Low RMS levels

This is what I get when I record, a barely audible tiny waveform. The ACX check consistently states the RMS level is too low. How do I adjust this so I don’t have to select all and try to use equalizer to find an acceptable level (after which I have to adjust both peak levels and noise floor levels, again, and again). I can change the size to an editable visual level by changing to waveform (dB), and by “normalizing” the recording, but then my eardrums get blown away by the incredible increase in volume. I am beginning to suspect it is my Focusrite (Scarlett Studios). Could that be?

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Screen Shot 2018-02-12 at 7.27.40 AM.png

What setting are you making on the front panel of the Focusrite? It appears that the interface has a microphone gain knob. Where do you have that set?

What microphone are you using? How far is the microphone from your mouth? How loud are you speaking? All these will affect the recording level in Audacity. The Focusrite interface digitizes the audio and sends it over USB to the computer, so any problems with audio levels being too low can be corrected only by changing the setting on the Focusrite or by changing your technique.

Yes, you will want to use the Amplify or Normalize effect to bring the recorded levels up to “normal”. And, yes, that will make playback louder in your headphones, so turn the playback volume down to compensate.

Your biggest issues are likely to be a) room noise (speaking too quietly or too far from the microphone) and b) microphone pre-amp hiss (again, from speaking too quietly or too far from the microphone).

– Bill

That actually doesn’t appear to be that far off (although it could use work).

You’re using ACX-Check, but are you using the rest of the Mastering Suite? We are warned against using these tools in isolation. They depend on one another for proper operation.


It goes for pages, but it’s basically only three corrections: Rumble filter, Loudness (RMS) setting and overload prevention (Limiter).

If your voice is even close, that should get you past ACX-Check, and even if you miss noise (most home productions miss noise), that may be helped by Noise Reduction.

You have to download and install RMS Normalize. I think you already have everything else assuming you’re using Audacity 2.2.1.

As for recording, I’d be surprised if you didn’t have to run the volume controls all the way up, and possibly get closer to the microphone. Most home devices have “gentle volume.”

You don’t have to guess at your recording volume. Look at the bouncing sound meter and the blue waves while you make a test recording. While you’re recording the meter should bounce between -10dB and -6dB. The blue waves should poke up about half-way or a bit less.

In general you should be about a Hawaiian Shaka away from the microphone.

If you have a blast filter, about a power fist.

You are the recording engineer so you get to worry about all this stuff. They don’t tell you that when you’re buying the microphone.


Focusrite gain set at 12:00, Monitor at 12:15. I was doing the shaka distance from the mic, but SuchAVoice pro Ben Marney said, “no, 4 inches”. Too close even for the pop filter so I have compromised at 5 inches, and still have to do a “high level pass” on too many "‘p’"s.

I speak softly, but not that softly, which is why I think it might be the Focusrite. I just finished my pro demos with a professional engineer and my levels were no problem.

Several times I have had to shut down, and even remove and reinstall Audacity to get it to connect with the Focusright, or Quit audacity, unplug the equipment, plug it back in, jiggle the usb connection and then turn audacity back on to get sound and recording. Already replaced the microphone cable. the Mic is a Scarlett studio, part of the studio package. CM25 MKII. But I also tried it with my sennheiser shotgun, with no difference in levels.

Switched to (based on someone’s suggestion from here) recording in stereo and then switching to mono, it only made a modicum of difference and the RMS levels were, always have been too low.

Thanks for the tip on RMS Normalize, one pass and it passed those levels, rather than guess with equalizer. If I KNEW anything about what I am having to do, I would be dangerous.

Appreciate the forum. Thanks.

I just finished my pro demos with a professional engineer and my levels were no problem.

What does that mean? Use more words. We have to visualize what you’re doing from multiple time zones away. You had an engineer come into the house? I used to do that. Engineer for hire. I still have my travel cases.

So you have one of these?
Screen Shot 2018-02-12 at 19.12.02.png
Baby steps. Disconnect the headphones. Close Audacity.

The Scarlett 2i2 USB light should be on and I believe your microphone takes 48 Volts so that light should be on, too.

Speak into the microphone and watch the knob lighting. It turns green at the quietest of the vocal range…
Screen Shot 2018-02-12 at 19.41.28.png
… and lit turns red when you’re too loud.

Turn the right-hand microphone all the way down. I assume you’re not using it. If that knob is up, it just makes noise.

Can you force the left-hand microphone knob to turn red? That’s not metaphorical, I need an actual answer to this.

Crank the microphone volume up and keep speaking louder and louder (Never blow into a microphone) until that knob flashes red. Between the knob flashing green and flashing red is the normal volume for the microphone. I would not be shocked if the knob only works right all the way up, and maybe not even then.

That’s the flashing light version of the engineering mixer sound meters. Nobody goes anywhere until we can get good volume at the mixer, or the 2i2 interface in your case.

Once you get that, turn the headphone control all the way down and plug the headphones back in.

Turn the large Monitor knob all the way up.

Speak normally so the microphone knob turns a good solid green. No fair one flash every couple of seconds. Turn on Direct Monitor, and turn the headphone volume up until you can hear yourself.

I expect you didn’t get that far, so where are you missing steps? Did you have to scream into the microphone? Any sound you can make with your voice including screaming is valid as long as you don’t blow. You can destroy a microphone by blowing into it.


This is from one of the demo videos. She’s a little further away than I think is useful, but that does work.
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It shows the knob turning green (briefly).

You set your headphone volume after you get everything else working. It’s possible under stressful conditions to make a good sound recording without hearing a thing, just using lights and meters. I had to do that once. It’s not fun, but it works.

She’s also showing proper microphone orientation. You sing/speak more or less into the company name. The microphone is directional and you have to get this part right.


Did you try the mastering suite on your existing track?


I think I said up the post, you’re not that far off and there’s a possibility you might not need any further help at all.


Thank you all for your help.

I will try to answer in logical order.
This is my equipment. As you can see the gain is set to a little after 12, because at 12 it drops below green.
To get recording levels up, I need to adjust the gain to quarter after 12. But then the playback monitoring has it peaking.
The last pic is the distance from the mic I use when recording.
focusrite 3.jpeg
. (I have moved the pop filter out of the way to feature the mic make.)
mic distance copy.jpg
To use Audacity, I have to unplug the Focusrite from the computer, re-attach it, then turn the Focusrite on, and then turn on Audacity, but more often than not I get this error when I try to start to record,
Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 11.42.27 AM.png
When this happens I have to unplug the connection to the computer from the Focusrite unit, plug it in again and jiggle it until I hear a little static in the earphones, then shut down Audacity, restart, and reset the preferences. This is a pain, to be blunt.

“Pro demos”, went to an engineer’s studio, recorded several commercial spots and narrations, and they are now in mastering.

The editing tools I have been advised to use, singularly (by Such A Voice engineer), are Normalize (now RMS Normalize, thank you), Limiter, and Noise Reduction. That being said, I also use High Pass filter for pops, and equalizer for clips I have re-recorded and need to drop in but need to match the new clip’s volume to the original recording volumes. I will also get the Rumble plugin (thank you again).

The advice you all have provided have helped me immensely, I think, however, my Focusrite unit is faulty.

Thank you so much for all your help.


I thought we lost you.

Is that a Scarlett Solo? That is recommended for single microphone use, but the pre-baked package I saw had a 2i2. Pictures are good.

From the Focusrite instructions, the knob turns green at the lowest normal voice volume and red at the highest. Can you make the knob turn red? Ignore the computer for a second.

But then the playback monitoring has it peaking.

What does that mean? You should not be judging the performance just by the headphones. If you have blue soundwaves at the half-way mark (0.5) and the bouncing sound meters go up to about -6dB, then you have perfect levels.

If your Focusrite drops out on occasion, it could be the computer connection. Does your machine have more than one USB connection? Also, can you change the cable? It’s most unusual for a system like this to just flat stop working for no apparent reason. Setting it up the first time is where the most troubles happen.

You don’t have to restart Audacity. Transport > Rescan will make Audacity go looking for connections. Yes, Audacity famously will “lose” a connection if the connection breaks for any reason. A loose USB cable or degraded socket will cause all kinds of troubles.

Your microphone, blast filter and microphone spacing from the last illustration seem to be perfect. If you get much closer than that you may get P pumping and other vocal distortion. The pop and blast filter should make no difference to the volume. Put the filter about a power fist from the microphone and you about a power fist from the screen.

It’s good you have studio experience. Your goal is to replicate the studio experience, not read audiobooks from a cold start.

Reading in post production—later—for a patch or correction is extraordinarily difficult. If you know you made a fluff during recording, pause right then and make the correction so you maintain your emphasis, pitch and rhythm. One of the posters did something unique like clap or snap filters so the correction is easy to find later when you’re staring at a sea of blue waves.

Once again, can you force the knob to turn red?


Record a 20 second voice test.


Post it on the forum. Instructions are in that page.

So far we’ve been flying blind (or deaf) by not hearing you.


I have to unplug the connection to the computer from the Focusrite unit, plug it in again and jiggle it until I hear a little static in the earphones

Reading that again.

Jiggling a USB cable to make it work is broken. Either the cable itself (unlikely, if it’s new) or the connection to the computer is bad. Can you plug it into a different socket? Even my little, naked MackBook Air has two, one on each side.

Just to be obsessive, a USB connection has to go through a negotiation and certification dance before it starts working. It’s not like plugging in a desk lamp. You should be able to plug it in, wait a bit (one potato, two potato) and the system should wake up on its own. If it doesn’t, repeatedly, that’s a servicing call.


Koz, you may be right, it may be a faulty usb port. I switched to another and Audacity recognized the Scarlett Studio. Thank you again. The recording I sent you still registered low RMS levels. If I adjust that, a number of other adjustments are needed to tweak it into passing ACX, but at least I get finally get “passed” now without distorting the original recording too much.


without distorting the original recording too much.

It shouldn’t distort at all.

Your posted work should be in WAV (Microsoft) and not MP3. You have talking into a wine glass sound distortion and with an MP3, I can’t tell where it’s coming from. Please try to follow the directions in that page.


Do Not Help the sound. Record it, Cut it down (If needed), Export WAV and Post it. We need that 2-second silent pause.
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First three readings and sentence 2/3 down.

I’m not including a confirmation sound clip because it sounds awful.

I understand many clients want MP3 (including ACX AudioBook), but you can do that later, after you produce a perfect quality WAV file. All your client archive work should be in WAV and you should be able to point to two different places that hold your work.


I did not “help” the sound, I did exactly as you required. Sorry about the mp3, will redo in WAV. I have noted that using Noise Reduction to reduce the noise floor more than once to pass ACX does slightly distort the final sound.

As I mentioned, actually, in that recording, Audacity would NOT recognize the Scarlett Studio and I was forced to record on the internal mic, of course it sounds like I am in a wine glassl. Changing the USB port made the difference. I am truly grateful for your help and trying my damnedest to cooperate and learn.

The recording gain on this new file was a steady, albeit flickering, green. The knob is set at 12:15. I can only force it to reach red if I turn the gain all the way to the highest setting.

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of course it sounds like I am in a wine glassl.

Not of course. I was able to create a poor, but almost acceptable voice recording using the built-in microphone on my Air.

This is after the correction suite and a gentle noise reduction.

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Denise’s voice in our Skype interview test was recorded from her MacBook Pro built-in microphone on her sun porch in New Jersey. Remember this is an engineering test.

What can give you that distortion is the noise reduction setting in Mac preferences.

Apple (upper left) > System Preferences > Sound > Input.
Screen Shot 2018-02-15 at 18.33.40.png
You can also create problems if you’re not wearing good quality, sealed headphones, or have any of your own voice loose in the room with you.

So, no. This honky, talking in a tube sound is not normal at all.

You’re not following the Mastering Suite version 4 are you? Using those simple tools and very modest, single-pass noise reduction, I’ve been turning out all those corrected performances—including mine—with about 30 seconds of work.

This is the whole basic process.

Effect > Equalization > Select Curve: Low rolloff for speech, Length of Filter: about 5000 > OK.
Effect > RMS Normalize: Target RMS Level -20dB > OK.
Effect > Limiter: Soft Limit, 0, 0, -3.5dB, 10, No > OK.

In both our cases, I needed noise reduction, so there’s that piled at the end.

Post an uncorrected WAV when you get that far


have any of your own voice loose in the room with you.

By that I mean the playthrough sound from Audacity or any of the other ways of listening to yourself in real time without headphones.

You can get that talking in a pipe sound because of other causes, but those are the normal ones.


Again, my gratitude. Loose voice and good earphones, check, no problem there. Mastering Suite, check, using it, however, I spent an hour or more going deeper into settings options and instructions, and have changed some of my settings. I ran two tests, and utilized different settings for rms and noise reduction based on the noise floor in the room at the time of each, and the corrected recordings reflected an improvement equal to your edited second clip…so I think I am making progress. Final ACX checks were good.

My Apple prefs > sound does not have the ambient noise reduction option.

I will try not to bother you too much, but really appreciate your expertise and prompt responses.


I’m fascinated that your voice doesn’t have a clear, professional, “in person” quality. It’s like you’re constantly being filtered through a poor cellphone.

I had a thought earlier. Can you post 10 to 20 seconds of your studio performance? I’m clear if it’s copyrighted work, etc, but some of this forum qualifies as educational and may squeak under that condition.

have changed some of my settings.

Perfectly possible. If your performance doesn’t need the 3dB headroom that audiobooks need, you can process normally and Effect > Amplify to whatever the new value is.

Fair warning that you should stay away from punching your voice up against 0dB—as loud as possible. Converting between sound standards can change the volume slightly and a “normal” submission from you can turn into an overload violation by the time the client gets it.

Also fair warning the posted correction values are chosen to put your submission in the middle of the ACX AudioBook requirement values. And they depend on each other.

Still waiting on that clean WAV posting. Also, we haven’t resolved that tiny blue wave problem. Bit at a time.

Isn’t troubleshooting across multiple timezones fun?


Humming the tune “Here I go again, gonna take it slow again…”

You betcha, great fun. Multiple time zones? Hmmm, based on your Skype recording, you are PDT? Me too.

Uploading multiple files, and hopefully screen shots in order:

initial waveform.png
initial acx check.png

. (complete with a couple mouth noises, sorry)

Passed check.

RMS setting,-20.10
Noise Reduction 6, 6, 6 (required two passes)
Limiter, 0, 0, -3.5, 10
Equalization > flatten curve