How loud will it be? The new loudness standards

Because of the new international EBU and ATSC loudness standards, the days of super loud masters are all but over.   What does this new standard mean?  In short it means that if your master is too loud, it will be automatically turned down when when played on the radio, TV or even new phones and other play back devices.   But your loud master won’t just get turned down, it will end up sounding quieter than records that have not been mastered to sound loud.

How can this be?  There is only one way to make a master louder and that is to compress the dynamic range.  The dynamic range is the difference between the loudest sounds and the quietest sounds in a piece of music.  The louder you make the master, the more you need to compress (reduce) the dynamic range of the music.   A very loud maser will have a very small dynamic range.  This means that the level of sounds half way between the loudest and quietest sounds (the mid average level) will have been brought up be nearly as loud as the loudest sounds.

The new standard takes this mid average level moves it to the exact middle of the broadcast or playback level.  So if your music’s average mid level is very high that will mean, by definition, that the loudest parts of your music are not much louder.  So, when that mid level is automatically taken down to the mid playback level of the new standard, guess what?   The loudest sounds in your music will go down with it.  So your track is going to play back very quietly.  This is because the loudest sounds in your song have been brought down along with the mid levels to about half volume.

Compare this to music which has been mastered with a big dynamic range.  This means that the mid level sounds are a lot lower than the loudest sounds in the track.  On playback, the new standard will not need to move the mid average levels downward, because they will already be in the middle (not artificially raised up as they are with a loud master).  The result will be that  the loudest sounds will not be brought down, they will be at full volume in fact.  So everything which is mastered with a big dynamic range like this will sound much louder than masters which have been masted to sound loud!  This can be confusing because it’s actually quite technical.  The bottom line is, songs mastered to sound really loud on your hi-fi at home are going to sound quieter on radio, TV and new and future playback devices, than songs mastered with a big dynamic range (which will not sound as loud on your current or older hi-fi at home).

Things are moving quickly.  Many radio and TV stations are now required by law to use the new standard and all will be soon.  Many major bands (Eg: Chilly Peppers) are now having their past albums remastered to the new standard. This change is actually a very good thing.  Since so many people now listen with headphones, it will protect people’s hearing when a really loud song follows a quiet one in a play list.   It will also mean that TV commercials won’t suddenly get louder than the program.  Finally, it will mean that music sounds better.  Why?  In order to make music really loud, as explained above, you have to compress the dynamic range.  Doing this adds distortion to the music, there is no way around that fact.  It also reduces the depth and frequency range of the music.  This is one reason people often think recordings from the 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s sound so great.  In those days dynamic range was not compressed like it has been in recent decades.

Also compressing music to make it really loud adds distortion and reduces the dynamic range (where a lot of the life of the music and playing resides).   Studies have shown that heavily compressed and music fatigues listeners and many will tend to play these kinds of tracks less often than those with a bigger dynamic range.

The choice is yours
You can have your music mastered to sound really loud at home and know that it will sound quieter than the competition with the new standard.  Or have it mastered with a bigger dynamic range, which may sound quieter at home when compared to music mastered in the past, but will sound louder than they do with the new standard.  At an additional cost we are happy to master your music both ways, one very loud master and one with a big dynamic range.