(Or: How to NOT smash your mix !)
I first discovered the TT Meter in June, 2009.
I knew it was a great tool and immediately wanted to share it with everyone I knew.
Since then, I’ve used it myself almost every working day, and this post has consistently been one of the most popular on my site.
The TT Meter is still great, and this post still tells you how to use it, and where to get it.
It’s been 6 years.
Since then, the new ITU loudness standards have become mainstream, and give much more reliable readings of perceived loudness.
The TT Meter uses plain RMS levels, which tend to over-react when there is lots of bass in the audio, in comparison to what our ears tell us.
That’s why I developed a brand new plugin, called Dynameter, with MeterPlugs.
It takes the key functionality of the TT Meter, updates it to use the new international standards and adds some unique new features. I’m delighted with the end result, and the response we’ve got is fantastic. To find out more, click here.
Or, simply carry on reading to find out about the original TT Meter !
First things first
The TT so-called “dynamic range” meter doesn’t really measure dynamic range at all. BUT it is still an invaluable tool for mixing and mastering, and gives you useful feedback on the ‘dynamics’ of your music and how it measures up in the loudness wars – so keep reading !
A little background
Loudness has always been an important topic in mixing, and especially mastering – never more so than today.
Knowing how loud is too loud has always been difficult. I’ve written before about how we hear loudness, and different software solutions for measuring loudness – but several years ago, everything was made far easier.
A new tool was released, purpose-designed for judging the ‘loudness’ of music. You can now see at a glance how ‘loud’ your mix is, make informed decisions about your use of compression and limiting, and choose to make your recordings punchy, loud and competitive.
The TT Meter
This tool is the TT ‘Dynamic Range’ Meter, released by the Pleasurize Music Foundation. It comes in two flavours – the one in the animation above is the real-time plugin version, available for both Mac and PC in AU, RTAS and VST versions.
There is also a second, off-line version of the meter, which generates an overall DR measurement for a complete WAV file or CD and allows you to generate a log file which can be submitted to the (unofficial) Dynamic Range Database.
How it works
The real-time plugin version shows peak and RMS level metering for the left and right channels, but also the difference between them – in the centre, labelled “DR“.
Broadly speaking, the idea is to stop this DR measurement getting too low – up to a point, at least.
DR stands for “dynamic range”, although that’s not really an accurate name. The DR value is actually closer to the “crest factor” of the music – the difference between the peak and RMS levels. This measurement is unique to the TT Meter, and is extremely useful because it gives an intuitive idea of how “squashed” the music is. The closer the RMS level gets to the peak level (usually close to 0 dBFS) the more compressed and limited the music is likely to be, and the smaller the DR measurement gets.
How to read the meter
Peak level, loudness and “DR” are all measured in Decibels (dB) . Very ‘dynamic’ material – raw acoustic recordings, for example – will often read DR14 or more, whereas heavily compressed and limited ‘loudness war casualties’ typically read DR6 or less – in extreme cases even as little as 2 or 3.
As a rule of thumb, anything with an overall reading of DR12 or more will sound very dynamic – and in this case, the central DR meters of the plugin will stay green much of the time. ‘Louder’ material will sometimes have less range than this – any less than 8dB runs the risk of sounding squashed and crushed, and the DR meters start to fade from green to orange to red to represent this.
So, to ensure you aren’t over-compressing your mix – keep the meters in the green for most of the time. Not all of the time, but a track where they are always red is almost certainly pushed too hard.
It’s that simple !
Well actually, it’s not quite that simple.
Firstly, if you’re making electronic music, or using lots of synths and sample loops, the sounds you have may already have quite a limited crest factor, or “DR” reading. And so does a flute note, for that matter ! So, if your mix is only DR8 without any extra compression, don’t worry – that’s just the way it is naturally.
And also, this “green” rule-of-thumb applies to mixing. If you’re using the meter in mastering, pushing up into the orange and occasionally red is probably OK – but use your ears and remember there is always a price to be paid.
One of the cleverest things about the DR meter is that it works independently of the overall level of the music. So, something very loud, crushed and distorted, like, say – oh, I don’t know – Metallica’s “Death Magnetic”, for example – will be in the red, almost all the time – even if you turn the level down.
This means you can objectively compare how ‘squashed’ different recordings are, regardless of the overall level. Which in turn makes it a great mixing tool – if you over-compress everything in your mix, the meters will show you’re in the red, even if the overall level isn’t that high, yet.
Compare with reference tracks
Try it yourself – fire it up and watch how the meters react to your favourite recordings. Remember though they may have been pushed to a higher level in the mastering. Try comparing older CDs from the late eighties and earlier 90s – usually the overall level will be lower, and compared to releases from the last few years they will be more dynamic, ie. the DR values will be larger.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that you need a low DR reading for a ‘loud’ sound – to see why this isn’t true, just click here.
(Be aware, though – the TT Meter isn’t suitable for comparing vinyl to other formats. To see why, click here.)
It’s important to note though that the realtime DR meter only gives readings at an instant. And, it’s quite permissible (and necessary) to push into the red at some points. To get an overall measurement of a track’s ‘dynamic range’, you can use the off-line version.
To get the TT Meter, click here.
Find out more about loudness and dynamics
There’s loads more information about loudness and mastering in general on this site – to get started, click here.
And to find out more about my new Dynameter plugin, which aims to update and improve on the TT Meter by offering a zoomable history graph, plus the ability to choose your own dynamics targets, especially for online streaming – and see at a glance when you’re achieving them – click here.