Jun 5, 2009
(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.
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.
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:
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