Tag Archives: RTW

Review: RTW’s Masterclass Mastering Tools

By David Hurd

RTW, based in Cologne, Germany, has been making broadcast-quality metering tools for audio professionals since 1965. Today, we will be looking at its Masterclass Mastering Tools and Loudness Tools plug-ins, which are awesome to have in your arsenal if you are mastering music or audio for broadcast.

These tools operate both as DAW plugins and in standalone mode. I tested them in Magix Sound Forge.

To start, I simply opened Sound Forge and added the RTW plug-in to the Plug-in Chain. RTW’s Masterclass Mastering Tools handle all of the loudness standards for broadcast so that your mix doesn’t get squished while giving you a detailed picture of the dynamics of your mix for use on the Web.

The Masterclass Mastering bundle includes a lot of loudness presets that will conform your audio levels to the standards of other countries. Since the listeners of most of my projects reside in the USA, I used one of the US standard presets.

The CALM Act preset uses a K- weighted metering scale with “True Peak,” “Momentary,” “Short” and “Integrated Total Level” views, as well as a meter that displays your loudness range. I was mostly concerned with the Integrated Level and True Peak displays. The integrated level shows you an average of the perceived loudness over the entire length of the program. It actually improves your dynamic range since it doesn’t count the extremely quiet and loud areas in your mix.

This comes in handy on projects like a home improvement show that I work, where I have mostly dialog except for a loud power tool like an air nailer or chop saw.

As long as the whole program conforms to the average for US standards for Integrated Level, my dialog can be heard while still allowing the power tools to be loud. This allows me to have a robust mix and still keep it legal.

If you have ever tested the difference between Peak and RMS settings on a loudness plug-in, you know that your settings can make a huge difference in the perceived loudness of your audio signal. Usually, loud is good, but it depends on the hardware path that your program will have to take on its way to the listeners.

If your audio is going to be broadcast, your loud mix may be degraded when it is processed for broadcast by the station. If the broadcast output processing limiters think that your mix is too loud they will add compression or limiting of their own. Suddenly, you’ll learn too late that the station’s hardware has squished your wonderful loud and punchy mix into mush.

If your listeners are on the Web, rather than watching a TV broadcast, you will have less of a problem. Most of the Internet broadcast venues, like YouTube and iTunes, are using an automatic volume control that just adjusts the file volume instead of applying any compression or limiting to your audio. The net result is that your listeners will hear your mix as it was intended to be heard.

Digital clipping is an ugly thing, which no one wants any part of. To make sure that my program never clips, I also keep an eye on the True Peak meter. The True Peak meter looks for peaks in your audio program, and here’s the cool part. It actually calculates where your audio wave would have peaked had there been headroom and uses that level. This allows me to easily set an overall level for the whole mix that doesn’t include any clipping distortion.
As you probably know, the phase relationship between your audio channels is very important, so Masterclass Mastering Tools include tools for these as well.

You get a Stereo Correlation Meter, a Surround Sound Analyzer and a RealTime Frequency Analyzer. To top it off, you also get a Vectorscope for monitoring the phase relationship between any pair of audio channels.

It’s not like you couldn’t add a bunch of metering plug-ins to your present system and get roughly the same results. But, why would you want to? The Masterclass Mastering Tools from RTW puts everything that you need together in one easy-to-use package.

Summing Up
If you are on a budget, you may want to look into the Loudness Tools package, which is only $239 dollars. It contains everything the Mastering Tools package offers, except for the Surround Sound Analyzer, RealTime Analyzer and the Vectorscope. The full-blown Mastering Tools package is only $578.91, which gives you everything you need to comply with loudness standards all over the world.

For conforming world-class professional audio, you need to use professional tools, and Masterclass Mastering Tools will easily enable you to get the job done.


David Hurd own David Hurd Productions in Tampa, Florida. He has been reviewing products for over 20 years.

Review: RTW Continuous Loudness Control

By Tarcisio Longobardi

In the past, the most common way to measure the “loudness” of an audio signal was to represent amplitude variations over a certain period of time through a VU meter, a peak meter or a waveform. These tools, however, don’t give us an accurate estimate of how humans will perceive loudness. As a result, it is possible for two audio sources with identical peak values to be perceived as having very different overall loudness.

For example, movie and television show audio usually has a relatively wide dynamic range — characters can go from a whisper to a shout — as opposed to commercials where the audio material is compressed. Consequently, commercials often sound much louder than content — despite both being within specified decibel peak levels. Audiences experience loudness jumps between programs and commercials, and those inconsistencies are the cause of much frustration and complaint.

Solution! LKFS/LUFS
To find a solution to this problem, a new kind of measurement that attempts to quantify our perception of loudness has been introduced.

RTW_Loudness_Tools_menu

The United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies (ITU) introduced LKFS (described on ITU-R BS.1770), which means “Loudness K-weighted relative to Full Scale.” It’s a scale for audio measurement where a K-weighted filter (a filter used to emphasize frequencies that humans are more sensitive to) is applied to audio material to obtain weighted measurements that try to estimate how loud a human listener will perceive a given piece of audio.

The European Broadcast Union (EBU) uses the term LUFS, which stands for “Loudness Units Full Scale.” Despite the different names, LFKS and LUFS are identical. Both terms describe the same phenomenon and, just like LKFS, one unit of LUFS is equal to one dB.

Since 2012 many European countries have adopted EBU R128, which is a set of rules that set maximum levels of audio signals during broadcast based on K-weighted loudness normalization. In 2012 the US Congress approved the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation (CALM) Act. The Act sets rules similar to EBU R128, requiring commercials to have the same average volume as the programs they accompany.

RTW CLC
RTW Continuous Loudness Control (CLC) assures full EBU R128 compliance in a streamlined way, allowing the user to adjust program material to a target loudness value, as well as to an adjustable TruePeak value, with or without correcting the original loudness range.

CLC Works either as a standalone application or as a plug-in inside a digital audio workstation. I have used the standalone AAX version in Pro Tools 11, and the VST3 version in Reaper 5.18 to test the software.

CLC has a very simple user interface. The display area is divided into sections: The “Metering” section is a fully compliant EBU meter. The left side shows the measured loudness numeric values of the input audio; the right side the values of the relative processed signal. In the “Processing” section, the values and their dynamical processing are displayed on graphs. The bar graphs in the middle display the values of the current increase or decrease of loudness and the current percentage reduction of the loudness range.

The circle in the middle shows whether or not the brick wall limiter is engaged and how much of the signal is limited. Finally, at the bottom there are a bypass button, a button for resetting the device and another for accessing the setup menus. The interface has a plain, straightforward look, which makes it easily readable. However, there’s a lot of unused space, which makes it unnecessarily big — taking up valuable screen real estate.

While testing CLC, I found it has a very simple yet functional workflow. Once the processing mode (dynamic, semi-dynamic, static) and target loudness are chosen, maximum LRA e true peak limits are set, and the processor works automatically — granting us loudness normalization of the audio signal. I didn’t have to tweak it any more unless I wanted to change the target values.

During my tests, I was impressed with CLC’s ability to handle loudness variations in a very inaudible way — there was no pumping or brick-walling.

CLC says it accomplishes its dynamic correction by using data acquired by performing realtime analysis of the audio content to make predictions of the future signal progress. I have to admit I was skeptical in the beginning, but the software was surprisingly able to perform dynamic corrections in a very transparent way, even in the first seconds of content by using a technique that combines a look-ahead algorithm with statistical data. Dynamics compression is used only when very abrupt changes in dynamics occur, and adjustments triggered by abrupt volume increases are hardly audible.

CLC was able to recognize natural loudness increases caused by loud passages as a natural part of signal dynamic and thus leave it mostly unaltered. Low-dynamics passages pass through unaltered as well.

Thus CLC works well in its “default mode,” but it is also has presets that suit different kinds of programs (e.g. news and discussion, movies and sports). The presets change different parameters of the user interface and other invisible characteristics of the processor. I found that choosing the right preset is an important part of the workflow because this heavily affects the way the software handles the same situation.

Although these presets are effective, it could be preferable to have more control over the dynamic processing. Once the preset is chosen it is impossible to make any changes. It would be useful to have a plug-in with the possibility to fine-tune parameters and to know exactly what the software does to handle a specific situation.

While CLC is designed for a realtime workflow, it also features an interesting offline operation mode, called “file mode,” in the standalone application. If you use the file mode, the loudness of audio signals coming from a file can be processed. The loaded audio file will be analyzed and processed, according to your settings, and stored as a new audio file. The complete analysis before processing of the audio file will allow a more precise result with regards to the target value.

Oh, and the CLC was just as easy to use in 5.1 as it was in stereo.

Summing Up
CLC has a simple workflow and is extremely user friendly. Its advanced algorithm sounds good, and will help engineers make their programs CALM-compliant in a simple and efficient process. However, its “set and forget” workflow doesn’t allow the user fine control.

Supported platforms are: Windows 7, 8, 10: VST2.4, VST3, RTAS, AAX and standalone; Mac OS X: VST3, RTAS, AAX Native 64, AU and standalone. System requirements are: dual-core 2.5Ghz processor, 4GB RAM, 200MB free hard disk space, iLok USB smart key and iLok account, Internet connection required for activation process. Sample rates are: 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, 96kHz.

Tarcisio Longobardi is a sound engineer at Silver Sound Studios in New York City.

Review: RTW Mastering Tools (Masterclass Plug-Ins Series)

By Diego Jimenez

Loudness metering equipment is always an important ingredient in our work environment at Hobo Audio. The projects we work on always demand different standards and specifications, whether it’s mixing for TV, film or the web. Our goal is to not only provide excellent quality audio, but also a comfortable listening experience to the consumer while meeting all the specifications our clients require.

There are many metering solutions on the market currently, and I believe it’s because you can now use them as plug-ins.

RTW Mastering Tools ($549) is a versatile new plug-in that helps you check the proportion and balance of your mixes. It’s ideal for audio post production work because of the customization and placement you can do of all the meters and analyzers offered. This is essential for our studio because we are constantly switching between mix sessions or mix rooms, so we can assign different settings and parameters depending on the kind of mix that we are doing.

Diego Jimenez in one of Hobo's Pro Tools suites.

Diego Jimenez in one of Hobo’s Pro Tools suites.

RTW also has a variety of peak program metering scales and supports leading global loudness standards, including ITU BS.1770-3/1771-1, ATSC A/85, EBU R128, ARIB, OP-59, AGICOM and the CALM Act.

I like to have numerical meters to check loudness, and RTW offers both numerical and a bar graph. It has a general preferences window, as well as a setting window for each individual meter or analyzer (up to six). RTW has in-depth settings like routing up to eight channels, true peak sensitivity, channel weighting, surround sound analyzer, audio vectorscope and many more. The plug-in also includes multiple choices for the users, such as colors and views of the bars and meters, size and placement as well as total freedom for customization in the plug-in for any of your mix needs.

Putting it to the Test
I used the RTW plug-in for a total of 22 days and in three different scenarios — web, TV and film mixing. I also ran the plug-in in two of our rooms, one housing Pro Tools HDX with 5.1 surround sound capabilities and the other, a stereo room, with Pro Tools HD Native. Both  rooms feature Apple Mac Pros — the surround room offers 32GB of RAM, and the stereo room offers 24GB of RAM.

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The first thing that impressed me about the RTW plug-in was the ability to create and arrange your tools or instruments in the plug-in window. It’s amazing. You can save your presets, and you are good to go. But it would also be good to have a couple of options in case you need a quick start… for instance, something like the true peak meter only, and the numeric values with the short- and long term-loudness numeric values so you can quickly start checking your mix. So, to reiterate, while I do love that they allow the user to customize to their own needs, it would be nice to have one or two presets as a start point.

All the time, and in our templates, we add a meter on sessions —on an aux track with the same input as my full mix recording track to measure the overall mix level. Then I create a dead-end bus for the output. While using the RTW in 5.1 mixes it would have been helpful if  the plug-in could match my surround presets in Pro Tools. Instead I had to create these settings. Also, when mixing in surround, not all the time, I use the meter in other audio and aux tracks with multiple outputs for other reason. This generated another problem because the plug-in bypassed itself when you use multiple outputs in your track.

RTW is a plug-in that you can use not only to measure your mix levels but also to check your mix panning, stereo or surround imaging. As an example, I added RTW to my FX sub and used the surround sound analyzer to check the behavior and dynamics of the sound design mix. I also checked phasing with the Correlator, or the Vectorscope, looking for more creative ways to use the RTW tools.

Another wish would be that RTW allow  the plug-in do multiple outputs. The plug-in also bypassed itself sometimes with just one output when I was using it in a small recording session using Pro Tools HD Native.

RTW_Mastering_Tools_Box

 

The biggest issue, and it was surprising to me that happened more in Pro Tools HDX than in our Pro Tools Native systems, was that the Pro Tools meters response was affected when you use RTW. The cursor slows down a little, and when playing back in a complex session like a TV show or a film project you really can see the latency on the display when playing back. To reiterate once more, this only happened in sessions where I used several plug-ins and had several tracks opened. What caught my attention was that in my Pro Tool CPU and memory meters there’s not much activity happening to create this problem; it’s only happening when I use the plug-in and you can really tell the stress you add in Pro Tools in these large sessions.

Summing Up
Besides some minor issues, RTW’s Mastering Tools are an amazing plug-in. It’s very extensive, and I think if I had it more time to experiment the more I would like it.  As I mentioned before, it’s so loaded with tools that you can not only accurately check your mixes, but the tools can also help explore and guide your creativity.

RTW Mastering Tools are great to have in your studio toolbox. It’s fresh, versatile and user friendly. It helps with the average volume in your mix, and it’s an essential element for all the different kinds of media and specifications mixes need these days.

Diego Jimenez is a sound designer and engineer at New York City’s Hobo Audio. 

Sound developments from NAB 2015: Part 2

Spotlighting Yamaha, JBL 7 Series Monitors, Audio-Technica, RTW and Fairlight.

By Mel Lambert

Continuing our homage to the NAB Show’s core theme of “Crave More,” here is another batch of new developments seen and heard in Las Vegas earlier this week.

Yamaha put on a practical demonstration of the Nuage control surface for use with a variety of digital audio workstations, including Steinberg Nuendo, Cubase and Avid Pro Tools via the HUI control protocol.

Michelle Garuik from LA-based Grind Music & Sound

Michelle Garuik from LA-based Grind Music & Sound

Michelle Garuik from LA-based Grind Music & Sound, which specializes in mixing and sound design for sports TV and documentary film, showed various scenes from recent productions and explained how Nuage Continue reading