Many of us like to listen to music whether it’s in the car on the way to work, walking down the street or at home to relax. There is a multitude of different ways to get your music files from P2P networks, download services like iTunes, searching for MP3s on Google, or visiting Myspace. One of the problems you will have most likely come across if you have music from several different sources is that they don’t all have the exact same volume level.
Some individual tracks or whole albums will have been encoded by a different person or company using different methods. The result is some tracks might be significantly louder or quieter than others. What you need to solve this problem is a program to alter the volume of the songs to a similar level so there are no sudden jumps between tracks when there shouldn’t be.
One way is to re-encode the file to the desired level, but this lowers the quality of the audio. Here we show you another way that has some useful advantages.
Normalize MP3 Volume Using ReplayGain
It’s not actually a program or piece of software but ReplayGain is an audio standard to measure the volume level of a music file. It uses an algorithm to calculate a track’s overall perceived loudness and then adjusts the song to the required level, making the sound you actually hear more consistent across several songs.
What makes ReplayGain useful is the process is lossless and it can do this without re-encoding the audio file. The calculated settings are stored in the music file’s metadata so it can be undone and the file restored to its original volume level later on. ReplayGain has two different modes to choose from and the software you use to adjust audio files using this method will usually have both available.
ReplayGain Track Mode
This mode is best used for collections of individual tracks that are completely separate from each other, like compilations or greatest hits albums. The volume level for each individual song is calculated and the amount of gain needed for it to match the target volume is displayed. Some songs may need a drop in volume to reach the target level, others may need an increase.
The image above shows that all the songs have a different volume level so the track gain to be applied is different for each. If the volume is already close to the target volume, the file will be skipped.
ReplayGain Album Mode
This mode is suited to whole albums or related collections of songs. It calculates the average volume level across all the selected tracks and then works out how much gain needs applying to reach the target level. All tracks will be altered by this amount only. This has the advantage that quieter parts of an album will stay that way relative to the louder parts, but the overall volume of the album will change.
Look at the same image above and you can see that all tracks are to be adjusted by the same amount, whether they are louder or quieter than the average. This mode is especially useful if your album has music that continues from one track into the next without a break, such as live albums or classical music.
Software That Uses ReplayGain To Adjust MP3 Volume
Most modern music playing software and hardware can read the ReplayGain metadata inside MP3 files. However, fewer programs can actually process the file and write the ReplayGain data to the file in the first place. Here are a few free programs to look at.
MP3Gain was one of the first pieces of software that used ReplayGain to adjust the volume level of MP3 files nearly two decades ago. The program is open source but apart from new language translations, it hasn’t had any meaningful updates since 2005. MP3Gain does work on the latest Windows 10 but you need to download the correct version to avoid error messages when you start it.
To load MP3 files into the program you can select individual files and playlists using the Add File(s) button or use the Add Folder button to load whole albums or complete folders. Drag and drop also works if you don’t run the program as administrator. The default target volume is 89dB which you can change up or down if you want (75.0 – 99.9).
Simply press the Track or Album Analysis button and the volume levels will be calculated. If changes need to be made, choose to apply the Track, Album, or Constant type of gain to the files. Constant is a simple method to change the db level by the target amount across all files. If you want to put the levels back to default, simply use the Modify Gain > Undo Gain Changes menu option.
Both installer and portable versions available. If you’re not sure whether you have the required Visual Basic runtime files installed, download the “Full” installer. Otherwise, you will probably receive an error on start, most likely regarding a missing “MSCOMCTL.OCX” file.
MP3Gain actually comes in two parts, there’s the frontend GUI and then there’s the console based tool that does the ReplayGain processing in the background. wxMP3Gain is simply a different frontend for the MP3Gain console tool that is more modern and up to date. As it doesn’t rely on old Visual Basic files, you won’t get error messages about missing OCX files.
The biggest disadvantage of this frontend program is there’s no option to choose album gain and only track gain is available. All songs will be changed individually to match the target volume level. Most of the options that are available in the original MP3Gain are here as well. It’s just some of them might be in different places, Constant Gain is in the settings window, for example.
Setup installer, portable, and Linux versions are available. MP3gain.exe is already included so you don’t have to download extra files.
Foobar2000 is a well known and popular music player, CD ripper, and audio converter for Windows and other platforms. One of its features is ReplayGain support where you can not only apply it to music files as they play, but you can also write the volume level metadata to the music files for use with other players.
With a music file in your playlist, right click on it and select an option from the ReplayGain sub menu. There are options to apply an automatic track gain, apply album gain to several files, remove any current gain data in the file, or apply gain to file content. This last option opens a window with some settings similar to those found in MP3Gain, such as setting the target dB level, making files louder or quieter only, and prevent clipping.
The ReplayGain feature for playback is enabled by default and set to the album mode. If you wish to change any of the options, go to Preferences > Playback. Foobar2000 can create a portable version when running the setup installer.
Note: There are some other music players that can write ReplayGain metadata to audio files. They include MediaMonkey, Quod Libet (album gain only), and possibly the most well known Windows audio player, Winamp. However, Foobar2000 seems to have the best overall implementation, in our opinion.