sounds a lot smoother. But the combination of the -6 LUFS music with -11.4 LUFS not only makes the perceived volume the same, mine actually sounds a bit louder subjectively because it has more dynamics.
Illustration 1:Without LUFS adjustment, the bottom waveform sounds much louder. With LUFS adjustment, even these different waveforms have the same apparent level.
Of course, when both cuts are used to create audio for in-car playback (via USB stick or CD), the -11.4 LUFS will sound smoother. Luckily, thanks to modern technology, many car audio systems have a fantastic new feature called "volume control". This allows you to set the level as high or low as you like while preserving the dynamic range of the audio! Incredible, is not it?
a practical example
my newestProject "Joy of Life"(coming November 11th) is a rolling set, so having consistent levels from one cut to the next is very important. This is the workflow I use to do this with albums. Remember, it's not about mastering, it's about putting the album together: your music needs to sound the way you want it to.beforeYou start the assembly. I use the Waves L3 for adjusting perceived average level (it works great for that), not for mastering songs per se.
- Mix any track into a stereo file without master bus compression or clipping.
- Max each track to -1.5dB (before I go online and say I'm an idiot who doesn't know anything about audio for maxing all tracks, read on). If you have some headroom, you can adjust the levels later if needed.
- Take each track to the Studio One project page to assemble the album.
- Check the LUFS of the raw tracks. Mine usually gets around -17 to -23 LUFS, indicating that not everyone has the same perceived average.
- insert aWaves L3 Multi-Maximizer(Fig. 2) on each track to allow consistent average level adjustment for each track.
Figure 2:L3 is great for tuning the amount of dynamic processing required to ensure a consistent LUFS read. It may seem like there is a lot of gain reduction, but the tracks aren't using the maximum available headroom. So part of the reduction is taking the processing to a point where it isn't.Sohnto reduce spikes.
- Adjust the Boost value for each track so that the LUFS of the processed audio is -11.4 (again, this is a personal preference for this particular project, not a rule of thumb). Studio One Metering shows the LUFS before and after any processing, including level changes. After any kind of change, the measurement will prompt you to update the reading. Then I adjust the amount of Max, Refresh, Snap, Refresh, etc. until each track shows -11.4 LUFS.
The LUFS algorithm is more complicated than just putting a meter on something (it knows not to include a fade as part of what it is trying to measure, for example), but all of that computation is happening in the background. In the case of "Joie de Vivre", the end result after listening to the edited tracks was that they all had the same perceived average level: the tracks that required more maximum power to reach the same average level got what they needed, and those Tracks that I needed less, had less.
So we're done, right? Well no. Here's an analogy for all guitarists: Although a Plek machine can fix guitar frets and cut nuts with computerized precision, it still requires a human to review the results and make decisions about possible adjustments.
The Studio One Professional measurement (Fig. 3) shows four other important parameters. They give you data that can prompt you to go back and make some changes to the track, levels, or max amount (if you use the same approach as me).
LRAis a dynamic range reading. The typical range is from 5 (very small dynamic range, such as a commercial or aggressive club mix) to 15 (a live acoustic recording). I am using this as a reality check of the LUFS reading. Most of my music has a dynamic range rating of between 11 and 8, which tends towards a somewhat limited dynamic range to make the music "jump" a little more. However, I did notice that one song got a 7, so I checked it out even though subjectively it seemed on par with the other tracks. It ended up being a dance mix without much inherent dynamic range, so I didn't make any changes, but it's useful to have that kind of feedback.
Figure 3:Here are the meter readings of the first three tracks of the "Joie de Vivre" project. Note that the LUFS readings are identical and the RMS readings are very close. The third song has a lower LRA (meaning less dynamic range), but as you can see from the waveform, it has less dynamic range than the first two tracks.
Ptmeans "true peak" and takes into account the distortion between the samples (i.e. the distortion that can occur when the signal is reconstructed through the smoothing filter of a DAC, even though a peak meter that measures sample levels shows no distortion) . Well, I'm not a fan of distortion, so I want the TP value to be -0.1 or less for both channels. While there were few tracks with high TP values (e.g. +1.2dB or +0.6dB), the solution was to lower the track's level and readjust the boost amount to match the slightly increase the perceived level to compensate for the level.
effective valueThere's the old-school RMS gauge, which I still think is important. It's another way of measuring signal dynamics, so I'm looking for consistency across different areas. If something differs by more than a few dB, I go back to the original track to see if the difference is intentional or not.
direct currentshows the DC offset of the trace. It's usually -infinity, but sometimes I run into a small compensation, which isn't too bad. if there isesSignificant DC offset, this is important to know as it messes up track clearance and makes it difficult to properly balance levels. You can go back to the original track and remove the CC offset, which allows any clipping or maximizing to work more efficiently.
Do we now have to produce a million different professors?
Since different outputs are normalized to different standards (e.g. YouTube -13 LUFS vs. iTunes -16 LUFS), does that mean you have to create separate masters for each output? Well, decide for yourself. Increase or decrease the level of your track until you get the level you want (e.g. on my tracks -11.4 LUFS I turned the volume down so they hit -16 LUFS to see the difference heard when played in iTunes). At least to my ears, it didn't make enough of a difference to justify the effort. Also, if you decide to release your music through an aggregator, you'll have to create separate masters for CD, download, and streaming, which can be a logistical disaster. Just make the best music you can, with the dynamics you want, and let the chips fall as they reach the listener's ears. Let's hope your playback systems have this new onecontrol the volumefunction mentioned above.
Yeah that's really cool...
Purists might be annoyed that we add an algorithm to our assessments on a subjective level. but it's too muchEffectiveAlgorithm. It used to take hours to properly balance levels on an album. It now takes about 30 minutes including additional adjustments.
Granted, the album format isn't as popular as it used to be, but collections of songs are still common and the LUFS measurement can help with consistency. But perhaps most importantly, in today's single-minded world, LUFS promotes a truce in the volume wars: you can't crank up the maximizer and turn up your music on Spotify because Spotify will just turn it down again. And if you like music with dynamic range, Spotify makes it subjectively sound just as loud as anything else, just with more dynamic range. That's progress.
LUFS are units of audio loudness. The acronym stands for loudness units relative to full scale. Essentially, it's a standard way of measuring audio that blends the perceived loudness from human hearing and the true intensity of an audio signal together.Should I care about LUFS? ›
It's important to keep your LUFS level in mind. But as long as your track isn't clipping, you should focus more on how the song feels than the numbers on your meter. You can compare different versions of your master to see which one sounds better after normalization.What is a good LUFS range? ›
Regarding loudness, A good setting would be from -9 to -13 LUFS with the dynamic range reading on LEVELS not exceeding 8DR. With over 100 million people using Spotify, it's crucial to make sure your music is heard in its best light. Consider this, the loudest your music will ever be heard on Spotify is about -14 LUFS.How much will Spotify turn down my song? ›
We know Spotify will normalize it to -14 dB LUFS, but that doesn't mean you should mix to that level. Certain engineers have said somewhere around -8 or -9 dB LUFS is a safe place to be. There's no one-size-fits-all approach, unfortunately, as perceived loudness varies so much from song to song.How many LUFS is loud? ›
He finds that avoiding anything over −9 LUFS sounds best. But tons of pop songs are mastered as loud as −5 LUFS or higher. The point is, the number doesn't matter that much. You should mostly be focusing on making the song sound great.Is 9 LUFS too loud? ›
An integrated level of roughly -12 LUFS, with peaks no higher than -1 dBTP, and a max short-term level of no more than -10 or -9 LUFS is likely to get turned down at least a little on all the major streaming platforms—at least for now. This does not mean all songs need to be exactly this loud (see next point).Is 12 LUFS too loud? ›
Everywhere in the web the recommendation for LUFS in mastering for streaming is about -14 LUFS (Spotify), pointing that mastering louder than that is not a good idea, because of potential limiting applied by the platforms.How can I increase my LUFS level? ›
If you want to increase the LUFS value of your track you could increase the overall volume using a gain plugin. LEVELS will warn you if you breach your headroom threshold. If you still wish to add some loudness to your track you could compress the elements within your mix, or even add some parallel compression.Why is loudness important? ›
Loudness is a very important percept because it determines the dynamic range of human hearing, that is, the range of sound intensities over which humans can comfortably perceive sounds.What does 16 LUFS mean? ›
Apple asks for the “overall loudness” to be -16 LUFS, and most meters will call this the “integrated loudness”. That's the average loudness from the beginning to the end of your podcast, or after a defined time window. If you're mixing audio, you want to be looking at the “short-term” number.
After all, both decibels and LUFS are more or less equal as 1 LUF is roughly 1 DB. Both are used to characterize volume. Though these loudness units have a 1 to 1 ratio in audio, they are still used for different things.Is LUFS OK for Spotify? ›
As compressing increases the overall volume of a track but in the process can cut the transients all to the same level. This results in no dynamic variation between them and will leave your track uninteresting. This is why Spotify LUFS are perfect for artists.How loud should I master for Spotify? ›
Target the loudness level of your master at -14dB integrated LUFS and keep it below -1dB TP (True Peak) max. This is best for lossy formats (Ogg/Vorbis and AAC) and makes sure no extra distortion's introduced in the transcoding process.What LUFS should I master to? ›
The best mastering level for streaming is an integrated -14 LUFS, as it best fits the loudness normalization settings of the majority of streaming services. Although other measurements like the true peak value and other metrics need to be considered, -14 LUFS is the best mastering level when considering loudness.Is 0.5% a lot on Spotify? ›
You may see that you are in the 0.5% of listeners of a certain artist on Spotify, it simply means that you are a super fan. You may also be in the top 1%, or even 0.01% of listeners which means the same thing essentially.Why are my masters so quiet? ›
Re: Master is quiet compared to commercial release.
It's normal that your master sounds lower when you master to -16LUFS, because it *is* lower. That may or may not be a problem depending on where it will be played. Depending on the situation, you may need more than one master.
Loudness can be measured with software, and is expressed in LUFS. The reason your recording is quiet is because your peak levels are approaching zero while your RMS values are comparatively low - it has too wide a dynamic range.Should you normalize mastering? ›
Normalizing audio should be avoided on the master track or during the pre-master or master bounce down to avoid intersample peaking.How do professional songs sound so loud? ›
Compression is essentially how you get a mix to sound loud, but you have to be careful in how you apply it. The energy in the track comes from the individual elements, and the compression applied on those elements.How do I know if my mix is loud enough? ›
Start by checking the level—the vocal should be the loudest track in your mix. If you notice that the vocal occasionally sounds too quiet or too loud, try using a compressor to maintain consistent levels. Use a slow attack and a fast release for a natural sound, and apply 3-6 dB of compression with a modest ratio.
Noise above 70 dB over a prolonged period of time may start to damage your hearing. Loud noise above 120 dB can cause immediate harm to your ears. The table below shows dB levels and how noise from everyday sources can affect your hearing.Why is music better when it's louder? ›
There is a direct connection between your inner ear and the pleasure centers in the brain. Shortly explained, when you listen to (loud) music, endorphins are released. This connection is stimulated more by low frequencies above 90 decibels.Is loud music good for the brain? ›
Indeed, extended exposure to loud noise can change how the brain processes speech, according to a small animal study in the November/December 2014 issue of Ear and Hearing. The researchers noted that noise-induced hearing loss may affect the brain's recognition of speech sounds.How is LUFS measured? ›
The measurement for LUFS is 'Loudness Units', and the 'full scale' refers to the comparison to 0dB being the loudest point along that spectrum before clipping. In some circumstances, it is referred to LKFS, which just means that the LUFS measurement is K-weighted – but they are essentially the same measurement.Should I master above LUFS? ›
Remember, you shouldn't just master your music to meet a specific LUFS value. You should instead master your songs to make them sound their best. If you're mastering the loudest parts of the songs to hit -10 LUFS short-term, the integrated loudness may well be above -14 LUFS.How can I increase my LUFS without cutting? ›
You can make your mix louder without clipping by using a limiter. A limiter allows you to set peak loudness, preventing clipping, while also allowing you to increase the volume of all other sounds in your mix.How loud should my song be LUFS? ›
Shoot for about -23 LUFS for a mix, or -6db on an analog meter. For mastering, -14 LUFS is the best level for streaming, as it will fit the loudness targets for the majority of streaming sources, but it's okay to go louder (-7 to -10) so that your music stacks up well on other mediums.How many LUFS do you need for Netflix? ›
Netflix recommends a Program Loudness Range between 4 and 18 LU and a Dialog Loudness Range of 7 LU or less.What is the best dB for mastering? ›
Most mastering engineers recommend having the loudest part of a mix at –5 dB from absolute '0' dBFS. This means you should have the loudest section of the mix 5 dB lower before the peak level of '0'. It is recommended to not go over '0' dBFS on the master fader or individual tracks in the mix.What should my true peak be when mastering? ›
When mastering, you probably want to leave at least 1 dB of headroom. That means your peaks should be below -1 dBFS. That being said, Spotify recommends a headroom of 2 dB. If you want to optimize for their platform, you may want your peaks to fall below -2 dBFS.