The No.1 Website for Pro Audio
Proper Gain Staging with UAD Plug Ins
Old 26th March 2012
  #1
Lives for gear
 
hasbeen's Avatar
Proper Gain Staging with UAD Plug Ins

I just got off the phone with Will Shanks, Product Manager at Universal Audio. Well it's official. The majority of the UAD plugs are modeled to operate at a nominal level of –18 dBFS with the exception of the Studer and Ampex ATR-102 which operate at an internal level of –12 dBFS. Also mentioned was the Neve 33609, which has switchable headroom. The Manley Massive Passive was included with the –18 dBFS guideline but will be given another look to make sure.

Per my request, all of this info is going to be included in an updated version of the manual due to be released along with some (unannounced) new software, coming soon! I assume to compliment the new Apollo.

I was told no one had ever made an inquiry about this before. My investigation was inspired by the infamous "The Reason Most ITB mixes don’t Sound as good as Analog mixes (restored)" thread here on GS. Thanks to Skip Burrows and everyone else who contributed to this thought provoking conversation.

Here is the thread if you missed it:
The Reason Most ITB mixes don’t Sound as good as Analog mixes (restored)


This is good news for UAD users who consider gain staging a critical part of the mixing process.

Thanks again to Will Shanks for this info. Happy Mixing!
Old 27th March 2012
  #2
Gear Addict
 
Moatl's Avatar
 

great to know - thanks for your inquiry!

So that means these UAD plugs sound best/better when used at -18dbfs/-12dbfs?

Did you get any more details on that from Will?
Old 27th March 2012
  #3
Lives for gear
 
hasbeen's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Moatl View Post
great to know - thanks for your inquiry!

So that means these UAD plugs sound best/better when used at -18dbfs/-12dbfs?

Did you get any more details on that from Will?

To my ears, YES, the plug ins, especially the reverbs (Will enthusiastically agreed), sound better when used as intended, which makes sense. Using your ears should give immediate and positive results. More important, it gives me an idea of where to start.


Take the Studer for example, The Studer plug-in operates at an internal level of –12 dBFS. Therefore a digital signal with a level of –12 dB below full scale digital (0 dBFS) at the plug-in input will equate to 0 dB on the VU meter of the Studer. If I use any stock presets or say, the Stephen Smith’s Studer A800 Multichannel Presets, I want to make sure I am operating the plug in at the proper internal level. Now when I hit a preset and see the needle on the VU pounding in to the red I can clearly get an honest idea of how the saturation was modeled from the "real" Studer. I can use the Studer just as I would if it were the real analog counterpart. That's my desire for using these plugs in the first place! Apply that method to all of the plugs and voilà.
Old 27th March 2012
  #4
Lives for gear
 
johnnybregar's Avatar
So when I'm aux sending audio from a track to a reverb/plug that doesn't have an input meter (or one with a dB scale on it), how would I know what I'm sending? Especially given that I might have 15 tracks that I'm sending to that one reverb or plug?
Old 27th March 2012
  #5
Lives for gear
 
bugscoe's Avatar
 

Good info to know! This is what I've been doing for some time. Just habit now.
Old 27th March 2012
  #6
Quote:
Originally Posted by hasbeen View Post
...The majority of the UAD plugs are modeled to operate at a nominal level of –18 dBFS...
-18 Peak or -18 RMS???
Old 27th March 2012
  #7
Lives for gear
 
Billy Buck's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by hasbeen View Post
I just got off the phone with Will Shanks, Product Manager at Universal Audio. Well it's official. The majority of the UAD plugs are modeled to operate at a nominal level of –18 dBFS with the exception of the Studer and Ampex ATR-102 which operate at an internal level of –12 dBFS. Also mentioned was the Neve 33609, which has switchable headroom. The Manley Massive Passive was included with the –18 dBFS guideline but will be given another look to make sure.
Hey, thanks for posting this info. i have been using UAD plug-ins for over a decade now and this is the first time I have read this before. Especially important for proper gain staging. Just out of habit, I have my DAW monitoring system set & calibrated to K-20 metering. So I always have plenty of headroom when tracking/mixing @ 24/44 (RMS -20dBFS / Peak -11.4dBFS).

So as far as you know, all UAD plug-ins are modeled to operate @ -18dBFS except for the Studer/Ampex (-12dBFS)?

Quote:
Per my request, all of this info is going to be included in an updated version of the manual due to be released along with some (unannounced) new software, coming soon! I assume to compliment the new Apollo.
Great, looking forward to seeing it documented in the manual.

Quote:
I was told no one had ever made an inquiry about this before. My investigation was inspired by the infamous "The Reason Most ITB mixes don’t Sound as good as Analog mixes (restored)" thread here on GS. Thanks to Skip Burrows and everyone else who contributed to this thought provoking conversation.

I can't speak for all UAD users, but I'll give you a virtual pat on the back nonetheless!

Cheers,

Billy Buck
Old 27th March 2012
  #8
Lives for gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by johnnybregar View Post
So when I'm aux sending audio from a track to a reverb/plug that doesn't have an input meter (or one with a dB scale on it), how would I know what I'm sending? Especially given that I might have 15 tracks that I'm sending to that one reverb or plug?
You could just insert a meter plug on the aux before the plug in question.
Old 27th March 2012
  #9
Gear Head
Thanks for this. Really useful info
Old 27th March 2012
  #10
Lives for gear
 
kgdrum_nyc's Avatar
 

Great info! Thanks for inquiring and following up with a post.
Again thanks ;-)
Old 27th March 2012
  #11
run, megalodon
Guest
If the plugs respond differently to different input levels, why didn't they include a gain knob (maybe even in a settings or options window) so that you can choose to drive them how you want? Why force people to use their DAWs like analogue?
Old 27th March 2012
  #12
Gear Addict
 
dave gross's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by run, megalodon View Post
Why force people to use their DAWs like analogue?
Probably because people should practice good gain staging regardless of the platform.
Old 27th March 2012
  #13
run, megalodon
Guest
Quote:
Originally Posted by dave gross View Post
Probably because people should practice good gain staging regardless of the platform.
Well, isn't there a fairly large range for a recorded track that could be considered good gain staging? What if you recorded a tad low since you were worried about sudden dynamic changes, but you want the sound of the plugin being driven? Or what if you ended up getting things a tad too hot but you like the take and you want to drive the plug less? It seems to me that any important sound changing variable that you could put a knob on, you should, instead of forcing workarounds.
Old 27th March 2012
  #14
Lives for gear
 
hasbeen's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by run, megalodon View Post
Well, isn't there a fairly large range for a recorded track that could be considered good gain staging? What if you recorded a tad low since you were worried about sudden dynamic changes, but you want the sound of the plugin being driven? Or what if you ended up getting things a tad too hot but you like the take and you want to drive the plug less? It seems to me that any important sound changing variable that you could put a knob on, you should, instead of forcing workarounds.
Some of the UAD plugs do have input controls. Some don't. It is easy to trim the level with various methods. And of course anyone is welcome to slam the plug ins as hard as they want to. UAD plugs are pretty forgiving. If you read the thread about ITB mixing you can plainly see that the idea of gain staging in general is new to a lot of recording enthusiasts. And clearly controversial to some. The folks at UAD had to start somewhere and it makes complete sense that they use this level as a starting point. Take a look at this from Wikipedia.

dBFS - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Analog levels

dBFS is not to be used for analog levels, according to AES-6id-2006. There is no single standard for converting between digital and analog levels, mostly due to the differing capabilities of different equipment. The amount of oversampling also affects the conversion with values that are too low having significant error. The conversion level is chosen as the best compromise for the typical headroom and signal-to-noise levels of the equipment in question.

Examples:[14][15][16]

EBU R68 is used in most European countries, specifying +18 dBu at 0 dBFS
In Europe, the EBU recommend that -18 dBFS equates to the Alignment Level
European & UK calibration for Post & Film is ?18 dBFS = 0 VU
UK broadcasters, Alignment Level is taken as 0 dBu (PPM4 or -4VU)
US installations use +24 dBu for 0 dBFS
American Post: ?20 dBFS = 0 VU = +4 dBu
The American SMPTE standard defines -20 dBFS as the Alignment Level
In Japan, France and some other countries, converters may be calibrated for +22 dBu at 0 dBFS.
BBC spec: ?18 dBFS = PPM "4" = 0 dBu
German ARD & studio PPM +6 dBu = ?10 (?9) dBFS. +16 (+15)dBu = 0 dBFS. No VU.
Belgium VRT: 0dB (VRT Ref.) = +6dBu ; -9dBFS = 0dB (VRT Ref.) ; 0dBFS = +15dBu.
Old 27th March 2012
  #15
I asked this question 4 years ago...8)

I even rang Uaudio. At the time they told me there was no standard.


UAD Forums • View topic - UAD presets question...



cheers

Wiz
Old 27th March 2012
  #16
Lives for gear
 
hasbeen's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wiz_Oz View Post
I asked this question 4 years ago...8)

I even rang Uaudio. At the time they told me there was no standard.


UAD Forums • View topic - UAD presets question...



cheers

Wiz
Wow! Thankfully, Will went back and did some research. Believe me, it took 4 letters to UAD customer service. They were telling me the same thing they told you! I would not accept this. I finally got this email back:

Sorry for the delay.

I heard back from QA and unfortunately they are without a broken down answer for you.

"

I don't think there is any nominal levels of operation for plugins.
I understand that it may be relevant for manually calibrating the Ampex, but he should be able to just figure it out for himself if he's doing calibration.
Sorry I don't' have a good, solid, scientific explanation for ya".


I fired back an angry letter (which I won't include) and they forwarded it to research (the right people, not Q & A) and I finally got a response from Mr Shanks with his phone number.

Apparently, customer service is ill equipped to answer questions that can not be found in a data base.
Old 27th March 2012
  #17
run, megalodon
Guest
Quote:
Originally Posted by hasbeen View Post
Some of the UAD plugs do have input controls...
Ok. Thanks for the detailed response, but I know what gain staging is. It's important, but IMO, these aren't issues that people should have to be concerned with just to get to right sound out of their plugs, when with digital it should possible to simple adjust the plug to give the driven sound at whatever level you wish.

Anyway, I am not very familiar with UAD plugs, I just wanted to make that point since I see people wondering about how to hit their plugs sometimes and people cite nonlinear plugs as one reason to worry about gain staging. It seems like an issue that could be avoided altogether.
Old 28th March 2012
  #18
Lives for gear
 
Billy Buck's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Wiz_Oz View Post

I even rang Uaudio. At the time they told me there was no standard.
Do you remember who you talked to (tech support)? It does not seem to be exactly common knowledge even to some at UA, as it is not documented in the UAD manual. Probably the only ones privy to this kind of info are the guys coding the actual plug-ins. Will Shanks happens to be the Product Manager for UA and is quite involved in the plug-in development. I think the poster being able to finally discuss the issue with one of the guys in the know is why he probably got the right answer and you did not.

It is good to know we now have a definitive answer and it will be documented when the manual is updated.

Cheers,

Billy Buck
Old 28th March 2012
  #19
Quote:
Originally Posted by run, megalodon View Post
Ok. Thanks for the detailed response, but I know what gain staging is. It's important, but IMO, these aren't issues that people should have to be concerned with just to get to right sound out of their plugs, when with digital it should possible to simple adjust the plug to give the driven sound at whatever level you wish.

Anyway, I am not very familiar with UAD plugs, I just wanted to make that point since I see people wondering about how to hit their plugs sometimes and people cite nonlinear plugs as one reason to worry about gain staging. It seems like an issue that could be avoided altogether.
Most UAD plug-ins are models of analog gear, and analog gear requires the AE to implement proper gain staging, so...

Still, I see your point that it would be a nice convenience to have an additional level control before the plug-in's simulated analog front end. Occasionally I wish for that when using UAD plug-ins, but workarounds are quite easy.
Old 6th April 2012
  #20
Lives for gear
 
hasbeen's Avatar
As promised, this has been added to the latest UAD plug in manual. Finally!

Thanks again to Will Shanks, Product Manager at Universal Audio.
Attached Thumbnails
Proper Gain Staging with UAD Plug Ins-screen-shot-2012-04-05-11.15.20-pm.jpg  
Old 6th April 2012
  #21
Quote:
Originally Posted by Billy Buck View Post
Do you remember who you talked to (tech support)? It does not seem to be exactly common knowledge even to some at UA, as it is not documented in the UAD manual. Probably the only ones privy to this kind of info are the guys coding the actual plug-ins. Will Shanks happens to be the Product Manager for UA and is quite involved in the plug-in development. I think the poster being able to finally discuss the issue with one of the guys in the know is why he probably got the right answer and you did not.

It is good to know we now have a definitive answer and it will be documented when the manual is updated.

Cheers,

Billy Buck
Sorry Billy I missed your post...

I can't remember....it was whoever answered the phone.....

I remember you from the UA forum days....and IIRC you had a AW4416 at some point and we corresponded....good to see you are still around

cheers

Wiz
Old 6th April 2012
  #22
Lives for gear
 
lynngraber's Avatar
i have been operating this way for a few years, glad to see it "officially" noted from a plugin manufacture.

also, glad to know it wasn't placebo.
Old 9th April 2012
  #23
Lives for gear
 
Blues Bird's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by hasbeen View Post
To my ears, YES, the plug ins, especially the reverbs (Will enthusiastically agreed), sound better when used as intended, which makes sense. Using your ears should give immediate and positive results. More important, it gives me an idea of where to start.


Take the Studer for example, The Studer plug-in operates at an internal level of –12 dBFS. Therefore a digital signal with a level of –12 dB below full scale digital (0 dBFS) at the plug-in input will equate to 0 dB on the VU meter of the Studer. If I use any stock presets or say, the Stephen Smith’s Studer A800 Multichannel Presets, I want to make sure I am operating the plug in at the proper internal level. Now when I hit a preset and see the needle on the VU pounding in to the red I can clearly get an honest idea of how the saturation was modeled from the "real" Studer. I can use the Studer just as I would if it were the real analog counterpart. That's my desire for using these plugs in the first place! Apply that method to all of the plugs and voilà.
Please be so kind and explain that with more details. I am on a iMac with Pro Tools 10 and the UAD Plugs. So let's say I have a recorded vocal track which reads -6 dBFS RMS. So I would use a trim tool (which would you recommend?) or clip gain (same result?) to bring the track down to -18 dBFS RMS, right?

What now, if I want to use the Studer as the the first plug in the insert chain - should I bring down the track only to -12 dBFS RMS? And should I the adjust the Studer output knob, that the output level is -18 dBFS , since the next plug (let say it's a 1176) needs -18 dBFS RMS?

And the output of the 1176 -should it also be brought down to -18 dBFS for the next plug in (maybe the Pultec)? Keeping -18 dBFS all the way in this channel?

And then the mastering channel - the Ampex also need -12 dBFS? Bring the channel up ( or down) to -12 dbFS? And if yes, should be the Ampex always the first plug in the master channel?

Sorry for so many questions, but this gain staging stuff is quite new to me. Would be great if you could clear things up.
Old 9th April 2012
  #24
Lives for gear
 
hasbeen's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Blues Bird View Post
Please be so kind and explain that with more details. I am on a iMac with Pro Tools 10 and the UAD Plugs. So let's say I have a recorded vocal track which reads -6 dBFS RMS. So I would use a trim tool (which would you recommend?) or clip gain (same result?) to bring the track down to -18 dBFS RMS, right?

What now, if I want to use the Studer as the the first plug in the insert chain - should I bring down the track only to -12 dBFS RMS? And should I the adjust the Studer output knob, that the output level is -18 dBFS , since the next plug (let say it's a 1176) needs -18 dBFS RMS?

And the output of the 1176 -should it also be brought down to -18 dBFS for the next plug in (maybe the Pultec)? Keeping -18 dBFS all the way in this channel?

And then the mastering channel - the Ampex also need -12 dBFS? Bring the channel up ( or down) to -12 dbFS? And if yes, should be the Ampex always the first plug in the master channel?

Sorry for so many questions, but this gain staging stuff is quite new to me. Would be great if you could clear things up.
Exactly, you are on the right track! As far as the tape plugs being first in the channel, it is usually a good idea but feel free to experiment.
Old 9th April 2012
  #25
Here for the gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Blues Bird View Post
Please be so kind and explain that with more details. I am on a iMac with Pro Tools 10 and the UAD Plugs. So let's say I have a recorded vocal track which reads -6 dBFS RMS. So I would use a trim tool (which would you recommend?) or clip gain (same result?) to bring the track down to -18 dBFS RMS, right?

What now, if I want to use the Studer as the the first plug in the insert chain - should I bring down the track only to -12 dBFS RMS? And should I the adjust the Studer output knob, that the output level is -18 dBFS , since the next plug (let say it's a 1176) needs -18 dBFS RMS?

And the output of the 1176 -should it also be brought down to -18 dBFS for the next plug in (maybe the Pultec)? Keeping -18 dBFS all the way in this channel?

And then the mastering channel - the Ampex also need -12 dBFS? Bring the channel up ( or down) to -12 dbFS? And if yes, should be the Ampex always the first plug in the master channel?

Sorry for so many questions, but this gain staging stuff is quite new to me. Would be great if you could clear things up.
Hi Blues Bird,

This is great topic and not only applies to UAD plugins. You are correct in what you're thinking but, that would be one heavily compressed/clipping vocal at -6 dBFS (if the average).



Before Pro Tools 10 (and Logic) people would load a trim/gain plugin into the first insert to tame 'hot' recordings (Cubendo users have the luxury of built-in trimmers at the top of their channel strips). In Pro Tools, you can use whichever method you prefer and there is no right or wrong, I do like Clip Gain nowadays and was a long overdue feature.

Personally, I try to keep levels around -18/20 dBFS (max average) when recording which, gives me a decent amount of headroom and good compatibility. It is amazing how many people record at very hot levels into their DAWs, and wonder why when they come to mixing, they have to pull everything down, and that the end result doesn't sound as good perhaps it should. One thing to bare in mind, is that whilst most major DAWs feature 32-bit (and 64-bit for some) floating-point mixers with in excess of 1,500 dB headroom, it is still important to give yourself space to work, especially when using plugin emulations or plugins where the operating level cannot be altered.

If you're set up for -18 dBFS down your strip and you insert a compressor (e.g. UA 1176 calibrated to -18 dBFS) you would generally match the (compressed) output level to the (uncompressed) input level, so you can focus on what the compressor is doing and not be swayed by level differences. By doing this, the chances are you will still be at around -18 dBFS at the compressors output because you ear works at average levels. It is not uncommon in both the analogue and digital domains to trim in-to and out-of outboard/plugins - and it would be great if all manufacturers added both input and output trims to their plugins (some do, some don't, and some do one or the other).

Hope this helps.
Old 9th April 2012
  #26
Lives for gear
 
AlphaDingo's Avatar
 

So its -18 RMS through the chain? Shouldn't we also be tracking at that level too?
Old 10th April 2012
  #27
Here for the gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by AlphaDingo View Post
So its -18 RMS through the chain? Shouldn't we also be tracking at that level too?
Hi AlphaDingo,

Yes, the average (RMS) level should be around -18/20 dBFS, if you track at this level then you will be in good shape at the mix bus, and in a great place for mixing.

Have a look at this image of Waves' Dorrough Meter, it shows both peak and average levels, and can be configured to 20dB AES, 18dB EBU, 14dB reference levels, I demoed it while back and found it quite useful. There are quite are a few metering products available now, and I am sure someone will suggest a few more.




Old 10th April 2012
  #28
Lives for gear
 
AlphaDingo's Avatar
 

Thanks, Myers!
Old 31st August 2017
  #29
Lives for gear
 
79adam79's Avatar
 

I know I've arrived a bit late to the party, but I got a few questions. The nominal reference level for a UA , in my case a , is -20 (if memory serves correct, which makes sense since it's pretty much the standard for US made equipment. You guys either say you track at -18 or around -18/-20. Not sure if I'm nitpicking here, but does tracking at -18, hence 2 higher than the reference level, add unwanted noise/modulation? Or is it such a small difference that it doesn't affect the signal?

With the plugins that work nominally at -12, or anywhere above -20, is there need to the level of the track, if it's hovering around -18/-20? Or are those plugin reference levels more of a, don't go into the plug any higher than x? If it is recommended to go into the plug at it's nominal reference level, is all that's needed a trim boost with a meter plugin?

Thanks.
Old 1st September 2017
  #30
Gear Addict
 
Jay Asher's Avatar
 

Is it not worth mentioning that fixed point and floating point DAWs behave differently?
Post Reply

Welcome to the Gearslutz Pro Audio Community!

Registration benefits include:
  • The ability to reply to and create new discussions
  • Access to members-only giveaways & competitions
  • Interact with VIP industry experts in our guest Q&As
  • Access to members-only sub forum discussions
  • Access to members-only Chat Room
  • Get INSTANT ACCESS to the world's best private pro audio Classifieds for only USD $20/year
  • Promote your eBay auctions and Reverb.com listings for free
  • Remove this message!
You need an account to post a reply. Create a username and password below and an account will be created and your post entered.


 
 
Slide to join now Processing…
Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search
Forum Jump
Forum Jump