Final Cut Pro: Understanding Audio Meters

The purpose of audio meters in Final Cut Pro is to display the level of your audio signal. While there are different types of audio meters, the main type utilized by Final Cut Pro is peak audio meters. Peak audio meters will quickly let you know if the level of your audio exceeds 0 dBFS. Other audio meters used by Final Cut Pro include input audio meters, track meters, master audio meters and floating audio meters.

Average and Peak Audio Levels 

Being that Final Cut Pro uses peak audio meters, before you can dive into the purpose of the audio meter, you need to understand what the peaks and average loudness mean. When you are looking at an audio waveform, the tips of the waveform will be the peaks, while the main strip of audio will be the average loudness of the track. Peaks are short, loud bursts of sound. It is unlikely that the average loudness of your track will exceed 0 dBFS, but you will have instances where the peak levels do. 

Analog and Digital Audio Meters

If you have used analog audio meters in the past, you will need to learn the basics of digital audio meters, as well. This is because you set your audio levels differently when using a digital audio meter. A digital audio meter uses a digital scale, and the signal on the digital scale is measured in dBFS. If your audio level exceeds 0 dBFS, Final Cut Pro will clip that signal, which distorts the original shape of the audio waveform.

In most cases, depending upon your specific audio equipment, when you are recording audio, it is being recorded in analog context. Being that Final Cut Pro only uses digital context, you need to understand the different between 0 dB in analog and 0 dBFS in digital. When using an analog audio meter, 0 dB is the perfect recording level for a device. If you go below 0 dB, you may lose your audio signal, and if you go above 0 dB, your audio may become distorted. When using a digital analog meter, 0 dBFS is the highest allowed audio level.

When you are putting your project together using Final Cut Pro, you need to be thinking about how the audio level you set will correspond to an analog audio meter. As a general guideline, if you are working with 16-bit audio, you should set your audio level around -12 dBFS. If you are working with 20- or 24-bit audio, you should set your audio level around -18 or -20 dBFS.

Floating Audio Meters

If you are in the Viewer or Timeline, you will notice a floating audio meter. The floating audio meter uses a stereo display to show the output levels of your audio. The very top of the floating audio meter will be 0 dBFS. The lowest value on the floating audio meter will be -96 dBFS. If you need to display audio levels that exceed 0 dBFS, you will need to use the track or master audio meters.

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