Live loudness normalization in GStreamer & experiences with porting a C audio filter to Rust

A few months ago I wrote a new GStreamer plugin: an audio filter for live loudness normalization and automatic gain control.

The plugin can be found as part of the GStreamer Rust plugin in the audiofx plugin. It’s also included in the recent 0.6.0 release of the GStreamer Rust plugins and available from crates.io.

Its code is based on Kyle Swanson’s great FFmpeg filter af_loudnorm, about which he wrote some more technical details on his blog a few years back. I’m not going to repeat all that here, if you’re interested in those details and further links please read Kyle’s blog post.

From a very high-level, the filter works by measuring the loudness of the input following the EBU R128 standard with a 3s lookahead, adjusts the gain to reach the target loudness and then applies a true peak limiter with 10ms to prevent any too high peaks to get passed through. Both the target loudness and the maximum peak can be configured via the loudness-target and max-true-peak properties, same as in the FFmpeg filter. Different to the FFmpeg filter I only implemented the “live” mode and not the two-pass mode that is implemented in FFmpeg, which first measures the loudness of the whole stream and then in a second pass adjusts it.

Below I’ll describe the usage of the filter in GStreamer a bit and also some information about the development process, and the porting of the C code to Rust.

Usage

For using the filter you most likely first need to compile it yourself, unless you’re lucky enough that e.g. your Linux distribution includes it already.

Compiling it requires a Rust toolchain and GStreamer 1.8 or newer. The former you can get via rustup for example, if you don’t have it yet, the latter either from your Linux distribution or by using the macOS, Windows, etc binaries that are provided by the GStreamer project. Once that is done, compiling is mostly a matter of running cargo build in the audio/audiofx directory and copying the resulting libgstrsaudiofx.so (or .dll or .dylib) into one of the GStreamer plugin directories, for example ~/.local/share/gstreamer-1.0/plugins.

After that boring part is done, you can use it for example as follows to run loudness normalization on the Sintel trailer:

gst-launch-1.0 playbin \
    uri=https://www.freedesktop.org/software/gstreamer-sdk/data/media/sintel_trailer-480p.webm \
    audio-filter="audioresample ! rsaudioloudnorm ! audioresample ! capsfilter caps=audio/x-raw,rate=48000"

As can be seen above, it is necessary to put audioresample elements around the filter. The reason for that is that the filter currently only works on 192kHz input. This is a simplification for now to make it easier inside the filter to detect true peaks. You would first upsample your audio to 192kHz and then, if needed, later downsample it again to your target sample rate (48kHz in the example above). See the link mentioned before for details about true peaks and why this is generally a good idea to do. In the future the resampling could be implemented internally and maybe optionally the filter could also work with “normal” peak detection on the non-upsampled input.

Apart from that caveat the filter element works like any other GStreamer audio filter and can be placed accordingly in any GStreamer pipeline.

If you run into any problems using the code or it doesn’t work well for your use-case, please create an issue in the GStreamer bugtracker.

The process

As I wrote above, the GStreamer plugin is part of the GStreamer Rust plugins so the first step was to port the FFmpeg C code to Rust. I expected that to be the biggest part of the work, but as writing Rust is simply so much more enjoyable than writing C and I would have to adjust big parts of the code to fit the GStreamer infrastructure anyway, I took this approach nonetheless. The alternative of working based on the C code and writing the plugin in C didn’t seem very appealing to me. In the end, as usual when developing in Rust, this also allowed me to be more confident about the robustness of the result and probably reduced the amount of time spent debugging. Surprisingly, the translation was actually not the biggest part of the work, but instead I had to debug a couple of issues that were already present in the original FFmpeg code and find solutions for them. But more on that later.

The first step for porting the code was to get an implementation of the EBU R128 loudness analysis. In FFmpeg they’re using a fork of the libebur128 C library. I checked if there was anything similar for Rust already, maybe even a pure-Rust implementation of it, but couldn’t find anything. As I didn’t want to write one myself or port the code of the libebur128 C library to Rust, I wrote safe Rust bindings for that library instead. The end result of that can be found on crates.io as an independent crate, in case someone else also needs it for other purposes at some point. The crate also includes the code of the C library, making it as easy as possible to build and include into other projects.

The next step was to actually port the FFmpeg C code to Rust. In the end that was a rather straightforward translation fortunately. The latest version of that code can be found here.

The biggest difference to the C code is the usage of Rust iterators and iterator combinators like zip and chunks_exact. In my opinion this makes the code quite a bit easier to read compared to the manual iteration in the C code together with array indexing, and as a side effect it should also make the code run faster in Rust as it allows to get rid of a lot of array bounds checks.

Apart from that, one part that was a bit inconvenient during that translation and still required manual array indexing is the usage of ringbuffers everywhere in the code. For now I wrote those like I would in C and used a few unsafe operations like get_unchecked to avoid redundant bounds checks, but at a later time I might refactor this into a proper ringbuffer abstraction for such audio processing use-cases. It’s not going to be the last time I need such a data structure. A short search on crates.io gave various results for ringbuffers but none of them seem to provide an API that fits the use-case here. Once that’s abstracted away into a nice data structure, I believe the Rust code of this filter is really nice to read and follow.

Now to the less pleasant parts, and also a small warning to all the people asking for Rust rewrites of everything: of course I introduced a couple of new bugs while translating the code although this was a rather straightforward translation and I tried to be very careful. I’m sure there is also still a bug or two left that I didn’t find while debugging. So always keep in mind that rewriting a project will also involve adding new bugs that didn’t exist in the original code. Or maybe you’re just a better programmer than me and don’t make such mistakes.

Debugging these issues that showed up while testing the code was a good opportunity to also add extensive code comments everywhere so I don’t have to remind myself every time again what this block of code is doing exactly, and it’s something I was missing a bit from the FFmpeg code (it doesn’t have a single comment currently). While writing those comments and explaining the code to myself, I found the majority of these bugs that I introduced and as a side-effect I now have documentation for my future self or other readers of the code.

Fixing these issues I introduced myself wasn’t that time-consuming neither in the end fortunately, but while writing those code comments and also while doing more testing on various audio streams, I found a couple of bugs that already existed in the original FFmpeg C code. Further testing also showed that they caused quite audible distortions on various test streams. These are the bugs that unfortunately took most of the time in the whole process, but at least to my knowledge there are no known bugs left in the code now.

For these bugs in the FFmpeg code I also provided a fix that is merged already, and reported the other two in their bug tracker.

The first one I’d be happy to provide a fix for if my approach is considered correct, but the second one I’ll leave for someone else. Porting over my Rust solution for that one will take some time and getting all the array indexing involved correct in C would require some serious focusing, for which I currently don’t have the time.

Or maybe my solutions to these problems are actually wrong, or my understanding of the original code was wrong and I actually introduced them in my translation, which also would be useful to know.

Overall, while porting the C code to Rust introduced a few new problems that had to be fixed, I would definitely do this again for similar projects in the future. It’s more fun to write and in my opinion the resulting code is easier readable, and better to maintain and extend.

3 thoughts on “Live loudness normalization in GStreamer & experiences with porting a C audio filter to Rust”

  1. Can I use this with pulseaudio to make watching movies better on my computer or does it need to be used directly by media players?

    1. No, that would require a PulseAudio plugin making use of that code. This is something media players and other GStreamer applications would have to make use of directly.

Leave a Reply to slomo Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.