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Mixing with +15 master gain... why?

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Mixing with +15 master gain... why?

Postby AntonG99 » Fri Oct 25, 2019 4:18 pm

Hi there!

I'm relatively new to mixing&mastering and was recently introduced to the basics of mixing... a friend of mine puts a limiter on his master channel with +15 db. As far as I understood, the benefit is that you mix everything on a lower level, so that if you disable the limiter gain, you have nice headroom for sending it to the mastering engineer. For EDM, this should be -6db.
Here's the first point I didn't fully get. Why +15db and not +6db gain? If I would mix with +6db in a way that my audio is not going clipping, there should be the required headroom afterwards, shouldn't it?
I asked him this question, and he said that the master gain is constituted from 6db headroom + 6db dynamic range or LUFS, so one should mix with at least +12db master gain.
But how does 6db extra gain help me to reach the desired dynamic range/LUFS?
I'd be super if someone could explain me this a little more detailed!
Greetings

Anton

PS: Sorry for my not so perfect english ;)
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Re: Mixing with +15 master gain... why?

Postby The Elf » Fri Oct 25, 2019 5:07 pm

Hmmm... a dubious practice. I'd advise against it.

Much better to simply record at sensible levels and preserve peaks through the signal chain. Then there's no need for these sticking plaster bodges.
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Re: Mixing with +15 master gain... why?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Fri Oct 25, 2019 6:25 pm

It's always hard to fathom the thinking in these weird, bespoke ways of working... but I imagine this is simply a way of maintaining the feel, impression and -- above all -- LOUDNESS -- of mixing in a peak-normalised way, effectively banging the end-stops while, in reality, maintaining a reasonable headroom in the real mix.

If it works for you friend, then great... but it's not a technique I'd advise or encourage. Far better, as the Elf says, to learn to mix with sensible headroom margins within a modern loudness normalised paradigm.

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Re: Mixing with +15 master gain... why?

Postby Sam Inglis » Fri Oct 25, 2019 7:34 pm

There *is* a reason for doing this with EDM and other electronic music styles. It's common practice in these styles to have the drums very loud in the mix, and use a limiter or clipper on the output to push them back down to the right level. In other words the aim of the limiter is not to achieve a transparent loudness gain or protect downstream devices, it's actually a fundamental part of the mix and if you took it away the track would sound very different. I guess it's not unlike the way some rock mixers (over) use a conventional compressor on the mix bus.
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Re: Mixing with +15 master gain... why?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Fri Oct 25, 2019 7:58 pm

I hadn't realise that. Thanks Sam. So mixing heavily into a limiter. Hmmm. Fair enough. Not a style I'm particularly familiar with I'm afraid...
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Re: Mixing with +15 master gain... why?

Postby CS70 » Fri Oct 25, 2019 8:34 pm

AntonG99 wrote:Hi there!

I'm relatively new to mixing&mastering and was recently introduced to the basics of mixing... a friend of mine puts a limiter on his master channel with +15 db. As far as I understood, the benefit is that you mix everything on a lower level, so that if you disable the limiter gain, you have nice headroom for sending it to the mastering engineer. For EDM, this should be -6db.
Here's the first point I didn't fully get. Why +15db and not +6db gain? If I would mix with +6db in a way that my audio is not going clipping, there should be the required headroom afterwards, shouldn't it?
I asked him this question, and he said that the master gain is constituted from 6db headroom + 6db dynamic range or LUFS, so one should mix with at least +12db master gain.
But how does 6db extra gain help me to reach the desired dynamic range/LUFS?
I'd be super if someone could explain me this a little more detailed!
Greetings

Anton

PS: Sorry for my not so perfect english ;)

Your friend "explanation" makes really no sense. :-)

"Dynamic range" in an audio system is simply the difference between the system noise floor (i.e. the level at which your signal cannot be distinguished from noise) and the maximum level the system can generate without distortion.

The "headroom" at a given moment is simply the amount of dynamic range that you are not using at that moment (or for an entire track, the amount left over at the max peak level instant). Think about a head in a room.. there's always some unused space over the head to avoid knocking it on the ceiling, which in audio is distorting - because both are painful. :D

A (digital) master bus at 24 bits has 144 dB of dynamic range. Decibel is a logarithmic scale (in base 10) which is good for measuring a range of intensity. Check out How DAWs destory recording in my blog for some more info on this.

It is customary to leave a dollop of headroom before mastering, because the mastering engineer may want to boost something (for example by EQing the low end), and if you're already hitting the ceiling, he won't be able to.

6dB is simply a change in intensity that we perceive significant, so by leaving 6dB of headroom or more, you're leaving the engineer the possibility of making a significant change in intensity if he so wants, without distorting. Then, if there's still working headroom, he can remove it (have a look at my what is mastering in my blog for some more details).

But 6 dB is just a guideline. You can easily stay much lower, because with 24 bits the noise floor is much further down in terms of decibels.

LUFS is a different idea altogether. LUFS measure not the peak headroom, but how loud the track is in its entirety, over continuous listening. It's arguably better, because two tracks can both peak at the top of the range but, given the same playback volume, sound incredibly different on how loud they are.

While (with some qualification) two tracks with the same LUFS will, at the same playback level, be perceived as approx the same volume.

This is used in most streaming platform to avoid that a given track unduly sticks out of playlist (in terms of volume). They mandate an average LUFS value (much lower than a typical compressed track mastered near 0 or -1 dB has..) and simply gain down any track which is louder than that.

An advantage of this is that, if you mix still manages to use all the available dynamic range (i.e. have some peak near 0 or -1 db when mastered) while keeping the LUFS low, it's gonna be very dynamic, which usually means very nice to listen to.
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Re: Mixing with +15 master gain... why?

Postby The Elf » Fri Oct 25, 2019 8:40 pm

You can still mix into a limiter with sensible headroom levels.
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