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How to use the TT ‘Dynamic Range’ Meter – and where to get it

by Ian Shepherd

(Or: How to NOT smash your mix to hell !)

OK, 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 vital feedback on the ‘dynamics’ of your music and how it measures up in the loudness wars – so keep reading !

(I get lots of messages saying the TT Meter isn’t available any more, but it IS – there are full instructions for how to get it below. It only runs in 32-bit mode, but there are workarounds.)

Update – I wrote this post a few years ago now, and the TT Meter is no longer the only kid on the block – although it’s still a great choice. To see a video showing how to use the new R128 loudness meters, click here.

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.

And best of all – it’s free.

Kind of.

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 still 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.

More detail

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 should use the off-line version.

Both meters are free, but to get them you need to be an “Active Member” of the PMF – meaning, you need to contribute a small amount to the Foundation. For individuals this is very affordable, and the TT Meters alone are well worth the price of admission, in my opinion. In addition to the meters you also get access to members-only areas of the site, and the right to use the DR logos.

So step by step:

To get the TT Meter:

  • Pay to sign up as an “active member” of the PMF, here: http://www.dynamicrange.de/en/active-member
  • Once you’ve received your login details, which takes a minimum of 24 hours, you’ll be able to sign into their site as an Active Member using the box in the left margin
  • You’ll see a “Downloads” tab in the left-hand menu – the TT Meter is available from there, both the offline and plugin versions

The meters are only available to paid-up “active members”, remember.

(If you want to use the TT Meter in a modern 64-bit DAW, you’ll need to use something like this workaround, by the way.)

Find out more

There’s loads more information about loudness and mastering in general on this site – for example, here are two popular posts:

How EQ can make your music sound louder – using LESS compression and limiting

How to master a song loud – and the price you pay

I also still recommend the PMF website – there’s lots of good information and they have ambitious plans, including trying to get all music labels to agree to a standard minimum DR14 measurement on all albums, as measured by the offline metering tool.

If they were to succeed, this would mean standardisation of levels across CDs in the same way there is in the cinema, and an end to the “Loudness War” madness. I think this is unlikely, and personally I think DR14 as an average is unnecessarily ambitious, but it’s an interesting idea – and making the fantastic TT Meter plugin available is a great step forward.

(Update – In fact, the site hasn’t been very active for some time now, and to a large extent the kind of standardisation they wanted will soon be a “done deal”, because of the new ITU broadcast regulations – for more information, click here.)

The TT Meter is still a valuable tool though – so, head over on and sign up, download it,  and start spreading the word !

And while you’re at it, you might like to support Dynamic Range Day, too :-)

facebook comments:

61 Responses

  1. Ian Shepherd says:

    Hi Jay,

    Glad you found it helpful – and yes, I absolutely agree, EQ is crucial to getting a good result in mastering.

    DR7 isn’t a disaster, especially for sample-based stuff, but you might find the DR5 songs sound better with a little more space to breathe !

    Cheers,

    Ian

  2. TV says:

    For those that are against controlling the loudness war, then why did people flock to the Guitar Hero version of Metallica’s Death Magnetic instead of the extremely dynamically compressed version on CD? The general masses found the Guitar Hero version sounded better and proceeded to put together a petition to remaster the CD release with less dynamic compression. The argument is not to prevent artists from compressing individual tracks but rather to more tastefully control dynamic compression at the mastering level. Some of the biggest culprits of over compression at the mastering level are Rush’s Vapor Trails, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Californication, Metallica’s Death Magnetic and there are many, many more and the problem is becoming more prevalent. The albums mentioned don’t just suffer from being overly compressed. They also suffer from distortion due to over compression. Listen to any album that is not smashed dynamically and it will bring more pleasure and far less ear fatigue. Furthermore, the problem is further multiplied when these overly compressed albums are played by radio stations that further compress the signal. It has been demonstrated that once the signal is compressed to that level it loses punch and impact. The instruments smear together and the stereo field collapses.

    Many CDs and vinyl have been remastered and reissued by a fantastic mastering engineer by the name of Steve Hoffman. I urge anyone to at least try out a comparison. Find one of his releases and compare it to a compressed version of the same CD. Match the loudness level via your volume knob on your system to be the same for for each CD preferably with a decibel meter (there are free decibel meters available for both iPhone and Android).

    At the end of the day, we react to what our ears are used to hearing. If compressed music is all you listen to then that becomes the norm. If you experience less compressed music more often, then that will become the appreciated norm for you, mind you nowadays most commercially available music is madly compressed.

    Happy listening!

  3. Ian Shepherd says:

    Thanks for the comment, TV, but you’re preaching to the choir, round here :-)

  4. mvh says:

    I’ve been using the TT meter for some time now. Works great and DR12 is always my goal when mixing. I believe Brainworx bought the rights for the TT meter and are selling a new version called bx_meter.

    I can’t stand most of today’s mixes – They all sound distorted to me. It’s a shame.

    Thanks Ian,

    mvh

  5. Mardoc says:

    Hi Ian,

    thank you very much for your insights and for sharing this valuable information!
    Is the TT DR Meter available in 64 bit?
    Thanks and best wishes,

    M

  6. Ian Shepherd says:

    No, it’s only 32-bit, at the moment :-/

  7. Ian Shepherd says:

    But, you can get it to run in 64-bit hosts using something like this

  8. Mardoc says:

    Thanks a lot for the heads up, Ian.
    I do use AU plugins, though. ;-)
    Best wishes,
    M

  9. scott says:

    I’m using a 64-bit host, Could you repeat your comment aboe\ve “But, you can get it to run in 64-bit hosts using something like…” ?? Like what?

    Thanks,

  10. Ian Shepherd says:

    Hello, the words “this workaround” are a link to this YouTube video:

    http://youtu.be/68_dvnwhkyo

    Hopefully that should help.

  11. John says:

    I reckon that heavy metal is at least in part to blame for all this “loudness wars” problem. After all, it is the genre with the least dynamic range to start with. Contrast that with hard rock, which frequently makes use of larger dynamic ranges – for example, the original “Stairway to Heaven” has a dynamic range of not much short of 40dB. Compare that with “Death Magnetic” that has a dynamic range of 3dB. Realistically, that 3dB range is characteristic of most heavy metal, which is usually just a bloody racket, not surprising given that its roots are mainly in punk rock e.g. Sex Pistols etc. But to see the likes of Justin Bieber with such a low dynamic range as 6dB seems ridiculous. I would expect vastly more dynamic range from any of his releases, therefore that is purely down to bad sound mastering and the sound engineer should be fired. Bad sound mastering is killing music. CD has a dynamic range allowance of over 90dB, so why not make use of it? Even the oldest of the old 78s had a dynamic range of 15dB at least, and technology in those days was very primitive. Ban heavy metal, and ban compression in sound mastering, and all the “loudness wars” problems will be killed stone dead! Then we can get back to good music!

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