Advanced Video Camera and Editing

What is a good audio level?

Proper levels depend on your sound design. Consider the following:

  • The Dynamic Range: the difference between the minimum and peak levels of the audio. In digital video, the "average level" for dialogue is -12dB for television viewing, or -20dB for theatrical exhibition.
  • Never Exceed 0dB: if the audio become over-modulated, there will be distortions on playback. Digital audio is unforgiving when it doesn't have enough wiggle room for  spikes in the sound, which may be creating through the encoding process. Use a ceiling height around -3dB to -6dB to give room for those unforeseen spikes in the audio.
  • Trust Your Ears: the apparent volume may vary widely from true volume. To the human ear, high-pitched sounds may "feel" louder than a lower-pitch sound at the same volume. Don't raise the sound to -12dB if the effect is too loud. On the other hand, don't raise the audio so that it risks peaking above the ceiling height, even if the sounds seem relatively quiet to your ears. Audio that reaches the 0dB mark will likely sound like clicks or buzzing.
  • Know Your Screening Environment: knowing where your video will be exhibited will make a difference in how the sound mix. You may be in for an unpleasant surprise if you mix your audio using headphones in your bedroom and then screen it for an audience in an auditorium. On the other hand, you could run into similar problems if the audio is mixed for a professional sound stage, but most viewers will be downloading the show to their iPods. It's critical to mix the audio and then listen to it in the environment where the video will be screened.