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Understanding VU Meters

One of the main things that sound engineers do throughout their day is metering — checking that the audio levels are reaching every piece of equipment at its optimal values. In other words: gain staging. We have talked about the importance of gain staging in previous articles and how VU metres can help you set the right levels for recording and mixing. To help you further understand how to read these metres and how they differ from your standard DAW peak metres, let’s first journey back in time.

The Origin

The original VU metre is a passive electromechanical device that reacts to the electrical signal passing through it. It was designed in the 1940’s by experts from CBS, NBC, and the Bell Telephone Laboratories. It was soon standardised in telephone installation and radio broadcast stations to provide readings of the magnitude of the waves encountered in the electrical signal. One of its characteristics is its relatively slow response to the signal’s amplitude, which is caused by the mass of the needle and reflects the perceived loudness of the audio. That is why the VU metre can not show peak values just like the dBFS metre does. Instead the peak value should be inferred to be between 6 dB and 10 dB higher than the reading given by the needle.

When engineers use VU metres to set levels, they aim for the needle to hit around 0 VU. That’s because this value is calibrated to be the professional line level standard of +4 dBu, which ensures an optimal signal-to-noise ratio throughout the whole recording chain.

So how can we use these metres in the 21st century and how can they benefit your recordings and mixing in modern DAWS? Let’s have a look!

Digital VU Metres

Since the behaviour of VU metres were standardised and described in detail, modern technology was able to create digital emulations of them. ……….

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