View Poll Results: What Is The Ideal Decibel Level For Audio Mixdown?

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  • +4dBFS

    3 3.06%
  • 0dBFS

    24 24.49%
  • -6dBFS

    69 70.41%
  • +18dBSPL

    2 2.04%
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Thread: What is the Ideal dB Level?

  1. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by trillz View Post
    This would also have to involve other issues besides Db level.
    You are right trillz. I agree, however the last item on that list - as far as I know - is cleaning up the output level on your mix. And that's what I'm talking about here. I think EQ and panning are very important steps but should be decision already made by the mixdown stage. Do you agree?

    If I have to go back to my EQ on my drums by that time. I usually pull all the faders down and start over.
    Last edited by HakimCallier; 04-22-2009 at 08:12 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by HakimCallier View Post
    You are right trillz. I agree, however the last item on that list - as far as I know - is cleaning up the output level on your mix. And that's what I'm talking about here. I think EQ and panning are very important steps but should be decision already made by the mixdown stage. Do you agree?

    If I have to go back to my EQ on my drums by that time. I usually pull all the faders down and start over.
    I agree but if you put a limiter on, you wouldn't have to worry about the dB Level majority of the time.
    Last edited by trillz; 04-22-2009 at 08:14 AM.

  3. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by trillz View Post
    I agree but if you put a limiter on, you wouldn't have to worry about the dB Level majority of the time.
    Thats just the thing bro. I work in various genre of music and a the brickwall limiting approach used in today's pop, hip hop and RnB is not always appropriate.
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    Don't stop this discussion... I'm writing a long post that should be up in a couple hours (I'm at work)...
    "The triumphs of ignorance and marketing over electro-acoustics and psyco-acoustics are multitude. With the popularisation of the recording industry, and the hype of commercial manufacturers, it is hardly surprising that many facts get buried in the hype, or even get flat out denied. However, the truth still exists, and the people who want to hear it are perhaps the ones who will be better prepared to make high quality recordings in high quality studios." - Philip Newell

  5. #15
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    Does anybody use the K-System for monitoring metering and levelling? I use K-20 for most of my mixes, K-14 for hip hop, pop and rock records.
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  6. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by HakimCallier View Post
    Does anybody use the K-System for monitoring metering and levelling? I use K-20 for most of my mixes, K-14 for hip hop, pop and rock records.

    Yes, I do... and that's part of my long post I'm trying to finish... Stupid work getting in the way of my writing about audio... Sometimes I wish I didn't have a job...

    Out of curiousity, are the same Hakim that was looking for advice about the K-System on gearsluts?
    "The triumphs of ignorance and marketing over electro-acoustics and psyco-acoustics are multitude. With the popularisation of the recording industry, and the hype of commercial manufacturers, it is hardly surprising that many facts get buried in the hype, or even get flat out denied. However, the truth still exists, and the people who want to hear it are perhaps the ones who will be better prepared to make high quality recordings in high quality studios." - Philip Newell

  7. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by 73* View Post
    Out of curiousity, are the same Hakim that was looking for advice about the K-System on gearsluts?
    Yes. I am starting to really get the hang of it. It really is a brilliant system. I own Sonalksis' MultiLimit and I can switch to K-14 metering. It is very helpful and very percise.
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  8. #18
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    no offence, but is this poll a joke?

    I'll wait for 73*'s answer before writing anything.. ..just wanna mention that "dBSPL" has absolutely nothing to do with music production and that it basically doesn't matter how big your peak level is - the important thing is that it doesn't go above 0dBFS. That's why 73* will probably give us a lesson about dBRMS.


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  9. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by moses View Post
    no offence, but is this poll a joke?
    It would seem like that, and it should. But its not because many people just don't know. This is the reason I brought up the issue. Check the poll's answers if you don't believe me. And I bet there are even more who are waiting to see what comes out of this discussion. *73's post will be a good start. He and I have been a part of a fruitful discussion on the K-System with Bob Katz. I have even had a few conversations with him offline that were very beneficial... this should be a good thread moses so hold your horses.
    Last edited by HakimCallier; 04-22-2009 at 03:07 PM.
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  10. #20
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    A couple of things here.... Why is there +18dBSPL on the list (Moses you beat me to the punch on that)? If we are going to have a serious discussion with the intent to help others and hopefully all of us coming away from this with a deeper understanding of the topic at hand, I feel it'd be best not to include any "red herrings" (IE:+18dBSPL & +4dBFS*).

    Another thing that I feel is important to include in this discussion is the RMS level of the audio. The RMS level is far more important than the peak level. Peak level doesn't tell you anything of value, and does not relate much to what we hear coming out of our speakers.

    After all the root of this discussion is loudness and the goal here is to hopefully establish some sort of guide lines that we can use in order not to tie the hands of the Mastering Engineer. As I'm sure most of us are aware the subjective loudness of a song is heavily related to the average RMS level of that song. Now is it going to be very useful for us to start making generalizations of where the RMS level of every song should be? I don't think so, and most of us can agree that if every song is different how are we to reasonably create a specific target that we all should shoot for? It just can’t be done, at least not without the sacrifice of the Art form that we are dealing with. Sure, this is a mixture of Art and Science but the science must always be subservient to art or all we end up with is a soulless collection of sounds. So along with a guide line (or range of guide lines) we are going to need to exercise some critical analysis with respect to the values we get from our meters, and know when to simply ignore them for artistic purposes.

    What's needed here is deeper understanding of what the dB levels (as measured by a DAW, both Peak and RMS) mean and what conclusions we can draw from the values our meters are giving us. It’s important that we understand these things, as simply putting a limiter on the 2bus and forgetting about the levels altogether is certainly no solution, and eventually leads to more severe problems than the one it’s a supposed “solution” for. Luckily for us, there has already been a lot of thought put into this very subject by some very intelligent minds. One of those people that need to be mentioned is Bob Katz. His suggested calibrated monitoring system (the K-System) allows us to establish a baseline for loudness and gives us a real-world tool to evaluate just where we are loudness wise, based on what we hear through our speakers. Now there is a touch of irony in this, as once most people calibrate their monitoring chain to this system they find themselves ignoring the meters altogether, yet they never end up with mixes or masters that are lacking in the headroom that a given song requires (IE: unintentionally clipped and squashed and full of unwanted distortion).

    Peak level: It seems pretty self explanatory but it’s worth reviewing here for the sake of some of the less experienced. What a PPM meter (Peak Program Meter) gives you is the instantaneous highest level of a given sample (the majority of us are dealing with digital, so let’s assume it’s a file playing in your DAW of choice). It is really just the level of the sample in relation to 0dBFS (typically expressed “–x” dB; where “x” is the level below 0dBFS), now the reason that this on its own tells us little to nothing about what we are hearing is because our ears and brain do not relate a high peak level necessarily to a high loudness level, there is also a frequency dependant sensitivity that our ears have (see Fletcher Munson curves). Remember this; all it takes is one sample to reach 0dBFS (or our target level of -6dBFS) and we would have satisfied our guide line that we are discussing here. If dealing with a 44.1 kHz sampling rate, that one lonely sample is only going to be 1/44100th of a second long and the rest of the file could be dreadfully too low. So mixing a song and making sure you’re hitting -6dBFS isn’t a good goal in and of itself. Really any specific target for peak level is a bit lacking in a solid logic or philosophy. At most there should be a rule of thumb that your material doesn’t exceed 0dBFS at any point in time (assuming we’re talking about fixed point systems). Now a very broad rule of thumb isn’t what we want here so there has to be more to this. If we hope to do anything useful, this is where we want to start looking at RMS levels.

    RMS level (Root Mean Square): This is more of an average level and relates a lot closer to what we perceive as loudness. In the digital domain it’s very similar but not exactly the same as a traditional VU meter. This is the level that a lot of the great engineers will warn you to watch if you’re trying to mix with headroom. Although it’s worth mentioning again that our perception of loudness is frequency dependant (again see Fletcher Munson curves) but for this discussion that can be somewhat ignored as we are dealing with the metering of the 2bus (master output) of our DAW that will have a relatively wide bandwidth signal passing through it most of the time. Depending on the material, you will see recommendations that your peak RMS level during loud passages should be sitting anywhere between -20dBFS RMS to -12dBFS RMS. These are great guidelines to use and they help you end up with a mix that still has a fairly healthy level of dynamics, and not just another victim of the loudness war. However these guidelines still aren’t enough on their own and to follow them blindly is not a good idea. So perhaps we can get better results if we tie the two together, and call it something like “crest factor”. No, that’s not my original idea; I’m just trying to be clever…

    Crest Factor: The term “Crest Factor” generally refers to the difference between the “Peak level” and the “RMS Level”. For example, say a section of a song has a Peak level of “-7.2dBFS” and an RMS level of “-18dB RMS” you’d end up with a crest factor of 10.8. Very simple math! But what does this tells us? How do we interpret these numbers? Well, in the simplest sense it can help to think of things this way: Program material that has a large crest factor is typically going to be described as being dynamic, and the transients (you know good things like drums) will have a strong impact in the mix. Now as you can imagine program material that has a low crest factor will often sound compressed but this isn’t always the case, as music that doesn’t have transients generally will have a low crest factor despite possibly being very dynamic (classical, ambient etc). Now, if you’re dealing with your typical Pop/Rock/Hiphop/RnB/Dance music and it has a really low crest factor you can pretty much guarantee you’re dealing with some brick walled noise. Too low of a crest factor on most material and you end up with a lifeless mix that is fatiguing to listen to.

    Hopefully I haven’t lost everybody yet, because now is the stage that we get to put these numbers to practical use. By practical use I really just mean that you want to keep an eye on their relative levels. If you find that your RMS levels are getting too close to 0dBFS RMS (low crest factor) you’re probably killing your mix and tying the hands of the ME. If you have too high of crest factor you might be mixing a song too weak for a particular genre. But that’s the beauty of it. It’s up to you as the mix engineer to interpret what the song needs. It’s all about balance, when mixing we want to retain the punch of the drums and give focus to things like vocals, lead lines or what have you. It’s not about trying to squeeze every single decibel out of every bit we have.

    What do you do when you’re trying to retain dynamics and headroom but the sound from your speakers is too low? Simple turn them up. That is the basis for the K-system. Having your monitors turned up to a calibrated level that is loud enough to allow the quiet parts to be heard and the loud parts to have impact. It’s a reference point, a very solid one that allows you to trust your ears. Once accustomed to it, you’ll know how loud something is going to be, because you have a reference of how loud things sound. The important thing about a reference is that you can go back to it anytime you need, and that it stays the same (that is why it’s calibrated). It will allow you to mix on intuition and get repeatable consistent results. Seriously read the article linked and you can search gearsluts mastering forum for a few extra help sessions Bob Katz has given on it (the OP started the latest one).

    This still feels incomplete but I’ve wasted nearly my entire work day on this. But I may review and add more once I’m home…




    *While I included +4dBFS on the list of “red herrings”, it’s worth noting that even though at first glance most people will be inclined to disregard it as a level that does not exist on a digital storage medium these levels can occur when excessive levels are being reconstructed by a DAC see this (http://www.tcelectronic.com/media/ni...0_0dbfs_le.pdf) paper. Here is a link to a free plug-in meter that is designed specifically to detect inter-sample peaks. http://www.solid-state-logic.com/music/X-ISM/index.asp
    "The triumphs of ignorance and marketing over electro-acoustics and psyco-acoustics are multitude. With the popularisation of the recording industry, and the hype of commercial manufacturers, it is hardly surprising that many facts get buried in the hype, or even get flat out denied. However, the truth still exists, and the people who want to hear it are perhaps the ones who will be better prepared to make high quality recordings in high quality studios." - Philip Newell

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