While the meters built into your DAW or audio editor are probably sufficient for tracking and mixing purposes, when it comes to high-precision work - most pertinently, mastering - you might want to get your hands on something rather more… serious.
Although dedicated metering plugins might not be any more accurate that your integrated meters for measuring standard peak and RMS levels, they add all kinds of incredibly useful features, from K-System and True Peak metering to scrolling histograms and adjustable PPM ballistics. Here are a dozen of our favourites several of them available for free…
Perhaps too good to be free, SPAN can do K-System metering, and includes a correlation meter as well as comprehensive spectrum analysis options.
Best of all, though, you can overlay mid and side spectrums for really detailed information about stereo width.
ToneBoosters EBU Loudness
TB EBU Loudness, part of the the BusTools 3 bundle, provides all the essential R.128 standard loudness and true peak measurements, with support for multichannel surround formats as well as stereo.
The full-size plugin provides an optional history graph.
This one provides a choice of metering types, with an attractive, resizable 4K-ready interface, and even a choice of skins.
The classic style is perhaps better suited to VU or PPM metering than modern EBU loudness measurements, but it looks great… and it’s also free!
Signum Audio Bute Loudness Suite
Serves up an array of loudness metering standards, and features a True Peak limiter and a level history graph.
The last is useful when working to broadcast standards that specify a Loudness Range (LRA), as you can easily see exactly where you’ve deviated from spec.
VUMT provides emulations of classic VU and PPM style metering, or K-System RMS, and you even get a choice of different skins.
The Deluxe version is only slightly more expensive, but adds features that go way beyond just metering, such as dynamic EQ.
Displays peak and RMS levels on the same scale, K-System style, with the central meters showing the difference between the two - the ‘crest factor’. This is a measure of transient pokiness: if it drops too low, it might be that you’re limiting too hard.
PPMulator provides classic PPM metering, with an interface that will make BBC engineers feel right at home.
Metering can be M/S stereo or conventional L/R, with dual side-by-side meters, or a single meter with dual needles. There’s also a classic goniometer display.
Dynameter doesn’t display absolute levels at all. Instead, the ‘Peak to Short Term Loudness Ratio’ (PSR) is displayed as a scrolling histogram.
PSR is a better measure of crest factor than RMS-based methods, making this very useful for judging your final limiting.
HOFA 4U Goniometer & Korrelator
A modern goniometer is essential. Anything below the centre line is potentially going to sound weird in mono, so if there’s a lot of activity in the bottom half of the circle, do a mono check.
Insight’s resizable interface provides any combination of all the standard types of metering, plus some less common ones. The 3D spectrogram, for example, isn’t essential for mastering, but it might help you to locate a problem area in less time.
The hardware Dorrough meters are popular in high-end studios, showing both peak and average levels on the same scale - a bit like K-System metering.
Waves brought this metering to the masses, providing stereo and surround plugin versions.
FabFilter Pro-L 2
Despite being a limiter, Pro-L 2 has built in metering good enough that you might not actually need a dedicated metering plugin.
It provides true peak and LUFS measurements, with a scrolling graph that can display an integrated loudness history.