Expose is an audio quality control application that helps you identify and resolve issues with your music. So many tracks get distributed with technical errors such as a poor EQ balance, clipping, over-compression, phase issues, and more. With EXPOSE, you can deliver the best listening experience and release your music with confidence.
The following measurements are presented when you load a track into EXPOSE:
Loudness - Integrated LUFS and Short-term LUFS
Peak - Decibels True Peak and Decibels Peak.
Stereo - Left right heat-map and phase heat-map.
Dynamic - Dynamic range and loudness range.
Each preset has a range of accepted readings. The section icon will turn red if your audio falls outside of this accepted range.
The analysis feedback will give you specific guidance on how to adjust your audio to get the sound you’re looking for. This helps you hit your technical goals, whether you’re aiming for a super-loud club master, or trying to optimize your music to sound great on streaming sites.
You can click and drag on the waveform to highlight a specific area of a track to analyse the technical details of that selection, the readouts will automatically update.
Compare EQ shows how your average tonal balance compares to your imported reference track. Or you can select a genre-specific preset, all of which were created using sonic profiles from commercially successful tracks. This will allow you to check that your music aligns with your sonic goals and isn’t too muddy, dull, thin or harsh before releasing.
To begin, import your own reference track, or select one of the presets. The algorithm automatically analyses the tonal balance of the loudest sections of your music (usually the choruses), as those sections are the best representation of the full frequency spectrum.
Positive readings show that your track has more perceived volume in those frequencies. Negative readings show that your track has less perceived volume in those frequencies.
All tracks have different instrumentation arrangements, so for the best results, load up a reference track that is comparable to your production and represents your sonic goals.
As a benchmark for success, anything within ±3dB represents a very similar tonal balance. Anything greater than ±6dB would represent a considerable difference in tonal balance and you may wish to make adjustments.
You have the option to compare the EQ balance of the stereo, mid or side channels. Understanding how to dial in a great EQ balance in the mid and side channels independently will help you create wide mixes with a solid foundation that sound more like your reference tracks.
Loudness Match normalises the playback of all tracks in EXPOSE using a LUFS algorithm. The human ear perceives louder music to have a fuller bass and more clarity in the high frequencies. Loudness matching removes this bias, and enables you to make more informed decisions for your music.
There are two Loudness Match settings available: Integrated and Short Term. The default playback target is -14LUFS. Hover your mouse over the ‘Loudness Match’ button to adjust the playback loudness in the dropdown.
Integrated will adjust the overall gain of the playback to -14LUFS int. This setting is ideal if you’re working with different versions of the same song.
The integrated loudness match setting is also helpful if you want to hear how your music will sound when normalised by online streaming platforms such as Spotify, Youtube and Apple music.
The short-term loudness match setting will constantly adjust the gain of the playback to -14LUFS short-term. This setting works well if you’re comparing two different songs, or different sections of different songs.
HOW TO USE EXPOSE IN 6 SIMPLE STEPS
- Open the application and drag your audio onto the dashboard.
- Select where your audio will be heard at the top, such as Spotify, Youtube, CD etc. Then select your tonal balance profile by loading a reference track or choosing from the presets.
- The four sections give you detailed information about the loudness, peaks, stereo/phase information, and dynamic range of your audio. You can create a loop to see the readings of specific sections of your song.
- If EXPOSE detects that issues would arise, the section icon will turn red. Click on the section icon to isolate the issues on the waveform to see the exact location of the issues. The analysis feedback will give you specific guidance to help you hit your technical goals, whether you’re aiming for a super-loud master, or trying to optimize your music to sound great on streaming sites.
- Compare EQ shows how your average tonal balance compares to your imported reference track. Or you can select a genre-specific preset, all of which were created using sonic profiles from commercially successful tracks. Anything within ±3dB represents a very similar tonal balance. Anything greater than ±6dB would represent a considerable difference in tonal balance and you may wish to make adjustments.
- You can click the play icon or hit the spacebar to preview the audio. Click Loudness Match to normalize all audio to the same perceived volume for unbiased comparison.
A Closer Look At The Technical Readouts And What They Mean
The LUFS [loudness units relative to full scale] scale is extremely accurate at measuring the perceived loudness of audio material.
LUFS Integrated (or ‘int’) is an accumulating calculation that gives you the overall loudness reading of your entire track. The closer to zero your track is, the louder it is.
A track that suffered from over-compression during the ‘loudness wars’ era might see readings louder than -6 LUFS int.
Spotify streams audio at around -14 LUFS int, which is generally considered to be open and dynamic.
LUFS short Term (or ‘st’) measures audio loudness over a moving 3 second window. The LUFS short-term reading in EXPOSE shows you the loudest reading within your track. This can be helpful in identifying any over-compressed parts of your track.
Once the loudness of your audio breaches around -6 LUFS st, it can affect how full bodied and punchy your audio is.
Before audio normalization and streaming sites, most music was compressed and limited to achieve the maximum possible loudness. This is because we perceive louder songs to have clearer highs and a fuller low-end than quieter songs. The unavoidable result of pushing loudness too much is that transients are lost, dynamic range is reduced and distortion muddies the sound.
When a loud track and a quiet track are normalized to the same loudness, the tonal balance comparison becomes unbiased. This means the louder track no longer sounds like it has more clarity or a richer bass.
Now that loudness normalization is the default setting for streaming services, the ‘super-loud’ songs have lost their loudness advantage and the flaws caused by over-limiting are obvious when compared to their more dynamic counterparts.
How should you respond to this?
This new reality is a win for the quality and integrity of future music. You no longer have to sacrifice the character of your audio by making it as loud as possible to get noticed. Instead, you can create punchy, dynamic, and exciting music without worrying that it will sound weak next to other releases.
That being said, you most likely don’t want to master your music quieter than the target playback level of these sites. The main reason for this is that some sites, including Spotify, apply generic limiting to tracks below -14 LUFS to raise the loudness. This can alter the vibe of your music, meaning it won’t be heard how you intended.
For sites that don’t apply limiting, if your track is too quiet then other tracks will have a ‘loudness advantage’ over your song. You want to find the ‘sweet spot’ where the technical details such as loudness, peak, dynamic range, and loudness range are just right for both the music and streaming platform.
The analysis feedback will give you guidance on how to optimize your audio for your selected preset. The first line of feedback relating to loudness gives you the exact limiter input gain adjustment needed to optimize your average loudness for your selected preset.
The second gives you the exact limiter input gain adjustment needed to optimize your maximum loudness for your selected preset. You can choose to adjust the limiter input gain to get the optimized average loudness, maximum loudness, or somewhere in-between.
The Peak section gives you two readings: the true peak, measured in dBTP [decibels true peak], and the sample peak, measured in dB [decibels].
The true peak reading in EXPOSE displays the maximum peak of an audio’s waveform as it will be heard in the analogue realm through speakers. EXPOSE uses 16X oversampling.
All music created digitally in a DAW must be converted back to analogue before we can hear it as audio waves. As part of this conversion a reconstruction filter is applied to round off the stepped digital audio signal. This gives us a smooth listening experience.
These filters can cause slight changes in the levels of the audio. This can be a problem for the signals that are close to 0dBFS and can cause clipping. A high-end digital to analogue converter has headroom to compensate for this issue, but normal speakers won’t be able to compensate for these inter-sample peaks.
This means your mix might not sound distorted in the studio, but your peaks might become clipped when played through a laptop, smart phone or home speaker system.
The analysis feedback will give you guidance on how to adjust the output of your limiter to optimize the peak of your audio for your selected preset.
The peak displays the maximum sample peak reading of your audio material. This focuses on the peak level of the digital samples of your audio and is the same peak reading as you would find on most DAW meters.
The stereo field section gives you two heat maps. One for the left/right stereo balance and one for the phase correlation.
Left / Right Stereo Balance Heat Map
The left / right stereo balance heat map will show you where your track is most prominently positioned between the left and right channel. You’ll see if your mix leans excessively to one side at any point in the track. In most scenarios the goal would be to have a fairly central mix without any excessively lopsided moments.
Phase Correlation Heat Map
The phase correlation heat map shows the degree of similarity between the left and right channels. Readings near +1 indicate no phase issues. If the heat map shows activity that passes the central point towards -1, it indicates that the mix has phase issues. Phase issues can cause the mix to sound weak and thin, so it’s something you want to avoid.
What Causes Phase Issues And How To Reduce Them
Phase issues can creep into your mix when recording audio using two or more microphones. In a nutshell, this is because the ‘nearly identical’ audio signals induce comb filtering. This makes the sound weak and thin, rather than rich and full.
Phase issues can also be introduced by certain synth patches and the built-in effects within synths. Different elements of your mix that have overlapping frequencies can also introduce subtle phasing issues.
A good way to reduce phase issues whilst recording is to use the 3:1 rule. Place the second mic three times the distance from the source than the first mic is from the source. So, if your first mic is 10 cm for the source of the audio, the second mic should be 30cm away from the source.
If you're at the mixing stage and can't re-record you can try a phase alignment tool. Alternatively, you can try just nudging the audio a few milliseconds forward or back. Even a small adjustment might have incredibly positive effects on the phase of your mix. Do this whilst listening in mono through one speaker and listen for the sweet spot where the audio stops phasing.
The DR [dynamic range] reading will give you an insight into the short term dynamics of your track. The Loudness Range [Measured in LU (loudness Units)] will tell you the statistical measure of loudness variation of your entire track.
DR [Dynamic Range]
The DR reading looks at the short term punchiness of audio. The DR is created using a ratio of the ‘short term LUFS’ to ‘peak level’ of your track (a different approach to the ‘crest factor’, which uses RMS). The lower the number, the less dynamic range your track has.
Loudness Range [Measured in LU (loudness Units)]
The Loudness Range will tell you the statistical measure of loudness variation of your entire track. This long term reading will give you an idea of the difference in volume between the verse, chorus and other sections of your track. Like the DR reading, the lower the number, the less loudness range your track has.
If there is a big difference in loudness between the various sections of your track then your loudness range will be a higher number.
If the loudness of the various sections in your track are very similar or equal, the loudness range will be smaller.
As a general rule, we recommend aiming for a Loudness Range above 5 LU if you want to create a track with tension, release and an epic chorus that explodes out of the verse. But this suggestion can be taken with a pinch of salt! If you’re aiming to create a track with a consistent energy throughout then, of course, you would end up with a lower loudness range.
Loudness Range isn’t like true peaks where most people can agree that clipping doesn’t sound good. Loudness range is subjective and totally depends on the material you’re working on.
Understanding what loudness range means can help you achieve your musical goals. For example, if you felt your chorus didn’t give the track enough of a lift, and your loudness range was a low reading, that might encourage you to add some automation to create a more dramatic dynamic difference. On the other hand, if you were looking to create a track with a relentless drive, or any other constant vibe, but your loudness range was greater than 5 LU, you might have missed the mark.
Presets & Settings
EXPOSE comes with presets that will help you understand where problems will arise in different playback platforms, as well as ‘user preset’ slots where you can create your own targets. To create your own user preset click the ’Cog’ icon in the top right corner, change the numbers, and click save.
The selected preset is displayed at the top of EXPOSE. Click the burger menu to open the preset list. You can save your session by clicking the save icon.
FIXING THE ISSUES
EXPOSE is a final quality control application that will help you identify any technical issues before you upload your track to your chosen distribution outlet. If you find an issue and wish to make changes to your track, you will need to do so in your DAW.
We have a plugin called LEVELS (pictured below) that you can use on your master channel to monitor the technical details of your music in real time.
We have a guide on our website called Mastering With LEVELS that will help you fix the technical problems in your mix in real time.