I was planning this topic for somewhere in the near future, but I've noticed that Slacktivity has been high because of Tidal and Pandora's HD offerings, so I figured this might be a good time to go ahead and post this.
I'll do an update in the near future as more info can be obtained, but for now it's a good Primer on the state of streaming and LUFS currently.
In the last post I talked about how using LUFS puts every single artist on the same playing field. If we're all mixing to the same level, then we can concentrate on better things (like making better music).
I also mentioned that most Streaming sites are using LUFS - but who's using it and how are they implementing it?
Let's take a look at the Major Players in brief:
AppleMusic: -16 LUFS, will turn up lower songs to match -16 as needed.
Spotify: -12, will raise audio as needed as well.
Tidal: -14, will NOT raise audio... This might change with their new HD tier.
Pandora: Unknown. Hopefully with HD content they will add LUFS as well.
Napster: Unknown (again, maybe with their HD Content?)
SoundCloud: Nope. They keep saying 'in the works', and that's been a long time...
YouTube: -13, might need a week to 'level' an upload to LUFS.
Just for reference, a 'Typical' CD was mastered around -8 LUFS.
Information on streaming services and their audio codecs is really spotty out there on the Wild Wild Web.
Apple is very forthcoming with info, and they implemented Mastered for iTunes over a decade so they are quite entrenched into the AES/LUFS standard, and quality of audio. Now how about some uncompressed Apple Music? All the other cool kids are doing it...
Spotify has nothing on their website, but searching around I found several audio gurus who have done some experimenting and found their LUFS leveling is around -12, which is way too high in my opinion: the AES defined -16 would be better. On top of higher LUFS levels, additional research claims that Spotify's level matching might only work on mobile. Argh.
Tidal only recently jumped onto the LUFS train, but by not turning quieter songs up they are pretty much giving artists the impression that they can (and should) jack up the levels in the Mastering Suite and they'll 'fix it' on the streaming side. I fear this might carry over to the HD side as well, and will probably mean more Loudness War blood all over Tidal's new floor.
YouTube is the audio paradise for most - being a treasure trove of freebies that can be easily converted into playable audio - but it's compression algorithm may leave audio at a 128k rate on playback and it's audio leveling might take a week or more to be applied. (!) Also, -13 LUFS is still too loud, and they should follow the -16 bandwagon. YouTube is Google, so finding info is akin to mining Bitcoins but I'll keep researching...
And that just leaves the rest in the 'who knows' category...
SoundCloud has bigger fish to fry right now (like staying in business), so this is probably the last thing on their list.
Pandora and Napster just introduced HD services and promise 'studio master quality downloads', so if we're getting the direct uncompressed files then there is hope that the Artists will go for quality over overcompressed inanity. We shall see...
iHeartRadio just popped up on my radar because I saw a billboard for it the other day. I forgot I had installed it to get Audiocasts on my Amazon Lady In The Cylinder® device (which I never listen to anymore). I will keep digging for info though.
I tossed in that average CD LUFS level just for perspective. When my oldest starts telling me that cassettes are the new CD's I'll find that info for you. :)