You may recall that
over the past several
been worrying about
how to obey the CALM
Act. That, in turn, has led
us to a consideration
of audio metering that
complied with the EBU’s
ITU-R B.S. 1770-1, now
also a requirement of the CALM Act.
As usual, I managed to add some confusion
to the discussion by worrying about
how the “loudness” we are concerning ourselves
with here isn’t the same as the loudness
we find defined in acoustics textbooks
and my beloved Audio Dictionary (by Glenn
However, we all agreed, I think, that getting
the CALM Act under control was our
primary objective. It still is, and nothing has
changed. Don’t forget it!
What I said back in May was and is true
(and Glenn White agrees): “Loudness is a
subjective sensation, not a physical quantity.
Objective Loudness is an oxymoron in my
world—there’s actually no such thing.”
Unfortunately, the EBU has appropriated
the term “loudness” to refer to objective
amplitude levels. (See their technical briefs
3341 and 3342, as well as R 128).
I didn’t like it back in May, but I wanted
to be a good sport—getting our levels under
control is really what is important here,
Now I’ve just run across an extensive and
very interesting article by Emannuel Deruty,
writing for an audio magazine that might
be regarded as a distant competitor of ours.
Deruty writes about “The Loudness Wars,”
which are vaguely related to
our loudness concerns. (Those
wars are based on recorded music
and the question of “whose
recording sounds loudest,”
while we are worried about our
various beloved TV channels
and why their levels are all over
Deruty does a nice job, reviewing
some 4,500 recordings
made over the past 40 years and
measuring, in some detail, the
changes in RMS amplitude, Leq,
compression, dynamic range
and crest factor. He goes on to
consider a variety of aesthetic
questions as well, such as how much is the
loudness change a function of musical style
vs. how much is due to mastering engineers
gone wild and crazy? Thoughtful. Much
more in depth than most such articles.
The problem (and the reason I am writing
this) is that Deruty has just drunk the
same Kool-Aid as the EBU, along with us.
We’re all being urged (even ordered, as a
function of the CALM Act) to buy into the
premise that “loudness” is loudness.
So, Deruty headlines a paragraph with the
rhetorical question: “Is Music Really Louder
Now?” to which he promptly answers “Yes it
is, and there is no doubt about that.”
Unfortunately, that’s not true.
The real answer to that question is “We
don’t know. We haven’t done the measurements.”
For instance, we (and Deruty) haven’t
considered a single acoustical music event
in this regard, much less an array of such
events over 40 years looking for trends. If
you were to ask that question of a major
conductor or maybe an acoustician, that’s
probably how they would respond.
And if you were to cite Deruty’s study of
4,500 recordings, they might very well and
very reasonably ask in response, “What has
that got to do with music? With loudness?
Those are only recordings.” And, in fact, they
would be right.
We have just played the jargon card, and
it may very well bite us back.
A BRIEF EDITORIAL
This isn’t Deruty’s fault. Like us, he simplifies,
drawing on the EBU’s pronouncements
that tend to legitimize “loudness,” which
makes his and our lives simpler, if not nearly
as scientifically rigorous.
As long as we stay in our professional
bubble, this simplification really doesn’t
matter very much at all—we all know, sort
of, what we’re talking about here. However,
when we go out into the real world and talk
to real people, including real musicians, real
couch potatoes and real acousticians, they
are not going to have any idea what we’re
talking about when we describe our beloved
“loudness” (oops, I mean, LKFS, LUFS
and LRA, you know).
We’ve appropriated their words (“loudness”
and “music,” in this case) to mean
something entirely different (“amplitude
level” and “digital audio signal”). They have
no reason to know this—loudness and music
remain very, very real and utterly obvious
for them. As a result, they have no reason to
think we’re anything other than raving idiots
that don’t even know what “loudness” and
“music” really are.
When we adopt everyday words to use
as jargon, as the EBU has done in this case,
we add to the net total of confusion and
misunderstanding in the world. The pronouncements
in EBU 3341, 3342, R 128, and
B.S. 1770-1 and elsewhere are really pretty
emphatic in their use of the term “loudness.”
There is a good political reason for this, too.
Constituents of various elected representatives
around the world have been complaining
to said representatives about excessive
and highly variable loudness in their lives.
This is almost impossible to correct, not to
mention, like, awesomely expensive.
So, instead we propose to fix something
comparatively easy and inexpensive, in another
related realm, and call it “loudness.”
Who’s to know? No! Who’s on first!
And now, when the complaints come in,
our representatives can respond that we’re
hard at work on it or even better, that we’ve
just fixed it!
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Because we audio guys/gals are the ones
on the ground here, we’re also the ones who
have to watch out for our toes. You don’t really
think that Rep. Anna G. Eshoo, who first
introduced the CALM Act, is actually going
to say, “Oops, my bad. Sorry about the loudness
My suggestion to all of us, for our own
professional safety, is to always qualify our
terms to protect ourselves. It’s not hard,
For instance, I often add the prefix “para”
to dodgy terms, as in “paracop” for a street
crossing guard; “paraspouse” for a live-in
friend; “parabrain” for a pundit. Here we can
refer to “paraloudness” for the LKFS meter
reading and “paramusic” for that miserably
squashed audio signal.
When somebody asks us about it, we
collect many bonus points for being able
to thoughtfully say, “Well, it really isn’t loudness,
of course, but the law says we need to
pretend that it is, heh, heh.” We’ve covered
ourselves pretty gracefully that way.
Put more simply, when we can’t tell
whether we’re talking about music and
loudness, or about “music and loudness,” we
most definitely don’t know what we’re talking
Thanks for listening.
Dave Moulton is really interested in
both music and music, as well as loudness
and, well, loudness. But that’s not all!
And, you can still complain to him about
almost anything at his website, www.moultonlabs.com.