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Thread: apparent volume vs. actual volume?

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    cordura21's Avatar
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    Question apparent volume vs. actual volume?

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    hey guys. I was reading the interview of Roy Thomas Baker at artistpro, and he talks about apparent volume vs. actual volume. I couldn't understand what he meant. Can you help me?

    Here are the 2 paragraphs that mention it:

    MIX: Your records have always sounded like they were practically exploding out of the radio. What things did you do to create that effect?

    BAKER: As long as you know up front that a certain song is destined for radio and MTV, you should come at it straight out of the gate from the beginning in pre-production. We make sure that the sound is together from day one. The whole idea is to make you sound louder, so that it jumps out in your face. The trick to this has to do with creating apparent volume, as opposed to actual volume. See, the radio stationís compressors will react to actual volume and turn the music down. Thatís why some peopleís mixes will actually sound quieter than the song previous and the song being played after.


    MIX: From what I understand, youíve startled more than a few ďproperĒ engineers with your methodology.

    BAKER: Oh yeah! I just whack those faders up. Especially when Iím mixing the drum rides; I would whack them up so loud that they would saturate the mixing board and then they would saturate the tape machine. Obviously, after a certain level, they donít get any louder on tape. It gets louder when youíre watching it, but it doesnít get any louder on tape, because it has reached its peak. What happens is the bottom end fills out. It is technically distortion, but it is also bringing out those nice third and fifth harmonics that you want to hear. Doing it this way adds a tremendous value to the bass end. It makes it grind and pump out on the radio more. Itís apparent volume, as opposed to actual volume.
    "A woman in a bicycle, with a straw hat, is the most flagrant violation of the laws of aerodynamics." (Dr. Vaporeso)

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    Tom Hicks's Avatar
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    He can get away with this because he is slamming levels to tape.It gives you a saturation and compression that sounds good.But don't try this using digital recording techniques because any "overs" over zero dB will produce a horrible distortion crackle that is totally unmusical.If you have an old cassette you can try this and see how it sounds.Push the levels to tape into the red past 0 dB and hear the how results are rather pleasing.This is an old school way of recording that was very common previously.
    Tom

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    cordura21's Avatar
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    but what does he mean with "apparent volume" as opposed to actual volume? How do you achieve "apparent volume"?
    He says is a good way to fool radio compressors. It sounds interesting.
    "A woman in a bicycle, with a straw hat, is the most flagrant violation of the laws of aerodynamics." (Dr. Vaporeso)

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    Cuzin B is offline Senior Member
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    Cordura21,

    You can achieve a ton of "apparent" volume by carefully applying several techniques to your finished mixes. Remember that zero is zero in the DAW world and exceeding digital zero results in a horrible distortion.

    I achieve "apparent" volume by preparing a good clean mix that usually peaks at -6 db on my meters (Soundforge for example). This mix sounds really good and to the untrained ear, it sounds plenty loud and could probably play on a radio with no problems.

    But to create more apparent volume - I apply a careful blend of BBE Sonic Maximizer to bring out overtones in a wide rang over the mix and something like Waves L1, L2 or Steinberg Loudness Maximizer to bring the mix up to around -0.2 db. The "actual" volume difference between the untreated - 6 db mix and the newly mastered -0.2 mix is startling.

    Remember - to a radio station compressor - peak is peak...the compressor will identify anything that violates it's barriers and knock it back a few notches - but if you concentrate your attention on that magic space before digital zero and apply careful treatments, you can create a pile of apparent volume that won't be effected by any radio station compressor.

    Just for fun, take a digital snip of something like Creed's My Sacrifice and have a look at the waveform in Soundforge...check out the thick, brick like waveform that never exceeds -0.2 db...the mix is so thick with "apparent volume" that this song just blares on the radio even tho the very next song which might also peak at -0.2 "sounds" quieter in comparison.

    Cheers,

    Cuzin B

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    cordura21's Avatar
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    so what RTB was talking about is "average" volume, that's what he called "apparent volume"? So is "actual volume" peak volume?

    I guess a radio compressor acts like any other compressor or limiter. Does anybody knows if that's true? Are they fixed threshold or are they moved by the radio operator? If they are fixed, at what level?
    "A woman in a bicycle, with a straw hat, is the most flagrant violation of the laws of aerodynamics." (Dr. Vaporeso)

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    Cuzin B is offline Senior Member
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    cordura21,

    I worked radio for 14 years and the compressors used are much more complex and invloved than those found in studios . Radio stations usually have a rack of expensive multiband broadcast compressors in a backroom somewhere. In operation however, they are much the same as recording compressor in the way they limit the signal.

    And they are not accessible by staff to adjust. The "sound" of a station in a science in itself and many stations spend tons of time getting things to sound just right (usually louder than the next guy) but there are also a ton of rules they have to follow from FCC, CRTC (here in Canada) etc...

    Cheers,

    Cuzin B

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    In analog, you can overdrive a circuit to create more apparent volume. The actual peak volume does not get any louder, but it seems to. You do this at the expense of possible bad sounding distortion. Not all distortion is bad (people distort guitars all the time and make it sound good!). You just have to be careful how far to you push the overdrive on analog eq's and tape and dynamic processors. Good analog processors, like you find in major recording studios are capable of being driven hard like this. You average Mackie/Behringer console isn't (well, they can be driven like that, but the results are not so ear pleasing).

    I am a Creep!

  8. #8
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    I'd have to say that 'apparent volume' is a combination of a couple of things. Mostly it's getting the average volume up almost as high as peak volume. Like was stated before, take a clip of 'Creed' or even worse 'Linkin Park' and put it in Soundforge to see that it is a practically a brick wall. But how are they able to get things that high and still give some perceived dynamics and no distortion artifacts? Well, it's done with compression and EQ. Compress the individual tracks, compress again at the buss stage, and of course in the final mix and mastering stages. Another thing that gets 'apparent volume' up is to carefully EQ things to stand out more. The human ear is especially sensitive in the 2-5Khz area, so if you push those envelopes more, it will be percieved as louder. Also, for radio broadcast nothing below 50hz or above 15khz is transmitted either (FCC regulation), so if you mix your material to not have much information below 50hz or above 15khz, then you can get your mix that much higher because you're not including a bunch of frequencies that most people (general public) won't even miss. So, by mixing in this fashion, the radio station compression won't even be an issue, as you've already done the job.

    BTW, radio compression is just insane! The station I worked at for 10 years used a 25:1 compression ratio coming off the board, then to the STL (Station to Transmitter Link) where it was compressed again, and it was then peak limited again at the transmitter.

    In my opinion, these kind of compression teqniques are completely uncalled for, and killing what we know as music.

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    I wouldn't worry about frequencies above 15KHz. In the overall power of the music, they make up no more than about 1 %. Seldomly is there much below 50Hz either when something is tracked. Kick drums and Bass guitar might go down this low, but you just don't usually track with that much energy below 50Hz. The region that will contribute a lot of glut to the volume is between 100 and 250Hz, and these are the frequencies that most poorly treated rooms have phase cancellation in, so when you are mixing, you would tend to eq to compensate for what you are not hearing because of phase cancellation. It is good to check your mixes in a decent car stereo system. The advantage of car stereo systems (as per what John Sayers wrote about them, and I have found this to be true with a few different mobile recording vehicles I have done some work in) is that low mid phase cancellation is all but eliminated because there are no hard walls to bounce the sound back at the listener. The low mids leave the vehicle and don't return. Very cool!

    I agree about the current state of radio station compression/limiting. There is a classic rock radio station here in town that I have listened to since the early 80's. They haven't really ever changed the format over the years at all. Years ago, the music sounded much better (less compression/limiting). Now these same songs that used to sound so good on the radio years ago sound like crap because the station is trying to be loud! It is too bad when music that was intended to be dynamic get's butchered by a radio station that is specific to the music in an attempt to compete in loudness with stations that pertain to a totally seperate age group and listener!

    I am a Creep!

  10. #10
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    "apparent volume" is about how loud you perceive the sound to be. It is about making the sound big and full so even at a softer level it would appear to be very big and loud. The Phil Collins gated drum sound has a lot of "apparent volume" even at a lower listening level.

    'Actual volume" is the real world db rating.

    Compression is important for raising the apparent volume.

    The Fletcher-Munson curve deals with percieved or apparent volume on a more technical level.

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