Gain Staging - Tracking/Mixing

Recording Techniques, People Skills, Gear, Recording Spaces, Computers, and DIY

Moderators: drumsound, tomb

Mustang Martigan
gettin' sounds
Posts: 148
Joined: Sun Jan 08, 2017 6:30 pm
Location: BOSTON, MA

Gain Staging - Tracking/Mixing

Post by Mustang Martigan » Mon Nov 23, 2020 11:51 am

I've gone thru a decent amount of material on gain staging, but still have a few questions..

From my understanding, the level of each individual track should be -18dbFs. Does this mean that should be the recording level? The size of the waveform I get, when tracking at -18, is significantly smaller than the ones in every mix tutorials I've seen. I'm curious what y'alls target rec level is.

When mixing, the track level going into every plugin should be -18, right? What about after the last plugin in the chain. Should that also be brought down to -18? This is also the case with Aux Sends?

Thanks.

User avatar
Recycled_Brains
dead but not forgotten
Posts: 2136
Joined: Tue Nov 22, 2005 6:58 pm
Location: Albany, NY
Contact:

Re: Gain Staging - Tracking/Mixing

Post by Recycled_Brains » Mon Nov 23, 2020 12:29 pm

Mustang Martigan wrote:
Mon Nov 23, 2020 11:51 am
I've gone thru a decent amount of material on gain staging, but still have a few questions..

From my understanding, the level of each individual track should be -18dbFs. Does this mean that should be the recording level? The size of the waveform I get, when tracking at -18, is significantly smaller than the ones in every mix tutorials I've seen. I'm curious what y'alls target rec level is.

When mixing, the track level going into every plugin should be -18, right? What about after the last plugin in the chain. Should that also be brought down to -18? This is also the case with Aux Sends?

Thanks.
Not an expert on this stuff, so anyone please correct me if I'm wrong....

The -18 thing depends on what your converters "see" as the dbfs equivalent of 0vu. I think that -18 is the most common, but for example, with my UA Apollo 16 it's -16dbfs. Having that frame of reference is helpful.

I view that as an average peak level to shoot for. When I track, I try to keep things just hitting yellow on the meters in PT on peaks, but averaging lower than that. There's no reason to track things "hot" into a DAW, unless you have to as a byproduct of pushing a preamp without an output attenuator when you're tracking.

My reasons being that the accumulation of tracks recorded at modest levels is much more manageable once it reaches the master buss than going as high as possible without peaking (this goes for AUX sends and subgroups as well). It also allows more gain stage flexibility when using plugins and outboard. I think plugins sound better when you're not crushing them with level. UAD plugins, for example, ideally want to see the equivalent of 0vu or less. I've noticed a difference in their performance since I read about that. Better dynamic translation, is how I would describe it.

Having a hot level from the jump makes life more difficult once you start adding gain with EQ or compression or saturation and piling on multiple plugin instances on individual tracks... etc. I never run a risk of hitting the red on a AD converter on the way in. I haven't heard it sound good. I know there are some out there that do that better, but they're all in that unobtainable price bracket for me.

I started paying a lot more attention to the meters on my Apollo on the DA side of things as well, and that has made a HUGE difference in how my analog stuff responds, and then by proxy, how things sound coming back in on the AD side by giving me more headroom to work with if I want to crank the output of a compressor to get it to distort, or do a 12db boost at 80hz on a bass drum or something like that.

I wouldn't worry about the size of the waveform. You can zoom in. Just make sure it sounds good.

A tip that I got from a different forum that has been immensely beneficial, is to put a trim plugin as the first insert on your tracks when you mix. That gives you a wide range of clean-as-a-whistle attenuation or boost that can really help gain stage the rest of your signal chain. I will sometimes follow my HW inserts with the same plugin to bring things back down to a more reasonable level in instances where I'm coming back in hot.

EDIT: when tracking... in instances where I'm following a mic preamp with a compressor.... if the compressor has a meter mode that shows the input level, I'll use that to my advantage. So say I'm using my Hairball preamp... it has an output attenuator. If I'm feeding that into my Daking compressor, I'll switch the Daking's meter to show input level, and then use the attenuator on the preamp to adjust the average/peak level hitting the VU meter on the compressor, and then balance that with the input of my AD converter and DAW.
Ryan Slowey
Albany, NY

http://maggotbrainny.bandcamp.com

User avatar
Recycled_Brains
dead but not forgotten
Posts: 2136
Joined: Tue Nov 22, 2005 6:58 pm
Location: Albany, NY
Contact:

Re: Gain Staging - Tracking/Mixing

Post by Recycled_Brains » Mon Nov 23, 2020 1:00 pm

I was searching for a different thread on this topic from way back. It was on the forum that Terry Manning used to moderate. I did find this one though and it seems to have replaced the original....

https://repforums.prosoundweb.com/index ... 878.0.html

Worth a read for sure. I was made aware of this stuff via Terry (and others) and the original thread, have been practicing this way of doing things ever since.
Ryan Slowey
Albany, NY

http://maggotbrainny.bandcamp.com

User avatar
Nick Sevilla
on a wing and a prayer
Posts: 5109
Joined: Mon Mar 03, 2008 1:34 pm
Location: Lake Arrowhead California USA
Contact:

Re: Gain Staging - Tracking/Mixing

Post by Nick Sevilla » Mon Nov 23, 2020 6:29 pm

Hi Mustang,

You really need to read the manual for your particular A to D converter.

While -18dBFS (decibels Full Scale, the digital metering standard) might seem low, you have to always keep this in mind:

PEAKS sometimes are NOT represented by the meters, as many things like percussions (try a triangle, they are some of the highest), have
ENORMOUS PEAKS that are also TOO FAST for the metering. By keeping your AVERAGE LOUDNESS to around -18dBFS, you mostly avoid ever
destroying those delicious, all important peaks from instruments which can produce them.

Back in the analog days, we knew this. We had to compromise by recording percussions onto 2" tape, at an avg dB level of around -24. Just so the peaks would likely not get smashed by the electronics on the way in, and further smeared too much (they always get smeared by the tape) making them sound too indistinct. Once they got smeared too much, NO AMOUNT of EQ post tape could ever bring those back. I and everyone else using tape, had to learn to LISTEN CAREFULLY to percussions, be it a drumkit, a triangle, anything with a loud transient. You should too.

We no longer have this issue with digital, instead we get a quick and horrid decapitation of those super fast transients. Also why you should always try to record with the best quality converters you can afford, and if yours are mid-quality, record percussions A LOT LOWER, so you do not mess them up on the way in.

Cheers
Howling at the neighbors. Hoping they have more mic cables.

User avatar
Nick Sevilla
on a wing and a prayer
Posts: 5109
Joined: Mon Mar 03, 2008 1:34 pm
Location: Lake Arrowhead California USA
Contact:

Re: Gain Staging - Tracking/Mixing

Post by Nick Sevilla » Mon Nov 23, 2020 6:42 pm

As to noise floor:

My issue since becoming 100% digital, is the VINTAGE MICS.

These were designed in the days of tape, so their noise floors are, accordingly, not down where the digital domain is (CD is -97 dBFS).

I have had to change a vintage mic out, because in a situation where there was only acoustic guitar and voice, you could definitely hear its
noise floor, which I measured at -58 dBFS.

Some people like that, it is like a safe cradle for them. But to me, well it is about serving the song and the artist.
Howling at the neighbors. Hoping they have more mic cables.

User avatar
vvv
zen recordist
Posts: 9206
Joined: Tue May 13, 2003 8:08 am
Location: Chi
Contact:

Re: Gain Staging - Tracking/Mixing

Post by vvv » Tue Nov 24, 2020 12:51 am

I never notice the mic's noise floor, what with the pre-amp noise and the furnace kicking on. :twisted:

(Today was a MD421n into a Eureka, and 40F outside with the thermostat set at 68F.)
bandcamp; vlayman;
THD; Geronimo Cowboys;
blog.
I mix with olive juice.

User avatar
losthighway
dead but not forgotten
Posts: 2132
Joined: Mon Apr 14, 2008 8:02 pm
Contact:

Re: Gain Staging - Tracking/Mixing

Post by losthighway » Tue Nov 24, 2020 6:42 am

Nick Sevilla wrote:
Mon Nov 23, 2020 6:42 pm
As to noise floor:

My issue since becoming 100% digital, is the VINTAGE MICS.

These were designed in the days of tape, so their noise floors are, accordingly, not down where the digital domain is (CD is -97 dBFS).

I have had to change a vintage mic out, because in a situation where there was only acoustic guitar and voice, you could definitely hear its
noise floor, which I measured at -58 dBFS.

Some people like that, it is like a safe cradle for them. But to me, well it is about serving the song and the artist.
I had a whole other thing for this (who cares if your lead vocal peaks at -10db while your drums didn't, if it sounds okay and you can just turn the track down in your mix) but I realized it doesn't really apply to this situation. It seems like the noise from most noisy mics and outboard gear makes its fingerprint in spite of your headroom approach. As in, the hiss is there either at the preamp turned a little louder, or the fader turned a little louder.

It makes me tempted to use more clinical, modern, condenser stuff when I'm recording solo performances. I had to work myself pretty hard to combat a noisy acoustic and voice track that I had run through noisier pres, and I don't think different gain staging could have saved me.

User avatar
Nick Sevilla
on a wing and a prayer
Posts: 5109
Joined: Mon Mar 03, 2008 1:34 pm
Location: Lake Arrowhead California USA
Contact:

Re: Gain Staging - Tracking/Mixing

Post by Nick Sevilla » Tue Nov 24, 2020 4:58 pm

losthighway wrote:
Tue Nov 24, 2020 6:42 am
I had a whole other thing for this (who cares if your lead vocal peaks at -10db while your drums didn't, if it sounds okay and you can just turn the track down in your mix) but I realized it doesn't really apply to this situation. It seems like the noise from most noisy mics and outboard gear makes its fingerprint in spite of your headroom approach. As in, the hiss is there either at the preamp turned a little louder, or the fader turned a little louder.

It makes me tempted to use more clinical, modern, condenser stuff when I'm recording solo performances. I had to work myself pretty hard to combat a noisy acoustic and voice track that I had run through noisier pres, and I don't think different gain staging could have saved me.
I learned the hard way... so yes, when recording a sparse arrangement of up to 4 acoustic instruments (or less) and voice, I always use
the cleanest signal path I can.

Hardy M1 mic preamps (unknown in the West of the USA) are my favorites. Just straight ahead gain, super clean.
And solid state condensers like AKG414s and Neuman KM184s etc.

Sometimes even the Neve preamps are too "woolly" for stuff like that even. Especially if you have picky customers.

Yes, every piece in your signal chain will make its sonic imprint. As long as you can keep it from interfering with the performance, then it is
ok.

Cheers, and Happy Thanksgiving!!!
Howling at the neighbors. Hoping they have more mic cables.

Mustang Martigan
gettin' sounds
Posts: 148
Joined: Sun Jan 08, 2017 6:30 pm
Location: BOSTON, MA

Re: Gain Staging - Tracking/Mixing

Post by Mustang Martigan » Wed Nov 25, 2020 9:55 am

Thanks for all the replies.

The biggest issue I'm having is with a Lehle Sunday Driver. I'm using it with my guitar going into an Amp Sim, Helix Native. When the level is down all the way on the Lehle, I get clipping when strumming hard.

When use the -20db pad on my UA Apollo (1st gen Silverface), the signal doesn't sound as good.. and its not just cuz the volume is lower. It loses some of it's balls.

I can't really figure of out how to stop the clipping. The Lehle sounds better than the Apollo's Hi-Z.

User avatar
Recycled_Brains
dead but not forgotten
Posts: 2136
Joined: Tue Nov 22, 2005 6:58 pm
Location: Albany, NY
Contact:

Re: Gain Staging - Tracking/Mixing

Post by Recycled_Brains » Wed Nov 25, 2020 12:18 pm

Mustang Martigan wrote:
Wed Nov 25, 2020 9:55 am
Thanks for all the replies.

The biggest issue I'm having is with a Lehle Sunday Driver. I'm using it with my guitar going into an Amp Sim, Helix Native. When the level is down all the way on the Lehle, I get clipping when strumming hard.

When use the -20db pad on my UA Apollo (1st gen Silverface), the signal doesn't sound as good.. and its not just cuz the volume is lower. It loses some of it's balls.

I can't really figure of out how to stop the clipping. The Lehle sounds better than the Apollo's Hi-Z.
Is it clipping on the converter, or just on the channel in your DAW? Does it clip if you bypass the simulator?

Reading the description of the preamp, it has a balanced output. Is your chain just: guitar - lehle - 1/4" jack on the Apollo? Is the input of your Apollo set to +4 (line level) or -10?
Ryan Slowey
Albany, NY

http://maggotbrainny.bandcamp.com

kslight
mixes from purgatory
Posts: 2750
Joined: Tue Oct 13, 2009 7:40 pm

Re: Gain Staging - Tracking/Mixing

Post by kslight » Thu Nov 26, 2020 7:45 am

Nick Sevilla wrote:
Mon Nov 23, 2020 6:42 pm
As to noise floor:

My issue since becoming 100% digital, is the VINTAGE MICS.

These were designed in the days of tape, so their noise floors are, accordingly, not down where the digital domain is (CD is -97 dBFS).

I have had to change a vintage mic out, because in a situation where there was only acoustic guitar and voice, you could definitely hear its
noise floor, which I measured at -58 dBFS.

Some people like that, it is like a safe cradle for them. But to me, well it is about serving the song and the artist.

Yeah, putting up the vintage mics that are available to me is a regrettable decision if you use them on quiet sources. I had someone want to use the old Sony (something) on classical guitar...oof

User avatar
Nick Sevilla
on a wing and a prayer
Posts: 5109
Joined: Mon Mar 03, 2008 1:34 pm
Location: Lake Arrowhead California USA
Contact:

Re: Gain Staging - Tracking/Mixing

Post by Nick Sevilla » Thu Nov 26, 2020 8:47 am

Mine was an old AKG C12. Lovely mic, but just not quiet enough anymore.

Oh well.
Howling at the neighbors. Hoping they have more mic cables.

User avatar
vvv
zen recordist
Posts: 9206
Joined: Tue May 13, 2003 8:08 am
Location: Chi
Contact:

Re: Gain Staging - Tracking/Mixing

Post by vvv » Thu Nov 26, 2020 12:00 pm

I try to think of it as an aesthetic decision.

I mean, tube mics always seem to have the odd artifact on any track I sing.

I have a loud voice, and often overdrive LDC's into distortion, but sometimes I need the LDC sound and inspiration - mebbe I should just leave the SM7b up but I get bored even with good things.

I will add that my DAw (Cool Edit) has awesome noise reduction, and I found a great gate plugin (from Soniitus), and I'm not adverse to hand-editing, either.
bandcamp; vlayman;
THD; Geronimo Cowboys;
blog.
I mix with olive juice.

User avatar
joninc
deaf.
Posts: 1984
Joined: Mon Jun 09, 2003 5:02 pm
Location: canada
Contact:

Re: Gain Staging - Tracking/Mixing

Post by joninc » Thu Nov 26, 2020 2:04 pm

Nick Sevilla wrote:
Thu Nov 26, 2020 8:47 am
Mine was an old AKG C12. Lovely mic, but just not quiet enough anymore.

Oh well.
I'd be happy to cover shipping to help release you of this burden :D
the new rules : there are no rules

User avatar
Nick Sevilla
on a wing and a prayer
Posts: 5109
Joined: Mon Mar 03, 2008 1:34 pm
Location: Lake Arrowhead California USA
Contact:

Re: Gain Staging - Tracking/Mixing

Post by Nick Sevilla » Fri Nov 27, 2020 4:25 am

joninc wrote:
Thu Nov 26, 2020 2:04 pm
Nick Sevilla wrote:
Thu Nov 26, 2020 8:47 am
Mine was an old AKG C12. Lovely mic, but just not quiet enough anymore.

Oh well.
I'd be happy to cover shipping to help release you of this burden :D
I bet you would... ;)

I actually sold it to a friend of mine who still records to 2" tape.
Got a bunch of useful things done with that cash.
Howling at the neighbors. Hoping they have more mic cables.

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 50 guests