LUFS is a measure of average loudness over time. If your audio has a LUFS of -14 it means that, on average, over the full duration of an audio file, the listener was experiencing -16LUFS (perceivable).
LUFS stands for Loudness Units (relative to) Full Scale and if you want a very thorough explanation of them, you’ll want to read this Sweetwater article by Craig Anderton. In my opinion, it is the best explanation of LUFS I’ve read and is perfect for you audio engineering wonks looking to begin a deep dive into the technical aspects of loudness.
Now you know what they are, let’s look at ways you can measure them.
Loudness Meters are a type of Virtual Studio Technology (VST), commonly called a plugin, that you can run in your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) to monitor, you guessed it, loudness.
I use and recommend Izotope’s Insight 2. It’ll cost you $199. Yes, that’s expensive. Yes it’s normal for Loudness Meter-type plugins to be expensive. Shop around for Loudness Meter plugins if you’re looking to save; you may find a good deal. Izotope, for example, has sales for just about every American holiday. A free option, which I have not used and have only recently had suggested to me by fellow Podcast Editor Vasil Zguri, is the YouLean Loudness Meter.
The POINT of measuring LUFS
In the old days it was to provide volume consistency between television and radio shows so people listening to The Young and the Restless at 20% volume on their television could transition into the next program (let’s say, Days of Our Lives) without having to adjust their volume.
In the podcasting world the point is to provide a consistent listening experience, where loudness is concerned, between Episode 1 of your podcast and Episode 2, and Episode 3, and so on. Epi- to that, super to that, the podcast “industry” would like (as the television and radio industries did/do) for the loudness between completely separate podcast shows to be consistent too. So not only can I get a consistent loudness between the episodes of your podcast, I can also go listen to someone else’s podcast and get the same loudness experience without having to adjust my volume to avoid having my ear drums blown out.
In addition to those reasons, as James Cridland pointed out to me recently, phone alerts (text messages and the like) are mastered to -16LUFS. Which means if you’re listening to a -20LUFS podcast, and you have the volume cranked up in order to hear that *very* quiet podcast, and your text alert dings in your ear, it’s going to be very loud and it’s going to hurt.
Television and Radio have regulation in place which forces producers/creators to meet this loudness standard — podcasting does not (yet). So while everyone should be mastering their audio to -16LUFS (for podcasts!), they aren’t because they don’t have to and because, often, they don’t know how to. Because they don’t have to, there’s no motivation to learn how to.
Consistency, for the sake of your own podcast if nothing else, is important as it is one of the hallmarks of a producer that cares about quality — it can play a big role in your podcasting success.
Understanding the limits of your environment and how they can impact your attainment of a desired LUFS number.
Hitting a certain LUFS number requires you to increase the perceived loudness of your audio… but this can be problematic for podcasters recording in imperfect environments because the louder your audio, the more perceivable the acoustic value of your recording space becomes. You can’t just crank your gain and get to -14LUFS… I mean, you could do it that way, certainly, but what you wind up with is a loud recording that sounds like shit because your noise floor, audio reflections, and ambient artifacts, have all been amplified in equal parts.
If you’re taking this seriously…
At some point on your roadmap you’ve got “record in a professional setting” and “hire a professional audio engineer and editor” — but if you’re not quite there, what should you do about getting your LUFS game on point? If you’re in a place that doesn’t have the best acoustic treatment, and if cranking your gain to trade loudness for quality sounds unappealing to you (and it should), then what should you do?
Don’t crank your gain, instead learn to use a loudness maximizer and make peace with your space until you can improve it.
You need to focus on content and quality, good content doesn’t need to sound perfect — just work towards making your environment better over time (you can do that with acoustic panels, shields, a better microphone, bass traps, etc.).
A great VST for achieving that magic -16LUFS is Izotope’s Ozone Advanced (and the Maximizer tool it provides). You can rent-to-own this software through Splice for $19.99 a month. There’s a learning curve, but experimenting with it for a while will help you hit a LUFS target that is right for you and for right now — you know, until you can afford better acoustic treatment and better equipment.
You’ll get there. Be patient.
Hope this is helpful. If you’ve got questions, schedule a consult at https://portlandpod.com/meet