Have you ever been listening to music with your speakers turned up, only to have the next song be WAY too loud? Or watching videos online and jumped out of the chair as an advertisement blasted through your headphones after an online video? These happenings are caused by variances in loudness.

 

What Is Loudness?

Loudness is the perceived volume that a person experiences while hearing audio. Our perception of audio is based on a few different variables such as sound pressure, the tones or frequencies of the audio, and the duration of a sound or note. Another way to think about loudness is to imagine averaging the volume of loud and quiet parts instead of just focusing on the momentary decibel level.

 

 

Loudness is measured on a scale known as LUFS, or loudness units relative to full scale. One loudness unit (LU) is equal to one decibel since both metrics are based on the quantitative measure of sound pressure. The scale, ranging from quiet to loud, was created by assessing the physical and psychological characteristics of sound. 

*LKFS is an older and commonly used name for LUFS and represents exactly the same loudness measurement.

 

Why Is There So Much Variance In Loudness?

When audio and video turned digital around the same time as the explosion of the internet, there were no rules or standards. People were creating and publishing content online at whatever volume they wanted, which created a very inconsistent experience for the viewer or listener.

Since humans often perceive louder music as better or preferable to softer versions, crafty professionals began to purposefully make their videos or music as loud as possible. This practice, known as the loudness war, led to even more volume differences and began to sometimes compromise quality when media was so loud that clipping or distortion occurred. 

Fortunately, there are now more standards for loudness. TV broadcast stations have strict spec guidelines for video deliveries, which is why all the commercials you see on TV nowadays are the same loudness. YouTube applies its own loudness normalization to every video that gets uploaded. Music services like Spotify and Apple Music (if enabled) also normalize every song for a more consistent listening experience.

 

 

Loudness Standards

Loudness standards are primarily created by the ITU (International Telecommunications Union), which continually releases updated standards for audio levels. Many plugins and software include ITU recommendations as presets.

However, not all platforms have chosen to adopt the same ITU standard of loudness, which creates some wiggle room for how loud your audio should be. This means that the optimal loudness for a specific project usually depends on where the final product will end up being viewed. Luckily there are some standards and references that provide good guidelines if your project doesn’t have specs provided by a client or distributor.

 

  • -23 LUFS –– Cinema / Films
  • -16 LUFS –– Apple Music
  • -14 LUFS –– Spotify
  • -13 LUFS –– YouTube

 

Lowering the LUFS level creates more headroom and increases the dynamic range, but the sound quieter overall. Increasing the LUFS level decreases the dynamic range and usually means more compression, but the audio will be louder overall.

 

Measuring Loudness In Premiere

Most professional NLEs and DAWs come with ways to measure and adjust loudness within your active project. There are also many third-party plugins that are built specifically for loudness. 

There are a few different areas within Premiere that are useful when dealing with loudness. A good place to start is the Loudness Radar plugin, which measures overall loudness for the duration of your project, along with other important factors such as peaks and momentary loudness.

 

  1. Apply the Loudness Radar to the master track in the audio track mixer.
  2. Double click the plugin to access its settings.
  3. Play your project from the beginning of the timeline.
  4. Watch how the Loudness Radar visualizes the average level of the audio over time.
  5. Note the program loudness (I) in the lower right corner. This number is the overall loudness.
  6. Click on Settings to configure more parameters, or cycle through the presets on the top bar.

 

 

The Loudness Radar plugin is passive, meaning it is providing metrics of the audio but doesn’t make any actual adjustments. Use the Loudness Radar as an insight into how loud your project is as a whole, as well as the variances in loudness between different aspects of the project.


For example, you might be working on a video that has different pieces of music in various sections. Analyzing each section with the Loudness Radar gives a visual guide to which areas are louder or softer relative to each other, allowing you to make informed adjustments to achieve a more desirable mix.

 

Adjusting Loudness In The Essential Sound Panel

The Essential Sound panel in Premiere is designed to be a user-friendly way to make many different audio adjustments. Follow these steps to adjust the loudness of individual sounds in your timeline, which is extremely useful for quickly leveling all dialogue, music, or sound effects.

 

  1. Open the Essential Sound panel in Premiere if it isn’t already visible (Window → Essential Sound).
  2. Select an audio clip (or clips) in your timeline that you want to adjust. 
  3. In the Essential Sound panel, select the type of audio you are working on (Dialogue, Music, SFX, or Ambience).
  4. Click Loudness, and then click Auto-Match.

 

 

Premiere will then adjust the selected clips to its predetermined loudness standard for that particular type of audio. Keep your timeline organized and try adjusting the loudness for each separate audio type. The Essential Sound panel will target the following levels for each audio type:

 

  • -23 LUFS –– Dialogue
  • -25 LUFS –– Music
  • -21 LUFS –– SFX
  • -30 LUFS –– Ambience

 

Remember that the overall loudness will be higher when these elements play simultaneously.

 

Adjusting Loudness During Export In Premiere 

Premiere also allows you to adjust the overall loudness of your project in the export dialogue. Using this feature on your exports is the easiest way to keep your audio levels consistent. To set loudness before exporting, use these steps:

 

  1. Initiate the export window by clicking File → Export → Media or CMD+M on Mac.
  2. Click the Effects tab next to Video.
  3. Scroll down and enable Loudness Normalization
  4. Choose between different preset standards based on your delivery specifications.
  5. If you want to set your own loudness level, select the last preset: ITU BS.1770-3
  6. Edit the Target Loudness LUFS level.

 

 

There are a few more configurable settings to consider, such as the Tolerance, Peak Level, and Peak Limiter. The default values for each generally provide good results, but you can hover over each parameter to learn more about what each option does.

If you find yourself usually aiming for the same overall loudness across all of your exports, try saving presets that include loudness settings in addition to your codec, resolution, and audio settings. This way, all versions of a particular project will have the same loudness, which provides a consistent viewing experience.