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Recording level noob question.

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Recording level noob question.

Postby summerson89 » Wed Apr 17, 2019 6:17 am

So I'm quite new to the world of recording and such, but I'm starting to get a grasp of what gain staging and headroom is. I'm using a Presonus ar16 mixer for my interfacing and my DAW is Studio one. My question is that while I should make sure there isn't clipping being indicated on the mixer, what levels should I aim for on my levels in my DAW when I'm setting gain on my mixer?
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Re: Recording level noob question.

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Wed Apr 17, 2019 10:07 am

As a general rule, when tracking you should aim for the average level to sit around -20dBFS, with occasional strong peaks reaching -10dBFS. That's the equivalent of the headroom margins of a traditional analogue console.

You might find this article a helpful read:

https://www.soundonsound.com/techniques ... w-software

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Re: Recording level noob question.

Postby ConcertinaChap » Thu Apr 18, 2019 10:02 am

What it all boils down to is if you record in 24 bits you can set your recording levels much lower than you probably think you need to right now, which makes life a whole lot easier for you.

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Re: Recording level noob question.

Postby CS70 » Thu Apr 18, 2019 10:55 pm

summerson89 wrote:So I'm quite new to the world of recording and such, but I'm starting to get a grasp of what gain staging and headroom is. I'm using a Presonus ar16 mixer for my interfacing and my DAW is Studio one. My question is that while I should make sure there isn't clipping being indicated on the mixer, what levels should I aim for on my levels in my DAW when I'm setting gain on my mixer?

The numbers you have from Hugh.. the idea is that with 24 bit the dynamic range (i.e. the range between noise floor and overload which causes distortion) is very large, so you can keep things low enough that you have loads of headroom (i.e. the peaks can be quite higher than the average) but still be very far from the noise floor (i.e. when the recording is ruined by the inherent noise of the recording system).

With traditional systems the dynamic range is much more limited, so in order to avoid to get the quiet parts too near the the noise floor (which would certainly make the recording annoying to listen to), you keep the average much hotter.

Even 16bit digital recording systems, which have a bigger dynamic range of the traditional analog ones, still require you to get a little hot (i.e. record nearer to 0DbFS) and therefore are harder to use - you are more likely to have overloads - and distortion due to digital overloads tend to sound much nastier than analog.

But with 24bits, record "in the middle of the scale" and you'll be just fine.
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Re: Recording level noob question.

Postby summerson89 » Fri Apr 19, 2019 7:21 pm

Thanks guys. Yes I'm using 24 bit in my DAW. The last recording I did with my band I kept the average level on guitar and bass around -16 dBFS and drums peaking below -6. The sound was so much easier to work with than recording as hot as possible.
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Re: Recording level noob question.

Postby ConcertinaChap » Fri Apr 19, 2019 9:52 pm

Indeed. I still remember when I "got the word" on this forum and stopped worrying so much about the levels. Everything is so much easier and quicker.

Welcome to the forum, BTW.

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Re: Recording level noob question.

Postby ef37a » Sat Apr 20, 2019 8:54 am

summerson89 wrote:Thanks guys. Yes I'm using 24 bit in my DAW. The last recording I did with my band I kept the average level on guitar and bass around -16 dBFS and drums peaking below -6. The sound was so much easier to work with than recording as hot as possible.

Better but no cigar! Many (see Hugh) would say to get the average to -20dBfs and drums hitting -6 is living dangerously.

I know the resulting waveform in the DAW looks puny but that can usually be scaled and even if not you soon learn to live with it.

Even back in the days of tape many people used the emerging noise reduction systems, Dolby A is most famous, not just to get a 10dB noise reduction but traded that for a dB or two less tape level. Tape distortion goes up very rapidly from a certain flux and is NOT nice! Has all sorts of frequency related nasties. So, use the vast dynamic range of 24 bits to keep well under clipping.

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Re: Recording level noob question.

Postby Wonks » Sat Apr 20, 2019 10:52 am

ef37a wrote:Better but no cigar! Many (see Hugh) would say to get the average to -20dBfs and drums hitting -6 is living dangerously.

Peaking at -6dB isn't a problem. Peaking at -1dB or -2dB could be with inter-sample peaks., but -6dB is still fine, especially if the average is around -18dB to -20dB and you have very dynamic material. If the very peak sample levels get towards -3dB then you might want to drop the gain a little, but there's no point in recording at a -30dB average just to keep the peaks below -10dB (or less).
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Re: Recording level noob question.

Postby ef37a » Sat Apr 20, 2019 11:25 am

I suppose Wonks it depends upon the way the peak meter presents in any particular DAW?

Adobe Audition gives a good space between 0dBfs and -6 but Audacity is rather crowded.

I always erred on the side of caution, no downside.

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Re: Recording level noob question.

Postby Wonks » Sat Apr 20, 2019 3:17 pm

They always give you a number for the peak value, so I always go by that.
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Re: Recording level noob question.

Postby Mike Stranks » Sat Apr 20, 2019 3:38 pm

Dave:

You do know you can change the size of the meter in Audacity don't you?

I've done just that so I can better see where the peaks are hitting.
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Re: Recording level noob question.

Postby ef37a » Sat Apr 20, 2019 4:37 pm

Mike Stranks wrote:Dave:

You do know you can change the size of the meter in Audacity don't you?

I've done just that so I can better see where the peaks are hitting.

I didn't but I am not surprised. Samplitude Pro X 3 has a good selection of meter types and all scalable.

My point was really that for a very dynamic signal like drums I think -6 dBfs is close to max and I would prefer to give it a another 2 or 3 dB of space. I could be wrong.

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Re: Recording level noob question.

Postby summerson89 » Sat Apr 20, 2019 9:31 pm

The drummer is very aggressive, peaking at -6 means that it is hovering between -18 and -24
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Re: Recording level noob question.

Postby James Perrett » Sat Apr 20, 2019 10:57 pm

Peaking at -6 on the very loudest hits is fine.
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Re: Recording level noob question.

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Sat Apr 20, 2019 11:24 pm

James Perrett wrote:Peaking at -6 on the very loudest hits is fine.

Agreed... But on drum mics with an aggressive drummer I'd still be aiming for peaks no higher than -10dBFS and accepting -6dBFS as a lucky escape! :-D
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Re: Recording level noob question.

Postby James Perrett » Sun Apr 21, 2019 2:06 pm

Hugh Robjohns wrote:
James Perrett wrote:Peaking at -6 on the very loudest hits is fine.

Agreed... But on drum mics with an aggressive drummer I'd still be aiming for peaks no higher than -10dBFS and accepting -6dBFS as a lucky escape! :-D

I'm assuming this is something already recorded - yes, when setting levels and asking the drummer to hit something as loud as possible I'd go lower if possible (but some modern preamps seem to have too much gain to allow for a sensible margin).
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Re: Recording level noob question.

Postby Eddy Deegan » Sun Apr 21, 2019 8:40 pm

I understand the concepts of signal/noise ratio and of keeping the recording level lower than you would on analogue when using digital (and especially 24 bit) systems but one thing I never quite figured out was how to use some plugins effectively to process the sound without increasing their input level.

Not so much of an issue on submixes or the master buss but when using, for example, Aether Reverb as an insert on a single track I've found that it's sometimes necessary to increase the input gain, sometimes quite significantly, to the plugin in order to get the best results. Naive logic would suggest to me that some effects will benefit from a hotter signal ('using more of the bits' so to speak) but that may well also be a non-issue.

I don't know if that's an Aether thing, or whether it's a wider issue, or indeed whether its something to worry about at all (as of course the output can be trimmed as required) but it's always bothered me a little bit that without boosting the input gain, the in-plugin metering is bouncing around at miniscule levels within a void of potential signal strength.
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Re: Recording level noob question.

Postby James Perrett » Sun Apr 21, 2019 11:21 pm

Most of the plug-ins that I use that are level critical have some kind of level adjustment from the plug-in interface. In the case of the tape emulation plug-in that I use, I can set the 0VU point to be anything sensible so I normally have it at -18dBFS but it could be lower if I wanted. Other plug-ins have a drive control to set the input level to the actual processing.

With reverb I nearly always have to attenuate the input to the reverb (but I don't use any attenuation on the output of the reverb).
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Re: Recording level noob question.

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Sun Apr 21, 2019 11:39 pm

Eddy Deegan wrote:I understand the concepts of signal/noise ratio and of keeping the recording level lower than you would on analogue when using digital (and especially 24 bit) ....

Not lower -- the same! Analogue system meters intentionally didn't show the headroom margin, whereas digital meters generally do. Consequently when recording with analogue-style headroom margins it looks like you're recording much lower (relative to the meter end stop)... But you're really not!

...one thing I never quite figured out was how to use some plugins effectively to process the sound without increasing their input level.

It varies with the design of the plugins. Most modelled plugins sound best when processing signals with generous headroom so you can use a bit of 'push' for some characteristic colour. But others are designed to work with peak-normalised (minimal headroom) signals.

Experimentation will quickly reveal the optimal approach.
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Re: Recording level noob question.

Postby Eddy Deegan » Sun Apr 21, 2019 11:58 pm

Hugh Robjohns wrote:Not lower -- the same! Analogue system meters intentionally didn't show the headroom margin, whereas digital meters generally do. Consequently when recording with analogue-style headroom margins it looks like you're recording much lower (relative to the meter end stop)... But you're really not!

Aaaand.. the penny drops on that one. Thanks Hugh.

Hugh Robjohns wrote:It varies with the design of the plugins. Most modelled plugins sound best when processing signals with generous headroom so you can use a bit of 'push' for some characteristic colour. But others are designed to work with peak-normalised (minimal headroom) signals.

Experimentation will quickly reveal the optimal approach.

I'd been doing exactly that (experimentation) - I'm much relieved I'm not doing anything daft in that regard :-)
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