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Windows 7: Nero And MP3Gain Woes!

27 May 2015   #1
plutosun

Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit Service Pack 1 (Build 7601)
 
 
Nero And MP3Gain Woes!

The reason I’m posting this is because I’m at my wit’s end trying to solve some problems I’m having with a free software program called MP3Gain—problems I just haven’t been able to solve on my own, no matter how much online research I’ve done. I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but there are so many things that I’m just not able to get my head around. Here’s hoping that some kind soul not only has the patience to read this lengthy plea for help but the knowledge to help me end my difficulties.

Okay, here goes:

I’m relatively new to burning CDs, and am currently using Nero 2015 Platinum. It was my understanding, before I burned my very first CD with Nero that, if I checked the “Normalize All Audio Files” tab, all my mp3 files would be adjusted (via peak amplitude normalization) to the same volume. However, upon listening to the CDs I burned this way, I discovered that on most of them I could indeed hear a noticeable difference, up or down, in volume. Needless to say, it has become quite annoying to have to constantly adjust the volume when listening to my CDs, and I was seriously starting to think that maybe it just wasn’t worth the time and effort.

Then I discovered a software program called MP3Gain.

From MP3Gain’s own website:

MP3Gain automatically adjusts mp3s so that they all have the same volume, but MP3Gain does not use "peak amplitude" normalization as many "normalizers" do. Audio files with very different peak amplitudes can still sound to the human ear as though they're the same volume. Instead, MP3Gain uses David Robinson's Replay Gain algorithm to calculate how loud the file actually sounds to a human's ears.

Upon testing MP3Gain, I came to discover that there was a huge variance in the decibel levels of all of the songs in my collection—ranging anywhere from 75db to 99db! And, to my mind, I thought that THIS must be the reason why, despite checking Nero’s “Normalize All Audio Files” box, most of my CDs still showed major variances in volume. I concluded that I first needed to bring, via MP3Gain, all of the mp3s in my collection to the same decibel level BEFORE burning CDs with the “Normalize All Audio Files” box checked. My reasoning was simple: If all of my mp3s were set at the same decibel level BEFORE I burned CDs with the “Normalize All Audio Files” box checked, then there should no longer be any variances in volume level between each song.

Unfortunately, my reasoning went right out the window when, about a week ago, I came across a little blip about this subject in an online forum (a blip on a web page that, sadly, I neglected to bookmark and, for some reason, can no longer seem to find) that mentioned something along the lines of Nero first converting (by default) mp3 files to .wav format BEFORE the burning process begins, thereby undoing any plus or minus gains made with MP3Gain—thereby defeating one’s purpose!

If this holds true, then I have indeed defeated my whole purpose. True, all of my mp3s may now be at or near the same decibel level, but if I try to burn them to a CD they’ll end up going back to their original decibel values. So what’s the point?

Here’s my first question: Does Nero in fact convert files to .wav format before the burn process begins, and, if so, are all my mp3s simply going to revert to their original values? I need to know this BEFORE I burn any more CDs, because I don’t really wish to waste my time and energy burning CDs whose decibels levels are still going to be all over the place!

If Nero does indeed convert to .wav format first, and normalizing the tracks with Nero will only undo all my work, the only alternative I can see, then, is to burn the CDs without checking the “Normalize All Audio Files” box. But herein lies another problem: Although I set 89.0db as my target level when converting my entire MP3 collection, apparently it’s not a perfect science, and the decibel RANGE for all my songs is actually plus or minus .8db—that is, between 88.2db to 89.8db. And because of this plus or minus .8db variance, I can still hear obvious changes in volume level on any new CDs I burn—not as bad as with the “Normalize All Audio Files” box checked, but nevertheless quite noticeable (especially when, say, 3 songs at 88.2db have just played and then a song at 89.8 pops on—a difference of 1.6db!).

Needless to say, it looks like I’m damned whatever method I use! I certainly can’t be the only person who’s ever encountered this, and I'm at a complete loss as to which way to go. Are these my only two choices, or is there a third alternative that I’m just not seeing? And, if I only have these two choices, which one is best?

I’m assuming that the same thing applies when I’m trying to burn an entire album to a CD (after I’ve used the MP3Gain’s “Album Gain” function)—that checking the “Normalize All Audio Files” box would only serve to undo the gain changes I’ve made to said album. Therefore, I should simply leaving the box unchecked. Is this correct?

Another question: After I merge 8 or 9 tracks from one album together (say for an ambient album) into one long track, do I, (via MP3Gain) use the “Album Gain” function or would I now consider this simply one track and use the “Track Gain” function instead before burning the CD?

In addition, I have some old comedy skits (with sound effects, etc.) that my friends and I did years ago, which, until most recently, sat on the original cassettes onto which they were recorded until I converted them into individual mp3s. Back in the day, we weren’t privy to software programs like WavePad and iZotope RX 4 Advanced (which I have on my computer) that would allow us to edit and clean up these skits to our liking. Now, happily, I’m able to do that. I’ve had no problem removing the hiss from all of these old skits, via these software programs, and they sound great! But here’s the problem: Many of these skits were done over a period of time, sometimes using different microphones and other equipment, and therefore, have different volume levels throughout. And I’ve actually even cut and pasted some parts of some skits into other skits. And all of this was done BEFORE I knew anything about “normalization,” etc.

So now I have all these skits that not only have different volume levels throughout, but, when I burn them to CD, after using both methods mentioned above (i.e., with the “Normalize All Audio Files” box checked, or with the box unchecked and merely burning the mp3s at or near the 89.0db target volume, after using MP3Gain), the volumes of each skit, and on all of the skits as a whole, are all over the place! And I haven’t a clue as to how to rectify this.

Knowing what software programs I have to work with, does anyone reading this post have any suggestions for me? I would imagine that if there was some way to normalize each individual skit FIRST (so that the volume is the same throughout), then (and only then) would I be free to choose from the two burning methods mentioned throughout this letter. But, then again, I haven’t even worked out this particular problem with my main concern—that being how to get the volume on my music CDs to sound the same!

Damn, this is frustrating! Why does this has to be so hard?

It goes without saying that anything at all anyone reading this can suggest to help me figure out some or all the above-mentioned problems would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks for hearing me out.


My System SpecsSystem Spec
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27 May 2015   #2
ignatzatsonic

Microsoft Community Contributor Award Recipient

Windows 7 Home Premium SP1, 64-bit
 
 

I’ve used mp3gain for a decade and have burned many many CDs and know the issue you are facing—constantly fiddling with volume controls on playback.

You aren’t going to find a perfect solution. The best tools are limited in what they can do because none can completely account for the nuances of human hearing—the interaction between your ears and your brain.

Here’s what I do personally:

I run all mp3s through mp3gain using “track gain” function, not album gain. My burned discs are always compilations of individual songs from many albums, rather than full albums. I do NOT use any “normalizing” function available in my burning application at any time.

This works pretty well, but not as well as I’d like. You will still get occasional songs that sound louder than others. You can sometimes identify these in advance if you look at their waveform in an editing tool such as Audacity.

A file that has a consistently high waveform can often sound too loud when burned EVEN THOUGH it’s been run through mp3gain or normalization. Much modern music shows this characteristic and is a deliberate result of the mastering techniques (compression) used when producing the source material (the CD, typically).

The consistently high waveform means that there is very little dynamic range—the waveform is consistently between 8 and 10 on a 0 to 10 scale, and never falls to 2 or 4 or 6, which would give it more dynamic range and allow the music to “breathe” a bit and seem quieter to the ear---even though the peaks are still at 10.

With some practice, you can get a good idea of which tracks will be “too loud” just by looking at the waveform. The "too loud" songs will have little variation--high peaks, but little dropping off to low valleys.

Google the term “loudness wars” for an explanation of why this ridiculous compression is so common on music from the last 20 years. I almost never listen to anything recorded since the 1960s, so my mp3s don’t often have this problem. However, old music can be re-mastered and some fool engineer can always decide to diddle with the original product when it should be left alone. It’s a pathetic situation.

All you can do in those cases is burn a CD, identify the “too loud” tracks, then manually adjust those problem tracks to a lower level in an editor. Then reburn.

You may also be able to find a compressor tool that can be used with your favored audio editor. You can’t “uncompress” already compressed tracks, but you can add compression to uncompressed tracks and that might help you “make them all equally loud”. Be ready for a lot of experimentation and trial and error.

If you use Audacity, Google for “Chris’s compressor”, which plugs into Audacity and works pretty well.

You are never going to solve this issue, but you can have some effect.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
28 May 2015   #3
plutosun

Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit Service Pack 1 (Build 7601)
 
 

I really appreciate the time you took to respond to my post. Is it my understanding, then, that you're telling me to opt out of checking the "normalize" box before burning my CDS with Nero, and simply accept the fact that my mp3s are going to range from 88.2 db to 89.8 db (thereby showing at least some noticeable variance between track volume levels); but that this is still preferable to the results I'm currently getting by checking the "normalize" box?

Is it true, then, that even if I get all of my mp3s at or near the same target value via MP3gain, all the work I do burning them them to CDs via Nero will be undone, because Nero first alters the mp3s to .wav format before burning--thereby reverting all my mp3s back to their original db levels?

Sheesh! I had no idea that even with all the software available today, ALL of us still have to constantly manually adjust the volume when listening to our CDs--even AFTER we've run our mp3s through said software. And here I thought I was the only one experiencing this, because I just didn't understand how imperfect MP3Gain really is, and how useless Nero's "normalizer" is! Go figure!

So, am I understanding you correctly? (And thank you again, in advance.)
My System SpecsSystem Spec
.

28 May 2015   #4
ignatzatsonic

Microsoft Community Contributor Award Recipient

Windows 7 Home Premium SP1, 64-bit
 
 

see comments in bold

Quote   Quote: Originally Posted by plutosun View Post
I really appreciate the time you took to respond to my post. Is it my understanding, then, that you're telling me to opt out of checking the "normalize" box before burning my CDS with Nero, and simply accept the fact that my mp3s are going to range from 88.2 db to 89.8 db (thereby showing at least some noticeable variance between track volume levels); but that this is still preferable to the results I'm currently getting by checking the "normalize" box?

I'm telling you what I do and that what I do is based on my own personal experience. I don't use normalize. For one thing, normalize alters the sound file permanently, while mp3gain is reversible and I am reluctant to make irreversible changes that may have undesired consequences.

If you had a steady-state sound of 88.2 DB and then heard the exact same noise at 89.8, you might not be able to say, "hey, that's definitely louder". That's kind of a borderline case. At 3 db difference, you likely could tell the difference.

All a tool can do is react to the peaks. Mp3gain samples the peaks at many points in the song, but that can't entirely account for the fact that on some songs the valleys may be at 30 and on others the valleys may be at 75. All other things being equal, the song with 30 valleys is going to sound quieter on playback. Your average "rock" song as heard on the radio has little variation from valley to peak, deliberately made that way by engineers. Mp3gain and normalize can't cope with that very well.



Is it true, then, that even if I get all of my mp3s at or near the same target value via MP3gain, all the work I do burning them them to CDs via Nero will be undone, because Nero first alters the mp3s to .wav format before burning--thereby reverting all my mp3s back to their original db levels?

Again, having the same target value in mp3gain is an imperfect adjustment.

It's one thing to have all 30 songs on a CD at the same target value and an entirely different thing to be able to say after listening to them on playback, "hey, all of those 30 songs sound about equally loud". You may have 0, 2, or 12 songs that are bothersome.

You have to give up on the notion that the mp3gain adjustments would be "OK" if only they weren't burned as WAV.

Do some experimentation: take 5 unaltered songs and title them A through E. Take the same 5 unaltered songs and process them with mp3gain at 89, title them F through J. Take the same 5 unaltered songs and process them with some type of automated normalize only, title them K through O. Take the same 5 unaltered songs and open them in Audacity or some editor and look at the waveforms. Manually adjust the waveforms by eye as you see fit and title them P through T.

Burn A through T to a single CD and play the disc back, making notes as you listen.

That type of fiddling might give you some insight on how to handle the music you typically listen to and how the tools work in practice, but you'll never be completely satisfied as the tools have significant limitations.

Trust your ears and eyes (waveform inspection). Be willing to give up completely on mp3gain or any other tool if you come to the conclusion that it's of minimal help.

You have to decide how much time you want to put into this. Are you willing to spend 10 hours fiddling with 30 songs for a single CD, burning 3 or 4 discs as experiments to try to get things "just right"?

Look into compressors. Experiment.



Sheesh! I had no idea that even with all the software available today, ALL of us still have to constantly manually adjust the volume when listening to our CDs--even AFTER we've run our mp3s through said software.


I don't burn anymore. I listen to mp3s directly. From my PC hard drive at home and from a USB stick plugged directly into a Pioneer head unit in my car. I do run everything through mp3gain and only occasionally adjust the volume.

My System SpecsSystem Spec
28 May 2015   #5
plutosun

Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit Service Pack 1 (Build 7601)
 
 

Once again I appreciate the time you've taken to try to clear up "The Mysteries Of MP3Gain" for me! Your suggestion to do some experiments is sound (no pun intended), and I'll certainly take your suggestion to heart. Perhaps it would be easier for me to take the same route as you and just give up on burning CDs altogther, and just listen to mp3s the way you do. I'll mark this post as "solved," and move on to other areas of this forum with some other computer-related questions. What an outstanding forum this is!
My System SpecsSystem Spec
28 May 2015   #6
ignatzatsonic

Microsoft Community Contributor Award Recipient

Windows 7 Home Premium SP1, 64-bit
 
 

Quote   Quote: Originally Posted by plutosun View Post
Perhaps it would be easier for me to take the same route as you and just give up on burning CDs altogther, and just listen to mp3s the way you do.
If you do that, take considerable care in choosing a car head unit. You need to consider how you categorize and prefer to listen.

Brands differ considerably on how they handle mp3 playback from a USB stick:

Some will allow only so many folders. Around 250 is the maximum for some brands. Others have no apparent limit.

Some will allow only so many songs in a given folder--again around 250.

Some will recognize up to 60,000 plus songs grand total; others won't.

I chose a Pioneer because it will allow up to 15,000 songs in a single folder. It will allow "only" 15,000 songs on the entire USB stick, but they could all be in the same folder if you prefer.

I categorize songs only by genre: rock, blues, country, etc---rather than by album or artist. Each genre has a folder. I play back in random mode, so it's useful in my case to put 5,000 blues songs in a single blues folder and play back randomly from that folder, never knowing what blues song will next play. Or I can play randomly from the entire stick, never knowing what genre or song will play next. Maybe Elvis, maybe Johnny Cash, maybe Howlin' Wolf.

So, I've got about individual 14,800 songs loaded on a 64 GB Kingston miniature USB stick, with about 10 genre folders--each of which holds between 500 and 8,000 songs. No "albums" and no artist folders.
My System SpecsSystem Spec
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