Three Compliance Metering Plug-ins

Apr 1, 2013 9:00 AM, Mix, By Brandon Hickey

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Several years back, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), composed of engineers from around the globe, issued recommendation ITU-R BS.1770, which described a new style of loudness metering that would measure long-term average loudness in a clear, simple and easily repeatable way. The European Broadcasting Union used this metering method in the creation of its new broadcasting standard outlined in a document titled: R.128. On December 13, 2011, the Commercial Advertising Loudness Mitigation (C.A.L.M.) Act was signed into law in the United States. This law mandated the FCC to recognize and enforce the ATSC’s interpretation of ITU-R BS.1770, which is a standard titled A/85.

The standard calls for a style of loudness metering that measures long-term average loudness in a clear, simple and easily repeatable way. All programs must adhere to the network standard within +/- 2 dB. To that end, access to compliant metering is certainly useful during recording and mixing, and essential during mastering. In the U.S., the standard (A/85) is based on -24 dBLKFS (long-term, k-weighted, full-scale) while the E.B.U. standard (R.128) uses -23 LUFS (loudness units, full-scale).

TC Electronic LM6 Native Plug-in

TC Electronic LM6 Native Plug-in

TC Electronic LM6 Native Plug-in

One of the first meters designed in accordance with ITU-R BS.1770 was the TC Electronic LM6 meter for use with its System 6000 multichannel digital processing platform. Due to demand from non-6000 users, TC Electronic issued the LM5 TDM plug-in for use with Pro Tools HD only. It was a sleek, screen-space-conscious interpretation of the original LM6, in plug-in form. Now, TC offers the LM6 Native plug-in, which will run as VST, Audio Units, AAX, RTAS and, with the Version 1.2 update, AudioSuite. Interestingly, this new plug-in seems to have been ported over from the 6000 version, instead of being based on the LM5. This being the case, it takes up a bit more screen space than the LM5. On top of that, controls that were originally manipulated by motorized faders on the 6000 Icon remote control are now being controlled by mouse drags, which is sometimes clunky and awkward. That aside, however, this tool has long been popular in its original form for a reason and is welcome in native DAWs.

The most dazzling feature of the LM6 is the large “radar” meter that performs a revolving wipe, showing average loudness over a long duration. It can be set to span as short as a minute or as long as a day. The decibel resolution can be adjusted to cater to the needs of the particular project. I like to set a finer resolution for spoken word that doesn’t vary too greatly in level, but displays a wider range for more dynamic content. Certainly, watching trends and deviations in this way rivals any other system yet devised for long-term loudness metering, especially when referencing the meter during tracking situations. Rather than looking back and forth between Pro Tools waveforms and the plug-in, the radar’s interpretation of the waveform paints a clear enough and meaningful picture on its own.

Wrapped around the radar is a momentary loudness meter, which is particularly useful as a starting point when level-setting and for responding to sudden changes. The user-selected nominal volume is displayed at 12 o’clock on the dial, with the aim being a signal that dances around that mark. Below the radar, to the right and left are two user-selected descriptors. Each can be assigned to one of the following choices: Program Loudness, Sliding Loudness, Loudness Range, Maximum Loudness. These values are listed out to one decimal value, and are displayed cleanly and simply for an easy glance. There are also individual momentary peak meters for each channel of a multichannel mix. These meters display dBTP or “True Peaks.” While these vertical bar-graph meters would be displayed in a separate page of the LM5, they are off to the right side of the radar, as they appeared in the 6000 LM6. This, plus the wide vertically oriented page selection buttons along the left side, make the plug-in unnecessarily wide relative to the LM5’s small page buttons along the plug-in’s bottom.

In addition to the radar page, there is a “stats” page, which displays all pertinent statistics in a clear, concise list. Two additional pages of settings include a variety of available presets that will change the descriptors displayed, nominal level and metering ballistics. Presets include ATSC A/85 compatibility, EBU R.128, the Japanese TR-B32 standards, and presets for CD and cinema mastering based simply on ITU-R BS.1770-3 (the third and most current revision of the ITU recommendation). Besides displaying information in the plug-in itself, a log file is automatically generated upon opening. The LM6 will log the time the plug-in was launched, the duration of audio run through the meter, the peak and average loudness, and when the plug-in was closed. Other compliance meters offer a much greater level of detail in their log files, but certainly this log, if sent along with an audio file, would be sufficient for dialnorm encoding or compliance confirmation. And with that in mind, the included AudioSuite version allows for faster-than-real-time level-checks and logging of premixed files.

The LM6’s CPU usage was minimal, and an instance of the plug-in contributed zero samples of delay. After upgrading to Version 1.2, I experienced an easily remedied quirk worth noting. The automatically created log file will be saved in a destination of your choosing. The default destination after the update, however, was a non-existent folder. Until I either changed the destination or actually created the folder that it was looking for, the plug-in would produce a CPU overload error and pause playback. The only other thing that I found disappointing was the DAW synchronization. The plug-in automatically pauses in sync with the Pro Tools transport and will resume reading when playback is initialized, which is great. But it would be nice if there were an option to automatically reset the meter upon stopping playback and returning to the top. Instead, the radar pauses during a stoppage, but then just picks up where it left off. That said, the LM6 is certainly user friendly and a worthy contender for those looking for an able meter with a broad range of capability.

TC Electronic

Product: LM6 Loudness Meter


Price: $599 direct

Pros: Great-looking visuals.

Cons: Not as streamlined as the LM5. Minimal logging.

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