We talk you through the various metering options available in Studio One.
After our ears, meters are probably the most important tool in the sound engineer’s toolbox (that and a good flask of tea). The meters in the Studio One Console are nicely designed, ever present and very useful. Sometimes we glance at them briefly but with a bit more focus we can use them to improve our mixing game.
If you open the Console you’ll find the faders tend to be quite small and humble, but you don’t have to put up with that. As you pull out the top of the Console, the inserts space stretches to accommodate the new space. But if you click that line above the fader section and beneath the sends, you’ll find that you can stretch those faders nice and tall to give you a more satisfying view. The taller the faders, the higher the resolution you have to visually monitor the meters and control your levels.
The fader section consists of the fader with the metering to the left. You’d expect there to be a peak light, which lights red to congratulate you for reaching the top, directly above the meter. However, there’s no peak light on playback channels in Studio One even though it looks like there are; only the input channels and main outputs have peak indicators.
Above the Mute and Solo buttons, and to the left of the pan value, is a number that shows the current position of the fader. You can enter a value and the fader will jump to it if you have some precise settings in mind. There are a number of metering options available in the Console. Right‑click on the actual meter to display the menu. There are two different metering mode menus depending on what you are right‑clicking. For the regular Console channels the options will be Peak, Peak/RMS, Peak Hold, Hold Length (peaks are being held and then fall with a degrade speed defined here), and Pre‑fader Metering. Output channels also include the K Metering System, which I’ll get onto in a moment.
Peak meters continuously measure the audio level at a very fast resolution and translate the highest value at that moment to the meters. The Peak/RMS option combines the peak meter with RMS levels. The two slowly moving white lines show the RMS or ‘Root Mean Squared’ value, which is a kind of average loudness of the total waveform, which responds in a similar way to the human ear. You can enable Peak Hold to have the peak level leave behind a little indicator of where it was for a certain length of time, so that you have more time to read the meters that are changing very fast. You can specify how long these peaks hold for or how quickly they get updated. If you want to see what the level is like without the change the fader has applied, then check the Pre‑fader Metering button.
It should be noted that all of these settings are global. It may feel like you’re only changing it on the channel you’ve just right‑clicked on but you are changing it for every channel.
Studio One supports the K Metering system on the output channels. K Metering was designed by sound engineering legend Bob Katz as a way of dealing with the variation in loudness of different source material. Ideally it should be used in conjunction with building a monitoring system around it, but simply using the metering system on its own could have a major impact on your mixing.
Whenever we are mixing there’s an inclination to be drawn towards the point of zero. When we see VU meters our analogue brains find themselves looking at hitting that 0VU level — it’s just human nature. In analogue systems that’s fine, and if you go a little over then that’s still fine. In digital systems, like Studio One and other DAWs, anything over 0dBFS is a digital clipping nightmare. We know that we should stay well away from that point of distortion but we are still drawn to get the ‘most’ from our meters. The K Metering system can help with this.
What the K Metering does is pull that ‘zero’ point down to give you a more useful and less dangerous point to aim for. Nothing has actually changed except for the numbers at the side of the meters. The actual 0dBFS point is still in the same place, but we’ve labelled it either +20, +14 or +12, depending on which meter you’ve selected. These settings put your ‘target’ zero at ‑20, ‑14 or ‑12 dBFS. It’s a genius bit of misdirection. We can now happily aim for that zero point on the meter while retaining an appropriate amount of headroom.
The idea was that for highly dynamic material like orchestras and ensembles then you use a K‑20 meter. For pop and rock you’d use K‑14, and for melt‑your‑face electronic music you’d use K‑12. When you select a K Metering option Studio One changes the colour and speed of the meters to better reflect a more traditional feel.
So, if 0dBFS is the danger point in a digital audio workstation, then why does the playbacK Metering in Studio One go up to +10dBFS? Studio One is not particularly interested in how hard you push your individual tracks, which might explain the lack of peak indicator light. You have an extra 10dB of gain in the fader, that you can use to bring up lower‑level recordings and balance your music. What is important is that at the mix bus the sum of the tracks remains below zero — that’s where it counts.
If you enable the inputs in the console you’ll see that Studio One gives us nice fat input meters... These are large enough to be seen from the other side of the room where your microphones, guitars and other instruments probably are.
So far we’ve been talking about the metering on the output and track Console channels, so let’s turn our attention to input monitoring. If you enable the inputs in the Console you’ll see that Studio One gives us nice fat input meters and does away with the fader all together. While you can monitor the metering through the audio track’s channel strip, the meters on the input channel are far more awesome. First of all, these are large enough to be seen from the other side of the room where your microphones, guitars and other instruments probably are. And secondly, they emphasise the last 12dBFS before the zero point. Those thick lines on ‑12, ‑9, ‑6 and ‑3 dB are warnings that you really shouldn’t be messing about in this space. Peaks of around ‑12dBFS are probably what you want to be aiming for in the vast majority of cases.
If you turn on the monitoring for the audio track the metering on that channel will switch to reflect the input monitoring. This will also follow through to the Main output where, if you’ve enabled K‑14 metering, you can check that your input level is hitting that lowered zero point.
To help you with your quest for the perfect level, each input channel has a small gain knob at the top. This is able to add or subtract 24dB of gain to or from your signal, and you can also change the polarity here.
One more tip is that if you hover your mouse over the meter in any of the channels a white line appears at the mouse pointer tip along with the exact value of the meter at that point. Very handy for getting precise with your levels.
Amongst the PreSonus plug‑ins you’ll find a few useful little metering tools that give you even deeper investigations into your audio. These are more commonly used at the mastering stage, although the Level Meter in particular can be helpful for input monitoring and mixing. It gives you a lovely big visualisation of your levels on any channel you drop it onto. You can drag it about to resize it in either a horizontal or vertical orientation, and even have it fill your screen if you wish. It also includes the K Metering system, which isn’t available in regular channel metering, as well as an R128 EBU loudness option.