NUGEN Audio MasterCheck by Sound-Guy
NUGEN Audio is well known for loudness measurement and signal processing tools, some of which have been reviewed on Gearslutz ( NUGEN Audio Loudness Toolkit 2 ). They make a range of measurement products aimed at post production and music industry users, including the full-blown audio Loudness Toolkit (which is aimed at post production) and the Modern Mastering bundle (aimed at the music/broadcast/streaming industry). While these bundles are a significant investment, MasterCheck is a lower cost alternative to the Modern Mastering bundle (which itself includes MasterCheck). MasterCheck provides pretty much everything you need to assure you are optimally meeting the new loudness standards for streaming and broadcast. And provides some excellent additional features.
The original MasterCheck plug-in had a full set of measurement meters, bar graphs and summary readouts, and a very useful “Send” module that provided loudness matching around for an FX chain or for a reference track. In late 2016 they introduced the Pro version that added the ability to hear how tracks sound as played on different media platforms, such as AES Streaming, Apple AAC afclip (approx), BBC iPlayer Radio, DAB+ Radio, Pandora, Spotify, or Tidal. This not only took into account loudness normalization, but also the effects of bit rates and lossy codecs used in different broadcast and streaming services. This was well worth the upgrade price and I bought a copy soon after it was announced. I recently noticed that MasterCheck had not ever been reviewed on Gearslutz, and that NUGEN has recently updated MasterCheck Pro, so I decided to bring readers up to date.
No More Pro
NUGEN Audio has discontinued the original MasterCheck, and now provides only one version, the “pro” version . . . but it is no longer named MasterCheck Pro. It is called simply MasterCheck! Although as I write this, some online audio stores still call it MasterCheck Pro, if you buy it, it will no longer indicate “Pro” on the front panel, but is is very “pro”!
The new loudness standards use terms such as Loudness Units (LU) and LUFS (LU Full Scale), rather than dB. And there is True Peak, which oddly is still expressed in dB! And to make matters more fun, one LU equals one dB, but is measured using specific frequency filtering. Loudness standards for streaming and broadcasting include True Peak, and Integrated Loudness, which is both a frequency and time filtered average that your DAW’s peak meters, or even an RMS meter cannot measure.
True Peak is not the highest sample value in an audio data stream - it is actually higher, and is due to inter-sample interpolation during digital to analog conversion. The new loudness standards specify a maximum true peak level (usually - 1 dBTP, which is 1 dB below full scale) and an integrated loudness level (typically in the -12 to -24 LUFS range). You can no longer make a highly compressed file sound louder than everybody else’s music - it will be analyzed by the streaming or broadcast service and adjusted to meet their loudness targets, so you need to measure these parameters to assure your audio volume level will not be “turned down”.
NUGEN measurement products have been the ‘gold standard’ for me in measuring loudness and dynamic range for a few years, and MasterCheck provides a complete view of these and other measures with a beautiful and functional display.
And there is More
MasterCheck has a number of possible views with the one above being the full view with the codec window. As mentioned, using the streaming profiles and their codecs not only takes loudness normalization into account, but also simulates the effects of various bit rates and lossy codecs used in different broadcast and streaming services. And very importantly shows how close to clipping you are using various streaming systems, up to five codecs at a time. This is very useful if you are targeting a specific streaming service such as Pandora, Spotify, Tidal, YouTube or others. And if you need to just check loudness and dynamic range, the meter view takes up less screen space, measures all you need, uses less cpu resources, and adds no latency.
The new standards measure dynamic range using a method called Peak to Loudness Range (PLR) which is defined as the difference between the True Peak value and the Integrated Loudness over a whole song or program. There is also a short term dynamic range measure called PSR which is a rather complex computation that displays dynamic range moment to moment with a three second moving ‘window’. Both the full view and meter view show these measures.
MasterCheck includes a module called the Send module - you have a choice at installation to load only MasterCheck or both. You should load both because the Send module enables two very useful procedures. First is an equal loudness listening mode to hear the effects of EQ and dynamics processing without loudness bias. You place MasterCheck after the last FX in a chain and put a Send module before the first FX plug-in. You can switch between the post-FX and pre-FX signals with a single click and hear the effects with the loudness matched. And if your FX chain introduces latency, the Send/MasterCheck mode can compensate for this too, so you get glitch-free switching between the FX path and original. Very useful and easy.
Second procedure is using the Send module and MasterCheck to compare a reference track with your own track, with instant switching between them. Just put the Send module in a track with a reference song, and MasterCheck will switch between the reference track and your track with loudness matching. Very cool. And you can analyze the reference track, as well as your own mix, for all the loudness and dynamics measurements.
MasterCheck is available in the usual plug-in formats (AAX, VST, VST3, AU and AudioSuite as 64-bit only), and a 32-bit RTAS version. It processes a lot of data and runs a lot of graphics, so it uses a moderate amount of cpu resources - I measured the MasterCheck module alone with no codecs loaded, using just under 0.6% (using REAPER’s performance meter), but with the Send module being used, MasterCheck use increased to about 0.9%, plus the Send Module itself used about 0.2%. Latency is zero as long as you don’t set up any codecs.
If you need to use streaming emulation/codec monitoring, the cpu use and latency will increase. Note that just setting up a codec in one of the codec windows, even if it is not selected, will add to the cpu load and latency since it is ready to instantly access. Depending on the codecs loaded, I found cpu use for MasterCheck increased to as high as 1.4% and latency as high as 9,154 samples (HE-ACC ver 2), while some codecs use less resources and lower latency. The good news is this is not a mode you use on every track. You basically use it to monitor your master bus to determine the effects of specific streaming or broadcast platforms. When using the loudness compensation function, you shouldn’t use any codecs, just a Send module and MasterCheck, so for most reasonably up-to-date DAW systems, the cpu usage is very reasonable.
NUGEN Audio’s MasterCheck provides an excellent set of loudness measurement functions compliant with current standards, provides codec compliant auditioning, and loudness matching tools that will find many uses in any mixing and mastering studio. While not cheap, it is a good value for money, with a comprehensive feature set, excellent quality and accuracy. There is fully functional, time-limited demo available.
Metrics and Specifications
NUGEN Audio MasterCheck is compliant with ITU-R BS.1770-4 for loudness and true peak measurements.
Codecs supplied: Ogg Vorbis, FLAC, Opus, AAC-LC, HE-AACv1 (AAC+) and HE-AACv2 (DAB+).
Streaming & broadcast emulations supplied: AES Streaming, Apple AAC afclip (approx), BBC iPlayer Radio, DAB+ Radio, Pandora, Spotify, Tidal, Television (Europe, USA, & Japan), YouTube, and others, each with appropriate quality levels.
Formats available: AAX, VST, VST3, AU and AudioSuite (64-bit only). RTAS is also available as 32-bit only. No iLok required.
Mac OSX 10.7.x / 512 MB RAM. Windows (64 bit) Vista or above / 512 MB RAM
Measures: Integrated Loudness (ITU-R BS.1770-4), True Peak, Momentary Loudness (EBU R128), Short Term Dynamic Range (PSR), and Peak to Loudness (Dynamic) Range (PLR).
PC Audio Labs Rok Box with Intel Core i7-4770K CPU @ 3.5 GHz, 16 MB RAM running Windows 7 64 bit. Tested in REAPER and Studio One DAWs.
Compliant with a wide range of standards.
Codec auditioning includes loudness settings and the effect of bit rates and lossy codecs for a number of streaming services - and you can both hear and analyze the results.
Loudness matching modes for both FX chains and separate reference tracks is easy and effective.
Excellent graphics and summary displays.
None that I can determine!
NUGEN Audio: MasterCheck | NUGEN Audio . Comes with NUGEN Producer and Modern Mastering bundles; US$199 separately.