Gain Staging for recording and mixing - Page 2 - Home Theater Forum and Systems -

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post #11 of 15 Old 06-15-12, 07:41 AM
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Negative good buddy. Source material is clean. I'm just not wrapping my head around this headroom we're providing ourselves. Headroom for what exactly? Let's walk backwards. Monitors driven too hard. Turn them down. Output stage of interface clipping. Turn it down. Software out mix clipping in interface. Turn it down. Master bus output stage left and right clipping. Turn it down. Master bus input stage clipping. Turn all your tracks down. Too much signal going into your reverb or eq. Aha! One, either put a compressor or limiter in the first plugin spot before all other effects or... back off zero while tracking. I'm just trying to clarify what we gain by recording at say minus 3. What exactly are we saving that headroom for? Signal processing? My eq (logic) has a little gain slider. I always place eq first in the chain. If I need to I just pull a little off the gain at that point. However...I do have a mix I'm dealing with right now that just seems too crowded no matter what I do. I'm wondering if the point here is that:

there's a marked difference in the mix between pulling the sliders down (output stage) for each track and leaving room in each track while tracking. And,

is there a usable difference between coming in less hot and simply trimming some signal off at the beginning of the chain before processing?
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post #12 of 15 Old 06-15-12, 08:28 AM
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Re: Gain Staging for recording and mixing

I think maybe you reading into this just a little to much, lets back up here a bit and look at the so called "Loudness wars" thats become a problem in the last few years. The issue with not giving some headroom is that you end up compressing or EQing the signal weather it be a single track or the entire mix to get the mastered level to as loud as possible without clipping, Very bad in my opinion. I myself like the rise and fall of the individual interments and vocals as they were meant to be heard. By running everything as hot as possible you loose dynamics and clarity.

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post #13 of 15 Old 06-15-12, 08:58 AM
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Ok as I read back through some of the responses and my big question I realized what everyone's talking about and what I was talking about are one and the same. Yes I was reading too much into this. I guess I still hope to find some magic bullet for my mixes.
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post #14 of 15 Old 09-10-12, 06:06 AM
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Re: Gain Staging for recording and mixing

In a DAW you want to leave headroom for recording because you're never sure what is coming from the microphone and what the dynamics of the source will be. You can't "look-ahead" with a vocalist in the studio

When mixing, leaving headroom is good practice, because the act of adding (mixing) tracks together will eat into it, as may compression, EQ, time-based FX such as delay, reverb, chorus, flangers, etc. Turn the wick down to a nominal level of -18dB and you really shouldn't have to manage levels for clipping halfway through your mix.

...and it's just "what professionals do"

Once you've mixed, and you know what your levels are across the material, song, track, etc, then mastering is where you go for "normalising" up to -0.3dB DFS or whatever. I rarely get away without using a brick-wall limiter for this these days.

Headroom isn't really the riight word to be using when we move onto the subject of loudness in mastering; there just won't be any (although I prefer to limit to -0.2 or -0.3 dB FSD) -that's more a case of mangling the peaks and transients as transparently as possible (damage limitation), to get the highest RMS value possible.

Given free reign, I'll work to Mr Katz's -14 or -12, but clients are so paranoid that someone will think their track is lacking somehow, that they will spoil the mix (yes we're talking distortion and really ugly stuff here) rather than have it sound quiet in a CD player (and then have to submit a different, quieter, master to the radio station to survive the on-air processing and end up sounding the same level as everything else!)

Another subject entirely, which I'll happily chuck my 2p in here or in another thread if someone wants to discuss it, but not really related to gain-staging in a DAW for recording or mixing

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post #15 of 15 Old 01-04-13, 11:14 AM
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Re: Gain Staging for recording and mixing

Indeed, proper gainstructure/headroom has not much to do with loudness(wars) or substractive vs additive EQ, like is also sometimes claimed.

When you look at the specs of your audio equipment (console, DAW) you might see that while may it operates at +4dBU, the maximum output is +26dBU. This is a headroom of 22dB.
On a analogue system we'd calibrate our meters so that when it hits "0" on the meters, it actually outputs +4dBU, leaving us that 22dB headroom.
On digital meters we'd have to aim at -22dBFS to maintain 22dB of headroom.
So, when on my analogue console/PPM I'm hitting "0", I'll be at -22dBFS on my converters.

Now, what is this headroom good for?
The answer is that a signal consists of the 'main body' and its transients.
If you look at the visualisation of for example a drum hit in your DAW, you'd see a fish-like form with a lot of long thin spikes coming out of it.
This main body (fish-like form) is what gets detected by the meters, while the transients (spikes) are too fast for the meters, let alone the human eye, to catch.
These transients, which are important in defining the character of a sound and, even though we might not detect them with our eyes, will start causing distortion in our audio system when getting close to the clipping point, can get up to around 20dB above the 'main body' of the signal.

So in short, headroom is necessary to accomodate the transients which may be +20dB above our nominal operating level.

Headroom and subractive EQ:
I constantly hear people say that subtractive EQ is better than boosting, because it will save or give you more headroom.
Well, aside of the apparent merits of subtractive EQ, if you practice proper gainstaging this wouldn't be the case.
GAINSTAGING means that you optimize your GAIN at every STAGE of the process (when recording/mixing).
So, you start by setting your gain at the level that you find appropriate and try to mainain that level until the end of the trajectory.
If you boost some EQ along the way, you ideally would go back and turn down the gain accordingly and if you cut, you should turn up the gain to match.
This way the headroom will always be maintained at the same level, independent of your EQ method.
The same idea applies at all the processing stages, through the whole audiopath.

Last edited by Prodba; 01-04-13 at 11:19 AM.
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