Volume Normalizer for wav Files?

Discussion in 'Tracking / Mixing / Editing' started by Blue_Whistle88, Feb 3, 2015.

  1. Blue_Whistle88

    Blue_Whistle88 Active Member

    Hi guys!

    Some of you may have heard of a program called 'mp3 Gain', which allows you to balance the volume levels of your mp3 files so that they're all roughly the same. It doesn't remove the dynamics within each track (or each album even), but basically just allows you to control the general playback level of each file. Very handy tool, and I've been using it for years.

    However, I'm looking for a program that does the same thing for wav files, as mp3 Gain (unsurprisingly) only works with mp3 files. I'm just looking for something simple, where you can load up your wav files, then set the desired 'average' volume level in decibels (or something similar). My multi-track recorder has a hard time mastering songs to an acceptably loud volume, and converting to mp3 causes too much loss in sound quality (so I can't use mp3 Gain).

    I had a friend in Australia who used to casually master tracks for me (using Pro Tools), but he's in a bad state at the moment so he can't help. I know some amateur audio engineers who could help, but I want to do it myself. I do have Reaper, but I want to avoid mastering in DAWs because I like the objective standard of the decibel measurement in mp3 Gain, and am hoping to use something similar.

    Thanks heaps in advance for any help you guys can provide!
     
  2. Reverend Lucas

    Reverend Lucas Active Member

    It looks like MP3Gain applies lossy processing, beyond simple normalization. I'm not familiar with any programs that are dedicated solely to normalization, but it is easy enough to do in Reaper. Just import the WAV file, then Right click>Item Properties>Normalize items. You can then use the volume slider to adjust. Importing all the files in question, then normalizing them all would get the peak signal levels the same for all of them. You could then individually adjust each if some are louder than others.

    Metering can be accomplished by any number of meter plugins on the master bus.

    With that being said, making your masters 'acceptably loud' may involve other processing.

    I hope this helps. Others might know of a dedicated normalization program that would simplify the process a bit.
     
  3. Blue_Whistle88

    Blue_Whistle88 Active Member

    Well, the idea is to retain the dynamics between different tracks, and just balance them as an 'album' relative to other 'albums'. Mp3 Gain lets you do this with an 'Album Gain' option. My understanding is that all mp3 files contain a master gain setting in their metadata (along with media info, technical statistics, etc), and that Mp3 Gain merely adjusts that. Therefore, it isn't really processing the audio at all, but rather the metadata which modulates the gain. I could be wrong though.

    I know basic volume adjustment is all I need. I've gotten things sounding great with Mp3 Gain normalisation (no worse than a regular compressed wav file anyway), but I just want the normalisation done BEFORE the mp3-compression stage because I'm going to be submitting the masters to a duplicator (as wav files). I do compression et al on my multi-tracker :)

    I'll give Reaper a go though, because it'd be good for me learn a bit more about it. I haven't downloaded any extra plug-ins for Reaper, as I haven't used it much, so do you think the built-in normaliser would be good enough? Or can you recommend any others I should try?
     
  4. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    I'm pretty sure there is a program, that I've even tried, posted in a an older thread here. You can load any file and adjust the levels of each one for comparisons.
    That's what you are looking for, right?
    I do however, just load whatever in my DAW as the Reverend mentioned but I must admit, this worked pretty slick. If I find it, I'll be sure to post the link.
     
  5. Blue_Whistle88

    Blue_Whistle88 Active Member

    That'd be awesome, thanks!

    I just got recommended a program called SoX, which seems to do file conversions as well as editing of various properties (including gain). It even seems to have an 'album gain' function, similar to the one in Mp3 Gain (based on screenshots). Unfortunately, I just tried running it a few times and it doesn't seem to work. I tried various compatibility settings but no luck.

    I just had a crack at editing the gain in Reaper, and while it proved to be very effective, it also compresses the files a lot. Lower gain boosts are ok, but once you start going above +3dB the wave peaks start getting clipped. Perhaps this is just the nature of basic gain boosting, but I'm wondering if there's a plug-in out there that intelligently boosts gain in such a way that doesn't require clipping?
     
  6. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    If anyone will know, the Samplitude group will http://support2.magix.net/boards/samplitude/index.php?act=idx
     
  7. Reverend Lucas

    Reverend Lucas Active Member

    Sounds like SoX may be an easy fix to your issue. In general, one normalizing function won't do a better job than the next - they'll all set your waveform to the maximum amplitude amplitude that can be reached without clipping. You can go down from there, but adding any volume beyond that requires compression/limiting. Basically a limiter will boost beyond that, while keeping the peak waveforms from clipping. I believe Reaper's basic compressor has a limiter mode that will accomplish this.
     
  8. Blue_Whistle88

    Blue_Whistle88 Active Member

    As mentioned, SoX doesn't seem to work, even with compatibility settings. Unfortunate, cause it looked good.

    But regarding Reaper, I think you have a very valid point. I suspect that Mp3 Gain clips at higher gain settings, so the gain adjustment in Reaper will achieve what I need it to. I can also do a bit more mastering in there I guess, so that might be handy. So you think Reaper's compressor would be able to boost the signal without clipping? Is that just the Reacomp, or a different one? Also, are there any Reaper plug-ins (including packs) that you think might be worth getting, including compressors?
     
  9. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I would think that, like any other DAW platform, there is already a compressor that comes stock with Reaper ? - I may be wrong about that, because I'm not a Reaper user, but most DAW's will give you basic EQ and compressor processors.

    Any VST plug will work, you don't need to get a "Reaper" processor, unless they sell additional processors, like Harrison MixBus does, which are processors proprietary to that DAW.

    In that respect, there are many very good VST processors and processor collections available. Waves, UAD, IK Multimedia, Steinberg... all make very good plugs....But that's not to say that DAW manufacturers don't also make very good processors for their programs. Samplitude has some of the most effective and best sounding plugs I've ever heard in terms of EQ, Gain Reduction and Modeling. Reaper may have some good processors that come stock with their program as well... again, I can't say, as I'm not a Reaper user.

    I'd steer clear of shareware or freeware VST's. As with most things, the level of quality is directly related to what you pay for.
     
  10. Reverend Lucas

    Reverend Lucas Active Member

    Compressors 'create' headroom by making the loudest parts of the waveform less loud, which allows you to then boost the gain without clipping. ReaComp is Reaper's built-in compressor. It should accomplish what you're trying to achieve. A limiter is just a compressor with a high compression ratio, usually higher than 10:1 is considered limiting. The ratio can be set in ReaComp. Properly setting a limiter will eliminate clipping, but be careful as limiting comes at the expense of dynamic range.

    The only other compressor in Reaper is called ReaXComp, which is a multiband compressor. Multiband compressors are more complicated to use, but provide control over individual frequency bands and can do things singleband compressors can't.

    All of the Reaper plugins are included with the package - there are no add-on purchases made by Cockos. As Donny mentioned, there are a whole lot of commercially available compressors that are not made by Cockos, and work with virtually any DAW. Some of them are intended to change the sound as little as possible. Some impart a unique character that may or may not be desirable, depending on what you're doing. That's another can of worms.
     
  11. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    MB compression can also destroy sonics - in the hands of someone who doesn't understand how to use it.

    It's one of the most common culprits that I hear in hurting the mixes that I'm called upon to critique ( and fix) in the smaller home recording "studios" that I consult with from time to time.

    Truthfully, I do know what I'm doing with MBC, and yet, I rarely use it myself.

    Rev hit the nail on the head with this... and this is very important to know.

    There are some "classic " compressors, like the 1176, LA2 (3 and 4), Fairchild 670, etc. - along with several other very popular and classic GR (gain reduction) models - that not only apply gain reduction, but that can also add a distinct sonic "character" to the signal at the same time. Within these compressors, some are "faster" than others, (1176) they react quicker, and this imparts a particular "sound" as well. This doesn't mean that "slower" compressors aren't as good - to the contrary, models like the LA2 or the Fairchild 670 models can also sound wonderful because of the way that they react.

    None of these models that I just mentioned - either in plug form or with the actual hardware, would be considered by most to be sonically "transparent", and by and large, the engineers who use these, are often looking for that sonic thumbprint that these models offer when they choose to use one.

    There are a few other "classic" compressors that tend to be more towards the neutral side sonically....not that they are entirely transparent, but are more-so than the models mentioned above. The Focusrite Red is one of these, The SSL 2-Bus Compressor is another. But, don't be fooled into thinking that these are substandard, just because these don't have the same obvious "character" that the others mentioned have. These two fairly neutral-sounding compressors work wonderfully, and have been used on thousands of records.

    Transparent GR devices will do what they are intended to do (see Rev's explanation on compressors above) but don't add any "color" to the sound, other than the reductive gain result that is intended. Most stock compressors tend to be transparent.

    If you are looking for straight ahead GR, I would think that the compressor that comes stock with Reaper would probably do the job just fine. Most popular DAW's provide at least one stock compressor that work and sound just fine.

    So, unless you are after a certain sonic character to the compression, I'd just stick with what you have now.

    If you'd like to learn more, here are a few articles that you can check out - they are all from SOS, a trade mag that I trust:

    Compressors - explanation

    Classic Compressors

    Compression Made Easy
     
  12. Blue_Whistle88

    Blue_Whistle88 Active Member

    Cool, thanks! I remember reading that there's a particular order you're supposed to use when setting them (using ARRT as the mnemonic) - Attack, Release, Ratio, Threshold. I've only ever used stock settings and changed a couple of things to make it suit, and to be honest I don't really follow that order much (but I'm still new at this).

    I usually use a simple MB-compressor in my Tascam DP-32 (which is my main recording device), and I totally agree with what you're saying about being careful not to use damage. I usually end up using almost identical settings on each of the three bands, because drastic changes can cause big problems when the dynamic of the track changes (e.g. loss in bass & gain in mid-range). I think the only thing I change is the gain for each band, usually with an extra 1 or 2 dB for the bass and treble (as I was taking very raw, acoustic recordings with lots of mid-range). But this this particular stage (which I guess is 'secondary mastering'), just a standard compressor will do.

    I'll go ahead and use the one built into Reaper then. I'm still struggling to figure out exactly WHAT is is that differentiates a proper compressor from clipping via gain boosting; isn't 'peak reduction' just the clipping of peaks BEFORE they reach the threshold, so they don't get squared off? So there's still the same loss in dynamic range (i.e. distance between peaks and troughs)? Though I guess that WOULD preserve the tone better, as it retains the 'shape' of the peak.

    I'll use the standard gain fader if I totally muck things up, but hopefully I can figure out how to use the ReaComp such that I do actually improve the sound a bit (though I'm sure it's pretty transparent).

    Thanks heaps for all the help guys! I literally couldn't have asked for anything better :D
     
  13. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Ooooo... bad move. Repeat after me... "presets are bad...presets are bad..."

    Don't ever rely on presets. Always start at a null, a full reset. There's no way that anyone can pre-determine what compression schematic you need.
    Learn more about gain reduction, Blue... I promise you it will not be useless information. In fact, it's crucial if you want to do any kind of audio engineering.
     
  14. Blue_Whistle88

    Blue_Whistle88 Active Member

    Ok, fair enough. But in my defence, the mastering compressor in the Tascam comes up with some default settings every time you switch it on anyway, so you have to change it from SOME kind of preset no matter what. I only jump to a certain preset because I found it to be a better starting point than 'default', but I still change a few things in it. It's a relatively simple compressor too, so you can go a long way only changing 2 or 3 settings.
     
  15. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    LOL I wasn't accusing you, just giving you something to think about. In the case of the Tascam, obviously you've got fixed GR settings, and you aren't able to tweak. I was just pointing out that when using a GR plug within a DAW scenario, that you shouldn't rely on someone elses' presets, because there's no way anyone can pre program a compressor - or any processor for that matter - for you, because what we need each processor to do is based on the context of what we are doing at the time, and what we need it to do in a certain application or mix scenario that is individual.

    It would be like me setting up an EQ preset for you without knowing the mic you used, the preamp, who played or sang, at what level you recorded it at, in what environment it was recorded in, what environment you are mixing in, what monitors you are mixing through, and, most importantly, never having heard the track.

    It's even tough to do for yourself when you do have that information, because what works well on one track in one song won't necessarily work as well - or maybe even at all - for a track in another song.

    It's always best to start at full reset - when you can - and adjust your settings according to what the track/song needs.

    -d.
     
  16. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    Here's one way to do it:

    1. Get TT DR Meter
    2. Measure your songs
    3. Find the song with the lowest RMS value
    4. Subtract that value from the RMS value of each of the other songs
    5. Lower the level of each song by its difference calculated above

    Advantage: objective. Disadvantage: objective measurement doesn't always correlate to subjective perception. If I were doing this I would listen to each and adjust by ear.
     
  17. Blue_Whistle88

    Blue_Whistle88 Active Member

    Donny - all good, didn't intend to sound defensive. I guess I just need a starting point to set me on my way, then I'll get more confident adjusting settings as time goes on.

    boulder - I'm hoping to retain the dynamics between different songs in the same album (as well as the dynamics in the songs themselves), so I'll be looking to apply roughly the same level of gain boost/compression to each track. Thanks though :)
     
  18. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

    This is clearly a flawed approach. To explain - record just three or four tracks from a commercial CD as one long track into your DAW. Then chop them back up into individual tracks. The mastering engineer will have optimised the CD to be 'right'. If you look at the tracks you have, each one can have gain applied to take it to maximum - BUT - each track sits at a different overall level. If you artificially bring them all up, when played back to back, some will sound very wrong.

    So a track with drums, bass, guitar and keys is busy and loud. If the next track is just the guitar, then should the guitar be the same overall volume as four musicians? In general, no.

    Same with traditional classical instruments - if a piano is meant to be played pp, then ramping up the volume so it's ff is just wrong!
     
  19. Blue_Whistle88

    Blue_Whistle88 Active Member

    I didn't say I wanted to homogenise the gain, I just want to adjust it. Some classical recordings are louder than others.... it depends on more than just the number of instruments, and their acoustic volume. Path Metheny's 'One Quiet Night' is as loud as some symphonic recordings, even though it's just one classical guitar. Does that mean it's 'wrong'? Of course not.

    I've had this issue with the Tascam recording a range of musical styles. I've done rock recordings that were too quiet, and required similar gain boosting. I'm not planning on compressing it until the waveform looks like it was painted on with a roller, I just want to boost the volume a bit. I can get 2-3 dB boost without clipping (with the standard gain fader), so I might just use that.
     
  20. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    Then pick the loudest song on the album and apply its correction factor to all the other songs on the album.

    If you want to retain dynamics then only adjust levels downward except in the unusual cases where there is actually headroom available in the source material. Beware of intersample peaks.
     

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