If you bounce your mix in Logic (or any other DAW), you have to know about “Loudness Normalization” – SERIOUSLY. No matter whether your mix will be played on the radio or Spotify, if you upload it to your YouTube channel, or just listen to it in your iTunes Library, your mix will be affected and you better know how. In this three-part series, I will explain all the details. Part 3: Logic’s Loudness Meter.
Part 1: What’s the Problem?
What is Loudness and why will it cause major problems with your mixes if you don’t understand some underlying principles (that I explain in part 1).
Part 2: Loudness Normalization Standards
Never ever only use the Peak Normalization on your bounced mix, and instead, embrace the new global standard of Loudness Normalization (that I explain in part 2).
Part 3: Logic’s Loudness Meter
Instructions on how to use Logic’s Loudness Meter and other tools to avoid surprises due to Loudness Normalization when you later hear your songs on iTunes, Spotify, Youtube, etc (as I explain part 3).
Logic’s Loudness Meter
After learning all the basics about Loudness and Loudness Metering in part 1 and part 2 of this article, we are now well prepared to look at Logic’s own “Loudness Meter” to see how to use it in your mix.
Loudness Metering did first show up in Logic v10.2.1 as part of the MultiMeter, but in version 10.2.3 it added the new Loudness Meter as its own plugin as part of the Audio Effects Plugins ➊. There are plenty of third-party Loudness Meter available (hardware and software) from free to a couple of thousands dollars, but as long as they are EBU-compliant meters they all do pretty much the same as Logic’s Loudness Meter. More expensive ones just have more bells and whistles and some cool graphics to display the measurements. However, all share the same common parameters and controls.
The first step when using the Loudness Meter is to set the “Target Level” or “Target Loudness”, the loudness reference a system (radio, streaming service, etc) uses for Loudness Normalization. Because there are different standards using a different value for that Target Level, you have to know what you are mixing or mastering your song (or any content) to. Radio and television broadcast use a lower Target Level of -23 LUFS (Europe) or -24 LUFS (US) and music streaming services use a higher Target Level of -16 LUFS or -14 LUFS.
Logic’s Loudness Meter lets you set the Target Level to the reference you need.
- The horizontal yellow line ➋ on the meter represents the Target Level.
- This Target Level indicator is just a visual reference (a guide) that changes the color of the individual meter from blue to yellow when go above that value. Both the meter bar and the numeric readout above change the color.
- Click the Target Level ➌ indicator and the line lights up, displaying the current value ➍ of the Target Level next to the line.
- Click-drag the Target Level indicator to move it to the reference level you need (between -30 LUFS and 0 LUFS).
➊ Momentary Loudness – M
The first meter on the left displays the so-called “Momentary Loudness”, which displays loudness similar to a peak level meter.
- The M Meter has a relatively short response time of 400ms (compared to the 10ms response time of a Sample Peak Meter).
- Keep in mind that this level is measured through the special Loudness filters (“K-Weighting”).
- The meter has no hold function. Once you stop playback, the meter will reset.
- You can click on the numeric readout ➋ on top to reset the meter during playback
➌ Short-term Loudness – S
The second meter displays the so-called “Short-term Loudness” which displays loudness similar to RMS or VU Meters.
- The S Meter has a longer response time of 3s.
- Think of the measurement as a “rolling 3s time window”. It continuously displays the integrated loudness of the last 3 seconds of the currently played program.
- Remember that the S Meter (and the M Meter) don’t use the gate feature when measuring the signal.
- This meter also has no hold function. Once you stop playback, the display will reset.
- You can click on the numeric readout ➋ on top to reset the meter during playback.
- On a heavy compressed track, M and S Meter will display similar values.
➍ Integrated Loudness – I
This meter needs some getting used to at first, because you have to manually start and stop the measurement.
- One of the two buttons at the bottom toggles between Start and Pause ➎. to start the measuring or pause it
- The Reset button ➏, resets the I-Meter ➍. Alternatively, you can also click on the numeric readout ➐ above.
- When you stop playback, the current value on the I-Meter remains visible. However, the meter automatically resets when you start playback again.
- The big numeric readout below the meter with the label “Integrated” ➑ is the same as the small numeric readout ➐ above the meter. Please note that only the small number changes its color to yellow not the big number when you go above the Target Level.
➒ LU Range – LUR
The LU Range Meter only has a numeric readout at the bottom. Remember that this is not the raw dynamic range of a song from the lowest to the highest level. Instead, it measures the average dynamic, the “Statistical Loudness distribution by excluding extreme levels”.
- The Start-Pause-Reset buttons also affect the LU Range measurement, which mean you have to manually start it. Clicking on the numeric I readout will also reset the LU Range
- Keep in mind that for a song with a healthy dynamic the value will go down throughout the song. On a highly compressed song, however, it stays at a small value throughout the song.
➎ Start / Pause and ➏ Reset Button
As I mentioned already, these two buttons let you start and stop the measurement of the Integrated Loudness and the LU Range.
➓ Vertical vs. Horizontal
From the View menu at the upper-right of the Plugin Window, you can choose to display the Loudness Meter vertically or horizontally.
Logic’s “MultiMeter” Plugin
Logic’s “MultiMeter” plugin also has a Loudness Meter built-in. The user interface is a little bit different with a few setting you have to pay attention to.
True Peak Meter
As we have just seen, the Loudness Meter Plugin itself doesn’t have a True Peak Level Meter, so you always have to have an additional plugin window open to monitor True Peak (which you should). The ITU and AES standards define a maximum True Peak Level of -1dBTP (and -2dBTP for data-compressed programs). The MultiMeter Plugin has the advantage that it displays a Loudness Meter and True Peak Meter.
- Please note that the Peak Level Meter has to be set to “True Peak” from the Level popup menu ➊.
- The Peak Meter on top indicates what setting you have chosen (i.e. “TP” ➋).
- The Peak Meter has its own Target Level Indicator ➌ that you can set to -1dBTP.
The Loudness Meter section is a little bit different
- There is only one meter bar, displaying the Momentary Loudness (LU-M) ➍
- You can set the Target Level Indicator ➎ on that meter bar.
- On top of the meter bar are two numeric readouts ➏ displaying the Integrated Loudness (LU-I and Short-term Loudness (LU-S).
- The Integrated Loudness will be measured when you start playback and doesn’t have a separate Start button.
- You can reset the Integrated Loudness by clicking on the LU-I value.
The View Menu ➐ in the upper-right corner of the Plugin Window lets’ you switch between three different views.
- Full ➑: This is the default, displaying all the available controls.
- Compact: This view hides the bottom section and displays only the Meters and the Analyzer (or Goniometer if it was selected before).
- Meters ➒: This view only displays the Meters: the Loudness Meter and the True Peak Meter (if it was selected in the Full View before). This is a great option to have both, the Loudness Meter and the True Peak Meters displayed in one small Plugin Window.
Other Loudness Meters
In addition to Logic’s (free) built-in Loudness Meter, there are lots of third-party Loudness Meters, software and hardware, ranging from free to a couple of thousand dollars. They all display the same standard parameters based on the EBU R128 specifications, but often have additional features, preferences, or sophisticated graphics like histograms (showing the level over time) or radar-style meters (showing the loudness over time in a circular fashion).
Here are just a few Loudness Meters with their link to check them out if they fit your needs and budget.
NuGen Audio VisLM 2
TC Electronic LM1n, LM2n, LM6n
Waves WLM Meter Plus
RTW Loudness Tools
HOFA 4U Suite
Toneboosters EBU Meter
The EBU R128 defines two references for the maximum allowed True Peak Level. For PCM files it is -1 dBTP and for data-compressed audio (mp3, AAC, etc.) it is -2 dBTP. The reason for this extra dB is the nature of data-compression algorithms that could have some “side effects” regrading the peak levels.
Apple provides a little help in that regards with an Audio FX Plugin called “AURoundTripAAC” located in the Plugin Menu ➤ Audio Units ➤ Apple ➤ AURoundTripAAC. It simulates what specific data compression algorithms do to your mix. Not only does it measure the signal level after the (simulated) encoding in real time, it also lets you listen how your mix sounds “encoded”.
AAC Simulation + Loudness Meter
If you put the Loudness Meter Plugin ➊ after the AURoundTripAAC Plugin ➋, you could measure the Loudness and True Peak Level “after” the AAC encoding.
The interface of the AURoundTripAAC Plugin is pretty simple:
- Encoded Format ➌: You select from the popup menu on top which encoding format you want to simulate.
- Mode ➍: The two buttons below let you switch between Audition Mode and Listening Test Mode. Set to Audition for this purpose.
- Monitor ➎: The two buttons below let you A/B-switch between “Source” (without encoding) and “Encoded” (with encoding).
- Clip Indicator ➏: The two bars below light up red when the source signal or the encoded signal is clipping.
- Details ➐: The Details section below provides more details about the signal. It displays the maximum Sample Peak ➑ and Inter-sample Peak ➒ (True Peak) for the left and right channel of the Source and Encoded Signal, plus the count ➓ below to show how many times the signal hit the peak.
You can leave the Plugin in Encoded Mode if you want to hear “the encoded results” during the mix, but make sure to bypass the plugin when you bounce the mix!
I explain the Plugin in more detail in my book “Logic Pro X – Tips, Tricks, Secrets #2”
Even with all the focus on loudness and dynamic, don’t forget to keep an eye on the peak levels of your song.
“Level Meter” Plugin
Put the “Level Meter” plugin on the Stereo Output Channel as the last Plugin (before or after the Loudness Meter) and always set it to True Peak ➊. The Level Meter has its own yellow Target Level Indicator ➋ that you can set to -1dBTP or -2dBTP depending on the standard you are delivering for.
“Adaptive Limiter” Plugin
Here is one little detail worth mentioning regarding True Peak. If you use a limiter on the Output Channel Strip, make sure that it also uses True Peak Detection ➌. You can find this valuable feature in more Limiter Plugins nowadays, including Logic’s own Adaptive Limiter.
Sometimes the setting is called “Oversampling”, because that is the technique behind it to catch inter-sample peaks. BTW, the higher you Sample Rate you use for your Project (i.e. 192kHz), the less problems with inter-sample peaks in general.
If you want to check what Loudness Normalization does to your mix when your play it in the context of other songs, you can use your iTunes app on the Mac or your iPhone to check that.
The Playback Preferences in iTunes ➍ and the Settings for the Music app on iOS ➎ has a checkbox labeled “Sound Check”, which activates Loudness Normalization for all songs in your iTunes Library at a Target Level of -16 LUFS.
iTunes supposedly has an “Album Mode”, using a single Program Loudness when playing back the songs of an album and switches to individual Program Loudness when you are not in Album View or use Shuffle Mode (I haven’t verified that yet).
Online Loudness Analysis and Comparison Tool
Here is a great online tool that works in the web browser to analyze tracks regarding their loudness and plays them back with and without Loudness Normalization applied to them.
- Go to http://musictester.com/demo/
- You can drag any audio file onto the page and it will be added to a temporary playlist (they claim that the songs are not uploaded, only analyzed).
- Each song appears as a row ➊ in the Playlist with the following information: Title, Maximum True Peak (TPk), Program Loudness (L) and Peak to Loudness Ratio (PLR). You can even sort by a specific column by clicking on its header ➋.
- The waveform display ➌ on top shows the currently selected track (row).
- The popup menu in the upper-right corner ➍ lets you choose to play back the songs unaltered or with Loudness Normalization applied to.
- You have the Play/Pause and Stop button ➎ to play the playlist and you can also use the spacebar on your keyboard to step through the playlist during playback for direct comparison of the songs in your playlist.
What does Metallica and a Vacuum Cleaner have in Common?
The infamous “Loudness War” started when music producers and record companies, but also producers of radio and TV ads tried to get advantage over their competitor by using the phenomena
that to listeners, louder audio material sounds better. Because the digital domain has a precise maximum allowed signal level of 0 dBFS that everybody had to follow, they tried to game the system by using compressors and limiters to reduce the overall dynamic of their song or advertising. The perceived loudness of a song (or any audio material) increases the less dynamic the song has.
Like with any war, there were casualties and in this case, it was good sounding music with healthy dynamics and natural transients. Instead the result was a squashed dynamic of just a few dB with high distortion, resulting in an overall shitty sound (despite the fact that they were produced on the best and most expensive equipment). Unfortunately, that didn’t matter as long as the product made a lot of money with those tracks. The motto wasn’t “let’s make good sounding music” and instead “To the Edge of Distortion and Beyond”.
Don’t get me wrong, trying to create a “wall-of-sound”-type of music is ok if it is driven by the intention of the artist and not by the guy from the record company that attends a mastering session and tells the engineer to hyper-compress a track just for the sake of gaining financial advantage over a competitors product (remember, it is called “Music Business” for a reason).
Dynamic Range and the Sound of a Vacuum Cleaner
Thomas Lund, an engineer at Genelec had a great presentation about the loudness topic at the recent AES convention in LA where he compared a song from a Metallica album to the recording of a vacuum cleaner. The measurement showed that the sound of a vacuum cleaner had a greater dynamic range than the recorded “music” of the Metallica track, squeezed to an unbearable 3dB!
If you listen to a typical Top40 radio station, most of the station IDs, ads, and fillers between songs are so highly compressed with short music snippets, whooshes, and sound effects, that the sonic result is often similar to the sound of white noise at 0dB.
Stop the Insanity
Finally, this insanity comes to an end with the implementation of the Loudness Normalization.
A Metallica song and an old Van Halen song can both be peak-normalized to 0dBFS, however, the “super-loud” Metallica song with a squashed dynamic of 2dB will be turned down and will sound much softer than the Van Halen song with much healthier dynamic range.
Loudness Normalization: A New and Better World
Where are we now?
Finally, the big question is, what Program Level should we aim for in our Loudness Meter when we mix our song or any other material? Due to the different standards, there is no simple answer to that, because it depends on various factors. Here are just a few consideration.
- Because there is not only one single reference for the Target Level, find out the Target Level of the station or streaming service your song will be played on (see below).
- If it is practical, you can create (maximize) the mix/master of your song for specific distribution channels.
- As a general rule, broadcast systems use a lower Target Level of -23 LUFS or 24 LUFS, while audio streaming services use a higher Target Level around the recommended -16 LUFS.
- Keep in mind that this topic is still “developing”, which means that some systems start to adopt the Loudness Normalization or set their previous Target Levels to a lower (more generally accepted) level.
- Whatever you are mixing to, Loudness Normalization will always favor dynamic music (played back unchanged) over highly compressed music (which will have its playback level turned down).
A few considerations about the mastering process.
- Maybe it is about time stop thinking about a mastering engineer as someone who applies compression or limiting to your final mix. If that is what an engineer is advertising without any knowledge of Loudness Normalization, then look for someone else.
- A mastering engineer should be fully aware of all the topics around Loudness Normalization, because that is important for the well-being of your song when it is played on the radio or streaming services.
- Don’t loose your sleep over whether or not you should already apply compression to your mix (and how much) before you submitting it to the mastering engineer and how much headroom is the right headroom. First of all, apply whatever processing to your mix to make it sound as good as possible, but always keep the Loudness Meter in sight.
- If you mix/bounce your song (or any content) using a Loudness Meter with an appropriate Loudness (-23 LUFS or -16 LUFS), and not going over the recommended -2dBTP True Peak Level, then you are fine.
- Keep in mind that highly compressed mixes leave you with an irreversible damaged dynamics that even a mastering engineer cannot fix.
Public radio and TV stations worldwide adopting already the regional Loudness standards and more and more commercial radio stations are catching on to help improve consistency throughout the program. With private companies, that is a little bit more difficult because not only do they not necessarily announce any adoption to a specific standard, they often cherry pick specific procedures and references and change or update them at their will. The result is still quite messy, but definitely much better as before and it is getting better, because that is where the industry is heading.
Here is a list of some of the current standards (June 2017). Keep in mind, some numbers are detected by users and the individual implementation varies quite a bit.
- Most public Broadcasting (radio/TV): -23LUFS or -24LUFS
- Tidal: -18LUFS over AirPlay, on mobile devices and browser it will be -14LUFS. Normalization can be turned off by the user.
- iTunes Radio and iTunes app: -16LUFS
- Spotify: They have recently lowered the Target Level from -12LUFS to -14LUFS. It seems that the ads in the free version, however, are still not normalized.
- YouTube: -13LUFS, but it seems that not all program (like older content) is normalized yet and also, softer program is not turned up to the Target Level.
- SoundCloud: Doesn’t seem to use Loudness Normalization yet. Let them know you want it.
- Pandora: Doesn’t seem to use Loudness Normalization yet. Let them know you want it.
Here are a few topics that I didn’t get into in this article, but they show that there is much more to consider when it comes to deliver a consistent audio program using Loudness Normalization.
- Album Mode: There are still some considerations regarding a so-called “Album Mode” that was used in the ReplayGain system. It allows to measure the Program Loudness of an entire album, so when played back, the individual songs of that album are not Loudness Normalized individually. This prevents that the playback level of a quieter song or in classical music albums is raised against a louder tracks on that album
- Surround: The various standards also include details how to handle multi-channel surround sound material. For example, the LFE channel (the “.1” in “5.1”) will not be measured and the surround channels are lowered by 1.5dB when measuring the Program Loudness.
- Live Broadcast: Broadcasting live audio is, of course, different regarding the loudness because you cannot measure its Loudness in advance.
- Spoken Words: Audio material with spoken word or a combination of music and spoken words has to be handled differently than pure music channels.
Last but not Least
Now with the new awareness of Loudness, be careful when reading any publication about Loudness. “Loudness” is not a new term, so articles may talk about loudness used in a more general term or in the context of VU Meter or RMS Meters and not in the context of the new Loudness Normalization standards.
Links and References
Florian Camerer: Loudnesszen
Thomas Lund: Loudness Wars, Part 1
LUFS Meter Explained
Thomas Lund: The Tipping Point
List of Loudness Tools
10 Things to know about EBU R 128
PRSS (Public Radio Satellite System) Audio Loudness Standards
EBU R128 Website
Dynamic Range Day
I hope this extensive three-part article about Loudness Normalization helped you to be better prepared for the real world with your Logic mixes.
If you want to learn more about Logic Pro X or other software apps you might use (Final Cut Pro X, Pro Tools, etc.) check out the best-selling books in my Graphically Enhanced Manuals (GEM) series. They are all available as printed books (from Amazon), pdf files (from my website), and as interactive multi-touch iBooks (exclusively on Apple’s iBooks Store).
All links are on my website http://DingDingMusic.com/GEM
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