Intelligibility Optimization

The attached image displays a processing workflow designed to optimize Spoken Word intelligibility. The workflow also demonstrates a realtime example of Integrated Loudness/Maximum True Peak compliance targeting.

There are 7 reference point Sections worth noting:

Section A includes the Adobe Audition Effects Rack Signal Level Meters indicating the source (Input) level and the (Output) level. The Output level reflects the results of the workflow’s inserted plugins. The chain includes a Compressor, a Limiter, and a Loudness Meter. Note the level meters indicate signal level. They do not indicate or represent perceptual Loudness.

Section B displays the gain reduction applied by the Compressor at the current position of the playhead. For the test/source audio I determined an average of 6dB of gain reduction would yield acceptable results. The purpose of this stage is to reduce the dynamic range and/or dynamic structure of the Spoken Word resulting in optimized intelligibility AND to prevent excessive down stream limiting. This is an important workflow element when preparing Spoken Word audio for Internet/Mobile, and Podcast distribution.

Section C includes my subjective limiting parameters. The Limiter will add the required amount of gain to achieve a -16.0 LUFS deliverable while adhering to a -1.5 dBTP (True Peak Max). If the client, platform, or workflow requires an alternative Loudness target and/or Maximum True Peak ceiling – the parameters and their mathematical relationship may be altered for customized targeting. Please note the Maximum True Peak referenced in any spec. is more of a ceiling as opposed to a target. In essence the measured signal level may be lower than the specified maximum.

Section D indicates the amount of limiting that is occurring at the current position of the playhead.

Section E displays the user defined Integrated Loudness target located above the circular Momentary Loudness LED (12 o’clock position). The defined Integrated Loudness target is also visually represented by the Radar’s second concentric circle. The Radar display indicates the Short Term Loudness measured over time within a 3 sec. window. The consistency of the Short Term Loudness is evident indicating optimized intelligibility.

Section F displays the unprocessed source audio that lacks optimization for Internet/Mobile, and Podcast distribution. Any attempt to consume the audio in it’s current state in a less than ideal listening environment will result in compromised intelligibility. Mobile device consumption in like environments will exacerbate compromised intelligibility.

Section G displays the processed/optimized audio suitable for the noted distribution platform. The Integrated Loudness, True Peak, and LRA descriptors now satisfy compliance targets. Notice there is no indication of excessive limiting.

-paul.

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Adobe Loudness Radar Up and Running …

With the release of the Adobe “CC” versions of Audition and Premiere Pro, users now have access to a customized version of the tc electronic Loudness Radar Meter.

LR-Banner

In this video from NAB 2013, an attendee asks an Adobe Rep: “So I’ve heard about Loudness Radar … but I don’t really understand how it works.”

I thought it would be a good idea to discuss the basics of Loudness Radar, targeting those who may not be too familiar with it’s design and function. Before doing so, there are a few key elements of loudness meters and measurement that must be understood before using Loudness Radar proficiently.

Loudness Measurement Specifications:

Program “Integrated” Loudness (I): The measured average loudness of an entire segment of audio.

Loudness Range (LRA): The difference between average soft and average loud parts of a segment.

True Peak (dBTP): The maximum electrical amplitude with focus on intersample peaks.

Meter Time Scales:

• Momentary (M) – time window:400ms
• Short Term (S) – time window:3sec.
• Integrated (I) – start to stop

Program Loudness Scales

Program Loudness is displayed in LUFS (Loudness Units Relative to Full Scale), or LKFS (Loudness K-Weighted Relative To Full Scale). Both are exactly the same and reference an Absolute Scale. The corresponding Relative Scale is displayed in LU’s (Loudness Units). 0 LU will equal the LUFS/LKFS Loudness Target. For more information please refer to this post.

LU’s can also be used to describe the difference in Program Loudness between two segments. For example: “My program is +3 LU louder than yours.” Note that 1 LU = 1 dB.

Meter Ranges (Mode/Scale)

Two examples of this would be EBU +9 and EBU +18. They refer to EBU R128 Meter Specifications. The stated number for each scale can be viewed as the amount of displayed loudness units that exceed the meter’s Loudness Target.

From the EBU R128 Doc:

1. (Range) -18.0 LU to +9.0 LU (-41.0 LUFS to -14.0 LUFS), named “EBU +9 scale”

2. (Range) -36.0 LU to +18.0 LU (-59.0 LUFS to -5.0 LUFS), named “EBU +18 scale”

The EBU +9 Range is well suited for broadcast and spoken word. EBU +18 works well for music, film, and cinema.

Loudness Compliance: Standardized vs. Custom

As you probably know two ubiquitous Loudness Compliance Standards are EBU R128 and ATSC A/85. In short, the Target Loudness for R128 is -23.0 LUFS with peaks not exceeding -1.0 dBTP. For ATSC A/85 it’s -24.0 LKFS, -2.0 dBTP. Compliant loudness meters include presets for these standards.

Setting up a loudness meter with a custom Loudness Target and True Peak is often supported. For example I advocate -16.0 LUFS, -1.5 dBTP for audio distributed on the internet. This is +7 or 8 LU hotter than the R128 and/or ATSC A/85 guidelines (refer to this document). Loudness Radar supports full customization options to suit your needs.

Pause/Reset

Loudness meters have “On and Off” switches, as well as a Reset function. For Loudness Radar – the Pause button temporarily halts metering and measurement. Reset clears all measurements and sets the radar needle back to the 12 o’clock position. Adobe Loudness Radar is mapped to the play/pause transport control of the host application.

Gating

The Loudness Standard options available in the Loudness Radar Settings designate Measurement Gating. In general, the Gate pauses the loudness measurement when a signal drops below a predefined threshold, thus allowing only prominent foreground sounds to be measured. This results in an accurate representation of Program Loudness. For EBU R128 the relative threshold is -10 LU below ungated LUFS. Momentary and Short Term measurements are not gated.

• ITU BS.1770-2 (G10) implements a Relative Gate at -10 LU and a low level Gate at -70 LU.

• Leq(K) implements a -70 LU low level Gate to avoid metering bias during 100% silent passages. This setting is part of the ATSC A/85 Specification.


Loudness Radar In Use

In Audition CC you will find Loudness Radar located in Effects/Special/Loudness Radar Meter. It is also available in the Effects Rack and in the Audio Mixer as an Insert. Likewise it is available in Premiere Pro CC as an Insert in the Audio Track Mixer and in the Audio Effects Panel. In both host applications Loudness Radar can be used to measure individual clips or an entire mix/submix. Please note when measuring an audio mix – Loudness Radar must be placed at the very end of the processing chain. This includes routing your mix to a Bus in a multitrack project.

Most loudness meters use a horizontal graph to display Short Term Loudness over time. In the image below we are simulating 4 minutes of audio output. The red horizontal line is the Loudness Target. Since the simulated audio used in this example was not very dynamic, the playback loudness is fairly consistent relative to the Loudness Target. Program Loudness that exceeds the Loudness Target is displayed in yellow. Low level audio is represented in blue.

Each horizontal colored row represents 6 LU of audio output. This is the meter’s resolution.

histrogram

Loudness Radar (click image below for high-res view) uses a circular graphic to display Short Term Loudness. A rotating needle, similar to a playhead tracks the audio output at a user defined speed anywhere from 1 minute to 24 hours for one complete rotation.

LM-480

The circular LED meter on the perimeter of the Radar displays Momentary Loudness, with the user defined Loudness Target (or specification target) visible at the 12 o’clock position. The Momentary Range of the LED meter reflects what is selected in the Settings popup. The user can also customize the shift between green and blue colors by adjusting the Low Level Below setting.

The numerical displays for Program Loudness and Loudness Range will update in real time when metering is active. The meter’s Loudness Unit may be displayed as LUFS, LFKS, or LU. The Time display below the Loudness Unit display represents how long the meter is/was performing an active measurement (time since reset). Lastly the Peak Indicator LED will flash when audio peaks exceed the Peak Indicator setting.

If this is your first attempt to measure audio loudness using a loudness meter, focus on the main aspects of measurement:Program, Short Term, and Momentary Loudness. Also, pay close attention to the possible occurrence of True Peak overs.

In most cases the EBU R128 and ATSC A/85 presets will be suitable for the vast majority of producers. Setup is pretty straightforward:select the standardization preset that displays your preferred Loudness Unit (LUFS, LKFS, or LU’s) and fire away. My guess is you will find Loudness Radar offers clear and concise loudness measurements with very little fuss.

Notes:

You may have noticed the Loudness Target used in the above graphic is -16.0 LUFS. This is a custom target that I use in my studio for internet audio loudness measurements.

-paul.


Articles and Documentation used as Reference:

tc electronic LM2 Plugin Manual

ITU-R BS.1770-3 Algorithms to measure audio programme loudness and true peak audio level

EBU R128 Loudness Recommendation

EBU-Tech 3341 Loudness Metering


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