Pro Tools’ metering options can help you stay on top of your levels.
The meters in your DAW are probably something you take for granted, but the way they behave can make a significant difference to your experience, particularly when things go wrong. In this month’s article we take a closer look at the meters in Pro Tools.
In the floating‑point environment that almost all DAWs now offer, the dynamic range available is vast, but even if your levels are out of the red when they reach a D‑A converter, you still need to make sure you’re not running too hot if you are using plug‑ins that model hardware. While other DAWs might offer basic options such as control over the return time or how long peaks are displayed for, Pro Tools Studio and Ultimate provide a rich variety of metering types, and all versions have useful options that are very worth getting to know.
Pre‑fader metering is useful for monitoring headroom but doesn’t reflect what the listener hears.
The first thing to establish is exactly what it is that the track meters are showing you. Pro Tools has the option to display either pre‑ or post‑fader levels, switchable globally. When in pre‑fader mode, the level displayed is post clip gain and post insert, but pre‑fader, meaning that gain changes introduced as a result of compression or EQ are shown but the influence of the fader position is not. Pre‑fader metering is useful for monitoring headroom but doesn’t reflect what the listener hears. As a result, some people favour pre‑fader metering during tracking but switch to post‑fader metering during mixing.
The orange gain‑reduction meters, which are displayed next to the track meters, merit a mention here. They have five modes in which they can operate: compressor/limiter or expander/gate only, summed, or prioritising comp/limit or expander/gate. Unlike pre/post metering which is switchable from the Options menu, the gain‑reduction meters are set up in the Metering tab of Preferences, a tab which is well worth checking out as it contains so much useful customisation.