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Nick Fry | The Farm
Building Loudness into the Mix
- Original article first appeared in TVB Europe
The Farm Applies Advanced Loudness Tools in Post-Production
By Nick Fry
In the television post-production universe, The Farm Group needs no introduction. Founded in 1998, we offer the full spectrum of sound and video post-production, 4K & HD editing, and stereoscopic 3D services from our locations in London, Bristol, Manchester, and Los Angeles. Our group has worked with international producers on many of the world’s most prestigious and highly-rated long-form TV programs. Since the majority of these programs are distributed in major media markets around the globe, loudness compliance has become a primary factor in our audio work.
With the CALM Act now in effect in the U.S. and new loudness standards spreading across Europe and the rest of the world, the reality of having to monitor and manage audio loudness in addition to myriad other production tasks has sunk in. It became critical to adopt tools and plug-ins that could provide effective loudness control without disrupting our workflows or the creative process that’s so important for a good audio mix. After a few trials and errors, we arrived at a winning solution: the NUGEN Audio Loudness Toolkit, consisting of the VisLM real-time visual loudness metering tool, LM-Correct for offline analysis and correction, and ISL for standard-compliant limiting.
Our earlier experience with loudness meters prior to adopting the NUGEN Audio suite convinced us that we needed a real-time metering solution that could offer total reliability with an easy-to read visual display. After testing meters from many different vendors, we chose VisLM, a visual loudness metering plug-in that provides detailed and objective loudness measurement, history, and logging facilities in compliance with ITU, ATSC, and EBU standards. Also, VisLM is seamlessly compatible with our new ProTools 11 workflow which enables us to do a faster-than-real-time bounce-down to correct levels. VisLM is now our predominant loudness metering tool, with 20 licenses installed in The Farm’s audio operation.
Most important, VisLM offers a loudness metering solution that helps us deliver compliant audio without interfering with our creative process. Some of the loudness meters in our previous experience were file-based, which meant we had to play the entire program out in advance to monitor and adjust loudness – taking away valuable time we needed for the creative process. As a real-time meter, VisLM is not only reliable but very easy to use, with a highly intuitive graphical display that lets our audio mixers see instantly whether loudness levels are within acceptable limits. That means we can keep an eye on loudness parameters while we’re creating the mix. At The Farm, all of our audio engineers are highly experienced, and their ears provide a reliable gauge of whether or not the mix is compliant; that is, within - 24 LKFS/-23 LUFS target value that most loudness standards specify. They just need to glance at the VisLM screen occasionally to confirm that they’re on target.
We’ve also purchased a license of NUGEN Audio’s LM-Correct as a backup in case the mix needs additional manual correction after the fact. Since time is obviously of the essence after the mixing process, LM-Correct offers faster-than-real-time and intuitive corrections and an automatic method of rapidly conforming the audio to the loudness standards. We don’t use LM-Correct often, since VisLM is such an ideal tool for getting loudness right during post-production; still, it’s a great tool to have if we need it. We’re also in the testing stage with ISL, NUGEN Audio’s inter-sample true-peak limiter, which offers great promise for helping us tighten up true-peak limits of audio output.
Loudness compliance is a fairly new concept for post-production professionals everywhere, and The Farm is no exception. NUGEN Audio’s loudness plug-ins have played a significant role in getting us here, and we also appreciate how approachable the NUGEN Audio team has been and how much they’ve helped us understand the ins and outs of loudness measurement and correction.
NUGEN Audio’s philosophy of loudness compliance is one that we wholeheartedly share – that the best solution, and the one that offers the most creative freedom, is one that enables engineers to make the mix loudness-compliant during post-production. With VisLM, loudness just becomes one more factor to be considered alongside other audio variables. We believe we’re on the leading edge of delivering loudness-compliant audio that is satisfying to both consumers and creative professionals.
BAFTA winner Nick Fry is senior dubbing mixer for The Farm, an international post-production agency based in London.
Mix & Mastering