Level the Volume of Your Digital Music Collection

By John Monaco
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If you’re like most collectors of digital music, your collection has accumulated over time. The titles that now live happily on your PC or MP3 player gradually made their way home from a number of different sources. You probably downloaded quite a bit of them, but perhaps you also ripped some from CDs and then there are those tracks you received from friends.

With such a melting pot of music, it’s likely that there’ll be some discrepancies among the crowd. Some may be missing artist or track information while others don’t have album art. But perhaps the most frustrating disparity is in the volume level. One song plays loud enough to shake the shutters but the very next is so soft you need to crank up the volume. Even if you’re within arm’s reach of the volume controls, the problem can be maddening.

The fact is audio files will play at different volumes depending on how they were made. Some are made at higher levels than others. Obvious differences in volume gain, boost, or general sound clarity are all possible due to sound quality and volume settings at the time the files were made.

The problem of inconsistent volume has made enough noise for the digital music industry to hear and take notice. In fact, a standard has been proposed to adjust — or “normalize” — the volume of all digital audio file formats. This standard is referred to as “Replay Gain” (though sometimes it is written as “ReplayGain, “replaygain” or simply “RG”). The Replay Gain formula adds metadata to audio files that establishes a volume level for playback. In doing so, files are not actually altered, much like adding track or artist data does not alter the file.

A few devices that play MP3s, such as the Sandisk Sansa, now include the means to adjust the volume of tracks by supporting Replay Gain. Users report varying levels of success; some have reported that they gained consistency but with a lower overall volume for all tracks.

As an alternative, a number of software products have been developed that can adjust the volume of digital music. These products scan entire collections and then normalize the volume levels. The scanned collection can then be reloaded onto an MP3 player and enjoyed. Some of these products permanently modify files in order to achieve results, which is a concern for some users.

Yet another option is to play your collection in a product that has functionality for the normalization of files built right in. Several jukebox programs, such as Ventis Media’s MediaMonkey, do this very thing. MediaMonkey can do this in one of two ways. First it can level the playback volume of a file as it plays based on Replay Gain. Alternatively, the program can level the track volume of the source file so that it plays back at a level volume on any player.

For many music collectors already looking for a program to play their collection, buying one that includes a volume leveling /normalization feature is a bonus that makes a lot of sense. Several of the jukebox programs we examined have audio editing functionality that incorporates normalization. Take a look at the jukebox software reviews and decide if any of these products meet all of your needs. At TopTenREVIEWS We Do the Research So You Don’t Have To.™

 
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