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What is dynamic range?

From: Foundations of Audio: Compression and Dynamic Processing

Video: What is dynamic range?

Dynamic range is the difference between two extremes. In audio, dynamic range represents the ratio between the loudest and softest signal being produced over any given interval. Every day we experience this concept of dynamic range almost constantly across all of our senses. And as humans, we're quite adept at recognizing it: light and dark, hot and cold, hard and soft, and for the purpose of this course, loud and quiet. A sound's amplitude directly correlates with its loudness.

What is dynamic range?

Dynamic range is the difference between two extremes. In audio, dynamic range represents the ratio between the loudest and softest signal being produced over any given interval. Every day we experience this concept of dynamic range almost constantly across all of our senses. And as humans, we're quite adept at recognizing it: light and dark, hot and cold, hard and soft, and for the purpose of this course, loud and quiet. A sound's amplitude directly correlates with its loudness.

But what is loud? What is quiet? Is a concert loud? Is a library quiet? That depends. But I can assure you, if you walked out of a library and into a rock concert, you would have a pretty good idea of the difference in loudness between the two spaces. Loudness in our minds is not finite. It's all about perception. The key thing to understand is that we need both ends of the spectrum to fully evaluate what's loud and what's quiet. The distance between these extremes is what we call dynamic range.

For example, if you heard a book fall off a desk in a library, it would startle you. This is because the difference between the sound of the book falling in a library versus the library's quiet environment is fairly extreme. This same effect is used by movie sound designers. Ever jump out of your seat from a loud explosion? At its limits, the human ear can experience roughly 120 dBs of dynamic range, with 0 dB being imperceptible and 120 reaching the threshold of pain, although much of our day-to-day experience of dynamic range exists in a much narrower space.

For example, a modern pop mix may only have around 8 to 10 dB of dynamic range between the peak and average amplitude values over the entire song, while a modern film may have around 20 dBs of peak-to-average dynamic range, which is why you would be more likely to jump out of your seat at a movie theater during a loud explosion than you would be listening to a song in your car. Let's listen to some examples. This first example has a wide dynamic range. Imagine a quiet park interrupted by car horns and sirens.

(ambient sound) (car honking) (sirens) Now, here's an example of reduced dynamic range, a fully mastered pop mix. (music playing) Unlike the quiet park scene that's interrupted by loud horns and sirens, the pop mix maintains the same perceived loudness, thus exhibiting a much narrower dynamic range.

As a side note, 16-bit recording systems offer 96 dBs of dynamic range. In comparison, 24-bit recording offers a much wider range of 144 dBs, exceeding the range of human perception, which is generally accepted to be around 120 dBs. Because of this, 24-bit recordings can accommodate a wider range of amplitude values before digital clipping. Now that we understand the basic concept of dynamic range, we can begin to harness the power of dynamics processors to control it.

Just as we can measure the change in perceived loudness of quiet dialogue in a film to a loud bomb-explosion sound effect, we can also measure the dynamics over shorter periods of time, like the volume differences in phrases of a vocal track from line to line or the amplitude curve of the crack of a single snare hit. And since we can measure these dynamic range relationships, we can change them if they aren't working for us. We'll do just that using dynamics processors.

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  1. 4m 56s
    1. Welcome
      1m 49s
    2. What you should know before watching this course
      32s
    3. Using the exercise files
      53s
    4. Using the "Get in the Mix" Pro Tools and Logic Pro session files
      1m 42s
  2. 13m 47s
    1. What is amplitude?
      1m 51s
    2. Measuring amplitude
      1m 57s
    3. What is dynamic range?
      4m 8s
    4. What are dynamics processors?
      3m 36s
    5. Hardware and software dynamics processors
      2m 15s
  3. 38m 40s
    1. Introducing compressors
      1m 45s
    2. Understanding threshold
      1m 29s
    3. Utilizing compression ratios
      3m 0s
    4. Understanding makeup gain and gain reduction
      3m 13s
    5. Understanding attack and release
      2m 12s
    6. Applying attack and release
      5m 22s
    7. Demystifying compression controls: soft knee vs. hard knee
      2m 43s
    8. Get in the Mix: Using compression to even out a vocal performance
      4m 55s
    9. Get in the Mix: Using compression to add punch and sustain to drums
      4m 39s
    10. Intelligently using compression presets
      3m 6s
    11. Recording with compression: Why or why not?
      2m 53s
    12. Recording with compression: How to do it
      3m 23s
  4. 18m 50s
    1. Introducing limiters
      1m 59s
    2. Types of limiters
      4m 17s
    3. Get in the Mix: Maximizing mix loudness with brickwall limiters
      5m 58s
    4. Solving common mix problems with limiters
      2m 58s
    5. Using layered dynamics processing
      3m 38s
  5. 26m 49s
    1. Understanding and using de-essers
      3m 46s
    2. Get in the Mix: De-essing a vocal track
      3m 30s
    3. Understanding and using gates
      4m 41s
    4. Understanding and using expanders
      1m 35s
    5. Get in the Mix: Gating a drum track
      3m 18s
    6. Understanding and using multi-band compressors/limiters
      3m 31s
    7. Controlling frequency content with multi-band compressors
      3m 3s
    8. Understanding and using transient shapers
      3m 25s
  6. 36m 38s
    1. Effectively using side-chain inputs
      2m 6s
    2. Using side chains creatively
      5m 4s
    3. Keying gates and compressors (and/or ducking)
      4m 12s
    4. Managing gain staging and headroom and fixing over-compressed tracks
      3m 20s
    5. Compression first or EQ first?
      2m 56s
    6. Understanding mix bus compression
      3m 26s
    7. Get in the Mix: Using mix bus compression
      2m 47s
    8. Get in the Mix: Working with parallel compression
      3m 46s
    9. Working with "modeled" vintage compressor/limiter plug-ins
      5m 57s
    10. Building healthy compression/limiting habits
      3m 4s
  7. 14s
    1. Goodbye
      14s
  8. 5m 51s
    1. A session with Brian Lee White
      5m 51s

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