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I've heard/read lots of different things about where dialogue should be hitting in terms of dbfs for a feature film. (I am mixing 5.1 in a small studio, room calibrated to 79. I know film standard on a stage is 85, but this is a small room and my speakers are close to my listening position).

I would be ever so grateful if anyone could answer even one of the following questions, or point me toward resources. I'm sure most of these are very stupid questions, so I've tried to format them as yes/no so you don't have to spend too much time "learnin" a humble beginner like myself:

1.) My dialogue is hitting around -20 to -12dbfs, with louder screams at -10dbfs (according to my master fader in pro tools). I have heard that dialogue should hit around -27Leq(A), which I am monitoring with SurroundScope on my master fader. -27Leq(A) looks like it's about -16dbfs, which is roughly the average level of my dialogue as I've mixed it so far. Is this the right approach, or am I missing something?

2.) When I calibrate (-20dbfs to 79spl) this pink noise/1k tone should be present but not uncomfortably loud, correct? I am trying to gauge if 79spl is appropriate for this room size.

3.) I have played dvds as reference through my system, and they are way louder than my mix. Should I be worried?

4.) I have been told to put a brick wall limiter on around -10dbfs to catch any peaks, but that seems like a lot of headroom. Currently I have my brick wall at about -3. Am I letting my mix get to hot? (This is an action movie, but I don't want to make people go deaf.) Should -3 on my master fader be uncomfortably loud?

Thanks all in advance for helping me out with this stuff. With dialogue in my mix between -20 to -10dbfs, and louder fx likes car revving and punches peaking as high as -3db, I am concerned that I may be mixing at too low of a monitoring level. I just want to make sure that I'm not missing something crucial, and the fact that dvds played through my system require me to turn down the volume from my reference level is making me nervous.

If someone could give me some numbers for where fx, dialogue, music swells, etc should be sitting, I would really appreciate it.

Sorry for the long post, and THANK YOU.

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    Don't try to mix a theater release in a small room. Only troubles can come out of that. – audionuma Aug 15 '15 at 11:41
  • When I have calibrated for music, I have found the pink noise to be uncomfortably loud. I always check my calibration points with professionally mixed and mastered audio to see if it feels right and the pink noise always seems way loud even when the test music seems reasonable. – Todd Wilcox Aug 15 '15 at 12:38
  • Audionuma, I don't really have a choice. I know it probably won't translate well, but trying to do the best I can. If you've got experience mixing for theater/dvd, I'd love some pointers. – JBLS Aug 15 '15 at 17:38
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I don't do a huge amount of theatrical mixing, but i have done a bunch of mixing for various media, so i'll try to help you out.

  1. -20 to -12 sounds good, that's what i usually aim for with my dialogue. Leq(A) of -27dB roughly equates to -24LKFS (on Dolby Media Meter), which is a common loudness standard for broadcast, so that's why that's recommended. However, Leq(A) will take its value from your whole soundtrack, whereas Dolby Media Meter has algorithms to detect dialogue and only meter that. That means the Leq(A) is going to be very low in places where not much is happening, and super high during action sequences. So you can aim for -27dB Leq(A)(-/=2dB), but bear in mind its limitations.

  2. Pink noise played back at 79dB SPL will be pretty annoying, but not painful. 79 is often recommended for mixing in small spaces, and if you're mixing something with a lot of action sequences i'd recommend that level. If your monitoring level is too high, you're going to risk mixing your climactic crescendos too low. Also, in my experience, 1kHz tone isn't so good for calibrating because you get node points throughout the room; it's not diffuse like white or pink noise.

  3. What you're hearing when you play a DVD might not be the same level as the original mix. When a DVD is created, it's assigned a "dialnorm" value. As far as i know, the dialnorm relates to the LKFS level obtained from Dolby Media Meter. Say you have a quiet movie with a program LKFS of -30. You input that reading as your dialnorm when encoding to DVD and, when it's played back, that piece of metadata tells the playback system to bring the level up. Likewise, a very high dialnorm may lower the level on playback. It's not an automatic process however, and the playback level of the DVD is essentially controlled by whoever inputs the dialnorm. (NB: this is off the top of my head, and i could be wrong. I'm sure there's plenty of sources where you can read about this in detail.)

  4. The -10dBFS limiter is used for broadcast in order to meet their specs. Usually, stations will require a max peak of -10 or -9dBFS. If you're mixing for a theatre or DVD, you can ignore this. I think -3dBFS should be a fine peak for an action film. Otherwise you're limiting your dynamic range for no reason. However, you should avoid hitting your max in all but your climaxes.

I hope that helps! Also, don't get too hung up on numbers. Get your dialogue to a good average level, and mix everything else around that

  • Thanks a bunch. So I shouldn't be worried that a dvd is louder than my mix. – JBLS Aug 17 '15 at 4:22
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A little addition to the answers above. You can think it like listening to classical music. It is never one level. Some passages are loud, some are normal and some are quiet. Your dialogue does not have to be in a certain level but there are guidelines you can follow. Once you get the right dialogue levels to your taste and guidelines ,you can work on sound effects and music levels. Some mixers prefer louder sfx and music some mixers do not. You will have to decide for yourself.

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