Monday, November 5, 2012

Loudness Part I

I have both a professional interest, and a Tyrannosaurus Mouse interest, in measures of loudness and dynamic range.
For the Pandora Machine we oftentimes struggle, or at least wonder, about the relative levels of signals and just how loud we should make our movies. Mostly this involves what level we should be setting the dialog at.
If I were to criticize my Pandora Machine mixes I'd say that I do mix them quite hot. I slam the dialog into limiters and then make the backgrounds too loud. I doubt I'm going to stop slamming the dialog into limiters -- after all dialog is king and making it absolutely the freaking clearest thing you've ever heard in your life is way in my best interest. But I could be a bit more delicate with backgrounds.
I'm trying to figure out if a blue strap is really appropriate.
For music my interest has a different direction. Ethan and I had talked about how we'd like this Tyrannosaurus Mouse album to sound like an older record -- have have an older record's "dynamic range".
We did a number of things to make the album sound more old-fashioned (meaning: late 60's/early 70's). We recorded 24-bit/44.1kHz in order to retain what we might call "depth" but with a bit of the graininess on the top end one might expect from recording in an analog format.
We also did not kittywhump the heck out of the 2-mix buss with a limiter. The mix went through some light SSL-style limiting and that was that.

  • Now just remember that at first glance, or first listen, louder always sounds better. That's just a rule. The question is what happens when you've been listening for a while. 

[Let me sidetrack note for a bit. Early 70's were known for pretty dry drum sounds. I suspect that was a way to make the drums really loud because at the time it was perhaps a bit easier to make louder. This is just a theory of mine. It could be totally wrong. Honestly I'm more a fan of the wetter drum sounds like on Genesis' ABACAB or The Police or such.]

As it turns out, actually measuring "loudness" is a minefield of angry rattlesnakes. It's really freaking hard to do. This Sound on Sound article by Emmanuel Deruty explains much. And the conclusions are... interesting.
Now, we're all of the belief there has been a loudness war that went on in the 1990's and 2000's. Right? Brick wall limiters have been making popular music too loud. That's just a fact, right?
It turns out:
[C]ontrarily to what one can often read on the Internet, the loudness war did not cause any reduction in level variability. There is as much level variability now as there was in the ’70s or ’80s.
OK. So that's counter-intuitive. I mean, it doesn't sound right at all, does it?
In the end, it’s all about style. Reduced crest factor values bring a ‘compact’ aspect to the sound; Waves describe it as a “heavily in-your-face signal that rocks the house” on their MaxxBCL page. It may be suited to your kind of music, or it may not.
That article is very enlightening. And honestly I have to read it a number of more times to really understand what's going on. But that'll be next time. Maybe.

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