Thanks, glad to chat about this. It’s my favorite engineering topic right now.
The K-Metering system has a small margin of wiggle room in it (not much). One can just tickle into the “yellow,” for the RMS part, or could push it hotter well into yellow and pumping ever so slightly into the “red” zone (only during the loudest parts). I tend to do the latter.
Yes, my bounce / mixdown is K-14.
I do my own mastering, been studying it as a somewhat serious hobby for over 20 years now, and have a second, dedicated computer as a real-time master chain that i can mix into at the touch of a button.
It has several stages, each doing a small bit, until it levels up to the target “DR” number (Dynamic Range). I usually target around DR8 to DR6 for my final.
I’ve been studying a lot of Beatport releases, to see where they fall. I’m seeing a trend in the last year of somewhat of a Loudness War de-escalation. Some artists that were doing tracks as loud as DR4 in 2012, have pulled back to DR6. I think the faster tempo music trend (134 BPM and higher) is helping. Faster tempos can mean less sustain on a kick. Less sustain on a kick can yield a high DR number (more dynamic range). The “Trance-ification” of Electro and Progressive House, for example (or, the other way around. A.k.a. “Trouse”), is bringing those DR numbers up a bit. I think more artists are getting educated about it, as well.
So, K-14 is way, way more DR that one needs for these genres. K-12 might be better, but K-14 works well because it’s more friendly to input modeled plugins, at its natural signal strength, without having to gain it down.
If you did K-12, you’d probably want to drop the gain a few db before hitting modeled plugins (unless you wanted the effect). Also, some mastering engineers might find K-12 a bit too hot for their liking. So unless you’re doing it yourself, K-14 would be more compatible with most ME’s workflow and signal chains.
I experimented with K-20 and also “18” on Dorrough meters and finally landed on K-14. There’s a certain quality to it that just lends itself well to electronic music.
I think part of the reason is that it’s a really hot “18” and -18db signal level is what most of these plugins model on the inputs. So, it just hot enough to tickle the circuit-modeled saturation on the plugins, but not too much.
Also, K-14’s peak control tends to play nice with buss compression. It triggers it enough to get some desirable pumping, but is controlled enough to keep it consistent and polished sounding.
K-metering also speaks about the overall tonal balance and in some ways is a very good guide to how the track is equalized. In fact, a tilt EQ in one direction or another can often be what’s needed to hit the desired target dynamics.
In other words, it’s hard to screw up a K-14 mix, tonally, cuz when you do, it jumps out of the K-14 spec toward K-12 (or in the other direction of K-20).
Get some good meters and study your favorite artists and mixes. Then a/b with your mix, with a rough “mastered level” dialed in, and compare against the same meters – use your ears and your eyes. Then, when you remove those limiters and it returns to K-14, you’ll know what the mix should sound like at K-14 and will have more confidence that it can, in fact, get to the DR8 to DR6 territory. Don’t expect to do this with one plugin or one stage. A few stages, each doing as few db as possible, is what will get you there (and what the ME will be doing).