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The best loudness metering plugins money can buy – and my favourite alternative (for only 9 dollars !)

by Ian Shepherd

 

The TT Loudness Mater is no longer the only (or best) way to measure the dynamics of your music.

One of the most popular posts on this site has always been “How to avoid over-compressing your mix” – an introduction to using the TT meter, plus an introduction to the ideas of “dynamic range”, or “crest factor”.

Over the years since I wrote the post and have been promoting the meter, it’s come in for some criticism for the way that it calculates the DR measurements, and even the idea of measuring “loudness” or making recommendations about it at all.

But just in the last year, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has agreed official definitions of loudness measurement – the “loudness unit” (LU) and both short and long-term “loudness range” recommendations. These are now being adopted internationally as standards – and are even becoming law in the US as a means of regulating the loudness of adverts between programmes.

This means that regardless of whether you think measuring loudness is valid or useful, it’s happening – and in the future, the playback volume of almost all streamed and broadcast music is going to be based on similar measurements.

All music will be standardised to an average playback level, so the “loudness” of your music will have no effect on its playback volume, in many situations

What will have an influence on the way it sounds though, is the use of dynamics.

And understanding how this works, and how to read the new meters that measure these new standards, will be crucial to getting the best results

If your music is crushed up against the 0dBFS digital limit, it might read as little as -6 or -4 LU on the new meters. These values are roughly equivalent to DR6 and DR4 on the TT meter. During playback their volume will be adjusted down to the recommended ITU average of… -23 LU !

(This may sound surprisingly low, but is designed to take account of the much higher peak levels of some broadcast material – for example feature films and classical music.)

So if your music reads -4 LU on the new meters, it will have only those 4 dB to use as headroom above the -23 LU average – for any contrast, for light and shade and dynamic impact.

Whereas something that the TT measures as having DR8 or more will read something like -8 LU on the new meters, and will have all of those 8dB (or more) available to help make it sound great at the new standardised playback volume.

This is what we’ve been talking about all along – the “red herring” of crushing your music in an attempt to make it loud will be completely cancelled out on playback

Music with more dynamics will have more punch, impact and power – in a word, it’ll sound louder !

Learn how the new meters work

To see how the meters work in practise, and how their readings relate to the TT meter, check out the video above – it demonstrates two of my favourites from the new batch of loudness meters that are being released, plus a recap of the TT meter and comparisons between them.

Both the just-released TC Electronic LM6 and Nugen VisLM are excellent, but they cost over $500. However there’s also a plugin I didn’t know about when I made the video, the MeterPlugs LCast plugin, for both Mac and PC. It has a “history” graph similar to the one in the Nugen VisLM, plus the added benefit of being able to zoom in on the history graph, which I really like. Currently the stereo version only costs $149 – to check it out, click here.

(I also tried the Waves WLM meter, although it’s not featured in the video – this also features a comprehensive set of tools for measuring ITU loudness – including the ability to automatically recognise dialogue – but lacks the intuitive graphical displays of the Nugen, Meterplugs or TC meters.)

The final option in the video isn’t an EBU-based meter at all though, it’s quite different – and it might be my favourite of all them. It only costs $9, and I strongly recommend you give it a try

What is it ? You’ll just have to watch the video and find out : )

Happy metering !

 
 

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19 Responses

  1. Tim says:

    Can someone still master with 44.1khz for CD and get it sound well, of must be higher resolution to DITHER down to CD Quality?
    ,,,,,,,,,please reply this,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

  2. Peter Hill says:

    I leave loudness and compression to the likes of Classic FM, and more recently the BBC. I can’t listen to Classic FM. It’s awful. They absolutely murdered one of my recordings one and they are not yet forgiven for doing that.

  3. Ian Shepherd says:

    Hi Tim,

    It’s perfectly possible to master at 44.1 kHz, I do it regularly. You’ll still need dither when reducing to 16-bit for CD release though.

    Hth,

    Ian

  4. Ian Shepherd says:

    Hi Peter,

    I understand where you’re coming from – the good news about the new standards is that FM-style compression won’t be needed – the adjustments can be made with simple gain.

    It remains to be seen if that’s actually how broadcasters do things, of course…!

    Ian

  5. Rob Weber says:

    Ian, Tim doesn’t mention the bit rate that he is using. He should only need to dither if be is working at 24-bits, correct? If he is working at 16-44.1, so no conversion of any type should be necessary. Make sense?

  6. Ian Shepherd says:

    Hi Rob,

    If you’re working at 16 bits and no further processing is applied, then no, you don’t need dither. But as soon as any processing is used – even a simple gain change – you need dither at 16 bits.

    In fact, I also use dither even at 24-bit, although the theoretical requirement is less clear. Personally I’d rather have a little extra noise, than a little extra quantisation noise, even if it’s really low level, and ESPECIALLY if files are being processed multiple times.

    Bottom line – if in doubt, dither.

    Ian

  7. Rob Weber says:

    Ian, you’ve just changed my whole paradigm. I always thought dither was only applied when changing (specifically reducing) bit depth. I’ll have to study this a bit more, see what I’m missing.

  8. Ian Shepherd says:

    Just to clarify, dither is only needed when saving in a fixed bit-depth. So you can do as much 32-bit processing as you like (usually within a single application) without dither -provided all your plugins are well-written.

    But as soon as you save/export at a fixed bit-depth, you have to choose between dither or quantisation distortion. Both can be audible or innocuous, depending on the material, but I usually just stay at 24-bit for as long as possible, and use dither.

    A blog post on this is long overdue, I think…!

  9. jerry says:

    the klanghelm stuff is the vu meters are very nice they help me with my gain staging and help me see how my music feels. also I love that compressor they have

  10. Talbert says:

    Your video and references are a great help!!

    Is there any software that will auto-fill in a wave file’s BWF (BEXT chunk)’s loudness information?

    If so, does it calculate the Loudness Value, Max, and Range, but leave the Momentary and ShortTerm settings for the engineer (as leveling target values)?…or am I misunderstanding these values?

  11. Ian Shepherd says:

    Good question – I don’t know ! PreSonus StudioOne has built-in loudness measurements, it might be worth an email to their support team ?

  12. The loudness video is brilliant Ian. Crystal clear. To offer a further perspective, all my work is solo voice, in mono! But matching the apparent loudness of, for example, book chapters is all about creative compression applied at appropriate dramatic points, while holding the brief peak levels consistent throughout – which publishers insist on.
    Long ago, my BBC training taught me the different behaviour of VU (“very unreliable”) and PPM and despite my Beeb-loyalty, I have to agree with you the VU needle is easy to read, and I find it helpful in matching chapters. I’m using the very low cost and fully adjustable dual-platform Digital River PPM and VU side by side. That’s not too brain-taxing, working in mono.

  13. David says:

    Great video Ian. Do you have any thoughts on the free Loudness Analyzer from MeldaProduction? Its part of the MFreeEffects Bundle.

  14. Ian Shepherd says:

    Hi David,

    It’s one of the few Melda plugins I don’t like – it does the job but I find it unintuitive and hard to read, sadly.

    Ian

  15. Gerard says:

    Hi Ian, do you happen to know where the “low level below” (or short term minimum) should be set for EBU R128?

  16. Ian Shepherd says:

    Sorry, I don’t…

  17. Orban loudness meter (free, dual platform) is pretty thorough, and very easy to read. Shows instantaneous peaks, VU, PPM, CBS loudness, ITU BS.1770-2, EBU R 128 loudness, and reconstructed 8x oversampled peaks. They can display simultaneously – with of course very little agreement on anything other than tone.

  18. Mario Bianchi says:

    Hi, here are a couple more interesting loudness meter plugins:

    Toneboosters EBULoudness, 20€
    http://www.toneboosters.com/tb-ebuloudness/

    Free VU Meters:
    http://sleepytimedsp.com/software/str-bundle/

    Hope it helps :)

  19. A long-gone orchestral conductor (can anyone remember who?) used to insist on a level meter fixed to the podium during recording so he could manage the dynamics at source.
    What he would make of today’s squared-off CD or multiband comped FM broadcast one can only guess.

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