Listening Levels on iPod - A Guide to Using SoundCheck

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Most of my tracks are ripped from CD, most of them in a build of iTunes 6, some in iTunes 7 (current version), and if what you said is true, then I guess that's why sound check works. However, I've also got some tracks imported from my hard drive and some that have been purchased online, and those are still affected by soundcheck.
 

Christian Otte

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Question about Soundcheck: When two songs "connect" (you know, when the ending of one song carries over into the next one), does Soundcheck notice this and make sure that the volume between the ending of the first song and the beginning of the second one will match?
 

PCiPoder

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Hey all. I have over 12,000 mp3's in iTunes/iPod and they vary widely in volume. I recently tried mp3gain and it works well, but although I'm sure it would be the best solution, that ship has sailed for me. It would take forever to normalize everything, and then (since it modifies the tags) I'd have to reimport it all into the iPod. But when I use Soundcheck, it lowers the volume below what I consider acceptable, especially for use in the car over the FM transmitter, or in a noisy environment like the gym. If I set the volume slider in iTunes on all songs to a higher setting, like say +50%, and then use Soundcheck, will the songs still play louder? Or does Soundcheck override the volume slider setting? Or does the volume slider also write to the tags and force re-import of everything anyway? Any help/direct experience is much appreciated as experimentation with so many files takes a very long time.
 

PCiPoder

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I answered (some of) my own questions. Adjusting the volume slider on all songs to approx 175% in iTunes did not increase the max volume the iPod will play. It just shifts the volume indicator on the pod to the left, i.e. max volume now occurs at about half of indicated max volume and "turning it up" further has no effect. Also, this did force a re-import of all the songs. I don't know why as I thought the volume slider was a database setting and not a tag...guess I was wrong.

Also, once I re-enabled Soundcheck I remembered why I don't like it. It seems to compress the audio quality and the sound is muddy, plus on loud songs that don't fade out you get a "burst" of normal volume at the very end which is annoying. So I guess I will have to mp3gain all the freakin files and re-import them one more time.

On that note...Has anyone anywhere experienced any problems with mp3gained tracks? Loss of album art, corruption of comment tags etc?
 

PCiPoder

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Done. I mp3gain'd the entire library (approx 100gb) using album gain at 93db, which took about 24 hours. I had 11 errors out of about 15,000 songs, mostly file naming issues which I quickly fixed and re-mp3gained. I then restored (including 'upgrading' to 1.2.3 firmware) and reloaded the pod. The reload (I only sync about 65gb to the iPod) went much faster than it has before, about 2 1/2 hours instead of 5. Not sure if that is attributable to 1.2.3 or the fact that I turned off my real-time virus scanning, or something else or a combination of factors. Pretty sure it doesn't have anything to do with mp3gain :)

I am cycling at random through my '5 star' playlist as I speak, so skipping from one album to another. The tracks are extremely well normalized. Although mp3gain said probably 30-40% of the songs showed clipping, I can't really hear it, and the increase in headroom (max volume) on the iPod is fantastic, just what I wanted. No annoying bump in volume at the end of non-faded songs either. The tags and album art in iTunes seem fine. This is with a mostly guitar rock, alternative, and electronica playlist, and I don't claim so have the best hearing (although I have great earbuds), so YMMV but I so far I am impressed and wish I'd done this long ago.

I also experimented with changing the gain on a few albums, just for fun. Changing the gain value once the album has been scanned is practically instantaneous. Very cool.
 
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Germansuplex

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Question:

I have a pair of $100 Shure earbuds. I'm not sure of the exact model. I got them a few weeks ago from best buy. When I listen to the files on the iPod with the volume high, the sound is tinny and it sounds like there is clipping. When I listen to these exact same files on my PC with the earbuds, they sound phenomenal: I can turn the volume up much higher, crisp, clean sound with no clipping or "tin can" effect. Most of my music is 128kbps AAC. I'm tempted to go back to Apple's stock earbuds because the quality at high volume is better on them.

Can someone help me out on this, or did I just buy expensive headphones that won't help with on-the-go listening?
 

kornchild2002

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What model iPod are you using? Have you adjusted the volume using Replay Gain (or increased the volume in iTunes) or do you have SoundCheck enabled? Are you using an EQ?
 

Germansuplex

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I'm using a 160gb iPod Classic.

The song files in particular are 128kbps AAC files, although I do have a couple of Apple Lossless files on the iPod and while the sound quality is better when the volume is up, it still has a similar issue.

I don't have any eq settings enabled on the iPod, nor do I have sound check enabled.

I haven't used mp3gain or adjusted any of the volume on the files. The reason I haven't is because the files sound great on my computer speakers and when listening to them with my Shures from the PC. This issue only happens with the Shures and iPod. I have a cheapo pair of Sony behind-the-head headphones that sound great with the classic. The iPod stock earbuds sound great. I'm just a bit puzzled as to why only the combination of the Shures and iPod cause this. The Shures sound fine on the classic when the volume is around 1/2 - 2/3 of the way up, but anything higher than that and you get the tin can effect.
 

Dim

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You may want to mp3gain a song or two to 90db and test it out. Maybe they're more sensitive than the other phones with the ipod. I've come across similar symptoms, it seems the chemistry between codec > player > phone is a complicated one that doesn't always make sense.
 

Oltrelogo

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The study indicates a typical person can safely listen to an iPod for 4.6 hours per day at 70 percent volume using stock earphones.
 

stopheles

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I just found this thread via Google and checked the Sound Check option in Preferences in Itunes, then synced by Ipod. No files were added, and I'm pretty sure that the Ipod (with Sound Check turned on in Settings) is no closer to playing things at a matched sound level than it was before I checked the option in Itunes.

Is there a way for me to make Itunes analyze the existing music files, so that Sound Check works?

Thanks!
 

kornchild2002

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Well, if iTunes didn't sync anything over, it sounds like iTunes didn't scan the library on your computer. After enabling soundcheck, did iTunes actually scan your iTunes library? You would be able to observe that in iTunes near the top in that greenish box that usually houses the Apple logo. You might have to fully close iTunes and open it back up to initiate soundcheck scanning. Then, after that is all done, plug your iPod in and sync it.

Just know that soundcheck still isn't a fool proof way to make sure your music plays at a constant volume. Soundcheck is decent but that is about it. Your best option is to use foobar2000 (on Windows, free) or iVolume (Windows and Mac, $30) so that your files can be scanned using a more advanced ReplayGain algorithm. Then those Gain values are converted to SoundCheck numbers that iTunes and your iPod can understand. Either that or just use AACGain/mp3Gain, just keep in mind the whole ReplayGain method works a lot better.
 

stopheles

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Thanks for the info. I ended up running mp3Gain on my entire music collection (after backing up) right after I posted the previous post. After FIVE DAYS of processing, I wiped the Ipod and resynced it with the now-mp3-gain-processed Itunes library.

I can't tell the difference. The songs that used to be far too quiet are mmmmaybe louder.

And all of my album artwork is messed up.

And Windows begged me to do a scandisk on the Ipod, then said it found nothing wrong (but the artwork is all still scrambled).

The correct album artwork shows up when I run Itunes, but all the albums on the Ipod have the wrong artwork. How can I change that?

Maybe I'll just delete the current library, move the backup into its original position, and run Foobar/ReplayGain? I'm feeling pretty bitter about mp3gain right now...

thanks!
 

stopheles

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Would it be possible to do an "album gain" analysis of my music using Foobar, so that tracks that are quiet IN CONTEXT are still quiet, rather than having every song jacked up or hushed down to 90db? From what I was reading on Hydrogenaudio just now, the Ipod/Itunes soundcheck doesn't do album gain on its own...
 

kornchild2002

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I am not sure what caused your issue especially since mp3gain doesn't mess with the album artwork. Did you have another program open accessing the mp3 files at the same time as mp3gain? The iPod issue you experienced is pretty common under Windows Vista and 7, you can ignore it. The problem is with an actual bug in each OS that has yet to be fixed and it affects iPods with hard drives.

Soundcheck is something different from ReplayGain or any other Gain method out there and, from what I understand, it analyzes all of the track in a library and tries to make it so that every song matches each other. That means that the quiet tracks in your library will be increased in volume so that they match other tracks. The only issue with this is that it still doesn't work all too well hence the need for something that is able to use ReplayGain (which doesn't work with iTunes and iTunes cannot read its results) and then converting the ReplayGain results to Soundcheck numbers. Just keep in mind that you will need to run MP3Gain again so that you can undo everything that it did. You don't want to run your tracks through MP3Gain and then ReplayGain (unless there has been a fix in foobar2000 where it now detects any MP3Gain scans and removes its settings). foobar2000 will offer both song gains and album gains meaning that the quiet songs are still going to be quieter than the louder songs. Of course, that means you are still going to have to fiddle with the volume on your iPod since the songs in your library aren't going to match one another.
 

DeathShrike

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This is the most important thread on the internet. Thank you to all who participated.
 
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