The Levelator™

Update 9/30/06: The Levelator is now ready for download.

Do you believe in magic? You will after using The Levelator to enhance your podcast. And you’ll ve amazed that it’s free (for non-commercial use). Tomorrow at the Podcast and Portable Media Expo, GigaVox Media will demo The Levelator in our booth and make it available for free download from our web site.

So what is The Levelator? It’s software that runs on Windows or OS X (universal binary) that adjusts the audio levels within your podcast for variations from one speaker to the next, for example. It’s not a compressor, normalizer or limiter although it contains all three. It’s much more than those tools, and it’s much simpler to use. The UI is dirt-simple: Drag-and-drop any WAV or AIFF file onto The Leveler’s application window, and a few moments later you’ll find a new version which just sounds better.

Have you ever recorded an interview in which you and your guest ended up at different volumes? How about a panel discussion where some people were close to microphones and others were not? These are the problems the post-production engineers of Team ITC solve every day, and it used to sometimes take them hours of painstaking work with expensive and complex tools like SoundTrack Pro, Audacity, Sound Forge or Audition to solve them. Now it takes mere seconds. I’m not kidding. The Levelator is unlike any other audio tool you’ve ever seen, heard or used. It’s magic. And it’s free.

When I started to develop the IT Conversations component-based show-assembly system (the first generation of GigaVox Audio Lite, see below), I realized all the components had to be of the same loudness or the results would sound awful. We limped along for many months using the RMS normalization functions in various applications, but the results weren’t satisfactory and it required tools and skillsets that some of our post-production audio engineers didn’t have. One of our best engineers, Bruce Sharpe, offered to write a standalone software RMS normalization utility, which we’ve been using as part of our production system GVUploader for nearly a year.

The GVUploader’s normalizer acts similar to an intelligent RMS-based compressor/limiter combination, and it therefore affects primarily the short-term (transient) sounds and the long-term overall loudness of the file. It doesn’t make the kind of adjustments that a skilled audio engineer can perform in software or at a mixing console, riding the levels up and down to compensate for medium-term variations.

There are some hardware devices such as the Aphex Compellor 320A and various AGC (automatic-gain control) components that can do moderate leveling, but since they have to operate in real time (i.e., without look-ahead), they can’t do much. And they aren’t cheap, let alone free. Even a skilled human can only react to changes unless s/he is lucky enough to be present during a recording session and can use visual cues to anticipate coming variations. Software can do better by performing multiple passes over the audio, generating a loudness map of where the volume changes. (It’s not actually that simple, but the metaphor is helpful.)

Bruce, with help from his son, Malcolm, had proven that he knew how to tackle these problems in ways that no one else anywhere in the audio/software industry has done to date. So I asked him, “Bruce, do you you think you can write a leveler that corrects for medium-term variations in loudness instead of the short-term and long-term variatons processed by compressor/limiters and normalizers, respectively?” Bruce and Malcolm took on the challenge, and eight months later we began testing The Levelator.

I’ve been a professional audio engineer longer than I’ve been in the computer industry — that’s a long time — and belileve me, there’s nothing else like this out there. I guarantee it will blow you away or double your money back. (Oh wait, it’s free. I forgot.) We previewed it for 100 people at Podcast Academy 4 today, and they were unanimously impressed. You will be, too.

We’ve got some last-minute details to tidy up in terms of the installers and packaging, but within the next 24 hours or so, we’ll post the URL for free download at

You’ll believe in magic. Guaranteed.

GigaVox Audio Lite

It’s not a beta-test launch — it’s just a technology preview — but tomorrow we’re going to demonstrate GigaVox Audio Lite, a forthcoming web-based service offering from GigaVox Media. Designed for professional podcasters, organizations and media companies, GigaVox Media Lite is  based on the same content-management and show-assembly system we’ve developed and used for the past 3.5 years for IT Conversations.

In early discussions we’ve had with prospective customers and partners, I’ve described it as being like for podcast production and distribution. For a reasonable monthly fee, you’ll be able to use GigaVox Media Lite to assemble your podcasts from components according to scripts, manage advertisers/sponsors and campaigns, create RSS feeds, and publish your podcast to the hosting service or CDN of your choice. There’s a long list of additional features and benefits, and the 2,500 or so attendees at the Podcast and Portable Media Expo will have a chance to see it in action, but the rest of you will have to depend on their reviews or wait until the service enters beta test later this year.

Prius, Week One

I’ve put about 300 miles so far on what is supposedly my wife’s new Toyota Prius. She’s driven about 30. 🙂 Okay, so we’re a little late to the game here. These things are all over the place, and I know many people who own them, some for two years. But there are some interesting things about the car that compel me to blog about them.

First, of course, are the powerplant and fuel mileage. Thursday I drove to Palo Alto (74 miles each way) and used less than three gallons of gas for the entire trip. 52.2mpg average. How cool is that? And I wasn’t holding back. 75mph on highway 280, air conditioner and headlights on.

I’m pretty geeky, but even for me the systems take some time to learn. For example, I’m used to reaching into my pocket for the car keys while walking to the car. Wrong! Just leave them in your pocket or purse. You don’t need to handle them to get into the car or even to start it. It’s all some RFID thing or similar.

Turn it on and nothing happens. Stop at a signal or stop sign, and the car makes zero sound. Nothing. Almost spooky. I’ve heard that one problem is when people park, they forget to turn off the car. You can set the parking brake, put the transmission into Park, and forget that the systems are still powered up.

Here’s one item that fascinates me. You know how a car with an automatic transmission (torque converter) will creep forwards if you release the brake from a stop on a level surface? This was unavoidable with the first automatic transmissions, and that may still be the case. Now think about a hybrid: The gas engine is off. There’s no need to creep. But sure enough, take your foot off the brake pedal and the Prius silently inches forward. And then you realize that this effect is entirely simulated. It must have come from usability testing, since there’s no mechanical reason for it.

The car is a great showcase for all of Toyota’s cool technologies. The GPS is nicely integrated, although I’m disappointed that the dashboard clock isn’t driven by the GPS. The audio switching and silencing (including good Bluetooth integration) work very well. A nice mini jack for the iPod and a dedicated 12vdc outlet. The one luxury I miss is powered seats with two-person memory. My wife and I are trying to use the Prius as much as possible. My 10-year-old Lexus hasn’t run all week. But with two people sharing a car, it’s a pain to readjust the seat and mirrors all the time, particularly after getting used to that nice feature in the Lexus.

The carrying capacity is terrific, too. I was worried that by selling my wife’s 13-year-old Jeep Cherokee we wouldn’t be able to haul around large things, but this car can carry a lot.

Turns out that here (Marin County, California), we have the most Toyota Priuses (sp?) of any county in the U.S. No surprise, perhaps. Affluent, liberal, and politically correct to a fault.

Overall: I’m very impressed. The Prius actually exceeds my expectations. And as far as I can tell, delivered with zero defects of any kind. Given the relative volumes of production, the complexity, the cost and the profit margins, I’d say the computer industry still has a lot to learn from Toyota.

And Tim Bray is right: Detroit is doomed.

The Energy Thing

Scott Loftesness’ post about being the only one in the theatre for a screening of Who Killed the Electric Car? reminded me that I haven’t posted about a subject near and dear to my heart. I the 1970s I produced and directed a documentary film on solar energy called The Age of the Sun. It was bought by an educational-film distributor and was fairly popular for many years.

A few years ago we installed a 2.5kw photovoltaic system for our home, and after some initial problems with the inverter, it has worked flawlessly ever since. As part of the installation, we had PG&E put in a time-of-use meter. I’ve gotta tell you, it’s very satisfying to be selling electricity to PG&E at a high rate during the day (and watching the meter actually run backwards!), and then buying electricity back from them at night for about one-third the price. Yeah, it won’t pay for itself for perhaps another four years, but it just makes so much sense, we had to do it.

On Tuesday we’ll pickup the new Prius for which we’ve been waiting nine weeks. It replaces my wife’s 13-year-old Jeep Cherokee. The Prius is a great car for geeks. I think Toyota has actually used it as a platform to show off and test a number of new technologies, not just their hybrid power plants.