I\'d maybe start this post with a small rant. The PSP Vintage Meter is one of the plugins PSP have not bothered to update to universal binary for the Mac. I guess I can understand that. Not everyone likes VU meters as much as I do. But! PSP, it\'s about time you just recompiled the damn thing to a Universal Binary, okay?
VU meters are kinda obsolete and difficult to perceive as useful. There\'s a solid article on meters at Sound on Sound. It takes one look at the different scales (VU, UK, DIN, Nordic) to know that metering can be complicated. VU-metering is no exception.
So what\'s good about VU meters then?
Let\'s establish one thing. VU meters are less than accurate RMS meters. Then again, since they have been used for so long and their characteristics have shaped broadcast and studio sound for years, inevitably the VU-meter code has been embedded into the evolution of sound.
The meters were originally designed to read low. That way people were encouraged to turn up the signal, and cope with noise as a result. The unique thing about VU meters is that they take time to react. As much as a third of a second by that day\'s standards!
In the past I\'d set mine at 175msec, (enough theory,) and -7.5dBFS 0VU reference level (vs. 300ms, -14dBFS default). This second value is a bit complicated. It means, the meter would show 0 at a -7.5dB digital sine wave. Theory aside, really, my better-balanced mixes tend to hover between -4 and +1 on the VU scale at these settings. I only use this plugin at the mixer\'s output, after the final limiter (It does not alter the sound in any way)
The short story is, if the needles feel heavy, then the mix sucks. If they feel light and move a lot, then it\'s a good, punchy affair. If they shoot over +2, you\'ve burned it out. Most probably overcompressed, or with too much bass. Far from any standard, but then, standards are being abused right now.
edit: Revisiting this post again in March 2009: Today\'s music sounds (and looks) very different from music in the past. Industry-standard, and \'accurate\' meters are only to be found in professional environments and they can be costly, even when emulated by plugins. Also the K-system for loudness means setting up a pair of general meters depends on the purpose you need them for. The default -14dBFS setting of VU meters does somewhat corespond to the K-14 scale, although the slow ballistics will probably annoy you, and your mix will sound quieter, compared to other recent music.
My most recent efforts lead me to the Free-G - a plugin with a nice meter, that I now use to check out mastered material. Also, a very good (probably the best) option is Audiofile Engineering\'s Spectre, which will set you back some $80. For metering material that is to be broadcast I now set VUs at 300ms integration, -12dB reference point, and check that material stays within -3..3dB (well inside the +-4dB recommendation).