It has been said that anything that can’t be measured, can’t be managed. While there’s some debate about the universality of this statement, it’s most definitely true for audio levels.
Before I get into the application and it’s capabilities you might like to know why I think it’s necessary. To be over simplistic, WebRTC!
What I really mean by that is PC-based audio handling by soft clients that lack their own audio metering.
Consider for example a Google+ Hangout. You join the call, select your audio devices and hope for the best. In the well-meaning attempt to keep things simple for the end-user there are no user adjustable audio controls beyond device selection. There’s only rudimentary indication of presence of signal, certainly nothing that could be called a measuring tool.
For most people this is adequate. However, the very fact that you’re reading this implies that you’re not like most people. I know that I’m not.
It’s true that Windows has tools for level adjustment buried down in the audio device settings, but these can hardly be considered decent instrumentation.
The Volume Mixer also provides some indication of signal presence, but has no facility to actually measure levels in a meaningful way.
This is where Wide Range Peak Meters becomes useful. It’s a Windows (XP, Vista &7) application that can be installed to provide accurate measurement of audio levels from any device on the system.
The application is very flexible. It can set set to monitor any audio device. It has vertical and horizontal display modes. It can be skinned, to make it look appropriate for your needs, including disabling the standard Windows application borders. It can even be scaled up/down in size.
Of course, the metering behavior itself can be defined, including; full scale reference level, peak indication, clip indication, ballistics, color & text label.
The application is lightweight, presenting very little load to the host computer. That’s great since my desktop is already pretty busy in any situation where I would need such a tool.
Further, the application taking the measurement is independent of the application handling the media. That means that it can likely be trusted. For example, if I join a hangout I can launch the metering to know with certainty that my microphone level is optimal.
In truth, a Hangout isn’t the best example. A better example is the process by which I used to interconnect a Hangout to ZipDX. I had very little insight into the audio levels between the two services. I had to just listen for a short time and hope for the best. Or turn on the automatic gain control and hope that it doesn’t itself cause problems.
Beyond any real need, there are some cool things that can be done with live audio metering. For example how about a lower third banner design that incorporates the audio meter into the presentation? I like the fact that it adds both color and movement. I did this by creating a new skin for the single, horizontal meter layout…one that basically hides everything but the meter itself.
I truly believe that knowing is better than guessing, and that requires insight…the kind of insight that comes from measurement. There’s a lot here to like in Wide Range Peak Meters from Darkwood Designs. At just $15 I consider it to be a bargain. Fun, too.