Level Up: A reading list for audio nerds

Adam Ragusea’s commentary in Current (“Why You’re Doing Audio Levels Wrong and Why It Really Does Matter”) struck a nerve when it was published last month.

He explained in very simple terms how audio levels translate into listener experience and retention. It set off a massive conversation among listeners, producers, and sound engineers (sound engineers: “told you so”). 

It definitely explained in laymen’s terms why I can’t listen to “This American Life” while riding the clattering, rattling trains of Boston’s T, but “Snap Judgment” is just fine.

Adam, a journalist in residence and visiting assistant professor of journalism at Mercer University’s Center for Collaborative Journalism, and Rob Byers, the technical coordinator for the music portfolio at American Public Media and Minnesota Public Radio, are good sports, and they’ve agreed to give a webinar co-hosted by AIR and PRX on Aug. 20

With a few days to go before the webinar, I thought it might be fun to pull together a reading list about levels. (Editor’s note: A recording of the webinar is now available.)

Have suggestions for further reading? Please tweet them to @AIRmedia or email

• First stop: Jeff Towne’s “Everything You Wanted to Know About Levels And Then Some” for

“For many years, reporters and producers had the luxury of remaining fuzzy in their understanding of the finer points of audio levels, because there were always audio engineers at radio stations who understood this arcane topic, who would make adjustments before it reached the listeners’ ears.”
“I’m trying to be tactful about commercial music production, but …”
 • If you really want to dive in, here’s NPR Labs’ CODEC report, which triggered the whole conversation.
“Findings indicate that the irregularity of audio levels between individual public radio streams today often exceed the tolerance of listeners.”
• For a historic view, here’s Buzz Turner in the AIR archives, explaining levels and how public media in the U.S. and the U.K. adopted different standards.
“When I first went to work for the BBC I discovered that the British and most Europeans referred to the VU as ‘virtually useless’.”
• And if you’re in the U.K., try the BBC Academy’s interview with BBC Radio studio manager Giles Aspen. (Inaccessible stateside, alas.)
• A bonus, courtesy of Rob Byers: Florian Camerer, chairman of the European Broadcasting Union PLOUD group, presenting “The Path to Loudness.” Clear, useful explanation aimed at producers, not sound engineers.