LUFS -14, is it a mandatory rule?

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ceasynth
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Post 01 Sep 2020

Hello everyone, I have been following this great forum since I have a Reason license (two years ago I bought Reason 10 hehe) but I never dare to speak or ask anything because I consider myself a complete novice and I know I would mess up. However, I have been thinking about this for days and I would like to know your opinion :P.

First of all I apologize for my level of English :S and I hope that everything I put is understood. Second, sorry this "big" text :S but I prefer to detail as much as possible my doubt.

I've been preparing an album for some time now, an electronic one (a kind of mix between Jarre/Vangelis/similar artists and Synthwave music).

I'm not a professional, everything I do is for hobby and to learn everything I can, I always learn new things from the synthesizers, from the DAW itself, etc.
In this album, I have set out to learn a little bit about mastering (not as a professional obviously but at least to make the mix sound a little better hehe).
And well, I'm learning to use which plugins are necessary (eqs, compressors, limiters, etc.) in what order and more or less when they would be necessary to use them.
I got to master one of my songs and, both personally and the opinion of a relative of mine (he is a professional but playing the piano, he has no knowledge of mastering), we think it sounds pretty good (or at least a little better than the original mixed song).

However, since some time ago I have seen both tutorials in Youtube and in other websites that you have to be careful with the LUFS and that should not exceed -14.
I have been investigating a little and more or less I understand the idea (the song should not bet too noisy).
Even I have read news of about Spotify that if your song surpassed -14 (or did not arrive) automatically it adjusted to -14.

Using the Youlean Loudmeter VST plugin I discovered that my mastered song was set to -9! :o and I thought it sounded good, so I decided to give it a second turn and improve the master.

However, I decided to compare songs from other artists (one of the advices I saw was to use a song from another artist to compare the master) and I can see that, at least, the artists I listen to, do not follow this rule :S.

For example, Carpenter Brut, I consider that the songs are very well mastered. I opened an empty project in my DAW, I put one of his songs (Turbo Killer), I analyzed it with Youlen Loudmeter and I got a value between -3 or -4 LUFS! :o

Later I checked if it was listened equally strong in Spotify (thinking that perhaps it would sound lower when surpassing these LUFS) and it sounds exactly as strong!

I tried with another Synthwave artists: Le Matos, Power Glove and Waveshaper... same results :S (a bit lowered, about -9 LUFS).

So, my question is, are the LUFS really necessary? Why these artists can overcome the LUFS and nothing happens to them (apparently, maybe I'm totally wrong or maybe I'm not analyzing the song properly). What do you advise me to know what volume is appropriate for the final mix?

Although you don't answer me, thank you very much, at least, for reading this booklet and I'm very sorry :S.

If you agree, when I have the most advanced album I would like to share with you one of the songs, unmastered and mastered, and I would like to know your opinion :).

Cheers and thanks again!

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willy_dinglefinger
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Post 01 Sep 2020

Ay up duck.

As far as I know, the -14 LUFS is just a guide that Spotify suggested once upon a time. They normalise everything to that level (or something) so anything mastered hotter will just be needlessly undynamic i.e. potentially sound crapper. Or so it goes.

I don't think -14 LUFS is strictly necessary though.

If you want some serious rabbit hole fun, read up about The Loudness War. In the meantime, ask your mastering engineer for two masters of each song - one 'hot' version and one 'dynamic' version. If you play both at the same volume, 999 times out of 1000 the 'dynamic' version will sound better.

There's an argument here that streaming services are making mastering great again because they encourage dynamic less-hot masters and consequentially better sounding music.
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PhillipOrdonez
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Post 01 Sep 2020

Nah.

Don't pay attention to that, anyone saying that is a rule doesn't know what they are talking about. -9 is a healthy loudness level. The only thing that matters is your master has at least 1db of headroom (true peak) so when it gets converted into a compressed codec (invariably it will and this increases the peak level), it will not clip too much and sound like crap.

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ceasynth
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Post 01 Sep 2020

Wow, thank you so much for your answers! I thought that when people saw so much text they would run away hehe.

Well I am more calm, -9 LUFS was the value that I obtained when mastering my first subject and, personally, it sounded well. Until now (before knowing the LUFS) my way of mastering and mixing was to try not to exceed 0dbs and that the song (after eqs, limiters, etc.) sounds good (for me is when I can hear the different sounds separately).

Anyway I will read the article to understand everything better (thanks a lot for the recommendation! :)). I have the same question in KVR (to have different answers and to have more information) and there recommended me the same article! hehe :).

Now the doubt that I have is, what happens if I upload a song with -9 of LUFS to Spotify or Youtube? they lower the volume until arriving at -14 LUFS?

I believe that they do nothing because, returning to the example of Carpenter Brut, the songs in Spotify sound like in other portals (for example, in BandCamp).

Returning to the song Turbo Killer, you download both songs from Spotify and BandCamp (only to study/analyze! no piracy!) and you can check that it gives you -3 LUFS.

I would put a link to the songs from Spotify and BandCamp but I don't know if it would break any rule of the forum :S (anyway it's easy to find this song).

Thank you so much again! :)
Last edited by ceasynth on 01 Sep 2020, edited 1 time in total.

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guitfnky
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Post 01 Sep 2020

it’s not a rule, but my understanding is that Spotify will adjust your individual tracks to -14 LUFS. if you listen to an album though, I believe the overall album gets played back at that -14 LUFS level—this means your album will play back as intended (i.e. the balance from one track to the next will sound as it did when you exported).

so to put that differently, if you play an individual song, it will be “normalized” to -14 LUFS, so that it plays nice with other artists’ songs—if you play back an album, the entire album plays back at -14 LUFS, so that each track plays the way the artist intended for the album to sound.

I wouldn’t worry too much about LUFS, because Spotify is automatically compensating to put the songs into the correct volume range, BUT, there is still an important consideration, which is to deliver your songs with peaks no higher than -2 DB. this is because of how Spotify transcodes the audio, which tends to add volume.

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selig
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Post 01 Sep 2020

I've read that Spotifiy doesn't normalize to -14 LUFS even though it's the stated standard. There's lots of discussion on this on Reddit and elsewhere that basically ends with "just make your mix sound the best it can sound".
The reasoning is that streaming services will do what they will do to your mix, and this can change at any time without warning. But a good mix will always sound good.
I guess it comes down to whether or not you still want to play the loudness war games or not.

But I would still suggest that using a reference mix for comparison is helpful, but I wouldn't worry about what LUFS you're hitting as long as you're sounding similar to your ref mix. But I've always thought this, have never really stressed over "loudness" (certainly not over other important qualities) and don't see LUFS measurement as changing that for me any time soon.

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mcatalao
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Post 01 Sep 2020

selig wrote:
01 Sep 2020
(...)

But I would still suggest that using a reference mix for comparison is helpful, but I wouldn't worry about what LUFS you're hitting as long as you're sounding similar to your ref mix. But I've always thought this, have never really stressed over "loudness" (certainly not over other important qualities) and don't see LUFS measurement as changing that for me any time soon.
This. ^^

Thought I think LUFS measuring is a good standard for loudness evaluation, and it's a good option to check the overall loudness of a track (for example to check loudness difference between busier and calmer parts). And you can even use it to compare the ref tracks to your mix.

That being said, I usually go a little higher than -14 lufs (-13 to -11) in the mid and integrated measures.

BTW, for my mixes, I think it's better to work them without thinking about loudness and the only “numerical” aim is to make the mix have a 6db headroom for mastering (if I'm the one doing the master, the final level will be around the -13, -11 LUFS).

What I think is important to mention in the middle of this is that there is a big difference between Loudness (LUFS) and dbfs and a lot of people confuse it. For me thinking about lufs during a mix makes no sense at all, and the best measure in the digital domain while mixing is still dbfs. You can mix for loudness, but I prefer to mix for clarity and balance.

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guitfnky
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Post 01 Sep 2020

I was probably a bit too concerned with hitting the -14 LUFS standard when I was putting the finishing touches on my album. in the end I targeted the loudest tracks at around -14, but the rest of the songs were only as loud as they needed to be in relation to those one or two louder tracks. and still made sure to keep my max peaks at -2 DB.

one thing I was glad to find I DIDN’T need to do was push the mastering limiter to be in the right ballpark. that might be the biggest benefit of doing the -14 LUFS target—you may find that you barely even need to kiss the mastering limiter. I think I had one song on the entire 10 song album that was actually triggering the limiter. I’m not interested in the loudness war, so I thought that was pretty cool.

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rgdaniel
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Post 01 Sep 2020

Okay, I'll ask it: how do I measure LUFS?

I usually keep most of an eye on "peak" levels, via Selig Gain and/or the Big Meter and other Reason meters' "peak" setting. I also watch the "VU" setting on the Reason meters. If peak is down around -10 on individual tracks, it usually works out to be around -3 overall, which is where I aim for, for the final. But while I understand that LUFS is kind of the "how loud does it sound in the real world" measurement, I don't think Reason has a stock device to measure that? Or is LUFS and VU the same thing? Been confused on this point for a while, and google has been inconclusive (or else I'm asking the wrong questions...)

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Boombastix
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Post 01 Sep 2020

LUFS is just a number, can be somewhat of a guide but never a rule. Bass heavy music will get you a higher LUFS because the energy is in the bass. But push it too high and your perceived volume will be lower because you loose relative mid range volume, and vice versa (key word: relative).

So, anyone who knows this will tell you :o , a LUFS of -9 to -7 is common, but your mix MUST be balanced (especially bass content), so use your ears above all and reference with a good track. Leave 0.8 to 1 dB of headroom in the WAV final master as mp3 and other compressed formats will otherwise distort in the peaks.

I have no idea why someone developed a "penalty LUFS" plugin, unless for scamming people out of money...

You can grab the Waves LUFS meter WLM for $29 typically. There are sometimes meter stuff bundled from others, the free Voxengo seems to give different peak and other values when compared so I don't use that one, but it has a nice spectrum meter to see what is going on on the low end as you can zoom in. Normally I bring up the IK Multimedia "Full Metering" tool, but it is more expensive than the Waves one, and like I said you get a nice spectrum from Voxengo.
10% off at Waves with link: https://www.waves.com/r/6gh2b0
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PhillipOrdonez
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Post 01 Sep 2020

rgdaniel wrote:
01 Sep 2020
Okay, I'll ask it: how do I measure LUFS?

I usually keep most of an eye on "peak" levels, via Selig Gain and/or the Big Meter and other Reason meters' "peak" setting. I also watch the "VU" setting on the Reason meters. If peak is down around -10 on individual tracks, it usually works out to be around -3 overall, which is where I aim for, for the final. But while I understand that LUFS is kind of the "how loud does it sound in the real world" measurement, I don't think Reason has a stock device to measure that? Or is LUFS and VU the same thing? Been confused on this point for a while, and google has been inconclusive (or else I'm asking the wrong questions...)
Youlean loudness meter is free and provides accurate lufs and true peak metering.

I use a paid one that provides a lot more than that, but used youlean for ages and it was great.

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rgdaniel
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Post 01 Sep 2020

PhillipOrdonez wrote:
01 Sep 2020
Youlean loudness meter is free and provides accurate lufs and true peak metering.

I use a paid one that provides a lot more than that, but used youlean for ages and it was great.
Thanks Phillip! I was literally just coming here to followup that I found a free one on plugin boutique... you guessed... youlean...

So far it seems to confirm what boombastix said, that a more bass-heavy clip reads higher lufs than a non-bassy clip, where peaks and VU are about the same on each clip. (Very small sample set, literally two clips, but whatever).

PhillipOrdonez
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Post 01 Sep 2020

rgdaniel wrote:
01 Sep 2020
PhillipOrdonez wrote:
01 Sep 2020
Youlean loudness meter is free and provides accurate lufs and true peak metering.

I use a paid one that provides a lot more than that, but used youlean for ages and it was great.
Thanks Phillip! I was literally just coming here to followup that I found a free one on plugin boutique... you guessed... youlean...

So far it seems to confirm what boombastix said, that a more bass-heavy clip reads higher lufs than a non-bassy clip, where peaks and VU are about the same on each clip. (Very small sample set, literally two clips, but whatever).
That's a bit odd because while bass has a big energy, and meters like vu and RMS tend to favour it, the human ear is a lot more sensitive to high mids, and given lufs are meant to measure loudness the same way we perceive it, mid heavy stuff should register as louder. 🤔

I think the measurement algorithm pretty much matches the Fletcher Munson curve.

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ceasynth
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Post 02 Sep 2020

Hello everyone, sorry I'm late in answering, the truth is I've asked this question in different forums to have different answers and compare them. I like to read and understand well your answers, so it took me some time to do it :P.

I thank you for your answers and how well you explained it to me :). It's true that there is much discussion about this topic and I think that both groups defend very well their motive of defense (for or against LUFS).

In the end I believe that the LUFS has to be measured but not in a strict way, rather that it is orientative to know if your song is too loud or is within limits.

I agree with your comments that the mix must be well balanced. In fact I waste quite a lot of time (once I have the song finished) in mixing each channel well so that each sound sounds different (maybe I'm interested in making an arpeggio sound a little quiet so that it does not "hide" the main melody, for example).

I will continue practicing and studying more about mastering.

What I am very clear about is that the world of mastering has become another "fun" task for me (besides creating music) and I hope to get some practice and improve my songs a little bit :D .

I hope to share my songs with you, unmastered and mastered, to know your opinions/recommendations :mrgreen: .

And thank you very much for your kindness, because of my inexperience, I was a little afraid to ask and say something stupid :oops:

We keep in touch in the forum!

Thanks again guys, cheers!

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mcatalao
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Post 02 Sep 2020

rgdaniel wrote:
01 Sep 2020
Okay, I'll ask it: how do I measure LUFS?

I usually keep most of an eye on "peak" levels, via Selig Gain and/or the Big Meter and other Reason meters' "peak" setting. I also watch the "VU" setting on the Reason meters. If peak is down around -10 on individual tracks, it usually works out to be around -3 overall, which is where I aim for, for the final. But while I understand that LUFS is kind of the "how loud does it sound in the real world" measurement, I don't think Reason has a stock device to measure that? Or is LUFS and VU the same thing? Been confused on this point for a while, and google has been inconclusive (or else I'm asking the wrong questions...)
I was trying to explain that before, and when LUFS appeared i tried to understand the big difference between these systems... So, dbfs is an instant measure, it's peak and sample or almost sample accurate. It's imho the best way to guarantee a clear recording safe from peaks and overdrives, allowing yout to work for headroom and so on.

VU is an average of the levels over a small time to mimic the way humans perceive level increase. So they usually average around 300 ms of audio and in analogue systems they can be faster or slower. Also, in digital audio VU's are set in relation to outboard gear so that's why vu has a completely different grade than peak metering. I Reason, while peak metering will go from infinite to 0, vu metering goes from infinite to +10 and it depends on the vu offset you're using because in reason you can define where 0db (vu) is in relation to dbfs. Mine are set to 18, because my ADC's have 18 dbvu at 0dbfs so to preserve headroom that's the setting in my case. So you should look to your audiocard, see the maximum dbv of your card amps and how they relate do 0dbfs and set reason accordingly.

LUFS is completely different as it measures and averages the levels over a given time, to characterize program material, so even the short term LUFS will have at least 3 second analysis while VU are way faster. The other difference of the LUFS metering system is that it uses K-Weighting (it was previously called Loudness, K-weighted, relative to full scale (LKFS)) where the K refers the type of filter used in loudness perception weighting on the measurement algo. So 2 things are happening, LUFS is always over greater times than any other measurement and then there's the weighting that is applied.

Older software already had this kind of measuring, I remember Wave lab had a RMS measure, where you could apply filters for A-Weight, B-Weighting and C-Weighting so, average measuring and weighting is not new in audio.
Last edited by mcatalao on 02 Sep 2020, edited 1 time in total.

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mcatalao
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Post 02 Sep 2020

PhillipOrdonez wrote:
01 Sep 2020
rgdaniel wrote:
01 Sep 2020


Thanks Phillip! I was literally just coming here to followup that I found a free one on plugin boutique... you guessed... youlean...

So far it seems to confirm what boombastix said, that a more bass-heavy clip reads higher lufs than a non-bassy clip, where peaks and VU are about the same on each clip. (Very small sample set, literally two clips, but whatever).
That's a bit odd because while bass has a big energy, and meters like vu and RMS tend to favour it, the human ear is a lot more sensitive to high mids, and given lufs are meant to measure loudness the same way we perceive it, mid heavy stuff should register as louder. 🤔

I think the measurement algorithm pretty much matches the Fletcher Munson curve.
NAh, it doesn't. K-Weighting is a two step direct filtering. None of the weighting curves are a direct negative of the fletcher munson, and the last i read about it, Fletcher Munson is dated. Plus... Fletcher Munson is for Pressure, so it is always dependent on the power rating and output levels of your analogue system.

PhillipOrdonez
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Post 02 Sep 2020

mcatalao wrote:
02 Sep 2020
PhillipOrdonez wrote:
01 Sep 2020


That's a bit odd because while bass has a big energy, and meters like vu and RMS tend to favour it, the human ear is a lot more sensitive to high mids, and given lufs are meant to measure loudness the same way we perceive it, mid heavy stuff should register as louder. 🤔

I think the measurement algorithm pretty much matches the Fletcher Munson curve.
NAh, it doesn't. K-Weighting is a two step direct filtering. None of the weighting curves are a direct negative of the fletcher munson, and the last i read about it, Fletcher Munson is dated. Plus... Fletcher Munson is for Pressure, so it is always dependent on the power rating and output levels of your analogue system.
How far off does it fall from that curve though?

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mcatalao
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Post 02 Sep 2020

PhillipOrdonez wrote:
02 Sep 2020


How far off does it fall from that curve though?
By a lot. It is followed by another curve but its just a HPF at 100 Hz. The K-weight curve is a low shelf and an HPF. You can check it in the recommendation article here if you're curious:

https://www.itu.int/dms_pubrec/itu-r/re ... !PDF-E.pdf

But even A, B and C weighting were crude in relation to Fletcher-Munson. As i said, Fletcher-Munson is a function of sound pressor. You can have your mix really high and Sound pressure in your studio can be quite low.

PhillipOrdonez
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Post 02 Sep 2020

mcatalao wrote:
02 Sep 2020
PhillipOrdonez wrote:
02 Sep 2020


How far off does it fall from that curve though?
By a lot. It is followed by another curve but its just a HPF at 100 Hz. The K-weight curve is a low shelf and an HPF. You can check it in the recommendation article here if you're curious:

https://www.itu.int/dms_pubrec/itu-r/re ... !PDF-E.pdf

But even A, B and C weighting were crude in relation to Fletcher-Munson. As i said, Fletcher-Munson is a function of sound pressor. You can have your mix really high and Sound pressure in your studio can be quite low.
Yeah Im aware the curve changes depending on SPL, right?

Anyway, it matters not if it matches that curve, it does match human ears on the way we perceive loudness and that is what matters.

Is our hearing not more sensitive to ca. 2khz stuff like our eyes are more sensitive to blue than purple?

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mcatalao
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Post 02 Sep 2020

It doesn't. It is always crude estimations. That's why Giles's comment is so important. The final tests are your ears on systems you really know.

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selig
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Post 02 Sep 2020

rgdaniel wrote:
01 Sep 2020
Okay, I'll ask it: how do I measure LUFS?

I usually keep most of an eye on "peak" levels, via Selig Gain and/or the Big Meter and other Reason meters' "peak" setting. I also watch the "VU" setting on the Reason meters. If peak is down around -10 on individual tracks, it usually works out to be around -3 overall, which is where I aim for, for the final. But while I understand that LUFS is kind of the "how loud does it sound in the real world" measurement, I don't think Reason has a stock device to measure that? Or is LUFS and VU the same thing? Been confused on this point for a while, and google has been inconclusive (or else I'm asking the wrong questions...)
In my testing, I've been a bit surprised to find that when I mix for my standard crest factor of 12 dB, I also get a LUFS of around 12 dB. So after more than a few comparisons, I stopped even bothering with LUFS measurements since no one I've mixed for is requiring this. The last "big" mix I did was for an iHeart radio program and not once was LUFS mentioned, and after turning in the mix no one mentioned levels. I just mixed to around my standard 12 dB crest factor, as always (for pop/rock type mixes).

Side note: Crest Factor = the difference between Peak and VU/RMS levels.

What is nice about Reason is that when the Big Meter is set to VU + Peak and your limiter is set to between -1 and 0 dBFS, the VU portion of the meter automatically "reads" crest factor. So all I do when adding my final mastering limiter is to make sure the VU hits around -12 dBFS on average during the loudest parts. It's so simple, doesn't require any additional metering, and for me "just works".
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selig
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Post 02 Sep 2020

mcatalao wrote:
02 Sep 2020
NAh, it doesn't. K-Weighting is a two step direct filtering. None of the weighting curves are a direct negative of the fletcher munson, and the last i read about it, Fletcher Munson is dated. Plus... Fletcher Munson is for Pressure, so it is always dependent on the power rating and output levels of your analogue system.
Fletcher/Munson is about perceived loudness, measured by a group of listeners adjusting a volume knob.
And yes it's dated, now we use "equal loudness contours" (ISO 226:2003). The general concept is still the same though the years.

The whole idea of all of these curves is about "output levels", aka SPL aka volume, and how the different volumes are perceived vs frequency. IIRC, none of these curves are about "pressure" in isolation, they are about the bigger picture: perception.

Apologies in advance if I've misunderstood your point, wouldn't be the first time for me… ;)
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mcatalao
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Post 02 Sep 2020

selig wrote:
02 Sep 2020
mcatalao wrote:
02 Sep 2020
NAh, it doesn't. K-Weighting is a two step direct filtering. None of the weighting curves are a direct negative of the fletcher munson, and the last i read about it, Fletcher Munson is dated. Plus... Fletcher Munson is for Pressure, so it is always dependent on the power rating and output levels of your analogue system.
Fletcher/Munson is about perceived loudness, measured by a group of listeners adjusting a volume knob.
And yes it's dated, now we use "equal loudness contours" (ISO 226:2003). The general concept is still the same though the years.

The whole idea of all of these curves is about "output levels", aka SPL aka volume, and how the different volumes are perceived vs frequency. IIRC, none of these curves are about "pressure" in isolation, they are about the bigger picture: perception.

Apologies in advance if I've misunderstood your point, wouldn't be the first time for me… ;)
Unless I am misunderstanding, you are agreeing with me. ;)

My answer was to PhilipOrdones because LKFS/Lufs recommendation documentation never refers Fletcher Munson, and as both of us said, Fletcher-munson is about sound pressure (maybe I should have used Sound Pressure instead of only pressure, but that's what I meant).

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rgdaniel
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Post 02 Sep 2020

selig wrote:
02 Sep 2020
So after more than a few comparisons, I stopped even bothering with LUFS measurements ...
Super good to hear...

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Post 02 Sep 2020

willy_dinglefinger wrote:
01 Sep 2020
As far as I know, the -14 LUFS is just a guide that Spotify suggested once upon a time. They normalise everything to that level. I don't think -14 LUFS is strictly necessary though.
Actually all the streaming services and many broadcasters have a standard LUFS they use...it's just not the same for everyone!
Screen Shot 2020-09-02 at 3.42.45 PM.png
If your LUFS is too low, it's possible that your peaks might get clipped during normalization. Having too high a LUFS simply means you are wasting dynamic range and the normalization will reduce your average volume making the track sound quieter.
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