The distinction between LUFS and DBFS is not the simplest to understand, but it is unquestionably an important one. There is constant uncertainty over metering, and consequently loudness, in the age of limitless streaming platforms and varying loudness requirements for distribution types.
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What is LUFS?
The measurement that most closely approximates how people hear sounds is called LUFS, or loudness units referred to full scale. Humans do not perceive sound linearly. Decibels are a rigorous depiction of the physics of sound rather than the anatomical understanding of sound perception, despite the fact that they are well suited to expressing sound because they are based on a logarithmic function. Four methods exist for measuring LUFS:
Short Term Loudness
Integrated loudness and loudness range are measurements that take into account the loudness over the course of the mix, whereas instantaneous loudness and short-term loudness measure the loudness of the previous 400 ms and 3 s, respectively.
By measuring and calculating the change in short-term loudness during the program, Loudness Range (LRA) determines the change in dynamic range across the mix.
But the key is integrated loudness. The material’s overall average volume is determined by integrated LUFS. Target levels are most frequently discussed using integrated loudness.
What is DBFS?
A full-scale peak meter, which measures the largest peaks in a signal in dBFS units, is typically provided on almost all channels and busses within a DAW.
The maximum value is 0 dBFS, and dBFS is the unit of measurement for amplitude levels or peaks in a digital system. Decibels relative to full scale, or dBFS, is the most fundamental, widely used, and essential unit of measurement to comprehend.
Full scale is referred to as the highest voltage that can be present before an A/D converter or D/A converter overloads. Full-scale voltage is determined by the internal converter design and can take on a wide range of values, making full-scale itself a variable.
Your mix’s greatest peak shouldn’t be 0dBFS; rather, it should be below 0dBFS to prevent clipping. Between -6dBFS and -3dBFS are thought to be the ideal peak levels. The headroom is the distance between the maximum peak volume and 0 dBFS.
LUFS vs DBFS: What’s The Difference?
Nothing besides the abbreviation. Loudness, K-weighted, relative to full scale is referred to as LKFS.
While dBFS is a precise measurement of amplitude peaks in a digital stream, LUFS measures subjective loudness. dBFS does not account for human perception; it only measures electrical level. Each type of metering has a distinct function and has historically been regarded as being the most significant. Since dBFS is a peak measurement and LUFS is a loudness measurement, peak and loudness meters will be used in this article.
dBFS offers a straightforward electrical level measurement, however LUFS gives us a more powerful tool: consistency. Contrary to what the Loudness Wars said (louder = better), this is actually the secret to all successful mixes and albums.
It will take some getting used to using this new tool, so be patient. The most obvious and challenging change is the meter, therefore use this article as a roadmap. You’ll soon LUFS loudness meters as much as your mastering engineer, and they’ll LUFS you back for having balanced, properly leveled mixes.
Uses of LUFS and DBFS
LUFS is used in audio production to hit specific integrated loudness targets like -14 LUFS for streaming services. This ensures uniform perceived volume across tracks.
DBFS is used to monitor real-time signal levels and peak headroom during recording/mixing to avoid clipping and distortion at 0 dBFS.
Streaming services like Spotify use LUFS for playback normalization. Songs are amplified and attenuated to match target LUFS loudness based on genre.
While mastering, both LUFS and DBFS are used – LUFS to optimize integrated loudness and DBFS to maximize signal level without clipping.
Converting Between LUFS and DBFS
While LUFS and DBFS represent different measurements, they can be roughly correlated for comparison:
-23 LUFS is approximately equal to -18 dBFS
For every 1 dB change in LUFS, there is a corresponding 6 dB change in DBFS.
However, this is only an approximation. The exact relationship between LUFS and DBFS depends on the audio material itself. The conversion is not exact due to their different reference points and measurement methodologies.
In summary, LUFS represents perceived loudness while DBFS measures absolute signal levels. LUFS is used for loudness normalization applications while DBFS monitors peaks and headroom. Both serve important roles in audio production and broadcasting.
LUFS and DBFS Meters
When working with audio, having meters for both LUFS and DBFS is essential to visualize these measurements:
LUFS meters display short-term and integrated LUFS loudness levels. They may include:
Momentary LUFS – The last 400ms of audio
Short-term LUFS – LUFS averaged over 3 seconds
Integrated LUFS – LUFS averaged across the entire program
Other useful readings include LRA (Loudness Range) and maximum true peak level. LUFS meters help normalize and optimize loudness when mastering.
DBFS meters show absolute signal levels and headroom:
Peak meter – Displays max sample value, helps catch transients.
VU meter – Slower response, averages levels.
True peak meter – Accounts for inter-sample peaks.
DBFS meters help avoid clipping and optimize gain staging throughout the production process.
Having both LUFS and DBFS meters alongside when mastering is recommended. LUFS guides loudness normalization while DBFS indicates peak levels and preserves headroom.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the LUFS standard for streaming?
Most streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music aim for an integrated LUFS loudness of -14 LUFS, with a maximum true peak level of -1 DBFS. This standard ensures consistent perceived loudness across tracks and genres.
What LUFS level should I master audio to?
For music, aim for -14 LUFS integrated loudness, leaving 1-3 dB of headroom below 0 dBFS true peak maximum. For podcasts and audiobooks, target -16 to -19 LUFS with 3-6 dB peak headroom. Use multiple loudness meters when mastering.
What is the maximum DBFS level I should exceed?
You should avoid 0 dBFS at all costs during recording and mixing to prevent clipping and distortion. Leave at least 3-6 dB of headroom below 0 DBFS for transient peaks at the mastering stage.
Can I convert LUFS to dB?
There is no direct conversion between LUFS and dB since they are different scales. As a rough approximation, -23 LUFS is ~-18 dBFS. But the relationship varies based on dynamic range compression and frequency balance.
Which is better for measuring loudness?
LUFS provides a better representation of perceived loudness as it accounts for human hearing. DBFS simply measures technical signal levels. Use LUFS when normalizing loudness and DBFS to avoid clipping.
Should I aim for 0 DBFS when mastering?
No, 0 dBFS should never be reached during mastering. Leave 1-3 dB of true peak headroom below 0 DBFS to allow transient peaks without distorting. Maximize loudness with compression while retaining this peak headroom.