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Reference level using streaming sources

Postby Watchmaker » Sun Feb 16, 2020 4:41 pm

I've just followed along with this article on setting a reference level for monitors and have achieved a reference level that works very well in my set up. -20DBFS @ 76SPL at the listening position using a pink noise source through the signal path and getting meters to read "equivalently" etc. good imaging, three sets of speakers at the same loudness. Quite nice really. This is for signals routed through the DAW.

The problem arises with Tidal which I use for streaming. This is not routed through the DAW, but is routed through my Focusrite 8PreX to my monitor controller, exactly as my DAW out put is. Tidal's output level is all over the map, I assume they rely on the program material to determine amplitude and a lot of content completely clips the digital signal making my meters display a lovely red color. I set Tidal's one volume option to "force loudness" which sets their output at a constant maximum and that choice simply means more content clips and the clipping is more extreme in every event. If I defeat force volume and use Tidal's application volume control, I can control the output level for each song, but I really don't want to.

Has anyone figured out a way to set a constant output level from Tidal? - Ideally -20DBFS. I want this to be as close to my DAW reference setting as possible. I have no fear getting into the guts of the computer so if there are deep tweaks necessary, I am up to it.

Cheers,

Dave
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Re: Reference level using streaming sources

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Sun Feb 16, 2020 5:14 pm

I dont understand why you say levels are all over the place.

Tidal uses loudness normalisation (with a target level of -14LUFS). The loudness normalisation can be switched off on iOS and Android platforms, but it is permanently activated in web-browsers.

So... the levels of different tracks should have a reasonably consistent loudness (quiet tracks aren't made louder on Tidal, but loud ones are turned down). Peak levels will vary, but average loudness should be okay.

So you should just need to trim down the output level of Tidal to match with your -20dBFS acoustic reference.
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Re: Reference level using streaming sources

Postby n o i s e f l e ur » Sun Feb 16, 2020 5:28 pm

Here's what Ian Shepherd had to say about it back in 2016 if that's any use to you.

https://productionadvice.co.uk/tidal-loudness/

I don't think there's anything you can do by getting into the guts of the computer if what he said still holds.

Hah! I see Hugh pretty much said the same thing.
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Re: Reference level using streaming sources

Postby Watchmaker » Sun Feb 16, 2020 6:00 pm

Yes, Hugh, that's the rub. "should be" versus "is" - If I set to "force volume" I would expect -14DBFS as you say, but it is significantly greater than that - or focusrite's control is adding massive gain. When I use the native volume controller in Tidal, if I set it about 1/3 of its travel I am about in the range I can live with, but then every track is at a different volume.

Noisefluer - check and double check. no joy.
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Re: Reference level using streaming sources

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Sun Feb 16, 2020 7:02 pm

Hmmm... I'm afraid I don't use Tidal, so I'm not familiar with its setting options.

Are you using a PC or a mac?

A bit of googling suggests the Tidal app's 'force Volume' mode bypasses the volume controls of the output, so I'm not surprised that's ultra-loud!

The other thing I found was that its output is routed through the host computer's audio system by default (the Windows mixer in a PC), so that could be the source of your problems and would be worth checking.

It appears the 'Exclusive Mode' in Tidal bypasses the host mixer and uses the wasapi interface to route audio directly to the output D-A device. I can't find any info on whether it can use an asio interface, though.

So, I'm pretty sure you don't need the 'force volume' option at all. It doesn't seem unreasonable to have to set the Tidal control low to match its output to your reference level. But why the levels then vary so much is odd... What kinds of material are you comparing?

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Re: Reference level using streaming sources

Postby Watchmaker » Sun Feb 16, 2020 10:30 pm

Thanks Hugh, I came to the same place you have.

Hugh Robjohns wrote:Hmmm... I'm afraid I don't use Tidal, so I'm not familiar with its setting options.

Are you using a PC or a mac?
Mac

Hugh Robjohns wrote:The other thing I found was that its output is routed through the host computer's audio system by default (the Windows mixer in a PC), so that could be the source of your problems and would be worth checking.

It appears the 'Exclusive Mode' in Tidal bypasses the host mixer and uses the wasapi interface to route audio directly to the output D-A device. I can't find any info on whether it can use an asio interface, though.
I tried using Audio MIDI Setup (AMS) up to access driver level control but no joy. Focusrite Control is the interface available to me for those attributes. All grey via AMS. In neither f/r control nor AMS can I find a level adjustment.

Hugh Robjohns wrote:So, I'm pretty sure you don't need the 'force volume' option at all. It doesn't seem unreasonable to have to set the Tidal control low to match its output to your reference level. But why the levels then vary so much is odd...

Devs...I swear. There's gotta be a config file somewhere I can get to! :D

Hugh Robjohns wrote:What kinds of material are you comparing?

I noticed the difference when going from Gil Scott Heron to Metric of all things. The Metric (Old World Underground) was crazily louder than the GSH. Hence my quest.

Thanks as always for kind assistance.
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Re: Reference level using streaming sources

Postby CS70 » Mon Feb 17, 2020 2:55 pm

Watchmaker wrote:Yes, Hugh, that's the rub. "should be" versus "is" - If I set to "force volume" I would expect -14DBFS as you say, but it is significantly greater than that - or focusrite's control is adding massive gain. When I use the native volume controller in Tidal, if I set it about 1/3 of its travel I am about in the range I can live with, but then every track is at a different volume.

Noisefluer - check and double check. no joy.

I share with you the impression that the loudness normalization of these streamers isn't really there yet. I use Spotify (not Tidal) but at least in "Normal" mode the perceived loudness among material mastered in different eras, or even across different genres. is very much not similar (at least as perceived by me), and I find that I want to reach for the volume knob quite often.

According to Spotify (https://artists.spotify.com/faq/masteri ... is-it-used) the app ...applies both negative and positive gain (and a limiter in this second case) but my empirical experience is that soft tracks remain noticeably softer than louder ones. Haven't tried the other normalization levels tough.

When it comes to "force volume" above, maybe the misunderstanding is that the target is not -14 dBFS but -14 dB LUFS (loudness unit full scale)?

This latter scale is different as it's supposed to be a perceptive scale - for example 1 dB LUFS of difference is pretty noticeable, while 1dB FS usually isn't. In concrete, it measures an average on a longish time window so can well be, instant by instant, quite far from a -14 dbFS level as shown by your typical DAW meters (which very often are set up to show the single sample level) and even TruePeak (which show the reconstructed wave level at an instant). Some standard DAW meters often have a little RMS averaging built-in, but unless they're LUFS meters, there's no guarantee it'll be the same time integration or even the same time window.

There's quite a few dB LUFS meters - I have one from Youlean which displays a bunch of info all together.
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Re: Reference level using streaming sources

Postby Watchmaker » Mon Feb 17, 2020 3:41 pm

CS70 wrote:When it comes to "force volume" above, maybe the misunderstanding is that the target is not -14 dBFS but -14 dB LUFS (loudness unit full scale)?

Good point, thanks. It's impossible to find detail on the back end of these streaming audio engines unfortunately. At least I have a volume knob and mute in reach. I should be glad I don't get an ad thrown at me when I open the settings page.
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