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Hi all!

I have a question relating to the mixing and mastering levels of a film's audio soundtrack and problems I have since noticed after a project have been completed.

I have been freelancing in sound editing and design for short films for a while now and I am confident that my home audio setup suitable for independent films. When I finalise a films audio soundtrack, I can see and hear that the levels are not peaking or distorting on any of the tracks. I listen to the audio on my BX-5 monitors, laptop speakers and headphones so I can feel comfortable that the important aspects of the mix is sounding the best as it can from a variety of sources.

My problem is this; two films that I have worked on have had peaking/distorting audio at the loudest points of the films when screened through DVD's on different viewing platforms.

Film 1 was played back on my home TV and distorted at the loudest point on hearing an ambulance siren, and Film 2 was shown at a premier event screening and distorted when a final 'boss fight' erupted. I've since checked back at my sessions I can't seem to understand why it's happened. I feel satisfied that I checked my levels in Pro Tools as well as different sound sources correctly before signing off on a project.

Does this sound familiar to anyone, or does this sound like mixing/mastering faux-pas? Am I mixing too loudly or too quietly? Is there something that I missing entirely when listening to my levels or exporting the final audio stems? I am struggling to work out why the levels sound fine on my home computer network (inside and outside of Pro Tools), yet the films appear to peak/distort at the loudest points when played back on DVD's.

I will admit that, with Film 2, the completion deadline caught me by surprise and so I wasn't able to test on more sources that I would have liked. But Film 1 was screened at a cinema last year and I noticed no problems what so ever, only playing it back on a home TV that I noticed said problem.

Thank you all very much for your time, I look forward to hearing any advice or tips that you may have.

Cheers!

James

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"I export the Fx, Dialogue and Music stems as .wavs and deliver them to the editor"... sadly THAT could be your problem right there... Editors have been known to forget things like panning the stereo stems left and right, which can result in a 3db gain increase. Or they think it's "too quiet" in their suite, and bump everything up... the NLE doesn't necessarily distort (both Premiere and FCP can get into stupid territory before they start distorting), but playback does. I'd consider talking, politely, with the editor and making sure that your stems are (a) played back at unity, and (b) set up correctly with regards to panning.

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"Film 1 was played back on my home TV and distorted at the loudest point on hearing an ambulance siren, and Film 2 was shown at a premier event screening and distorted when a final 'boss fight' erupted."

Did you test this with a dvd or a direct connection from you laptop/computer? Dvd programmes can be fiddly so always burn a dvd if you want to test the soundtrack on dynamics and such. Another question: did you have the 'Dialog normalisation' turned on? At what level?

Check this link: http://forum.doom9.org/showthread.php?t=56020

Good luck

  • Hi @Arnoud, I tested Film 1 on a laptop and on DVD players at the time of completion, but I didn't get time to test Film 2. I would admit that the noise distortion in Film 2 could be entirely my fault for not checking thoroughly enough. As for Dialog Normalisation, I am unaware of Pro Tools having a setting like that? I assumed it was used in programs like Compressor when converting to AC3 for Surround Sound. Unfortunately I do not have a surround sound setup and I therefore create my mixes in stereo; so I export the Fx, Dialogue and Music stems as .wavs and deliver them to the editor. – James 'RedWilli' Williams Aug 9 '13 at 17:01
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Dialnorm is a setting in the audio menu of most better DVD authoring programs. Ideally whoever authors the DVD should set the Dialnorm to the actual Dialnorm level of your mix. Have you measured what it is using an LEQ A meter? I think the default on most DVD authoring software is -27, so if your mix is louder it could compress it down. You can turn Dialnorm off or bypass it if your using a DVD authoring program is DVD studio pro. What level is the mix position in your room calibrated to?

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Maybe you have unregistered, very fast peaks. Try to use a Brickwall-limiter with Peak-limiting and set the output gain on -0.3 dB.

Moreover there could be an issue with the Audio-Track settings in the editors software. In FCP there is a set gain for each channel (L/R, Mono, Dual Mono) So if you load a stereo file, it could be that the setting is set to high. So if you import a File with 0 dB it should be set to -3dB on left and right channel (as far as i remember - not good with calculating dB :)). That means that the sum of the level can peak.

I hope this helps!

gl fixing the problem!

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