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Bob Katz's "K System" - Nuts N' Bolts Effects Pedals, Units & Accessories
Old 18th January 2012
  #121
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Olhsson View Post
You have an audience that is listening at a standard fixed volume level.

We, on the other hand, need to produce recordings that can stand up under the widest imaginable number of different listening situations.
Yes I understand. I'm not saying its easy to fix. If you have a standardized digital level those other ranges can still happen via volume control.

The problem is its all been boxed in and now if a macbook on max volume doesn't sound a certain way then its over.

Bob, you know a hell of a lot more then I do about mixing music and I respect your experience. I just think there has to be a better way.
Old 18th January 2012
  #122
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JSt0rm View Post
...I just think there has to be a better way.
Unfortunately people are looking for a formula that can never really exist. A mastering engineer's job is to find the very best way, i.e. trade-off for each specific recording. A calibrated monitor level is just one of many mastering techniques that dates back at least to the early 1950s if not earlier.
Old 18th January 2012
  #123
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Well as a consumer of music i find it annoying to have to constantly fiddle with my volume based on the decade or whim of what I'm listening too.

You guys do a great job of getting a full cd to play with itself but the moment you are shuffling playback it becomes wild.
Old 18th January 2012
  #124
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Olhsson View Post
A calibrated monitor level is just one of many mastering techniques that dates back at least to the early 1950s if not earlier.
Absolutely, but surely everyone made - and in this day and age, makes - their own standard. At least the K-System attempts to make a much broader standard.

As I said previously- I don't use it, because I'm too old-fashioned to modify my own system. But what other standard is there that is widely accepted as good practice? And let's be honest, anything that becomes popular which promotes the increase of dynamic range must be a good thing, mustn't it?

J.
Old 18th January 2012
  #125
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Olhsson View Post
Unfortunately people are looking for a formula that can never really exist.
Yes, and this is probably why the K-system seems good to people. "I'll just set this up like so, and my work will be improved."

When you get right down to it, many ideas that been popularized (RTA's, EQ'ing by musical notes, etc.) are symptoms of the same disease: Trying to find an easy shortcut where none really exists...............


DC
Old 19th January 2012
  #126
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Originally Posted by dcollins View Post
Yes, and this is probably why the K-system seems good to people. "I'll just set this up like so, and my work will be improve."

When you get right down to it, many ideas that been popularized (RTA's, EQ'ing by musical notes, etc.) are symptoms of the same disease: Trying to find an easy shortcut where none really exists...............


DC
I work against a loudness system and I dont think it in itself improves my work. Can we still go as loud as can be? sure but if you ran everything squashed at digital 0 with 85dbspl -20dbfs pink calibrated system it would sound disgusting - as it should.

There is a difference between painting a picture and drawing architectural plans. Both can be incredibly creative work but one of them requires some fine measurements.

I feel that it would do justice to all of your work to have a fine measurement as the starting point for your creative work.

Now is this soley your responsibility? No. Of course you must do what your clients desire. If a system came into place that said this is the normal listening volume for a calibrated space and that system produced consistent works of high quality that had good dynamic range and was still listenable at lower volumes I think your clients would possibly want to use this system as a framework for their artistic vision.
Old 20th January 2012
  #127
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K system would work if the entire music industry supported it.

A practical example follows. I needed to compile several thousands music tracks dating back from 1930's up to 1980's into PC's hard disc so that I was able to play tracks randomly and continuously, without needing to touch volume knob in between. I had all tracks readily available but with wildly different perceived volumes. Most tracks had been transferred from LP records and the rest were ripped from CDs. Various musical genres: pop, rock, jazz, folk, classical...

I didn't want to change dynamics on any of those tracks. Mission impossible? Not at all, when using K system (sort of) or to be more specific: using calibrated master volume position, enough headroom, a VU meter and ears.

I set VU meter in my editor to 0 VU (+4dB) = -18 (EBU Broadcast) dBFS. I listened to 60's pop songs and adjusted their volume so that during choruses their VU lingered at zero. Peaks spent most of their time in range of -9 ... -6 dBFS. Further, I adjusted my monitor attenuator to a pleasant level. And then I fixed the attenuator setting.

From that on I adjusted volumes for all remaining tracks by ear comparing to those couple of 60's tracks or already adjusted tracks and finally just relying on the playback volume being "pleasant". It was a pleasure to see that in most cases the VU settled near zero after I had made decision by ear. Peak levels varied quite a lot but luckily never clipped. During last power chords in classical symphonies the VU jumped way above zero and peaks climbed up to -3 ... -0.3 dBFS. Luckily the selected headroom was enough for classical music. Tracks ripped from CDs were originally ridiculously loud and it was somewhat more demanding to adjust their perceived volume.

What was the outcome? I got thousands of tracks of various genres which play nicely randomly without touching the volume knob. I may select to play them as background music or louder for serious listening, pretty good balance always. And as a bonus (something which I can't get from commercial CD compilations) the tracks play with their original dynamics. Original dynamics is a historical fact, I think.

In the same way music strores around the world could have sold loads of CDs which had played all types of music in comparable levels and not being overly compressed. A lost opportunity.

I wonder why K system gets so many suspective posts on this forum.

Modern CD releases are systematically 7 dB too loud.
Old 21st January 2012
  #128
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Originally Posted by needledrop View Post
I wonder why K system gets so many suspective posts on this forum.
What you did was not the K-system, I'm sorry to say.

Setting the volume to a comfortable place then adjusting the tracks to play at the same apparent level is simply how it's done.


DC
Old 24th January 2012
  #129
Quote:
Originally Posted by dcollins View Post
What you did was not the K-system, I'm sorry to say.

Setting the volume to a comfortable place then adjusting the tracks to play at the same apparent level is simply how it's done.


DC
Yeah, you basically just adjusted everything by ear. Other than a good meter that you know you really don't need to do anything with your monitor volume because you're just comparing volume to other tracks. It's music, it's done by ear.
Old 24th January 2012
  #130
Quote:
Originally Posted by JSt0rm View Post
Well as a consumer of music i find it annoying to have to constantly fiddle with my volume based on the decade or whim of what I'm listening too.

You guys do a great job of getting a full cd to play with itself but the moment you are shuffling playback it becomes wild.
Music that all sounds the same? Music that is all the same volume since the beginning of recording? That would be boring.
Old 29th January 2012
  #131
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Colin Leonard View Post
Music that all sounds the same? Music that is all the same volume since the beginning of recording? That would be boring.
No, neither of those things.
Old 30th January 2012
  #132
Quote:
Originally Posted by JSt0rm View Post
Well as a consumer of music i find it annoying to have to constantly fiddle with my volume based on the decade or whim of what I'm listening too.

You guys do a great job of getting a full cd to play with itself but the moment you are shuffling playback it becomes wild.
Well when you can get all the artists releasing music to agree to create music that sounds the same at the same perceived volume let me know .

Movies are all over the place as well even with a well defined monitor level.
Old 30th January 2012
  #133
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Colin Leonard View Post
Well when you can get all the artists releasing music to agree to create music that sounds the same at the same perceived volume let me know .

Movies are all over the place as well even with a well defined monitor level.
The fact that movies are all over the place even with a well defined monitor level should leave you with nothing to fear. If you want it quiet you can make it quiet if you want it loud make it loud but doing some from a base starting point would be nice for the end user.

But you are right. This needs to start happening in the mix before it even gets to the mastering aspect.

Or maybe some audiophiles will get hip to this and all calibrate there listening environments and then their will be a demand for it. Dunno.
Old 30th January 2012
  #134
This is turning into more of a loudness discussion, which has nothing to do with the monitoring volume in the mastering room. IMO loudness isn't a war that can be won. The best we can do is make things sound as good as possible and make our clients happy.
Old 30th January 2012
  #135
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Colin Leonard View Post
This is turning into more of a loudness discussion, which has nothing to do with the monitoring volume in the mastering room. IMO loudness isn't a war that can be won. The best we can do is make things sound as good as possible and make our clients happy.
Um, I won the loudness war last week. I'm surprised you didn't hear
Old 30th January 2012
  #136
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Originally Posted by LunchboxHo View Post
Um, I won the loudness war last week. I'm surprised you didn't hear
What K-System calibration was used?


DC
Old 31st January 2012
  #137
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Colin Leonard View Post
This is turning into more of a loudness discussion, which has nothing to do with the monitoring volume in the mastering room. IMO loudness isn't a war that can be won. The best we can do is make things sound as good as possible and make our clients happy.
I think its always been about loudness. But maybe you are right, embrace it and when everything is a pancake at -.01dbfs then we will have our constant volume level. Unfortunately at the expensive of dynamics.

Just try it yourself as it only takes 5 minutes to set it up so your system is calibrated at even 79db. Run -20dbfs pink out of your monitors and use a spl meter until that -20dbfs pink read 79 dbspl THEN listen to something you just worked on.

You dont need any product to do with aside from a spl meter and signal generator.

If you have some spare time maybe even try working on something at that level just to see. I'm constantly tweaking and tinkering with things in my work. The louder the pink the quieter your overall work will be.
Old 31st January 2012
  #138
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dcollins View Post
What K-System calibration was used?


DC
K-FU! Thanks for asking.
Old 31st January 2012
  #139
Quote:
Originally Posted by JSt0rm View Post
I think its always been about loudness. But maybe you are right, embrace it and when everything is a pancake at -.01dbfs then we will have our constant volume level. Unfortunately at the expensive of dynamics.

Just try it yourself as it only takes 5 minutes to set it up so your system is calibrated at even 79db. Run -20dbfs pink out of your monitors and use a spl meter until that -20dbfs pink read 79 dbspl THEN listen to something you just worked on.

You dont need any product to do with aside from a spl meter and signal generator.

If you have some spare time maybe even try working on something at that level just to see. I'm constantly tweaking and tinkering with things in my work. The louder the pink the quieter your overall work will be.
Old 31st January 2012
  #140
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Colin Leonard View Post
I'm not here to tell you how to do your work. I just wish there was open dialog among producers, artitsts, mixing engineers and mastering engineers about this issue.

I can tell I've offended you and that was not my intention.
Old 31st January 2012
  #141
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JSt0rm View Post
I'm not here to tell you how to do your work. I just wish there was open dialog among producers, artitsts, mixing engineers and mastering engineers about this issue.
There has been so much dialog about the K-system, it has slowed down the Internet itself.


DC
Old 24th July 2013
  #142
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All the negative replies regarding the K-System disappoint me - at the very least, it prescribes a solution to the danger of digital clipping (hitting 0dBFS in your DAW - but you already knew that , a nasty pitfall many novice engineers are prone to falling into. Beyond that, it's a simple, repeatable way to give yourself a fixed range of headroom to play with, and encourages more dynamic mixes that can always be compressed further by a mastering engineer at a later point. It's also a hell of a lot simpler than fiddling with your monitor gain from moment to moment and track to track. And to the guy who lamented how engineers have now filled their heads with nonsense and numbers and meters, etc, I propose this: you have to take 5 MINUTES to learn how to set this up, and then you can carry on mixing for eternity without ever worrying about that volume knob again. Volume is always changeable (you always have that volume knob on your stereo, car, etc.), but the proportions and dynamics of your track are fixed once you print that track- this system ensures that those elements the end-listener can't adjust on their stereo are proportioned how they sound best.

Don't like the system? Don't use it. But at least understand it's value before you discredit it because you didn't need it back in the analog days when it wasn't necessary as it is in today's digital domain.
Old 7th November 2015
  #143
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Nicholas! Thank you so very very much for laying out the details of speaker calibration!

Since setting up my monitors using Nicholas' instructions, I use the K system every week as a big part of my workflow, especially mixing & mastering. If you use the K system as a guide & follow proper gain-staging from tracking thru to the final mix, your recordings will sound much more clear & coherent (unless you're already a gain-staging master). I do mostly rock & reggae so I typically mix/track using K20 & master to K14 or K12 or sometimes I squash to a 'k10' if I can get away with it.

Even if I don't always listen with my monitors set to the correct 'K' db level - I regularly use a 'K' meter as a visual reference point when I listen to my favorite familiar songs. This is a great way to familiarize yourself with K system.

After properly setting up my monitors & listening to reference material, I no longer feel like I'm mixing into an unknown void. Now I know exactly what K20 K14 & K12 sound like. I now have these references permanently burnt into my memory, so I'm no longer lost in the void. Listen to your favorite references & watch your k meter & adjust your calibrated speaker levels according to what approximate 'k level' the song was mastered at.

It appears that the driving reason behind Bob Katz 'K' system is to maintain Dynamic Range in mastered recordings. If you don't have at least 12 db of 'dynamic range' in your mastered mix (K12 compliant) your song will probably sound squashed. Squashing your range smaller than 12db can work for some styles of music (heavy metal!) but it will probably kill the 'feel' of any groove based music. The free 'TT Dynamic Range Meter' is good for measuring dynamic range (I'm not affiliated, I just use the TT plugin right next to K-meter every day) Same goes for Voxengo's SPAN.

Try this: Do a mix w/ K20 specs & render it. Then master the mix to K14 specs. Also master it so K12 or I went into the wild & also created a 'K10' master. I also calibrated a 'k10' level for my speakers because a lot of rock-n-roll seems to be mastered somewhere around K10.
Now you can listen to your mixes/masters at the appropriate 'RMS adjusted' level. This way you can have a volume-matched A/B test between K20 & K12 - this makes it much easier to hear the compression & distortion introduced by squashing your mix. This is a hugely valuable tool!

It's a rock-n-roll world so you can do whatever you want. Squash your dynamic range to 1db if you like - give yourself 40db range if you really really want an unadulterated sound. The 'K' system is a very good reference point - but it's not a law that you have to follow. Bob himself has posted that he'll do whatever the client wants - so even Bob himself doesn't always follow the K system. But it's really nice to have these reference points burnt into your ear-memory! It's good to know the 'rules' before you break them.

I wish that 90% of this thread which is about Setting Up Your Speaker Levels wasn't hijacked by the 'why I don't use or like the K system' comments.
The fact that most pros don't use it is definitely valid information - but some folks posted over & over & over. It would have been nice for them to state their point once w/ a link to their newly created thread 'why I don't use or like the K system'

Thanks again Nicholas!

Last edited by Randelia; 7th November 2015 at 05:56 AM.. Reason: I didn't think I'd be able to post - so I posted a short test message. Here's my real post.
Old 7th November 2015
  #144
I have been using it as a dance producer and while my songs do not compete in loudness they still sound good and now all my songs have an average level among them. Great when I mix my own stuff. None of my peers care to use it though.
Old 29th February 2016
  #145
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Lots of people up in arms about this whole system...
Maybe you're taking a tool designed to help people a bit too personal.

My audio teachers, very talented and successful people in the dutch music production and broadcasting industry, explained the whole Katz story as:

It's all about having a point of reference. The more headroom/dynamics your music should have the higher the level you're monitoring at should be.
What this means in practice, is that wether or not you're working on a classical recording or on a squashed dubstep track, the average listening level will be the same.

The value in this is that you can instinctively work towards the right levels for whatever style of music. If you feel the need to turn up the volume on your mixer you now know that you need more volume on your tracks or less headroom/dynamics. Previously you would turn up your monitors and lose all reference in the big picture of where your levels should end up which only takes time and plays in the hand of ear-fatigue. You know those sessions where you're mixing for hours and only turn the volume up and up to overcompensate for your loss of good judgement. All very important things to be able to overcome.

The other thing is, especially with the appearance of EBU R128, that you're not mixing "into the ceiling" anymore. Now lots of musical platforms won't push your music up to a ceiling anymore, but pull it down to the average level, so there's little value in squashing music anymore. Quite the opposite, dynamic and breathing tracks will sound much more pleasantly next to flat hyper-energized tracks.

Sounds very interesting and useful to me anyway, that's what lead me to this thread. Thanks for the info. I set it up today and will experiment!
Old 2nd March 2016
  #146
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FWIW, Bob Katz no longer uses it!
Old 2nd March 2016
  #147
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Originally Posted by Bob Olhsson View Post
FWIW, Bob Katz no longer uses it!
What method is he using these days, Bob?
Old 2nd March 2016
  #148
The OP did a nice job writing up how to go about calibrating the listening system so one can use the K-system or the headroom calibration system.

I derived how to calibrate my system from Bob Katz book over 10 years ago and the markings are still on my loudness / gain knob.

I actually use the K-system calibration often. Since I have a SPL meter on the bridge with the measurement mic back where it was when I calibrated the system, I can play the program at ~83dBSPL (unweighted in my case) in my room and then read how much headroom below 0dBFSD directly from the loudness knob I calibrated 10 years ago.

It is nothing more than what a speedometer is to your car but for headroom below 0dBFSD. You can use it tell how fast you'r going if you want to know. Or choose to ignore it; like I do most of the time....(the speedo and the K-meter)

Works great when playing CD's, you can just read the headroom off the knob if you are playing 83dB. If you turn the loudness knob up or down to change the program SPL., to check your mix at various levels or whatever....now you can not read your headroom directly off the knob.

Being against this is like being against speedometers; because they somehow make the car you'r driving not as good as it is without the speedometer.
Old 3rd March 2016
  #149
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It's in the latest edition of Bob's book which I highly recommend. I don't remember exactly which broadcast loudness standard he's using off hand but they are all related.
Old 3rd March 2016
  #150
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bob Olhsson View Post
It's in the latest edition of Bob's book which I highly recommend. I don't remember exactly which broadcast loudness standard he's using off hand but they are all related.
Thanks Bob.
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