PRSS will reduce audio levels a year after initial proposed date

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Eleven months after the initial date for ending a temporary boost to its audio levels, the Public Radio Satellite System has announced that the change will take place Jan. 26.

PRSS increased the levels of audio it feeds to stations by 6 dB in 2013, when it moved into NPR’s new Washington headquarters and rolled out a new generation of receivers to subscribing stations. The receivers were built to a standard that produced a lower audio level on analog outputs.

What was initially billed as a “temporary” level boost ended up lasting nearly three years after some stations raised concerns about the logistics of returning to the original audio levels.

When PRSS announced in December 2014 that it would reduce levels in February 2015, engineers at some smaller stations asked for a delay to allow them to better coordinate the mechanics of adjusting their audio chains. That delay also gave PRSS an opportunity to complete another ongoing process, implementing a new loudness standard for incoming audio from all the producers who feed material into the PRSS system.

“We’ve been spending an awful lot of time working with the producer side, making sure their leveling matches our leveling so the only thing stations will notice is the minus-6 dB (level cut),” said Michael Beach, NPR’s vice president for distribution.

Beach says the delay gave PRSS an opportunity to answer stations’ concerns about getting ready for the change.

“What we’ve already done is to put test streams up [at the new level],” he said. “There’s one that’s just tone, and one that alternates between tone and content.”

While PRSS doesn’t have the capacity to put up temporary streams of all of its live programming at both the old and new levels, as some stations had suggested, Beach said those test streams should give stations a chance to be more prepared.

“As long as they have somebody there and they’ve pre-worked it through with those test signals, they should be OK,” he said. “We don’t believe it’s going to be completely painless. People will have to put some work in.”

Once the switch is made, though, Beach said there will be advantages.

“With the audio standard we have now, it’s actually possible that content comes in that’s within our loudness standard, but it could still have a few spots that end up too loud because of the 6 dB of headroom we’ve taken away,” he said.

Removing the 6 dB boost will provide more of that crucial headroom to prevent distortion on the loudest bits of audio — and, Beach said, will make good on PRSS’s stated goal of being a distribution system that alters none of the audio it passes through to stations.

“We understand this is an effort on everyone’s part, and we appreciate it,” he said. “I think the benefit will be worth it.”

PRSS is encouraging stations that still have concerns to contact its help desk as early as possible.

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  • Public Radio Satellite System

    The test streams and tones are now available for all ContentDepot users:

    The first test stream in ContentDepot is a single 24-hour program providing a constant -20 dBFS tone. It is a single transmission that can be subscribed to at-will or on the fly and can be accessed via this link:

    PRSS Test Program Stream Tone

    https://contentdepot.prss.org/portal/media/programs/3874954

    In addition, a composite hour of -24 LUFS audio and -20 dBFS tone can be subscribed to via this link:

    PRSS Test Program Stream Audio

    https://contentdepot.prss.org/portal/media/programs/917492

    The contents are as follows:

    00:00 – NPR audio -24 LUFS

    00:10 – Tone -20 dBFS

    00:20 – APM audio -24 LUFS

    00:30 – Tone -20 dBFS

    00:40 – PRI audio -24 LUFS

    00:50 – Tone -20 dBFS

    This sample audio stream may be subscribed to for any specific hours or portions as you wish. All audio hours have the same content. The program content description also appears on the ContentDepot program page.