Completed Proposal Improvement of Meter Toolbar UI

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Proposal pages help us get from feature requests into actual plans. This page is a proposal to improve the User Interface relating to the Metering and Monitoring functionality in Audacity, the Meter Toolbar.
Proposal pages are used on an ongoing basis by the Audacity development team and are open to edits from visitors to the wiki. They are a good way to get community feedback on a proposal.


  • Note: Proposals for Google Summer of Code projects are significantly different in structure, are submitted via Google's web app and may or may not have a corresponding proposal page.

The Problem

  • There is no visual indicator to show whether monitoring is on or off - I know the meters will bounce when monitoring is on - but not if you have a null or very low signal or if you have equipment with a very low noise floor.
  • It is far from intuitively obvious in the GUI how you turn monitoring on or off. Many new users of Audacity are totally foxed by this. Evidenced by many forum postings on this topic.
  • Many users over-saturate their signal sometimes provoking extended clipping.
  • The default initialized meter width is far too small to be effectively useful and it is not intuitively obvious how to change the size and position.
  • Settings that a user makes in the meter drop down menus are lost on exit from Audacity and not retained for the next Audacity session.


Proposed Feature

All proposed features have been implemented.


Features Implemented from proposal

  • Multicolored Gradient Meters. (Give cooler graphic, and optimum level is shown in the meter).
  • Preferences moved to a dialog and made persistent.
  • Separate SpaceSaver Meters. (Gives more flexibility about meter sizing and positioning. The space saving makes wider meters practical).
  • Larger default size. (Larger default size for Audacity itself also helps here).
  • Record before play by default.
  • Visual indicator to show whether monitoring is on or off.


Preference Dialog

New Meter Preferences dialog as implemented by Leland Lucius in October 2014:

NewMeterPreferencesDialog.png



Gradient Meter

Leland Lucius implemented the Alternative Metering Display and Enhanced Meter Preferences in October 2014.

Leland implemented preferences and this optimum and overload indicator in the meters (thanks to Bill Wharrie for providing the image):

New Record Meter.png

This is the recording half of the meter, playback half not shown, before the split of combined meters and before the space saving step.


Space-Saver Meter

Implemented by James. I found it worked better with the menu dropdown on the right:

ComapctMeter2.png

A different proposal by Bill, responding to criticisms of the text and ticks over the meters:

NewCompactMeter.png

Yet another slimline meter (from Steve):

Meter.png
  • Gale 03Dec14: -1 to Bill's variant (the L/R channels are not tall enough/not distinguished enough from each other and the "L R" text is too small. +1 to Steve's variant if we need to change. (I'm 0 on the change). -1 to the menu dropdown being on the right.
  • Peter 03Dec14: +1 to remaining with James' original, with the numbers superimposed on the gradient bars. I don't think that either Bill's or Steve's will look good on widened meters. Is there a simple way we could offer all 3 as options (with James' as default)?

Rejected features

  • Linear scale by default. (Overwhelmingly voted against)

Developer/QA Backing

  • Peter Sampson:
    • +1 for monitoring on/off indication in Meter Toolbar
      • +1 for graying the meter numerals to indicate inactive status
    • +1 for removing RMS display from meters
    • +0 for LED style meters option and only if not the default style
    • +1 for removing the "Combined Meters"
    • +1 for other optional meter modules/plug-ins
    • +1 for making RMS meters a plug-in
  • Bill Wharrie:
    • +1 for removing RMS display from meters
    • +0.5 for monitoring on/off indication in Meter Toolbar
    • +1 for LED style meters option.
  • Steve:
    • +1 for availability of non-linear meters that do not bunch up the high dB range (made available as an optional module/plug-in).
    • +1 for other optional meter modules/plug-ins (for example "real peak", K-Meter, IEC 60268-10 Type I/II PPM, Stereo Phase Correlation (vectorscope), ...)
    • +1 for no "off" state. Just "enabled" or "disabled". When enabled, the meters would be active.
  • Martyn Shaw:
  • Vaughan Johnson:
  • James Crook:
    • +1 for removing RMS display from meters
    • +0 for monitoring on/off indication in Meter Toolbar. (why not just hide the meter?)
    • +1 for monitoring on/off and meter enabled/disabled being the same thing (i.e removing disabling meters)
    • -1 for using red/green colors as the on/off indication. (prefer black/grey out).
    • +1 for removing the "Combined Meters"
    • +1 for some LED style option (but probably not as default).
    • +1 for volume slider on the meter as in LMMS.
      • Gale 16Nov14: It's very intuitive - but how would you prevent the slider obscuring the meter values in Space Saver Meters?
      • James 17Nov14: It would obscure numbers, and I think that's OK. The brain can fill in the missing range remarkably well. I'm not even convinced a scale is needed. LMMS doesn't have one. When you're sliding the slider, a tooltip by it showing dB would help with its setting.
      • Gale 17Nov14: Hmm, one downside could be that there is no longer any obvious representation of the 0 to 1 Mixer Toolbar scale which is replicated on the system mixer. Suppose one connects a turntable direct to line-in, which would probably not permit recording at more than -20 dB even when the slider is at 1 (max). How is that represented - does the slider lock when you push it above -20 dB?
  • Gale:
    • +1 for shipped meters that do not bunch up the high dB range.
    • +1 for optional meter modules/plug-ins (for example "real peak", K-Meter, IEC 60268-10 Type I/II PPM, Stereo Phase Correlation (vectorscope), ...)
    • +1 for expanded preferences to include lower dB limit
    • -1 for removing RMS display from meters
    • +1 for removing combined meters from View Menu, but consider making combined a Preference.
    • +1 for LED meters but only if a plug-in
    • +1 for removing option to disable meters
    • +1 for option to turn monitoring off, default permanently "on" if possible
    • +1 for red (mic) and green (playback) icon to indicate signal activity *and* for distinguishing which meter is which
      • OR (less good) gray the meter values to indicate signal off (for full height meters as well as Space Savers).

Tweaks in queue

  • There seems to be consensus to remove the 'Disabled' state (which achieves nothing) and only have monitoring off and on.
  • Add 'Click to Start Monitoring' box on recording meter.
  • RMS is likely to go as only Gale is in favor of keeping it. It stays in for 2.1.0.
    • Gale 16Nov14: What is the compelling reason to remove the RMS meters? I can see at least two good reasons to keep them a) you can't see RMS in the waveform when zoomed in b) it is significantly harder to see the clipping indicator with the gradient meters. Until b) is addressed I am very strongly opposed to removal, and still opposed if it is addressed. At the very least, removal should be done so it is easy to reinstate if user feedback calls for that.
    • James 17Nov14: RMS gives you no clue about clipping. You can clip terribly and still be low on an RMS scale (all depends on the type of signal). As the meter is primarily about avoiding clipping it's a terrible choice.
    • Gale 17Nov14: I think we would have had significant feedback to that effect if that was true. We have the clipping indicator. If we have e.g. a clipped Click Track we have a big expanse of dark green to warn, as well as the clipping indicator.

      As an aside, there is disquiet about the mismatch between the number of clipped samples trigger in Meter Toolbar (4 samples) and Show Clipping (1 sample). Do you see any traction in ideas to fix this being booted around on the Forum?

  • Combined meter may go.
    • Gale 16Nov14: I like the combined meter, but only because it is a handy one step to an undocked state. That is probably an abuse of it which could be later addressed another way (preset positions for meters)? So as the procedure in View Menu to go back from combined to separate meters is clunky, I'll go +1 to remove combined meters from View Menu. But, on reflection, could combined meters still not be a meter preference? If the meters are docked, simply keep them docked taking the same surface area, so half-width, standard height. If user wants them side by side, that is less work for user when they float them and move them around.
    • James 17Nov14 I like it too, but it makes the toolbar menu confusing for miniscule gain. It needs to go. I'd rather in the future some system such as a floating dock with a window of its own, in addition to the top and bottom dock, so that you can organise any toolbars that are not in one of those dock. Or a system where toolbars clip together easily like lego bricks. As it is it the combined toolbar is too special case.
      • Peter 17Nov14 We could maybe keep the combined meter and still keep the View>Toolbars menu simpler by adding the ability to join/un-join to the Meter Bars' Preferences (which is a fairly logical place for it to be).
      • Gale 17Nov14: I'm already OK with removing Combined Meter Toolbar from View > Toolbars. "Lego toolbars" sounds fun. Until then, I'm +1 on considering the practicality of a preference to combine the two meter toolbars.
  • The 'high water mark' could be made two pixels longer (one above, one below) and a little more space to its right before the dropdown triangle, to help it stand out.
    • Gale 16Nov14: Do you mean Max Peak (blue) or the clipping indicator? I continue to maintain that having Recent Peak at the apposite color for the gradient color but Max Peak its own color is somewhat illogical. Giving red when necessary to Max Peak would force a better separation of the clipping indicator.
    • James 17Nov14: In my view Max Peak is only hard to see when the current audio level is still too loud. I can still see value in making Max Peak clearer/different.
    • Gale 17Nov14: I did mean "apposite" color above which you changed to "opposite". What I meant was that Max Peak would have the gradient color it landed at, so if it landed at -2 dB, it's red. Otherwise who knows what it means? Most of the gradient meters I have seen so far take the gradient color for highest peak. Another possibility, though I have not seen it, is that max peak above -6 dB could flash.
  • James 15Nov14: Make Green/Yellow boundary at -12dB sharper, and hence more useful, more like Bill's original mock up.

Being considered (not for 2.1.0)

  • Slider-on-the-meter (space saver, better slider as it's longer, all in one place. LMMS does this and it looks as if it work well).
  • Icon becomes a button, and lose the drop-down as the button now does it.

Use Cases

  • User reports that they cannot hear any audio playing (many instances on the forum).
  • User reports that they cannot find how to turn monitoring on (many instances on the forum).
  • Until a user knows how to turn monitoring on, it can be hard to ascertain whether Audacity is receiving a signal.
  • User may be tempted to plunge straight into recording rather than monitoring and setting a sensible input signal level in advance.
  • Because the default waveform view is linear (where 50% would be a good recording level) many users needlessly oversaturate their signal believing that the waveform should fill the display area.
  • Users are surpised that their chosen settings for meter display are not retained on next use of Audacity (from postings on the forum).

Additional enhancements suggested by Leland Lucius on -devel 8Oct14

Ability to change dB range in the meter preferences dialog

Really easy

  • Gale +1
  • Peter: 0
  • James: -1

Coloration of the meter icons

Really easy.

  • Peter +1 But preferably gray for inactive and black only when active. Similarly for the numerals on the Meters)
  • Gale +1 Preferably black or gray for inactive and colored only when active. (and shipped themes should not change red for recording or green for playback)
  • Federico Miyara (via email 8Oct14): If there is to be a sizer (good idea!), right-clicking might either go to default or present a list of possibilities (e.g., 0/100 25/75 50/50 75/25 100/0). I've seen this in Total Commander source/target panels). It might even have the possibility of reversing the order, including icons, for those who prefer the extra-Audacity convention input left / output right.
  • James -1 But with theming that might be themes that do color them.

Larger clipping indicator (or some way to make it more prominent on gradient meter)

Easy enough.

  • Gale +1 The clipping indicator is too hard to see with the gradient style.
  • James -1 Though I am open to the clipping indicator being a bitmap rather than a line, and so being customisable - including making it wider if that's what the theme designer decides.
  • Gale 13Nov14: +1 to a bitmap for clipping indicator if that helps make it wider, but -1 to it being restricted to a theme that you have to discover.
  • Peter -1 I've just spent some time re-documenting Meter Toolbar and I find the Clip indicator easy to see.
  • Gale 13Nov14: Generate a tone at amplitude 1.0 and increase the gain. Play the tone using the gradient meter (which is default) then the RMS meter. On which is it easiest to see the clipping indicator? It is easier to see Max Peak in the gradient meter - to me, Max Peak looks thinner or drawn incorrectly in RMS.
  • Peter 14Nov14: I've had a good look at the Clip indicator and it looks exactly the same to me on both meter styles, gradient and RMS.
  • Gale 14Nov14: The point being made is that the red clipping indicator against red meter bars (even with blue max peak between them) is harder to see than red indicator against green meter bars. It's another reason why (personally) I won't use the gradient meter. The clipping indicator IMO needs to be wider and have wider separation from the meter bars.
  • Peter 15Nov14: Screenshot attached of my Playback Meter with an oversaturated signal (massively amplified) yes it is red bad against blue MP and the red clip - but I can easily discern all three components. Plus if you have that much redness than you are in big trouble anyway - that's why all of us suggested using the red for saturation red=>danger, take care! We don't expect most sensible users to get anywhere the red zone while recording, there is no need for this to attain a perfectly sensible and usable signal level. BTW the RMS record meters on the same saturated signal would be poor for a red-green colorblind user as the blue RP line doesn't show (it does with the gradient meter).

    An alternative would be to make the mic or speaker icon in the toolbar go red if clipping had occurred.

  • Gale 15Nov14: The screenshots show my eyes what I already see (and I have the same complaint if the recording level is at -3 dB) - the expanse of orange/red distracts me from seeing the clip indicator. I think the position of the clip indicator after the end of the bars is correct and expected but I disagree that it must be so narrow (compare the visibility of Show Clipping lines) and disagree that the separator between it and the meter bars should be so narrow. If the clip indicator was to right of the dropdown arrow (if it stays there) that would be much more visible.

Ultra-saturated Playback Meter.png Ultra-saturated RMS Playback Meter.png

User selectable colors for the meters in the meter preferences dialog

...let the user decide. (or just wait for theming?)

  • James -1 Wait for theming
  • Gale -1 Wait for theming
  • Peter -1 Wait for theming

Details

Monitoring on/off indicator

  • Gray the meter values to indicate signal off (for full height meters as well as Space Savers).
  • The Microphone icon in the Input meter to be used as a monitoring state indicator:
    • It should remain black/gray while monitoring is off.
    • It should change to red when monitoring is turned on .
  • Similarly the speaker icon in the output should be color coded to indicate the output metering state:
    • gray while inactive, black while active - or,
    • black while inactive, green while active.
  • Tooltip to change when monitoring is active, to say "Recording Level (click to turn monitoring off)". It would help the VI users if and when Meter Toolbar is screen-reader accessible). It would also be more accurate in what it says depending on the monitoring state. (done)
    • And there is of course a third state when the Recording meter is active while recording is taking place, in which case the tooltip should just say "Recording Level" (not done yet)

Another Approach (Discussion started by James)

  • The clicking of the microphone is highly NOT discoverable. It doesn't look like a button. I also only just discovered now as I write this that the recording meter itself is clickable!
  • The enable-meter / disable-meter on the drop down is redundant. We agree it can go and monitoring on/off does the necessary for the record meter. For playback we always monitor when playing. There is no reason not to.
  • It isn't clear when monitoring is enabled and when disabled.

James' suggests.

1) Something like this to tell the user (a) that the recording meter is off, and (b) how to enable it. Unlike a tooltip it is there when the recording meter is off, whether you hover over the meter or not. It might end up with gray rather than yellow by default, so as not to be too in your face. Yeah yeah, color themeable eventually.

MeterOff.png

We don't need a 'permanent tooltip' to tell users how to turn monitoring off.

(a) They can guess, based on how they turned it on.
(b) there is a tooltip.
(c) There is a menu item.

It's perfectly discoverable. Also it's nothing like as important. It's mainly needed for people who might be using another application that records at the same time as using Audacity.

2) I regard it as a bug that playing record and then stopping turns monitoring off. It should stay on until a user deliberately disables it. Basically once it's on by a user clicking it on or clicking record, it should take some action by the user to turn it off. So let's fix that.

3) [Optional] The microphone and speaker could actually become buttons, look like buttons, and take on the role of the triangular drop down. Since we can click in the meter, they are not needed as clicking areas.

MeterWithButton2.png

  • Peter 16Nov14: I'm liking this thinking. I'm liking the clear advice on the inactive meter (but I didn't like the yellowish color-way - and yes, though duller, gray may be better). I'm liking the mic/speaker items becoming buttons and thus losing the LBDPTs.
  • James 16Nov14: One downside is that it gets in the way of the (planned) recording level slider (option?). Having the slider on the meter has a huge advantage, in that one then gets decent travel for the level setting, and we save more space. So not for now, but for later, I am thinking that the text could read 'Click to Activate' (which is shorter) and that as well as showing the recording level the slider for level could then appear.
  • Peter 16Nov14: Yes that's better in gray. You could make it smaller reducing the Font size down to say the same as the L/R and the numerals, maybe a tad bigger but certainly a bit smaller than now.

    Do I assume correctly that one clicks on the mic icon to get the dropdown menu?

  • James 16Nov14: +1 on font size comment. Yes, clicking mic icon gets the dropdown menu. (feel free to edit this discussion down from threadmode).
  • Gale 16Nov14: +1 for making the icon act/look like a button and get rid of the dropdown triangle - too much RSI to get there on the right. I would still make the mic icon or part of it red and playback icon or part of it green (irrespective if meter is active or not). The Fx button has a green "x" (why, I don't know).

    The big button to start monitoring looks not like a button in the mockup (too large for a button for one thing). I assume it is just a flat image, but you can still click in the meter but outside the button to enable monitoring? It could be more convincing if meter values were grayed and unboxed gray text (same color as second image) said "Click in meter to monitor".

    My other question is how do you turn monitoring off? I will definitely want to do that if it becomes "on, once it's on".

    I still see a small problem with the meters that they look not to be on if the signal is below the range. I would have the default min at -96 dB, but because of the scaling of the dB values (again!) this bunches up -6 dB to FS even more.

  • James 17Nov: +1 to losing black border around message. Will try graying numbers or blanking the whole meter when it is off. Yes, you can click anywhere within the meter, and unboxed would make that fact clearer. Monitoring is turned off by clicking again (no message) or if you don't guess that, you can switch it on/off from the meter's menu, which as it says what it does is good enough for discoverability.
    • Peter 17Nov14: +1 to losing black border around message.

LED Styled Meter (#ifdeffed out In code, there for later)

This doesn't look too hot with a grey background, but could be made to look good with a black background. However the numbering would then need to change, possibly to white, or possibly lose the numbering entirely when in space-saver mode.

This version is not a contender for 2.1.0, rather something to think about..

LedMeter.png


Why offer such an option at all? There can be an advantage besides 'bling factor'. It can be easier to judge distance into the danger zone, e.g. 'three discrete bands in'. For that to work, the gentle blending of color needs to be sharp, Green / Yellow / Red, not smoothly changing colors. Discrete LEDs can also make it easier to argue for not having a scale - and that paves the way for LMMS style meter combined with slider, which is a great space saver. Current meter style would remain the default choice.

All meter types could benefit by having a faint version of the colors in the inactive region as a visual cue as to how far you have to go before the next zone.


Previous Feature Requests relating to this proposal

  • Greater initialised width: (9 votes) In 1.2 the initialised width took up the whole width of the initialised window (about 580 px); as at May 2011 the initialised width in Audacity Beta is 255 px. This is too narrow for practical use. Users may not realise meters can be resized, especially if docked.
  • Headroom indicators drawn at user-specified n dB below 0 dB FS with fill color change when headroom level exceeded (green below headroom, yellow above, red when clipping. (3 votes)


Taken from the "Highest-rated" section of the Feature Requests page:

  • Preference for monitoring on by default (17 votes)
      We initially didn't do this because of concerns about performance on lower powered machines. We've since had feedback on this that is works fine and that not having monitoring "on" is causing a bigger problem - especially with new users. This however is not such an easy change as it appears - handling the situation when a device is changed/swapped out for example but Audacity is still looking for an input to read - it may not be fixed quickly
    • Until monitoring is "always on", should be a way of indicating if monitoring is on or not, because on a quiet system, noise may be off the meter (7 votes)
        Possible ways of doing so: a different background color for the meter bars; a dynamic tooltip (maybe not possible with wxWidgets); a button and LED? Note that 1.3.5 lets you choose the display range minimum for the meters.
  • Meter Toolbar:
    • Save all Meter settings in the Meter Preferences: (6 votes) so they will be available on restart of Audacity, namely Horizontal/Vertical, Linear/dB and dB range as well as existing refresh rate.
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