A True Measurement of “Quality” Loudness in Audio Mastering

True Measurement- A Balance of Loudness and Dynamics

The recommended and reliable measurement of quality loudness in mastering is to consider dynamics. Dynamics is the difference between the minimum and maximum RMS power (check if the mastering software provide these statistics). For example if the minimum RMS power is -65.75dB and the maximum RMS power is -10.75dB then the dynamics of the audio track can be approximated -65.75dB – (-10.75dB) = -55dB. Higher figure indicates a nice presence of soft and loud sections (such as a soft stanza and a loud chorus) of the mastered track. Unfortunately, as you increase the loudness you decrease the dynamics of the audio material. See the figure below:

Dynamics loudness chart

Dynamics loudness chart

For example if you want to make your recordings very loud by targeting around -10dB loudness then the dynamics would suffer because it would become squashed due to compression/limiting. Also if you want to have that nice big dynamics, then your master recordings run the risk of not being competitively loud.
Therefore to achieve that quality loudness is to settle the balance between objective loudness and dynamics. How are you going to achieve this?

How to achieve balance of loudness and dynamics

First, it requires good mastering techniques and great set of ears to achieve a balance between loudness and dynamics. Below are the recommended tips:

a.) Listen to the song first before mastering. Listen to it very closely and pay attention to the important sections where dynamics of the song are emphasized.

b.) When applying compression and limiting, listen again to make sure the dynamics are still preserved and not squashed.

c.) To avoid increasing the dB RMS level using limiter that could also squashed the dynamics, try focusing on the multi-band compression techniques first or EQ to add presence to the track. Multi-band compression allows you to increase the loudness on the critical band 300Hz to 3000Hz (all other frequency bands untouched) where ears are very sensitive to loudness. Also you can add a boost at this frequency range (e.g. 2000Hz Q=0.5 +2dB) to improve the presence and subjective loudness of the track.

In this technique, your track “appears” loud and big to the ears while the average RMS is not too loud. You preserved the dynamics in this case.

c.) Listen to your favorite loud recordings before the loudness war and imitate their loudness and dynamics. You can do this by measuring their average RMS level and dynamics using your mastering software and then targeting your work to achieve this level using different mastering techniques.

Content last updated on June 20, 2012