What’s the difference between Peak and RMS?

Aug 06, 2017 by admin - 0 Comments

Peak vs RMS. What’s the difference between Peak and RMS?

Peak vs RMS.

What is Peak Meter, and what is RMS?

This article will help you to better understand difference between Peak vs RMS metering. 

When we’re making music we are always ( or at least most of our time ) looking at our audio levels. We’re doing that to measure how loud is something in the mix or how loud it should be. To do this we are using Peak Meter in our DAW. What that peak meter does it’s simply a visual representation of a level of audio signal that is passing through it. However, there are dozens of different audio metering systems in use, and they will often display different signal levels even though they are fed with the same signal. But, there is also this one thing called RMS. What is RMS and how can you use RMS to get a better mix in the end? What’s the difference between Peak and RMS ? By the end of this post you will know what RMS metering is, when, and how to use it.

To put the things in perspective, both Peak Meter and RMS are simply “audio meters” and they are metering audio levels ( how ironic ). But let’s distinguish the difference between Peak vs RMS.

Peak meter

A peak meter is an measuring instrument that visually represents level of audio signal that is passing through it. Peak metering PPM (Peak Program Meter) show you the instantaneous peak level of a signal at a given moment in time. A PPM allows you to accurately measure the peak level of a signal. To monitor sound levels of transients and sudden changes we are using peak meters.

Here are some types of digital peak meters:

Picture 1. Pro Tools Peak Meter

Picture 2. Fl Studio Peak Meter

Picture 3. Logic Pro Peak Meter

Once you work in you DAW  you will have digital metering (dBFS). 0 dBFS represents the highest value and any signal that goes above 0 dBFS will be affected by “digital clipping”. It will start distorting right away when you past 0db. In digital realm there is a hard ceiling that doesn’t allow any headroom past 0 dBFS. Nowadays you don’t need to be worried about digital clipping when you work in 32bit floating point, because floating points gives you an infinite amount of headroom even as long as the audio stays in digital realm. Now, on to the difference between Peak vs RMS.

RMS Metering

RMS metering gives you much better perceived loudness by displaying the average output level over a short period of time. It does that by measuring waveforms and averages the peaks into the overall loudness. RMS meters approximate the way your ear perceives sound levels. The RMS level will always be lower than your peak level because it has a slow response time and corresponds better with what we hear as humans.

So, RMS metering gives us much better perceived loudness. Let’s say you’re making a beat and you want it to be as loud as other beats that you hear on radio or you listen on Youtube or streaming platforms ( Spotify, Soundcloud…).  We can use RMS meter to measure how loud are those songs, or beats. And then we can apply that information to our mixes. But how much is just enough? It depends really, mostly it depends on certain genre, but there are no rules here. Producers and music engineers are constantly pushing the limits. “Loudness War” . But for the sake of this article let’s stick to Peak vs RMS metering.

Now we can use RMS metering to our advantages. There are many RMS plugins available. They are included with your DAW, and there are also third party plugins you download for free or buy. As we said earlier RMS metering gives us much better perceived loudness, so with RMS metering we can measure other tracks that are mixed and mastered in commercial studio environment and we can apply that information to our mixes.

Examples: (Peak vs RMS)

Example 1: Kendrick Lamar “Humble”  ( We will be using T-Racks CS Metering plugin )

Before we jump into analysis the important thing to know about RMS metering and plugins that we are using for metering is that results can be different depending on the plugins that we use.  Mostly because of the response time that RMS plugin is set on. For best results you should try couple of plugins and decide for yourself which you prefer the most, or  which one you are comfortable most.

In this example we can clearly see that RMS meter is hitting somewhere near -7 d. Peak meter is  at 0 db.

Example 2: Post Malone  “Congratulations”

Here we can clearly see that RMS meter is somewhere around -8 db. Peak level is at 0 db also.

Example 3: Migos  “T-Shirt”

Same here.

Of course RMS meter is not set to -8 db through whole song, it was just random moment when the picture was taken. The songs  used for this  “experiment” have been released in 2016, and 2017, and they are all considered trap songs, since we here at Producer Vibes are generally focused on Hip Hop and Trap. We’re using these songs as our referent songs for loudness. So it’s pretty obvious that all these songs are in same RMS loudness field. From our experience I would say that somewhere in between -12 to -8 db RMS is pretty safe for your final RMS loudness to be. But remember there are no rules here. Producers and music engineers are constantly pushing the limits. 

Conclusion to Peak vs RMS.

Now you know the difference between Peak and RMS, and how to use that information on your mixes. We hope this article helped you. Just remember RMS gives you much better perceived loudness, and corresponds better with our ears. 

For conclusion we will add some free vst metering plugins for you to try out! Enjoy!

    1. Voxengo SPAN 
  1. MAnalyzer, RMS buddy

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