Help me with RMS levels and mastering for ACX

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Help me with RMS levels and mastering for ACX

Permanent link to this post Posted by vocaltalentpro » Wed May 03, 2017 12:39 am

Using versions:
Audacity 2.1.3
Mac OSX El Capitan 10.11.6

Hi, I need some help from the experienced people here on how to improve what I'm doing to get the best sound I can with what I've got. I've been recording on this setup for many other things, and I generally have my gain set much higher but I recently backed it down because someone said that the reason I'm having to do so much noise cancellation is because I had my gain set way too high. But when I don't set them high, then my input is so low and I end up raising everything with the Normalisation that my room noise goes bananas, so I feel like I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place and I'm not really fixing the problems, I'm just masking them.

I'm using a RODE NT-1 mic with it's custom shock mount/pop filter, running it through a Focusrite Scarlett Solo (but I have no idea what to turn the Gain knob to for the optimal input).

Now I've been awarded my first audiobook on ACX, and I have run the ACX Check on the attached RAW sample:

Peak level: 0.092231 (-20.7 dB) .. Passes ACX
RMS level: 0.010194 (-39.8 dB) << Less than ACX -23 dB min
NoiseFloor: 0.000064 (-83.8 dB) .. Passes ACX

I'm assuming that the RMS level means that my overall volume is too low. But even on samples where I've done my editing steps and normalised everything, I still have failing RMS levels after making the recordings sound quite loud in my headphones, so I don't know what I'm doing wrong.

Over the past year or so I've played around with my sound a lot, following advice found here or there on what steps to take in editing, what order to take them, etc. I always have to do quite a bit of noise removal and I'd like to finally get some advice specific to my actual sample and setup, so that I can stop tinkering and find something I can be happy with, and that will get my recordings to pass on ACX. I would really appreciate someone taking me under the wing a little and helping me understand what I should do to accomplish this. I've been toying with the idea of getting another DAW like ProTools or something, but honestly I don't have the time to learn a new program right now, I have projects lined up for the next several months and need to stick with Audacity because I am familiar with it already.

Can you listen to my raw sample and tell me what you think I should do to achieve a uniform, ACX compliant sound?
I am your willing student... can you help? :)
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Re: Help me with RMS levels and mastering for ACX

Permanent link to this post Posted by kozikowski » Wed May 03, 2017 1:18 am

That's too low. The fuzzy recommendation is to hit Audacity so the multi-colored display just starts turning colors, first yellow and then orange. The meter will turn angry orange and then red if you get too loud. In numbers, you are shooting for peaks at -6dB. That works out to 50% on the blue waves if you're counting.

Image

I personally stretch my meters the whole width of the window and then change the left-hand reading to -96dB. I think it defaults to -60.

If you like to be theatrical and expressive, you may need to run the meters a bit lower than -6dB. Do Not run the meters all the way up into the red. Ever.

I believe (I don't actually own a Solo) that the Audacity volume sliders drop dead when you plug in a USB device like the Solo. This is normal. Adjust the Solo volume control until the Audacity meters reach yellow-ish during a performance. I expect the Solo knob to flash green-ish when you do that.

You were correct. Producing a healthy volume at recording is a very good thing. Struggling with low volume or any of the other problems you can have is a post production career move.

Do you have ACX Check? Does that ring a bell? We have a number of programs that can make this process much easier than if you start from zero.

I need to drop for a minute.

Koz
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Re: Help me with RMS levels and mastering for ACX

Permanent link to this post Posted by kozikowski » Wed May 03, 2017 1:34 am

Two sins. I'm doing this on a machine not up to date, and I didn't catch up the plugin management. However, starting from your raw clip. I got this. See the sentence 2/3 down.

Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 18.26.59.png
Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 18.26.59.png (49.24 KiB) Viewed 623 times


I can do even better with noise by using our super-duper rumble filter. It takes out noises such as thunder and trucks going by. Your microphone makes a tiny bit of that by mistake. It's not part of the show, so taking it out doesn't change anything significantly. It doesn't change anything else, but the noise reading goes down.

Everybody wins.

I need to come back.

Koz
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Re: Help me with RMS levels and mastering for ACX

Permanent link to this post Posted by vocaltalentpro » Wed May 03, 2017 1:54 am

Yes, I have ACX check already, and when I run it on that original sample, I got these results:
Peak level: 0.092231 (-20.7 dB) .. Passes ACX
RMS level: 0.010194 (-39.8 dB) << Less than ACX -23 dB min
NoiseFloor: 0.000064 (-83.8 dB) .. Passes ACX
Did you make changes to my sample when you ran your ACX check? I'm wondering why your numbers are different than mine?

On the first recording I made, I had my gain knob on the Scarlett at about 4 (out of 10). If I turn it up to around 7 or 8 it does run much hotter, see the attached Sample2. However I'm still getting low RMS level with the ACX check on this sample as well:
Peak level: 0.567528 (-4.9 dB) .. Passes ACX
RMS level: 0.067770 (-23.4 dB) << Less than ACX -23 dB min
NoiseFloor: 0.000670 (-63.5 dB) .. Passes ACX

Does this gain setting at least sound better to begin with? Or does it need to go lower or higher? I want to take baby steps to fine tune each step of the process so best to start with my gain and then go on to processing!

Oh, and a few days ago I ordered the Shure A15HP filter which I'm hoping will be some help with the rumbles you mentioned? It's already on the way so I hope it was a wise purchase!
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Re: Help me with RMS levels and mastering for ACX

Permanent link to this post Posted by kozikowski » Wed May 03, 2017 2:37 am

I know it's tempting to pay surgical attention to the position of the knobs, but they're almost irrelevant unless they run all the way up or down. Your goal is to make the Audacity volume meters work out perfect or nearly perfect.

Yes. I applied two different tools to get what I got, one built-in to Audacity and the other custom. You can get custom RMS Normalize from here.

viewtopic.php?p=325078#p325078

After I got the performance to pass, I found I could do even better with the rumble filter LF Rolloff for Speech.

I did write a Mastering paper. It's supposed to be on Revision 2 by now, but I haven't gotten to it.

http://kozco.com/tech/audacity/ACXMaste ... ering.html

The top part of that, Notes and Comments is still valid. Read through that.

The second panel Custom Tools you can use to find and install LF-Rolloff. You don't need the other two, You already have ACX Check and SetRMS is obsolete.


The third panel Process is almost a lost cause. The old RMS tool was almost raw programming and had to be applied by hand. My joke is that it was written on a paper napkin with felt-tip pen over burgers and it's been used that way ever since. The replacement is RMS Normalize and it's an actual finished tool.

So.

You need to make sure whatever you produce for correction has at least 3/4 second of shut up and don't move Room Tone. Noise analysis will fail if you don't do that and it can't find enough silence to chew on. I think something like that is built into the ACX submission standards.

Effect > RMS Normalize: Set the target to -20dB. > OK.

(The blue waves may look funny here. That's OK)

Effect > Limiter: Soft Limit, 0, 0, -3.5, 10, No. > OK.

Analyze > ACX Check.

You can suppress the small rumble sounds and do better with noise.

Effect > Equalization: LF-rolloff for speech, Length of Filter around 5000. Not critical. > OK.

Analyze > ACX Check.

I expect that to pass like it did here.

Note we didn't need Noise Reduction. Noise Reduction can be dangerous. ACX has a failure called "overprocessing." If they can hear you messing with the sound, they will bounce you.

So that's the basic setup. You still have to read evenly. There is no compressor or any other way to correct for that segment in the middle where you doubled your reading volume by accident.

If the voice theatrical quality seems right to you, it's out the door — break for coffee.

Do you have the ACX submission standards?

Koz
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Re: Help me with RMS levels and mastering for ACX

Permanent link to this post Posted by kozikowski » Wed May 03, 2017 2:48 am

Oh, and a few days ago I ordered the Shure A15HP filter which I'm hoping will be some help with the rumbles you mentioned? It's already on the way so I hope it was a wise purchase!

You'll have to experiment. If most of the noise is coming from the microphone (unlikely), then it will help. More likely the noise is coming from the Solo. In that case it won't do a thing. It could be a combination of the two. Electrically it's a gentle version of LF-Rolloff.

To translate the two products: LF Rolloff — Low Frequency Rolloff sucks out low pitch rumble and thumping noises. A15HP is a High Pass filter and allows your higher pitched voice to pass but not the rumble. They're upside down versions of each other.

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Re: Help me with RMS levels and mastering for ACX

Permanent link to this post Posted by kozikowski » Wed May 03, 2017 3:12 am

Sample 2 passes easily by adding LF-Rolloff. So those three corrections are all you need.

Judging noise can be misleading. Set your sound system for comfortable listening volume while you speak. Then, without changing any settings, scroll down to the Room Tone or background noise. I don't hear anything when I do that. I expect that to pass unless you make silly mistakes. One poster got all the way to final submission and flubbed the number of silent seconds required.

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Re: Help me with RMS levels and mastering for ACX

Permanent link to this post Posted by kozikowski » Wed May 03, 2017 3:19 am

Time for a wet blanket? It's not at all unusual for someone to read through the first half (or more) of a book and find they got so much better through practice, they start over.

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Re: Help me with RMS levels and mastering for ACX

Permanent link to this post Posted by kozikowski » Wed May 03, 2017 4:01 am

Did you write the book?

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Re: Help me with RMS levels and mastering for ACX

Permanent link to this post Posted by vocaltalentpro » Wed May 03, 2017 11:58 am

Can't thank you enough for all the help and suggestions Koz. Feel like I'm making good progress, and hope you have more tips for me today! :)

Sorry for the delay, I just got back to my computer (on my way to bed - almost midnight in NZ) and I've installed the RMS Normalize and the LF-rolloff for speech. One question: I record in Mono, (I had read somewhere that for spoken word you shouldn't record in stereo, it just doubles the size of the file, and also that ACX ask that you submit in mono anyway, so am I correct in that?) Anyway, even though I'm recording in mono, on the RMS Normalize screen it asks me to choose between Linked Stereo or Independently. What do I choose, or is this a moot point since I'm in mono already?



Oh and to answer your question, no I don't write. The sample I submitted was just an audition script that happened to be on my screen at the time. I just submitted some samples to my Profile on ACX, and auditioned for 2 or 3 books, and then the next day I got an offer. So I figured let's finally give this a try!

Now, having heard my voice and my sample, do you have any other suggestions for me? I know they say you should avoid plugins and things like De-essers and noise gates and those sorts of things, but is there anything of that nature that you would recommend for me, that you know from experience doesn't typically cause your audio to fail ACX final acceptance? I don't want to do anything to jeopardise that, but I do want to sound as good as I can. For the past year, I've been processing the hell out of my recordings, I mean seriously picking through them word by word and using things like Fade In and Fade Out to manually soften all my plosives and heavy esses, and to soften my breaths, because I didn't know any other way to fix them. But i'm afraid to do those sorts of things manually now because I don't want them to accuse me of over processing, and it seriously takes FOREVER to be so anal about it all, but I've trained myself into being a harsh perfectionist and now every little imperfection in my voice stands out like a sore thumb to my ears. So hearing someone else's recommendations or evaluation would really help.

Thanks and goodnight, I"ll be back around in about 9 hours and I'm going to start recording shortly thereafter, to see if I can knock this book out today as I've been tinkering for about 3 days and I'm coming close to my deadline.

(Also, I do not receive any notices when I get replies to my thread, even though I've gone into the User Control Panel and found that this is a Watched Topic, and my email address is correct, and I have ticked Yes under Edit Posting Defaults to say Notify me upon replies by default. So I don't know what I could be missing here...)
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