The loudness war in the music industry, where everyone wants the highest possible level, has led to great collateral damage – for example, distortion, listener fatigue and lack of dynamic range. But high-profile wars are not just a part of our industry, since you know that when watching TV, a commercial with an unanimous product can be 10 times louder than the show that preceded it. In a panic, the viewer grabs the remote control to mute before the neighbors complain of noise, but then, when you restart the program, you need to raise the volume again. Well, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) hates it about the same as we do, so they decided to settle it. But the process also made it easier to mix songs and albums.
There are two main ways to measure sound levels: peaks and RMS. The peak measures the highest level (given the short-term), while the RMS determines the average level. RMS is more closely correlated in our hearing. For example, a drum beat has a high peak value, but a stable chord with a high average value will sound louder subjectively, even if its peak is not close to percussion instruments.
To match the level in the album that people normalize all the tracks to the maximum peak value. However, this is rarely effective, as a song with a higher average level will sound louder than the rest. Other engineers normalize to the RMS value, but then the peaks can go beyond 0dB, so you need to cut them off on the master bus. Ultimately, the best way to compare levels is subjective.
Introduction to LUFS
There are many reference materials on the Internet about the EBU R128 standard – how it was received, numerous variations, nuts and bolts following it – so let’s stick with practical applications. Basically, we now have volume counters whose capabilities extend conventional VU or peak meters and are based on a specification called Loudness Units. LUFS means full volume scale, which refers to volume units in full scale (i.e. the maximum level that the system can handle). Steinberg Cubase, PreSonus StudioOne 3, Magix Samplitude, iZotope Insight 2 and other DAW programs now include this type of measurement.
In a nutshell, loudness units are a unit of measure used in the process of quantifying the perceived loudness of music by analyzing the average level over time. Theoretically, two pieces of music that record identical LUFS reads should sound as if they are on the same level, and in practice they really sound like they are on the same level, regardless of what peak or RMS- say reading. Thus, we have an immediate, practical benefit – if you mix and want to harmonize the levels among the reference tracks, check their LUFS readings.
Values are a negative number, such as -5LUFS, -10LUFS, -13LUFS, etc., since they refer to the full scale. The lower the negative value, the higher the average level. But here is the beauty of the system: a broadcaster such as YouTube can make a decision at the standard LUFS level so that people do not constantly mess around with audio settings, because the sound is automated at a specific preset level. If you have a jazz track with a wide dynamic range that shows -18 LUFS, its level will be increased to -13 LUFS. So the 1990 Belgian hardcore techno track will be close to the same perceived loudness as a string quartet recording.
For broadcasts, the recommended standard is -23LUFS – but this is different from mastering music to play. We often make subjective calls about how much dynamic range we want, and we can handle whatever LUFS we want. Therefore, keep in mind that playback by streaming service or from a CD is different. For club tracks, you might want to set a higher average level (e.g. -6LUFS), since there is no standard level for these styles. But then again, when the track will be broadcast, it will theoretically have the same perceived level as other music.
Without LUFS compliance, a lower signal sounds much louder. When comparing LUFS, even waveforms that differ from each other have the same visible level.
Of course, if two cuts are used to create sound for car playback (via a USB stick or CD), then -11.4 LUFS will sound softer. Fortunately, thanks to modern technology, many car audio systems have a fantastic new feature called the “volume knob”. This allows you to set the level as loud or soft as you want, while maintaining the dynamic range of the sound! Amazing huh?
Do I need to create millions of different master versions?
Учитывая, что разные магазины нормализируют к разным стандартам (например, YouTube -13LUFS против iTunes -16LUFS), означает ли это, что нужно создавать отдельные мастер-версии для каждой площадки? Это решать вам. Установите уровень на мастер-шире до тех пор, пока ее значение не достигнет целевого уровня. Изменение значений не даст слишком явную разницу. Кроме того, если вы решите выпустить свою музыку через агрегатор, вам нужно будет создать отдельные мастера для CD, загрузки и потоковой передачи, которые могут превратиться в логистический беспорядок. Просто сделайте лучшую музыку, которую вы можете, с нужной динамикой, не заморачиваясь над тонкостями. Слушатель сам определит, нравится ему баланс или нет. Надеемся, что в его системах воспроизведения есть новая функция контроля громкости, о которой мы говорили ранее.
Of course, the format of the album is not as popular as it used to be, but song collections are still common, and the LUFS dimension can help with consistency. This algorithm encourages a ceasefire in volume wars – you won’t be able to twist the sound more than the music on Spotify does, because Spotify will simply return the balance. And if you value music with a dynamic range, Spotify will be sure that it sounds as loud as everything else – only with a more dynamic range. This is truly progress. Order high-quality mastering in our studio and get high-quality work for distribution on streaming platforms!