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Another gain staging question DAW Software
Old 16th December 2014
  #1
Gear Head
Another gain staging question

I have a question about gain staging and levels for instrument/DI recording. I have a Focusrite 2i4 and Sonar X3. According to the 2i4 user manual the gain level for the instrument inputs on the 2i4 are as follows:

Maximum Input Level for 0 dBFS +3 dBu (min. gain, pad out)
Maximum Input Level for 0 dBFS -50 dBu (max. gain, pad out)
Maximum Input Level for 0 dBFS +12 dBu (min. gain, pad in)
Maximum Input Level for 0 dBFS -40 dBu (max. gain, pad in)

First of all that seems backwards. I mean shouldn’t it be -3 and working up to +50? If I plug my electric guitar in to the 2i4 and set it for instrument, if I turn the gain all the way down ccw I will be at +3 dBu and if I turn all the way up I’ll be at -50 dBu? What am I missing?

Secondly, do I want to adjust the gain on the 2i4 until I’m seeing -18 RMS in Sonar? Then record from there?

Thanks for any help.
Old 16th December 2014
  #2
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It depends on the dynamic range of the performance as to the best way to gain stage. For a wildly dynamic source with no compression, you may be better off monitoring peaks and aiming to keep them below -6dBFS, otherwise yes just trim the input gain until average level (VU) is -18.

I'd just forget the info you've got there and just plug in and monitor the level in Sonar. Set peak-hold on the Sonar meters and record a test jam for a bit then calculate the necessary attenuation required at the input to get the peaks maxing at -6 or below, or use a VU meter on the channel to monitor for -18. Dial back the input gain until closer and go for it.
Old 17th December 2014
  #3
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- XX db means attenuated by XX decibels. 0 db is loudest signal (input level = output level).

+ XX db means you're using your headroom which is 'extra space' available to stop peaks clipping.

Good reading here: Gain Staging In Your DAW Software
Old 17th December 2014
  #4
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Once your done gain staging your DAW and interface (the SOS article is good)
Next calibrate your moniotrs to the K standard.

Calibrated monitors are the glove to a gain staged DAW's hand.
Old 17th December 2014
  #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pencho View Post
...
Maximum Input Level for 0 dBFS +3 dBu (min. gain, pad out)
Maximum Input Level for 0 dBFS -50 dBu (max. gain, pad out)
Maximum Input Level for 0 dBFS +12 dBu (min. gain, pad in)
Maximum Input Level for 0 dBFS -40 dBu (max. gain, pad in)

First of all that seems backwards. I mean shouldn’t it be -3 and working up to +50? If I plug my electric guitar in to the 2i4 and set it for instrument, if I turn the gain all the way down ccw I will be at +3 dBu and if I turn all the way up I’ll be at -50 dBu? What am I missing?
Yes, the confusion comes from your viewing angle, so to speak. It's not a difficult mistake to make if you are reading specs quickly.

Think of Maximum Input level (eg +12 dBu) as how hot your guitar signal might be. Inordinately loud! It would peak your interface with the gain turned all the way down and 9 to 10 dB worth of Padding.
Old 17th December 2014
  #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thehightenor View Post
calibrate your moniotrs to the K standard.´
I would love to. How'd I go about to do that? Would Bob Katz's "K System" - Nuts N' Bolts (gearslutz) be a good starting point?
Old 17th December 2014
  #7
RTR
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mikael B View Post
I would love to. How'd I go about to do that? Would Bob Katz's "K System" - Nuts N' Bolts (gearslutz) be a good starting point?
You will need a SPL meter or calibration mic I think..not sure...I was going to do the same thing but did not have the necessary equipment
Old 17th December 2014
  #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RTR View Post
You will need a SPL meter or calibration mic I think..not sure...I was going to do the same thing but did not have the necessary equipment
Most calibration mics will measure SPL, I believe.

This is the mic I've got and it does the job just fine.

I understand the benefits to K metering, however, if you are already accustomed to gain staging correctly and have a monitor controller with numbered stepped volume control, then it's easy enough to work under similar repeatable conditions using dBFS peak and VU meters. The key is sticking with the same working level after the preparation stage is complete.

For me this means I've completed gain staging all the tracks and I've auditioned the post edit mix (ie no adjustements to level/pan etc) and taken notes of my initial impressions at low, normal and high levels. After that point, I will slug it out at the same comfortable level until the first mix-down, after which I may review it at varying listening levels again.

Now to contradict myself - I might give K-metering a chance at some stage. My point is just that so long as you're consistent with gain staging and your mixing monitoring level, all you need is a level matching plugin for reference material and the outcome is more or less the same.
Old 17th December 2014
  #9
RTR
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zigziglar View Post
Most calibration mics will measure SPL, I believe.

This is the mic I've got and it does the job just fine.

I understand the benefits to K metering, however, if you are already accustomed to gain staging correctly and have a monitor controller with numbered stepped volume control, then it's easy enough to work under similar repeatable conditions using dBFS peak and VU meters. The key is sticking with the same working level after the preparation stage is complete.

For me this means I've completed gain staging all the tracks and I've auditioned the post edit mix (ie no adjustements to level/pan etc) and taken notes of my initial impressions at low, normal and high levels. After that point, I will slug it out at the same comfortable level until the first mix-down, after which I may review it at varying listening levels again.

Now to contradict myself - I might give K-metering a chance at some stage. My point is just that so long as you're consistent with gain staging and your mixing monitoring level, all you need is a level matching plugin for reference material and the outcome is more or less the same.

I basicly record everything at -18 or as close to that as possible in PT. Monitor low when mixing for as long as I can hold out before cranking it..
Old 18th December 2014
  #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mikael B View Post
I would love to. How'd I go about to do that? Would Bob Katz's "K System" - Nuts N' Bolts (gearslutz) be a good starting point?
Yeah basically go to Bob Katz website and download the pink noise files off there.

They are -20dBFs pink noise RMS (the RMS is important) don't simply use a noise generator from inside your DAW as that will probably be -20 dBFS Peak!

Then you play back the pink noise file ONE SPEAKER AT A TIME until your noise meter reads 83dB mark that as 0dB on your monitor controller.
Your dB meter needs to be set to C weighted slow.

That will give you the K20 standard then to mix pop 'n' roll I use K14 which means I lower my monitor controller by -6dB - I have an Avocet so it's already marked in 1/2 dB steps.

But if your monitor controller is just a simple volume knob then just lower it until your dB meter reads 77dB and then you have K14 to mark on your controller/volume knob.

Now when you mix there is a direct correlation between loud and actual physical loud!

The auditory feedback of pushing up a fader and loud coming out of your monitors means your mixes will be kinda automatically gained staged.
Plus if your adding compression reducing the dynamic range, you'll be able to hear the effect it has on the mix, because as you add gain back in to the compressed signal things will
get louder and louder - literally!

Use a K14 meter as you mix to get a feel for it - I use DIGICheck that came with my RME interface but there are free ones about too.

Pull your kick up so it reads about -5db on your K14 meter that will equate to about -18dBFs so now you have actual headroom in your digital system.

My VCC plugin also is calibrated to this standard so the whole thing feels like an analog desk, Cubase's 8 VCA's cement the whole illusion :-)

There are people around GS who poo poo this whole approach but so far in my experience my mixes and masters have far exceeded my previous work when I didn't calibrate my DAW.

You'll end up with mixes around about -12dBFS peak (if you have normal sensitivity to volume) this headroom is great for mastering and then at the end I simply add in the missing gain and my masters are as loud and as punchy as I want - but so clear, clean and full of tone.
Old 18th December 2014
  #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thehightenor View Post

Now when you mix there is a direct correlation between loud and actual physical loud!

The auditory feedback of pushing up a fader and loud coming out of your monitors means your mixes will be kinda automatically gained staged.
Plus if your adding compression reducing the dynamic range, you'll be able to hear the effect it has on the mix, because as you add gain back in to the compressed signal things will
get louder and louder - literally!

Use a K14 meter as you mix to get a feel for it - I use DIGICheck that came with my RME interface but there are free ones about too.

Pull your kick up so it reads about -5db on your K14 meter that will equate to about -18dBFs so now you have actual headroom in your digital system.

There are people around GS who poo poo this whole approach but so far in my experience my mixes and masters have far exceeded my previous work when I didn't calibrate my DAW.

You'll end up with mixes around about -12dBFS peak (if you have normal sensitivity to volume) this headroom is great for mastering
-12dBFS is my current target that I meet only when verbally fighting my musical partner, who wants to go louder everywhere all the time. To him gain staging is something alien. I most likely can't actually mix at the volume the K-system would entail, but it would probably be useful for me to be able to bring up the volume to actual levels and not further than that. I always have 3 levels I listen to mixes at, but these are unfixed. I would assume it can be a good thing to have fixed levels to switch between.

One thing that I haven't seen adressed is whether the K-system can have any influence on mixing on head phones. Currently I'm writing music on head phones and making rough mixes too, but not further than that.
Old 18th December 2014
  #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mikael B View Post
-12dBFS is my current target that I meet only when verbally fighting my musical partner, who wants to go louder everywhere all the time. To him gain staging is something alien. I most likely can't actually mix at the volume the K-system would entail, but it would probably be useful for me to be able to bring up the volume to actual levels and not further than that. I always have 3 levels I listen to mixes at, but these are unfixed. I would assume it can be a good thing to have fixed levels to switch between.

One thing that I haven't seen adressed is whether the K-system can have any influence on mixing on head phones. Currently I'm writing music on head phones and making rough mixes too, but not further than that.
Well I suppose the whole point is it's say 77db (for K14) at your preferred listening position.

What I've done to get the same result with headphones is simply set the headphone volume so that they feel exactly the same volume as my speakers when slipping them on and off a few times.

I do this when tracking vocals - you don't want your headphones to make your voice quieter or louder than it is acoustically in the room (allowing for internal bone conduction of course) you just want enough volume to compensate for the fact your wearing headphones.

So again I slip my cans on and off until the volume in the cans seems to match my vocal volume in the room without cans - really helps my pitching doing this .... I teach this to clients when they're tracking vocals otherwise they make their vocals either too quiet and sing sharp or too loud and sing flat!

Anyway mixes at -12dB sounds right - you can always just crank the volume knob to satisfy your partner (not good for long term hearing of course) and that way you not having to raise you internal gain staging in your DAW just to get extra volume out of the speakers.
Old 18th December 2014
  #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thehightenor View Post
you can always just crank the volume knob to satisfy your partner (not good for long term hearing of course) and that way you not having to raise you internal gain staging in your DAW just to get extra volume out of the speakers.
This is what I usually do to satisfy him, including using a gentle limiter on the master to avoid accidents at those volumes. The latter is a habit I picked up using head phones after some incidents I don't want to experience again (ouch!). I do turn the limiter off though from time to time as I don't feel I have such a well-balanced sound system that I can mix into it. I'll probably start to use limiters more in the channels when I use slow attack compression too. I'll see how things develop for us.
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