YouTube normalises and streams audio at -14 LUFS, therefore there is little benefit in making your audio louder than -13 LUFS as YouTube will reduce the loudness to -14 LUFS automatically. If your audio is too quiet, it will remain quiet, therefore ensuring your audio is slightly louder than -14 LUFS (i.e around -11 LUFS to -13 LUFS) is a good reference region to produce good sounding videos on YouTube.
Being relatively new to the world of uploading videos to YouTube, I wanted to check what level my audio should be set at for a good result.
I am well aware of the correct levels for TV broadcast, as there are set standards in place so I assumed that there would be something similar for YouTube, a platform that sees 300 hours of video updated every minute of every day.
However, I was surprised to find that the recommended audio levels for YouTube seem to vary a lot across audio websites and forums.
As I started my journey to finding this answer, I got that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as it quickly became apparent that there is not a golden rule or a “just do this” answer.
I thought it would be good to share what I found and summarise it, as it is a bit of a minefield out there.
What audio level should you aim for when uploading to YouTube?
I would have expected YouTube to address this in their content creator academy, as then we would have a definitive answer or official guide, but I could not find anything.
Instead I have gone through all the guides online and have settled on the following as the best answer as it makes sense with how YouTube processes audio.
At the time of writing this article, which is April 2021, YouTube normalises streamed audio to -14 LUFS. This means that any audio louder than -14 LUFS is turned down to meet the -14 LUFS level.
LUFS stands for “Loudness Level Relative to Full Scale” or in simple terms, it is a measurement telling you how loud a sound is.
Therefore, a good general region to set your audio levels too is around -13 LUFS.
Why should I aim for an audio level just above -14 LUFS?
Setting your YouTube video audio levels just above the YouTube normalised value of -14LUFS means that:
1 – It will always be loud enough. YouTube will simply turn your audio down by a fraction to -14LUFS.
2 – Your audio will not sound overly compressed and distorted.
The second point is more relevant to music production but worth bearing in mind for any content creator. If you overly compress an audio track to make it sound really loud, you squash the peaks and the track becomes a wall of sound and not a dynamic, natural listening experience.
There is no need to make your music overly compressed or super loud to compete in the “loudness wars” anymore like back in the 1990s.
YouTube is going to turn your audio down to -14LUFS regardless, which makes a better listener experience overall. You can be more dynamic in your mixes.
In a nutshell, if your audio is around -13 LUFS, you will get the most from the YouTube sound normalising process.
It is important to note that this value is not a target, but a reference guide. You can make your audio as loud as you want!
This amazing YouTuber, actually tested audio levels in YouTube and a uses an audio range of between -11 LUFS to -13 LUFS. As you can see the range is not set in stone but is above -14 LUFS.
Audio is subjective, and it can be very hard to work to set targets from a creative point. This is why, using a “ballpark” range between -11LUFS and -13LUFS could be the best approach.
At this audio level, you should be confident that the audio will translate well to YouTube and sound good on a variety of devices.
What happens if your audio is less than -14 LUFS?
If your audio is louder than -14 LUFS, YouTube will turn it down.
If it is quieter than -14 LUFS, YouTube will not do anything.
YouTube is not responsible for your audio quality and will not turn your audio volume up if it is “too quiet”, so you need to ensure that your audio level is loud enough to be heard clearly.
How can I be sure that my YouTube audio levels are suitable?
Once you have made a decision on your audio levels for YouTube, whether you use the recommended levels here or some other source, the absolute best thing you can do is test it.
- Upload a test video with your chosen audio levels. You could make this video private or even setup a new YouTube channel just for testing.
- Listen to your video on your TV, phone, laptop or any other device your typical audience would use. This will help confirm that you have set your audio levels right and can be clearly heard across all devices.
- It would also be useful while doing this to have a reference video to check your audio against. Perhaps pick a YouTube video that you love and know the audio is great on and compare your audio quality to this.
You might be a little low in volume or perhaps too loud, but using a reference video will help you establish your sound and help you produce videos that are in the right audio level range.
If you do pick a reference video to benchmark your audio against, ensure that it is a similar “genre” to your own – for example, if your video is mainly dialogue with some background music compare it to a similar video with dialogue and background music and not a music only video.
Different musical instruments, vocals and speech have different perceived audio levels so ensure you are comparing like for like.
Why is it important to get your audio levels right?
It is very true that we are more forgiving of poor video quality than poor audio quality.
I have sat through many “grainy”, low resolution videos but if the audio is poor I really can’t watch for too long.
I always thought this was just me, being a bit of an audio fanatic, but it has been shown that the quality of audio in a video will influence whether you believe what you hear.
Audio is an essential part of any content, from marketing, to film making to educational content.
To build trust in your content with your audience, ensure you have good quality sound.
What is audio normalisation and why do YouTube do it?
Normalisation is adjusting the audio volume level (technically amplitude) so that it is at a constant or set target level.
Have you ever noticed that the volume level of your TV is pretty consistent when watching standard TV broadcasts?
Standard TV broadcasts have very strict guidelines on what level your audio should be broadcast at, be it for TV shows or adverts etc.
Imagine watching a sitcom and then having to adjust your volume level for every advert, with some loud and some low ads, and then having to adjust your volume level again when your TV show is back on!
It would be very annoying so TV networks have issued very clear audio targets that TV shows and content must sit within.
The UK’s Digital Production Partnership (DPP) recommends that all UK productions adhere to EBU R128 loudness regulations.
Your video could sound very low or very loud – you won’t get penalised for this.
In order to introduce some coherent sound level between all these millions of videos, YouTube normalises the audio to make it sound relatively consistent for viewers and stop some content being too loud.
As mentioned, currently this normalisation value is -14 LUFS.
It is important to note that YouTube will turn your video sound levels down to this value, but they will not turn your audio volume levels up.
Loud audio is problematic. Not only can it be dangerous if you get hit with a sudden blast of loud noise, it is uncomfortable to listen too and could potentially cause distortion when too loud.
Therefore, it makes sense that YouTube will turn loud audio down automatically to this general level.
How do you check the audio level of your YouTube video?
If you are lucky enough to have good quality video production software, typically your audio output levels will be very easy to monitor as standard within the video editing software.
In addition there are a multitude of “sound meter” plugins you can get to check your audio range.
Look up the name of your software plus “LUFS” audio meter to get some ideas.
But what if you are producing your YouTube videos on your phone?
With such content, your audio levels will probably be exported at 0dB however, it is more tricky to check what your true audio levels are if you are not using audio level meters.
When making YouTube videos on your phone it is more important that your audio is clearly recorded and can be heard.
If it is too loud , YouTube will just turn you volume levels down to the -14LUFS level.
However, if it is too quiet you will need to take the video from your phone and import it into a video editing software where you can manipulate the sound and turn it up.
Why can’t the experts agree on a set audio level?
Expert audio engineers disagree on audio levels for a number of reasons, and it is a combination of these factors that I believe have led to mixed messages when it comes to audio levels.
1 – Audio is subjective
What sounds good to me might sound awful to you as we all hear sounds differently.
I have worked with acoustic engineers who will argue with you that a sound “has too much bass” or “has too much treble”. They may be right and they may be wrong – when working with audio all opinions are valid.
This makes working with audio very tricky.
2 – Audio standards change
YouTube algorithms change and so will their audio standards.
As of writing this article, April 2021, the current YouTube normalisation value is -14LUFS, but there is no guarantee that it will remain at this level forever. YouTube can change this if they want too.
Broadcast TV standards are set in stone and sound design students will be taught about this in school.
Many, will try to apply their TV audio broadcast standards to YouTube videos, only to find that their YouTube videos will sound too low.
They are working to an audio standard – just the wrong one.
Where can I learn more about audio levels in video?
To learn more about audio levels, a fantastic resource is the BBC academy.
The BBC Academy have some fantastic educational resources to learn about sound, for example, here is a wonderful article that will help you understand loudness and the unit of measurement, LUFS.
In addition, the BBC academy is a well trusted and reliable resource.
Currently, YouTube normalises their streamed audio at a level of -14 LUFS, so ensuring your video audio is between -11 LUFS and -13 LUFS will give you a good result on YouTube.
A normalisation value of -14 LUFS, means that sound which is louder than this will be turned down to this level, however, audio that is quieter than -14LUFS will not be turned up, so it is important that your audio levels are loud enough to be heard clearly accross multiple devices.
To ensure that your YouTube videos at are good audio level, ensure you listen back to your content on a range of devices from TV, to phone to laptop to ensure your content sounds good everywhere.
The quality of audio in a video greatly influences if we believe what we hear, so it is critical to god quality audio in your content.