TV’s Quiet Revolution reports that following the introduction of the EBU’s R128 standard seven years ago, loudness complaints have fallen dramatically. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t work still to be done.

Very rarely is there an instant solution to any problem, audio or otherwise. Even with a concerted effort and general agreement, it can still take time to sort something out.

Which is why the optimistic claim of victory over loudness seven years ago has proved to be premature.

Things certainly didn’t change overnight, but the launch at IBC 2010 of EBU R128 as the European standard for dealing with a tricky, long-standing technological challenge has certainly resulted in more consistent broadcast sound and fewer complaints from viewers.

The key to the whole business has been understanding perceived volume. Although two or more audio signals or recordings can register the same level on a peak meter – either a PPM (peak programme meter) or a VU (volume unit) meter – one can still sound louder than the other.

This may be caused by a signal/recording having more compression, which reduces the dynamic range, or sounding ‘denser’ – due to dialogue, effects and music in TV and film productions; or, if music only, due to having many layers of instrumentation.

Loudness most obviously manifests itself in heavily compressed commercials or trailers and has prompted complaints from viewers for more than 50 years. Efforts to deal with the problem began in the 1950s, but it wasn’t until the 2000s that the first international loudness standard appeared.

After BT 1770 and 1771 were published in 2006-7, standardised meters were introduced by DK Technologies, Dolby, RTW and TC Electronic, among others.

The UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) used BT 1770 as the basis for its Broadcast Committee on Advertising Practice (BCAP) guidelines for mixing TV commercials, recommending the use of loudness meters. In 2007, the ASA received 308 complaints about 305 ads, upholding four. In 2009, there were 129 complaints against 122 ads, with 10 upheld.

R128 was based on 1770, but with more specific features aimed at European broadcasting, with a target of -23 LUFS (loudness units relative to full scale). It was created by the PLOUD working group under ORF sound engineer Florian Camerer.

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