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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Loundess war - finally over ???

Hi folks.

Anybody heard about EBU R128??

To be honest. I didn't until recencly.

I accidently stepped  over EBU R128 (EBU=European Broadcasting Union, R128=Recommendation 128) while looking for a better ReplayGain solution.

R128 finally defines a standard how loudness should be measured and applied in an acceptable way.

The standard was based on  ITU BS.1770 ( International Telecommunications Union) released in 2006.
ITU BS.1770  has been widely applied in the broadcasting scene.
EBU R128  significantly enhanced that standard by a function called gating (You'll learn more about it later on.)  The original ITU BS.1770 has been updated to ITU BS.1770-3 by now and includes the gating function as proposed by EBU R128.

Not only us - audio geeks - have a huge problem with low quality music and messup of audio data due to "Loudness War" - NO - broadcasters face the same challenge on a daily basis.  They can not sit down and change the volume on every piece they are broadcasting.

They have to normalize audio of much more media sources, such as speach, film, commercials, podcasts, audio asf. And by doing so, they're compressing and messing with  the audio data even further.






The competing !?!?!?  ReplayGain quasi standard (RG) (in 2001 proposed as standard)  never made it into the "Standards".

There's been a big black hole for decades. RG was the first try to fight the Loudness War.

It's not just me, who experienced that RG didn't really cut it.  It just won't work properlym, if you run all
kind of genres and recordings.  ITU BS1770 -- introduced in 2006 -- also had still major weaknesses.
If you still need your volume control with every album change the whole thing won't be acceptable.

We - as normal users - are still forced to use volume control with every other piece we're playing.


Still - RG was the pretty much only approach in our audio area to normalize audio in a more intelligent way then just applying simple peak normalization or volume control.


It's really unbelievably that it took 9 further years to come up with something - potentially - better.


EBU R128 is a pretty  new standard. It's been introduced in 2010 (R128-1) and first revised in 2011 (R128-2) - a 3rd revision it's on its way - though just some minor changes have bee applied.. 

The new standard promises to get you away from  Peak Normalization (which usually leads to further compression of already overcompressed material) - thus even worse quality - of audio material.

In Europe some of the major TV channels are in the process of introducing the R128-2 standard. It's been used now since the beginning of 2012 by some major broadcasters (e.g. ARD/RTL).

Audio producers though are still releasing overcompressed audio. They probably havn't heard about R128 the new standard either or they are just not interested following that standard.

The highly regarded audio mastering specialist Bob Katz  was also involved in the discussions around the new standard.


I highly recommend to watch and listen to  Florian Camerer presenting the new standard. You'll also learn about associated challenges and background.






NOTE:
My first impression after watching it:  I don't think that EBU R128 can cover all kind of scenarios.  I wouldn't call it the end of discussion. As ususal - in Audio we're challenged  to always go for the best compromise.
What I mean - above film IMO got some marketing flavor to it. ;)
Whatsover - that new standard for sure is a big step into the right direction -- No question about it.
A standard is better then NO standard. It might stop the loudness anarchie out their.
 


The real problem for us audio folks though  is, that most of the audio material around is already completely messed up. Loudness varies with every album. Compression on "commercial" CDs is extremely high, thus audio is messed up forever.  And R128 won't cure that.

To get away from the mess the studios and producers have to allign to the new standard first  and apply it to their new productions. They could also re-release stuff following that standard - the audio quality and user experience will benefit.

Option: Every re-lease should then also be done in 24bit resolution. A 24bit  flac is not any larger than a 16bit flac, but offers a much wider dynamic range.



NOW. I can't save the (audio) world. And I don't want to. It's messed up already.

My main intention and goal for now is to not touch my volume control anymore.

That's what Florian promised in the video above.  And that has to be proven.


How do we get the parameter values and where to put them??


The way it's done is that certain apps analyse the audio data according to RG or EBU R128.
The audio data gets analysed based on the underlying algorithms.  And finally
the calculated gain resp. attenuation adjustment value in db of your piece of audio or album gets applied.
Basically you'll get an automated volume control on a per track resp. album basis.

These values can be written into tags of audio files such as flac and mp3.
While playing your pieces, the application in charge will apply the additional gain/attenuation to the track.

ADVISE: Never apply those values directly to your audio data, to make the
               adjustment permanent!!!
               Always use the tags and use players, which can read out the tags and
               do the conversion in realtime!!!
                 

Now, we just need a tool that figure out those parameter values and gets them  applied to our tags. 


Guess what. There are tools out there. Once you look for EBU R128 you'll find them.


Peter Belkner has been one of the first ones, who supplied a tool (freeware/opensource) for analysing
audio data according to EBU R128 and ReplayGain.

The tool is called r128gain . There are Windows and Linux Versions (32/64bit)
with GUI and as command line (CLI) versions. It's still an "Alpha" version though.
There are still some flaws in the handling, but the tag writing and value calculation seem to be working.
I havn't checked the GUI versions. These are supposed to run more stable then the CLI version.

What the tool does. The tool calculates and writes the gain/attenuation values into the known ReplayGain tags (album/track/peak). (Make sure you've done a backup of your originals!!!) 

A (support-)thread about r128gain you'll find at HydrogeneAudio forums .


I made some improvement proposals and issued some bug reports on the CLI version over at HA.
As soon as I see some progress over there I'll write up a HOW-TO.

Meanwhile I stepped over a 2nd NONFREE option.

You'll also find a EBU R128 Normalize plugin in dbPoweramp Reference 14.0 - Converter tool.
But for now that one changes your audio data and NOT the RG tags!!  Stay away from it for now.
Though I just (10-12-2012) been told by Spoon ( the man behind dbPA) that he'll release the RG tag version soon, maybe in a couple of weeks from now.


Afaik Foobar also offers an EBU R128 plugin.


I'll let you know how EBU R128 works in my setup. I'd also appreciate if you could post your experiences with EBU R128.


Stay Tuned.

Cheers


LINKS:

EBU - Recommendation 128 (2011)

Florian Camerer - On the Way to Loudness Nirvana

















1 comment:

  1. Meines Wissens nach ist R128 eher für die Produktionsseite bzw. den Broadcastbereich interessant, nicht zum Einsatz im Privatbereich.
    Das Ziel sollte doch sein, das der Endverbraucher Hörfunk, Fernsehen und Musik in einheitlicher Lautstärke bekommt, ohne sich selber noch um Anpassung und Ausgleich zu kümmern.
    Seit der Einführung von R128 haben sich übrigens die Zuschauerbeschwerden über den Ton im Fernsehen (was 80 Prozent der Kritik ausmacht, gefolgt von ca. 10 Prozent Kritik an der Kleidung der Moderatoren :)) um fast 90 Prozent reduziert.

    Gruss Michael

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