SSES vs. Spotify

”To be loud ain’t a competitive advantage, it is and has always been a misconception based on ignorance.” -Johannes Ahlberg

Last week got a little bit crazy, a full mastering slot schedule plus the annual audio fair in Sweden (LLB) where I wanted to attend several seminars plus that I was invited by SSES (Swedish Sound Engineers Society) to be part of a panel debate with Spotify about their loudness practice and  target.

DSCF6065

SSES: Uffe Börjesson, Thomas ”Plec” Johansson, Johan Eckerblad & Johannes Ahlberg – Spotify: Pär Bohrarper, Jyrki Pulliainen & Simon Hofverberg

The thing with Spotify is that they use ReplayGain, a bit of a DIY loudness normalization… Maybe call it DIY is a bit harsh, it is a proposed standard put together back in 2002 by David Robinson. If you translate ReplayGain to LUFS you end up at about -14LUFS, which isn’t too far away from the AES recommended -16LUFS. So what’s the thing, why stand on a stage and yell at each other?

Let’s make a list:

  • ReplayGain does not take True Peak into account when measure loudness so you could argue that the measures are wrong from begin with.
  • A former employee decided to add about 3dB’s since he felt that iTunes played some tracks at a higher volume, so the current target level is about -11LUFS.
  • To handle the peaks above 0dBFS Spotify added a limiter, but it’s not ISP aware which means that it still might cause distortion in your D/A.
  • AES recommend a True Peak of -1dB, this means that Spotify’s loudness target end up 6dB higher than the AES recommendations and even more if you take ISP/TP into account.
  • ReplayGain doesn’t change the gain in the same way as EBU R128, it’s basically does more conservative changes to loud tracks, i.e. there’s a risk that their practice fuel the loudness war even further.
  • With the current practice; more dynamic mixes such as Jazz and classic recordnings will be boosted and limited by Spotify while loud masters will still be louder. So the practice punish music that are mastered to sound good while music mastered for loudness will be left alone (maybe turned down a dB or two but they will still sound the same).

My conclusion.
Spotify are able, without too much of a hassle, to skip the extra 3dB and reach a target of -14LUFS. That’s the middle way and much will be won If they do just that.
To implement a new loudness measurement practice would cost a fortune and they’re not willing to do that at this point.
I personally would appreciate if the AES recommendations would become law and force all streaming services to change their current practice and adapt an uniform standard that would benefit audio quality both now and in the future, all would benefit from this.

To be loud ain’t a competitive advantage, it is and has always been a misconception based on ignorance.


ISP/True Peak limiter test

ISP, Inter Sample Peak or TP, True Peak, refers to peaks in the analogue domain. That is, how your peaks will look after your waveform has been converted from a digital stream within your computer, phone, iPod or CD to electrical impulses that can be amplified and played back through your speakers.

Aren’t the waveforms the same as they appear on my screen after the D/A conversion?
No, Your D/A will create a waveform that continuously moves from one sample point to the next. In that process the newly created waveform may peak above the 0dBFS ceiling which individual samples adhere to, thereby causing distortion. Just how bad this distortion is depends on the converter used. In some cases the actual peak can be as much as 3dB above the sample peaks detected in the digital domain.

Since it’s more or less guess-work, or at least really hard to create a real-time limiter that handles ISP perfectly, we thought we’d put as many limiters as possible to the test. So a handful of mastering colleagues and I (Ian Stewart, Sigurdór Guðmundsson and Johan Eckerblad) went to work.

The Test

We used a mastered track that we boosted by 7.5dB (the peaks were at -1dBTP/dBFS in the mastered file so max Gain Reduction would be 6.5dB), we set the limiter ceiling to -1.0dBFS and measured the True Peaks of the resulting waveforms. Limiters with a result as close to -1.0 dBTP as possible have handled ISPs the best, whereas values over -0.8 dBTP (shown with increasing values in white, through yellow, to red when they exceed 0 dBTP) mean that the limiter has failed to handle ISPs to within the margin of error for measurement we observed during testing (more on the in a bit).

Here’s the track that we used:
https://siggidori.bandcamp.com/track/morbit-orbit

  • “Yes” or “No” in the TRUE PEAK column indicates whether the developer mentions or claims that the plugin handles True Peak or ISP, either in the manual or marketing.  A “No” does not necessarily mean that it doesn’t handle or try to handle ISP, just that it’s not explicitly stated by the developer.
  • The results published here are measurements taken using Izotope RX. Additionally, we did measure with Sequoia, Wavelab, and Nugen, and even though we observed slightly different results, they were negligible. The biggest differences were in iZotope’s products.  Since they probably use the same detection algorithms in all their software, this was expected. The other software measured within a 0.1 to 0.2 dB difference, which still puts iZotope amongst the best performers.
  • Where other settings such as Attack and Release were present we used either the default or adjusted it to a value as close to standard as possible
  • This test did not take into account sonic qualities at all.  That will have to wait for our planned podcast or another post.
  • It’s not recommended to use any of the limiters with a positive score in 44.1KHz projects. They may handle ISP better at higher sample rates.

You can sort the result by clicking the column headings.

Developer Plugin True Peak dBTP comments
A.O.M Invisible Limiter 1.7.5 Yes -0.58
LVC-Audio Limited-Z 1.0.1 No +1.29 This is measurements of the free version. Their paid Limited-MAX 1.0.2 are ISP aware but we haven't tested it. 
Audacity Limiter No -0.18 Soft Limit
Magix Seqouia sMax11 v13.0 Yes -1.11 Balanced setting. The Full Scale peaks ended up at -1.16dBFS which means that Seqouia compensate for TP by lowering the overall gain. 
ToneBooster Barricade v3.1.3 yes -0.97
Vladgsound Limiter No6 v1.0.2b Win Yes -0.92 Free
Vladgsound Limiter No6 OSX Yes -0.97 Free
DMG Audio Limitless v1.03 Yes -0.51
Hofa IQ-Limiter v1.07 Yes -0.64
112dB Big Blue Limiter v1.1.5 No -0.23
Cockos Event Horizon v5.1 No +1.09 Comes with Reaper
Cockos Master Limiter v5.1 No -0.10 Comes with Reaper
Cockos NP1136 v5.1 No +1.69 Comes with Reaper
Final Mix Software M1 Limiter Lite v1.0.1 No +0.59
Ableton Limiter No +0.03
FabFilter Pro-L No v1.13 -0.87 Pro-L does not handle ISP automatically – you need to use Lookahead and keep an eye on the meter.
Izotope Maximizer v7.0 Yes -1.0 As stated above – This is the result from IzotopeRX – Measurements with other tools varied between -1.0 to -0.8
Izotope Vintage Limiter v7.0 Yes -1.0 As stated above – This is the result from IzotopeRX – Measurements with other tools varied between -1.0 to -0.8
Kazrog KClip Yes -0.87
Presonus Limiter (Studio One 3.2) Yes -0.40
PSP Xenon v1.52 Yes -0.92 We used version 1.3 at first which did not give as good results (-0.61). Upgrade if you're using an older version.
Sonnox Limiter No +0.37 Says in the manual that there's a TP mode but does not seem to be present in the version we used
UAD Precision LImiter Yes +0.08
Waves WLM Yes -0.83
Nugen ISL2 v2.0 Yes -0.85
Lively Audio Maxwell Smart v2.0 Yes -0.90 Free – Windows only
Thomas Mundt LoudMax v1.15 No +0.08 Free
Cockos v5.1 Zero Crossing Maximizer No +0.68 Comes with Reaper
Brainworx bx_limiter v1.3 No +0.21
Avid Dyn 3 v12.5 No +0.36
FabFilter Pro-MB No -0.98 Not a limiter per se but handle TP very well if you use max Lookahead. This result is with Single Band – max ratio – both Att/Rel at 20%
Massey L2007 Plugin Revison 5604 No +0.11
MeldaProduction MDynamicsLimiter v9.21 No -0.85
MeldaProduction MLimiter v9.21 No +1.09
MeldaProduction MMultibandLimiter v9.21 No +0.54
Voxengo Elephant v4.4 No -1.0 Oversampling at 8x
Voxengo Elephant v4.4 No +0.05 Oversampling at Auto – We added this option to make everyone aware of how important oversampling while limiting is. Elephants scored a perfect -1.0dBTP in all measures with x8 oversampling.
PSP Old Timer v2.0 No -0.56 Not a limiter per se but Sigurdór made it work with a fast attack/release and a high ratio
Kjaerhus Classic Master Limiter v1.0.6 No -0.08 The ceiling is set to -0.2 and you can't change it so this result is with a volume attenuation of -0.8 after the limiter. Without the adjustment it would have been about +0.9dBTP

If your favorite Mastering Limiter ain’t here, send us a link so that we can try it out. However, we’re not in the business of buying every limiter out there, so any you’d like us to try must have fully working demo-versions.


LUFS – Loudness-Projektet

LUFS
LUFS 1This is the first of a series of loudness experiments with two goals. First; we wanted to hear for our selves how different online platforms handle different loudness targets. Second; hopefully this will make it easier for anyone to understand loudness and if you produce music you’ll get a better idea of how your desired loudness target will affect your audio on current distribution platforms. This will enable you to make decisions based on knowledge rather than a perception of a loud vs. a dynamic master in a quick A/B comparison (where I would say about 90% choose the louder version whether or not it actually sounds better).

This is a WIP. Measurements and more releases will follow…

How to…
Most music retailers such as Spotify and Youtube loudness compensate their content so that you as a listener don’t have to change your volume control every time you change song or video clip, and some don’t (Soundcloud for example). This experiment gives you the opportunity to listen to the same track mastered at different loudness targets on the most common current music platforms and to the raw files that where uploaded. We recommend these steps:

  • Download the raw files and extract them: https://www.dropbox.com/s/3ifaqx4otub8wwn/LUFS.rar?dl=0
  • Load all songs in a player that do not compensate for loudness. We recommend Foobar for Windows and VLC on OSX.
  • Compare the raw files with the audio from online retailers
  • Bonus: There’s level matched versions in the LUFS.rar archive so that you easy can hear how the loudness targets affected the sound.

Links to the most common platforms:

We distributed the album to lots of common online stores but choose to link to the most interesting ones when it comes to loudness. If you’re interested you easily find the album by searching for Saintpid or LUFS.

Details about the experiment
We took one track (Truck Driver by Noisebud) and mastered it to 10 different loudness levels, all with the limiter set to -1dBFS. We named the tracks according to their dynamic range (DR) and loudness values (LUFS), and released them as one album with the 10 versions as is first, then with all versions level matched to make it easier to compare audio quality. The track in itself is pretty dirty (Noisebud call their music electronic punk) so this is no audiophile experience. That’s why we plan for this to be a series of releases, with styles ranging from pop to metal, singer songwriter to techno, and other electronic genres.
We’re searching for material so if you want to contribute please contact us at info(at)saintpid.se. You get your song mastered for free but that’s the only compensation we can offer at this point.

Here’s a Key-value report from the software Toscanalyser.
The interesting values are the RMS average, RMS max, Peak max, Peak average, Sub Bass (SB%) and the K-system values (K12-20).

Keyvalue Report

The chart show some notable facts.

  • The amount of low-end has almost been cut in half in the loudest version vs the most dynamic one (1.1% vs 2.0%).
  • The last version that show an OK K12 value is the DR5 -8.6LUFS version. We should’ve stopped here if not before.
  • The last version that gets a safe K12 value is the DR8 -12LUFS version. This is the version the artist (Noisebud) prefer.

Here’s the DR report from the offline Dynamic Range Meter:

dr.txt - Anteckningar 2016-02-26 163535.bmp

Thanks to Sigurdór Guðmundsson (http://skonrokkstudios.com/) and Ian Stewart (http://ianstewartmusic.us/) for ideas, consultation and trying to push the track to DR1 (which Sigurdór finally did but it’s not on the album).


Measurements:

Spotify
This is the first more thorough measurement. We did Spotify first because we needed the data for a meeting this Monday where SSES (Swedish Sound Engineers Society http://www.sses.org) and Spotify having a sit down to discuss loudness normalization. Or rather, we’re going to make a plan on how to discuss the issue in public during the LLB audio fair in Stockholm next month. Hopefully we’ll manage to influence Spotify to bring down their loudness target to the AES recommended -16LUFS (http://www.aes.org/technical/documents/AESTD1004_1_15_10.pdf).

We measured the tracks in both ”Album mode” and in ”Playlist mode”. We did that because it makes sense to loudness normalize tracks from different releases in a playlist but if you play an album you would prefer the internal gain differences between tracks to be intact as the artist, producer or mastering engineer intended. To be fair, there are situations when you might want to loudness compensate within an album. For example in a noisy environment or listening on tiny tiny speakers, but the way to go would be an extra user setting specific for those situations.
Sadly, Spotify currently adjust the loudness independently even in album mode.
The Album as a whole (Intergrated BS.1770-2/3)
With Normalization turned on:
Loudness -11.5LUFS
Peaks -2.11dBTP (-2.13dBFS)

Measures from the album playback (we only measured the same three as for the playlist mode)
”DR2 -4.2LUFS” measures -10.2LUFS with peaks at -4.36dBTP
”DR5 -8.6LUFS” measures -10.8LUFS with peaks at -1.33dBTP
”DR12 -16LUFS” measures -13.2LUFS with peaks at +0.92dBTP

Playlist mode:
Spotify don’t seem to take playback type into account, the internal gain structure of an album will be be changed by Spotify in the same way as if the tracks were placed in a playlist.

Spotify-album

The recorded waveforms of ”DR2 -4.2LUFS”, ”DR5 -8.6LUFS” and ”DR12 -16LUFS” in both Album and playlist mode measures the same.

(scroll down for the screenshots of quick measurements for Youtube and iTunes)


Comments:

We will do more thorough measurements of the following streaming services as soon we have the time. Meanwhile, Sigurdór recorded the whole playlist from the most common places and you can see the results here:

Youtube:

Youtube perform their level normalization within a day or so after the file been uploaded. My guess is that they leave it as is at first so when people check the upload they don’t get confused when the level dropped by half.  These screen captures are taken efter the level normalization kicked in. It’s the -16LUFS to the left and the -4.2LUFS to the far right. We could’ve used 8 bits for the loudest version and saved some bandwidth. =)

youtube youtube 1


iTunes



John Parry – Enough

Jag hjälper ett ungdomsprojekt i Storbritannien kallat Bird med mastering. Bird arbetar med att ge ungdomar möjlighet till en professionell produktion utan att de ska behöva kosta skjortan. Här är det första Bird-projektet Saintpid mastrade, artisten heter John Parry och är ett namn jag tror vi kommer se mer av.


2-årsdag!!!

Linkedin var så snälla att påminna mig om att det idag är precis 2 år sedan som jag slog upp portarna för Saintpid Mastering. Saintpid har på den tiden växt från mitt ombyggda sovrum till en välljudande akustikbehandlad lokal och planerna på en lite större och ännu bättre lokal är redan igång, front-to-back är nästa steg. Det ser vi fram emot.
Ett stort tack till alla mina klienter som vart med mig så långt och ett varmt välkommen till nya och kommande klienter!


EDM Mixning och Mastering

Ja, jag  vet, förra posten var också en länk till Ian Stewart. Sue me.  I vilket fall, en mycket bra beskrivning av relationen mellan bra ljud och dynamik inom elektronisk dansmusik.

http://ianstewartmusic.us/blog/edm-mixing-mastering


THE ULTIMATE SHADOW HILLS MASTERING COMPRESSOR SHOOTOUT

Jag har tillsammans med Ian Stewart och Christoph Hoppe-Thiele, 2 masterings-kollegor, gjort en jämförelse mellan de olika plugins som emulerar Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor. Resultatet postades av Ian på hans blogg och här är kort och gott länken dit!

http://ianstewartmusic.us/blog/shmc-shootout


Vad är det som låter?

Just nu finns en programserie av Anders Olsén som handlar om ljud på SR.se. I del 2 förklaras i lite mindre tekniska ordval vad Loudness War är och varför det är dumt att eftersträva ”högt” i mastring. Lyssna och lär!

http://sverigesradio.se/sida/avsnitt/613255?programid=4112

Chrome Legacy Window 2015-10-06 150100.bmp


Ny hemsida, studio och monitorer – Alla pratar svenska!

Det händer mycket just nu, Saintpids nya studio i Högdalens industriområde är färdigbyggd och igång. Det kommer nya bilder framöver men vi väntar tills byggdammet har lagt sig. Det nya rummet är mycket bättre akustikbehandlat vilket resulterat i helt fenomenal lyssning. Till skillnad från förra studion så återger det nya rummet lågbas väldigt mycket bättre vilket hörs tydligt i de masters som gjorts så långt.

Ny hemsida! 
För första gången sedan starten i Januari 2014 så är nu majoriteten av klienter från Sverige så när nya hemsidan skulle snickras ihop så vart byte av språk naturligt. Engelska finns kvar som val i menyn för de som inte förstår Svenska.

Nya monitorer!
Vi har gått över från Dynaudio Air20 till ATC SCM100A. Det är inget fel på Dynaudio, de låter fantastiskt och har levererat men ATC spelar helt klart i en liga snäppet över Dynaudio och speciellt för mastering. För produktion hade vi gärna haft kvar Dynaudio, de är mycket trevliga att arbeta med.

Ny prislista
Vi har förenklat priserna. Det innebär att det blir dyrare att mastra en enskild låt men billigare att mastra en EP eller Album då DDP numera ingår. Det blir enklare för oss att göra offerter och billigare för klienter att mastra EP’s och album… Win win…


Loudness compensation – Said what?!

Many streaming services (most actually) have some kind of loudness compensation. What is that? It’s a little robot with a more or less advanced gain knob who adjust the level between songs so that they hit your ear with about the same pressure/volume. Right now different services use their own system. Spotify, iTunes, Beatport, Youtube… They all have their own little robot. In time there will emerge a standard but until then we’ll just be glad they all chip in to clean up the loudness mess out there.

We have set our own loudness standards here at Saintpid and we ain’t going to deliver anything louder than those. But, we won’t give away our limits, we don’t care much about loudness at all so we just don’t talk about it. Sorry if you think it’s not loud enough… or… Nah, we’re not that sorry, there’s plenty of services for loudness if that’s what you’re after.

Here’s a video that demo the differences between streaming services. Enjoy!