Mixdown to MP3 requires very hot (clipped) tracks in Cubase

I’m trying to create MP3 files using Cubase 9 on Windows 7. Specifically I’m recording rock music from my old collection of cassette tapes and writing it out to MP3 files. First I use my interface (an RME Fireface 400) to record the taped music into Cubase at a modest level, never peaking above -5 dBFS in Cubase. But when I do the mixdown to MP3, the volume level of the created MP3 files is way below the level expected by players like iTunes. They are much quieter than songs purchased from the Apple store for example. If I want the MP3s to be saved at a respectable volume, I have to increase the level of the tracks in Cubase (either by recording hotter or amplifying the wave in Cubase) until the tracks are clipping all over the place. Actually, Cubase TELLS me they’re clipping, with peaks reaching +2 or +3 dBFS, but the tracks actually sound fine. Moreover, when I listen to the MP3s generated from the clipping Cubase tracks, I don’t hear any clipping-related problems. But it concerns me.

I don’t think this is a problem unique to tapes. I get the same problem if I record music from CDs, YouTube, etc. The same phenomenon happens for me in Cubase 6.5 as well as 9, since I have both versions on my computer.

This seems really odd. Any advice is welcome!

Jack C.
Maryland, USA

Make sure your master out slider is as high as it can go without clipping - just below zero. That will boost the level without distortion.

The mp3 compression in itself adds to the signal.
I would start with a Brickwall limiter last on the Master bus with a Threshold of -0,5dB
That gives it a little room for the mp3 process, and they will end up around 0dB.
Before the Brickwall you could try the Maximizer, use the modern algo, and keep the Optimize setting below 25 and Softclip ON, or it can get nasty fast.
It is all depending on the source material, so you will have to experiment what setting fits best, but it is definitely going to be louder :slight_smile:

Thanks. I’ll try some of this. But just to clarify, the problem isn’t that I can’t get Cubase to create louder MP3 files. The problem is that I can’t get Cubase to generate louder files without turning up the master bus until it’s clipping. I want my MP3s to have a level similar to the level of “commercial” songs purchased in iTunes or loaded directly from CD, which tends to be pretty high.

But actually I found that the volume level of commercial songs varies widely, and only the loudest ones are louder than the MP3s Cubase can generate from a non-clipping signal. I suspect the loud commercial songs are themselves clipping - exceeding the capacity of the MP3 or other format they’re using. It’s either that or they’re using something like ReplayGain metadata to increase the level. Any thoughts on this? Thanks again.

As has been hinted at by Peakae above then you’d need to use a compressor or a limiter to prevent the clipping.

Then, once again, you’d need to apply gain and use a compressor or a limiter to prevent the clipping. You may also need to use EQ. (By the way, this is why there are mastering engineers).

That’s right the apparent loudness of commercial songs varies widely. But the perceived loudness of MP3s has nothing to do with whether it was produced in Cubase or not and nothing to do with whether it is clipping or not… loudness depends on the EQ and dynamic characteristics of the signal. And for that matter it also has little to do with whether the file is an MP3 file or a WAV file. Perceived loudness is a quality which is inherent in the signal itself. Try doing a search for ‘loudness wars’ on the internet. There’s lots of information about loudness on the web.

Yes some of them do push the levels to extremes. Distorted signals are perceived as sounding louder.

To get more of an idea about loudness maybe consider monitoring the loudness of your files using the loudness meter in the Control Room. Check out the integrated value for each song. You can also check out loudness in the Statistics for an audio file (in the the Audio menu).

Also keep in mind that old cassette music will have been recorded with more dynamics and less loudness than your normal mp3 download