I am using Audacity 2.4.2 (Windows 10 version) and, after a couple of years of working with it, have gotten to the point where I am very close to achieving professional-level music recordings. I only have a few “bugs” to work out before I can get it where I want it. Perhaps the single biggest “shortcoming” or issue that I still wrestle with is the relatively low volume of my recordings when I play them back. By this I mean that, despite the fact that the Audacity playback volume is all the way up, the volume/output of my recordings is much lower than the volume/output of most, if not all, professional music recordings (such as those found on storebought cd’s). If I raise the volume/output of the individual tracks of any of my own recordings, I run into the problem of having the Audacity playback meter going up into the undesirable red zone (clipping, etc). Furthermore, when I export any of my Audacity projects as WAV’s, the playback volume is also significantly lower than the playback volumes of storebought CD’s or professional music recordings found on the internet. Can anyone explain why this dilemma of volume disparity is happening and, most importantly, what I can do to resolve it?
You “win” the [u]Loudness War[/u] with limiting and dynamic compression. Both of these “push down” the loud parts or the peaks and then make-up gain is used to bring-up the overall-average loudness.
Limiting is “fast compression” and it’s easier to start with that… There are fewer settings to mess with and less chance of messing-up the sound unless you over-do it.
Audacity’s limiter is very good! A normal limiter rounds-down the peaks, changing (distorting) the waveform. (It’s not as bad as clipping, which is the WORST kind of limiting/compression.) But Audacity uses look-ahead and it doesn’t change the wave shape. But if you want it “really loud” you might need a more traditional limiter.
These do reduce the dynamic contrast and you might not like the sound if you over-do it. Virtually ALL commercial recordings have SOME dynamic compression (except for some classical recordings) but IMO it’s often over-done and the constant loudness makes it boring.
And, you probably can’t get as much loudness as a professional mastering engineer can get without getting more “damage”.
To maximize the output of a multi-track recording, first export to a floating-point .WAV file. Don’t worry about over-modulating as floating point will take care of this. Re-import into Audacity as a single stereo track. Then Effect > Amplify. Your track is now at it’s maximum before compression/limiting.
Thanks to both DVDdoug and Jademan for the good information. I agree that anything more than a little compression is generally too much and, consequently, ruins the sound. So I’m not a big fan of that particular effect. I just want to make sure that my recordings will have enough volume/output signal.
I do have one follow-up question, though. Should I apply limiting/compression and amplify to a .WAV verson of my recordings or do you have to apply these effects to the original, multi-track recording (.aup file and data file)? Jademan seems to be saying that I should export the multi-track recording as a .WAV and then re-import the .WAV as a single stereo track and then apply amplify, but I wasn’t sure if he was saying that I should apply the limiting/compression before or after applying amplify. I’d be very grateful if you could clarify this for me.
So as you are doing multi-tracks, you have to first mix it down to a single stereo track (2 channels = left + right). You can do this with mix and render or the floating point stereo trick mentioned above. Then amplify, then compression and/or limiting. Amplify again if you need to.