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Loudness standards

It’s tough. I mean not really, but when you try to convince a whole department in a huge building in a country which is unable to accept reasonable standards, it is definitely getting tough. It’s hight time that we try to inject some EBU standard into our daily work. We all know we need it, but there are always some who feels this whole thing is unnecessary.

The hotchpotch

Right now if you take a closer look around Hungary (tv, radio, studios, etc.) you’ll have a hard time finding people who stick to any international standard, or at least heard of them. It’s very sad, but this is the truth. As we are one of the biggest company here who make a good amount of radio and tv shows, we decided that we need to implement and use good loudness standards.

Right now it’s like the old wild west in a classic western film, everybody does what he/she thinks is good. Obviously this is what created the huge chaos we’re working in right now.

Anyone who would like to see the light at the end of the tunnel, right now have to consider these terms/abbreviations/standards: ARD, ITU, EBU, DIN, PPM, QPPM, True Peak, dBFS, LUFS, LKFS, OIRT, etc.

See what I mean? Impossible. Even more complicated when some bends a standard to his own liking. The end result is, surprise: disaster.

Even the few who knows these standards have to have a zen-like patience to work through his way. After a few days I knew it won’t be an easy task, yet it is really, I mean really necessary. So, the first step is to examine all the old and new standards. At this point, we have to know and understand pretty much all of it. Small group, no brainstorming, focused work, done in a few days. Fortunately the EBU has very quality material to learn from, I can only recommend them to everyone, I will share a few papers here to help anyone in this regard.

Finding the golden middle…

After the complete examination we tried to find something, which is good. This means it adheres to the new standards (more or less), acceptable for all of us, and it is understandable and acceptable to our partners outside the building.

I know, the perfect solution would be that if Hungary would accept and embrace the EBU standards (r128 for example), but that is (sadly) unlikely to happen in the near future so we have to fight our little war here. The task is not simply to work out some nice solution which is kind of like the acceptable standards. There are many engineers involved and/or affected and as usual, we have our colleagues who are really against these things. I mean they are really! After the first big negotiation we heard things like this:

“Why would we need these fancy standards? Everything has been fine for the last 30 years and we only used our ears!”

“Again, you’ve found something to bother us with!”

“The old way was surely better, we don’t need these new rules!”

“Just leave us alone, we know our stuff.”

“I’m sure these things come because these fancy computers…”

And so on, and on and on. So right now, we should find the golden middle and educate our partners and colleagues on these standards so they will understand the benefit and won’t fear working to a given standard. I can understand that no one is really like to work out of his comfort zone but in my opinion, these new standards are really good and easy to adhere to.

The long way ahead

Of course we won’t let the chaos win over us, so we have our plans. For starter we know we will try to stick to r128. Not completely, as it seems we need a few dBs louder than that (about –18LUFS) it seems. That seems to seamlessly solve many issues in every department here and at our partners at the TV and Radio. Although it seems that too many things collide, there’s a good chance that with some patience and well prepared timing we can make this quasi EBU r128 accepted.

We have the means to make this happen, only have to convince everyone around us, which is not easy, but maybe, maybe it is possible. We have already made some new material which is almost perfectly fit the r128 and those seems to work very well in many situations (TV broadcast, archive, Radio show) and even the old analogue transfer is flawless. Yes, we still need to prepare for analogue transfer and transmission. Year by year there’s a chance that we can leave that behind us, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

For those, who like me need to comb different standards together, I recommend a few good starting points. The first is a spectacular EBU paper which perfectly describe how the vastly different standards can peacefully work together:

EBU levelling and loudness

the other is the r128 paper:

EBU recommendation r128

Fortunately this month is the Loudness month at designingsound.org, I’m sure that I’ll gather even more ammunition for my quest to make everybody work to a standard here. You can still subscribe to a live seminar about loudness, thanks for Shaun Farley for that.

Stay tuned, I’ll post the status of my endeavour.