Tag Archives: Nugen Audio

Review: Nugen Audio’s VisLM2 loudness meter plugin

By Ron DiCesare

In 2010, President Obama signed the CALM Act (Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation) regulating the audio levels of TV commercials. At that time, I had many “laypeople” complain to me how commercials were often so much louder than the TV programs. Over the past 10 years, I have seen the rise of audio meter plugins to meet the requirements of the CALM Act, resulting in reducing this complaint dramatically.

A lot has changed since the 2010 FCC mandate of -24LKFS +/-2db. LKFS was the scale name at the time, but we will get into this more later. Today, we have countless viewing options such as cable networks, a large variety of streaming services, the internet and movie theaters utilizing 7.1 or Dolby Atmos. Add to that, new metering standards such as True Peak and you have the likelihood of confusing and possibly even conflicting audio standards.

Nugen Audio has updated its VisLM for addressing today’s complex world of audio levels and audio metering. The VisLM2 is a Mac and Windows plugin compatible with Avid Pro Tools and any DAW that uses RTAS, AU, AAX, VST and VST3. It can also be installed as a standalone application for Windows and OSX. By using its many presets, Loudness History Mode and countless parameters to view and customize, the VisLM2 can help an audio mixer monitor a mix to see when their programs are in and out of audio level spec using a variety of features.

VisLM2

The Basics
The first thing I needed to see was how it handled the 2010 audio standard of -24LKFS, now known as LUFS. LKFS (Loudness K-weighted relative to Full Scale) was the term used in the United States. LUFS (Loudness Units relative to Full Scale) was the term used in Europe. The difference is in name only, and the audio level measurement is identical. Now all audio metering plugins use LUFS, including the VisLM2.

I work mostly on TV commercials, so it was pretty easy for me to fire up the VisLM2 and get my LUFS reading right away. Accessing the US audio standard dictated by the CALM Act is simple if you know the preset name for it: ITU-R B.S. 1770-4. I know, not a name that rolls off the tongue, but it is the current spec. The VisLM2 has four presets of ITU-R B.S. 1770 — revision 01, 02, 03 and the current revision 04. Accessing the presets is easy, once you realize that they are not in the preset section of the plugin as one might think. Presets are located in the options section of the meter.

While this was my first time using anything from Nugen Audio, I was immediately able to run my 30-second TV commercial and get my LUFS reading. The preset gave me a few important default readings to view while mixing. There are three numeric displays that show Short-Term, Loudness Range and Integrated, which is how the average loudness is determined for most audio level specs. There are two meters that show Momentary and Short-Term levels, which are helpful when trying to pinpoint any section that could be putting your mix out of audio spec. The difference is that Momentary is used for short bursts, such as an impact or gun shot, while Short-Term is used for the last three-second “window” of your mix. Knowing the difference between the two readings is important. Whether you work on short- or long-format mixes, knowing how to interpret both Momentary and Short-Term readings is very helpful in determining where trouble spots might be.

Have We Outgrown LUFS?
Most, if not all, deliverables now specify a True Peak reading. True Peak has slowly but firmly crept its way into audio spec and it can be confusing. For US TV broadcast, True Peak spec can range as high as -2dBTP and as low as -6dBTP, but I have seen it spec out even lower at -8dBTP for some of my clients. That means a TV network can reject or “bounce back” any TV programming or commercial that exceeds its LUFS spec, its True Peak spec or both.

VisLM2

In most cases, LUFS and True Peak readings work well together. I find that -24LUFS Integrated gives a mixer plenty of headroom for staying below the True Peak maximum. However, a few factors can work against you. The higher the LUFS Integrated spec (say, for an internet project) and/or the lower the True Peak spec (say, for a major TV network), the more difficult you might find it to manage both readings. For anyone like me — who often has a client watching over my shoulder telling me to make the booms and impacts louder — you always want to make sure you are not going to have a problem keeping your mix within spec for both measurements. This is where the VisLM2 can help you work within both True Peak and LUFS standards simultaneously.

To do that using the VisLM2, let’s first understand the difference between True Peak and LUFS. Integrated LUFS is an average reading over the duration of the program material. Whether the program material is 15 seconds or two hours long, hitting -24LUFS Integrated, for example, is always the average reading over time. That means a 10-second loud segment in a two-hour program could be much louder than a 10-second loud segment in a 15-second commercial. That same loud 10 seconds can practically be averaged out of existence during a two-hour period with LUFS Integrated. Flawed logic? Possibly. Is that why TV networks are requiring True Peak? Well, maybe yes, maybe no.

True Peak is forever. Once the highest True Peak is detected, it will remain as the final True Peak reading for the entire length of the program material. That means the loud segment at the last five minutes of a two-hour program will dictate the True Peak reading of the entire mix. Let’s say you have a two-hour show with dialogue only. In the final minute of the show, a single loud gunshot is heard. That one-second gunshot will determine the other one hour, 59 minutes, and 59 seconds of the program’s True Peak audio level. Flawed logic? I can see it could be. Spotify’s recommended levels are -14LUFS and -2dBTP. That gives you a much smaller range for dynamics compared to others such as network TV.

VisLM2

Here’s where the VisLM2 really excels. For those new to Nugen Audio, the clear stand out for me is the detailed and large history graph display known as Loudness History Mode. It is a realtime updating and moving display of the mix levels. What it shows is up to you. There are multiple tabs to choose from, such as Integrated, True Peak, Short-Term, Momentary, Variance, Flags and Alerts, to name a few. Selecting any of these tabs will result in showing, or not showing, the corresponding line along the timeline of the history graph as the audio plays.

When any of the VisLM2’s presets are selected, there are a whole host of parameters that come along with it. All are customizable, but I like to start with the defaults. My thinking is that the default values were chosen for a reason, and I always want to know what that reason is before I start customizing anything.

For example, the target for the preset of ITU-R B.S. 1770-4 is -24LUFS Integrated and -2dBTP. By default, both will show on the history graph. The history graph will also show default over and under audio levels based on the alerts you have selected in the form of min and max LUFS. But, much to my surprise, the default alert max was not what I expected. It wasn’t -24LUFS, which seemed to be the logical choice to me. It was 4dB higher at -20LUFS, which is 2dB above the +/-2dB tolerance. That’s because these min and max alert values are not for Integrated or average loudness as I had originally thought. These values are for Short-Term loudness. The history graph lines with its corresponding min and max alerts are a visual cue to let the mixer know if he or she is in the right ballpark. Now this is not a hard and fast rule. Simply put, if your short-term value stays somewhere between -20 and -28LUFS throughout most of an entire project, then you have a good chance of meeting your target of -24LUFS for the overall integrated measurement. That is why the value range is often set up as a “green” zone on the loudness display.

VisLM2

The folks at Nugen point out that it isn’t practically possible to set up an alert or “red zone” for integrated loudness because this value is measured over the entire program. For that, you have to simply view the main reading of your Integrated loudness. Even so, I will know if I am getting there or not by viewing my history graph while working. Compare that to the impractical approach of running the entire mix before having any idea of where you are going to net out. The VisLM2 max and min alerts help keep you working within audio spec right from the start.

Another nice feature about the large history graph window is the Macro tab. Selecting the Macro feature will give you the ability to move back and forth anywhere along the duration of your mix displayed in the Loudness History Mode. That way you can check for problem spots long after they have happened. Easily accessing any part of the audio level display within the history graph is essential. Say you have a trouble spot somewhere within a 30-minute program; select the Macro feature and scroll through the history graph to spot any overages. If an overage turns out to be at, say, eight minutes in, then cue up your DAW to that same eight-minute mark to address changes in your mix.

Another helpful feature designed for this same purpose is the use of flags. Flags can be added anywhere in your history graph while the audio is running. Again, this can be helpful for spotting, or flagging, any problem spots. For example, you can flag a loud action scene in an otherwise quiet dialogue-driven program that you know will be tricky to balance properly. Once flagged, you will have the ability to quickly cue up your history graph to work with that section. Both the Macro and Flag functions are aided by tape-machine-like controls for cueing up the Loudness History Mode display to any problem spots you might want to view.

Presets, Presets, Presets
The VisLM2 comes with 34 presets for selecting what loudness spec you are working with. Here is where I need to rely on the knowledge of Nugen Audio to get me going in the right direction. I do not know all of the specs for all of the networks, formats and countries. I would venture a guess that very few audio mixers do either. So I was not surprised when I saw many presets that I was not familiar with. Common presets in addition to ITU-R B.S. 1770 are six versions of EBU R128 for European broadcast and two Netflix presets (stereo and 5.1), which we will dive into later on. The manual does its best to describe some of the presets, but it falls short. The descriptions lack any kind of real-world language, only techno-garble. I have no idea what AGCOM 219/9/CSP LU is and, after reading the manual, I still don’t! I hope a better source of what’s what regarding each preset will become available sometime soon.

MasterCheck

But why no preset for Internet audio level spec? Could mixing for AGCOM 219/9/CSP LU be even more popular than mixing for the Internet? Unlikel. So let’s follow Nugen’s logic here. I have always been in the -18LUFS range for Internet only mixes. However, ask 10 different mixers and you will likely get 10 different answers. That is why there is not an Internet preset included with the VisLM2 as I had hoped. Even so, Nugen offers its MasterCheck plugin for other platforms such as Spotify and YouTube. MasterCheck is something I have been hoping for, and it would be the perfect companion to the VisLM2.

The folks at Nugen have pointed out a very important difference between broadcast TV and many Internet platforms: Most of the streaming services (YouTube, Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music, etc.) will perform their own loudness normalization after the audio is submitted. They do not expect audio engineers to mix to their standards. In contrast, Netflix and most TV networks will expect mixers to submit audio that already meets their loudness standards. VisLM2 is aimed more toward engineers who are mixing for platforms in the second category.

Streaming Services… the Wild West?
Streaming services are the new frontier, at least to me. I would call it the Wild West by comparison to broadcast TV. With so many streaming services popping up, particularly “off-brand” services, I would ask if we have gone back in time to the loudness wars of the late 2000s. Many streaming services do have an audio level spec, but I don’t know of any consensus between them like with network TV.

That aside, one of the most popular streaming services is Netflix. So let’s look at the VisLM2’s Netflix preset in detail. Netflix is slightly different from broadcast TV because its spec is based on dialogue. In addition to -2dTP, Netflix has an LUFS spec of -27 +/- 2dB Integrated Dialogue. That means the dialogue level is averaged out over time, rather than using all program material like music and sound effects. Remember my gunshot example? Netflix’s spec is more forgiving of that mixing scenario. This can lead to more dynamic or more cinematic mixes, which I can see as a nice advantage when mixing.

Netflix currently supports Dolby Atmos on selected titles, but word on the street is that Netflix deliverables will be requiring Atmos for all titles. I have not confirmed this, but I can only hope it will be backward-compatible for non-Atmos mixes. I was lucky enough to speak directly with Tomlinson Holman of THX fame (Tomlinson Holman eXperiment) about his 10.2 format that included height long before Atmos was available. In the case of 10.2, Holman said it was possible to deliver a single mono channel audio mix in 10.2 by simply leaving all other channels empty. I can only hope this is the same for Netflix’s Atmos deliverables so you can simply add or subtract the amount of channels needed when you are outputting your final mix. Regardless, we can surely look to Nugen Audio to keep us updated with its Netflix preset in the VisLM2 should this become a reality.

True Peak within VisLM2

VisLM Updates
For anyone familiar with the original version of the VisLM, there are three updates that are worth looking at. First is the ability to resize and select what shows in the display. That helps with keeping the window active on your screen as you are working. It can be a small window so it doesn’t interfere with your other operations. Or you can choose to show only one value, such as Integrated, to keep things really small. On the flip side, you can expand the display to fill the screen when you really need to get the microscope out. This is very helpful with the history graph for spotting any trouble spots. The detail displayed in the Loudness History Mode is by far the most helpful thing I have experienced using the VisLM2.

Next is the ability to display both LUFS and True Peak meters simultaneously. Before, it was one or the other and now it is both. Simply select the + icon between the two meters. With the importance of True Peak, having that value visible at all times is extremely valuable.

Third is the ability to “punch in,” as I call it, to update your Integrated reading while you are working. Let’s say you have your overall Integrated reading, and you see one section that is making you go over. You can adjust your levels on your DAW as you normally would and then simply “punch in” that one section to calculate the new Integrated reading. Imagine how much time you save by not having to run a one-hour show every time you want to update your Integrated reading. In fact, this “punch in” feature is actually the VisLM2 constantly updating itself. This is just another example of how the VisLM2 helps keep you working within audio spec right from the start.

Multi-Channel Audio Mixing
The one area I can’t test the VisLM2 on is multi-channel audio, such as 5.1 and Dolby Atmos. I work mostly on TV commercials, Internet programming, jazz records and the occasional indie film. So my world is all good old-fashioned stereo. Even so, the VisLM2 can measure 5.1, 7.1, and 7.1.2, which is the channel count for Dolby Atmos bed tracks. For anyone who works in multi-channel audio, the VisLM2 will measure and display audio levels just as I have described it working in stereo.

Summing Up
With the changing landscape of TV networks, streaming services and music-only platforms, the resulting deliverables have opened up the flood gates of audio specs like never before. Long gone are the days of -24LUFS being the one and only number you need to know.

To help manage today’s complicated and varied amount of deliverables along with the audio spec to go with it, Nugen Audio’s VisLM2 absolutely delivers.


Ron DiCesare is a NYC-based freelance audio mixer and sound designer. His work can be heard on national TV campaigns, Vice and the Viceland TV network. He is also featured in the doc “Sing You A Brand New Song” talking about the making of Coleman Mellett’s record album, “Life Goes On.”

Nugen Audio updates Sigmod software plugin

At AES 2019, Nugen Audio unveiled the latest update for its Sigmod software plugin. The update allows Sigmod to host multiple instances of the Insert module and incorporates hosting support for third-party VST2 and AU plugins. This enables users to access a wider pool of plugins – particularly in DAWs that support limited plugin formats – and increases access for creative routing options such as mid/side processing for any stereo or multi-mono plugin.

The company has also implemented a wet/dry control for the Insert module. This provides even further flexibility, allowing users to blend their effected signal with the original sound without the use of an AUX send. Improved navigation controls for third-party plugins, including search bar functionality, enable users to filter by name and increase efficiency and ease of use.

Nugen’s Sigmod software provides custom, simple signal architecture with 12 single-process modules to enhance plugin and DAW functionality. It offers creative new ways to work by allowing users to easily insert, swap and move modules to fit to the correction, conversion and tweaking of audio. Included among the available modules are Mid/side, Protect, Tap, Crossover, Insert (now with VST2/3 and AU), Mute/Solo, Trim, Switch, DC Off-Set, Mono, Phase and Delay.

Several of these modules offer easy access to functionality that is often either missing or difficult to access in certain DAWs. The software is available in AAX, VST2/3, AU and AudioSuite formats in both 32- and 64-bit versions and is available on both Mac and Windows OS.

Review: Nugen Audio’s Halo Upmixer

By Robin Shore

Upmixing is nothing new. The basic goal is to take stereo audio and convert it to higher channel count formats (5.1, 7.1, etc.) that can meet surround sound delivery requirements. The most common use case for this is when needing to use stereo music tracks in a surround sound mix for film or television.

Various plug-ins exist for this task, and the results run the gamut from excellent to lackluster. In terms of sonic quality Nugen Audio’s new Halo Upmixer plug-in falls firmly on the excellent side of this range. It creates a nice enveloping surround field, while staying true to the original stereo mix, and it doesn’t seem to rely on any weird reverb or delay effects that you sometimes find in other upmix plug-ins.

NUGEN Audio Halo Upmix - IO panel

What really sets Halo apart is its well-thought-out design, and the high level of control it offers in sculpting the surround environment.

Digging In
At the top of the plug-in window is a dropdown for selecting the channel configuration of the upmix — you can select any standard format from LCR up to 7.1. The centerpiece of Halo is a large circular scope that gives a visual representation of the location and intensity of the upmixed sound. Icons representing each speaker surround the scope, and can be clicked on to solo and mute individual channels.

Several arcs around the perimeter of the scope provide controls for steering the upmix. The Fade arcs around the scope will adjust how much signal is sent to the rear surround channels, while the Divergence arc at the top of the scope adjusts the spread between the mono center and front stereo speakers. On the left side of the scope is a grid representing diffusion. Increasing the amount of diffusion spreads the sound more evenly throughout the surround field, creating a less directionally focused upmix. Lower values of diffusion give a more detailed sound, with greater definition between the front and rear.

The LFE channel in the upmix can be handled in two ways. The “normal” LFE mode in Halo will add additional content into the LFE channels based on low frequencies in the original source. This is nice for adding a little extra oomph to the mix and it also preserves the LFE information when downmixing back to stereo.

For those that are worried about adding too much additional bass into the upmix, the “Split” LFE mode works more like a traditional crossover, siphoning off low frequencies into the LFE without leaving them in the full range channels.

NUGEN Audio Halo Upmix - 5_1 main view - using colour to determine energy source

An Easy And Nuanced UI
The layout and controls in Halo are probably the best of I’ve ever seen in this sort of plug-in. Moving the Fade and Divergence arcs around the circle feels very smooth and intuitive, almost like gesturing on a touchscreen, and the position of the arcs along the edge of the scope seems to correspond really well with what I hear through the speakers.

New users should have no problem quickly wrapping their heads around the basic controls. The diffusion is an especially nice touch as it allows you to very quickly alter the character of the upmix without drastically changing the overall balance between front, rear and center. Typically, I’ve found that leaving the diffusion somewhere on the higher end gives a nice even feel, but for times when I want the upmix to have a little more punch, dragging the diffusion down can really add a lot.

Of course, digging a little deeper reveals some more nuanced controls that may take some more time to master. Below the scope are controls for a shelf filter which, combined with higher levels of diffusion, can be used to dull the surround speakers without decreasing their overall level. This ensures that sharp transients in the rear don’t pop out too much and distract the audience’s attention from the screen in front of them.

The Center window focuses only on the front speakers and gives you some fine control on how the mono center channel is derived and played back. An I/O window acts like a mixer, allowing you to adjust input level of the stereo source, as well levels for each individual channel in the upmix. The settings window provides a high level of customization for the appearance and behavior of the plug-in. One of my favorite things here is the ability to assign different colors for each channel in the surround scope, which aside from creating a really neat looking display, gives a nice clear visual representation of what’s happening with the upmix.

NUGEN Audio Halo Upmix - IO panel       NUGEN Audio Halo Upmix - 7_1 main view

Playback
One of the most important considerations in an upmix tool is how it will all sound once everything is folded down for playback from televisions and portable devices, and Halo really shines here. Less savvy upmixing can cause phasing and other issues when converted back to stereo, so it’s important to be able to compare as you are working.

A monitoring section at the bottom of the plug-in allows you to switch between listening to the original source audio, the upmixed version and a stereo downmix so you can be certain that your mixing is folding down correctly. If that’s not enough, hitting the “Exact” button will guarantee that the downmixed version matches the stereo version completely, by disabling certain parameters that might affect the downmix. All of this can be done as you’re listening in realtime, allowing for fast and easy A-B comparisons.

Summing Up
Nugen has really put out a fine well-thought-out product with the Halo upmixer. It’s at once simple to operate and incredibly tweakable, giving lots of attention to important technical considerations. Above all it sounds great. For mixers who often find themselves having to fit two channel music into a multi-channel mix you’ll be hard pressed to find a nicer solution than this.

Halo Upmixer retails for $499 and is available in AAX, AU, VST2 and VST3 formats.

Robin Shore is a co-owner and audio post pro at SilverSound Studios in New York City.

Nugen offering toolset for stereo image enhancement, manipulation 

Leeds, England — Nugen Audio, creator of tools for audio pros, today announced the launch of Stereopack, a complete toolset for stereo image enhancement and manipulation including expansion, positioning, and low-frequency control. Stereopack is designed to offer maximum flexibility in a highly accessible and configurable combination of powerful tools.

“Stereopack gives audio professionals everything they need to create the big sound they’re striving for, rapidly and intuitively,” said Jon Schorah, creative director, Nugen Audio (www.nugenaudio.com). “They can gain absolute control of their stereo panorama with no unwanted artifacts and the assurance of superb mono compatibility, without interrupting the flow of their creative process.”

With Stereopack, users can naturally widen or reduce the stereo image, focus and define low frequencies, and move specific captured spectra within the stereo soundfield. Each Stereopack component integrates advanced audio analysis feedback directly into the user interface, delivering intuitive control of all main parameters with clear and immediate dynamic feedback.

All three plug-ins are highly mono-compatible, using unique algorithms that maintain the original character of the source audio without introducing any strange phase, reverb, or delay-related artifacts. Each tool is compatible with 64-bit OSX, AAX (32- and 64-bit), and the latest VST3 standards.

One component of Stereopack, Stereoizer, is a high-specification stereo image manipulation tool suitable for natural expansion, reduction, and introduction of stereo width at any stage of the audio production process.
Developed for and tested by professional audio engineers, Stereoizer adds natural-sounding width and depth to any mono or stereo audio recording, leaving the inherent character of the original source intact.

Another Stereopack tool is the Monofilter plug-in, which enables users to align and balance low frequencies with a minimum of effort to create solid, natural-sounding bass. With Monofilter, users can define the center of the bass, which can be easily lost through stereo effects processing, synth sound generation, unwanted phase inconsistencies, and live recording mic bleed. The plug-in provides clear control over stereo spread, transition, and phase alignment, with a unique interface that delivers clear and exacting visual feedback. The result is a bass sound that is more focused and better defined.

The third tool in the Stereopack bundle is Stereoplacer, an advanced fine-tune parametric balancing control tool that allows users to tune each band to specific frequencies and move the frequency content around in the stereo sound stage. Stereoplacer maintains the character of the original sounds while the user chooses the position, providing fully adjustable curves (bell, high and low shelving, and additional linked-harmonic overtones). These characteristics enable the user to redistribute stereo information with subtlety or powerfully correct signals — even moving hard-panned frequencies from one side to the other — without affecting the overall level balance of the material.