Not only does this audio toolbox make crucial mix and mastering decisions a breeze, says Marc JB, it also makes you feel you’re the captain of a submarine with a sophisticated radar system. We take and in-depth look at Clarity M from TC Electronic
Manufacturer TC Electronic
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Loudness has become an industry buzzword synonymous with a race to make masters ever louder and more distorted – mastering engineers have a daily headache thinking about this as they consider the loss in quality as a master is pushed to its maximum.
As a master gets louder, the recording loses its dynamic impact. Unfortunately, clients simply want their masters as loud as similar songs – so they don’t sound quiet in comparison. Many mastering engineers are having to go against their principles to satisfy requirements and stay in business.
The mastering bible, which is next to me as I write this, is called Mastering Audio: The Art And The Science, by Bob Katz – it’s a pretty intense read. Bob describes the TC sound as “impeccable” and quotes the company’s expertise and research in the field of loudness—there can be no finer recommendation than this.
TC has been at the forefront of loudness research, so its products are built upon a great legacy – enter the Clarity M, described as “the perfect audio toolbox for music creation that helps you make those crucial mix and mastering decisions.”
Since I’ve had the unit in for review, clients have been walking into the studio, immediately drawn to the Clarity M, asking what it does. It is most definitely the coolest music tech in my studio. The Clarity M is a standalone device that takes a digital audio feed from your DAW or interface and gives you real-time, industry-standard information on your loudness levels.
The Clarity M has metering for stereo and 5.1 audio sources, a seven-inch high-resolution display for precision metering and can accept a variety of sources from AES, Optical (ADAT) or USB which connects to a plugin (VST, AU and AAX) within your DAW – particularly useful for checking out busses or individual tracks.
The most striking feature on the left of the Clarity M screen is the radar display, which shows short-term loudness history and momentary loudness. This helps visualise the dynamics of the mix and is adjustable to different mastering standards using the built-in presets. The display can also be changed to a 1/3 Octave RTA high-accuracy real-time analyser with individual-band zoom (oooh!).
In the centre are detailed statistics giving a real-time overview for all key loudness parameters. The most useful I found was the sliding 10 sec LUFS meter for checking the levels at loud parts of the mix – to set the level of the mastering maximiser.
More or fewer stats can be shown. On the right is a state-of-the-art stereo and surround true-peak meter to identify clipping, a stereo downmix compliance meter to make sure the mix will sound mixed down in stereo or mono. Underneath that is a correlation meter, to check for phase issues.
Apart from looking super-cool, the Clarity M provides essential loudness metering to help set mixes at optimal levels and create industry-standard masters for sale and broadcast.
Clarity M – Alternatives
TC Electronic itself provides LMn loudness plug-ins, running natively in Pro Tools and other major DAWs. LM2n is $149. iZotope’s Insight, with real-time 3D spectrogram, is $499, offering “ visual intelligence” for mixing and mastering. Waves’ WLM Plus Loudness Meter ($399) is another pro-level option.
Clarity M – Key Features
● Stereo and 5.1 audio meter for mixing, mastering and post
● 7″, high-resolution display for precision metering
● USB connection for seamless plug-in metering
● Stereo downmix compliance meter
● Surround True-Peak meter
● Statistical overview for key loudness parameters
● Radar loudness meter shows short-term loudness history and momentary loudness
● Seamless intergation with DAW workflow