Check the settings

This is a recap of a topic we’ve discussed in the past but it’s a question that comes up a lot. What is the correct way to set your input gain levels on the way into the computer? Well, most of the time people try to get the meters as close to zero as possible to achieve the “hottest” signal but is that really the best approach? These days I typically set my input levels somewhat conservatively. I prefer to leave some headroom for those unanticipated spikes in the performance.

The only potential downside to this is the fact that lower level signals are represented by fewer digital bits. So, don’t be too conservative but leave yourself some breathing room!

Input Levels Revisited

Transcript »

Hello again! Dezz Asante here from the TechMuzeAcademy with another video quick tip. This comes from another forum member who goes by the name Brendonmachao I believed is that’s how it’s pronounced. This is a question that we sort of alluded to in an earlier episode but I figure it’s an important one that keeps coming up and I figure we’ll cover it again.

Brendon says,

” I’ve been overthinking this a bit tonight. Should I be  getting a signal as hot as I can without clipping by using my interface? Or should I be primarily getting a level let say -3DB in my DAW? Another way to explain this, should I be getting the interface as hot as I can without it telling me that it’s clipping then turn down the track level in my DAW? Or should the fader of the DAW be on zero while peeking at around -3DB?”

And a simple answer to that, is that in…with the  modern gear that we are using the methods of digital recording that we are now using nowadays, the goal of getting your signal as hot as possible before clipping is no longer a relevant best practice. In the days of analog technology that was a preferred way of working because you want to get your desired signal as high above the noise floor that was generated naturally by things like tape hiss and the just…the little noises that is inherent to analog technology that was being use in the past. Nowadays, if you got a microphone plug into your interface, that interface feeding directly into your DAW, it’s a very quiet signal path and so the goal of getting that signal as hot as possible is no longer necessary. In fact, not only is it not necessary. In my opinion, I don’t believe it’s advisable either.

What I recommend that you do is set your levels fairly conservatively on input. You know…you shoot for…you know, -10 or so. You can go as low as that. In fact lower if need be. This allows you to get… to leave yourself some head room. So, if a part of a performance gets a little…gets a little louder, it happens a lot of the times –  it gets a little exited…gets a little high energy in a certain part of the performance then you have that head room to go without the fear of digital clipping. Now digital clipping ofcourse is completely undesirable. In the analog days you could hit that tape a little harder. You could hit that gear a little hard, a little hot and you might actually get some musically desirable sounds…some compression and slight distortion, harmonic distortion and so forth that is a product of  hitting analog gear a little hard. In the digital domain, digital distortion or clipping is completely unmusical and undesirable.  So, you want to definitely do your best to stir quiet clear of that.

So, in a nut shell the answer to your question is… is actually set your gain stages more much more conservatively. The other benefit that this has is that if you’re…if you’re setting your levels for you know that hot, hot signal into the DAW even if you don’t clip. What’s happening now is as you add upon track upon track upon track to your arrangement the cumulative effect is going to require you to turn everything down in the mix in order to avoid overloading the stereo bus on the output end of your mix console. Okay!

And so this again goes towards the topic of gain staging. So, if you set those levels conservatively, by the time you’ve got your 20 or 30 or however many tracks recorded, you’re not going to have such an issue of having all of your faders having to be way down at you know…I don’t know way down towards the bottom of their travel in order to avoid overloading. And that way you have a little bit of wiggle room in terms of the levels of your individual tracks and your subbuses. Okay! But, moral of the story, set your input levels fairly conservatively. Don’t strive for getting that hot, hot signal. It simply is not necessary anymore. Unless of course, you are tracking with some analog gear in which case then there are other things to consider. So, hopefully that helps and of course I’m going to post a link to this answer for Brandon in the GearSlutz forums so that he can also benefit hopefully from the response I have provided.

One last thing I’d like to leave you with is some of you know and I’m sure a lot of you don’t these video training morsels for a lack of a better word are available as a podcast feed in Itune podcast store. So, if you are a podcast listener already then by all means go and search Itunes for MixLessons. I believe it’s MixLessons online in Itune store and subscribe there and that way you will get the update to date episodes as they are publish. Also, while you are there I will greatly appreciate it if you left me an Itune’s review. The reviews if…if you leave them is a rating or a comment that go a long way to helping this show get discovered by more by home studio enthusiast who can hopefully, hopfully benefit from some of the topics that we’re covering on this videos. So, head on over to Itunes subscribe to MixLessons online. While you’re there leave me a comment, leave me some feedback and we’ll see you on the next quick tip.

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