No-one is listening to your mixdown!
Streaming inevitably means codecs - people are not listening to your WAV or AIFF, they are hearing an AAC or Ogg Vorbis reproduction. These files don’t behave as nicely as the audio in your DAW, and what sounds great in the DAW may not sound the same when encoded for streaming. Almost no-one is listening to your mixdown in its original form, and with the overwhelming popularity of streaming services you simply cannot afford to ignore these downstream processes.
Codecs struggle to handle hot audio, which leads to distortion in the stream not present in the original master. The space between the samples is where trouble lies; in these gaps the analogue waveform continues smoothly, so in some cases the reconstructed waveform can be higher than the sample measurements either side. This is known as an 'inter-sample peak', and it results in distortion as the waveform is incorrectly reconstructed. The secret to avoiding codec distortion lies with inter-sample peak measurement and limiting.
With this in mind, a True Peak limiter such as ISL can be indispensable. The harder you push a traditional sample peak limiter, the more likely you are to introduce inter-sample peaks, and you won’t necessarily hear the problem until you export your mix and encode for streaming.
Information accurate at the time of publishing - last edited 21 September 2018
Using a True Peak limiter helps you to preempt inter-sample peaks.
So how can you preempt this? If you don’t want to export the entire project, encode it, and analyse the resulting file, then you really need to be able to monitor from within your session.
Plug-ins like MasterCheck allow you to regain control by auditioning these streaming codecs, and measuring the True Peak output after the encoding process. You can monitor this in real-time, both visually and audibly, ensuring your work is preserved all the way to the listener and avoiding nasty surprises later on. Monitoring several codecs simultaneously from within your DAW allows you to make informed choices for optimal playback across all streaming platforms.
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