November 25, 2014 at 10:13AM

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Audio levels - how do you make sure everyone hears what you're hearing?

Hi,

What's the best way to avoid the frustration that you feel when you realize that your piece sounds completely different on nearly every single computer/setup that you watch it on? In other words, the sound levels are off compared to what you've been hearing whilst editing (and as you've been working hard on getting the levels right, this is frustrating).

Below is my particular case study - but I can imagine that this can happen all the time (or maybe it's just me!). It happens with the actual look of the video as well but I'd just like to talk about the audio here. In my case, the main audio is always fine (voices/interviews) but the music and other sound effects seem to take a hit on various different setups.

How do you guys make sure your piece works across all sorts of different setups and scenarios? Is there a simple trick I'm missing? Do I need to watch out for system settings that might be affecting what I hear on my particular computer (I'm on PPro CS6 and Windows 7)? Do I need to get different headphones or do I just need to play it on as many different computers/setups as I can?

I've had this experience recently and the work isn't even complex. In this case, it was basically corporate interviews with some nice music and the occasional sound effect underneath - so the main thing is to balance the voice and the music (make sure you can hear the person well but also make sure the music has an effect).

I edited it using Audio-Technica ATH-M50X headphones in PremierePro CS6 and of course, it sounded great to me.

The video was then played on a bigish screen (where they'd normally just be showing PowerPoint presentation so it definitely wasn't adjusted beforehand or anything fancy like that). You could understand everything (most important) but a lot of the music basically disappeared and I feel that diminished the effect somewhat (frustrating for me).

I'm now trying to fix the levels - so I upped the music a bit. It sounds good with the Audio-Technica and ok using Sennheiser HD 201. So I listened to it on a MacBook (inbuilt loudspeakers) and most of the music is barely audible (again). This is especially the case for the more subtle music (which makes sense). Some of the sound effects also aren't audible but the but the interview audio is fine. The video will be made available to the staff of the company and they'll play it on who knows what kind of setups (I suppose Windows and basic headphones). I'll get my hands on the headphones they might be using but what I really want is a one size fits all solution!!!

Your opinions/views/experience would be greatly appreciated!

6 Comments

You can only use headphones to judge the quality of your audio if your audience will also be listening through headphones, otherwise you won't get a reliable reference for the sound quality of your audio.

Audio is normally judged through a good pair of studio monitors (the KRK Rokit 5 G3 are good starter monitors) and also a "bad" or low-fi pair of studio monitors (any kind of low cost "single" speaker monitors will do) which will give you a more accurate impression of how your audio will sound when played back through speakers. (most people don't listen through headphones)

Ideally you want to aim for sound that works for both good quality speakers and the bad low-fi quality speakers, which takes practice to learn how to achieve this.

How loud your audio peaks will depend on where it is going to be shown, most broadcasters have specific standards that you have to meet to achieve acceptable sound.

For the web and general playback environments I always aim to have my audio peak at -6 dB RMS, which usually guarantees clean playback on most computer systems and still sounds loud enough for the average person.

November 25, 2014 at 11:01AM, Edited November 25, 11:01AM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
30589

My studio, VSO Productions, speciaizes in mixing audio for broadcast TV and indie films and documentaries. My best piece of advice is get a subwoofer! I don't know how many clients have told me they have really clean audio and my job is going to be easy, only to discover thumps, p-pops and rumble that don't show up on computer or bookshelf speakers. I learned the hard way how loud those sounds can be on the first film I ever mixed, no subwoofer, when it was played in a theater with a proper subwoofer. I slid under the seat real quick. After that I added a subwoofer to my system and tuned it for accurate playback.
A reason I've heard for not needing my studio is, "it's only going to be online, so you won't hear that stuff on computer speakers." Wrong, in this day and age more and more people watch online content on their home theater systems, which ususally means a subwoofer.
That being said, once I have a mix on my system I play it back on my regular home system and then I review it with the client on the system they normally use for reference. Between the three we can smooth out enough that it sounds good on all systems.

January 17, 2015 at 4:42PM

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Vince Sanchez
Producer/Editor
81

Sophia - I hear your pain. The reality is, at our level, no two venues are the same. Guy (your first commenter) always has others' interests in mind, and I see he's offered some sage wisdom. Don't give up!

August 9, 2015 at 1:36PM

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Sophia Hi,
at first it was pretty difficult for me to figure it out. But here my clients are really not interested in those sound which we take the pain to bring up. Clients are interested to hear what they want the audience to hear about their product or company etc.
I make corporate, bikes and industrial videos and stills. I score my background music with loops. For the corporate video I just try to make sure the interviews and voice over are clear. My painfully composed music goes for a toss. Even in case of video, we shoot them in full HD and do the time consuming rendering for best picture quality. But at the end of the day the client is going to upload that video on Youtube or their website or copy that to their smart phones for quick presentation to their client.
So, stay cool. Try to figure out a way for your cases. I just trust my headphones (Sennheiser HD202 and Sony MDR XB400) and deliver what pleases the client more. I render two files one for my client and one for my portfolio with my stuffs.
Yes, don't give up!

August 12, 2015 at 1:53PM

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Dibyendu Joardar
Director of Photography
699

Check out this video. The guy really explains how its done. https://m.youtube.com/watch?list=WL&v=X23yl_Mu520

January 16, 2016 at 7:37PM

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Along with what's already been said, make sure you're using your meters so that you have an idea of where each audio track sits in the mix. If you can't meter each individual audio track, solo them individually to check their output level. You'll also have to test playback on a variety of output formats (home theater, computer speakers, etc.), that's just the nature of the beast.

January 18, 2016 at 3:28PM

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