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.
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.