Metering observations and questions (long)

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Starship Krupa
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Metering observations and questions (long)

Post by Starship Krupa » Fri Dec 15, 2017 8:34 am

I've noticed that there is not much attention given to the matter of metering in the Mixcraft manual, at least I can't find it.

Whether to run one's signals into the yellow, let them hit red every so often, never ever let them hit red, or what.

I got curious about what was going on and started playing with Bitter, Stillwell's free VST utility, http://www.stillwellaudio.com/plugins/bitter/, which claims to monitor sample clipping, intersample clipping, and a bunch of other stuff I don't understand but that is apparently undesirable.

This happened when I rendered a vocoder track to another audio track and the resulting track was slammed, and I realized that my vocoder had been outputting so hot that it had been distorting, which was hard to tell by listening, because, well, it's a vocoder, it sounds weird to begin with.

I put Bitter all over the place, on my Master channel, in between plug-ins, on submixes, and adjusted levels on the song until it said that I was getting no sample clipping. I had to crank stuff way down, and the mix sounded very different by the time I did. Of course, all of my dynamics processing had to be readjusted, compressors, etc. It sounded much "cleaner," to the point where I'm going to start getting cozier with some saturation plug-ins when I get back to it.

The plug-in meters and the track meters at that point were only hitting yellow occasionally, and never touching red, not ever.

So this raises some questions for me.

First, according to the powers that be at Acoustica, when mixing, and when the mix is done, where should my track and plug-in meters be topping out? Should I never let them touch red, ever? Did I miss this in the manual? If not, can we put it in there so that others don't make my mistake?

Is Bitter telling me the truth about the clipping? Things surely did sound cleaner once I got it telling me that I wasn't running Mixcraft into clipping any more.

I've been studying up on the "loudness wars" and trying to master my tracks loud but not too loud and learning how to do that and everything, and to that end I've downloaded some good meters and channel faders such as the Sonalkis and HOFA ones that have LUFS metering built in.

My methodology with this is that I crank the Mixcraft master fader all the way up and use the HOFA one in its place. When the HOFA (or Sonalkis) fader and its meters tell me that I am at -14 LUFS, Mixcraft's master meter is sometimes touching red a little, but when I put Bitter on the bus, and run the finished mixdown through the Orban Loudness analyzer, they say that there is no clipping.

So it would seem that the master meter is calibrated differently from the track meters, because when they even sniff red, Bitter says they are clipping, but Bitter doesn't mind a little red on the master meter. Is the master meter calibrated differently?

Lot of stuff here, I know, but I've been studying all this for a long time and finally got some tools and more understanding around the subject. Thanks in advance for any light shined on the topic!
-Erik
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Re: Metering observations and questions (long)

Post by trevlyns » Fri Dec 15, 2017 10:30 am

By no means an expert, but I found Graham's recent video quite interesting...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1hxMidhTLa8
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Re: Metering observations and questions (long)

Post by Mark Bliss » Sat Dec 16, 2017 7:56 am

I am also no expert, but I have been studying with a focus on loudness and mastering for about the last two years. And I too have been experimenting heavily with metering and analysis.

Some people will insist its a waste of time. "Just focus on mixing and getting a good sound"
Well that closed mindedness annoys me. I think it helps me understand why certain songs sound the way they do, or (very important) make me "feel" a certain way.
Though on the other hand I do agree that many people jump ahead too quickly. Mixing before they really learn to get good recordings. Compressing before they really get good level balances and EQ sorted out. Mastering before they have learned to get a good mix. Etc.

Anyway I digress....
Erik, I think Trevor's linked video has some good content on gain staging and presents well the idea that some plug ins have a desired working range, but another thing arose in your question about clipping that you may want to consider.
Due to the "magic" of 32 bit floating point processing, there is no possibility of digital clipping of the audio "inside" the DAW. Simply put, track meters going into the red doesn't mean the audio is being harmed. I tend to not give much concern to the meters on the tracks really. Just a general idea or indication I might have something way out of whack. Obviously a bunch of hot tracks are going to sum to an overly hot master bus, which is generally undesirable..... Seeing red track level meters is generally undesirable (for my needs) for other reasons, but being technical, it doesn't mean the audio is being harmed.
It is really only upon rendering (mix down) that you need be concerned about your peaks and clipping.

Very generally, I like to put a third party plug in on the master bus, and analyze and carefully tweak to get my target mix down values. How exactly can become a little complicated at times.

After analyzing a LOT of tracks, I can tell you I see many amateur tracks with overs and clipping, or heavily limited and pushed right to 0 dBfs peak. And the mix quality usually matches. Not too good.
On the other hand, some people compress and limit the crap out of their mixes and then either don't measure or anything, or target a loudness target that leaves a bunch of peak headroom. Results are generally also not too great......

There are many various approaches and opinions. And make no mistake, the loudness war is alive and well, like it or not.

More on this if it is helpful or of interest...... Let me know. 8)
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Re: Metering observations and questions (long)

Post by Starship Krupa » Sun Dec 17, 2017 4:48 am

Mark Bliss wrote:I am also no expert, but I have been studying with a focus on loudness and mastering for about the last two years. And I too have been experimenting heavily with metering and analysis.
I remembered this, and hoped you would chime in.
Some people will insist its a waste of time. "Just focus on mixing and getting a good sound"
Well that closed mindedness annoys me.
If someone told me that about this topic I would assume that they either didn't know the answer(s) to my question(s) or were trying to hoard their knowledge. This is a very specific, technical aspect of using the hardware. "Do I put it in the red or not?" is not ambiguous. "Is this 'Bitter' analysis tool lying when it tells me my digital stream is being compromised?" is not ambiguous.

That "use your ears" horseshit is just that if the person doesn't even know what "arming a track" means or what "compression" does or what "automation" is. You have to have a certain level of skill with the basic tools before you can get anywhere at all. Would you tell someone who has never been in a kitchen before who needed to learn how to cook to "just use your taste and focus on getting a good omelette?"

And just what is it other than their ears that people are being warned away from using? Their eyes and a spectrum analyzer is about the only other thing I can think of and that's pretty obscure. Why not just say "resist the temptation to use a spectrum analyzer, which you probably haven't even heard of yet."

I had a friend tell me "just use your ears" when I asked him to share some of his DAW knowledge with me and I responded that I had tried that but the problems that I kept running into were that I couldn't see the screen with my head turned to the side operating the keyboard or trackball, I kept hitting wrong keys, my hair was getting caught between the keys....
I think it helps me understand why certain songs sound the way they do, or (very important) make me "feel" a certain way.
Though on the other hand I do agree that many people jump ahead too quickly. Mixing before they really learn to get good recordings. Compressing before they really get good level balances and EQ sorted out. Mastering before they have learned to get a good mix. Etc.
Which is a good idea, to tell people which areas they should get comfortable with in what order before trying to tackle the next. Panning, whatever.

I think that I had my DAW mixing "aha" moment about a year ago when a friend came over and showed me his recipe for making vocals "pop." He sat behind me and had me work the trackball and Mixcraft and had me call up a parametric and roll the bottom end off, take the very top end off, then we swept for the "honk" and dropped it by 3dB. Then he had me call up a compressor with a good metering display and had me dial in a 4:1 ratio, about 10mS attack and about 20mS release. And sure enough, we went back to the mix and bazoing, there was my vocal, hovering out in front.

And in that moment, the YouTube videos, things I had been reading here, it all came together and I realized that there was a counter-intuitive aspect that had been tripping me up, that it was about taking things away, just like polishing a car is about taking something away, you take away that unnecessary low-end and it becomes more audible, you cut that nasally frequency in the mids and take away some of its dynamic range and the ear cozies up to it more readily.

I could have "just used my ears" until I was an urn full of ashes and never figured that out, let me tell you.
Erik, I think Trevor's linked video has some good content on gain staging and presents well the idea that some plug ins have a desired working range, but another thing arose in your question about clipping that you may want to consider.
Due to the "magic" of 32 bit floating point processing, there is no possibility of digital clipping of the audio "inside" the DAW. Simply put, track meters going into the red doesn't mean the audio is being harmed. I tend to not give much concern to the meters on the tracks really. Just a general idea or indication I might have something way out of whack. Obviously a bunch of hot tracks are going to sum to an overly hot master bus, which is generally undesirable..... Seeing red track level meters is generally undesirable (for my needs) for other reasons, but being technical, it doesn't mean the audio is being harmed.
I've actually seen another YouTube video about gain staging plug-ins that was quite good. Don't know if it was from Graham.

BTW, there's a much easier way to do what he's talking about than adjusting clip gain, which is to use a small fader plug-in (I use Dee-Gain) at the beginning of the FX chain to pad the signal down (or, if necessary, boost it up) for the plug-ins that follow. I can't see going through half a dozen different clips and trying to adjust their levels down by the same amount for this purpose.

Maybe it didn't come across so well, but I was putting Bitter in between the plug-ins. So what I was seeing was probably it telling me that the plug-in was outputting a clipped digital stream. Still, this was audible and cause for concern. Also, I could indeed get the submix tracks to clip by hitting them too hard, so at least inside this DAW there is a possibility of digital clipping of the signal. Try it and you tell me. I of course may be mistaken, so I will subject it to a more reproducible test with fewer variables. I'll use sine waves.
It is really only upon rendering (mix down) that you need be concerned about your peaks and clipping.

Very generally, I like to put a third party plug in on the master bus, and analyze and carefully tweak to get my target mix down values. How exactly can become a little complicated at times.
That's what I do, too, minus the "carefully." :D I was using Sonaliksis FreeG with dpMeter2, but just switched to HOFA 4U with dpMeter2 because I wanted to start checking for mono compatibility.

I'm just doing rock 'n roll and other flavors of pop, so I target -14 LUFS and let it rip. For things that are going to be published, that is, beyond the rough mix, I'll drag and drop the file on the HOFA fader plug-in for some global analysis (did you know that you can do that?), and/or load it into the Orban Loudness Analyzer. I was once employed at Orban Associates back when they were in SF, so running that program always gives me a nostalgic twinge. As long as those report that I'm staying within the lines, I ship it.

Your product is more orchestral in nature, as I recall? If so, I do not envy you wrestling with loudness concerns on material with so much more dynamic range.
More on this if it is helpful or of interest...... Let me know. 8)
Sure, it's still quite confusing, even on the sites that claim to take you by the hand and help, they leave out critical bits of information, like for instance, it took me half a year and downloading 3 custom fader/metering plug-ins before I figured out (on my own, it was nowhere I could find on any website or in any manual) that you put them last in the FX chain and crank the native fader all the way up. Okay, laugh, but to me, it wasn't obvious. And the pages and pages and pages of LUFS and RMS and all this blather and posturing I had to wade through and STILL not find out what to do with the damn plug-in. I just wanted to install it in the right place and read numbers off of it and move the fader up or down if the numbers were too big or too small and then select "Mix to FLAC" when they were right. :roll:
-Erik
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Re: Metering observations and questions (long)

Post by Mark Bliss » Sun Dec 17, 2017 8:15 am

Starship Krupa wrote:
Erik, I think Trevor's linked video has some good content on gain staging and presents well the idea that some plug ins have a desired working range, but another thing arose in your question about clipping that you may want to consider.
Due to the "magic" of 32 bit floating point processing (etc, blah blah ,,,,,,
but being technical, it doesn't mean the audio is being harmed.
.....there's a much easier way to do what he's talking about than adjusting clip gain, which is to use a small fader plug-in (I use Dee-Gain) at the beginning of the FX chain to pad the signal down (or, if necessary, boost it up) for the plug-ins that follow. I can't see going through half a dozen different clips and trying to adjust their levels down by the same amount for this purpose.
I always refer to a good tip someone with far more experience told me several years ago:
"There is no 'one size fits all' method when it comes to art, or being creative"

No method that works is wrong, but I still like to compare different ones that do, to see if I can improve mine..... Always learning. I am not familiar with these specific plug ins. But I'll get to comparing them with what I am currently trying later.
Starship Krupa wrote: Maybe it didn't come across so well, but I was putting Bitter in between the plug-ins. So what I was seeing was probably it telling me that the plug-in was outputting a clipped digital stream. Still, this was audible and cause for concern. Also, I could indeed get the submix tracks to clip by hitting them too hard, so at least inside this DAW there is a possibility of digital clipping of the signal. Try it and you tell me. I of course may be mistaken, so I will subject it to a more reproducible test with fewer variables. I'll use sine waves.
Sine wave or a test track could work, but to prove the point, try this: (carefully, don't blow up your speakers by forgetting to turn down the master when necessary!)

Load an audio track into track one. No plug ins. Turn the master fader down all the way.
Max out the tracks clip gain and track fader so the tracks meter is pegged into the red. Now carefully turn up the master fader so the master output is at a nominal level, lets use - 6 peak. Mix down the track and import as track 2.
Restore the settings in track one and Mute track one and repeat the process with track two. Repeat two more times.

Once you get to the fourth generation, carefully level match track 4 and track 1 and A/B. If done carefully, (No mistakes in the process, no doubled tracks, etc.) there will be no distortion from clipping, even though all four generations were mixed down with the track level pegging in the red.
Your product is more orchestral in nature, as I recall? If so, I do not envy you wrestling with loudness concerns on material with so much more dynamic range.
Pretty much all over the board here. I am trying to learn to mix well in multiple genres, even though its really a hobby. I still just cant do some stuff I cant bear to listen through, but the range is pretty broad. More on that later too.
Sure, it's still quite confusing, even on the sites that claim to take you by the hand and help
And typically show good ways to do it wrong in my experience......
and crank the native fader all the way up.
I don't, but again, whatever works. I'll be back later, out of time.
Stay in tune, Mark

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Re: Metering observations and questions (long)

Post by aj113 » Sun Dec 17, 2017 5:28 pm

Mark Bliss wrote:Simply put, track meters going into the red doesn't mean the audio is being harmed
Depends what is causing the red. If the signal from the clip is so hot that it's overdriving channel inserts it could well mean that the audio is being harmed. Check each VST's built-in meter in the top right hand corner.

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Re: Metering observations and questions (long)

Post by Starship Krupa » Sun Dec 17, 2017 7:13 pm

aj113 wrote:
Mark Bliss wrote:Simply put, track meters going into the red doesn't mean the audio is being harmed
Depends what is causing the red. If the signal from the clip is so hot that it's overdriving channel inserts it could well mean that the audio is being harmed. Check each VST's built-in meter in the top right hand corner.
One of the most underrated recently added features in Mixcraft that I use all the time. I can't even remember mixing without it, were those meters added in 7 or 8?

I suspect that much of what I have been seeing with Bitter is the plug-ins digitally clipping. I think we need to keep an eye on those little meters if we want to keep the signal out of digital clipping range. What I see so far is that if they even touch red, Bitter starts telling me that the stream is showing digital clipping and intersample clipping, and it doesn't stop until I get every one of those meters going no higher than occasional yellow.

I am going to suggest more explanation of metering in the manual, what each one does, what the colors represent, how to use them, where to set your faders, etc.
-Erik
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Re: Metering observations and questions (long)

Post by Starship Krupa » Sun Dec 17, 2017 8:06 pm

Here are links to the tools I mentioned:

My current favorite master fader is the HOFA 4U, which has integrated LUFS metering and a mono button and a nice bunch of other features including the ability to analyze a file by dragging and dropping the file onto the plug-in's UI:
https://hofa-plugins.de/en/plugins/4u/

The Sonalksis Free G fader is also excellent, with built-in RMS metering:
https://www.sonalksis.com/freeg.html

DeeGain is a simple fader. Gain change is all it does, and it does it well. I use it at the top of the FX chain to either cut or boost the level to hit the sweet spot:
https://dotec-audio.com/deegain.html

The Orban Loudness Meter is a free standalone program that analyzes audio files in a number of ways, oriented toward broadcast, but useful for other applications:
https://www.orban.com/meter
-Erik
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Re: Metering observations and questions (long)

Post by aj113 » Mon Dec 18, 2017 1:51 am

Starship Krupa wrote:...One of the most underrated recently added features in Mixcraft that I use all the time.
Same here. The fact that it is underrated and rarely mentioned tells you all you need to know about people's attitude towards, and knowledge of, levels and gain staging.

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Re: Metering observations and questions (long)

Post by Mark Bliss » Mon Dec 18, 2017 5:12 am

Hey Erik, thanks for the links on those specific plug ins. I have been using some similar stuff, but one got me rethinking a method!

Honestly, I thought I had pointed out the possibility of distortion from overdriving a plug in, etc. But re-reading I see I wasn't clear on that. I also didn't intend to indicate running the track levels hot was a good idea, just sidetracked on a technical detail there.
And If I point out that going into the red isn't necessarily damaging the audio, someone is going to point out how it could. On the other hand if I wrote that going into the red wasn't a good idea, someone would point out that its not necessarily bad. You know how this goes......
Also, the intention was to defer to the previously linked video on gain staging methods.

The added little meters are handy. But like you pointed out already- like the track meters this all seems a bit course and undefined to me as well. "A little into the yellow" isn't exactly specific. But it sure points out when something is way off.
Some of the plug ins I like have useful meters, and the option to toggle between input and output metering which is nice.

I think you are correct on the point that the manual could perhaps be more clear on some guidance here. But if could become huge if it is to become a audio producing manual on the other hand. It has been mentioned and discussed here and in the tips and tricks forum, as well as in several tutorials I believe.

Back in MX7 I was using the Blue cat gain plugs quite a bit for trimming and gain staging purposes, with the added benefit that you could link them and group them. I also was exporting stems into another program for a while because of additional sub-mix routing options that made mixing easier for me. Mixcraft 8's added features made much of this unnecessary. Right now I am experimenting with a new (to me) inexpensive meter/trim plug that automatically sets gain to a preset value, which I am finding to be a time saver. Just added it to my template, will follow up with more info as I explore it. (HoRNet VU)
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Re: Metering observations and questions (long)

Post by Starship Krupa » Tue Dec 19, 2017 1:01 am

Mark Bliss wrote:Hey Erik, thanks for the links on those specific plug ins. I have been using some similar stuff, but one got me rethinking a method!

Honestly, I thought I had pointed out the possibility of distortion from overdriving a plug in, etc. But re-reading I see I wasn't clear on that. I also didn't intend to indicate running the track levels hot was a good idea, just sidetracked on a technical detail there.
And If I point out that going into the red isn't necessarily damaging the audio, someone is going to point out how it could. On the other hand if I wrote that going into the red wasn't a good idea, someone would point out that its not necessarily bad. You know how this goes......
Also, the intention was to defer to the previously linked video on gain staging methods.
Now I'm curious which plug-in got you rethinking things. It's a good one that can inspire that!

I kind of rolled the dice on MAutoAlign from my favorite developer, Meldaproduction, when they had it on sale for half price, and whoa, what a difference it made. It automatically phase aligns multi-mic'd tracks, and with it, all of my existing drum mixes and 2-mic acoustic guitar and piano tracks turned 3-D. Oh man. Now I want to dual mic everything because I no longer have phase cancellation to worry about at all.

I did some experimentation with sine waves, and you are correct, sir, I could not get the audio to digitally clip "inside" Mixcraft, no matter how much signal I sent to a submix. I'm glad that I did this testing, because I now know that the meters are just there to let me know when I am running out of room to mix, not headroom itself. Thank you for setting me straight on this and getting me to be more systematic about testing it.

Now the signal running between plug-ins is a different story, and that's where those little plug-in meters are so important, and why I think at this point, anyway, I'm going to be doing more experimenting with Bitter.

Plug-in developers hurt the situation because they all seem to make the signal about 6dB hotter in every factory preset, so that it always sounds "better" when auditioning. Of course, when it's time to actually use the thing on a channel, those 6dB's add up.

The problem (not a huge one, more of an intellectual one) I am having right now is that I have a song where I want to start the mix over, and when I first did the rough, some of the plug-ins were going into clipping. The harshness, and/or the way the plug-in dealt with being hit hard, sounded good, made the track sound raunchy. Now that I know how to do it "right," it sounds too clean, and when I try to add character with saturation plug-ins, it isn't the same. So character has been lost and I don't know where it went.
-Erik
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Re: Metering observations and questions (long)

Post by msnickybee » Wed Dec 20, 2017 10:30 am

how do you guys rate the Span VST?
(I'm all about the freeware...)
I've been using that for a number of years, it seems to flag up clipping & crest values nicely, and also give me a reasonable view (nearly as good as fabfilter) of the 15k-20k area (where I always seem to go wrong) at the same time...
I also often load a mastered WAV into something like my jRiver music software to analyse DR values...but I sometimes (ie often) get a bit obsessed with them.... ;-)
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Re: Metering observations and questions (long)

Post by aj113 » Wed Dec 20, 2017 10:36 am

SPAN is my most used VST. I wouldn't even consider a mix without it.

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Re: Metering observations and questions (long)

Post by Mark Bliss » Wed Dec 20, 2017 10:48 am

Hi Nicky!

Span is one of the plugs on the master bus of my mix templates by default. Heavily referred to.
I have it set to "AVG+MAX" mode by default, as that is my most frequent analysis.
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Re: Metering observations and questions (long)

Post by Starship Krupa » Thu Dec 21, 2017 12:28 am

SPAN is a powerhouse, but of late, I find myself using Meldaproduction's MAnalyzer for most of my freeware spectrum analysis needs

It's good for surgical carving out of frequencies like when I want to notch out room for the kick drum in a bass track because it puts a floating label on each peak indicating its precise frequency. So I can zero in on the frequency of the kick drum and then go over to the bass track and put a notch or rolloff in it to let the kick drum through.

Also, it has a bunch of presets with curves for different genres of music so that I can compare the overall frequency balance of my mix. Good for sanity checking.
-Erik
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