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  • A question of loudness

    When mixing/mastering your ambient works, how do you ensure that the final result is at a proper level? It seems that I'm always ending up with a final result that has an output level that is too quiet. For example, the other day I was listening to the latest Synphaera Bandcamp release on my phone. I had the volume at 7, which was comfortable for me (the music was great, BTW). Later I switched over listen to some of my own tracks on Bandcamp and I had to turn the volume way up to hear my track, I'm Somewhere Else, at the same listening level. Granted, it's a quiet tune but I shouldn't have to adjust the volume that much.

    At the end of my mixing/mastering chain I usually use the UAD Precision Limiter to adjust the final output level to what I think is appropriate. I guess the problem is that I shouldn't be using my ears to determine the proper output level. But if not then what do I measure? What is the benchmark?
    Ambient Alchemy
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  • #2
    You should look out for your LUFS which stands for loudness units relative to full scale, which is mainly relevant in your mastering process. It's a way of measuring the percieved loudness of a given piece of audio. Spotify has a standard of -14 LUFS, whilst Itunes standard is -16, these standards are quite new and has been established to end the loudness war. This basically means, if your track is louder than the standard it will be turned down to match the standard, if it's below the standards it will be turned up to match it. This resolves the issue of having to adjust your volume control all the time. However this is not the case with bandcamp and soundcloud, so you'll have to mix/master it to match the standards yourself, which is always a good idea to do. I believe Synphaera is keeping to the spotify standards, however I'm not too sure.

    If your dynamic range is too large you might have trouble matching the LUFS without clipping your audio, in which case you can use compression and limiting to decrease the dynamic range, or simply adjust the volume meters to decrease it.

    Hope that helps, feel free to ask if you have any further questions, then I'll attempt to answer them the best of my knowlegde :-)

    edit:
    oh and you should look for the integrated LUFS by the way.
    Last edited by Organic Patterns; 07-13-2017, 03:45 PM.
    https://organicpatterns.bandcamp.com
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    • #3
      Over the last 3 years, I have all but eliminated limiters from my mastering chain when making ambient tracks. I only use a limiter on the techno stuff these days.

      I use the MAAT (previously PMF, or TT) DR meter these days to check my WAVs and mp3s. I have a variety of metering options for use inside my DAW. I aim for DR values between 11 and 15 on my masters.

      I try to keep my peak amplitude to no more than -1.5dB after mastering to leave some headroom when converting WAVs to compressed formats, to avoid any artefacts introduced by the codec.
      Whatsisname's Little Fluffy Clouds | Campsite | Hearthis | Orfium | SeismicTC | Twitter | Ello

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      • #4
        I am just starting to explore the Youlean Loudness Meter. It's free. You still need to know what level you are shooting for, but this tool seems to be easy to use.
        Supporting many international loudness standards: ITU-R BS.1770-4, EBU R128, EBU, R128 S1, ATSC A/85, OP-59, ARIB TR-B32, AGCOM 219/09/CSP.
        Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.— John Cage
        Hear some of my music at hearthis , Soundcloud, Bandcamp, or just say Ello! Also see H.P. Dronecraft collab with ontol.

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        • #5
          Great information! I now realize just how unknowledgeable I am about mastering. I was not even aware of loudness standards. As it turns out my version of Cubase had a built-in loudness meter to follow all the industry standards. My only reason for adding a limiter to the end of my chain is to bump the volume to the desired level. I suppose I could just use the gain control for that. Certainly nothing in my mixes has any dynamics that would need to be limited.
          Ambient Alchemy
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          • #6
            I was clued in a couple of years ago to the LUFS standard and a friend of mine who is an electronics engineer and studio engineer sent me a couple of free LUFS meters, one is the ORBAN loudness meter, and the other one is Klangfreund LUFS meter. I have been using these to make sure my final mix loudness is where it should be, and in Audition I have a loudness matching filter which automatically changes the loudness of the mixdown to whatever I put in- whether its -18 LUFS, -16 LUFS, or -14 LUFS (which I generally use for types of music that benefit from compression, like techno, or some prog rock). These standards are rapidly coming to the forefront, and will likely take the number one spot just as the mp3 revolutionized music distribution and created a market for internet streaming.
            "All we have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given to us" - Gandalf, Lord Of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

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            • #7
              I'll second windspace in recommending the Youlean plugin. I used it to master my most recent EP "Times Change" between -14 and -16 LUFS Integrated with a -1.0 True Peak Max (or lower) and it sounds like it should on the streaming services (well, on Spotify - haven't checked it on Apple Music). You should definitely check it out!

              (and by it, I mean the plugin, though it wouldn't break my heart if you listened to the EP )
              Homepage | Bandcamp | Ello | Instagram | SoundCloud | Twitter

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              • #8
                Originally posted by jvincion View Post
                I'll second windspace in recommending the Youlean plugin. I used it to master my most recent EP "Times Change" between -14 and -16 LUFS Integrated with a -1.0 True Peak Max (or lower) and it sounds like it should on the streaming services (well, on Spotify - haven't checked it on Apple Music). You should definitely check it out!

                (and by it, I mean the plugin, though it wouldn't break my heart if you listened to the EP )
                I'll have to give that a try- when I'm on my p.c. I'll download it, use it and then weigh in on it here.
                "All we have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given to us" - Gandalf, Lord Of The Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

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                • #9
                  http://music-loudness.com/

                  http://music-loudness.com/Music-Loud...e-Paper-v1.pdf
                  https://soundcloud.com/synkrotron

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                  • #10
                    https://soundcloud.com/synkrotron

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by windspace View Post
                      I am just starting to explore the Youlean Loudness Meter. It's free. You still need to know what level you are shooting for, but this tool seems to be easy to use.
                      Having a play with Youlean Loudness Meter... Where have you been all my life!

                      Thanks Bruce
                      https://soundcloud.com/synkrotron

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                      • #12
                        windspace Bruce! As the resident Youlean Loudness Meter expert, what settings are you using?

                        I'm assuming we want to use the EBU R128 spec?

                        On the Settings panel I'm currently using defaults because I do not have a clue!

                        cheers

                        andy
                        https://soundcloud.com/synkrotron

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                        • #13
                          Synkro suggested I post this info here:

                          Here's a link to the download page for the free 'dpMeter II' plugin that I use for checking the LUFS level.
                          Set the Mode setting to 'EBU' to measure loudness in LUFS.
                          The 'Integrated Loudness' LUFS reading is the averaged LUFS reading over a period of time.
                          This is the LUFS reading that is of most use.
                          dpMeter II
                          http://www.tb-software.com/TBProAudio/dpmeter2.html


                          Here's some more info on LUFS that I collected over the last while:
                          ================================================== ============================
                          A target loudness of -16 LUFS with peaks no higher than -1 dB TP (true peak) is the
                          AES recommendation for streaming content. (Technical Document AES TD1004.1.15-10)

                          A target loudness of -12 to -9 LUFS would bring you up to traditional CD levels,
                          but -9 LUFS kind of defeats the point of caring about levels, and -12 LUFS is arguably still too loud.

                          Streaming Service Playback Level
                          iTunes Radio - 16 LUFS
                          YouTube - 13 LUFS
                          Spotify - 12 LUFS
                          ================================================== =============================
                          I can't vouch for the accuracy of the above info as it is just info I gathered from various web pages.
                          For ambient music, an Integrated Loudeness LUFS reading of somewhere between -22 to -16 LUFS
                          is probably your target ballpark area. It of course depends on personal preference and the exact song contents.

                          For ambient music, I personally will aim for something between about -20 and -16 LUFS max (integrated loudness),
                          depending on the exact song contents, with maybe -18 LUFS as about the rough target average I aim for in ambient.
                          I am still experimenting with it however as well, so those are just some rough guidelines to experiment with for
                          mastering ambient, but you may decide that you like it a little louder or a little quieter than what I have mentioned here.
                          Last edited by TDP; 11-07-2017, 06:33 PM.
                          Soundcloud | YouTube

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by synkrotron View Post
                            windspace Bruce! As the resident Youlean Loudness Meter expert, what settings are you using?

                            I'm assuming we want to use the EBU R128 spec?

                            On the Settings panel I'm currently using defaults because I do not have a clue!

                            cheers

                            andy
                            Andy,
                            I've just been using the default settings as well. I think the more important issue, as in TDP 's post is what level to shoot for. I've been experimenting. I read that -23 LUFS was a braodcast standard and 'mastered' a couple of tracks to that, burned them to CD, and listened in the car. It seemed that I needed to crank up the volume more than expected, so I am going to try -18 and work my way up from there if it sounds like it needs it. I am also going to set up my DAW with neutral gain and play some ambient CD's through Youlean Loudness meter (and will give dbMeter II a try as well!) and see what kind of levels show on the meter. It is apparent that trying to do this, the volume setting for the CD player (in this case, my Mac would default to iTunes) would need to be nuetral as well. Any idea what setting that would be? All the way up?

                            Edit: I guess I could route the audio to the DAW from the CD using Soundflower (Windows users could use Jack), but there are volume settings in the Audio Setup for Soundflower as well - default is 0 dB and the only adjustment that can be made is to attenuate the gain, so I will go with 0 dB using Soundflower and see how it goes. I guess I have an innate distrust of any coded object that one routes audio through to have some insidious deleterious effect...
                            Last edited by windspace; 11-08-2017, 12:36 PM.
                            Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.— John Cage
                            Hear some of my music at hearthis , Soundcloud, Bandcamp, or just say Ello! Also see H.P. Dronecraft collab with ontol.

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                            • #15
                              This thread has been very informative.
                              Syncrotron's vid and TDP's thoughts especially.
                              I'll be having an analytic look at various Steve Roach tracks, making note of what he's doing as well as the percussive transient peaks and average power/loudness.
                              Finding tracks I can classify, depending on content and loudness, I can use as references. I expect they'll be handy.
                              One thing seems clear...the range between peak level and average level content is more of an artistic decision. Saying you will put a track at some LUFS level doesn't seem logical then.
                              Becoming skilled with selecting and using compressors to jell your sounds just how you would like them seems like the key, not the meter.
                              Fader automation can be equally valuable if not more. If your music is mostly falling asleep on the keyboard, then the meter is your loudness answer.
                              Ambient music, like Steve Roach makes, seems way more complex to accomplish a standard loudness level, in the scheme of things, then standard music.
                              Getting a few reference tracks under your belt to use as comparison, in the end, seems like the key.

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