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My following comments are about “acoustic guitar/vocal” solo recordings only. Played live into the recorder, with no multi tracking or overdubbing.

I notice that on professional recordings and also good quality amateur home recordings, the volume level of the finished recording (without “distortion”) is about 20% to 30% higher than I can get with my Audacity recordings. Getting a very loud volume on my finished Audacity recordings is not the actual problem though ----- the problem is getting that same high volume without “distortion”.

I’ve used the Audacity amplify, compression, hard limiter, normalize ---- but whenever I get it as loud as professional recordings I always get distortion.

If I don’t use any of these Audacity devices, I can still get the finished recording plenty loud simply by turning up the volume in the little square “volume and pan” display to the left of the recording’s on screen display, but I still get distortion when it’s loud.

It makes no difference whether i initially record at high volume, or low volume, or anywhere in between ----- I am always able to get high volume on the finished recording, but I can never get rid of the distortion at these high volume levels.

When I listen to professional or good amateur home recordings I only have to turn up the speaker volume a little bit, and this is my goal for my own recordings. I want my finished recordings to be so loud, so that the listener only has to turn up their listening volume levels a little bit.

I use a good quality condenser mic, plugged into a Steinberg UR22 interface, and that’s plugged into my computer where I record with Audacity. My computer is an Optiplex 780 and I use Windows 7.

Does anyone know what’s the secret to getting high volume on a finished Audacity acoustic guitar/vocal recording “without” getting any distortion?

To get higher volume requires “dynamics compression”. That is, reduce the difference in level between the quiet parts and the highest peaks so that the overall (average) level can be raised. There are several types of effect that can reduce the dynamics: Compressors, Multi-band Compressors and Limiters.

Don’t use the “Hard Limiter” or the “Leveller” effects. While these can indeed reduce the dynamic range, the cost is that they produce substantial amounts of distortion in doing so.

The two effects that are shipped with Audacity 2.1.2 that are suitable for this job are the Compressor (http://manual.audacityteam.org/man/compressor.html) and the Limiter (http://manual.audacityteam.org/man/limiter.html). Audacity does not currently have a multi-band compressor. Other compressors and limiters are available as plug-ins.

The danger of too much compression / limiting is not only the possibility of noticeable distortion, but also the reduced amount of dynamics can make the overall sound monotonous / boring. Some discussion about this here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loudness_war

reduce the difference in level between the quiet parts and the highest peaks so that the overall (average) level can be raised.

That’s what the Producer and the Engineer are doing in the studio after the performer goes home. Even out the volume of the songs in the album and make all the tracks louder and more dense.

Be perfectly clear, we’re all adding distortion to do this. This sound was never in the original performance. It happens to be cool distortion which does what we want.

Clean performances always sound a little wimpy after listening to commercial offerings for a while.

Koz

Achieving high volume on the finished recording is not the problem for me.

The problem is the accompanying continuous “distortion” at these higher volumes.

When I listen to “good quality” amateur home recordings (solo acoustic guitar/vocal) from the internet, I notice the volume is very high and there’s no “distortion”.

Give us 10 seconds of raw recording without effects then another file with the same 10 seconds where you distorted it by making it louder.

See How to post an audio sample.

This is one track, right? Multiple tracks combine, so all must be made less loud.

Gale

I’ll get an audio track up eventually. My computer won’t let me post a track onto this forum right now.

One interesting point to note is that with Audacity, the volume control to the direct left of the finished recording screen display provides “just” as much volume level to the finished recording as does the use of Audacity amplify and compression etc. In other words, even if I “don’t” add amplify or compression to the finished recording, I can still get huge final volume on the recording just by turning up the volume level on the finished recording.

But I still end up with a distorted recording at this higher volume whether I use the effects or not. The higher the final volume setting, the more distortion I get.

No, not actually. The distortion is just more noticeable with higher amplification.
Of course, there are some sound cards that do add distortion to the audio, I won’t deny.
Robert

When I carefully and closely listen to my finished recording that’s set at normal to lower than normal volume levels, I hear no distortion whatsoever. And when I set it at higher volume levels (meaning professional volume levels) I hear a distinct breakup of sound (distortion) that’s 100% absent at the lower volume levels.

My goal is to get no distortion on the finished recording at professional volume levels. Everything I have tried with Audacity has so far failed.

Are you referring to the “Track Gain” control?
http://manual.audacityteam.org/man/audio_tracks.html#gain

If so, that explains the problem. Increasing the Track Gain when the peaks in a track are already close to 0 dB will cause distortion because the gain is applied when the track(s) are mixed / rendered to the exported file, which will try to push the peaks over 0 dB and into distortion.

When I listen to professional or good amateur home recordings I only have to turn up the speaker volume a little bit, and this is my goal for my own recordings. I want my finished recordings to be so loud, so that the listener only has to turn up their listening volume levels a little bit.

0dBFS (zero decibels full-scale) is defined as the “digital maximum”. If you try to go over 0dB regular (integer) WAV files will [u]clip[/u]. Your ADC (analog-to-digital converter) and DAC (digital-to-analog converter) are also hard-limited to 0dB.

Audacity uses floating-point internally so it won’t clip, but you may still clip your DAC if your Audacity file goes over 0dB and you play back at full volume.

Perceived loudness correlates poorly with peak levels. Loudness is more related to the average level and frequency content. Almost all commercial releases, including quiet-sounding songs, are normalized (maximized) for 0dB peaks.

Dynamic compression and limiting can be used (along with “make-up gain”) to boost the overall-average level (and “loudness”) without boosting-distorting the peaks.* Mixing & mastering engineers also use gain riding or volume automation (like the Audacity Envelope tool) to turn it down during loud parts and up during quiet parts.

But, it takes skill, and maybe some professional software, to get the kind of loudness professional mastering engineers get. And, the music makes a difference too… An acoustic guitar is never going to sound as loud as a distorted electric guitar or a full band or full orchestra (with both peaking at 0dB).



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  • Philosophically, compression and limiting can be considered distortion since they alter the waveform and sound non-linearly. But, when done properly and in moderation it won’t be heard as distortion. And, clipping is a kind (generally a very bad kind) of dynamic compression.

I give up. I’ve tried everything, even used different computers.

I have found it 100% impossible to get good volume levels on any finished recording (solo vocal/acoustic guitar) “without” distortion happening at those high volume levels … I’m talking about volume levels for "solo vocal/acoustic guitar) that you always hear on professional or very good amateur recordings. I’ve tried everything possible with Audacity and it just doesn’t deliver.

I’ll ditch Audacity, and try something else…recorders that I’ll have to pay money for. Hopefully I’ll get better results then.