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Mastering Loudness: Best Strategies for Maximum Loudness

Mastering Loudness Best Strategies for Maximum Loudness

Achieving maximum loudness in your tracks can make a significant difference in how your music is perceived. Today, I’ll share my strategies for maximum loudness, ensuring your mixes sound impressive on any platform and playback system.

Let’s first delve into the history and fundamentals of loudness…

The Digital Revolution

As we experimented with digital audio, we discovered that pushing the levels to full scale not only produced louder outputs but also maintained clarity and definition. This was a revelation. We could now achieve a significant increase in loudness without the undesirable effects that plagued analog recordings. The clean headroom of digital systems meant that even the peaks could be pushed right to the edge without introducing noticeable distortion.

This newfound freedom led to a period of intense exploration and experimentation. Engineers and producers started to realize that digital audio had an untapped potential for loudness that could surpass the limitations of analog media. This was the beginning of a new era of loudness, characterized by ever-increasing levels and the relentless pursuit of sonic impact.

Compressors and limiters

Engineers began to prioritize loudness in their audio mastering processes, sometimes at the expense of dynamic range. The quest for louder tracks led to more aggressive use of compression and limiting, which, while effective in boosting loudness, also introduced new challenges.

Excessive limiting and compression could flatten the dynamic range, reducing the impact of transients and making the mix sound lifeless. Engineers had to strike a delicate balance between achieving competitive loudness and preserving the dynamic qualities that gave music its emotional depth.

The Loudness War Begins

As digital audio technology progressed, engineers soon discovered that they could push levels even further by briefly clipping converters. This technique, known as digital clipping, often resulted in inaudible or even subjectively pleasing effects, especially in genres where a bit of distortion could enhance the overall sound. This revelation was a game-changer.

Clipping converters Burl B2

The introduction of digital brick wall limiters took this trend to a whole new level. These limiters allowed engineers to push audio levels harder without causing clipping, effectively increasing the perceived loudness of tracks.

The loudness war had officially begun, with producers and engineers striving to make their tracks louder than their competitors. This competitive push for loudness led to a constant escalation, where each new release sought to outdo the last in terms of sheer volume.

Understanding Loudness Perception

Loudness perception is a critical aspect of audio production. It’s widely understood that louder often seems better. Each extra dB of loudness can enhance the perceived clarity, solidify the bass, add detail, increase depth, and widen the soundstage. The human ear perceives louder sounds as being more impactful and engaging, which is why loudness is so highly sought after in music production.

Loudness Perception

Short sounds, such as drum hits or short notes, are perceived differently than sustained sounds. A short, sharp sound needs to be louder in amplitude to be perceived as equally loud as a longer sound. Longer sounds allow our ears more time to integrate the sound energy, making them seem louder even if their peak amplitude is lower.

Modern Limiters and Their Role

To navigate these challenges, engineers embraced new technologies and tools designed to optimize loudness without sacrificing quality. Modern limiters, such as FabFilter Pro-L2, incorporated advanced algorithms that allowed for greater loudness with minimal side effects.

Fabfilter Pro-L2 Loudness Metering

These tools enabled us to achieve loud, punchy masters while retaining the clarity and definition of the original mix.

Also read: 10 Essential Tips for Mastering with FabFilter Pro-L2

Additionally, the industry began to recognize the need for standardized loudness measurement. The introduction of Loudness Units (LU) and integrated loudness meters provided a more accurate way to measure and control loudness. These standards helped engineers create masters that were not only loud but also balanced and compliant with industry norms.

Also see: What Are LUFS? Why Are LUFS Important In Mastering?

Measuring Loudness Accurately

To find the optimal loudness, we need accurate measurements. Traditional DAW channel meters display peak values, but these don’t correlate well with perceived loudness. Instead, we use true peak meters and advanced loudness metering systems.

  • True Peak Meters: Calculate values between samples, accurately representing the analogue signal peaks.
  • Loudness Units (LU): Developed by the broadcast industry, this standard measures loudness using RMS style averaging with frequency weighting to match human hearing. FabFilter Pro-L2 provides Momentary (400ms), Short Term (6s), and Integrated (whole track) readings.

Practical Loudness Measurement Tips

  1. Focus on the Loudest Section: Measure the integrated loudness of the loudest part of your track, typically the last chorus, for a more accurate representation.
  2. Use Short Term Readings: During the loudest sections, watch the Short Term reading to gauge how loud your track is at its peak moments.
  3. Set Appropriate Targets: Different platforms have different loudness standards. Aim for around -14 LUFS for streaming platforms like Spotify and iTunes, but ensure your track sounds good regardless of the number.

Also read: Mastering Your Tracks at -14 LUFS: Good or Bad?

My Personal Tips & Settings For Optimal Loudness

  1. Choose the Right Limiter: Use high-quality limiters like FabFilter Pro-L2, iZotope Ozone, or Waves L2 that offer precise control and transparency.
  2. Set a Modest Threshold: Start with a higher threshold and gradually lower it until you achieve the desired loudness without squashing the dynamics.
  3. Monitor Gain Reduction: Aim for 2-4 dB of gain reduction. Excessive limiting (above 6 dB) can lead to a lifeless and over-compressed sound.
  4. Use Soft Knee Settings: Soft knee settings can make the limiting process more gradual and less noticeable, preserving the natural dynamics of your track.
  5. Monitor Continuously: Continuously monitor the overall sound and dynamics as you make adjustments. Use A/B comparison plugins to assess the impact.
  6. Use multiband compression: Compress different frequency ranges, allowing you to control dynamics without flattening the entire mix.
  7. Use Reference Tracks: Compare your mix with professionally mastered reference tracks in the same genre to gauge loudness and quality.
  8. Genre Standards: Understand the typical loudness levels for different genres (e.g., -6 to -8 LUFS for EDM, -12 to -14 LUFS for classical).
  9. Test on Multiple Systems: After making adjustments, test your mix on various playback systems (headphones, studio monitors, car speakers) to ensure it translates well across different environments.

Now that we understand how to measure loudness accurately, you might be wondering about the ideal loudness targets for different platforms.

  • Spotify: Normalize to around -14 LUFS to ensure consistent playback without volume adjustments.
  • Apple Music: Target -14 LUFS for consistent playback loudness similar to Spotify.
  • YouTube: Aim for -13 to -14 LUFS to maintain consistent volume across videos.
  • Tidal: Target around -14 LUFS for a balanced and dynamic playback.
  • Amazon Music: Normalize to about -14 LUFS for compatibility with the platform’s catalog.
  • CDs: Typically aim for -9 to -10 LUFS for a louder playback experience while preserving dynamic range.
  • Vinyl: Aim for -12 to -16 LUFS to balance loudness with dynamic range, ensuring a good listening experience.

Go deeper and read: The Right Loudness for Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, etc.

Understanding and aiming for the ideal loudness targets for different platforms is crucial for ensuring your music sounds its best and stands out in the competitive music landscape.

By utilizing accurate loudness measurement tools, adjusting your limiting and compression techniques, and considering the specific requirements of each platform, you can achieve maximum loudness while preserving the dynamic integrity of your mixes.

Disclaimer: Any references to any brands on this website/webpage, including reference to products, trademarks, brands and companies, are provided for description purposes only. We don't have any association with or endorsement by these brands or companies. Some of the links on our blog may be affiliate links. This means if you click on these links and make a purchase, we may earn a commission at no extra cost to you.

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