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What Is LUFS? A Guide To loudness And Mastering Music

audiosorcerer
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October 16, 2022 
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Loudness is a relatively new concept in the music industry and one that is still not fully understood by a lot of people. In simple terms, loudness is a measurement of how loud a sound is. There are several different ways to measure the loudness of a song, but in this article, we are going to focus on units called LUFS (Loudness Units Full Scale).

The Loudness Wars is a term used to describe the trend for music to be mastered at ever-increasing levels of loudness. This has led to a lot of problems, such as audio quality being degraded and listeners hearing music by different artists mastered at varying levels. Without a standard, there is no consistency.

In this article, we will answering the questions what is LUFS, why is it important, and how does it play a role in mastering music today.

What Is LUFS?

LUFS is a Loudness Unit relative to Full Scale. It is the standard unit of measurement for loudness in the audio industry. It is used to measure the overall loudness of a signal, from the quietest to the loudest parts.

LUFS is a relatively new unit of measurement, and it is slowly replacing the older dBFS (decibels relative to full scale) unit. dBFS is a more precise measurement, but it is less intuitive than LUFS. LUFS is more user-friendly which is why it has become so popular amongst so many engineers.

LUFS is important because it measures how we perceive and hear loudness. This is much more accurate to how a listener will interpret loudness than something like peak level or RMS. This makes LUFS a very useful tool for mixing and mastering engineers.

If you're working with audio, it's important to understand loudness and what is LUFS. It's an essential part of audio production and it can help you make better decisions when it comes to finalizing projects.

Related Article: What Is Audio Mastering & How Can Your Music Benefit From It?

How Does LUFS Work?

Now that we've answered the question what is LUFS, how does it work? LUFS is a measurement of loudness that is based on the human ear’s response to sound. It takes into account the way our ears perceive different frequencies as being louder or softer. The full scale is the level at which all the frequencies are perceived as being at the same loudness. We look at measurements of LUFS in integrated and short-term forms.

Integrated Vs Short-Term LUFS

Integrated LUFS is a measure of the overall loudness of an audio signal. It's usually given in dB and it represents the average loudness of a signal over a certain period of time. For example, if an audio signal has an integrated LUFS of -16dB, that means it's an average of 16dB below the maximum level.

So why is integrated LUFS important? Well, it's a good way to make sure your audio signal is consistently loud. If you're mixing or mastering a track, you want to make sure the overall loudness is relatively even. That way, when someone listens to it, they won't be jarred by sudden changes in volume.

Integrated LUFS can also be used to match the loudness of different audio signals. For example, if you're creating a podcast episode that will feature both music and speech, you'll want to make sure both the music and the speech have roughly the same integrated LUFS. That way, they'll sound equally loud when played back-to-back.

Integrated LUFS is just one aspect of overall loudness as there is also short-term. Short-term (or momentary) loudness, is a measure of how loud an audio signal is at any given moment. This can be important for things like ensuring your dialogue is always audible or making sure your mix doesn't sound too "crushed."

In the end, both integrated and short-term LUFS play a role in finalizing the loudness of a master in all forms of audio production.

LUFS Vs RMS: What's The Difference?

We can't answer the question "what is LUFS" without talking about other loudness measurements. In the world of audio engineering, there is a secondary way to measure loudness that is very popular known as RMS. So what's the difference between the LUFS and RMS?

LUFS is a measure of loudness that takes into account the human ear's response to sound. It gives a more accurate representation of how loud something sounds to a person.

RMS, on the other hand, is a measure of loudness that simply looks at the average level of sound over time. It doesn't take into account the human ear's response, so it's not as accurate as LUFS.

So which one should you use? It depends on your needs. If you want a more accurate measure of loudness, LUFS is the way to go. LUFS should always be used in mastering. If you just need a quick and easy measurement of level over time, RMS will do the trick.

What Is A Good LUFS Level?

Loudness Units Full Scale (LUFS) is a measure of loudness that allows for loudness levels to be standardized across different platforms. This measure is used by broadcasters and streaming services to ensure that their audio is at a consistent loudness level. But what is a good LUFS level?

Broadcast standards recommend that audio should be between -24 LUFS and -20 LUFS. Streaming services like Spotify have a target level of -14 LUFS. However, there are many different streaming services and their LUFS levels range from -11 to -16 LUFS. That is a pretty large range!

The question is should you try to hit their targets? Let's answer that now.

How Loud Should I Make My Master?

If you are doing audio for broadcast, it is good to stick within the specified target ranges. If you are doing music, then throw all the targets out the window. Do the following instead.

Master your music as loud as you can to the point where it still sounds good. I always shoot for an integrated LUFS range of -8 to -11. My goal is to reach -8 but that isn't always possible since integrated LUFS is an average level. If you get within my specified range, you will have a loud master that can compete with anything out there today.

The reason you should master your music louder than what the streaming services ask for is that it will sound better simply put. All the major releases out there are mastered louder and you don't want your song to sound softer when it comes on within a playlist. Even with normalization, a song mastered at a softer LUFS level will still sound softer than one mastered at a louder level. Major labels know this and so must you!

Related Article: The Best Mastering Plugins And How To Use Them Right

Final Thoughts

In this article, we have answered the question what is LUFS, why it's important, and how to use it in mastering. With LUFS becoming increasingly important in the music industry, it's a must that all engineers get on board with using it as their loudness measurement. Though we don't have a standard target level to strive for yet, having a standard unit to measure in is a start. With how quickly technology is advancing in the music industry it will be interesting to see where we are in a couple of years regarding this topic. My hopes are that we will all be mastering to the same target level. Only time will tell.

If you found the information in this article helpful, please consider subscribing to my blog for more music production tips, tricks, and advice. Now, go master some music and try to hit that -8 to -11 LUFS range!

"Some of the links within this article are affiliate links. These links are from various companies such as Amazon. This means if you click on any of these links and purchase the item or service, I will receive an affiliate commission. This is at no cost to you and the money gets invested back into Audio Sorcerer LLC."

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